Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones 2018: The ultimate travel headphones

“Hell is other people,” observed Jean-Paul Sartre. Well, he didn’t have noise-cancelling headphones.

best overall noise cancelling headphones

Sony WH-1000XM2

These are our pick for best overall noise cancelling headphones. They deliver both fantastic sound quality and super-effect active noise cancelling alongside great battery life.

£289.95 / $298

Noise-cancelling headphones are increasingly popular with anyone who has to endure a noisy journey on a plane or train, or even a loud office. We’ve tested the best, so you don’t have to.

Having won the best headphones category at the 2017 Trusted Reviews Awards, the Sony WH-1000XM2 are the overall best active noise-cancelling headphones you can get right now.

If you want to save some money you’d do well to check out the Urbanista New York, which are the best-value noise-cancelling headphones available at the moment.

Related: Amazon Prime Day

How we test noise-cancelling headphones

best value noise cancelling headphones

Plantronics BackBeat PRO 2

If your budget doesn't spread as far as the likes of Bose or Sony's finest, the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 are a good choice. They deliver 24 hours of battery life with solid noise cancellation.

£179.00 / $143

Any set of noise-cancelling headphones is 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 they will test them 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 likes the same type of music, so we test using everything from classical to rock and hip-hop.

Noise-cancelling headphones

Sony WH-1000XM2

Pros:

  • Excellent sound
  • Touch controls work well
  • Effective and adaptive noise cancellation
  • aptX HD support

Cons:

  • B&W PX has slightly better audio quality
  • Bose QC35 II has slightly more effective NC

The Sony WH-1000XM2 are probably the best wireless and noise-cancelling headphones you can buy right now. They sound great, the active noise cancellation is super-effective, the touch/swipe controls are useful and responsive – and the battery lasts a very long time. These are the best and most rounded option currently available, and an essential purchase.

These headphones are the successor to the excellent MDR-1000X, and they’re a slight improvement in nearly every department. Not only do they sound better than ever – construction is more solid and they’re smarter too. These headphones work with an excellent app, which monitors your movements to accurately gauge how much active noise cancellation to apply – mild for foot traffic and maximum for flights.

The Sony 1000XM2s won the 2017 Trusted Reviews Award for Best Headphones – and rightly so.

Buy now: Sony WH-1000XM2 for £299 / £298 from Amazon

Noise-cancelling headphones

Plantronics BackBeat PRO 2

Pros:

  • Great value for money
  • Sound on a par with more expensive sets
  • Solid battery life

Cons:

  • ANC can be hit-and-miss
  • Don’t handle bass as well as competitors

Costing a piddly £160 and offering on-paper specs equivalent to headphones priced at much more, the Plantronics BackBeat PRO 2 are great value with lots to love.

They might not be the most inspiring to look at, but they offer a solid 24-hour battery life, a comfy fit and excellent sound quality for the cash. You can also ditch the noise cancelling without shelving wireless connectivity, which is great if you want to save battery.

Speaking of noise cancelling, it’s pretty good, but not best we’ve heard. Sound is similar in that respect, with a smooth, articulate character that could do with a touch more bass. Be careful with volume too – these will harden up at about 80% of their maximum.

As always, there are a few compromises to make with more budget products, but if you don’t have the extra cash to spend, the Plantronics BackBeat PRO 2 are a great affordable option.

Buy now: Plantronics BackBeat PRO 2 for £179 / $143 from Amazon

Noise-cancelling headphones

Bose QuietComfort 35 II

Pros:

  • Superb noise cancelling
  • Excellent mic for calls
  • Light and comfortable
  • Long battery life

Cons:

  • No aptX
  • Rivals sound better

Bose has a long history of making great noise-cancelling headphones and the Bose QuietComfort 35 II are the latest.

Like their predecessors before them, they’re light and comfortable, so perfect for travelling, not to mention they provide the best noise cancelling on the market.

There haven’t been many changes this time around, but there wasn’t a lot to improve on. There’s still no aptX support (or aptX HD for that matter), but they still sound great, if not quite up to audio standard of the B&W PX or Sony WH-1000XM2.

So what’s new? The level of noise cancelling is now adjustable and Google Assistant is on board for feeding back notification information from your phone. 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.

Buy now: Bose QuietComfort 35 II for £329.95 / $305 from Amazon

Noise-cancelling headphones

Urbanista New York

Pros:

  • Powerful, exciting sub-bass
  • Good wireless performance
  • Comfortable for long sessions

Cons:

  • Soft treble and upper-mids
  • Only moderately effective ANC

The problem with noise-cancelling headphones is that the good ones are usually well over £200. Go below that and generally the quality is a bit lacking. Well, not anymore. The Urbanista New York aren’t quite as good as the very best, such as the Bose QuietComfort 35 II or Sony WH-1000XM2, but they offer an enjoyable sound, they’re comfortable – and they’re yours for £150.

Urbanista is usually great with its aesthetics but the Urbanista New York is a good mix of design, comfort and performance. The use of proper memory foam means they settle nicely on your head and sit there for hours without much discomfort.

Buy now: Urbanista New York for £126.21 from Amazon

Noise-cancelling headphones

Bowers & Wilkins PX

Pros:

  • Fantastic sound
  • Handy smart sensors
  • Auto power/connect/play
  • Attractive design

Cons:

  • Noise cancellation could be stronger

The Bowers & Wilkins PX are B&W’s first crack at a set of wireless, noise-cancelling headphones, entering a challenging market to take on the likes of the Bose QC35 II and the Sony WH-1000XM2.

To differentiate itself, B&W focuses 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, which will detect when the headphones are on your head and when they are off, pausing playback accordingly. They’re even smart enough to know when you lift an earcup for a quick chat.

Noise cancellation can’t compete with the likes of Bose or Sony, but that is more than made up for by its audio performance. If you want the best-sounding, most musically proficient pair of wireless noise-cancelling headphones available right now, these are it.

Buy now: Bowers & Wilkins PX for £329 / $400 from Amazon

Noise-cancelling headphones

Sennheiser PXC 550

Pros:

  • Great sound quality
  • Immense features roster
  • Effective, customisable noise cancellation

Cons:

  • ANC bettered by Bose
  • Expensive
  • Very slight hardness to mids

The Sennheiser PXC 550  are a pair of feature-packed cans fully deserving of Sennheiser’s reputation.

They’re comfortable, sound quality is excellent and active noise cancellation is solid. There are plenty of extras to go at too, including adjustable ANC and a number of digital sound processing (DSP) modes for when watching movies.

The outside of one of the earcups is also a capacitive touchpad to provide intuitive media controls, plus these headphones can fold up for easy transportation.

Buy now: Sennheiser PXC 550 for £265 / $314 from Amazon

Noise-cancelling headphones

AKG N60 NC Wireless

Pros:

  • Excellent sound
  • Lightweight
  • Collapsible design
  • Good noise cancellation

Cons:

  • 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 much more portable than their larger over-ear competition, and their 15-hour wireless battery life is more than acceptable for their size – plus they’ll work passively too.

As far as noise cancelling, the N60 NC Wireless can’t quite compete with Bose levels of quiet, but it does 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. A formidable little package that’s certainly worth considering.

Don’t need wireless? Then the AKG N60 are well worth checking out for £50 less.

Buy now: AKG N60 NC Wireless for £155 / $146 from Amazon

Noise-cancelling headphones

Sony MDR-100ABN h.ear on Wireless

 

Pros:

  • Excellent wireless performance
  • Effective, stress-zapping ANC
  • Very comfortable

Cons:

  • Poor sound quality when non-powered
  • Low-tech headphones offer better sound

The Sony MDR-100ABN h.ear on Wireless combine serious street cred-worthy looks with wireless functionality and excellent active noise-cancellation prowess.

Of course they sound good too, though you will want to ensure you keep them charged. They don’t sound as solid if you listen to them passively (though the 20-hour battery life means you shouldn’t get caught short).

For better sound still, the MDR-100ABM support Bluetooth aptX and Sony’s LDAC codec, though you’ll need to have a compatible source in order to reap the benefits.

The best bit is that they’re priced very competitively, too, undercutting rivals by a considerable amount. A great option for any city dweller looking to dull the hubbub without spending a fortune.

Buy now: Sony MDR-100ABN h.ear on Wireless for £239 / $303 from Amazon

 

Those are our top picks of the best noise-cancelling headphones. If you want to know more about noise-cancelling headphones then read on.

How to choose the best noise-cancelling headphones for you

When considering noise-cancelling headphones, there are a few basic questions you need to ask yourself.

First and foremost, you need to decide on fit. Do you want a super-portable in-ear model or a larger over-ear or on-ear type? With most in-ear pairs, all the cancelling gubbins is packed into a little remote housing that’s built somewhere along the cable. They’re great for the gym but not always as isolating as their over-ear brethren.

Larger pairs, such as Bose or Sony’s popular models, fit everything into the earcups themselves, which makes them a lot neater and easier to live with – not to mention, more effective. You might want to keep an eye out for collapsible designs that make them more travel friendly though.

Also look out for battery life and make sure it seems enough for your needs. These days, you’re looking at around 20 hours on average, though some offer much more, particularly if you keep the wired cable nearby for emergencies. Be sure to double check this though – only some ANC headphones will work passively without any battery.

Finally, some noise-cancelling headphones include fancy tech ensuring you can still be aware of the outside world when need be, either by temporarily disabling the noise-cancelling or by toning it down. This is useful for pedestrians and cyclists, who need to be a little more aware of their surroundings.