Noise-cancelling headphones have become almost an essential everyday item for many of us, whether they’re used to isolate your listening pleasure on your morning commute or drown out the drone of an aeroplane jet engine.
With so many pairs now available, finding the best choice for your ears is no easy task. Some pairs will have more effective noise cancellation, while others will sound better – so finding the middle ground can be tricky.
We’ve rounded up our favourites and picked out what we believe to be the best pair money can currently buy, to make the decision whole lot easier.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
Think of noise-cancelling headphones and chances are you’ll think of Bose. The company has a new non-folding flagship for 2019: it’s called the Headphones 700.
Despite the unimaginitive name, these over-ear cans deliver very imaginitive sound quality to rival the best competition out there. And the multi-level noise-cancelling is class-leading.
There’s also smart assistant integration for the big three (Google, Amazon, Apple), a solid app for various customisations (but no EQ, sadly), and well integrated touch-based controls on the right earcup.
We can think of no other pair we’d rather take on our travels. Bose is boss when it comes to noise-cancelling.
Sony has updated the 1000X headphones three years in a row, taking an approach as aggressive with product launches as it is with cutting out external noise. Design tweaks add quality and refinement to these headphones, while a new-and-more-powerful chip provides the grunt to cancel out more noise.
The results are sensational, with the 1000XM3 not only sounding great as a set of headphones, but also being some of the most effective at combatting external noise through more selectable levels.
These cans also offer Google Assistant control with a button press – to give it commands or ask it questions – but we don’t think it’s very well implemented, which is about its only weakness in this smart pair of headphones. Oh, and the Bose pair (above) have a more seamless design.
Bowers & Wilkins PX
Bowers and Wilkins is no stranger to the audio game; the British-based company has been going since 1966. So when we heard it was developing its very first pair of wireless active noise-cancellation headphones, our ears certainly pricked up. When we actually got them onto our ears, our expectations were exceeded far beyond anything we could imagine.
The PX headphones looks stunning – we really do love the blue and gold finish – and they sound even better. We already expected a great sounding pair of headphones, but we weren’t prepared for just how well the noise-cancellation would work, nor the abundant features B&W has thrown into them.
We love the sensors that automatically pause or stop the music you’re listening to entirely depending on how you wear them, and the way you have complete control over the amount of ambient sound to let in via the app. They’re an incredibly great rival to the class-leading Sony (up top), in terms of features, effectiveness and price. We would still say Sony has the edge over B&W, but not in terms of build quality.
Beats Studio 3 Wireless
The Beats Studio 3 Wireless are likely to appeal to iPhone owners more than those using an Android phone, only because they’re the latest pair to benefit from Apple’s W1 chip (which has been replaced with the H1 chip, moving forward). This means these cans automatically try to pair with an iOS device when within distance, and once paired are available to instantly connect to from all other Apple devices using the same iCloud account.
The Studio 3 Wireless have some very clever noise-cancellation technology onboard too. It constantly measures the sounds around you – up to 50,000 times per second – and adjusts both the noise-cancellation and sound profile accordingly, to make sure you’re getting the most effective sound blasted into your ears.
The sound is less bass-tactic that you might expect from this headphone company too, yet still impactful, while the battery life just goes on and on and on.
B&O BeoPlay H9i
The B&O BeoPlay H9i is one of the more expensive pairs of noise-cancelling headphones to grace our ears, but in return these cans provide a supreme level of comfort, thanks to high-quality materials.
To complement the fantastic build quality is incredible sound quality – and these headphones evolve themselves beyond the original H9s. The H9i has boosted the noise-cancelling ability, while shrinking the ear cups a little, thus making them a little more practical.
With a wealth of competition at lower prices, the B&O BeoPlay H9i need to do a lot to justify their asking price, but we’d spend the extra for the build and comfort. If you want really strong noise-cancelling, however, then look to the Bose (above) for that totally ‘locked-in’ quality.
Microsoft Surface Headphones
Ok, so we don’t like the big Windows-like logos on the side of these headphones… but Microsoft has otherwise done a stellar job with its first bash at a pair of headphones, thanks to a variety of great features.
First up, these cans are comfortable on the ears for long periods of wear. Second, the two earcups rotate – the left for noise-cancelling level, the right for volume – which gives a great, natural way to control the headphones without needing any unsightly or hard-to-locate buttons.
But there are imperfections: we’d like to see more exciting colours and design, along with some stronger ANC at the maximum level to rival the Bose (further up), plus a greater variety of ANC types like the Sony (up top). That said, if you want comfortable, long-lasting and easy-to-control ANC headphones then don’t overlook Surface – whether or not you use a Microsoft laptop/2-in-1 or not!
Fully wireless choices:
Sony has applied its audio expertise to noise-cancelling in-ear headphones too. We’ve seen what the company can do with a pair of over-ears, so we had mighty high expectations for the entirely wire-free in-ear model – now in its third-gen form.
These wireless in-ears deliver a well-balanced sound that’s neither too bassy nor too bright; we found it to be just right. The noise-cancellation is just as accomplished, too, effectively blocking out the general hum drum of everyday life, as well as aeroplane and train noises.
Sony isn’t the only maker to market with true wireless headphones with ANC – we recently also tested the Libratone Track Air+ in-ears (see below) – but the WF series has a style, swagger and musicality that’s hard to beat.