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Best noise canceling headphones under $100 for 2020

So you don't want to shell out the big bucks for premium noise-canceling headphones. Here are some affordable alternatives.

ANC headphones (short for active noise canceling), work by "canceling" out, or electronically counteracting, external noise by generating a mirror image sound wave in your ear. Noise cancellation works best in environments with a sustained din to the ear, such as a jet engine drone, which is why wearing Bose noise canceling headphones have become fairly ubiquitous at airports over the last few decades.

Budget headphones aren't as great for listening to music and other audio as premium noise-canceling headphones from Sony, Bose, and others. I'm not going to lie to you about that. But you can find some pretty decent noise cancelling models for far less. Here's a look at some of the best cheap noise-canceling headphones I've tried, most of which cost less than $100 and a few even come in around $50. I expect more to be released throughout the year and will update this list as I find new, recommendable models.  

Looking for the best ANC headphones for audio, regardless of price and style? Check out the best noise-canceling headphones and the best noise-canceling true wireless earbuds for 2020. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Anker's Soundcore Life Q20 is arguably the best value in noise canceling headphones. Not only do these budget noise cancelling over-ear headphones sound quite decent for their regular list price of $60 (they often sell for $10 less), but they're also comfortable to wear thanks to the secure ear cups.

No, the Life Q20 doesn't sound as good as premium Bluetooth headphones such as the Sony WH-1000XM3, but the audio quality pretty good, which is all you can ask for noise canceling headphones at this price. It's fairly well balanced with a reasonable amount of clarity and plump bass that's not bloated or muddy (there's a bass boost or BassUp mode if you want an extra helping of bass with your music). Also, the noise cancellation is acceptably effective and it's solid as a headset for making calls. Battery life is good at 40 hours. A simple carrying pouch is included. Read more.

Read more: The best Bose QuietComfort 35 Series II wireless headphone deal ever: $180

Amazon

Tribit makes one of our favorite budget pair of headphones for sound quality -- the Tribit XFree Tune ($40). That's not an active noise-canceling headphone, however. This model is. You can find similar wireless active noise cancelling headphones from other generic headphone companies on Amazon (Taotronics, for example, has a model with a similar design), but this over-ear headset does sound quite decent and its noise-canceling works pretty well and eliminates plenty of ambient noise and background noise. It doesn't sound quite as good as the XFree Tune does with music, but it's among the better sounding budget models in this roundup and also features USB-C charging. Plus, it has a decent battery: Battery life is rated at 30 hours.   Read more.

Read more: The best true wireless earbuds of 2020

David Carnoy/CNET

There aren't too many on-ear noise-canceling headphones. Beats' recent Solo Pro is one of the best, but it's rather expensive at $300. Meanwhile, these cheap noise cancelling headphones JLab Studio ANC only cost $60 and delivers solid all-around performance for a budget model with decent sound quality, noise-canceling and battery life (28 hours with ANC on). And while it may not be stellar for making calls, it does work well as a headset (callers said they could hear me clearly, even with some street noise around me). A carrying pouch is included.

The Studio noise cancelling headphones are reasonably comfortable for an on-ear model (I prefer over-ear), but those with bigger heads may feel it clamps a little too tightly.  

Generic-looking but good

Mixcder E10

Sarah Tew/CNET

Mixcder has several sub-$100 wireless headphones, and the E10 headphone is its current top-of-the-line model and has the best sound and build quality with the most comfortable fit with cushy ear cups. Some of the step-down models lack definition (clarity and detail), but the E10 sounds pretty decent, with a reasonable amount of definition in its bass for music. The noise-cancellation of these over-ear headphones is fairly effective (good, not great) and battery life is rated at around 30 hours with a quick charge feature that gives you 3 hours of battery life from an 8-minute charge.    Read more.

Read more: Best turntable under $300 in 2020: Audio Technica, Pro-ject, Fluance and more  

Sarah Tew/CNET

Panasonic calls the style of its bluetooth headphone RP-HTX90N "retro-modern," and that's exactly what it is. Based on one of our favorite budget wired pair of ear cup headphones, the RP-HTX80, this wireless version with active noise canceling is comfortable and lightweight. These are warmer closed-back headphones that lacks some treble clarity and isn't terribly dynamic, but the audio quality is pleasant overall with decent enough noise-canceling. Battery life is rated at 24 hours of playback, and a 15-minute quick charge gives you 2.5 hours juice. 

The noise-canceling is decent though not stellar. Ultimately, for its slightly higher price tag, the biggest reason to buy this bluetooth model is for its design and comfort level. It usually sells for around $120, but some colors, including the blue shown here, sometimes cost less than $100.     Read more.

Read more: Apple AirPods: The very best tips and tricks for your wireless headphones

Sarah Tew/CNET

Taotronics is one of the better-known budget brands that sells on-ear headphones on Amazon. It has a few different wireless noise-canceling headphones that have generic designs. I like these ear cup Taotronics noise cancelers the best because they seem well-built, they're comfortable to wear, and they have decent if unspectacular sound for their price of around $60 (some colors cost less). It could use a touch more definition in the bass for music, but most people should think the audio quality is pretty good when listening to music thanks partly to decent noise reduction of ambient sound. Battery life is rated at up to 40 hours.     Read more.

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