What Makes for the Best Noise Canceling Headphones?

A good pair of headphones makes a commute much easier. But how do you pick the right one?

Noise-canceling headphones can be great for when you really want to listen to that podcast, audiobook, or album, or to just shut out the noise of your commute, or your fellow commuters, for a while. Choosing the right pair will make all the difference, especially when the train’s stuck between stations.

What you need to know

Bose’s QuietComfort 35 II
Bose’s QuietComfort 35 II Wireless Bluetooth Headphones.Amazon

Look for strong passive and active noise canceling. Passive noise canceling is what the headphones use to deaden sound, such as closed cups and noise-absorbing foam. This is important because active noise canceling, what knocks out the train noise, raises the overall sound pressure on your ear, so better passive canceling means the active system doesn't have to work as hard, and you won't have that "drained" feeling from long listening sessions.

Wireless or not?

Sony headphones with noise cancelling
Sony’s Noise Cancelling Headphones.Amazon

Choose a set that you can connect either wirelessly via Bluetooth, or that you can plug into your phone. This will give you options when your phone's Bluetooth connection isn't the best, so you don't have to stop listening, although some models may only offer active canceling in wireless mode.

Longevity is essential

Cowin E7
Cowin’s E7 Active Noise Cancelling Headphones.Amazon

Check battery life as well. Especially for long trips and other points in time where you'll be away from outlets for a while, the last thing you want is your headphones to die on you. Look in the online manual to see if you can disable the noise cancellation in a pinch as well. Better to have your tunes and a little noise than to not have them at all.