What are the best noise-cancelling headphones?
Best noise-cancelling headphones: Jean-Paul Sartre once observed that “Hell is other people”. We imagine Jean-Paul didn’t have access to the latest in noise-cancelling headphone technology.
Noise-cancelling headphones have become increasingly popular over the past few years, with listeners using them to enjoy some peace and quiet on 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 bet is to invest in one of the best noise-cancelling headphones on the market.
But before you start your search, there are a few questions that need answering. Do you want an in-ear or a full-size pair of headphones? In-ears require a good fit so a good seal is imperative. Over-ear pairs can cover this off easily and are more effective. If you’re planning to use when you’re travelling, it’s worth considering if it has a collapsible design so they can be folded up when not in use.
Then there’s battery life. 20 hours is good enough without requiring a charge for a few days, although some models can take this to 30 hours, which is about the limit. Finally, ambient mode or transparency modes are becoming more popular, and this ensures that you can be aware of sounds and voices around you. This would be useful for busy cities where people need to pay more attention to their surroundings.
Here are the best noise-cancelling headphones, from premium options to more affordable efforts. Check out the summaries below, and click through to the links for a more in-depth review of each one.
- Best noise-cancelling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4
- Best travel noise-cancelling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM3
- Best noise-cancelling headphones build quality: B&W PX7
- Best comfortable noise cancelling headphones : Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3
- Best noise cancelling small heads: Bowers & Wilkins PX
- Best stylish noise-cancelling headphones: Bose Noise Cancelling 700 Headphones
- Best mid-range noise-cancelling headphones: Microsoft Surface Headphones 2
- Best looking noise-cancelling headphones: Technics EAH-F70N
- Best wireless noise-cancelling headphones: Cleer FLOW II
- Best compact noise-cancelling headphones: Marshall Monitor II A.N.C
- Best noise cancelling call quality: Bose QuietComfort 35 II
- Best portable noise-cancelling headphones: AKG N60 NC Wireless
- Best noise-cancelling ambient mode: Beats Solo Pro
- Best travel noise-cancelling headphones: Sennheiser PXC-550 II Wireless
The best got better
- Superb audio
- Great noise cancellation
- Comfortable fit, lightweight design
- Useful smart features
Sony continues to excel with its WH-1000X headphone range, and the latest version is the best yet.
Somehow the XM4 have managed to make the WH-1000XM3 sound ungainly, and they’ve done this by making small improvements in every area. Though the headphones only weigh a gram less, they’re more comfortable to wear and improvements made to noise-cancellation serve to make for an even more impressive performance.
Audio has taken steps forward with a refined performance that can handle any genre, and it removes plenty of noise for a cleaner audio quality. These aren’t just great headphones, they’re sublime.
No longer the king, but still great
- 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 WH-1000XM3 improved the formula established by the WH-1000XM2 with a more elegant profile and ergonomic shape, as well as being more comfortable to wear. The noise-cancelling chip used by the headphones brought with it better performance, and the useful “Quick Attention” turns your music down so you can hear what’s around you.
And, of course, there’s the sound: cleaner and fuller, with a more defined performance. They’ve now been usurped by the WH-1000XM4, but they’re still available as a cheaper alternative before they reach their end-of-life.
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.
Its 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.
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
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 are an impressive pair of headphones.
Microsoft Surface Headphones 2
Fantastic noise-cancelling performance
- Very comfortable
- Smooth, textured mid-range
- Excellent noise cancellation
- Rotary dial controls
- aptX Bluetooth
- Could be more exciting
- Soft bass performance
- Battery life could still use improvements
The original Surface Headphones were pretty good, and the Surface Headphones 2 represent a leap forward with a number of improvements.
The padding on the earcups makes them easy to wear: the rotary dials for volume and noise-cancellation continue to be wonderfully intuitive and thanks to the inclusion of aptX they sound better, with a textured, smooth performance. The noise-cancellation is some of the best we’ve sampled, offering impressive levels of suppression to keep the world at bay.
Microsoft has also made a smart choice in bringing the headphones down in price. At £240, they’re one of the best headphones at that price.
Stylish with strong ANC
- Clean, neutral performance
- Terrific noise cancellation
- Great style and design
- Comfortable to wear
- Lacks a little midrange detail compared to Sony
- Ambient Sound Enhancer always consistent
The EAH-F70N represents esteemed audio brand Technics’ foray into the ANC market, and despite the tough competition, they stand out.
Visually they look incredibly stylish, the outer earcup using an aluminium treatment for a distinctive look. They’re comfortable to wear too, and the noise-cancelling performance is up there with the best, wiping out a significant amount of noise.
They’re older than several pairs on this list (released in 2019), and their feature set does feel slightly lacking, although LDAC means they support Hi-res playback. And while the sound isn’t quite as exciting or as powerful as some others; it’s a presentation that’s controlled, expansive and refined. If you see them for around £199 or less, they’ll be hard to resist.
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 lacks aptX support and aptX HD, but they still sound very good, although recent efforts have bettered them. The level of noise-cancelling is adjustable and there’s room for Alexa and Google Assistant.
Other than that, these are still capable cans, with a battery life that’s respectable at 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 portable, and their 15-hour wireless battery life is acceptable for their size – plus they 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 less 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.
Sennheiser PXC-550 II Wireless
Good for travel
- Clean and clear sound
- Large, comfortable pads
- Effective noise cancellation
- Bose and Sony ANC is better
- Power slider clicks during runs
- Slight BT lag
- Mild treble sibilance, and less rich mids than some
If you’re after a cheaper ANC headphone, the Sennheiser PXC 550 II are a very good choice. While their noise cancellation is not as good as Bose or Sony, it’s effective.
The audio is clean and clear, with bass deep and assured and good mid-range detail. If your budget can’t take you to the more premium options on this list, and you’re after a pair of headphones to use when travelling, the Sennheisers are worth picking up.
How we test for the best 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.
If you’re interested in looking at different headphones, look through our best buy pages from everything to the best headphones on the market, to cheap wireless earbuds under £100.