What are the best noise-cancelling headphones?
“Hell is other people,” observed Jean-Paul Sartre. Well, clearly he didn’t have any noise-cancelling headphones.
Noise-cancelling headphones have become increasingly popular with those who have to endure a noisy journey on a plane or train, or even a loud office. If you’re on the anti-social type and would like to banish the world away from your surroundings, your best is to invest in a noise-cancelling headphone.
But before you hit the stores, there are a few questions to ask yourself.
Do you want an in-ear or a full-size pair of headphones? In-ears require a good fit before zapping unwanted noise so a good seal is imperative. Over-ear pairs can cover this off easily and are more effective. One feature to think about is whether the headphone has a travel-friendly collapsible design so they can be folded up when not in use.
Ensure, too, that battery life is enough. 20 hours is decent, although some models can stretch this 30 hours and above, which is more than enough for a week before you need to consider charging.
Finally, some noise-cancelling headphones have an ‘ambient mode’ which ensures you can still be aware of what’s around you This is useful for those in busy cities who need to pay a bit more attention to their surroundings.
- Best noise cancelling headphone: Sony WH-1000XM3
- Best sounding noise cancelling: B&W PX7
- Best noise cancelling comfort: Sennheiser Momentum Wireless
- Best cheap noise-cancelling: Philips PH805
- Best noise cancelling small heads: Bowers & Wilkins PX
- Best smart noise cancelling: Bose Noise Cancelling 700 Headphones
- Best noise cancelling wireless connection: Cleer FLOW II
- Best compact noise cancelling: Marshall Monitor II A.N.C
- Best noise cancelling call quality: Bose QuietComfort 35 II
- Best for portability: AKG N60 NC Wireless
- Best Ambient Mode: Beats Solo Pro
- Great noise cancellation: Microsoft Surface Headphones
The best noise-cancellers available
- Best noise-cancellation we’ve heard yet
- Excellent sound quality
- Fast-charge feature is great
- Comfortable fit
- Responsive controls
- Could do with a touch more treble
The look and shape of the WH-1000XM3 look similar to the WH-1000XM2, but have a more elegant profile and ergonomic shape, as well as being more comfortable. They have a number of new features, including a chip for improved noise-cancelling to go with the very useful “Quick Attention” mode that turns your music down to hear what’s around you.
And, of course, there’s the sound: cleaner and fuller, with a more defined performance.
Bowers & Wilkins PX7
One of the finest-sounding noise-cancellers
- Big, textured sound
- 30 hour battery life
- Wear sensor technology
- Ambient pass-through mode
- ANC could be stronger
- Wireless can get choppy in busy areas
B&W’s flagship PX7 headphones are filled to the brim with features. Their noise-cancelling performance is solid, though others are stronger, and they’re not the most portable either with a big profile and lack of foldability.
It’s the audio quality that’s the highlight, as you’d expect from Bowers & Wilkins. They sound fabulous, extracting plenty of emotion from a recording, with a smooth, mellow character and a performance that’s also quite spacious for a closed-back pair.
Sennheiser Momentum Wireless
Noise-cancellation, luxurious build and epic sound
- Rapid, forceful and detailed sound
- Fit comfortably
- Look and feel the money’s-worth
- Quite big
- Others cancel noise even more effectively
Sennheiser’s third gen Momentum Wireless throws noise-cancellation into the bargain for what is a strong pair of headphones.
These aren’t the kind of headphones that come loaded with smart features. The focus is very much on sound. Battery life is a rather minuscule 17 hours and noise-cancellation proves to reasonable effective, if not quite up to the level of the best around.
It’s in the sound department where the Momentum Wireless prove more than a match for its closest rivals. It’s an outstanding listen, full of detail, clarity and excellent fidelity.
Outperform their price point
- Well made from good materials
- Decent spec
- Punchy, full-fat and subtle sound
- Ho-hum noise-cancelling
- Could sound more dynamic
Philips’ first headphone after a while out of the game is a mostly excellent pair. The PH805 isn’t the most effective noise-canceller, but sufficient for its sub-£200 price.
The feature set is decent, and the build quality is fine for the price, with a sound that’s punchy, full-fat and capable of subtlety too. The PH805 put in a performance that’s well and above its price and deserves thorough consideration if you’re after a more affordable pair of noise-cancellers.
Bowers & Wilkins PX
Great for smaller heads
- Fantastic sound
- Handy smart sensors
- Auto power/connect/play
- Attractive design
- Noise cancellation could be stronger
B&W has focused on its core strengths of luxury design and audiophile sound quality – but with some impressive tricks up its sleeve too.
Those tricks include adaptable noise cancellation and a clever wear sensor that’s smart enough to know when you lift off a single earcup – pausing music in the process – for a quick chat. Noise cancellation isn’t as good as the Sony, but that’s made up for by the musical audio performance.
Bose Noise Cancelling 700 Headphones
The most stylish noise-cancellers
- Very comfortable to wear
- Very good noise cancellation
- Easy to use app
- Great looks
- Not particularly portable
- Lean audio character
- 20 hours battery life is a bit low
At £350, the Bose NC Headphones 700 require a considerable investment, but the features they cover suggests they’re worthy of their premium tag.
There’s support Alexa and Google Assistant support, 20 hours of battery life – which is rather low – and build and comfort has been improved over the QC 35 II. The sound and noise-cancelling performance aren’t a huge leap over that pair, adhering to similar characteristics that’s made such a potent noise-canceller. Stylish and supremely comfortable to wear, the Bose remain an impressive pair of headphones.
Cleer FLOW II
Great wireless connection
- Clean, articulate sound
- Ironless drivers sound great
- Excellent noise cancellation
- Strong wireless connection
- Comprehensive set of features
- Bulky design
- Build quality could be better
- Mild discomfort during long extended listening sessions
Cleer Audio has drawn up a persuasive argument with the FLOW II. For one, they share the same ANC chip as the Sony WH-1000XM3 and as a result, noise-cancellation is reliable and impressive.
The FLOW II sound clean and analytical, with Cleer’s use of Ironless drivers generating little to no ear fatigue over extended periods. They aren’t the most comfortable to wear over long listening sessions, and they carry a bit of bulk too. Still, at this price, they offer pretty much what you’d want from a noise-canceller.
Marshall Monitor II A.N.C
A trendy pair of noise-cancellers
- Great style
- Entertaining delivery
- Collapsible design
- Impressive noise cancellation
- Treble could be sweeter
- Can sound lean
Marshall’s newest pair of headphones are its most advanced yet, and fare well when placed next to existing noise-cancellers.
They shut out the surrounding world leaving you to focus on your audio and are ready-made for travel, thanks to a collapsible design and they look pretty svelte for the daily commute.
With a fairly well-balanced sound and entertaining delivery, but others offer better sound. If you like a good-looking pair of cans with excellent noise-cancellation, these Marshalls are well worth considering.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II
A “smart” pair of noise-cancellers
- Superb noise cancelling
- Excellent mic for calls
- Light and comfortable
- Long battery life
- No aptX
- Rivals sound better
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II’s are light and comfortable and perfect for travelling.
Significant changes are harder to come by compared to previous generations. It still lacks AptX support (or aptX HD), but they sound great, if not quite up to the audio standard of more recent efforts. The level of noise-cancelling is now adjustable and Google Assistant is on board. Other than that, it’s business as usual for these hugely capably cans, including a battery life that remains a respectable 20 hours wireless or 40 hours wired.
AKG N60 NC Wireless
A formidable little package
- Excellent sound
- Collapsible design
- Good noise cancellation
- Could have more padding on the headband
- No NFC
The AKG N60 NC Wireless are a petite pair of on-ear noise-cancelling headphones aimed at travellers and commuters alike.
Their lightweight, collapsible design makes them far more portable, and their 15-hour wireless battery life is acceptable for their size – plus they’ll work passively too.
As far as noise-cancelling is concerned, the N60 NC Wireless lose out to the top dogs, but do enough to dull the outside world to little more than a murmur. They sound great, too, offering a punchy, detailed and well-organised performance that’s both fun and expressive.
Beats Solo Pro
Superb transparency mode
- Superb transparency mode
- Good active noise cancellation
- Balanced tone, particularly for Beats
- Go over-ear and you get bigger sound, same price
- Tight grip may be a turn-off
- Fold to turn off? It’s not for everyone
Excessive bass was always the problem with Beats headphones, and in the Solo Pro, Beats has chosen the path of less bass for a clearer, balanced sound. There’s still that signature bass, though the Solo Pro avoid the warmth and muddiness associated with the brand.
And the noise-cancellation proves to be very effective, if not as robust a solution as Sony or Bose but the Transparency Mode for listening to what’s around you is excellent. The high price means they’re not quite a slam dunk, but they are nonetheless an accomplished pair of on-ears.
Microsoft Surface Headphones
Very capable noise-cancellers
- Sturdy, comfortable build
- Fine noise-cancelling
- Great Bluetooth range
- Impressive mid-range
- Mediocre battery life
- Sonically ill-balanced
- no aptX
- Grey finish is on the drab side
The headline feature with the Surface Headphones are the 13 steps of noise-cancellation via touch controls. Sound, especially the mid-range, is good, although they’re a little unbalanced and won’t trouble the cream of the crop.
The lack of aptX or Bluetooth 5 is a knock and Cortana implementation is awkward. If Microsoft irons out a few issues, the Surface Headphones v2 Surface Headphones could be compelling.
How we test noise-cancelling headphones
Any set of noise-cancelling headphones sent in for review will be rigorously tested by one of our audio experts. The expert will use them for a minimum of a week as their primary pair of headphones.
This means the headphones will be tested in a variety of environments to gauge the effectiveness of their ANC and general audio quality, as well as directly comparing them against similarly priced rivals and a reference pair. We also understand that not everyone enjoys the same type of music, so we test units using by playing all genres from classical to rock and hip-hop.