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Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones Buying Guide: Welcome to TechRadar’s round-up of the best noise-cancelling headphones you can buy in 2018.
Far from being the niche product of a few years ago, noise-cancelling headphones have since exploded onto the mainstream. Now, you can find them lining airplane aisles the world over, not to mention buses, trains and nearly any other form of transportation prone to loud, low rumbling.
It’s not hard to see why they’re so popular: Noise-cancelling headphones massively reduce background noise, meaning that the rumble of a plane’s engines or a train carriage don’t get in the way of your music.
This not only makes your music clearer and easier to hear, but it also means you can listen to it at a lower volume, which your ears will thank you for.
Even in their most basic form these headphones are still much better than a traditional pair of headphones in terms of keeping outside sound at bay, but if you opt for one of our top picks for the best noise-cancelling headphones, you’ll get a pair that will also make your music sound pretty good in the process.
Talk about a win-win.
The Sony WH-1000XM2 are an excellent revision of an already great pair of headphones: They sound great, deftly wield noise cancellation technology and cost just as much as a pair of Bose QC35s. They might have a slightly shorter battery life than Bose’s flagship over-ear headphones, but Sony’s WH-1000XM2 outclass the QC35 in terms of performance and feature-set.
You’d want to pick these Sony headphones over the Bose because not only do they provide the same level of awesome noise-cancellation, but they have three neat tricks that Bose just doesn’t have on its headphones: One is an ambient noise mode that only lets in mid-to-high frequency tones (announcements over a loudspeaker, for instance) and another being Quick Attention mode that allows you to let in all outside noise without taking off the headphones. (The latter is perfect when giving a drink order on a plane or speaking to a coworker for a brief moment before diving back into your work.) The last trick Sony has up its sleeve is the LDAC codec. Alongside the widely adopted aptX HD standard, LDAC enables Hi-Res Audio playback using the 1000XM2.
Great-sounding, feature-packed and just as affordable as the competition? The Sony WH-1000XM2 are our all-around pick for best noise-cancelling cans.
Read the full review: Sony WH-1000XM2
Philips presents a more elegant noise-cancelling solution with its NC1. These on-ear headphones aren’t wireless like our top pick, but that’s hardly a reason to knock them. Coming in at $299/£195, the NC1 are a compact set that’s high on comfort and battery life.
You get a lot for the money here. In the box comes the headphones, a hard case for storage and the headphones rock a rechargeable battery that provides noise cancellation for close to 30 hours. But best of all, the sound performance is extremely well balanced and warm.
(A quite note for our Australian readers: Philips sadly no longer sells the NC1’s down under, so you’ll need to import a pair if you’re keen.)
Read the full review: Philips Fidelio NC1
Coming in at the number three spot is the Bose QuietComfort 35. They’re more expensive then the Philips NC1, but the Bose QC35 headphones offer wireless connectivity, so you can be free from cabling as well as background noise.
They’re also a much better sounding pair of headphones than Bose’s previous (wired) attempt, the Bose QC25s, and their battery life is long enough for all but the longest of flights. Of course, they also come with a cable in case you want to use them with a device that doesn’t support Bluetooth.
The most recent iteration of the headphones, the QuietComfort 35 II, even add Google Assistant to the headphones – a neat feature if you’ve embraced the AI revolution. They’re a bit more expensive, though, and we feel that the original model provides a better return on investment.
Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort 35
A few years ago, the Bose QuietComfort 25 are the best noise-cancelling headphones we’ve ever used. The lows, mids and highs came through clear as day, never stepping over each other. Music of all sorts sounded predictably incredible. With the noise-cancellation turned on, we never felt further immersed and concentrated than when we let the QC25 engulf our ears.
But that was a few years ago and time has moved on since. Bose has released not just one sequel to these headphones, but two: the QC35 and QC35 II with Google Assistant built in, both of which we’d recommend above the QC25.
But, it’s not all bad. If you don’t mind using the older, wired headphones, the QC25s are a finely-tuned set of cans that provide over 35 hours of very good noise-cancelling performance with one AAA battery.
Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort 25
Bowers and Wilkins are a little late to the noise-cancellation game, but their first foray impresses.
The PX Wireless aren’t just a great sounding pair of headphones, they’ve also got a number of other interesting tricks up their sleeve. They’ll turn on and off automatically depending on whether you’re wearing them or not, and they also feature the future-proof USB-C charging standard.
In our opinion their only downside is the sound quality, which we felt lacks the depth of the flagship headphones from Bose and Sony.
That said, if you’ve been a fan of the look of B&W’s headphones in the past then the PX Wireless are certainly worth a listen.
Read the full review: Bowers and Wilkins PX Wireless
If you prefer on-ear noise-cancellation, then the AKG N60NC Wireless are a great pair of headphones.
At their mid-range price point the headphones offer fantastic value for money, with great sound quality and a level of noise-cancellation performance that’s on a level with the much more premium entries on this list.
These are a fantastically compact pair of headphones, and offer a very complete package for the price.
With noise-cancelling tech just as effective as that in headphones from rival Bose, and with a more musical sonic ability, the Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC are a definite contender for the noise-cancelling crown. More affordable and easy to travel with, these lightweight headphones are a great value all-rounder, whether for flights, commuter trains or busy offices.
Design-wise, the Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNCs seem a more slimmed-down, lighter and more focused effort than the bulky and expensive alternatives from Bose and Sony; and crucially, the HD 4.50 BTNCs are just as good with audio, and almost as good on noise-canceling. Whether you’re after noise canceling for long-haul ravel, for the commute, or just to stay more productive in a noisy office, the Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNCs are worth considering.
Read the full review: Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC
With the second generation Plantronics BackBeat Pro, Plantronics went back to the drawing board to fix many of the issues owners complained about the original. The BackBeat Pro 2, therefore, manage to keep all the great things about the original and improved upon its shortcomings, like its bulk and weight.
In terms of value, the BackBeat Pro 2 are basically a steal. With the BackBeat Pro 2, you’re getting a travel headphone with incredible battery life, supreme comfort, the ability to pair two device as once and, most importantly, good sound quality for the cost. If you don’t want to drop $350 (£290, AU$500) on the Bose QuietComfort 35 or $400 (£330 or AU$700) on Sony’s flagship MDR-1000X, the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 should be on the top of your shopping list.
Read the full review: Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2
The PXC 550’s greatest strength is their sound. Other wireless noise-cancelling headphones might offer a better user interface or better noise-cancellation technology, but ultimately none of the above match up to the sound quality of these Sennheisers.
However, that said, there are a couple of irritations that prevent us from being able to fully and unreservedly recommend them, such as unresponsive touch controls These annoyances aren’t quite deal-breakers, but there are definitely other noise-cancelling headphones out there that don’t suffer from the same issues.
Read the full review: Sennheiser PXC 550
The Samsung Level On Pro Wireless are one of the few headphones we’ve tested that feel like they’re meant as a package deal for another device. Yes they’ll work with every Bluetooth and 3.5mm jack-equipped handset on the market, but you’re better off sticking to a Samsung device in order to squeeze every ounce of aural goodness from the Ultra High Quality (UHQ) audio codec.
It’s one of the comfiest pair of cans on the market, and they’re also much cheaper than a lot of the competition. If it had a better sound quality for the vast majority of cell phone users it would be an easy recommendation but, as it stands, really makes the most sense at checkout when purchased alongside Samsung’s Next Big Thing.
Read the full review: Samsung Level On Pro Wireless Headphones
Can’t decide which headphones to buy? Check out our guide video below.
- We have exhaustive guides to the best headphones on the market buy today including the best on-ear headphones, the best in-ear headphones and the best over-ear headphones.
- Want to go wire-free? Check out our guide to the best wireless headphones.
- Looking for some headphones you can take in the pool or on a run? Check out our guide to the best swimming headphones and best running headphones.
We’re constantly reviewing new noise-cancelling headphones, but let us know on Twitter if there is a set that you’d like us to take a look at.