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If you are a bit like me and are always on the road traveling different places, you probably know just how exhausting this can be.
In order to keep myself from feeling tired all the time while traveling, I always carry some form of Noise Cancelling headphones with me, so I can escape the busyness around me.
Most of the times I’m using my faithful Bose Quietcomfort 25’s (reviewed HERE), but sometimes I just need something more portable, something that fits right into my pocket. This is where some good earbuds with noise cancelling come in handy.
So let’s take a look at some of the Best Noise Cancelling Earbuds in 2018. Be sure to bookmark this page, as this guide is a work in progress.
Samsung Level U Pro Active Noise Cancelling Headphones
It’s safe to say Samsung is a very well known company, a giant in the consumer electronics space, one with a huge following.
Over the last few years, this behemoth of a company has decided to expand its list of products to headphones and not just the stock headphones that come packed with every Samsung phone.
The latest in this niche is a line that has been very well received by customers and critics alike, known simply as Level U, the line consists of 3 very similar headphones, the wired (the wire is detachable) Samsung Level U, the Bluetooth-enabled Samsung Level U Pro and the flagship of the line, the Samsung Level U Pro ANC, the Noise Cancelling version.
In this review, I will be focused on the pros and cons of the latter, a headphone that Samsung hopes will be able to muscle its way into the ever expanding ANC market.
Design and Comfort
The horseshoe design pioneered by LG is unashamedly copied by Samsung (as by many others) and used to good effect here. Coming in two conservative colors, white and black, the Level U Pro ANC’s convey a certain sense of class and style that’ll undoubtedly please many, as it did me.
The calm sense of style is further conveyed by earbuds that feature magnets at the back to clasp them together when not in use, avoiding the messy tangle that sometimes comes with wearing headphones on the go.
The headphones are so lightweight that you’ll likely forget you have them on at some point, which is a good thing in my book as it means they’re the not intrusive or bulky fixtures that wireless Noise Cancelling headphones usually are.
The horseshoe design means there’s no clunky remote/ANC control box dangling at the end of your earphones. In this case, the ANC technology is housed within the earbuds, the control buttons are on said neckband and feature the usual volume controls (doubling as skip forward and backward), play/pause buttons on the right-hand side.
This brings me to the materials used in making the Level U Pro ANC’s, hard plastic tinged with a little aluminum in just the right places and as I said above the overall result is lightweight but seemingly durable. Except maybe for the buds which feel a tiny bit cheap, but that might just be my cynicism at how light they are.
The ear-tips are gel and conform to the shape of your ear quite well, providing a pretty solid seal and an above average level of comfort.
Extra cool points are thrown in by the fact that these are sweat resistant and splash proof.
The Noise Cancelling technology employed by Samsung is supposed to cancel 90% of ambient noise. It’s very hard to verify those claims and Samsung probably knows that.
That said I have to say their ANC tech is pretty good for the price range and manages to cancel out most noise in an office environment without much trouble. However in louder environments that ability is significantly reduced, although I’m talking very much louder here, crowded subway station, cars honking, etc.
Samsung has made a big deal about the new hi-res technology they’ve employed on this line of headphones (they’re calling it UHQA), claiming it delivers a true 24-bit sound experience and this time I agree. The 13 mm Dynamic and 13 mm Piezo drivers used are really good and provide a rich immersive sound.
The bass is not overly boosted but it’s still very good, with the sub-bass levels providing a certain intensity that’s really hard to find.
Treble is a little pushy though causing some sibilance at high volumes. Mids are solid and well defined, thus no spectrum really overpowers the others here.
The headphones come with an app called Level on which you can customize the sound quality, your notification system, e.g you can set the headphones to vibrate when you have incoming calls or messages.
You can also set the headphones to read aloud text notifications, a very useful feature especially when your hands are busy. The sad part though is the app is only compatible with android phones, so for Apple users, you won’t be able to enjoy that benefit.
You can also share your music with someone else that has Level U Pro headphones without them connecting to your source to do it. An impressive feature but one that’s not like to be used to much as far as I can see.
The Samsung Level U Pro’s were clearly made with certain ideas in mind. And while some of them might not be groundbreaking, all of them are well implemented, especially when it comes to the app.
The ANC is one of those ideas that doesn’t chart new territory but it’s well implemented and is just about right for this price tag.
What is impressive though is the sound quality, especially when the app comes into play. Customizing the sound brings it just below premium levels, a good feat considering these are mid-range headphones.
So if you’re an Android user, these will represent more than value for money spent. If however, you use an Apple device then you won’t be getting anything more than a mid-range headphone, which isn’t as bad as it sounds because that’s what you’ll be paying for and you can do a lot worse for this price.
When it comes to Active Noise Cancelling technology you will very rarely find it used in cheap headphones. The technology is kind of expensive to implement, so it’s no surprise really. However once in a while manufacturers will attempt to buck the trend with varying degrees of success.
Audio-Technica’s ATH-ANC23 Noise Cancelling Earbuds are therefore one of very few active NC headphones in their price range from the big manufacturers in the industry so the decision to try them out was a no-brainer.
Features and Design
The earbuds are designed as canalphone’s instead of the more popular in-ear design. This means Audio-Technica used bigger speakers than would fit into normal human ears, so to compensate they then slightly elongate the earbuds to slip into your ear canal with the ear-tips reaching a little further in than normal. The design does take some getting used to but is comfortable enough not to cause ear-fatigue.
The box does include 3 different sized silicone ear-tips and a comply foam one for best fit so comfort is fully assured.
Now it’s very difficult for NC headphones to look sleek and sophisticated given they have to carry a NC control box/pack somewhere. Traditionally most manufacturers have chosen to have the pack in various positions on the connecting cable. Audio-Technica is no different and chose to place the box almost dead center of the cable.
The choice was not particularly well thought out I have to say as this immediately presented me with a challenge of two dimensions. First, the control box dangles quite a few centimeters above my belt so I can’t clip it there or in my pants pocket, I have to clip it on my shirt which leaves me with a bunched up cable from there to my earbuds.
The second thing is that once I clip the box on my shirt I cannot slip my cellphone (or any device for that matter) into my pants pocket as the cable from the control box to the plug is too short. So I have to wear a jacket or put it in my shirt pocket, which will be very frustrating if you don’t have either on any given day.
So while the ANC23’s are quite comfortable the design flaw with the cable will probably irk most users as it did me. Making the cable from box to earbuds shorter so as to clip to my shirt without bunching up, or otherwise putting the control box right near the plug to make it easier to put both the box and my device into my pants pocket would solve this problem.
The ANC23’s although quite good at noise cancelling would be no match for more expensive sets from Bose, Sony or even Audio-Technica’s own high-end sets, however I repeat, they are quite good.
In fact they are astonishingly good for their price and manage to cancel out quite a lot of ambient noise, although not quite the 90% Audio-Technica claims, hard as that might be to quantify. Expect the noise of fans, trains, drone of an airplane, and cars to be drowned out completely but loud talking will still filter through.
Sound quality is very good with thumping, muscular bass coupled with solid mids and highs and the canalphone design comes to good use here as the large 12 mm drivers come into play. The various sound spectra come across clear and instruments retain their fidelity with perfect harmony. At high volumes the clarity does suffer a little though with the highs muddling and the instruments sounding kind of squashed in a way.
The battery life is another plus with the normal AAA battery slated to last a good 60 hours and that the headphones continue to work as normal headphones without a battery is a huge bonus many manufacturers tend to overlook.
A weird flaw with the ANC23’s falls into this category, in short it’s that these headphones do not have a mic, meaning you cannot take calls using them. I still can’t fathom how Audio-Technica could drop the ball on something so minor, but then again I guess they figure a lot of people still use devices other than cellphones for their music, podcasts, et al.
Are They Worth It?
Manufacturing active noise cancelling earbuds on a budget will always present a few problems and the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23 Noise Cancelling Earbuds are not without their resulting flaws.
The biggest is that they don’t have a mic and while I have problems with the proportions of their cables, some may find them suitable.
The canalphone design is not a problem as it is comfortable but if you haven’t used it before it will take some time to get accustomed to the feel.
That said the sound quality is miles above average and rare at such a price. Add to that the active noise cancelling and you have a set of earbuds well worth of consideration if you’re on a tight budget or if you’ve never used NC headphones and would like to try them out without the risk of going all out for a $300-$400 set.
Chinese manufacturers have a huge reputation the world over, an unenviable one. To be precise they have a reputation as copycats, incredibly cheap ones at that and have traditionally not been taken seriously by most consumers as a result.
A few companies have however begun to shift the immutable tide that is public opinion. Huawei is an integral part of those companies that are slowly but surely pushing Chinese manufacturers out of their position as undesirables when it comes to the tech world. Their smartphones have been so good that they’ve earned Huawei third place in the world in terms of market share after giants Apple and Samsung.
The reason for this surge in prominence is simple, Huawei has become adept at innovating and improving on technology and this innovation is not confined to smartphones but to all the other industries Huawei is increasingly becoming active in.
It’s exactly this newly minted reputation as an innovator that had me chomping at the bit to try out their new Noise Cancelling headphones, the Huawei AM185’s.
To say I was instantly drawn to the AM185’s is the understatement of the century. Okay first of all one thing about me, I love beauty like most people but make that beauty elegant, sleek and minimalistic and you have me for life (maybe I’m alone in that but damn it, it gets me every time).
Obviously I’d seen pictures before I ordered my pair but as good as the pictures are they do not do justice to the aesthetic masterpiece that are the AM185’s.
From jack to earbud the headphones are gold in color (except of course for the black ear-tips), the gold is by no means gaudy and is so light it’s almost silver-like. The little black there is doesn’t intrude on the visual, instead the two colors complement each other much like Barack and Michelle.
The earbuds have U shaped ear-hooks protruding at the top, these are adjustable to your ears to provide the best fit possible. The silicone ear-tips are malleable and conform to the shape of your ears much like foam buds (at least they did mine) and the two accompany each other quite well to provide ultra-comfort.
That said the seal really isn’t the best out there but that’s more to do with the overall design than specifically the ear-tips or hooks.
The cable is braided in order to prevent tangling, making it all the more durable in the process.
The control box located down the cable (about breast height) has to be hands down the best looking and least intrusive Noise Cancelling Box I’ve ever seen. Add the fact that it’s light and the controls are quite easy to find and use and you definitely have a winner.
The materials seem very durable and the overall feel of the headphones is light but convincingly strong and sturdy to the touch.
The one flaw in the design is quite major if you don’t use a mid-range to top end Huawei smartphone, and it’s that the charging port is not USB like most headphones (or most rechargeable accessories for that matter). Instead the set charges through the audio port, so Huawei provides a USB-A adapter that you can use to connect to any USB cable, which could get real tricky if you lose it as you can only get it from them and no one else.
The battery also isn’t as great as most NC headphones lasting just up to 6 hours. The good news is if you use any of the major Huawei smartphones your phone will automatically recharge the headphones for you so you never have to worry about the battery running out, a nifty little trick every phone manufacturer should work on immediately.
Performance, Noise Cancelling and Sound Quality
While the Huawei AM185’s certainly don’t reinvent the wheel here, they do a good job of cancelling noise. The lower frequencies are fully cancelled out while the mid-range and higher frequencies are significantly reduced.
However as the price suggests you shouldn’t expect to hear absolutely zero with these on because loud noise will leak in, although that might be compounded by the fact that I didn’t get a very good seal with any of the ear-tips provided.
Also as a result of the lack of a tight seal volume was never really loud even at the highest settings. However that shouldn’t overshadow the fact that the sound is actually quite good.
The bass is a little artificially magnified but that should only please the bass heads out there. The mids are crisp and clean and the highs equally so, although they have a tinny feel at the highest volume setting.
Huawei utilized a sound chamber design with composite diaphragms to enhance clarity and reduce distortion on these beauties and it shows. Sound reproduction is quite faithful as a result and even has a little sound stage to it.
After all the praise, one thing to point out is that the volume controls don’t work on an iPhone.
The AM185’s are actually quite a good set of headphones all things considered, appealing and mostly very good at what they are meant to do.
The problem is these headphones feel like they were manufactured with Huawei smartphone users in mind and the flaws they exhibit largely stem from that and in the process alienate just about everyone else.
If however you can ignore these flaws, the audio port that also serves as a charging port, the volume controls that aren’t compatible with an iPhone, then you will surely find these headphones more than useful.
Their sleek charm is second to none, they’re comfortable and their sound quality and NC are both very good and overall will make many a customer happy. Again if said customer can ignore the Huawei-centric feel they have.
If however you already use a compatible smartphone, then I must say have fun using these beauties to the best of their capabilities. I envy you and so will a lot of people!
Bose QuietControl 30 Wireless Noise Cancelling Earbuds
Bose has over the years built an impressive reputation as the brand to beat (or otherwise imitate) when it comes to Noise Cancelling earbuds, and with it a following fierce enough to rival Apple’s famed loyalists.
With the latest in their production line, the QuietControl 30 Wireless Noise Cancelling Earbuds, Bose has made a move to solidify its claim as a leader in the active noise cancelling headphone game.
However the Bose QuietControl 30 Noise cancelling earbuds are not without their flaws and the following is a review of the good and the bad from Bose’s latest offering, a headphone that could be looked at as either a wireless version of the QuietComfort 20i or the Noise Cancelling version of the SoundSport wireless headphones.
Comfort and Design Quality
The QuietControl 30 (QC30) is immediately distinguishable from its QuiteComfort cousin/s (the QC20i and the over ear QC35) first by the change in name to signify one of the major changes in design and a first in the industry, the ability to control the Noise Cancelling function to your preferred levels instead of just on or off.
The second immediately recognizable change is the wearable horseshoe neckband design pioneered by LG that is quickly becoming popular (for better or worse depending on where you stand) with headphone manufacturers the world over. As this is easily the most divisive design feature I will start with it and work my way up (pardon the pun).
I must confess, this was the first time I used headphones designed this way and I was skeptical at first but I have to say the design is mostly useful and easily tolerable once you factor in the pros and cons.
First of all the QC30’s are not only wireless, they’re also active Noise Cancelling headphones. Both Bluetooth and active NC require a battery to work and together they require an even bigger battery than normal. Normally these batteries would either be housed in the earpieces or have a battery pack attached to the cables (like the QC20i), resulting in clunky and heavy earpieces that easily fall out or a clunky circuit box that almost always looks out of place wherever you place it.
The neckband negates this by housing the battery and the fact that it sits on your neck means the weight isn’t carried on the earbuds so they won’t fall out. Besides the fact it sits on your neck comfortably, the weight is negligible and over time you will probably forget you have something there, at least I did.
The earbuds come with the classic Bose Stay hear+ tips (in three sizes) and don’t have to be jammed all the way into your canals to stay put, hence the earbuds are extremely comfortable to wear and ear fatigue is not an issue. The fit is so secure and comfortable I even used them for my workout without having them fall off, although the neckband did get a little annoying when I was jogging.
The controls are housed on an in-line remote dangling close to the right earbud. The remote features volume up and down buttons, Noise Cancelling Controls (up or down) and a multi-function button that truly redefines the term as it is used not just for switching on/off, playback, receiving and declining calls but also to skip forward, backward and rewind as well as fast forward.
The NC function is quite simply the best thing about these headphones. Honestly it’s a little magical how well they manage to tune out the world at the touch of a button. At the risk of sounding like a proud parent gushing over a newborn baby, this is why Bose has such a big reputation as being the best at NC headphones.
The fact that you can adjust NC to whatever level you want is an added benefit that shouldn’t be underestimated. When walking about all I had to do was lower the NC and I could hear cars but still shut out the buzz of a busy street packed with people even with no music on, like I said earlier, magical!
As with all NC headphones these aren’t really designed for sound purists and shouldn’t be judged as such. The bass is full and rich, with some audible compensation (bass boost) on some tracks that normally lack substantial bass. That however is not a bad thing unless you’re planning to use them as in-studio headphones, in which case you’re looking in the wrong place anyway.
Mids are strong and solid with the highs also maintaining the same level of output as the mids, some tracks did sound a little strained on the highs, but that was barely noticeable really.
The problems in sound quality arise when it comes to calls. For some reason Bose hasn’t quite figured this one out yet, because when I used the mic for calls, I immediately started getting complaints about my reception being bad and some crackling on the line. This is probably the most annoying thing for me when it comes to these headphones as I love everything else about them.
To solve this problem I have to speak with the in-line remote really close to my mouth and so would you (probably). The good thing however is that the ambient noise mics in the earbuds filter out any background noise on my end and I can hear the caller as clearly as if they were next to me.
Which brings me to another slight problem with the QC30’s. They stop working as soon as the battery is dead and can’t be used as normal earbuds thereafter. That they can’t be used while charging only adds to this problem. However the battery life is excellent at 10 hours (with full recharge needing 2 hours) so that slightly makes up for it.
Bluetooth is excellent as well with no connectivity issues and a range well over the standard 10 meters.
Besides the annoying issues with the mic during calls, the horseshoe neckband many love to hate, there is one other pretty obvious downside to the QC30’s (standard with most Bose headphones really) and it’s that these are very expensive. In fact at $299 some would say ridiculously so.
However that seems to be the going price for premium NC headphones so if price is not an issue for you, these are excellent NC headphones and well worth their price.
They are incredibly good at what they are supposed to do. In fact I dare say you won’t find any headphones better at noise cancelling than these. They are just as good as Bose’s previous offerings in that regard, but what puts them ahead in my opinion is that you can control to what extent you want to hear the outside world.
So if you’re looking to enclose yourself in your own world with music, your favorite podcast, audio book, shut out your annoying work colleagues or your snoring spouse (they can work as a Sleep Headphone too), then these are the best your money can buy, you won’t be disappointed.