4 Best Noise-Canceling Headphones 2020

For frequent flyers or commuters on transit, reducing the noise around you is that the difference between enduring a visit and enjoying it. Noise-canceling headphones can make your music easier to listen to and your world a bit more peaceful. We recommend the over-ear Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700 and also the in-ear 1More Dual Driver ANC Pro, counting on which headphone style you favor.


The best over-ear noise-canceling headphones

$380*
*At the time of publishing, the price was $350.
The Bose 700 headphones deliver excellent noise cancellation in a comfortable, lightweight design that’s traveler friendly—but they carry a high price.

The Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700 is that the best wireless noise-canceling headphones set that Bose has ever released. These headphones are expensive, but we expect they’re well worth the investment for the frequent traveler who puts a high premium on performance and luxury. they provide the superior noise cancellation that Bose is understood for, plus more adjustability than on the other noise-canceling headphones we’ve tested. you’ll adjust the extent of the active noise cancellation (ANC) on a scale from 0 to 10, so if you discover that intense noise cancellation causes a sense of pressure or discomfort (what we call “eardrum suck”), as we noticed with the Bose QuietComfort 35 Series II—or if you only need a little more sense of your surroundings—you have more flexibility to seek out A level that works for you.

These noise-canceling headphones even have a light-weight design that’s comfortable to wear for hours, and that they feature an easy-to-use combination of touch controls and physical buttons that you simply can access without looking. Plus, you’ll use them in wired mode with the ANC engaged if, for instance, you would like to access an in-flight entertainment system. They fold flat for straightforward storage within the supplied case, too. They aren’t entirely without flaws, however: The sound quality is sweet but not as crisp as on the simplest over-ear headphones we’ve tested, the app is often vexing, and therefore the battery life isn’t the longest we’ve seen—though at 20 hours it’ll still get you thru a really long flight.


The best noise-canceling earbuds

$150
The ideal travel companion, this pair of earbuds offered the best noise reduction in our tests and allows you to listen via Bluetooth or an included cable.

Perfect for commuters, the 1More Dual Driver ANC Pro is that the updated version of our previous earbud pick. These collar-style Bluetooth earbuds (which have a clever band connecting them) remove a powerful amount of noise and have sufficient battery life to last through a long flight and beyond. (1More claims 20 hours with the noise canceling off and 16 hours with it on, according to what we found in our tests.) The quick-charge mode will offer you three hours of use after just 10 minutes of plug-in time. These earbuds also function corded—with the active noise cancellation on or off—for those trips once you want to use an in-flight entertainment system. The voice-enhancement mode allows you to keep it up a conversation by tapping a button to pass the sound through so you don’t need to remove the earbuds. Plus, unlike wireless earbuds that use a hard-plastic collar (such because the Bose QuietControl 30), this pair’s flexible collar allows them to coil up sufficiently small to suit into a trouser pocket.


The best noise-canceling headphones under $100

$60
These over-ear wireless noise-canceling headphones offer surprisingly decent sound, comfort, and noise canceling at a low price.

If you would like good noise cancellation without all the bells and whistles, the Anker Soundcore Life Q20 over-ear Bluetooth headphones deliver. The noise cancellation is effective, the sound quality is pretty decent (though a touch bass-heavy), and therefore the lightweight chassis and soft foam earcups are comfortable. The 30-hour battery life is awesome for a model at any price limit. You can use these headphones in wired mode, and the controls are easy to operate. Although the Life Q20 doesn’t come with EQ manipulation, adjustable ANC, touch controls, or always-listening voice activation, this pair does deliver on the ANC-headphone essentials, and it offers a shocking amount of quality for well under $100.


The best budget noise-canceling earbuds

$46
The wireless TT-BH042 pair offers good sound and okay noise canceling at an amazingly low price.

The collar-style TaoTronics TT-BH042 is an exceptionally rare beast: a low-cost set of noise-canceling Bluetooth earbuds that’s well worth buying. These earbuds sound quite good, their noise-canceling performance is at least helpful, their design is practical and comfortable, and they carry an IPX5 moisture-resistance rating. Battery life is middling, around eight hours. The downside is that you can’t use them in wired mode, so you can’t connect this pair to in-flight entertainment systems without some type of adapter.


The Research


How we picked

The four main things to think about during a set of noise-canceling headphones are:

  • efficacy of the noise canceling
  • sound quality
  • battery life (in wireless models)
  • overall comfort

Since we first published this guide, we’ve tested more than 100 active-noise-canceling headphones and considered dozens more. Although we’ve tested wired-only models within the past, most new noise-canceling headphones feature Bluetooth wireless technology, which is now available at very affordable prices. However, many of these wireless headphones also support a wired connection, which is important if you want to connect to an in-flight entertainment system or if you want to conserve battery life.

We set no lower or upper price limits because this guide covers the whole range of noise-canceling headphone models.


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How we tested

A pair of Noise Canceling Headphones clamped over the GRAS 43AG at Brent Butterworth's workstation
We measured the noise-canceling performance of the over-ear headphones using a GRAS 43AG ear-and-cheek simulator. Photo: Brent Butterworth

To judge the sound quality, we listened to the headphones with noise canceling on and off—because some headphones sound great in one mode and not so great within the other. We used the test music of the panelists’ choice, sourced from various smartphones.

Testing the noise canceling was more complicated. We did this both by ear and by using the equipment . to check the noise canceling by ear, Lauren and John played noise at a loud level through a JBL L16 wireless speaker then tried each of the headphones to check which of them best canceled the noise. Brent did his test in his audio lab, employing a mixture of cabin noise recorded in four different airliners, fed through four speakers and a subwoofer at A level of 80 decibels, which is about the extent you’d experience within the fairly loud cabin of an older jet like a Boeing 737 or a McDonnell Douglas MD-80. Brent followed up by testing the simplest models during rides on Los Angeles’s Metro transit system, which incorporates buses and subways.

A pair of Noise Canceling Headphones nested into the fake ear of the GRAS 43AG at Brent Butterworth's workstation
We measured in-ear headphones using a GRAS 43AG ear-and-cheek simulator and KB5000 simulated pinna. Photo: Brent Butterworth

Brent then performed lab tests, measuring the degree to which the headphones blocked different frequencies of sound. to try to do this, he placed each set of over-ear headphones on his GRAS 43AG ear-and-cheek simulator connected through an M-Audio USB interface to a Windows laptop, played pink noise through an equivalent loudspeaker described above, and used TrueRTA audio-spectrum analyzer software to ascertain what proportion sound was leaking through the headphones.

To do noise-canceling earbud tests, Brent placed the right-channel earpiece of every set of in-ear headphones into a GRAS KB5000 anthropometric pinna mounted on the GRAS 43AG ear-and-cheek simulator fitted with a GRAS RA0402 high-resolution ear simulator. He connected this fixture through an M-Audio USB interface to a Windows laptop, played pink noise through an equivalent loudspeaker, and used the TrueRTA audio-spectrum analyzer software to ascertain what proportion sound was leaking through the earbud. For details, read Brent’s more in-depth description of the method.

You can see the results from our picks and other notable competitors within the charts below.

Over-ear headphone measurements: Anything below 85 dB (the dotted line) represents a reduction in noise. The lower the line is on the chart, the better the noise cancellation. Note that the band between 100 Hz and 1.2 kHz is where most of the noise in an airline cabin occurs. In addition to our picks, we’ve included results from notable noise-canceling competitors, as well as from the Sony MDR-7506, to show the amount of isolation that a typical set of headphones without ANC technology provides. Illustration: Sarah MacReading
Noise Canceling Headphones A line graph showing earbud ANC measurements for five of the models tested in this review.
Earbud measurements: Anything below 85 dB represents a reduction in noise. The lower the line is on the chart, the better the noise cancellation. Note that the band between 100 Hz and 1.2 kHz is where most of the noise in an airline cabin occurs. In addition to our picks, we’ve included results from popular Bose earbuds, as well as the Final E4000—a set of passive, non-noise-canceling in-ear headphones—to show the amount of isolation you might get without noise canceling. Illustration: Sarah MacReading

To provide an easier way of watching these measurements, Brent calculated the typical amount of noise (in decibels) that the headphones cancelled within the 100 to 1200 Hz frequency band, which is where more airplane-cabin noise occurs, based on his analysis of 4 recordings he made in the cabins of various airliners. the higher the number, the greater the typical noise reduction.

Headphone modelAverage NC (in dB; more is better)
1More Dual Driver ANC Pro24.5
Bose QuietComfort 2023.3
Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 70022.5
Bose QuietComfort 35 Series II21.6
Anker Soundcore Life Q2018.7
Bose QuietControl 3016.9
Sony WH-1000XM416.2
Jabra Elite 85h14.7
Final E400011.4
TaoTronics TT-BH04210.5
Sony MDR-75063.2

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The best over-ear noise-canceling headphones: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

Photo: Rozette Rago
Our Pick
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Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700

The best over-ear noise-canceling headphones

$380*
*At the time of publishing, the price was $350.
The Bose 700 headphones deliver excellent noise cancellation in a comfortable, lightweight design that’s traveler friendly—but they carry a high price.

The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 over-ear set has the most versatile active noise cancellation we’ve ever tested. With 10 levels of noise reduction to choose from, everyone should be able to find a setting that meets their needs. Although these noise-canceling headphones don’t sound as good as the best over-ear headphones we’ve tried, in our tests they had a fairly neutral sound with no major flaws. Plus, they’re lightweight and convenient, and the buttons are easy to use. The 20-hour battery life, while not the best we’ve seen, is more than sufficient to get you to most destinations.

Technically speaking, the Bose 700 doesn’t reduce the most noise of any pair of over-ear headphones we’ve tested—that honor goes to the Sony WH-1000XM3—but it came very close when we set it to its maximum ANC level. What distinguishes the Bose 700’s ANC is the amount of adjustability it gives you. Most noise-canceling headphones offer controls for only on/off or maybe high/low/off, but here you can set the ANC level from 0 to 10, so you have more flexibility to dial in the ideal setting for your comfort or for a given activity. This feature is especially helpful for people who suffer from “eardrum suck,” since you can adjust the ANC intensity down in small steps until you no longer experience the problem. Through the Bose Music app, you can choose three ANC levels to assign as favorites, after which you can toggle between them using the button on the left earcup.

If you’re a fan of Bose’s signature sound, you won’t be disappointed with the Bose 700 set. These headphones are quintessential Bose: In our tests, they had a smidgen of extra bass, a little roll-off in the high-frequency range, and forward-sounding upper-mids. As a result, male vocals and basslines were a little more prominent in the mix than snare-rim clicks and consonants in words. Audiophile experts might say that the Bose 700 doesn’t have crispness and detail, while other folks may actually prefer this lack of high-end intensity. In a recent update, the Bose Music app added EQ settings that enable you to adjust the bass, mids, and treble regions. The changes apply a little broadly, but they allow for some personalization of the overall sound profile.

Bose has done a fantastic job of ensuring that the sound quality remains nearly the same no matter what setting or method you use to listen: Bluetooth, cable, noise canceling on or off, low or high. This is awesome stuff, as most headphones have soft to very outstanding sound-quality variations across their listening methods.

The Bose 700’s battery life isn’t industry-leading, but at 20 hours it’s more than enough. Of course, this number will vary based on whether you leave the noise cancellation on all the time, whether you choose the “always listening” option for your digital assistant, or whether you take frequent and long phone calls. But even when your headphones run out of power, it won’t be too long before they’re back up and running: The quick-charge feature gives you two and a half hours of battery life after 15 minutes of charging time.

The controls are easy to learn and use by feel. Bose applies a combination of physical buttons and touchpads: You manage noise cancellation, digital-assistant activation, power on/off, and Bluetooth pairing by pressing buttons, and you trigger volume and track changes by swiping and tapping on the right earcup. The Bose 700 is compatible with Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa, and you can program the system ( via the app) to be always listening for the wake word associated with your favorite voice assistant. For quick conversations, you can hold the ANC toggle button on the left earcup to turn off the active noise cancellation, pause your music, and turn on the microphones to hear your surroundings better.

You control the Bose 700 headphones through a combination of physical buttons and touchpads. The buttons handle noise-cancellation level, digital-assistant activation, power on/off, and Bluetooth pairing. Photo: Rozette Rago

These wireless noise-canceling headphones are especially comfortable to wear: lightweight, with super-soft memory-foam padding on the earcups and headband. Covering the padding on the underside of the headband is an unusual silicone-esque material that’s softer than solid plastic or metal yet feels as though it would be less likely to degrade over time in comparison with the fabric or leatherette material covering the headbands on much of the competition. The earpads are made of protein leather (higher-quality fake leather), and they’re replaceable and spacious enough to accommodate larger ear sizes. The earpad foam is pliable enough to work well with most glasses, though wider arms may cause some gaps that result in sound leakage. The fit felt secure on our heads, and most of our panelists thought the clamping force wasn’t too tight, though Brent said that the Bose QC35 Series II headphones felt looser and less restrictive on his larger skull.

The microphones sounded clear over our calls and video chats, but they did pick up some room noise. The microphone sound feeds into the noise-canceling headphones themselves, so you get your own vocal feedback; this effect helps reduce the instinct to yell when your ears are covered, but it can be distracting if you’re making a call in a busy office and the mics pick up some chatter or keyboard clicks from your surroundings. If you prefer to reduce the amount of yourself that you hear, or if you want to turn this effect off completely, you can do so in the Bose Music app.

Although over-ear noise-canceling headphones can’t compete with earbuds in portability, the Bose 700’s case does a decent job of minimizing the space these headphones take up in a bag. The headphones themselves fold flat, and the semi-firm case uses the gap between the headband and the earcups for cable storage. At about 2½ inches thick, the case will slip easily into a briefcase or a plane’s seat-back pocket.


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Over-ear pick: Flaws but not dealbreakers

Although we love a lot about the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, this set does have some drawbacks. The biggest issue is the Bose Music app. Ordinarily, we don’t worry too much about buggy apps. However, for these headphones, the Bose Music app is required to do a whole lot of things, including altering which digital assistant you use, turning on the always-listening wake word for your digital assistant, changing the assigned ANC preferences, adjusting how much of yourself you hear during calls, and setting the auto-off timer.

We have a couple of concerns regarding the app. For starters, it can be downright annoying to get the app to recognize your headphones. Both Lauren and Brent had difficulty pairing them, and after speaking with Bose representatives, we can offer the following tips. When you first power on the headphones, if they don’t show up on your Bluetooth list, there are two possible things you can do. First, if you use a VPN, turn it off; once the initial pairing is complete, you can turn your VPN back on again. Second, you may need to reduce the number of Bluetooth devices that are in your device’s paired-items list. Remove or “forget” as many unnecessary gadgets as possible, and then try the setup again.

On top of that, to use the app, you’re required to create a Bose account, which privacy advocates may find troublesome. You can use a throwaway email address for the account, but we know that some folks would prefer not to need an account just to use their listening gear.

Bose highlights the 700’s augmented-reality capabilities on its website, but as of now, this specialty is mostly potential. There are only a handful of apps that you can install, and a few works solely in specific cities, so the usefulness is limited.

Another thing to consider: If you are prone to eardrum suck, the Bose 700 will likely be problematic for you at the higher-intensity noise-cancellation settings. This physical reaction is common enough that it has kept us from naming previous Bose headphones such as the QuietComfort 35 Series II as top picks. Brent and Lauren, who are both sensitive to eardrum suck, found the 5 and 6 settings on the Bose 700 to be the sweet spot, where the reduction was effective yet not headache-inducing. At that level, though, the amount of noise cancellation wasn’t much better than that of lower-priced noise-canceling headphones we’ve tested. So if you know for certain that you won’t be using the higher levels of ANC, you may want to save money and choose a lower-priced option.

The digital assistant “always listening” feature is nifty, but keep in mind that other devices may also pick up your wake word when you’re talking to the headphones. Apple seems to have found a way to prevent duplicate Siri replies, but Google and Amazon devices may all answer you at once if you’re in range of them. This isn’t a Bose problem; it’s an OS problem.

And lastly, if you need to listen via a wired connection, keep in mind that the Bose 700 has a 2.5 mm input. A 2.5 mm–to–3.5 mm audio cable is included, but it has no remote or mic. Depending on your device, you may have trouble making phone calls when you’re tethered via the cord.


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Our noise-canceling earbuds pick: 1More Dual Driver ANC Pro

Photo: Rozette Rago
Our Pick
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1More Dual Driver ANC Pro

The best noise-canceling earbuds

$150
The ideal travel companion, this pair of earbuds offered the best noise reduction in our tests and allows you to listen via Bluetooth or an included cable.

The 1More Dual Driver ANC Pro collar-style Bluetooth noise-canceling earbuds are a fantastic choice for frequent travelers. Not only are they the most effective noise-canceling headphones we’ve ever measured, but they’re affordable, too. They can connect to your device wirelessly or via an included cable, and the noise cancellation works through both methods, which is not always the case among the competition. Plus, they’re lightweight, they coil up for easy storage in a shoulder bag or carry-on, the fit is comfortable, and the controls are simple to use by feel.

Impressively, these earbuds offered better noise reduction than even the Bose 700 headphones in the “airplane band” of frequencies, so they will effectively reduce engine noise, sounds from air conditioners, the woosh of traffic, and humming from fans. If you dislike the feeling of aggressive noise cancelling, the Dual Driver ANC Pro offers two settings (moderate and high) in addition to off. Our panelists who are sensitive to eardrum suck found the moderate setting completely comfortable; both Brent and Lauren felt some discomfort at the high setting.

When you need situational awareness, a button press activates pass-through mode, so you won’t need to take your earbuds out every time you have a conversation. And if you live in a windy locale (or tend to zone out in a Lyft with the windows down), the Dual Driver ANC Pro features a “wind noise reduction mode” that assists in reducing the fluttering sound of air swooping across your earbuds. It’s effective on a mild to moderate breeze but unlikely to keep up with the noise from serious gusts or other higher-speed winds (if you’re on a motorcycle, for example).

Fans of in-flight entertainment systems will be happy to know that the 1More earbuds work both wirelessly and wired. If the battery runs out, you can choose to listen corded, with the ANC powered off. Plus, unlike with most of the earbud competition, this pair’s active noise cancellation still functions in wired mode—as long as the earbuds have some battery life. 1More claims a 20-hour battery life with the ANC off, and 16 hours with it on. Those figures were very close to what we got in our testing, but your results could be different depending on the resolution of the audio you’re streaming, the volume, and the number of phone calls you take. Those numbers are the same as what you can get from the over-ear Bose 700 pair, and more than enough for a day of travel. If you do run out of juice, just plug in the 1More headphones and take a short break: The Dual Driver ANC Pro’s battery features a quick-charge mode that provides three hours of use from just a 10-minute charge.

In our tests, the sound quality was quite good, especially for a pair in the $150 price range. Although they don’t offer the detail and control on attack and decay as on our favorite wired earbuds, they do give you the convenience of Bluetooth and the addition of noise-canceling for around the same price. In our experience, a boost in the upper high-frequency range occasionally made consonants sound too intense and added a harsh edge to cymbal and snare sounds. And the very low lows (below 80 Hz, Brent noted) were a touch too loud, so bass-guitar notes seemed a little more recessed in the mix than usual, or as though the kick drum had been miked private but not outdoor. Overall, though, the sound was pleasant to listen to, with a nice level of clarity and sense of space. The tuning was pretty consistent across all the Bluetooth modes; the sound quality didn’t change much when we switched between ANC levels or turned it off. However, when we listened via cable, the treble intensity diminished somewhat.

In addition to their noise-reducing capabilities, the Dual Driver ANC Pro earbuds stand out for their comfort and ease of use: They’re lightweight, with unobtrusive cables and a flexible collar coated with a smooth silicone-style material that allows you to turn your head without the pieces’ snagging or tugging. 1More includes four different sizes of ear tips and one set of “ear secure” winglets, so every member of our panel was able to get a snug fit despite our wide array of ear sizes and shapes. We found the controls on the neckband easy to feel and use without looking, and even the included audio cable is thoughtfully wrapped in fabric, which helps to reduce tangles.

During phone calls, our voices sounded clear, though a bit compressed, to callers. The Dual Driver ANC Pro picked up background noises a bit, but no more than the majority of tested earbuds did.


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Earbuds pick: Flaws but not dealbreakers

The 1More Dual Driver ANC Pro earbuds are mostly wonderful flight companions, but we encountered a few bumps of turbulence. First of all, these aren’t the snazziest-looking earbuds, but we think their effectiveness, comfort, and ease of use will matter more on your next long journey.

As we mentioned above, the sound quality has an increase in intensity in the consonant range. The boosted high frequencies could be fatiguing for listeners who are sensitive to high-pitched sounds. The bump isn’t enough to ruin the overall listening experience, however, and in light of the Dual Driver ANC Pro’s other virtues, we gave it a pass on this drawback.

Another bummer: The mic is located on the collar, so scarves, jackets, and high shirt collars can block or rub it and hinder call quality. Just make sure the mic is not covered when you’re making or taking phone calls.

Lastly, the included carrying bag is made of the saddest, cheapest material. But since it’s really there just to keep your cables nearby and to keep dust off the headphones, we were able to overlook this.


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Best budget over-ear noise-cancelling headphones: Anker Soundcore Life Q20

Photo: Rozette Rago
Budget Pick
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Anker Soundcore Life Q20

The best noise-canceling headphones under $100

$60
These over-ear wireless noise-canceling headphones offer surprisingly decent sound, comfort, and noise canceling at a low price.

Generally, when wireless noise-canceling headphones dip below $100, they make some serious concessions in sound, build quality, or the effectiveness of their active noise cancellation. So we were pleasantly surprised to discover that the Anker Soundcore Life Q20 does all of those things pretty well for around 60 bucks. Although its noise-canceling and sound quality can’t match the standards set by the much pricier Bose 700, the Life Q20 is a fantastic affordable option.

As you can see in the chart above, the Life Q20’s active noise cancellation isn’t as effective as that of our other picks, but it is effective enough to make a noticeable difference in sounds such as airplane noise and the hum of air conditioners. On this pair, we marked an average reduction of 18.7 dB, which is awesome for headphones at this price and will help take the edge off loud hums so you can listen to your podcasts at a reasonable volume.

If you like a lot of basses, the tuning of the Life Q20 will appeal to you—this pair is definitely low-frequency heavy. With hip-hop, the bass will likely be a bit much for the audiophile set. Although in our tests the sound was not nearly as balanced as that of the Bose 700, it had enough high-end detail to keep us from losing track of lyrics.

Comfort is important even for budget noise-canceling headphones, and the Life Q20 punches above its weight class in this respect, with notably soft memory-foam earpads. The overall weight on the head is moderate, and the headband stays secure without squeezing. Folks with very small craniums may find (as Lauren did) that the length of the headband is a bit big and the earcups can hang a little lower than perfectly centered around the ear. That said, most adults will find the amount of adjustability to be perfectly suitable.

Life Q20 headphones are primarily made of plastic, but they don’t have the creaky or brittle feel of many similarly priced competitors. The control buttons are the one exception; in our tests, they felt a bit cheap and clicked in our ears when we pressed them. But since you press the buttons only occasionally to change tracks or take a call, we don’t think this annoyance is enough to ruin the Life Q20’s appeal. Plus, the controls are easy to use by the feel, and folks who don’t care for touch-based controls will enjoy having physical buttons.

Anker claims a 30-hour battery life with Bluetooth and noise-canceling on. In our tests, we got even more than that—the Life Q20 lasted 38 hours at about 70 percent volume and the ANC on (we also took about 20 minutes of phone calls). Just remember that more phone calls or louder volume may affect your personal experience. The battery’s quick-charge feature will power the headphones for four hours of use from just five minutes plugged in. The Life Q20’s Bluetooth range was over 120 feet line-of-sight in our testing, and we were able to go several rooms away without the signal drop, which is great.

The Life Q20 headphones are surprisingly comfortable for their price, with soft memory-foam earpads. Photo: Rozette Rago

If you want to listen wired, a 3.5 mm cable is included, but you’ll need to have the headphones powered on to take a call. In our tests, call quality was passable, not great. The mic sounded fantastic in a quiet room (our tester said it sounded as though we were calling from the phone itself) but also picked up a good bit of wind noise and human voices, so you may want to walk to a quieter place to take important calls.

The Life Q20 headphones fold flat but don’t come with a hard carrying case. The included fabric bag will do the trick to keep them clean but won’t protect them from impacts.


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Our budget noise-canceling earbuds pick: TaoTronics TT-BH042

Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald
Budget Pick
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TaoTronics TT-BH042

The best budget noise-canceling earbuds

$46
The wireless TT-BH042 pair offers good sound and okay noise canceling at an amazingly low price.

We’ve had a tough time finding inexpensive noise-canceling earbuds to recommend. That’s why we were thrilled to discover the TaoTronics TT-BH042. Its noise-canceling performance was mediocre (but still useful) in our tests, and you have no option to use this pair in wired mode, but everything else about it is so great that it’s a worthwhile buy for someone whose budget falls under $50.

In terms of fit, wearing and listening to the collar-style TT-BH042 earbuds is much like the experience of using the 1More Dual Driver ANC Pro. The collar is similar: It’s a flexible, lightweight band that we found much more comfortable than the rigid plastic bands of many noise-canceling in-ear headphones. The earpieces use standard ear tips (which come in three sizes), and TaoTronics includes rubber flanges (also in three sizes) to help keep the noise-canceling earpieces in your ears.

TaoTronics claims eight hours of battery life with the noise cancelling on, and we averaged 7 hours 45 minutes. Close enough.

The sound of the TT-BH042 earbuds was arguably a little better than that of the other noise-canceling earbuds we tried, depending on how well these headphones fit each of us. In our tests, Lauren and John thought the sound was okay but a little bassy, whereas Brent, whose ear canals are larger, didn’t get quite as much bass and ended up with a lively, more trebly sound that allowed instruments such as cymbals and acoustic guitar to sound clear and lifelike.

The TaoTronics earpieces use standard ear tips (available in three sizes). Rubber flanges are also available to help keep the earpieces securely situated in your ears. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

The big downside to the TT-BH042 is that its noise canceling is weak in the lowest frequencies of the “airplane band.” In our tests, around 100 Hz (a bit above the middle of the bass range and roughly equivalent to the fourth-lowest note on a guitar), the TT-BH042 earbuds didn’t block noise any better than the Final E4000 (the passive, non-noise-canceling in-ear headphones we used for reference in the testing-results chart above) when fitted with foam tips. The TT-BH042 earbuds let more of the low droning sound of airplane-cabin noise pass into our ears, too.

However, they blocked noise pretty well at higher frequencies—between 500 and 1000 Hz, and beyond, they actually beat some of the best noise-canceling headphones available. So even though the TT-BH042 reduced noise by a respectable average of 10.5 dB in our tests, its noise-canceling won’t be as effective in airplanes as that of our other picks—but in an office or at a café, it’ll be comparatively effective.

The remote/mic on the TT-BH042 earbuds manages music play/pause, volume, digital-assistant activation, track forward/reverse, and ANC on/off. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

The other downsides are ergonomic. Because the TT-BH042 set uses standard-shaped earpieces, you probably won’t want to lay your ear against a pillow when you’re wearing these earbuds. Also, the cables that connect the collar to the earpieces are too thin and too long; they tended to flop in front of our cheeks when we were walking.

And because the TT-BH042 doesn’t include a wired option, you can’t use this pair when the battery runs down or connect it directly to an in-flight entertainment system (you could use a Bluetooth transmitter). It doesn’t even come with a case, although you can find one on Amazon for $11 or less. The earpieces have magnets to hold them together for transit, but putting them together doesn’t switch off the Bluetooth or noise canceling.

The TT-BH042 also has an IPX5 moisture-resistance rating, which means it should be safely sweatproof. The Bluetooth range is extraordinary, too: 60 feet. The call quality was marginal, though: In our tests, voices on both ends of the call often sounded distorted, and Lauren heard lots of room noise coming in through the TT-BH042’s microphone.

All things considered, we think the 1More earbuds’ better noise canceling, longer battery life, and the ability for you to listen to corded offer enough of an improvement that they’re worth the extra cash; however, if your budget is tight, the TT-BH042 set will definitely be more enjoyable to fly with than most non-noise-canceling earbuds.


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