Sometimes you want to isolate yourself from the sounds of the outside world. The drone of other people in the office, the sounds of traffic in the street, the constant droning of an aeroplane... What you want is a pair of active noise-cancelling headphones.
While active noise-cancelling headphones can have a price premium compared to regular headphones, the extra price can be more than worth it if you're a regular commuter. ANC headphones can make even the worst commuter experience slightly more bearable by letting you enjoy your morning podcast or music playlist free of disturbance. ANC can also mean you don't have to crank the volume up quite so high, helping conserve your hearing.
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When considering headphones like these, there are a few basic questions you need to ask yourself.
First and foremost, do you want in-ear models or a larger over-ear or on-ear type? With in-ear pairs, all the cancelling gubbins is packed into a little remote housing that's built somewhere along the cable. It generally gets a bit annoying, unless you wear clothes that are happy to accommodate a shirt clip. Larger pairs, such as Bose's mega-popular models, fit everything into the earcups themselves. They're therefore a lot neater and easier to live with.
A quirk of Bose's active noise-cancelling on its QuietComfort 25 headphones was that they wouldn't output any sound at all unless cancellation was switched on. Run out of battery and you were well and truly stuffed. Thankfully, the newer wireless QuietComfort 35 can fall back on a completely passive, wired experience when the battery runs out. Of course, this comes at the sacrifice of ANC. Some alternatives pull the same trick, while others don't. Bear this is mind if you know you tend to spend a long part of your day away from a charger.
However, the battery life of ANC headphones is improving. These days, you're looking at around 20 hours, though some offer up to 50 hours of use. Similarly, while many pairs use custom rechargeable units, plenty of others rely on good old AA/AAA batteries.
Last, but by no means least, there's the question of sound quality. Buying into ANC, you'll just have to accept that the sound won't quite match the very best regular headphones at the price. It's not a tech that can simply be slotted in for free. Some people can also experience discomfort from the perceived feeling of ear pressure some ANC headphones can exhibit, so it could be worth auditioning a pair before parting with your cash.