The best noise-cancelling headphones available today

 techradar.com  6/7/2017 11:25:00 PM  11  Nick Pino

Update: Our best noise-cancelling headphone round-up has a new member this month – the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless, which takes over our #6 spot.

There's nothing worse than settling down to a long journey with a couple of your favorite albums, only to have your jam session ruined by the outside world.

Enter noise-cancelling headphones, which remove the sound of everything around you, so you can listen to your music at a lower (and safer) volume. 

There are large variations in how well this effect is achieved, but even at their worse these headphones are still much better than a traditional pair of headphones in terms of keeping outside sound at bay. 

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. 

That said, sometimes the effect isn't completely perfect. They're less effective at cancelling out higher-pitched noises, but most of the high-end sets excel at dealing with low, consistent noises like the hum of a train or plane. 

How to buy noise-cancelling headphones

So what do you want to look for when looking for a pair of the best noise-cancelling headphones? Look for anything with the words "active noise-cancellation technology" on it.

You see, 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 all that, you're ready to choose a set. Let's take a look at the best noise-cancelling headphones around, starting with a list of our 10 favorite:

1. Philips Fidelio NC1
2. Bose QuietComfort 35
3. Sony MDR-1000X
4. Bose QuietComfort 25
5. Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2
6. Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless
7. Bose QuietControl 30
8. Samsung Level On Pro
9. Sennheiser PXC 550
10. Sony H.ear On MDR-100ABN

1. Philips Fidelio NC1

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: .74 pounds | Cable length: 3.9 feet | Frequency response: 7-25,000Hz | Drivers: Two 1.5" Neodymium drivers | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: 107 dB | Impedance: 16 ohm | Battery life: 25+ hours | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: No

Brilliantly balanced sound

Great build quality and battery life

Some sound leakage

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

2. Bose QuietComfort 35

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 0.68 pounds | Cable length: 3.94 feet | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 20+ hours | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: Yes

Broad and clear soundstage

Amazing noise cancellation

Active EQ an acquired taste

Boring looks

They're a little 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.

They also come with a cable in case you want to use them with a device that doesn't support Bluetooth. 

At $349.95 (£289.95 / AU$499) the QC35s sit firmly at the premium end of the spectrum, but if you want the best noise-cancelling headphones available right now at any price then there are few out there that can compete.

Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort 35

3. Sony MDR-1000X

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 275 grams | Frequency response: 4Hz - 40kHz | Drivers: 40mm | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: 103dB | Impedance: 46 Ohms | Battery life: 20 hours | Wireless range: 30 feet | NFC: Yes

Quick Attention mode

Noise cancellation

Lengthy battery life

Finicky Ambient Noise mode

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 cancelling 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 / AU$700) price tag.

Read the full review: Sony MDR-1000X

4. Bose QuietComfort 25

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 0.68 pounds | Cable length: 3.94 feet | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 20+ hours | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: Yes

Stunning noise-cancellation

Full sound

A bit older

Colors cost extra

If you want the same level of excellent noise-cancellation as the Bose QC35s but want to save a bit of money, consider opting for the last-generation QC25s. 

The biggest sacrifice you'll be making is wireless, but in our opinion the QC35s are also the much better sounding pair of headphones. 

Nevertheless, the QC25s represent a great mid-range pick. 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

5. Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 0.64 lbs (289g) | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: 40mm | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 24 hours | Wireless range: 100 meters (330 feet) | NFC: No

Incredible 24 hour battery life

Noise-canceling at a great price

Bass overwhelming at times

Styling not for everyone

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

6. Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless

Fun sound

Plenty of features

Limited noise-cancelling ability

Diminished highs 

The Sennheiser Momentum 2 On-Ear Wireless headphones are a really nice package. They sound good, look good, have good controls and acceptable noise cancellation but, admittedly, they're a bit on the expensive side. They cost more than the Bose QuietComfort 35s but have slightly worse wireless performance, and much worse active noise cancellation. Overall, they offer a a fun sound, with big bass matched with pronounced-but-not-sharp treble and mid-range chunkiness similar to what you hear in the Sennheiser Momentum In-Ears or Sennheiser IE 5.00s. They're bold and full, but not too serious. 

We think you'll be better off with something a bit higher up our list, but there's still plenty to like about the Momentum 2.0 Wireless.

Read the full review: Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless

7. Bose QuietControl 30

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 23g | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 10 hours | Wireless range: 33 ft | NFC: Yes

Excellent noise-cancellation

Comfortable earbuds

Not great sounding

Divisive neckband

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

8. Samsung Level On Pro Wireless Headphones

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: .7 pounds | Cable length: 3.6 feet | Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz | Drivers: 40mm Dual-Layered Diaphragm | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 8 hours | Wireless range: 30 meters (98ft) | NFC: Yes

Comfy faux-leather earpads

Extra features for Samsung owners

Plastic, fragile bridge

Short-range wireless

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 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

9. Sennheiser PXC 550

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: .7 pounds | Cable length: 3.6 feet | Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz | Drivers: 40mm Dual-Layered Diaphragm | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 8 hours | Wireless range: 30 meters (98ft) | NFC: Yes

Great sounding

aptX connectivity

Unresponsive touch controls

Noise cancellation could be better

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

10. Sony H.ear On MDR-100ABN

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 1.9 pounds | Cable length: 3.94 feet | Frequency response: 5-40,000 Hz | Drivers: 1.57 inch | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: 103 dB/mW | Impedance: 32 ohms | Battery life: 20+ hours | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: Yes

Brilliant Hi-Res Audio functionality

Exceptionally comfortable

Lack of low-battery warning

No touch controls

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

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.

« Go back