Top five best noise-cancelling headphones
By Oliver Trebilcock
Cut the background noise to a whisper and enjoy your music to the full with these top noise-cancelling models.
Looking for a top-quality pair of noise-cancelling headphones for your morning commute or a long-haul flight? We’ve rounded up the best models from our lab testing, along with our expert advice.
The table below contains the highest-scoring models with noise cancelling from our rigorous testing. Our experts rate how well each model blocks out background noise to their ears, and also take precise measurements with a special ‘ear microphone’.
All these models will sound great and cut out background noise, too. On the other hand, the worst models will distort your music and mean that quiet sections will be accompanied by an annoying background hiss. We’ve rounded-up some of the worst offenders at the bottom of the page, so be sure to avoid these.
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Best noise-cancelling headphones
These over-ear headphones are a landmark launch, becoming the highest-ever scoring wireless headphones at our expert lab. The industry-leading active noise cancelling is the best we’ve yet seen, they’re superbly comfortable, and the 27-plus hour battery life goes the distance. They’re foldable and there’s even a detachable cord if you forget to charge them, plus a whole host of optional settings in the accompanying smartphone app.
This pair of headphones is an unusual one: a noise-cancelling in-ear pair. Designed for use on the go, they also have an ‘aware’ mode, which actually pumps outside noise into your ears. Usually in-ear headphones plug your ears, but with these you’ll be able to hear things around you if you want, such as announcements in an airport or traffic in the street.
These on headphones are ideal for your commute, with excellent active noise cancelling to block out unwanted background noise. They sound excellent and are comfortable as well - plus conveniently fold up into their provided carry case for easy storage. The safety issue only applies to very early batches and relates to the carry pouch.
These headphones have some of the most advanced noise-cancelling technology around. Using touch-sensitive pads on the ear cups you can adjust the level of noise cancelling to your liking, allowing you to let just the right amount of the outside world in. Sound quality is good, and with Bluetooth connection you’ll be completely free of wires.
Pricing, recommendations and test scores correct as of March 2017.
Not found the product for you? Browse all of our headphone reviews.
And here are three noise-cancelling headphones to avoid
Headphones with bad noise cancelling won’t cut out much of the noise around you and, even worse, they’ll ruin your music. The worst model we’ve seen left our lab testers confused about whether the noise cancelling was actually switched on at all. We’ve rounded up three models that you shouldn’t shell out for.
Noise-cancelling headphones to avoid
Don't be fooled by all those five-star reviews on Amazon. It's rare to find in-ear headphones with noise cancelling, and even rarer to find ones this temptingly priced. But these in-ear headphones have such poor sound the passable noise cancelling is worthless. Out independent lab tests reveal the truth – they’re a clear Don't Buy.
Buying these would be a costly mistake – these over-ear noise cancelling headphones fall well into the Don't Buy hall of shame. There are serious issues with the midrange frequencies, let alone a 'plonky' bass and harsh treble. Many of our industry professionals on our listening panel also found these headphones uncomfortably tight, heavy and hot to wear.
Sound from these headphones isn’t actually too bad, but they’re a real disappointment when it comes to noise cancelling. They won’t cut out much background noise – you’d be better off going for a normal over-ear pair. If you’re going on a long haul flight any time soon then these would be a serious mistake.
Are noise-cancelling headphones worth it?
The first thing to consider is price. On average, you’ll pay nearly 60% more for a pair of noise-cancelling headphones over a pair without. Noise-cancelling headphones start at around £20, compared with around £5 for the most basic headphones.
Of course, most models from the big brands are more expensive than this – noise-cancelling pairs are usually closer to the £200 mark. We’ve seen good noise-cancelling pairs available for less, but pairs without it will be even cheaper and sound just as good.
Noise-cancelling headphones can be extremely useful in specific scenarios. The technology works best at cancelling out constant droning noises, such as the sound of a train or a jet engine. If you spend a lot of time commuting to work, or sitting on flights, then you’re the ideal candidate for a pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
However, if you want to cut out other more random noises, such as people talking around you, the technology is less effective. You won’t be much better off than if you were wearing in-ear headphones (which double as earplugs) or a tight-fitting pair of over-ear headphones.