InnerFidelity's "Wall of Fame" Noise Canceling
Noise canceling headphones perform a fancy little electronic trick with microphones and electronic widgetry that sums an acoustic counter-signal in with your music that will help cancel out outside noise. At its best it works very well and will isolate you better than the passive isolation of sealed headphones. But it comes at a price as the electronic circuits that modify the signal can have some strange effects on what you hear. Even the good noise cancelers can sound a bit odd ... the bad ones can sound miserable. As a rule, I think the better sound of passive sealed headphones makes them the better choice for most everyday uses, and I usually reserve recommendation of noise cancelers to air travelers and rail commuters.
Noise canceling headphones require batteries to operate the electronic circuitry. These can be both replaceable or rechargeable, but many noise canceling headphones will not operate when the batteries die, so you'll have to plan your use on long excursions accordingly.
Bose Quiet Comfort 20 ($299)|
Bose have really outdone themselves with the QC20, it not only meets or beats the noise canceling abilities of the QC15, but sounds way better in the bargain. Performing as well as the best $100-150 IEMs, this is simply a fabulous sounding noise canceler.
The QC20 will operate for 16 hours on a full charge, batteries are not replaceable, but should retain full capacity for 500 charge cycles. The QC20 will operate in a passive mode when the battery is discharged or power turned off. Apple compatible remote is available on the QC20i version, order QC20 for Android/Blackberry/Windows smartphones. Ships with carry pouch, shirt clip, and Small, medium, and large StayHear+ tear-tips.
Read full InnerFidelity review here.
Bose Quiet Comfort 15 ($299)|
Bose have long been making noise canceling headphones, and in the Quiet Comfort 15 it shows. Its ability to quiet the world around you is shockingly good, and the sound quality is likewise remarkable. Critical listeners will hear some oddities in the sound, but given their superior ability to deliver good listening in a noisy aircraft cabin I heartily recommend these cans.
The QC15 will not operate without a battery, but readily available AAA batteries will power the headphones for about 35 hours. Two cables are included: one plain, and one with 3-button Apple compatible mike and remote. A hard-shell case and airline adapter are also included.
The Bose QuietComfort 15 in included on page 3 of this review.
Sennheiser MM 450 X ($449)|
The excellent sound, small size, and freedom from tether make the noise canceling and bluetooth wireless Sennheiser MM 450 X a great traveler's headphone.
The MM 450 X bristles with features like: a TalkThrough button you can push to hold quick conversation with those around you without taking off the headphones; A2DP high resolution stereo Bluetooth with compatible devices (regular Bluetooth for other devices); a cable for times when Bluetooth is unavailable; it charges from USB or included wall-wart; and the headphones fold and store in included compact carry case.