TechRadar's 10 top-ranking noise-cancelling headphones
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.
Now that you know, you're ready to choose a set. Let's take a look at the best noise-cancelling headphones around.
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
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
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
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
Broad and clear soundstage
Amazing noise cancellation
Active EQ an acquired taste
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
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
Quick Attention mode
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
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
Everlasting battery life
Finicky multi-function button
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
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
Deep customization via app
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
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
Fantastic 24 hour battery
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
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
Available for all major mobile OSs
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
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
Works with modern game consoles
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
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
Brilliant Hi-Res Audio functionality
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
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
Comfy faux-leather earpads
Extra features for Samsung owners
Plastic, fragile bridge
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.