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The best noise-cancelling headphones available today

TechRadar's 10 top-ranking noise-cancelling headphones

By Nick Pino | Oct 2, 2016, 01.50 AM IST
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Best noise-cancelling headphones

We'd love it if we could do all our music listening in the comfort of our own home, with no outside noise to get in the way of our listening experience.

But the fact is that most of us listen to music when we're out and about, where we're constantly being disturbed by everything from traffic noise, to the rumble of a train carriage and crying babies.

If you're someone that often finds yourself in this situation, then you'll benefit from checking out our list of the best noise-cancelling headphones around.

Essentially noise-cancelling headphones work to eliminate background noise around you. This not only allows you to hear your music more clearly, but it also might help you to protect your hearing over the long term because you can get away with listening to your music at much lower volumes.

When it comes to noise-cancelling headphones, there are two types to look out for: active and passive. Passive means that when the headphones are pressed against your head, some sound is cut out in the process of closing your ears off to the world outside. It's not high-tech. Lots of headphones claim that this is some sort of advanced technique, but it's nothing more than a few layers of foam trying their darndest to keep sound out.

Active noise cancellation, on the other hand, involves some pretty interesting processes to cancel out sound. Along with the padding which passively blocks sound, microphones planted in the ear wells of headphones actively analyze the ambient noise level and reflect sound waves back into your ear that work to zap the outside noise. The goal is to hear nothing but the music, or whatever it is you're listening to.

Active noise cancelling headphones are more effective at what they do, but the downside is that this noise cancellation requires batteries in order to function, so you'll have to keep them charged if you want to keep the noises of the outside world at bay.

Now that you know, you're ready to choose a set. Let's take a look at the best noise-cancelling headphones around.

Philips Fidelio NC1
Philips Fidelio NC1

1. Philips Fidelio NC1

Executive looks and great sound reproduction

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: .74 pounds | Cable length: 3.9 feet | Frequency response: 7-25,000Hz | Drivers: Two 1.5" Neodymium drivers | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: 107 dB | Impedance: 16 ohm | Battery life : 25+ hours | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: No

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Brilliantly balanced sound

Great build quality and battery life

Some sound leakage

Philips presents an elegant noise-cancelling solution with its NC1. These on-ear headphones aren't wireless, but that's hardly a reason to knock them. Coming in at $299, the same price as Bose' QuietComfort 25, the NC1 are a more compact set that's high on comfort and battery life.

You get a lot for the money here. In the box comes the headphones, a hard case for storage and the headphones rock a rechargeable battery that provides noise cancellation for close to 30 hours. But best of all, the sound performance is extremely well balanced and warm.

Read the full review: Philips Fidelio NC1

Bose QuietComfort 35
Bose QuietComfort 35

2. Bose QuietComfort 35

Bose has cut the wires off its flagship noise-cancellers with great success

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 0.68 pounds | Cable length: 3.94 feet | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 20+ hours | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: Yes

See more Bose QuietComfort 35 deals

Broad and clear soundstage

Amazing noise cancellation

Active EQ an acquired taste

Boring looks

Bose has finally brought its fantastic noise-cancelling technology to a pair of wireless headphones and it's done so without any of the traditional drawbacks of wireless headphones. They sound great, and their battery life is long enough for all but the longest of flights.

At $349.95 (£289.95 / AU pricing tbc) the QC35s sit firmly at the premium end of the spectrum, but if you want the best noise-cancelling headphones available right now then you can't get any better.

Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort 35

Best noise-cancelling headphones
Best noise-cancelling headphones

3. Sony MDR-1000X

Noise-cancelling headphones that care about Hi-Res Audio

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 275 grams | Frequency response: 4Hz - 40kHz | Drivers: 40mm | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: 103dB | Impedance: 46 Ohms | Battery life: 20 hours | Wireless range: 30 feet | NFC: Yes

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Quick Attention mode

Noise cancellation

Lengthy battery life

Finicky Ambient Noise mode

The MDR-1000X are definitely the closest competitor to Bose's QuietComfort series I've ever had the pleasure of testing. Some high-end codecs (LDAC, AAC and aptX) help the 1000X sound even better than the QC35s, but ultimately the noise canceling is a bit less effective in Sony's pair of cans.

What should drive your decision on whether to buy the MDR-1000X is your music player - if you're a Sony Xperia owner, you'd be hard-pressed to find a pair of headphones that sound as good as these with noise canceling tech built-in. Even if you're not, Sony's wares are still worth a listen - and maybe a purchase - if you aren't too put out by its $400 (£330 or AU$700) price tag.

Read the full review: Sony MDR-1000X

Sennheiser Momentum Wireless
Sennheiser Momentum Wireless

4. Sennheiser Momentum Wireless

Incredible audio fidelity backed by a serious price

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: N/A | Cable length: 4.6 feet | Frequency response: 16-22,000Hz | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: 28 ohms | Battery life : 25+ hours | Wireless range: 30+ feet | NFC: Yes

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Best-in-class sound

Everlasting battery life

Finicky multi-function button

Terribly pricey

If an exceptional set of noise-cancelling headphones is something you're prepared to shell out for, consider the excellent Sennheiser Momentum Wireless.

Where to start? The audio performance is killer, only helped by the supreme comfort of the leather-coated memory foam earpads. Active noise cancellation kicks on automatically to help keep out noises from the outside world.

Finally, these headphones feature a 22-hour battery life, which is long enough to get you through a flight overseas, and some. The only kicker? These are $499, which is a lot to swallow. But for what you're getting here, it's worth it.

Read the full review: Sennheiser Momentum Wireless

Parrot Zik 2
Parrot Zik 2

5. Parrot Zik 2.0

App-powered Bluetooth headphones with many features

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: .59 pounds | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: 20Hz-22kHz | Drivers: Two 1.5" drivers | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life : 6+ hours | Wireless range: 30+ feet | NFC: Yes

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Expansive soundstage

Deep customization via app

Expensive

Iffy battery

You'll be hard-pressed to find a set of headphones that defies convention more than the Zik 2.0. They're bold in design, but where they really go off the beaten path is their app-centric approach to delivering features.

Coming in at $399, these headphones pack incredible sound and oodles of app-powered features for the price. One of the cooler features made possible with the app is the noise cancellation, which is fully customizable. It's up to you to decide how much sound you want to tune out of your listening experience. I've never had that much freedom with a set of headphones before.

Read the full review: Parrot Zik 2.0

Plantronics BackBeat Pro
Plantronics BackBeat Pro

6. Plantronics BackBeat Pro

Noise-canceling Bluetooth headphones with plenty of features

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: .74 pounds | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life : 24+ hours | Wireless range: 330+ feet | NFC: Yes

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Fantastic 24 hour battery

impressive sound

Slightly pricey

The Plantronics BackBeat Pro are a slick, professional looking option with the beat to back it. The BackBeat Pro is easy to recommend based on looks alone, but more importantly, it speaks for itself with some seriously sweet features like 24-hour battery life, great sound and noise cancellation.

Read the full review: Plantronics BackBeat Pro

Bose QuietComfort 20i
Bose QuietComfort 20i

7. Bose QuietComfort 20i

Bose brings noise cancellation to the earphone form factor

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: .09 pounds | Cable length: 4.3 feet | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life : 16+ hours | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: No

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Extremely comfortable

Available for all major mobile OSs

Expensive

Huh, Bose is on our list again. We're not biased here, it's just that Bose has had a consistent presence in the space of making ANC headphones for some time. It's just that with the QuietComfort 20i, they've brought earbuds to the discussion.

Similar in price and function in almost every way to the QC 25, the QC 20i offer a more discreet option to enjoy your content. And because those of us who prefer earbuds are on-the-go, Bose included "Aware Mode" which allows you to dampen the effect of the ANC at at a moment's notice, perfect, as our reviewer put it, to ask for that "all-too-important Jack and Soda" when the flight attendant comes around. We also enjoyed that the in-line controls extend support to every major mobile OS.

Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort 20i

Creative Sound Blaster EVO ZxR
Creative Sound Blaster EVO ZxR

8. Creative Sound Blaster EVO ZxR

An all-around headset offering quality sound and noise cancellation

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: N/A | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: 20Hz-20kHz | Drivers: Two 1.9" drivers | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life : 8+ hours | Wireless range: 33 feet | NFC: Yes

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Noise cancellation

Works with modern game consoles

Expensive

If the design of the Bose QuietComfort 25 is a little too tame for you, check out the Creative Sound Blaster EVO ZxR. The name of these headphones is a bit of a tongue-twister, but you'll get equally tripped-up running down the exhaustive list of features found in them too.

Active noise cancellation helps keep your immersion at an all-time high with support for listening over Bluetooth. You can even tap an NFC-enabled device for a super-quick wireless connection. But if you feel like keeping things wired, connecting a 3.5mm cable opens up support for PS4, Mac and PC. As mentioned earlier, the design is bold, but it matches the feature-set packed into the offering.

Read the full review: Creative Sound Blaster EVO ZxR

Best noise-cancelling headphones
Best noise-cancelling headphones

9. Sony H.ear On MDR-100ABN

Sony's H.ear headphones look great and, more importantly, sound great too

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 1.9 pounds | Cable length: 3.94 feet | Frequency response: 5-40,000 Hz | Drivers: 1.57 inch | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: 103 dB/mW | Impedance: 32 ohms | Battery life: 20+ hours | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: Yes

See more Sony H.ear On MDR-100ABN deals

Brilliant Hi-Res Audio functionality

Exceptionally comfortable

Lack of low-battery warning

No touch controls

Lovely to wear, great to look at and fantastic for sound, the Sony H.ear On MDR-100ABNs would be a fine buy for anyone looking for noise-cancelling wireless headphones with the added bonus of Hi-Res Audio.

At £220/$350 (around $AU480) they'll certainly be at the higher end of most budgets - but I wouldn't hesitate to hand over that sort of money for headphones that have enough tech in them to last years.

Read the full review: Sony H.ear On MDR-100ABN

Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones
Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones

10. Samsung Level On Pro Wireless Headphones

Samsung crashes the wireless noise-cancelling party

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: .7 pounds | Cable length: 3.6 feet | Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz | Drivers: 40mm Dual-Layered Diaphragm | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 8 hours | Wireless range: 30 meters (98ft) | NFC: Yes

See more Samsung Level On Pro Wireless Headphones deals

Comfy faux-leather earpads

Extra features for Samsung owners

Plastic, fragile bridge

Short-range wireless

The Samsung Level On Pro Wireless are one of the few headphones I've tested that feel like they're meant as a package deal for another device. Yes they'll work with every Bluetooth and 3.5mm jack-equipped handset on the market, but you're better off sticking to a Samsung device in order to squeeze every ounce of aural goodness from the UHQ audio codec.

It's one of the comfiest pair of cans on the market, and one of the best noise-cancelling, too. If it had a better sound quality for the vast majority of cell phone users it would be an easy recommendation but, as it stands, really makes the most sense at checkout when purchased alongside Samsung's Next Big Thing.

Read the full review: Samsung Level On Pro Wireless Headphones

We're constantly reviewing new noise-cancelling headphones, but let us know if there is a set that you'd like us to take a look at in the comments below.

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