Best noise cancelling headphones under $100 and $200 (classic and earbuds to sleep in)

by | noise cancelling headphones, sleep gadgets, sound and sleep

For this guide on best budget noise-cancelling headphones (under $100 and $200), we looked at 64 models. The list was narrowed down to 35 affordable sets by our sound-engineering consultants from the Liquid Sound Lab  (Boston, MA). We’d like to use the opportunity to thank them for their impeccable work.

We then proceeded to send the 35 picks to our testers.

This was about a year ago. The results you are about to see below are based on their ratings and the pool of data we collected from over 14,000 user reviews.

noise cancelling headphones pile - preparation for testing

Last updated: May 2018

Before you move on, let Andy explain what to look for

Model

Ratings

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Top Pick Overall – Bose QuietComfort 35 Wireless

credit: cnet.com
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Why no other headphones come close

This Bose pair doesn’t fit into the price range we mentioned above, but there was no way around mentioning it. The gap in ratings in all quality aspects, especially the sound quality, is just too big for us not to mention this model.

Just in case you decide to treat yourself

In the rest of the guide, we list some of good budget noise-cancellation options out there, but none of the models come close to the Bose QC35.

Bose QuietComfort 35 silver front view

The ratings speak for themselves

If you compare the ratings of this Bose to our top picks under $100 and $200, you’ll get a clear picture of what we’re talking about.

The gap in ratings between this Bose and the top pick under $200 (Audio Technica QuietPoint) is a hefty 7 points (96 vs. 89) and full 10 points compared to the Paww WaveSound (top pick under $100).

Bose QuietComfort 35 silver cables and carry set
Bose QuietComfort 35 black front view

A clear picture about the difference

The point rating system we use, translated to star rating would probably paint a better picture. A difference of 20 points is a half a star – more importantly, these ratings include the category of “value for money” so don’t exactly speak about the absolute quality.

No real competition in raw quality

If you take two factors that are subjective out of the equation (user satisfaction & value for money) you get a more accurate picture of just how much better the experience with the Bose products is compared to any other model.

The ultimate sound experience

If you narrow it even more and exclude the “design & build rating you get to the substance – the sheer sound experience of the Bose QuietComfort.

In those terms, Bose is rated at 97.5 and the Paww and Audio Technica are rated at 83.5 & 89.5 respectively. Translated into star ratings, the gap becomes more than a full star, and that says it all.

side view of the bose headphones

Ratings comparison – Bose QC35 vs. Paww 3:

Bose QuietComfort ratings comparison to best-rated under 100
  • Noise cancelling 98%
  • Sound Quality 97%
  • Design & build 95%
  • User satisfaction 96%
  • Value for money 94%
Paww WaveSound Bluetooth ratings comparison
  • Noise cancelling 83%
  • Sound Quality 84%
  • Design & build 85%
  • User satisfaction 86%
  • Value for money 92%

Bottom line

We’ll make our peace with sounding “Teleshopy” and stress that we don’t have not received a “free sample” for testing. But, in terms of noise cancellation and the sound quality, there’s just no comparison.

 

The Bose is more expensive but, in our opinion, worth every dime. Think about like this – getting a pair like this Bose will mean you don’t even have to think about replacing your headphones for at least 5-6 years.

 

By then, something mind-boggling might pop up but according to Barry Hupp (our sound-engineering consultant), “there’s nothing on the horizon of the industry to indicate that anything revolutionary might appear in the next 5-10 years”.

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Best noise cancelling headphones under 100 dollars – Paww WaveSound 3

If you are on a truly tight budget, the Paww WaveSound will be something to look at. If you skipped to this section without reading the comparison of our pick for the best budget noise cancelling headphones under $100, let us just reiterate for a moment.

The Paww WaveSound is a decent budget solution but doesn’t really come close to our top pick overall – the Bose QuietComfort 35. The noise cancellation of the Paw can be described as “good” with the price in mind.

It’s rated at 86 / 100 Overall, while the overall top pick is rated at 96 /100.

Paww WaveSound unboxing

Fact sheet of the Paww WaveSound 3 Bluetooth Wireless

  • Dimensions – 7x3.1x7.9 “
  • Weight – approximately 2 lbs
  • Includes an adapter for travel (airplane) and a secondary cable – this allows you to hook the headphones to the airplane system and listen to the sound through the headphones without the interruption of the outside noise
  • Comes with a carry case – the sturdy carry-case is a nice plus for travel
  • Foldable – this is mainly why the pair is so highly rated in the design category. They fold to a small package that’s easy to pack away in a carry-on.
  • Micro-USB charging – the pair comes with both re-chargeable batteries and a micro-USB charging port, meaning that you’ll never have to buy batteries for it
  • Sturdy construction – the body is solid metal, from what we’ve seen it’s practically indestructible in normal use. This means that if you get this Paww unit, the reason for replacing it in the future is not likely to be any structural defect like it might be with a plastic body.

Main PROs & CONs of the PAWW 3:

PROs

  • Budget-friendly (or “cheap,” whatever wording you prefer)
  • Attractive modern design
  • Well balanced, neutral sound (Bluetooth tends to favor the bass, no the case with the PAWW)
  • Good response in both mid and high ranges (low Bluetooth latency – which is very important)
  • Good noise cancellation for the price
  • Sturdy metal build with minimal plastic details
  • The rechargeable batteries hold a solid charge
  • The mini-USB port works as described
  • Separate and intuitive controls of the Bluetooth

CONs

  • Maximum volume not as high as competing models
  • We’ve seen some muffling in the bass response
  • The metal makes them hefty and heavy, might be an issue in the long-run
  • The bass is too mild and soft for some types of music that call for a pounding depth of the bass (like rap & dubstep)

PAWW 3 compared to the top set overall
Bose Quit Comfort 35.

Paww WaveSound carry case
  • Noise cancelling 83%
  • Sound Quality 84%
  • Design & build 85%
  • User satisfaction 86%
  • Value for money 92%
see paww 3 on amazon here
Bose QuietComfort ratings comparison to best-rated under 100
  • Noise cancelling 98%
  • Sound Quality 97%
  • Design & build 95%
  • User satisfaction 96%
  • Value for money 94%
see bose on amazon

Best noise cancelling headphones under 200 dollars – Audio Technica ANC9 QuietPoint

These QuietPoint from Audio Technica are, in our opinion, by far the best affordable and budget-friendly noise cancelling headphones under $200.

In case you skipped right to this part of the guide, the first thing that we need to mention that, they are a solid budget solution and, in our opinion, by far the top-rated pick in the price range of under $200.

Vs. the top overall pick

But, the ANC9 QuietPoint don’t really come close to the top overall pick – Bose QuietComfort 35 – you’ll see the comparison in ratings between the two in a minute.

Let us first look at the one “bone we have to pick” with ANC9.

ATH ANC9 QuietPoint used airplane
ATH ANC9 QuietPoint unboxed on laptop

Sound quality – nothing to write home about

Like with most active noise-cancelling units, the quality of the sound is not stellar…from the balance and depth of the bass to the treble, it’s all sub-par compared to the Bose we mentioned above.

The bottom line is that this Audio Technica pair will be the choice of those who put the noise cancellation above the quality of the sound.

With that side, the ANC9 are still the best affordable noise cancelling headphones under 200 dollars.

Main PROs & CONs of the ANC9:

PROs

  • Solid active noise cancellation (especially perform well on the low-end)
  • Designed well – good sealing and tight fit
  • Strong build
  • Sturdy carry-case (smart foldable design)
  • Good battery life – better than seen in most “active” models – as reported by our testers the lifespan is 25-30 hours

CONs

  • The frequency response is not great
  • The bass is not as deep as with some competing models, especially when the active cancellation is turned on
  • A touch of the sound-distortion reported by some users when the active mode is on
  • The bass is too mild and soft for some types of music that call for a pounding depth of the bass (like rap & dubstep)

Who will choose the ANC9 QuietPoint?

If you’re not a detail-oriented audiophile and you’re looking for a pair that will primarily perform well at the noise-cancellation aspect, you probably won’t notice the sound issues that we talked about. In those terms, the ANC9 are the best noise cancelling headphones under 200 dollars.

A solid choice for commuters that are looking to drown the distracting sounds above anything else and do it for less than 200 bucks, but that’s pretty much it. If you are looking for something more advanced, better balanced and raw quality, you’ll probably be better off digging a bit dipper into your pocket and choosing the all-superior Bose QuietComfort 35.

ANC9 compared to the top pick overall:

ATH ANC9 with cable
  • Noise cancelling 92%
  • Sound Quality 87%
  • Design & build 90%
  • User satisfaction 88%
  • Value for money 88%
see anc9 on amazon
Bose QuietComfort 35 silver side view isolated
  • Noise cancelling 98%
  • Sound Quality 97%
  • Design & build 95%
  • User satisfaction 96%
  • Value for money 94%
see bose on amazon

Best cheap noise cancelling headphones – under $50 – Sony MDRZX110NC

Finally, we feel like it might be useful to mention one unit that can be genuinely called cheap because it costs under 50 dollars. This relatively “young” set comes from Sony – the MDRZX110NC is our pick for the best cheap noise cancelling headphones under $50.

This classic, over-ear set is pretty basic, and it’s strongest suit is the battery life (listed battery life is up to 80 hours).

We have not tested these so we can only speak second-hand and based on the reviews. From what others have shared, the sound is decent, and the balance between the bass and treble is good. We looked into a few other models to list, but we’ve seen no similar value at that price point, this Sony holds the title of the best cheap noise cancelling headphones under 50 dollars.

This budget over-ear unit can’t get into the race for the best affordable noise cancelling headphones, but then again, it’s significantly cheaper, so there’s that.

sony MDRZX110
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Best noise-canceling earbuds to sleep in (with) – Bose QC20

This Bose is probably the single best noise canceling earbud you can comfortably sleep with that still delivers a good sound.

The performance in terms of noise cancellation is superb for an in-ear – there is no piece that we know of that creates a better seal and adjusts to the dead and ear so seamlessly as the Bose QC20.

This is what makes them a solid choice even for side sleepers.

Bose QC20 Headband Headphones
Bose QC20 ear buds for sleep

Main PROs & CONs of the QC20 earbuds:

PROs

  • Comfortable and light – don’t have that feeling of the piece being jammed into your ear and weigh only 1.5 oz
  • Bose’s proprietary TriPort design – added space “carved” around the earpiece so that it can fit two extra mini-microphones that register external noise and actively adjust to cancel it
  • Mirror sound waves – the chip used to monitor and drown the external sounds is Bose’s proprietary technology. It’s what allows it to be so effective in such a small piece.
  • The battery doesn’t simply die after a certain number of charges – this tends to with most sub-par models. You can expect about 500 full charges. With one charge holding about 16 hours, for an average user, this means 3-5 years of full charging. More importantly, even after the 500 charges, the battery still holds a charge well, the lifespan of 16 hours goes down a peg, but that’s not an issue that will interfere with continued use.
  • Smart “design” of the battery – the listed 16 hours refer to the time that the battery will last while using the active mode. Even when the battery “dies”, the sound will go on. What shuts off is the noise cancellation of the unit.
  • Well balanced sound – the bass you’ll get with this Bose is not at the level at over-ear models and it can’t be. However, it’s as good as it gets for an in-ear.

CONs

  • The battery pack is not replaceable – we mentioned that that design of the battery is smart. If there is a downside, it’s the fact that the pack is integrated with the cord and is not replaceable. This essentially means that when the moment comes and there’s no more life in it, you’ll still have it on the cord, serving no purpose.
  • No auto shut-off – forgetting to turn the noise cancellation while you’re not using the buds will keep it going and drain the battery. It would make sense (especially at this price point) to include a smart auto shut-off that will “recognize” that the unit is not in use and shut the noise cancellation as well.
  • The bass is too mild and soft for some types of music that call for a pounding depth of the bass (like rap & dubstep)

Who will choose the Bose QC20

Two groups of people:

1 – Those who prefer the seamlessness of the in-ear over the bulky over-ears and are OK with the small difference in sound quality.

2 – People are looking for good-sounding earbuds they can sleep in and prefer not to have a weird-looking headband on.

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Honorary mention – CozyPhones Sleep headband with speakers

If your only intended use is sleep, you might be interested in a sleep headband with speakers.

These can’t really be compared to the headphones and earbuds for sleep we talked about in terms of the quality of the sound but they are a choice if the quality of the sound is not a concern and you’re only looking for something that’s specifically designed for sleep.

Our pick here are the CozyPhones.

cozy phones headband for sleep
CozyPhones Sleep Headphones Lycra types

The CozyPhones feature two thin speakers wrapped in a comfortable, lycra-based headband. We’re stressing the fact lycra here because the main issue with sleep headband speakers is the heat developing underneath the band.

Lycra makes all the difference

With lycra, the issue of heat is a moot point because it breathes much better than materials used in similar headbands, like the SleepPhones.

Talking about the sound is also moot because it’s nothing to write home about, nor are the people that will be interested in a headband concerned with it.

Bottom line – if you’re looking for a sleep-dedicated piece to play calm, relaxing sounds, the bass, treble & sound-clarity becomes secondary, and it’s all about comfort.

In that aspect, the CozyPhones delivers a superior experience.

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SleepPhones headband couple

Reference info about noise-cancellation

What are sleeping headphones and how do they work?

Sounds around you have a profound effect on the quality of your sleep. Noise cancelling headphones (for sleep or general use) are designed with the purpose to drown out the noise coming from the outside of the headphones, meaning that any sound that is coming from the headphones themselves can be at a comfortable level with no other interferences. On the other hand if sleeping with music or white/pink noise is not your “jam” you can opt for leaving them unplugged and enjoying the complete silence.

They work in a few different ways depending on the model, but they all have a few things in common. The headphone forms a seal over the ear and physically blocks out the sound. The active technology eliminates lower frequency sound waves. Sounds at such low frequencies aren’t detectable by the human ear but can still affect us psychologically in the long run.

These frequencies are created by traffic and other low vibrations.

The final thing is that once you add music to all of this, you will have a complete barrier that blocks out anything that was keeping you up previously. They come in different shapes and sizes at various price points depending on style and make.

Everything from soft fleece headbands to small sleep earbuds.

On-ear models

This type is intended just for the purpose of being worn to bed – as simple as that.

A small, foam padded speaker is thin enough not to irritate the inside of the ear while you’re laying on your side. On the outside, the earphones have a soft rubber coated wire loop that makes it easy to adjust to your specific ear shape.

The wire is thin and comfortable but strong enough to keep on the ear without falling off during sleep. The wires that connect to your phone are lead away from the face and onto the back, that way they do not become tangled while you’re moving in bed. Small and easy to store in their travel case, these are excellent to take with you whether you’re traveling or staying over in a hotel.

Noise-cancelling earbuds to sleep in

As we mentioned – the best noise-cancelling earbuds to sleep in are Bose Quiet Comfort 20. These earbuds have no problem blocking out any type of noise, be it traffic, noisy neighbors or loud snoring. The tips that cover the speakers are so soft, you won’t even know you’re wearing them.

The great advantage of these buds is that they will not overheat, a problem that comes with wearing over the ear headphones. If you’re someone that likes to sleep with music or different sounds on, you will be happy to know that the sound quality of these sleep earbuds is superb.

Another practical feature, called “aware”, will give you an option to hear some amount of external noise. For example, if you need to listen out for your alarm, the doorbell, or the kids but would still like to get some peace.

Sleep mask pillow

A specialized type of headgear that doubles both as a sleeping mask and noise-reducing headphones. I know, it seems awfully complicated but it might just be a genius solution for someone that is looking to block out light and sound.

On the sides, it has a built-in pillow for added comfort. Made from quality cotton material this sleep mask has just enough insulation to be soft but keep you cool at the same time. To completely drown out any sound, combine this sleep mask with soft earplugs.

Earplugs

Good old’ humble earplugs. They’re so simple and effective in their design that there’s really not much new to say about them. These are a cheap alternative to anyone that finds headphones or headbands too uncomfortable to sleep in.

Keep in mind that they aren’t as effective as the other options we listed, but they will come in handy in a pinch. They come in a variety of materials, the gel being one of the most comfortable to wear for longer periods of time.

What to look in the best budget noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds to sleep in
  • Quality: By investing into a good quality product you are avoiding the risk of them breaking easily or prematurely. You will get to enjoy your well-earned peace. Unless the money is extremely tight, choosing quality will pay dividends in the long run.
  • Comfort: If you’re planning on spending long hours wearing headphones, their comfort level needs to be high. The last thing you would want is to go from being annoyed by noise to being annoyed from discomfort.
  • Battery life: It is a good idea to spend a few minutes online and read a few reviews before committing to a purchase. The review will fill you in on the important details, such as the battery life of the headphones. Not all of the makes do as well as others which is why it’s important to some research.
  • Level of noise cancellation: This is down to a personal preference and also to the model of the headphones you’re looking into getting. Not every make and model will offer the same amount of noise cancellation or isolation so be sure to know what your needs are and what you’re looking for. You can read more about how the brain responds to noise here.
Other uses

Noise blocking

You’ll be happy to know that noise canceling headphones can block out the majority of the unwanted noise. Sounds from traffic, Tv, barking dogs in the neighborhood or even your partner’s snoring will no longer keep you from relaxing or focusing on a task.

Relaxation

You will no longer have to crank up the volume of your music to drown out the noise coming from your surroundings. This particular type of headphones isolate the sounds coming from the outside, meaning the outside noise will not interfere with what you are listening. You can put on your favorite nature sounds, relaxation music or a podcast and let your mind unwind.

Travel

How many times have you found yourself traveling, wishing for some quiet time? Just to get a quick snooze or to catch up on some reading. You find yourself overstimulated and unable to relax from the noise. Now you can put all of that behind and preserve your sanity.

Not only are these headphones great to use while sleeping, but they’ll also quickly become your favorite travel partner. You will be able to read, study, catch up on work without losing focus. Most importantly they’re great for taking a nap, and who doesn’t love a good nap.

Studying

If you’re a student living in a dorm room, or even at home, you will know how hard it is to get a few moments of quiet time to focus on your assignments. Becoming distracted from your studies can lead to poor performance in school and bad results. In the past, most students have relied on the power of their speakers to block out any unwanted noise but that seems quite counterproductive.

A good pair of budget noise canceling headphones are a great way to block out any distraction that might interfere with your studies. By increasing your levels of concentration, studying will now seem less of a chore.

Ultimately, these will help you get a restful night of sleep and even increase your work performance. Different types and models cater to different needs and there isn’t a reason you won’t be able to find a pair that fits. Even if you’re someone that sleeps next to a snorer.