True music lovers will understand where noise-cancelling headphones fit in in the grand scheme of things. Delivering outstanding audio quality while actively blocking out noise from outside sources comes at no small price but it’s a technology that may just be worth every penny. Here are our top picks for the best noise-cancelling headphones available now.
What do noise-cancelling headphones do?
Now is not the time to second-guess yourself – noise-cancelling headphones do exactly what it sounds like they would do. These headphones have a technology built in that actively works to cancel out any and all noises from the outside world and create a void of noise in its place. This way, when listening to music, podcasts or anything else, you will only be hearing what you choose to hear and your listening won’t be interrupted by any ruckus going on around you.
Whether you do a lot of travelling by air, train or in crowded areas, or you just like to feel completely immersed in the music you listen to, noise-cancelling headphones have your back. Eliminating background noise to the highest degree also allows you to listen to music, podcasts, games or video at a lower volume overall, meaning you won’t be risking your hearing as much as you would be with a regular set of cans. The actual noise-cancelling tech itself found in ‘active’ noise-cancelling headphones is not something we’ll be going into but trust us, it’s very smart and it’s very techy but what you’ll need to know is that for what you need them for, they work wonderfully.
The level of effectiveness or the method of noise-cancelling itself will vary between different types of headphones. Some brands like the silence to sound somewhat natural, whereas others will create a definitive lack of all noise instead which can be a little jarring at first. Overall, though, the lack of noise interference helps to strengthen the sound quality of everything you listen. Bass becomes heavier, highs become crystal clear, you’ll be able to pick up on sounds and little details in songs that you never knew existed. Once you’ve tried a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, it will be very difficult to try and switch back to regular headphones.
The thing about noise-cancelling headphones is that the technology makes these a much more advanced set of cans to have on your head, meaning you’ll be paying for the privilege. Needless to say, noise-cancelling headphones are a luxury item but if budget is one of your concerns, fret not! There are advanced headphones available on the lower end of the scale as well as on the much higher end. We’ll attempt to show off a range of headphones from both the pricier side of things and the more affordable. Somewhere in there, you should be able to find the perfect set for you and get cracking on that zero-interruptions music listening future.
First on our list is Sony’s MDR-1000X set of over-ear, closed headphones. These things are on the higher end of the budget scale, regularly coming in at well over £300/$380. For your money, what you will be getting is a sleek set of matte black or beige wireless headphones with up to 20 hours of battery life, meaning you won’t have to constantly remind yourself to charge them.
Where the MDR-1000X excel particularly is when they are paired up with Sony’s own media players, so if you happen to be someone who owns and operates a Sony Xperia phone or tablet, you’ll be getting the best experience possible when using these headphones to compliment. Don’t ask us how, they just seem to work their magic when paired up and it’s really something to behold when it works out.
These headphones run some powerful high-end codecs (LDAC, AAC and aptX) and can regularly deliver a much higher quality of sound than most other headphones on the market, although when it comes to the actual noise-cancellation, you’ll find better options out there.
In the UK:
In the US:
Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 2.0
Easily the most stylish and attractive set of noise-cancelling headphones on this list, the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 2.0 might have a rather wordy name but it makes up for it in pretty much every other way. Audio nerds and music lovers alike will no doubt be absolutely familiar with the ‘Sennheiser’ brand already, given that it’s one of the world’s leading companies when it comes to designing and manufacturing products specifically geared towards delivering the absolute best audio quality known to man.
On top of the compact and foldable frame, you’ll find the headband and ear cups covered in leather and memory foam, delivering one of the most comfortable headphone experiences we’ve tested. The audio quality itself is essentially second-to-none, as one should expect from Sennheiser by now. Dynamic drivers coupled with a closed design and active noise-cancellation that automatically triggers all combine to deliver a rather unforgettable listening experience. They’re also wireless with a range of up to 30 feet, just in case you were wondering.
On top of that, you’ve also got a massive 25+ hour battery life which will not only put your mind at ease when it comes to regular charging, but you’ll be able to comfortably travel long distances without having to worry about running out of battery. You could quite easily take a cross-country train journey or an international flight and still have enough juice for the taxi ride afterwards.
So where’s the catch? Well, that would be in the form of the price tag. These are the most expensive headphones on this list, coming in at a hefty £350/$378 for the over-ear model and £268/$300 for the on-ear model. They may be pricey but if you’ve got that kind of cash to spend on noise-cancelling headphones, it’s nearly impossible to go wrong with the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 2.0.
In the UK:
In the US:
Bose QuietControl 30
Bose’s QuietControl series is one of the finest examples of how to do noise-cancelling headphones properly. With active noise-cancelling technology built in, the range of wireless headphones delivers stellar audio quality and a sturdy, solid build. The QuietControl 30 is the first in the series to be an in-ear headphone design rather than an over-ear or on-ear. Earbuds, some people call them.
Noise-cancelling and in-ear buds are not two things that have traditionally gone together until this set which effectively pioneers the new smaller-scale technology. There are a couple of reasons for that, of course, given that regular earbuds do a much better job of blocking out excess noise just by the nature of how they sit in your ear canal. That being said, Bose has worked hard on the tech that has gone into the QC30s and the effect ends up working better than a lot of over-ear headphones on this list.
However, while you will be getting impeccable noise-cancellation, the audio quality itself suffers slightly for it. This comes down to a personal preference and where you place your priorities when it comes to headphones. If you don’t mind taking the slight audio quality hit to get superior noise-cancellation and much prefer in-ear buds to larger headphones, this is your best bet.
Creative Sound Blaster EVO ZxR
Creative Labs’ Sound Blaster branding will be instantly familiar to anyone who played video games on PC at any point in the 90s. What began as the industry gold-standard of PC sound cards has turned into an overall brand of audio products designed to walk the line between superb audio quality and affordability.
The Sound Blaster EVO ZxR walks that line very well. It is a headset first and a set of headphones second and I assure you there is a difference. As such, the EVO ZxR is a wireless headset with Bluetooth capability that is compatible with modern games consoles as well as with your phone, tablet or other device.
Active noise-cancellation will keep you immersed in whatever it is you’re using these headphones for, particularly if using them for gaming. They also feature NFC tech, saving you a few precious seconds when connecting to a new device. Also featured is the option to turn these wireless headphones into a wired set by simply plugging in the included cable.
The eye-catching design and fancy technology aside, the EVO ZxR deliver fantastic audio quality for what they are but as you may expect, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of some of the pricier headphones on this list. Very hard to go wrong for the price these will cost you, though.
Sony H.ear On MDR-100ABN
Sony’s second set of headphones to grace this list must mean the company is doing something right with its range of noise-cancelling headphones. The imaginatively titled H.ear MDR-100ABN headphones, at first, look largely the same as the MDR-1000X featured at the top of this list. The reason for that being that these headphones are essentially within the same ‘family’ although they have their own set of features and attributes.
As you can tell from the image above, the first thing to notice about the H.ear series is the huge range of colours they are available in. This is a set of headphones that Sony wants you to be able to wear with pride, enabling you to get the sound quality you desire while also expressing your individuality. That is if your individuality can be expressed through one of five colour choices.
Beyond the style choices, these headphones also feature advanced ‘Hi-Res Audio’ tech, which helps the sound come through crystal clear with an intense presence. The battery life is also something to shout about, coming in at just over 20 hours off of a single charge. The H.ear series also features a unique no-touch control system, letting the ease of use take control.
On top of all of that tech? These headphones are just fantastically comfortable, some of the most comfortable headphones we’ve tested so far. Price wise, they’re certainly no slouch but you’ll be getting a gorgeous, powerful set of headphones with an uncanny amount of tech crammed into them. They are available in both wireless and wired models, too.
In the UK:
- Black Wireless version for £219.99 from Amazon UK
- Blue Wireless version for £249.95 from Amazon UK
- Pink Wireless version for £220 from Amazon UK
- Red Wireless version for £219.99 from Amazon UK
In the US:
- Black Wireless version for $228 from Amazon US
- Blue Wireless version for $228 from Amazon US
- Pink Wireless version for $228 from Amazon US
- Red Wireless version for $228 from Amazon US
- Yellow Wireless version for $228 from Amazon US
Of course, there are a lot of different brands and models of headphones out there and it’ll come down to more than just a simple choice, especially considering the prices that these types of headphones cost, so be sure to study up on the differences of each version listed above before making a decision on which is better for you.
Noise-cancelling headphones are a particularly special kind of technology but be warned, once you experience them once it may be hard to go back to regular headphones! Good luck and happy listening!