Tips for Buying Noise-Canceling Headphones for the Office

The office can be a noisy and bustling environment, filled with the sounds of chattering coworkers, ringing phones, and clacking keyboards. For those who need to concentrate on their work, this cacophony can be a constant source of distraction and frustration. If you’re the type of person who’s easily distracted by noise, noise-canceling headphones can be helpful for you to focus.

These devices can help you block out distractions and create a peaceful and focused environment, making you more productive and efficient. However, with so many options on the market, it can be overwhelming to choose the right pair. If you can’t decide, consider these tips on selecting the best noise-canceling headphones for your office needs.

What are Noise-Canceling Headphones?

black, wireless headphones on a table lying on the corner of a laptop

Noise-canceling headphones are a type of headphones designed to reduce unwanted ambient sounds by using active noise control technology or passive noise isolation methods.

Active noise control technology works by using microphones to pick up external noise and then producing an “anti-noise” signal to cancel out the sound waves, while passive noise isolation methods work by physically blocking or absorbing outside noise with the use of acoustic materials like foam or plastic.

Noise-canceling headphones can be used in various settings, such as commuting, traveling, or in noisy environments like offices and construction sites, to help users focus on their work or enjoy their music without distractions.

These kinds of headphones work by using a combination of microphones and noise-canceling circuitry to reduce or eliminate external noise. The microphones on the headphones pick up the external sound waves and send them to the noise-canceling circuitry, which analyzes the sound waves and creates an “anti-noise” signal to cancel out the external noise.

The anti-noise signal is then sent to the headphones’ speakers, where it is combined with the audio signal from the music or other audio being played. The result is that the external noise is significantly reduced or eliminated, allowing the listener to hear the audio more clearly and at a lower volume.

Types of Noise-Canceling Headphones

a woman in the office listening to music and taking down notes

Many headphone models boast of its noise-canceling abilities, but some do it better than others. Companies are often inconsistent when labeling their headphones as “noise canceling” depending on the context. It’s important to understand the different types of noise-cancelation headphones to help you decide what to purchase. 

1. Passive Noise-Canceling Headphones

This is a more common type of noise-canceling headphones, which is referred to as “noise-isolating.” In this case, the physical properties of the headphones, such as their shape, design, and materials, act as a barrier to block out external noise from reaching your ears.

 These headphones work by physically blocking external noise with foam or leather. These are typically large and bulky, designed specifically for noise isolation, and cover your ears with extra padding to drown out outside noises.

If you’re in the market for passive noise-canceling headphones, you only need a pair with well-fitting cushions that form a tight seal around your ears. The better the seal, the more effectively it can block out noise. Passive noise-canceling headphones are especially good at isolating irregular and high-frequency sounds, making them ideal for open offices with chatty colleagues. They are effective at reducing high-frequency noise, such as office chatter or the hum of an air conditioning unit, but may not be as effective at blocking out low-frequency sounds, such as airplane engines or heavy traffic.

The only downside to these fantastic noise-canceling headphones is their size. They can be incredibly bulky, and not everyone wants to wear a big device on their head all day. But don’t worry – noise-isolating earbuds are also available, which can provide the same level of noise cancellation in a smaller package.

2. Active Noise Canceling Headphones

Looking for a more advanced level of noise-canceling technology? Enter active noise-canceling headphones. These headphones take noise cancellation to the next level by incorporating advanced technology to actively block out external noise, besides using their shape and design to mute external noise. Using a built-in audio processor, these headphones detect and analyze incoming noise patterns, then generate a matching “anti-noise” signal to cancel it out. It’s like magic – suddenly, the world around you goes silent, and you can enjoy a crisp, clear audio experience.

Active noise canceling headphones are particularly effective at removing constant, low-frequency noise like the hum of an airplane engine or the drone of traffic. If you’re a frequent traveler or commuter, these headphones are an excellent choice for blocking the outside world and enjoying peace and quiet.

However, it’s important to note that active noise-canceling headphones require a battery to power their noise-canceling feature. This can make them heavier and more expensive than other headphones on the market. But don’t worry – if the battery runs out or you turn off the noise canceling function, these headphones can still function as regular headphones, so you’re never without your audio fix.

3. Adaptive Noise Canceling Headphones

This one is relatively new to the headphones industry. Adaptive noise canceling headphones are a more advanced form of active noise canceling technology – it uses sensors to adapt the level of noise cancellation to the environment you’re in. These headphones are designed to automatically adjust their level of noise cancellation based on the noise level of your surroundings.

For example, suppose you’re walking through a noisy airport terminal. In that case, the headphones will detect the ambient noise and adjust the level of noise cancellation accordingly, blocking out more noise than if you were sitting in a quiet office. This means you can enjoy the best possible noise-canceling experience, regardless of your location.

One of the key benefits of adaptive noise-canceling headphones is that they can deliver a more personalized listening experience. Often, you can even fine-tune the settings to set your desired level of noise canceling through the use of companion apps. Some more advanced models can automatically adapt to the specific noise level of your environment. But remember, the higher the amount of noise cancellation, the more aggressively it cleans the sound, which can impact voice quality. 

Adaptive noise cancellation is very useful when you need to hear external sounds but still keep the background noise level low, like when the flight attendant makes an announcement when the plane is about to land. 

Like other active noise-canceling headphones, adaptive noise-canceling headphones require power to operate, so you’ll need to ensure they’re charged before you head out. But adaptive noise-canceling headphones can be an excellent choice for those who want the best possible noise-canceling experience.

Tips to Consider When Choosing Noise-Canceling Headphones

Here are some of the tips to consider when choosing noise-canceling headphones to buy:


1. Determine the type of noise cancellation you want

As mentioned earlier, there are three types of noise cancellation, passive, active, and adaptive. The most suitable type of noise cancellation depends on how you plan to use the headphones and in what settings. Noise-canceling headphones can be used for various purposes, such as listening to music or watching a movie, making a phone call, working in a noisy environment, or blocking out background noise while relaxing.

Instead of asking which type of noise cancellation is right for you, it may be more helpful to ask yourself, “What do I need noise-canceling headphones for?” This will enable you to narrow down your options and select the type of noise cancellation that suits your needs best.

2. Prioritize comfort

When choosing noise-canceling headphones for office use, comfort should be one of the top factors to consider. Since you’ll be wearing the headphones for extended periods, it’s crucial to ensure they don’t cause discomfort or pain. Here are some things you may want to look for to ensure that the headphones are comfortable to wear:

  • Adjustable headbands – Look for headphones with adjustable headbands that can be customized to fit your head size and shape. This will help distribute the headphones’ weight evenly across your head and reduce pressure on any area.
  • Padded ear cups – Headphones with padded ear cups provide a cushion between the hard plastic or metal of the headphones and your ears, reducing pressure and preventing soreness. Look for headphones with high-quality foam or memory foam padding for maximum comfort.
  • Lightweight design – Heavy headphones can cause strain on your neck and shoulders, leading to discomfort and even headaches. Look for headphones with a lightweight design that won’t add unnecessary weight or bulk to your head.
  • Breathable materials – Headphones made with breathable materials like mesh or perforated leather can help to prevent sweating and discomfort during extended use.

3. Consider the sound quality

Sound quality is obviously an essential aspect to consider, especially if you’ll be using headphones for making calls, listening to music, or watching videos.

Regarding sound quality, noise-canceling headphones are designed to offer clear and crisp audio by canceling out external noises. However, not all noise-canceling headphones are created equal, and the quality of sound can vary significantly between models.

One important factor to consider is the frequency response of the headphones. This refers to the range of frequencies the headphones can produce, typically measured in Hertz (Hz). The wider the frequency response range, the better the headphones can reproduce a wider range of sounds, resulting in a more immersive listening experience.

Another critical factor is the driver size of the headphones. The driver is the component responsible for converting electrical signals into sound waves. Larger drivers are generally capable of producing better sound quality, as they can move more air and produce more dynamic range.

When choosing noise-canceling headphones for office use, it’s important to keep in mind your specific needs. If you are using the headphones primarily for making calls, you should prioritize a model with a good microphone and noise-canceling capabilities to block out background noise. If you are using headphones for music or video streaming, consider prioritizing sound quality and other features such as equalization settings or Bluetooth connectivity.

4. Make sure it has a long battery life

If you opt for active noise-canceling headphones, make sure to check their battery life. You don’t want them to die on you in the middle of a workday. Active noise-canceling headphones require a power source to function properly, so make sure that the battery life is sufficient for your needs. Most noise-canceling headphones have a battery life of at least 10-20 hours, but some high-end models can offer up to 30 hours or more of continuous use.

It’s a good idea to choose noise-canceling headphones that have a long battery life, especially if you’re going to be using them for an extended period of time at work. Consider how often you’ll be using them and whether or not you’ll have access to a charger throughout the day.

Also, consider the type of battery the headphones use. Some headphones have built-in rechargeable batteries, while others use replaceable batteries. Built-in batteries can be more convenient since you don’t have to worry about purchasing new batteries, but they can be more difficult to replace if they start to lose their ability to hold a charge over time. Meanwhile, replaceable batteries can be easier to swap out, but they can be more expensive in the long run.

5. Consider if you prefer wired or wireless connectivity

When choosing noise-canceling headphones for office use, it’s essential to consider their connectivity options. Depending on your work setup, you may need to connect your headphones to different devices like a computer, phone, or tablet.

Wireless headphones use Bluetooth technology to connect to devices without the need for cords. This can be convenient for those who move around frequently during the workday or don’t want to be tethered to a specific location. However, it’s important to ensure that the headphones have a strong and reliable Bluetooth connection to prevent dropouts or connectivity issues.

On the other hand, wired headphones can offer a more stable and reliable connection. They often have a 3.5mm jack that can be plugged into a variety of devices. You just need to ensure that the cable length is sufficient for your needs and that it’s made from durable materials to prevent tangling or fraying.

Some headphones come with additional connectivity options like NFC (Near Field Communication), which allows for quick and easy pairing with compatible devices.

6. Check if it keeps your privacy

Ensure headphones provide privacy by checking for sound leakage. No one wants to be that person in the office whose music can be heard by everyone. Also, if you’re self-conscious about your listening choices, keep it to yourself then let your seatmate know your guilty pleasure tunes. To avoid this, check if the headphones don’t leak sound when you’re shopping.

Leakage can occur due to low-quality materials or a loose fit and can be disruptive to people nearby, particularly if you’re listening to something at a high volume. If you plan to use headphones in crowded areas, consider buying headphones made of durable materials that fit snugly over your ears.

7. Determine how much you’re willing to pay

The “noise canceling” on the label usually adds up to the price of the headphones. Plus, the higher the quality of its noise cancellation, the higher the price. More expensive models may offer better noise-cancellation technology, longer battery life, higher sound quality, and more features like touch controls or voice commands.

However, it’s also possible to find good quality noise-canceling headphones at a lower price point. Prioritize the features that are most important to you and compare prices across different brands and models to find the best value for your money.

8. Try on the headphones

Once you have found some models that you want to consider buying, try them out if possible. The headphones must tightly cover your ears to make sure they provide good sound isolation and noise cancellation.

Although most headphones are adjustable and flexible, it’s always better to try them on before making a purchase. Some brands even offer specific fits for men and women.

Trying on the headphones allows you to see if they fit well and if they apply too much pressure on your ears or if they are too loose. Take your time in the store, walk around, and get a feel for the headphones. This way, you won’t have to guess whether the headphones will suit you or not.