I'm not sure if this question is really applicable for this stack so apologies in advance, I'm not sure where else to put it.

I am looking for a pair of overhead earphones that are noise cancelling but have the ability to have the noise cancellation turned on or off. The person I am getting them for travels a lot so it would be handy to have the noise cancellation while on a plane or bus, but they also spend a lot of their time in busy city environments so it would be handy to be able to turn the noise cancelling off too so they are more aware of their surroundings. Thanks in advance and apologies again if this is the wrong place for this question, if anyone knows a better/proper place for it please let me know and I'll move it there!


All active-noise-cancelling headphones can have the noise-cancellation turned off, to save battery while they aren't being worn.

I suppose a really poor design might combine the ANC power and either amplifier (if wired) or radio (if wireless) into a single switch, but I've never seen one like that.

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  • yup. I've a nice set of active noise canceling headphones. Work great. – jwenting Dec 17 '18 at 7:32

Turning the Noise Cancelling off is NOT the same as "hear through". ANC headsets use a combination of active and passive sound isolation techniques and you can only turn off the active part. If you do this everything will sound very muffled and potentially boomy. This may be worse for "awareness of surrounding" than having the ANC on. With the ANC on, everything is quieter but its about the same at all frequencies.

The feature you probably want is often called "hear through" or "Listen through". It's a combination of reducing the cancellation and actually using the outside microphones to playback external noises through the head set

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  • Ah, I didn’t know that - I’ll have a look and see about that, thank you! – Chilly Dec 17 '18 at 17:53

I think this is a bit off-top for this site, but I'll relate my experience.

My Sony WH-1000XM2 wireless/wired headphone have this feature. There is a dedicated button that toggles ambient/noise canceling. It's good for walking down a busy sidewalk or, I suppose, if one wanted to eavesdrop on strangers in a cafe.

The newer model WH1000XM3 is said to have even better noise canceling and appears to have the same feature. See the user guide.

They're not particularly cheap, but come on sale frequently.

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