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28 July 2021

Top five best noise-cancelling headphones

Cut the background noise to a whisper and enjoy your music to the full with these top noise-cancelling models.
Oliver Trebilcock
Noise cancelling headphones

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.

Only logged-in Which? members can view our recommendations in the table below. If you’re not yet a member, join Which? to get instant access.

Looking for more headphone options and buying information? See our expert guide to the best headphones.

Best noise-cancelling headphones

  • 91%
    £220.00

    These over-ear headphones were a landmark launch, becoming the highest-ever scoring wireless headphones at our expert lab. The industry-leading active noise cancelling is some of 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.

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  • 81%
    £269.18

    These are one of the best pairs of over-ear headphones on the market – sensational all round. The active noise cancelling is particularly impressive and they’re extremely comfortable to wear. The sound quality is outstanding, with beautiful balance, clarity and depth. Battery life is also impressive, lasting 31 hours – even while using noise cancelling – between charges. They’re well worth the money.

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  • 76%
    £152.06

    These noise cancelling truly wireless headphones are one of the leading rivals to the Apple AirPods Pro, exceeding them in many areas – not to mention being considerably cheaper as well. There’s lots of customisation options for both Apple and Android devices, and they last more than six hours per charge in our independent tests. Noise cancelling is exceptionally strong and sound has lovely depth, bass and exquisite detail.

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  • 75%
    £149.00

    These headphones are a genuine hit. They have a beautifully warm sound with lots of fine detail and they're comfortable to wear. They have an exceptionally long 36-hour battery life with effective noise cancelling. They're a well-deserved Best Buy.

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  • 68%
    £239.97

    If you don’t typically get on with in-ear headphones, these slimline flagship headphones could be exactly what you’re looking for. The extra stability provided by their unusual flexible neckband design means they have exceptionally lightweight, comfortable earpieces in your ears. They offer similarly-superior noise cancelling as the brand’s other top-of-the-range pairs, and there’s lovely detail and wonderful depth to the sound.

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Pricing and recommendations correct as of August 2021.

Not found the product for you? Browse all of our headphone reviews.

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.

  • 40%
    £112.80

    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.

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  • 45%
    £229.00

    You’d expect these expensive to be near flawless, but you’d be mistaken. Their active noise cancelling is shockingly ineffective. They also have an unreliable and often uncomfortable fit, and the sound quality suffers as a result. Plus, they’re surprisingly light on features considering the price. These would be a seriously costly mistake to buy.

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  • 57%
    £37.00

    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.

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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.