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The best noise-cancelling headphones available today

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There’s no point in having a great sounding pair of headphones if you can’t actually hear them over the sound of a noisy plane, train, or office. 

Noise cancelling headphones, as their name implies, ‘cancel out’ the sound of the world outside, allowing you to hear your music without any background noise getting in the way. 

As a result you’re able to play music at a much lower volume, which is better for your ears in the long run. 

We won’t go into the specifics of how this effect is achieved, but suffice to say the results can be quite remarkable.  

The effect isn’t completely perfect. They’re less effective at cancelling out higher-pitched noises, but for the most part they’re excellent at dealing with low, consistent noises like the hum of a train or plane. 

If you opt for one of our top picks for the best noise-cancelling headphones, you’ll get a pair that not only effectively eliminate the most background noise possible, but will also make your music sound pretty good in the process. 

When it comes to noise-cancelling headphones, there are two types to look out for: active and passive. Passive means that when the headphones are pressed against your head, some sound is cut out in the process of closing your ears off to the world outside. It’s not high-tech. Lots of headphones claim that this is some sort of advanced technique, but it’s nothing more than a few layers of foam trying their darndest to keep sound out.

Active noise cancellation, on the other hand, involves some pretty interesting processes to cancel out sound. Along with the padding which passively blocks sound, microphones planted in the ear wells of headphones actively analyze the ambient noise level and reflect sound waves back into your ear that work to zap the outside noise. The goal is to hear nothing but the music, or whatever it is you’re listening to.

Active noise cancelling headphones are more effective at what they do, but the downside is that this noise cancellation requires batteries in order to function, so you’ll have to keep them charged if you want to keep the noises of the outside world at bay.

Now that you know, you’re ready to choose a set. Let’s take a look at the best noise-cancelling headphones around:

1. Philips Fidelio NC1
2. Bose QuietComfort 35
3. Sony MDR-1000X
4. Bose QuietComfort 25
5. Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2
6. Bose QuietControl 30
7. Samsung Level On Pro
8. Sennheiser PXC 550
9. Sony H.ear On MDR-100ABN
10. Creative Sound Blaster EVO ZxR

Philips presents an elegant noise-cancelling solution with its NC1. These on-ear headphones aren’t wireless, but that’s hardly a reason to knock them. Coming in at $299, the same price as Bose’ QuietComfort 25, the NC1 are a more 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.

Read the full review: Philips Fidelio NC1

Bose QuietComfort 35

Bose has finally brought its fantastic noise-cancelling technology to a pair of wireless headphones and it’s done so without any of the traditional drawbacks of wireless headphones. They sound great, and their battery life is long enough for all but the longest of flights.

At $349.95 (£289.95 / AU pricing tbc) the QC35s sit firmly at the premium end of the spectrum, but if you want the best noise-cancelling headphones available right now then you can’t get any better.

Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort 35

Best noise-cancelling headphones

The MDR-1000X are definitely the closest competitor to Bose’s QuietComfort series we’ve ever had the pleasure of testing. Some high-end codecs (LDAC, AAC and aptX) help the 1000X sound even better than the QC35s, but ultimately the noise canceling is a bit less effective in Sony’s pair of cans.

What should drive your decision on whether to buy the MDR-1000X is your music player – if you’re a Sony Xperia owner, you’d be hard-pressed to find a pair of headphones that sound as good as these with noise canceling tech built-in. Even if you’re not, Sony’s wares are still worth a listen – and maybe a purchase – if you aren’t too put out by its $400 (£330 or AU$700) price tag.

Read the full review: Sony MDR-1000X

Sennheiser Momentum Wireless

If an exceptional set of noise-cancelling headphones is something you’re prepared to shell out for, consider the excellent-but-old QuietComfort 25.

The QC25 is a cohesive unit that balances design, features and sound profile delicately, and excels at it all. While $300 is certainly a chunk of change, the QC25 represents a good value based on its stunning build quality, feature set and vibrant sound. You’re getting a finely-tuned set of headphones that provide over 35 hours of very good noise-cancelling performance with one AAA battery.

Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort 25

If you’re a frequent traveler you’re probably all too familiar with headphones that can’t hold a charge, can’t block out sound and, for the most part, don’t sound very good. If you’re tired of buying headphones like that let us introduce you to the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2, one of the few headphones on the market that can do all of the above and cost less than half as much as one of the bigger names like Beats, Bose and Sony. 

If we had to boil it down to its core, the BackBeat Pro 2 offers an excellent 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.

Read the full review: Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2

Bose QuietComfort 20i

The Bose QC 30s are the only in-ear headphones on this list, after all, it’s much easier to block out background noise when you’ve got two thick cushions sitting around your ears. 

Given the limitations of the form factor, Bose has done a fantastic job on the noise-cancellation of the QC30s, which is frankly better than a lot of over-ears out there. 

The downside is that these aren’t the best sounding headphones on this list, but if you’re willing to make that compromise then it’s hard to find fault with them. 

Read the full review: Bose QC 30

Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones

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 UHQ audio codec.

It’s one of the comfiest pair of cans on the market, and one of the best noise-cancelling, too. 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

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. 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

Best noise-cancelling headphones

Lovely to wear, great to look at and fantastic for sound, the Sony H.ear On MDR-100ABNs would be a fine buy for anyone looking for noise-cancelling wireless headphones with the added bonus of Hi-Res Audio.

At £220/$350 (around $AU480) they’ll certainly be at the higher end of most budgets – but I wouldn’t hesitate to hand over that sort of money for headphones that have enough tech in them to last years.

Read the full review: Sony H.ear On MDR-100ABN

Creative Sound Blaster EVO ZxR

If the design of the likes of the Bose QC 35 is a little too tame for you, check out the Creative Sound Blaster EVO ZxR. The name of these headphones is a bit of a tongue-twister, but you’ll get equally tripped-up running down the exhaustive list of features found in them too.

Active noise cancellation helps keep your immersion at an all-time high with support for listening over Bluetooth. You can even tap an NFC-enabled device for a super-quick wireless connection. But if you feel like keeping things wired, connecting a 3.5mm cable opens up support for PS4, Mac and PC. As mentioned earlier, the design is bold, but it matches the feature-set packed into these cans.

Read the full review: Creative Sound Blaster EVO ZxR

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.