There has to be a decent budget alternative Bose QC35 bluetooth headphones… right? Bose QC35s being (arguably) the best noise cancelling headphones on the market.

Well… that’s how this post came into being.

A few days ago my sister tried on my Bose QC35 headphones, loved the noise cancelling functionality, and decided she wanted a pair herself. Only problem was… they’re damned expensive.

But she works in a noisy office environment, so I decided it was worth looking into. And hey, I assumed there must something comparable to QC35s at a budget price. Based on the idea that with most big brand products, you’re paying as much for the brand as anything else.

So that’s how I ended up testing 8 of Amazon’s best budget noise cancelling headphones, all under $70 in price.

I will caveat this article right from the start – my core focus in reviewing the headphones was for active noise cancelling (ANC) functionality, in a bluetooth over ear format. The headphones had to nail the noise cancelling part first, before I spent too much time analyzing the sound quality.

Below are the 8 headphones I tested:

From top left to bottom right: Mpow H8, Electrotops, TaoTronics BH22, Cowin E7, Bluedio T4S, Bluedio F2, Zinsoko Z-H01, Mixcder E7

From top left to bottom right: Bose QC35 (the benchmark), TaoTronics BH22, Electrotops, Mixcder E7, Zinsoko Z-H01, Bluedio F2, Bluedio T4S, Mpow H8

Active Noise Cancelling (ANC)

What Active Noise Cancelling Is

First off, it’s probably worth re-capping what active noise cancelling is all about. In a nutshell, the headphones use little microphones to listen to the ambient noise around them, then play sound back into the headphones, using the same wavelength and amplitude, but opposite phase. Thus cancelling out the external noise, and providing quiet (silence would be an over exaggeration).

Illustrating how out of phase frequencies drive noise cancelling technology – image via Center Point Audio

Where noise cancelling really excels, is in places where the outside noise is constant. Common examples are planes & trains – but this also applies to the hum of a coffee shop or office environment. However, sudden, irregular noises are not dealt with so well. Mainly due to the lag between microphones sensing a sound, and then being able to respond and cancel it out.

What Active Noise Cancelling Isn’t

Generally speaking, even the high end noise cancelling headphones like Bose QC35s, play a v. small amount of a sound comparable to “shhh” into the headphones when no sound is playing.

(When I say “shhh”, imagine the sound of someone blowing lightly in your ear. Or another way to describe it is the sound of a waterfall, but really dialled back in terms of loudness. Hard to describe!)

On a good quality headphone, that “shhh” noise is barely noticeable, as it should be.

Unfortunately, this noise was prominent on some of the headphones reviewed. It isn’t noticeable when sound is playing – which would be most of the time when you’re using headphones. However I do find myself using noise cancelling headphones solely to block out noise (lets say I need to focus at a coffee shop or busy office), whilst not actually playing sound. So its possible it could get annoying.

The headphones where this “shhh” noise was louder (with sound off) are below, in no particular order:

So that effectively left the Mixcder E7’s and the Electrotops that didn’t trigger an additional “shhh” noise when worn, but not listening to music.

Not a deal breaker, but felt it worth mentioning.

Review Method

The key focus of this review (as mentioned above) was for active noise cancelling functionality. It’s relatively easy to find decent budget headphones, but a whole other thing to find them with good ANC.

Rather than take all 7 headphones on a plane or train, I emulated a constant background noise with an idling car engine, both with and without the car’s AC fans switched on. I focused the testing on their noise cancelling ability without playing music/sound through the headphones. Otherwise it would be hard to tell if it’s the music blocking the background sound or the ANC. I had the Bose QC35s in the car with me as a benchmark.

Beyond that, I lightly tested headphone comfort, build quality, music playback & bluetooth connectivity.

Size comparison of the different hard cases provided. Top left ot bottom right: TaoTronics BH22, banana for scale(!), Electrotops, Mixcder E7, Zinsoko Z-H01, Bluedio F2, Mpow H8. The Cowin E7 and the Bluedio T4S didn’t come with carry cases, so they’re not in the picture.

Noise Cancelling Results

The below table shows the headphones ranked out of 10 for active noise cancelling. The Bose QC35 act as a 10/10 benchmark:

# Headphones Active Noise Cancelling Rating
The Benchmark -> Bose QC35s 10
1. Cowin E7 7
2. TaoTronics BH22 6.5
3. Electrotops (Axceed in USA) 6
4. Zinsoko Z-H01 5.5
5. Bluedio T4S, Bluedio F2 5
6. Mixcder E7 & MPow H8 4

There was a sizeable gap in noise cancelling capability between the Bose QC35s and the next best, so I’ve represented that in the scores.

The Cowin E7’s came out top for noise cancelling. (N.B. They do make two versions of the Cowin E7s, one with and one without noise cancelling functionality, I was of course reviewing the ones with)

Despite the Cowin E7’s being marginally better than the Taotronics BH22, I’ve made the TaoTronics BH22 the overall winner.

This is because the Cowin E7’s microphone is not as good (it’s arguably quite bad, which is a nightmare for phonecalls), and the E7’s don’t come with a hard carry-case, whereas the TaoTronics do.

Overall Results

If we re-order the above list, taking into account other key factors such as build quality, it looks like this:

Headphones Overall Rating
TaoTronics BH22 #1
Cowin E7 #2
Electrotops (Axceed in USA) #3
Mixcder E7, Bluedio T4S & Bluedio F2 #4
MPow H8 & Zinsoko Z-H01 #5

I’ve gone into detail on each product below, but to summarise the above results:
#1 – The TaoTronics BH22s were the most complete, all around package. Good ANC, build quality, comfort and sound quality.
#2 – The Cowin E7s arguably had marginally better ANC than the rest, but were let down by their poor quality microphone and lack of hard carry case.
#3 – The Electrotops had reasonable ANC compared to the rest, but the ANC was just too weak to compete with the top 2.
#4 – Whilst the Mixcder’s ANC is very minimal, they’re a reasonably well put together set of headphones, and nice to listen to music with. The 2x Bluedio headphones have better ANC than the Mixcder, but their build quality is cheaper, and they have real design flaws (discussed more below)
#5 – The MPow H8 & Zinsoko came in last. For the Zinsoko’s it was down to their design flaws, and for the H8s it was because of their very poor ANC.

Product Deep(ish) Dive

Below I’ve done a deep dive on the individual pro’s and con’s for each set of headphones, working from the best in the list downwards:

TaoTronics BH22

The TaoTronics BH22 came out on top of the list. Perhaps surprisingly, as they’re quite an understated set of headphones.

They don’t have the fancy packaging or design of other headphones on test, but they really excelled where it counts; active noise cancelling inside a well designed, practical package.

Pros Cons
  • Solid build quality
  • Soft, easy to adjust earcups
  • The over head strap is tight enough to not fall off, but not overly tight to get uncomfortable
  • The headphones collapse small, and have a solid carrying case
  • The buttons on the side of the ear cups for adjusting volume and toggling ANC on and off feel a bit cheap

Cowin E7

If the Cowin E7 had a better microphone, and came with a hard case, they might have come out on top. As it stands, those two things let them down a lot.

Pros Cons
  • Solid noise cancelling capability
  • Good sound quality
  • Noticably comfortable to wear
  • No Carrying Case
    They only come with a super thin bag for carrying, rather than a hard case, as was the standard for most of th headphones I tested. This seems problematic if you want to sling them into your bag, and carry them without worrying about them getting crushed.
  • Microphone Sound Quality
    For many people (like myself), they’ll expect to be able to make phone calls on their Bluetooth headphones, rather than using the headset of plugging in a different pair. Unfortunately the sound quality of the Cowin E7’s microphone is really poor.
  • A small niggle was the button for switching between off, on and ANC. If you apply just a tiny bit of extra force, you overshoot the regular “on” setting, and end up in ANC. Fortunately ANC includes being on, and is the setting you’d likely use most frequently.

Electrotops (Known as Axceed in USA)

The Electrotops appear to be a generic Chinese design that different sellers have re-branded. Other examples of the same headphones include AXCEED, Srhythm & COSROLE. The actual design of the headphones (structurally) is remarkably similar to the Bose QC35s. Things they have in common include:

  • Very light weight
  • The ability to fold in on themselves, and thus fold up tightly
  • Very smilar size and style of ear cups
  • Similar dimensions

A couple noticeable differences are that the Electrotops use a matte black finish and some chrome metalic sections. The matte black, whilst nice to look at, is soft, and thus vulnerable to scratches.

That said, you can tell the Electropops are cheaper than the QC35s, and their button layout is not as convenient.

Also the major elephant in the room, ANC, is a bit weak. It would be great if it blocked more noise. Sound quality is reasonable.

Pros Cons
  • Very light
  • Soft, easy to adjust earcups
  • The over head strap is tight enough to not fall off, but not overly tight to get uncomfortable
  • They have similarities in construction to Bose QC35s – and thus it would be nice if they could fold in a similar way, allowing them to take up a smaller footprint when being stored

Zinsoko Z-H01

The Zinsoko’s seem to have managed to put their attention everywhere other than where it actually matters. For example, their style is very flashy, their carrying case overly large and their packaging excessive.

This would have all been acceptable if their ANC was great, however, it is not. They also seem to lose a good amount of bass sound when you enable ANC.

They’re not uncomfortable to wear, but the adjustment mechanism is overly tight. Making it hard to adjust on the go.

I think their look probably appeals to a certain audience, so they may have that going for them.

Pros Cons
  • Striking design that may appear to some people
  • Good packaging and sturdy carry case
  • Noise cancelling not great
  • Carrying case overly large
  • Headband adjusters are overly tight

Mixcder E7

Pros Cons
  • Easy to access controls for power, volume and noise cancelling.
  • Noise cancelling isn’t simply the addition of white noise, like some of the other headphones reviewed.
  • Simple & Solid Design
    Apart from the volume buttons, which you can hear clicking in the headphones as you adjust them – generally the headphones feel solid and well designed.
  • Tight headband
    Which on the one hand is good for sports, such that they don’t slip off… but after time could become uncomfortable.
  • Noise cancelling is there, but weaker than Bose QC35s. Its supplemented by a bit of passive noise cancelling (as the ear pads form an air seal).

Bluedio T4S

I reviewed the Bluedio T4S in white, but they also come in black.

Both the Bluedio headphones appear on the face of it to be stylish, but are then let down in terms of comfort and build quality.

ANC & sound quality is approximately the same on both.

Pros Cons
  • Striking design that may appeal to some people
  • No carry case included, which makes the headphones vulnerable to breaking when stored.
  • The ear cups are round rather than oval (which is more the shape of our ears), thus they dont fit over as nicely as the other more oval ear cups
  • When you switch on noise cancelling, it seems adds white noise. You can hear this quite clearly by toggling the noise cancelling on and off whilst leaving music off.

Bluedio F2

I reviewed the Bluedio F2 in white & chrome, but they also come in black & chrome.

Pros Cons
  • Compare to their T4S counterparts above, the earcups are oval rather than round, so this means this sit a bit better on the ear
  • They also contain a carry case, where the T4S does not
  • They don’t fold up small, thus their footprint in the carrycase is a bit small
  • The mechanism where ear cups swivel is badly designed and grates as you adjust them.
  • Another design flaw; the metal between the top of the ear cups and the band makes a metalic clashing noise as you hold or adjust them. Which just seems totally unnecessary, but perhaps is in part down to them choosing metal rather than plastic.

Mpow H8

I actually thought the Mpow H8 would turn out a lot better than they did. I wouldn’t recommend them.

Pros Cons
  • Very light
  • The over head strap is tight enough to not fall off, but not overly tight to get uncomfortable
  • The ear cups are very shallow, which means your ear touches the inside, rather than on better designs where the ear cup is deep, and thus your ear sits inside rather than pressing.
  • Whilst their design is visually similar to TaoTronics, they don’t fold up really small, which seems like a missed opportunity
  • Noise Cancelling
    They appear to output “white noise” when noise cancelling is on, rather than simply block external noise

Roundup Recap

From top left to bottom right: Mpow H8, Electrotops, TaoTronics BH22, Cowin E7, Bluedio T4S, Bluedio F2, Zinsoko Z-H01, Mixcder E7

As mentioned above, taking into account everything, including noise cancelling quality, the results of the test are below:

Headphones Overall Rating
TaoTronics BH22 #1
Cowin E7 #2
Electrotops (Axceed in USA) #3
Mixcder E7, Bluedio T4S & Bluedio F2 #4
MPow H8 & Zinsoko Z-H01 #5

I’ve gone into detail on each product above, but to summarise the rationale for the results:
#1 – The TaoTronics BH22s were the most complete, all around package. Good ANC, build quality, comfort and sound quality.
#2 – The Cowin E7s arguably had marginally better ANC than the rest, but were let down by their poor quality microphone and lack of hard carry case.
#3 – The Electrotops had reasonable ANC compared to the rest, but the ANC was just too weak to compete with the top 2.
#4 – Whilst the Mixcder’s ANC is very minimal, they’re a reasonably well put together set of headphones, and nice to listen to music with. The 2x Bluedio headphones have better ANC than the Mixcder, but their build quality is cheaper, and they have real design flaws (discussed more below)
#5 – The MPow H8 & Zinsoko came in last. For the Zinsoko’s it was down to their design flaws, and for the H8s it was because of their very poor ANC.

Final Words

Overall I was expecting a bit more from most of these headphones. Whilst sub $70 is budget compared to the Bose QC35s $300+ price tag, it’s still a significant outlay. Perhaps it speaks to the way in which Bose have refined their noise cancelling technology, and a comparable generic form does not yet exist available to Chinese manufacturers (China being where all of these headphones get made).

For example, when you look at the Bose QC35s, you can see a number of small apertures that likely hold microphones. Used for sensing the outside noise. Even the best headphones in this review; TaoTronics BH22 doesn’t appear to have as many microphone apertures (actually, I couldn’t see any – but presumably there are some).

There are a couple outstanding questions that I’m left with:

  1. Are there headphones on the market that cost more than $70, yet less than the $300+ of the Bose QC35s (say around $150), that get closer to the Bose performance level?
  2. If we took the same budget of $70, and instead applied it to in-ear headphones, would the performance be better?

Those questions I may try and answer in further reviews – if there’s demand.

Alex

Posted by Alex

Hi, I’m Alex, a writer with a broad interest in nutrition, hormones, cancer prevention and gerontology (study of ageing). I write this blog to answer questions I myself have had at one stage or another. With the hope that others find it useful.

18 Comments

  1. ALex, supurb review! I echo another commenter’s response about this being the best budget ANC headphone review that I’ve seen, by far in fact. Most reviews are for a single model lacking the comparison across multiple models.

    If you still have all these headsets, I would love to see a follow-up that focuses on pure audio quality, with and without ANC turned on.

    While ANC is an attractive feature in some environments, like a long flight, it is generally not needed in most environments. So for me, the audio quality of highs, mids, and lows take priority over ANC, with ANC being complementary to a great sounding set of cans. I own the Bludio T4 (not the S) model, and it has a very balanced and clear tone, but the lows, while good sounding, lack the level of punch that I prefer.

    Again, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how these cans compare, audio quality speaking.

    P.S. I agree with the reviewer about APTx. It’s a must if you are watching any videos over Bluetooth. I have APTx on my non-ANC Archeer ah07 cans, and the sound quality and zero latency rivals cans in the $200+ price range (actually blows my kids Beats cans away).

    Reply

  2. I would like to address the differences between the BH22 and the BH040. I recently got the BH040 and loved them. You can read my review on Amazon. However I decided to send them back because they were lacking a feature not covered in these tests because the article is about Noise Cancelling. AptX is a compression standard that lowers the latency of the audio transmission in Bluetooth mode. This is not important listening to music but if you want to use wireless headphones to watch your favorite movie it becomes more important. Latency is Audio delay and that is reduced to near wired levels when you have an AptX transmitter to an AptX receiver like the BH22 has. The BH040 were really nice. Did not feel plastic at all but yet light. Has flashy chrome accents and well placed buttons which did not feel cheap at all. Sound quality and NC worked great for me. The only downside for me was watch movies without the AptX. I send my BH040’s back to Amazon and was about to get the BH22 but was told that a new model BH22 was right around the corner so I personally would like to wait. Maybe they will be a combination of the to models. Oval shape that fold in, but more premium build with some chrome accents and with AptX on board. If TT gets that right, I’m all in.

    Reply

    1. Alex

      Hi Ronald, thanks for comment. That’s really interesting about AptX and how it reduces the lag on sound, appreciate you taking time to explain that. Can see how for movies it’s critical that the sound syncs up in near real time with the video you’re watching. That’s a shame that the TT-BH040s don’t include it. It’s slightly confusing for consumers the way the BH040s appear to be the next upgrade to the BH20s, yet miss off useful features such as AptX and the ability to fold in.

      Reply

    2. Thank you for your review. I’m returning my BH040 for the same reason and I want to buy the bh22, but I get caught by what you said about a newer model. Do Taotronics said when they will be released? I don’t know whether wait or buy the BH22.

      Reply

  3. Really useful review. I want to buy the Taotronics, but I don’t know which one is better between the BH22 and the newer model BH40. What do you think about that?

    Reply

    1. Alex

      Hi Dodoxo, thanks for the message. So you want to know about the Taotronics TT-BH22 vs TT-BH040.

      As you know, I didn’t review the TT-BH040s in this review, so I can’t speak from hands on experience. However, I can point out a few things that may help you with the decision. The first is that, despite the higher model number, and slightly higher price, this isnt’ a straight forward upgrade. The TT-BH22s have the ability to fold in on themselves when being stored, much like the Bose QC35s, which leads to a smaller case and footprint. The TT-BH040s don’t offer this, so their carry case will take up more space in your bag. Then in terms of the ear cups, it seems the TT-BH040s fit slightly more snugly on the head, and compress more on the head. See this Amazon Answers section for more details on that part.

      One reviewer made the comment that the greater compression on the BH-040s led to slightly better noise cancelling. Which would make sense, because there would be less gaps for sound to get through. But personally he preferred the BH22s, because their sound quality was similar, and he preferred the looser fold up style on the BH22 ear cups.

      In the end with the Taotronics BH22s vs BH040s, it will come down to personal preference, as there doesn’t appear to be a clearly superior winner in all areas.

      Reply

      1. Thank you very much! I’ll give a try to the BH40 and see if they really fit well

        Reply

        1. Alex

          You’re welcome Dodoxo.
          When you’ve had a chance to test them out, would love to hear how you find the BH40s.

          Reply

      2. thank you for great review. What’s the difference between BH-22 and BH-36? Thanks!

        Reply

        1. Alex

          Hey Daniel, thanks for the message. Do you have a link to the BH-36? I haven’t looked into them yet.

          Reply

  4. Shopping before a 14-hour flight and this is exactly what i was looking for!
    Most youtube reviews hardly touch on the ANC so I was going mad trying to gauge that in this price range – Thanks for the Great review!

    Reply

    1. Alex

      Hi Andy, thanks, really appreciate the message. Yeah, agree, hard to find reviews on the lower priced ANC headphones. Hope your 14-hour flight goes quickly.

      Reply

  5. Thank you Alex for taking the time to perform this comparison. It helps us consumers a lot. Please keep ups the good work!!!
    Quick question, some sites list the TT-BH22 as being able to pair multiple devices vs. the Bose QC35 only one at a time. Did you find this to be true as well?
    Thanks again!

    Reply

    1. Alex

      Hi, thanks for the comment!

      That info about the Bose QC35s doesn’t match up with my experience. They will connect to multiple devices, not sure the upper limit, but certainly have no issue connecting them to my phone and laptop simultaneously. I can then play a podcast on my phone. Pause it, then play a song via my laptop, and it all comes through the headphones with no need to re-connect, etc.

      Actually I didn’t test the TT-BH22s to see if they will handle multiple connections, but now you mention it, I absolutely should have. I’ll ask my sister if she can check for me. Although knowing her, I won’t get the answer back super quick (always busy).

      Reply

  6. Superb review, thanks for your work on this.

    Reply

    1. Alex

      You’re welcome, thank for the message!

      Reply

  7. I’d say this is the best comparison between budget ANC headphones I’ve seen, nicely done! And thanks for the work you put into these reviews, helps me out choosing my next pair of ANCs. The same 2 questions remain for me unanswered also, but I guess I will still go and buy one of these headphones. Thanks!

    Reply

    1. Alex

      Hey Cris! Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. It felt like the budget ANC market is a little underserved, so made sense to try and improve that. Especially when a lot of the “review sites” aren’t really reviews at all – because they haven’t actually compared the products they’re promoting. On top of that, there’s a lot of junk products on the market. Super glad you found the post useful – it was my first time writing this kind of a “review” blog – and it was a lengthier process than I imagined. I guess if one did it regularly you’d streamline the process.

      Reply

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