There are two ways to deal with environmental noises when you listen to music on your headphones. The first way is to turn the volume way up to drown out the noises, which unfortunately can result in hearing loss over time. The second and preferred way is to invest in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, which will not affect anything except your finances.
This is where this article comes in. We are going to tell you the best noise-cancelling headphones with the added quality of being easy on your finances, say around $200. You should know that when you buy a pair of noise-cancelling headphones you are paying for two things: active noise cancellation (ANC) technology and sound quality. In contrast, regular headphones only have to deliver sound quality.
This is why at the same price point, good regular headphones tend to have better sound quality than noise-cancelling headphones. Fortunately, our best noise-cancelling headphones under $200 are so good that the sound quality will satisfy everybody except the most hardcore audiophiles.
Noise-cancelling headphones require batteries to power the ANC electronics. ANC works by having a microphone pick up the ambient noises, analyze them, and then emit through the speakers inverted (180o out of phase) soundwaves of the exact same magnitude, effectively cancelling out the noises. Current technology works best on monotonous noises. The response time is not yet fast enough for sudden and distinct noises. It is also most effective on lower frequencies because higher frequencies are more directional and will require multiple microphones to cancel out.
Now, let’s get on to the best noise-cancelling headphones under $200.
Level On Wireless PRO
The Samsung Level On PRO is a pair of wireless headphones with ANC. Like all Bluetooth headphones, you can connect the Samsung Level On PRO wirelessly to a Bluetooth device or via the included audio cable with 3.5mm jack to the audio output of a device.
The sound quality of the Samsung Level On PRO is the same as the base model Samsung Level On. Besides adding Bluetooth and ANC, the PRO version also supports Samsung’s Ultra High Quality Audio (UHQA) technology. Unfortunately, UHQA is only available when the Level On PRO is used with the more current Samsung Galaxy smartphones. The sound quality of the Level On PRO is good if not on par with regular headphones of similar price. The Level On Pro handles high frequencies very well, low frequencies fairly well, and the clarity is good except it can sound a bit shrill at very high volume.
As for the Samsung Level On PRO’s ANC circuitry, it attenuates loud ambient noises enough that they are inaudible when music is playing at average level. The response time is average. It uses one rechargeable lithium-ion battery rated at 10 hours continuous or 200 hours on standby, which is also average.
We are impressed with the Level On PRO’s touch control built into the right earcup (the part marked “LEVEL”). By way of different touches you can change volume, skip tracks, play/pause, and turn ANC on or off. You can also use these headphones with the Samsung Level app which adds preprogrammed sound fields and text-to-speech capability.
BackBeat PRO 2
Plantronics is most well-known for its business headsets but the company also makes a few series of consumer headphones that are very high-performing for their prices. The Plantronics BackBeat PRO 2 is the best wireless noise-cancelling headphones under $200.
Its build quality is excellent. It has the overbuilt look of a high-end audio component. They feel solid in your hands or on your head and ears. The ear cups swivel flat to fit into a handsome thin carrying case. Also included are a USB cable for charging and an audio cable with 3.5mm plug should you choose to connect these wireless headphones directly to a device.
With ANC on, the Plantronics BackBeat PRO 2 attenuates ambient noises almost immediately to a much lower level such that you can drown them out by playing music at way below average volume. The sound quality also exceeded our expectation. These headphones deliver excellent spatial cues. The sound is clear and bold, albeit with a slight emphasis in the low bass, which is not a bad thing for today’s most popular music genres.
The class 1 Bluetooth range is 100m or 330ft. We also like the fact that the battery lasts up to 24 hours of continuous use between charges. You can change volume, skip tracks, play/pause, and toggle ANC on or off on the right earcup, though these are not as cool as the touch controls on the Samsung Level On PRO.
(Editor’s Note: OK, yes, we know. These headphones by Bose will most likely cost a bit higher than the $200 price ceiling we promised. But the sound quality and ANC technology on these are such a vast improvement over the competition in this price range that we just had to include them. Go ahead and spend the extra $50–you’ll be glad you did!)
Bose has been making noise-cancelling headphones for military and aviation uses for a while, and it is the first company to sell consumer-grade noise-cancelling headphones.
The wildly popular QuietComfort 20 is Bose’s first in-ear noise-cancelling headphones based on their 2nd generation consumer ANC technology. In-ear headphones are popularly known as “earphones” while those with earcups are known as “headphones”. However, for the purpose of this article we are dispensing with this cumbersome distinction. Earphones are technically headphones anyway.
The ANC circuitry in the Bose QuietComfort 20 is top-of-the-line. This is a very serious design which is why the ANC module located near the 3.5mm plug is relatively large. This module is so thin and light that we did not find ithindering at all, and we don’t think that you will.
The Bose QuietComfort 20 comes with 3 pairs of StayHear+ tips (small, medium, and large) to fit almost everyone. These soft tips are designed to fit the ear auricle as perfectly as possible. This passive noise cancelling feature works almost like earplugs for firearm hearing protection. Thanks to the combination of passive and active noise cancellation, you only have to play music at a low volumeto make loud background noises inaudible.
Furthermore, the sound quality of the Bose QuietComfort 20 is far from an afterthought. The Bose QuietComfort 20 plays music with excellent clarity, lots of audiophile air, and scarily good dynamics.
Our pick for the best noise-cancelling headphones under $200 is a slam dunk. It is evidently the Bose QuietComfort 20. However, there is a catch. New Bose products are never discounted anywhere so you will not find them for less than $200, but on the other hand you can be sure that the Bose QuietComfort 20 will always hold its value. It is so much better than the rather small field of noise-cancelling headphones in this price range that we feel it is fully justified to make the Bose QuietComfort 20 the best noise-cancelling headphones under $200.
If you must insist that we stick to the under $200 technicality, then we would have to go with the Plantronics BackBeat PRO 2.You also get wireless capability with the BackBeat PRO 2. These headphones are very well built. The ANC technology functions well and the sound is bold, forward, and inviting.
On the other hand, the Samsung Level On PRO is worth considering if you have a Samsung Galaxy smartphone with UHQA capability. With this combo, you’ll be able to enjoy 24-bit digital audio at higher sampling rate and twice the dynamic range of CD quality sound.