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Published Jun 24, 2022 1:00 PM

Noise-cancelling headphones aren’t just a want; in a modern work-from-anywhere world, they’re a need. There’s nothing more jarring than your surroundings creeping in on your personal, portable productivity bubble. Or maybe you’ve been working hard and now it’s time to decompress. Well, you don’t want interruptions then, either. Whether you want to rock to a rhythm or pontificate on the points of a podcast, sometimes you just want to be like Britney Spears: In the Zone. And thanks to the wonders of technology both design-based and digital, you can be when you pick up a pair of the best noise-cancelling headphones under $100.

Once the domain of the most expensive sets, noise cancellation has since come to the masses. To that end, you don’t have to spend hundreds to bathe your brain in beats. You can, instead, spend slightly under a single hundred! Huzzah! But even at that specific price point for that specific product there are choices, and we’re here to sift through them with you, bringing you the best noise-cancelling headphones under $100.

How we selected the best noise-cancelling headphones under $100

Our list was put together by weighing offerings from a dozen brands and looking at models that were widely available, at the time of writing, for less than $100. We considered personal experience, peer input, expert analysis, and user impressions in determining which were the “best” in each category. 

There are five things we then considered when narrowing it down to these headphones. First was, of course, the quality of the noise cancellation. If too much sound leaks through or if the noise-cancelling tech muffles your sounds of choice too much, it’s off the list. Second was overall sound quality. How booming is the bass, how terrific is the treble? Are there a lot of customization options to make sure that you don’t just get good sound but the sound you prefer? 

Third, we looked at fit and comfort. A lot of otherwise excellent headphones wear heavy on the head or heat up the ears to a point where it’s distracting, pulling you out of your audio wonderland with the harsh reality of physical discomfort, but those won’t be found here. Fourth, we looked at portability. Headphones these days need to do a lot for a lot of people, in a lot of places. You need them for your phone, laptop, and even television. You need them at home and on the go. So how easy these headphones break down and zip up into a bag was a factor. The last needle-mover was extra features. Do the headphones integrate into any smart media set-ups? Do they include unique options or settings that competitors don’t have? 

The sum total of all those considerations helped us break down our list, which includes our best overall recommendation as well as case-specific recommendations for case-specific listeners.

Things to consider before buying noise-cancelling headphones under $100

The majority of our recommended sets of headphones are over-ear designs, which means the ear cups are large enough to completely engulf your ears within them. This allows the headphones to include larger full-range drivers (a fancy way to say the speakers you strap to your head to turn all your favorite songs from digital streams to sound waves). It also allows a seal around the ear that physically muffles outside sound, starting the job of cancelling noise. Closed-back over-ear headphones offer this full seal, while open-back over-ear headphones feature perforated, sometimes completely revealing earcups that allow for a far more expansive soundscape, which can affect the impact and imaging of the audio in a positive way, but also increase the amount of distracting detracting sound that bleeds in and out.

The other options we included, because not everyone enjoys the full isolation of over-ear headphones, are on-ear headphones. These have smaller pads that fit, appropriately, on top of the ear instead of around it, positioning the driver, typically of a smaller size, directly over the ear canal. Because this type of headphones can’t form as tight a seal, there’s less physical noise cancellation (also known as passive noise-cancelling) going on than with over-ear headphones. 

To compensate for environmental noise that can creep in, more of the work is done by electronics that create a field of sound under whatever you’re listening to meant to override your brain’s reception of the outside noise. This is also known as active noise-cancelling (ANC). When software dynamically changes this field of sound based on the outside noise or some sort of geotagged location, rather than being limited to predetermined settings, that’s adaptive active noise-cancelling. Typically, a set of headphones does not refer to itself as “noise-cancelling” unless it has at least basic ANC.

Sound technology

Active noise cancelling, like most headphone tech, started as a higher-end technology for well-heeled headphone enthusiasts but has democratized into every type (earphones, earbuds) and budget level of the audio world. But not all ANC is created equal. ANC is a combination of effective microphones picking up the noise in order to filter it and effectively designed filtering fields, married in such a way as to minimize the effects on the audio to which you’re listening. Just because a product “has” ANC doesn’t mean that it’s good at ANC. In fact, bad ANC can cause your brain not just to filter out ambient noise, but to filter out elements of your audio as well, muffling the registers or elements of your music, podcasts, or audiobooks. Some people perceive a pressurized feeling from noise cancellation. Or, weakly implemented ANC can simply not make much of a difference at all in the field of noise.

Active noise-cancelling technology has one or more presets meant for quieter or louder spaces, or different types of noise. These don’t adjust to what’s happening around you (that’s the pricier “adaptive” technology), so it’s your responsibility to toggle between options, when available, to fit your surroundings. Well-implemented adaptive noise cancelling is the best noise-cancelling experience on the market, hands down, but is rare to find in sub-$100 headphones. However, there’s some surprisingly good ANC out there that does a fine job of filtering everyday noise like the murmurs of a cafe, kids, and pets shuffling around the house, or traffic sounds outside the walls of an apartment. More piercing sounds or sounds at extreme volumes will still get through even the best noise cancellation.

Your environment and lifestyle

We’ve included a host of specific-case recommendations for people who are looking for headphones to meet their needs. If you are looking to spend on the lower end of sub-$100, we have a set for that. If you plan to spend a lot of time running or at the gym with your headphones, we’ve got a set for that. And if you’re a big traveler, we’ve got a set for that. These different use cases will really emphasize different design elements and features, so if you know that most of your use will be under certain conditions, you’re going to want to consider that matching pair of headphones over “best overall.”

Best noise-cancelling headphones under $100: Reviews & Recommendations

Now that we’ve introduced the components that make up the best noise-cancelling headphones under $100, here are our recommendations for the cans that can, the models that feed your head without filling it with noise.

Best overall: Soundcore by Anker Life Q30

Soundcore

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Why it made the cut: Tech-of-all-trades masters Anker hit another one out of the park, crafting a great overall pair of headphones at a beyond-reasonable price.

Specs

  • Bluetooth and USB-C connections
  • 40-hour battery life
  • Smartphone app allows for sound customizability
  • Active noise cancelling in three pre-set modes

Pros

  • Great noise-cancelling
  • Very long battery life
  • Heavily customizable sound

Cons

  • No noise-cancelling customization in app
  • Fit is not ideal

Anker has turned into a go-to company for all kinds of tech gadgets from batteries and power adapters to speakers and headphones. The Soundcore line has produced some great products of both the earbud and headphone variety, with Anker’s dedication to keeping prices down intact. The Soundcore Life Q30 is the latest sub-$100 headphone to really shine.

The noise cancellation stands out in the Q30. The ANC comes with three presets for various levels of background noise. At low noise levels (coffee shop noise, sounds of the house), it’s perfect. More piercing and high-volume noises (such as construction) are going to have some leak-through, but within the sub-$100 category these still perform the best. Sadly, there’s no further customization of the noise cancellation, just the three presets.

Sound is another strong element of the Q30. Bass is punchy and treble is crisp. Anker’s iOS or Android app allows a lot of customization features for EQ. I recommend starting at the bass settings and tweaking to your preferences rather than using any of the preset modes within the app.

The main weakness of the Q30 is the fit. The ear cups are a bit small for all heads and the fit isn’t particularly tight, which means these headphones can slip relatively easily. They’re not recommended as exercise headphones for that reason, or if you’re a gamer who tends to move around a lot when playing. However, for listening to music or podcasts while walking steadily or riding on a train/bus—or even more ideally, relaxing on the couch—there are no issues.

If you feel like you don’t need quite as advanced a set of headphones, you can save a little bit of money by going for the Q20 model. While also a solid set of headphones, the noise cancellation is simply not as good as the Q30.

Best on-ear: JBL Live 460NC

Why it made the cut: JBL delivers a great set that is lighter and exceedingly comfortable for those who prefer the fit and feel of on-ear headphones.

Specs

  • On-ear design
  • JBL app allows customization and connection to popular voice assistants
  • 40-hour battery life (50 hours without noise cancellation)
  • Bluetooth and USB-C connections

Pros

  • Light and easy to wear (assuming you like on-ear)
  • Excellent battery life
  • TalkThru mode lowers the music volume and increases the volume of voices

Cons

  • May have some audio delays with televisions
  • Sound tends to bleed out more than over-ear designs

Not everyone likes the fully housed over-ear designs that most headphones use. While this design allows for some passive noise cancellation, it can also increase the bulk of the headset and cause some people’s ears to get hot. Thus, on-ear—smaller ear cups meant to lay on top of the ear rather than around it—is an alternative. JBL offers the best on-ear choice for noise-cancelling headphones under $100 with the JBL Live 460NC.

The on-ear design is the most compelling feature and they result in a comfortable, light (210 grams) design that is also easy to twist flat and pack away. The ear cups feature a number of buttons to control volume, though they are quite sensitive which can be annoying to some users. Despite being on-ear headphones, the fit is great on the Live 460NC, tight enough to stay in place but not to the point of discomfort. The headband especially has a nice texture and would be comfortable even for bald users.

Active noise cancellation is simply an on or off option with these but there are two modes for altering the function of the ANC. Ambient Aware allows ambient sounds to pass through while still reducing but not removing noise, making them good for walking in the city when you still want to be able to know what’s happening around you. TalkThru lowers the volume of music and boosts voice to allow conversations without necessarily removing or turning off the headphones/music.

Because these are on-ear headphones, sound tends to leak a small bit out of the ear cups and into the surrounding space, so they may not be the perfect pair if you often want to use your headphones inside a public or university library or other space where general quiet is encouraged (or enforced). Battery life is a plus on this model, with 50 hours possible (without noise cancellation). Sound overall is good but not quite as rich as other models we’ve highlighted.

The similarly priced JBL Tune 660NC is another option. They’re very similar in features but the Live 460NC wins the head-to-head by a whisker as far as I’m concerned. The Tune 660NC is really built for bass but a wider variety of genres (and podcasts) sound better on the Live 460NC. The slight battery advantage of the Tune 660NC wasn’t enough to sway me, though if you listen to a lot of bass-heavy music, it may be the better choice for you.

Best for travel: Skullcandy Hesh ANC

Skullcandy

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Why it made the cut: Folding down to a very manageable size means these Skullcandy headphones are easy to pop in a bag for a day, a weekend, or even a multi-continent around-the-world itinerary. 

Specs

  • Bluetooth connection
  • 40mm audio drivers
  • Rapid charging gives 3 hours of use on a 10-minute charge
  • Noise Cancelling and Ambient modes

Pros

  • Built-in Tile location technology
  • Folding design is tight and perfect for fitting in a backpack
  • Attractive styling

Cons

  • Low battery life
  • Bass is somewhat weak

(Note: The Skullcandy Hesh ANC has an MSRP of $134.99 but was available for $100 or less as of writing.)

Most people want headphones that can go anywhere with them but the most expensive pairs often require bulky carrying cases that take up a ton of room in a backpack. The Skullcandy Hesh ANC is the best set for a jetset, feating a folding design that is more compact than competitors and, uniquely, a GPS-enabled finder through Tile technology that leads you to the location of the headphones through an app on your phone if you ever lose them. This means that for travelers, the Hesh is the besht.

The design of the Hesh ANC is a bit different than competitors, with a flat cup that looks quite sleek. I really like this styling and it also helps collapse the headphones, allowing them to click into parallel positions instead of simply turning 90 degrees. When collapsed, they take up slightly more depth than competitors but considerably less height, which I find makes them easier to fit into a backpack or suitcase.

Sound is good, though bass isn’t the Hesh’s forte (other, higher-end Skullcandy models definitely beat it out there). Clarity is strong, however, and ANC is effective. An Ambient mode allows some sound to pass through while muffling music so you can have a quick conversation with an airline employee, store clerk, or museum attendant while you’re vacationing with these bad boys on your ears.

Battery life is one of the weaknesses of the Hesh, as its 22 hours don’t really stack up to the 35+ hours we see elsewhere. However, quick charging can compensate for some of that, as a 10-minute charge can produce 3 hours worth of power. You may need to hit up the plug more often with the Hesh than with other headphones but you won’t spend much time there cumulatively. While a longer battery would have been nice, due to its collapsing profile and Tile compatibility, the Hesh ANC really is the best choice for on-the-go noise-cancelling headphones under $100.

Best for sports: TRELAB Z2

TREBLAB

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Why it made the cut: IPX4 water-resistance, a tight but comfortable fit, along with Bluetooth 5.0 and ANC means that the TRELAB Z2 headphones can get you in the zone with your favorite high-energy playlist to get you pumped, your set of meditative songs to stretch to, or classic rock to pace your runs.

Specs

  • Bluetooth 5.0 and aptX codec for better signal strength and sync
  • IPX4 water-resistant and sweatproof
  • Up to 35-hour battery life
  • Voice assistant compatibility

Pros

  • One of the only sweatproof and water-resistant headphones in the price range
  • Good battery life
  • The aptX codec helps ensure less latency with Bluetooth-compatible TV sets

Cons

  • Sound can be a bit muffled with ANC
  • Bulky and space-hungry when on-the-go

(Note: The TRELAB Z2 has an MSRP of $119.97 but was available for $89.97 as of writing.)

One of the few sets of noise-cancelling headphones under $100 that are designed for use while exercising, the TRELAB Z2 has sweatproof and water-resistant IPX4 design, meaning that these can be worn both in the gym and out in the park without worry of sweat or the elements. While you don’t want to submerge them, regular sweating or even light rain are not in danger of damaging the interior components. That alone vaults the Z2 to the top of the “for exercise” category as no other headphones can offer IPX4.

The ANC on these is very good but comes at a bit of a cost. More than some other headphones, the sound stage of music seems to suffer when ANC is on. However, when on, ANC does a great job of filtering out both ambient and even some more present noise. Other lifters’ grunts and groans won’t spoil your zone at the gym and the park’s murmurs will become distant if not non-existent while you do laps around the lake.

Sound without ANC is quite good. While not audiophile quality, the bass is strong and the treble crisp. The depth of sound is especially good when not using ANC. Another nice feature is the use of an aptX HD codec, a higher-resolution, less-compressed option great if you use lossless streaming services (such as Apple Music or TIDAL). The multipoint connection features mean you can have the headphones paired to two devices at once—for instance, a TV you’re watching fitness instructions on and your phone in case someone calls. And, when connected via Bluetooth to compatible television, aptX ensures lower latency, so there’s no noticeable gap between mouth movement on your screen and sound in your ears.

Overall, the exercise-supporting features that nobody else has is what really sets the Z2 apart. If you’re a gym rat, a road runner, or any other type of extremely active creature, this might be the best set of noise-cancelling headphones under $100 for you.

Best budget: Sony MDRZX110NC

Why it made the cut: If you don’t mind being tethered, the Sony MDRZX110NC offers one of the lowest prices on the market alongside solid Sony construction.

Specs

  • 3.5mm Stereo wired connection
  • Airplane adapter included
  • Active noise-cancelling via battery
  • On-ear design

Pros

  • Noise-cancelling at a low price
  • Noise-cancelling works via battery without plugging in the headphones
  • Airplane adapter included

Cons

  • Need an adapter for use with latest iPhone models
  • Noise-cancelling much more effective at lower registers than higher

Sometimes the best deal is the lowest price and, if your needs are limited, the Sony MDRZX110NC can get the job done. Keep in mind that these are not wireless and have no built-in Bluetooth compatibility, so if your main music device is an iPhone from the last half-decade, you’ll need a Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter to use these. However, if your usual music sources have a standard headphone port already, these are an excellent option for noise-cancelling headphones at a bargain price.

One of the nice things about these is they can also double as high-tech, more comfortable ear muffs when not being used to listen to music. The noise-cancelling feature is independent from any audio source, powered by a AAA battery (with 80 hours of use on one battery). If you just want to put these on, turn on noise-cancelling, and meditate, they work.

The noise-cancelling is designed to be most effective for low, droning sounds like an airplane engine while flying. Higher-frequency noise does tend to get through. They promise a reduction of 95% on ambient noise. Sound quality is pretty solid. The Sony MDRZX110NC is the least high-tech option on our list but perfect if all you’re looking for is a little more quiet.

Best splurge: Sony WHCH710N

Why it made the cut: Comfort, style, tech, and sound combine at really strong levels of quality. Featuring a long battery and a USB-C wired connection option alongside other features, the Sony WHCH710N is often less than $100 but feels like it should be so much more.

Specs

  • Bluetooth and USB-C connections
  • 35-hour battery life
  • Smartphone capability
  • Active noise cancellation

Pros

  • Strong sound quality vis 30mm drivers and Sony Headphones Connect app
  • Same high-quality earpads and headband as more expensive Sony models
  • Quick recharges with five hours of music playback from a 10 minute charge

Cons

  • ANC, while good, is automatic rather than adjustable
  • Bulky and non-collapsible means they take up a lot of space in a bag

(Note: The Sony WHCH710N has an MSRP of $149.99 but has been available as low as $98.)

When is a splurge not a splurge? When there’s a sale, which is why we’re including these headphones. Sony rarely shows up on “under $100” lists because they tend to concentrate on mid- and higher-end models. Not so with the WHCH710N, which has some of the best sound and noise cancellation in the category along with an extremely expensive-feeling fit. Though intended to go for $150, they’re often available for less, and if you hit one of those sub-$100 windows, take advantage.

Sony’s ANC features on the WHCH710N are a bit of a battery drain—don’t expect 35 hours if you’ve got noise cancellation turned on–but are largely more effective than a lot of sub-$100 headphones. While effective, there are no customization options. 

Sound quality is quite rich and tonal from 30mm drivers, with little fuzz on the high end or loss of clarity on the lows. The bass on these isn’t going to blow you away, though, so if you’re into really pumping beats, these might not get you where you want to go.

The comfort level, however, is inarguably great. Sony didn’t downgrade their materials on the headband and earcups, meaning you get a really soft, comfortable fit that won’t be hard to wear. The weight, 7.8 ounces, is easy on the neck and shoulders. When available at under $100, these headphones would go toe-to-toe with our best overall and are a no-brainer.

FAQs

Q: How much do noise-cancelling headphones cost?

While noise-cancelling headphones used to be quite pricey, as this guide shows, you can get some excellent sets starting at around $50. This is for models with active noise cancellation, where a field of nearly imperceptible sound counteracts the environmental noise that microphones pick up in order to “cancel out” the hustle and bustle around you.

Q: Do noise-cancelling headphones reduce sound quality?

Technically, active noise cancellation will always impact sound quality, because it’s adding an extra sonic layer to whatever you’re listening to in order to counteract the noise around you, and potentially increasing bass frequencies to help compensate. However, better brands have made this sound degradation less and less noticeable. Really good active noise cancellation might slightly skew the volume or tilt the punch of bass but won’t significantly alter your enjoyment of your music.

Q: What’s the difference between regular headphones and noise-cancelling?

Regular headphones do not generate counterwaves to cancel out ambient noise. They will, of course, muffle your surroundings by closing off the ear somewhat. This is called passive noise cancelling and is the same effect you get from earmuffs or ear plugs. Actual noise-cancelling technology creates a sound field that is largely imperceptible to the listener that uses inverted soundwaves to cancel certain frequencies and help trick the brain into not actively hearing noise at certain registers.

Q: How do noise-cancelling headphones work?

It’s important to remember that noise is a wave, a vibration in the air. When it hits your ear, it causes membranes and bones inside your body to vibrate at certain frequencies, creating sound in your head. We don’t think of sound as a physical thing because we can’t see it, but it is physical. Noise cancellation is essentially the trick of sending another physical signal that counteracts the “noisy” one. They both go through, but the vibrations essentially are not registered because of the “zero sum” of the sound waves. Active noise-cancelling headphones will send out a consistent signal that will reduce much “normal” noise, usually in one or a few preset modes, while adaptive noise cancellation has more advanced software that uses moment-to-moment data from its microphones to analyze surroundings and adjust counterwaves accordingly to filter out specific sounds more effectively. Some headphones that pair with smartphones even let you geofence specific places so that ANC turns on, with specific settings, when the devices determine via GPS you have arrived there.

Q: Do noise-cancelling headphones work without music?

This matters on the product. Plenty of products do in fact allow the noise-cancelling feature to run separately from any input. Most wireless noise-cancelling headphones will do so. However, wired headphones tend to not have their own power source, and take power from a USB connection that is also their audio connection. These headphones may not even consider themselves “on” if a sound signal is not coming through and therefore may not engage noise cancellation without music or some other sound input.

Q: Can you sleep with noise-cancelling headphones on?

Absolutely. Any good pair of headphones with a snug over-ear fit will help muffle sound and improve your sleep if you’re a light sleeper. However, a pair with active noise cancellation will work much better. A good choice for a sleep pair is the Wyze Bluetooth 5.0 Headphones, which have a very comfortable fit and decent active noise cancellation at a low price point.

Final thoughts on the best noise-cancelling headphones under $100

While none of these headphones are perfect in every facet, many of them excel in certain categories and the level of quality available at the sub-$100 price point is quite astounding. A healthy amount of competition between brands along with technological advancement has really pushed forward headphones in the last decade, allowing plenty of features that were previously luxury-only to trickle down to the value models. As always, the best option is to physically demo the headphones for yourself, if you can, before figuring out which one works best for your tastes, as both the physical dimensions and software implementation of the headphones will impact the user experience. However, if that’s not possible, we feel confident that any of the headphones on our list truly deserve a place as the best noise-cancelling headphones under $100.

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