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Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones: 7 of the best right now

Andrew Williams


Bose SoundTrue

Sometimes you want to isolate yourself from the sounds of the outside world. The natter of other people in the office, the sounds of traffic in the street, the constant droning of an aeroplane... What you want then is a pair of active noise-cancelling headphones.

While active noise-cancelling (ANC) headphones can have a price premium compared to regular headphones, the extra price can be more than worth it if you're a regular commuter. ANC headphones can make even the worst commuter experience slightly more bearable by letting you enjoy your morning podcast or music playlist free of disturbance. ANC can also mean you don't have to crank the volume up quite so high, helping preserve your hearing.

Thankfully, the sound quality of ANC headphones have also much improved over years, so you're not making so great a sacrifice in audio fidelity in exchange for peaceful tranquility.

Hit the dropdown menu above to head straight to our short reviews, or read on for more buying advice. You can also click through to read the full reviews to find out everything you need to know about each model.

Video: Trusted Explains – What type of headphones should you buy?

See also: Best Headphones

How to buy the best noise-cancelling headphones for you

When considering headphones like these, there are a few basic questions you need to ask yourself.

First and foremost, do you want in-ear models or a larger over-ear or on-ear type? With in-ear pairs, all the cancelling gubbins is packed into a little remote housing that's built somewhere along the cable or in a collar worn behind the neck. It generally gets a bit annoying, unless you wear clothes that are happy to accommodate a shirt clip. Larger pairs, such as Bose's mega-popular models, fit everything into the earcups themselves. They're therefore a lot neater and easier to live with.

A quirk of Bose's active noise-cancelling on its QuietComfort 25 headphones was that they wouldn't output any sound at all unless cancellation was switched on. Run out of battery and you were well and truly stuffed. Thankfully, the newer wireless QuietComfort 35 can fall back on a completely passive, wired experience when the battery runs out. Of course, this comes at the sacrifice of ANC. Some alternatives pull the same trick, while others don't. Bear this is mind if you know you tend to spend a long part of your day away from a charger.

However, the battery life of ANC headphones is improving. These days, you're looking at around 20 hours, though some offer up to 50 hours of use. Similarly, while many pairs use custom rechargeable units, plenty of others rely on good old AA/AAA batteries.

Some ANC headphones include fancy tech ensuring you can still be aware of the outside world when need be, either my temporarily disabling the noise-cancelling or by toning it down. Headphones such as Bose's QuietControl 30 let you adjust the level of ANC, whereas Sony's MDR-1000X has a clever aware mode that uses the microphones to let you hear what's outside.

ANC headphones use microphones that monitor the ambient sound around you. Then, using some technical wizardry, the headphones create a noise-cancelling wave that is out of phase with the ambient noise, essentially cancelling the external sound out. The result isn't 100% perfect but for consistent, repetitive sounds the effect can work wonders. Noises such as the hum of planes, air conditioning units, fans and to a lesser extent traffic are particularly strong candidates for noise cancelling. The effect of ANC combined with the masking effect of your own music or audio often means you won't hear the vast majority of the ambient sound around you.

Sound quality and comfort has vastly improved from the early years of ANC headphones, too. Old models used to have an annoying electronic hiss and a strange pressure sensation when worn, but most models have managed to remove these annoyances. Sound quality can now rival non-ANC headphones for richness and energy.

Nick Jones

March 23, 2013, 6:19 am

I've used Bose headphones for over 10 years. I upgraded to the 15s as soon as they were available & Bose gave me a 50% price reduction for trading in my old 3s. They really are the very best when flying long haul which I often do. They provide a world of quiet solitude in which to work & sleep & are incredibly comfortable. The customer support is absolutely top notch. Highly recommended.

Person chap

October 11, 2015, 2:13 pm

really? My bose headband starting flaking and looks messy after 2 years of light use.
Also the noise cancel can't be turned off.
Also the headphones don't standby if u forget it switched on. Flat AAA battery has happened a few times.

Aaron Pritchett

December 11, 2015, 7:17 pm

IMO the NoiseHush i9's are the best bang for your buck. Comparable to my Bose Headphones but wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy cheaper.

Tomi Stallard

March 5, 2016, 5:51 pm

Hello Aaron. Any idea where I can get the NoiseHush i9's in the UK online? They look awesome. Cheers.

william smith

May 6, 2016, 11:49 pm

My Audio Technica ANC9's (not reviewed) are excellent, and I believe level with the Boses's. I have used them for a 75 minute train commute for over a year (so probably worn them for 600+ hours), they still and work like new, and I would buy another pair tomorrow if they broke. If you can, buy them in America, where they are greatly cheaper than in the UK.

Mark Stanbrook

August 2, 2016, 8:22 pm

Not sure how you can rate the QC35's over the QC25's. The 25's sound better and can be used to view video. Even with Apt-X (and even the low latency version which the 35's do NOT have) the latency is too much for video, games etc. The lack of a cable isn't worth the extra money, worse sound and other limitations.

I love the 25's so much I even bought a second pair when I found I hadn't packed them for a flight earlier in the year!

And they can be found for £230 from mainstream retailers while the 35's hold firm at £290.

I note all these sets apart from the Plantronics are in the same price range. Have you had a chance to test the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 on-ear cans? They're also around £250 (with the over-ear version rather more expensive). I think I've seen them on this site. Don't they make the top 5?

Mark Stanbrook

August 20, 2016, 3:30 pm

I just noticed that the preamble says the QC25's won't output unless cancellation is turned on. That's straight up wrong. With or without battery they work with it turned off as a normal pair of phones.

Also worth diverting the battery scare tactics... I haven't changed the AAA battery in mine in over a year and I've had them on for 30+ hours in cancelling mode on flights and several hundred hours of non-cancelling listening.


September 26, 2016, 2:41 pm

Can't say the music is very good on them though.

if you're going to spam, please at least post relevant spam!


January 3, 2017, 10:43 am

can anyone suggest me which one is better in SONY MDR-100ABN H.EAR and Plantronics BackBeat PRO 2 . which will give good noise Cancellation without compromising sound quality.

Steven Paterson

January 12, 2017, 5:47 pm

They both sound awful. Bit of a null argument to be fair.

Steven Paterson

January 12, 2017, 5:57 pm

Comments on sound quality conspicuously absent. I'll help out by confirming that they sound awful: reproduced, all-over-the-place, patch-up-job audio.

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