Bose was one of the pioneers in active noise-canceling technology, and most reviewers agree that the Bose QuietComfort 15 (Est. $300) still sets the bar for sound isolation. In review after review, the QuietComfort 15 is described as offering the best noise cancellation available today. "Not only is the overall ambient rumble of a train or an airplane engine significantly decreased," writes PCMag.com's Tim Gideon, "but there's no audible high-frequency hiss, like you'll get with some other noise-canceling headphone pairs." In addition, most reviewers say these headphones deliver very good sound and are extremely comfortable to wear.
However, the exceptional noise cancellation of these Bose headphones comes with some downsides, according to experts. Reviewers say their sound quality suffers slightly compared to headphones that are less adept at blocking sound. Gideon says, "Audio is still a bit too bright and the headphones tend to distort on deep bass at very high volumes." Also, the headphones won't function at all without power from one AAA battery.
Bose also offers its noise-canceling technology in an on-ear headphone, the Bose QuietComfort 3 (Est. $350) . These Bose headphones are smaller and lighter than the QuietComfort 15, which is a big plus for travel, and they fold flat for carrying. They also come with a rechargeable battery and charger, helping to offset their high cost. However, in professional tests, both sound quality and noise cancellation suffer compared to the QuietComfort 15. We didn't find a single reviewer who prefers them to the over-the-ears version.
If you want good noise cancellation and great sound quality, experts say to consider the PSB M4U 2 (Est. $400) . They're pricier than the Bose headphones, and experts agree that their noise-canceling technology, while very good, can't match Bose's. Also, while most reviewers find them comfortable to wear, they don't match the outstanding comfort of the Bose headphones; some users at Amazon.com complain that the headphones are too heavy or too tight.
Where the PSB headphones really shine, however, is in audio quality. Reviewers are virtually unanimous in declaring these one of the best-sounding sets of headphones on the market -- not just compared to other noise-canceling headphones, but overall. Geoff Morrison of TheWirecutter.com says, "The sound quality from the PSBs is incredible, and much better than the Bose." CNET's Steve Guttenberg concurs, saying, "The bass, midrange, and treble balance is flawless, so it sounds great with rock, electronica, jazz, classical, and in fact every type of music." Overall, the choice between PSB and Bose is clear: Choose the Bose headphones for good sound with superb noise cancellation, and the PSB headphones for the reverse.
While the Bose and the PSB get excellent reviews for noise cancellation and sound quality respectively, both are quite expensive. If value is a concern, your best bet might be the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7B (Est. $130) . Morrison calls these headphones "a solid, cheaper option": not the match of the pricier models for sound quality, noise cancellation or comfort, but still quite acceptable in all three regards. CNET's David Carnoy, however, is less enthusiastic: He says these headphones sound "only OK for the money" and "leak more sound than they should." Reviews on the manufacturer's website give these headphones high marks for audio quality and ease of use, but only middling scores for durability.