Whereas once they were the almost exclusively the province of music snobs, noise-cancelling headphones have become more mainstream. This is a good thing for both audio enthusiasts and rank-and-file commuters alike; noise-cancelling headphones can deliver fantastic listening quality, blotting out the rumbling noise of a train or a screaming baby on a plane.
Not only is your music – or podcast, audiobook, or anything else for that matter – easier to hear and crisper in its quality, with outside noise obliterated, you’re able to listen to your choice of entertainment at a lower volume, which your eardrums will thank you for. Even entry-level noise-cancelling headphones beat out traditional sets, but in this field of gadgets, you really do get what you pay for. If you’re after the best aural experience available, read on – and prepare to crack open your wallet.
Arguably one of the best wireless headphones set on the market right now, Sony’s WH-1000XM2 provide excellent sound quality, superb noise-cancellation and lengthy battery life – on a full charge, they can last up to 30 hours. That’s more than enough time to forget they’re battery powered at all.
A great upgrade from their predecessor, the MDR-1000X, the phones also feature a couple of buttons on the left earcup, one of which switches between power and Bluetooth and the other allows users to control the levels of outside noise that filters into the cans.
This set can drown out all background noise (the ‘On’ setting), can allow a certain amount of outside sounds in (you’ll be able to hear your flight announcements in an airport for example – the ‘Ambient’ setting) or allow in all background noise (the ‘Off’ setting). Toss in some slick touch-surface controls and an LDAC codec that allows Hi-Res playback and you’re looking at headphones that are perfect for long commutes.
Sennheiser PXC 550
Like every set of headphones in Sennheiser’s arsenal, the PXC 550 bank their appeal first and foremost on audio quality. While this set doesn’t offer the best array of options in its noise-cancelling functionality, Sennheiser’s sound quality is peerless.
Beyond that, this is a rather feature-packed headphone set, offering adjustable ANC (Active Noise Cancellation) and DSP (digital sound processing) modes for movie watching. You can also use its free CapTune app to create custom sound profiles, which offer variable DSP and EQ effects and ANC level presets. The interface on the outer cup can be unresponsive at times, but that’s not enough to halt a full recommendation. The fact that this is one of the most comfortable headphone sets to wear seems almost like an afterthought.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II
If the Sony WH-1000XM2 has a bona fide rival on this list, it’s the Bose QuietComfort 35 II. They don’t have aptX support and they don’t quite match their nearest and dearest’s rival in terms in sound quality but they still sound absolutely awesome. They also offer 20 hours of wireless listening, which isn’t half bad, unless you’re flying to Australia.
What the QuietComfort 35 II brings to the table – which was absent in its predecessor – is the integrated Google Assistant functionality. Using a preset button one can adjust the level of noise cancellation in their listening experience as well as providing notifications from the smartphone it’s synced with. The set is sleekly designed and the cans are comfortably snug. It’s tad on the expensive side, but worth every penny.
Philips Fidelio NC1
Compact, elegant and very comfortable on the ears, Philips Fidelio NC1 headphones offer. The sound quality is bright and warm and it has an in-line mic connection so you can easily switch between your music (or podcasts) and phone calls.
It’s a sturdily built set, very sleek to look at and it comes with active noise-cancelling that’s powered by a rechargeable battery, which offers a pretty impressive 30 hours of life. Unlike some of the headphones on this list, they’re not wireless, but that’s not necessarily a deal-breaker if you’re looking for more quality sound bang for your buck. One word, though, these headphones aren’t suitable for runners as they have the tendency to slip off if jogged about. Best to keep them for plane rides and commutes.
Bowers and Wilkins PX Wireless
Bowers and Wilkins first wireless, noise-cancelling headset enters a tough market, but it’s impressive enough to hold its own. As one would expect from one of the biggest producers of audio equipment, the sound quality is absolutely superb and while the set’s noise cancellation may not match that of some of its rivals, it has a couple of enticing features that may sway punters either way.
First, the set contains a sensor that can tell when you take them off your head and will pause playback instantly when you do – meaning you never miss a beat. The sensor’s also delicate enough to sense you lifting one of the cans from your ear. Second, they charge via USB-C, and while the package comes with a charging stand, if you have power bank or laptop with you and your Android phone charger, you can always top them up on the go. On top of that, as is the case with all of Bowers and Wilkins products, they look absolutely gorgeous.