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Best noise-canceling headphones under $100 for 2021

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

Active noise canceling, or ANC, headphones electronically counteract, or "cancel" out, external noise by generating a mirror image sound wave in your ear. Noise-canceling technology works best in environments where there's a sustained din to the ear, such as a jet engine drone, which is why people wearing Bose noise-canceling headphones have become fairly common at airports over the last few decades.

The truth is that budget headphones aren't as great for listening to music and other audio as premium noise-canceling headphones from Sony, Bose and others, but you can find some pretty decent noise-canceling models for far less money. Here's a look at some of the best cheap noise-canceling headphones I've tried, all of which cost less than $100, and a few even come in under $50. All of these headphones offer decent sound quality, active noise cancellation and a comfy ear cup to boot (not an earbud to be seen on this list).

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. This story was recently updated.

Read more: Best budget smartwatches under $100

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As far as sound, comfort level and build quality go, you'd be hard-pressed to do better than Anker's SoundCore Life Q30 for the money. It doesn't have quite the clarity or bass definition as some of the top premium models, but it's less than a third of the price and gets you about 75% of the way there in terms of sound. It's well balanced overall, with punchy bass, and there's an app that allows you to tweak the sound. Noise canceling is good for the price, though not up to the level of the Sony WH-1000XM4 or Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. Battery life is rated at an impressive 40 hours with USB-C charging.

The only area where the Q30 falls a little short is for voice calls. It picks up your voice fine in quieter environments but it just doesn't reduce background noise all that well. 

Compared to the Q20 (see below), the Q30 does offer improved sound (it's not a huge difference, but it definitely is a notch up) and a more premium design. There's also the new Life Q35 ($130), which adds support for Sony's LDAC audio codec for high-resolution audio streaming with music services that support it. I'm not sure it's worth the upgrade for $50 more, but hopefully the Q35 will come down in price over time.

Best value

Anker SoundCore Life Q20

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Anker's SoundCore Life Q20 is arguably the best value in noise-canceling headphones. Not only do these budget noise-canceling over-ear headphones sound quite decent for their regular list price of $60 (they often sell for $10 less with an instant coupon at Amazon), they're also comfortable to wear thanks to their puffy ear pads. Expect that price to go down even a bit more as Anker has now released the SoundCore Life Q20 Plus, which adds app support and USB-C charging (instead of Micro-USB).   

No, the Life Q20 doesn't sound as good as premium Bluetooth headphones such as the Sony WH-1000XM4, but the audio quality sounds 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 cancelation is acceptably effective at blocking out ambient sound and unwanted noise and it's decent enough as a headset for making calls. Battery life is good at 40 hours. A simple carrying pouch is included.

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Founded by four former Amazon employees, Wyze is known for its value security cams but it's now doing a nice job with value headphones. Its over-ear noise canceling headphones offer a comfortable fit with deep memory foam ear pads and solid all-around performance. Their noise canceling is quite good, although you do get some added passive noise isolation from the tight seal the ear pads give you (your ears will get pretty steamy in warmer weather). These are Alexa-enabled, so all you have to do is press a button to access Amazon's voice assistant, or you can use your phone's native voice assistant if you prefer. There's also a transparency mode that lets ambient sound in. 

As for sound quality, these are on the warmer side -- they have lots of bass and a pretty open soundstage, though they lack that extra clarity and definition you get from higher-end models (the bass is a touch loose). In other words, the sound is quite good for the money but not ridiculously good. 

Battery life is rated at up to 20 hours at moderate volume levels and I thought the headset performance was decent as well. A cloth carrying pouch is included along with a USB-C charging cable and a cord for using these as wired headphones.

Amazon

Tribit makes one of our favorite budget pairs of headphones for sound quality -- the Tribit XFree Tune ($43). That's not an active noise-canceling headphone, however. This model is. You can find similar wireless ANC 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.  

It's currently $90, but we've seen it on sale for less than $75.

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Panasonic calls the style of its RP-HTX90N Bluetooth headphones "retro-modern" and that's exactly what it is. Based on one of our favorite budget wired pairs 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 lack treble clarity and aren't terribly dynamic, but the audio quality is pleasant overall. Battery life is rated at 24 hours of playback, and a 15-minute quick charge gives you two and a half hours of juice. 

The noise canceling is decent, though not stellar. Ultimately, for its slightly higher price tag, the biggest reason to buy this model is for its design and comfort level. It was selling for $100 but has now dropped to $50.

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There aren't too many on-ear noise-canceling headphones. Beats' Solo Pro is one of the best, but it's rather expensive at $300, though we've seen it on sale for half that price. Meanwhile, these cheap noise-canceling headphones, the JLab Studio ANC, cost less than $50 and deliver solid all-around performance for a budget model with decent sound quality, noise canceling and battery life (28 hours with ANC on). While they may not be stellar for making calls, they do 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 ANC 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.  

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