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Bottom Line: How and when to use noise-canceling headphones

Updated: May. 18, 2021 at 6:37 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC/CONSUMER REPORTS) - We’ve all been on a loud train or plane when all we really wanted was some peace and quiet. Enter noise-canceling headphones, great for a variety of uses and an excellent gift idea. But as Consumer Reports explains, some headphones are better suited for certain situations.

Consumer Reports says a decent pair of noise-canceling headphones give you great audio while reducing outside noise.

As long as they form a tight seal in or around your ears, noise-canceling headphones can help block out any outside sound. But they really work best with low-pitched, consistent noises, like the roar of a plane engine.

If you’re a frequent flier or just want to listen to a podcast while blocking out background noise in a cafe, check out the over-the-ear, budget-friendly Anker SoundCore Life Q20 for around $50 ($80 in Canada). CR’s tests show they deliver very good sound quality and excellent active noise reduction.

If you like long, peaceful walks but want to remain aware of what’s around you, some new headphone technology can help.

Models with variable noise cancellation let you adjust how much sound you block. Or you can get a pair with a “monitor” or “transparency” mode, which actually amplifies outside sound on purpose, like cars, cyclists or other pedestrians.

If that’s your jam, consider the Cleer Ally Plus with monitor mode for about $100 (not available in Canada). CR says they have very good sound quality with excellent active noise reduction, and they’re a solid pick for traveling.

As you can imagine, picking out the right headphones has a lot to do with personal preference. And in order for noise-canceling tech to work great, Consumer Reports says it’s critical to get a pair that fits you right, so check the return policy before you buy.

“Consumer Reports TV News” is published by Consumer Reports. Consumer Reports is a not-for-profit organization that does not accept advertising and does not have any commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site

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