In theory, noise-cancelling headphones should be great for blocking out unwanted background noises when listening to your music, whether that’s a busy train or bus or – more likely these days – the chitchat of the rest of your household while you’re trying to concentrate or chill out at home.
Noise cancelling is a feature you’ll often need to pay extra for, so you’ll want to be confident it will work well.
However, Which? tests reveal that some pairs are far more effective than others.
Best headphones – our tests assess noise cancelling, sound quality, comfort and more so you can be sure you’re getting the best pair for your budget.
Latest noise-cancelling headphones on test
This month, we’ve reviewed pairs costing from as little as £90 up to £279, and we’ve found that high price doesn’t always mean high quality.
A handful of the very best pairs get close to achieving full immunity from those irritating background noises, so you can fully appreciate what you’re listening to, and many good pairs will effectively reduce low frequencies such as road noise or the hum of a fan.
But we’ve tested countless poor-performing noise-cancelling headphones, too – our experts have found some pairs where the benefit is so subtle you’d hardly notice it was there. We’ve even found £200-plus pairs that are so disappointing we’ve made them Don’t Buys, as well as cheaper pairs that have pleasantly surprised us.
Read on for our thoughts on the latest headphones we’ve tested.
Master & Dynamic MW07 PLUS (£279)
The Master & Dynamic MW07 PLUS truly wireless in-ear headphones certainly look stunning, but can they really be worth the sky-high price?
Alongside active noise cancelling, the New York-based audio brand promises a 10-hour listening time and 40 hours including case charges (a feature which allows you to charge up the headphones from the charging case your headphones live in, to give them a boost when you’re on the go).
To get the perfect fit, they come with five sizes of eartips and three sizes of earwings for extra stability.
Is their noise cancelling the best around? Our lab puts them to the test in our Master & Dynamic MW07 PLUS review.
Bowers & Wilkins PI4 (£270)
Not everyone loves truly wireless headphones – their compact size makes them easier to lose (like socks, it’s almost more frustrating to lose one than to lose the pair) and they can feel unsettlingly loose in your ears.
The Bowers & Wilkins PI4 have a lightweight design, with small earpieces connected by a short wire that loops around your neck, making them feel a bit more secure.
Bowers & Wilkins promises 12 hours of listening with noise cancelling on a full charge, and that a quick 15-minute charge will give you three hours of listening time if you forget to charge them overnight.
Do these headphones match sound quality with noise-cancelling capabilities? Our professional listening panel give their verdict in our Bowers & Wilkins PI4 review.
Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 (£240)
For some, nothing beats the comfort and convenience of a proper pair of over-ear headphones, and Microsoft aims to take on audio heavyweights Sony and Bose with the Microsoft Surface Headphones 2.
Unlike their predecessors, they’ve dropped the need for Windows 10 for setup, and are fully compatible with Android and Apple devices. Microsoft promises up to 20 hours of listening time with noise cancelling.
So does the sound quality, comfort and noise cancelling make these worth the money? Find out in our Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 review.
Razer Opus (£199)
Razer is a well-known accessories brand among gaming enthusiasts and it’s now branched out into everyday headphones with this noise cancelling pair.
They’re also designed for home entertainment. They sport THX branding, the sound firm founded by George Lucas, and claim a long 25-hour battery life with noise cancelling – our lab tests reveal if they match that in reality.
Do these headphones look tempting? We see if the sound quality, comfort and more live up to the promise in our Razer Opus review.
Huawei Freebuds 3i (£90)
Big-brand, truly wireless headphones usually cost at least £100, so it’s a surprise to see a pair with noise cancelling for £90.
That makes them less than half the price of the similar-looking Apple AirPods Pro. They’re designed for Android devices and the Freebuds 3i claim 3.5 hours with noise cancelling, plus 18 hours of listening in total with case charges.
Can you really get effective noise cancelling at this price? See whether these could be the bargain you’ve been waiting for in our Huawei Freebuds 3i review.
Other recent headphone releases
As well as noise-cancelling headphones, we’ve also tested Microphone’s first truly wireless headphones and an in-ear wireless sports pair from Sony.
Microsoft Surface Earbuds (£200)
They may look like a prop from Star Trek, but Microsoft’s hoping the space-age disc shape of the Surface Earbuds will catch on.
They’re IPX4 water resistant to protect them from rain and claim eight hours per case charge, which is impressive for truly wireless headphones.
They also have some unique integration with Office 365 software (this may require subscriptions), including the ability to dictate through the headphones’ microphone.
Find out if these are set to be a hit in our Microsoft Surface Earbuds review.
Sony WI-SP510 (£75)
Finding the ideal pair of sports headphones can be a challenge and Sony hopes the WI-SP510 will provide the answer. They have a secure-fit neckband, which also allows the earpieces to be lighter than truly wireless headphones.
They’re water and sweat-resistant, too, and claim 15 hours of listening time per charge.
Do their sound quality, comfort and durability make them a winner? We see if these are a wise choice in our Sony WI-SP510 review.
Available now: LG’s space-age self-cleaning wireless earbuds
Have you ever thought about cleaning your headphones? The LG TONE Free True Wireless Earbuds headphones feature a charging case that emits UV light on the earpieces as they charge.
LG says studies show earbuds can harbour more bacteria than a kitchen cutting board, and that its technology eliminates bacteria and germs from potentially causing ear infections.
They’re priced at £149 and we’ll be testing them very soon.
Which? recently carried out a test of whether headphones really harbour harmful bacteria, by swabbing volunteers’ headphones and sending these to the lab for analysis. The result? We found bacteria, to be sure, but most shouldn’t be a concern for healthy people. Nevertheless, if your headphones could do with a clean, see our advice on how best to clean your headphones.
We’ve tested more than 200 pairs of headphones currently on the market, so you can be sure you’re getting the very best pairs available. See all our headphone reviews.