Want a quick way to liven up a party? Ask those attending what they think about Bose audio products. Few companies, in my experience, engender either the loyalty or enmity earned by this Massachusetts-based company, which—like Apple—typically charges a premium for its products and seldom sees them discounted at retail.

But when it comes to noise-canceling headphones, the discussion gets far less heated; Bose essentially invented the category more than a decade ago. With other brands entering this specialized arena, though, you may be wondering whether the newest Bose models—including the QuietComfort 25, $300, and the wireless QuietComfort 35, $350—are still top dogs. And more to the point, whether they're really worth the money.

Based on our testing of noise-canceling models from Bose and other leading brands, the answer to both questions appears to be yes, provided that you want premier-quality noise cancellation. That's where Bose tends to distance itself from the competition. And while $300 is a decent amount to pay for a set of headphones, it's not out of line with what other brands charge for their top noise-canceling models.

Wired and Wireless Home Studio Models

In fact, all but one of the top five noise-canceling models in our ratings of home/studio-style headphones cost at least $300. In addition to the Bose QuietComfort 25, that includes the Audio-Technica SonicPro ATH-MSR7NC , $300, the PSB M4U 2, $350, and the Able Planet Linx Fusion NC2000BCM, $300. The lone exception is the Koss QZ900, $200, which made the list at Number 4, but its noise reduction was a step below the Bose, Audio-Technica, and PSB headphones. Only the Bose and Audio-Technica models earned excellent scores for both sound and noise reduction.


More on Headphones

Wireless headphones have become increasingly popular, especially now that you no longer have to trade quality for convenience. In the wireless home/studio-style category, Bose once again led the ratings, with its QuietComfort 35 narrowly edging out the similarly priced Sony h.ear MDR-100ABN, $350. Both have excellent sound and excellent noise reduction. They're trailed by the Sony MDR-1000X, $400, the Definitive Technology Symphony 1 Executive, $400, and the JBL Everest Elite 700, $210, which have very good sound and excellent noise reduction.

Wired and Wireless Portable Models

Some people complain that over-the-ear headphones make them feel hot or uncomfortable. In that case, a portable in-ear model may be a better choice. And, while Bose topped the charts here as well, consumers have a broader range of options to choose from.

The Bose QuietComfort 20i earphone, $250, earned an excellent grade for noise reduction and a very good grade for sound. The Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23, $50, offered similar sound, but you have to settle for only fair noise reduction.

If you're comfortable wearing an on-ear model, though, the JVC HA-NC250, $115, provides a nice middle ground with very good sound and good noise reduction.

At this point, you won't be surprised to learn that Bose also has the top pick in the portable wireless category: the Bose QuietControl 30, $300. Not only does it earn top marks for both sound and noise reduction, but it also allows you to adjust the level of noise cancellation with a control on the cord if, for example, you want to hear the boarding announcements at the airport. The model was trailed by the Phiaton BT 220 NC, $160, which has excellent sound quality, too, but noise reduction that's just good.

As you can see, Bose delivers the goods when it comes to noise-canceling headphones, though you'll typically pay top dollar for its models. If you're willing to make some trade-offs, however, you can find less expensive picks such as the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23, $50.