The Top Rated Portable Noise Canceling Headphones of 2011

by Justin Thomas •

The Best Portable Noise Canceling Headphones

The noise canceling headphones are different from “noise isolating” or “passive noise reduction” headphones. Noise canceling headphones feature tiny microphones to pick up outside frequencies and then counter those frequencies to cancel them out.

The following list of top rated portable noise canceling headphones was chosen based on reviews from Consumer Reports, CNET, HeadphoneInfo.com, iLounge, PCMag, and Amazon customers.

Bose QuietComfort 15 Noise Canceling Headphones ($300)

Bose QuietComfort 15 Noise Canceling Headphones

Top Review Sources:

  • CNET: 4 out of 5 stars; Excellent; “Currently offer the best sound and silencing capabilities”
  • Consumer Reports: 74 out of 100; “Excellent noise reduction”
  • Amazon: Average 4.3 out of 5 stars, based on 316 customer reviews

Bose was the first to develop noise canceling headphones and the QuietComfort 15 has improved upon previous models. These are for those who are primarily interested in complete noise cancellation- on a plane or train, college students studying in a dorm, a noisy office setting. One reviewer even said it allowed his wife to have a good night’s sleep from his snoring. The sound is well-balanced with defined lows and no overkill on the bass. The over-the-ear design lends to the noise reduction and is comfortable for most users, though can tend to get hot after prolonged use. Comes with a single, detachable cable, dual plug adapter, and durable carrying case.

The Bose QuietComfort 15 noise canceling headphones are available on Amazon.

AKG by Harman K390NC Noise Canceling Earbud Headphones ($159)

AKG by Harman K390 NC Noise Canceling Earbud Headphones


  • Excellent active noise reduction
  • Sound quality is good with or without noise cancellation turned on
  • Features a microphone and call connect for use with iPhones and some Blackberry models
  • Well-designed, durable


  • Noise cancellation unit is a bit heavy and bulky
  • Earbuds may not be comfortable for all users

Top Review Sources:

  • Consumer Reports: Their highest rated portable noise canceling headphones with a score of 82 out of 100
  • CNET: 3 out of 5 stars; Good; “solid sound quality”

The AKG-390NC noise canceling headphones by Harman incorporate excellent active noise cancellation with strong overall sound, though some of the mid-range and bass response loses definition when the noise cancellation is turned off. They are recommended for airplane use and come with an airplane adapter, but may not be the best for working out due to the bulky module, though a clip is included to keep the earbuds from being pulled on. CNET criticized the high retail price of $250, but they are currently on sale for $100 less.

The AKG by Harman 390NC headphones are on sale at Amazon.


JVC HA-NC250 Noise-Canceling Headphones ($104)

JVC HANC250 Noise Canceling Headphones


  • Comfortable and versatile for all users
  • 85% noise reduction; good sound quality
  • Lightweight and folds flat for portability
  • Come with carrying case, airplane adapter, and 1/4 inch plug


  • 4 foot cable is somewhat short for home stereo use
  • Battery compartment is awkward to change batteries

Top Review Sources:

  • Consumer Reports: 63 out of 100; best for sound quality
  • CNET: 3.5 out of 5 stars; very good; “Great travel companion for those who demand quality sound”
  • Amazon: Average 3.9 out of 5 stars, based on 348 customer reviews

The JVC HA-NC250 noise canceling headphones are for those who need a portable set of headphones, but don’t like using earbuds. The JVCs deliver when it comes to excellent overall sound with the noise reduction on or off and have been compared to the more expensive Bose QuietComfort 3.  The ear cups are more of an oval shape rather than the traditional round shape and are cushioned with memory foam for comfort even with prolonged use, though sometimes the vinyl padding could become hot and sticky depending on the environment.

The JVC HA-NC250 noise canceling headphones are available on Amazon.

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC3 Noise Canceling Earbud Headphones

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC3 Noise Canceling Earbud Headphones ($78)


  • Very good sound and noise reduction
  • Headphones work when noise cancellation is off
  • Ultra-portable design
  • Budget price


  • Battery compartment, clip and earbuds made of cheap-looking plastic
  • Distortion levels are slightly high- not for audiophiles
  • Not as many features as more expensive headphones

Top Review Sources:

  • Consumer Reports: Recommended; 63 out of 100
  • Headphone Info: “More versatile than the average set of in-ears”
  • iLounge: B+;Recommended

The Audio Technica ATH-ANC3 noise canceling headphones are a basic set of earbud headphones with active noise cancellation. They work with the noise cancellation turned off, but sound is better with it on. The noise isolation isn’t as good as other in-ear headphones, but for activities such as cycling or running, this could be a good thing. They are also comfortable and stay in place well for portability and activities. Sound is good overall, but the bass is the strongest feature.

The Audio Technica ATH-ANC3 earbud headphones are available on Amazon.

Sennheiser PXC 250 II Collapsible Noise Canceling Headphone

Sennheiser PXC 250 II Collapsible Noise Canceling Headphones ($145)

Top Review Sources:

  • Headphone Info: “Excellent audio quality for $150”
  • PCMag: 3 out of 5; Good; “An effective middle-weight noise canceling contender”
  • Amazon: Average 3.3 out of 5 stars, based on 35 customer reviews

The noise canceling feature of the Sennheiser PXC 250 II runs on a AAA battery and allows the headphones to still work when the battery dies. These headphones fit on top of the ear, but won’t envelop the ear. Though they are portable, the design is best suited for use while sitting, not for work-outs. Most reviews noted that at top volume there is distortion especially in the bass, but at a moderate level, the sound is well-balanced. Comes with airplane adapter, carrying case, and 2 year warranty.

The Sennheiser PXC 250 II is for sale on Amazon.


Comments 1

  1. drkhimxz

    As reflected in Amazon reviews and others, the problem with Bose is in the mechanical not the electronic components. For most people they seem to be satisfactory in noise reduction, often top rated, but in terms of headbands breaking, earphones breaking off from headbands, wires coming loose from the electronics, and the like. Anything that might break does…and far too quickly and often for a product at this price. My own experience with each model of the Bose Quiet Comfort series has been exactly that.

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