The best noise-cancelling headphones buying guide: Welcome to TechRadar’s round-up of the best noise-cancelling headphones to buy in 2019.
If you have a pair of the best noise-cancelling headphones, you can say goodbye to commuting to a soundtrack of noisy conversations, screaming kids and honking traffic.
A pair of headphones with the latest noise-cancelling tech built-in means audio nirvana is only one step away. They’re true wonders of the modern era because they can totally tune out any unwanted sounds, while simultaneously making your music sound even better than any old pair of in-ear earbuds (except for the fantastic Sony WF-1000XM3s of course).
- We’re expecting to see new noise-cancelling headphones at IFA 2019 – stick with us for the latest from the Berlin tech show
We believe that noise-cancelling headphones are just as vital as your laptop, TV or mobile phone when it comes to tech that’ll change how you live, work and play. That means that choosing the right pair for you is important.
Luckily, to help you pick out a pair of headphones that deliver all of the above in spades, we’ve put together a list of our favorite noise-cancelling headphones, listed below and ranked by their price-to-performance ratio.
Can’t decide which headphones to buy? Check out our video guide below:
What are the best noise-cancelling headphones?
The Sony WH-1000XM3 are the best noise-cancelling headphones in the world two years running. Sure, they might be a small refinement of last year’s excellent WH-1000XM2, but subtle tweaks like using USB-C instead of microUSB and adding padding along the bridge help make Sony’s award-winning cans even better.
So why does everyone love these Sony headphones so much? Well, it’s exceptionally good at cancelling outside noise. Put a pair on while vacuuming and you’ll barely hear the motor running.
For music lovers, the Sony WH-1000XM3 features aptX HD and Sony LDAC, two of the best ways to listen to Hi-Res music from your phone without a wire. Finally, all of Sony’s flagship headphones offer both Google Assistant and, starting in 2019, Alexa support, making them not only the best noise-cancelling cans on the market but some of the smartest, too.
They don’t quite beat the Sony WH-1000XM3’s in terms of battery life and price, but the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are still a brilliant pair of over-ear cans.
Traditionally, noise-canceling headphones have been designed to block out the environmental sounds around you, so that you can hear your music more clearly (or catch some shut-eye on a noisy flight).
This can be really effective if you’re listening to music. If you’re making a phone call however, the person you’re speaking to can still hear everything that’s happening around you, whether you’re standing on a busy street or trying to speak on a rumbling train.
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 seek to remedy this, by applying noise-cancelation to phone calls as well as music, which is fantastic feature.
The sound quality is undeniably good, with a vibrant, lively character and well-balanced soundstage.
If you’re trying to decide between buying the Sony WH-1000XM3s and the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, we’d recommend going for the former because of that lower price and better battery life. That being said, you wouldn’t be making a mistake if you opted for the Bose cans instead (and we wouldn’t blame you if you did) – they sound great, look stunning, and the noise-cancellation is out of this world.
If you can find a pair, the Sony WH-1000XM2 are still some of the best noise-cancelling headphones around: They sound great, deftly wield noise cancellation technology and cost just as much as a pair of Bose QC35s.
They might have a slightly shorter battery life than Bose’s flagship over-ear headphones, but Sony’s WH-1000XM2 outclass the QC35 in terms of performance and feature-set.
You’d want to pick these Sony headphones over the Bose because not only do they provide the same level of awesome noise-cancellation, but they have three neat tricks that Bose just doesn’t have on its older headphones: one is an ambient noise mode that only lets in mid-to-high frequency tones (announcements over a loudspeaker, for instance) and another being Quick Attention mode that allows you to let in all outside noise without taking off the headphones. (The latter is perfect when giving a drink order on a plane or speaking to a coworker for a brief moment before diving back into your work.)
The last trick Sony has up its sleeve is the LDAC codec. Alongside the widely adopted aptX HD standard, LDAC enables Hi-Res Audio playback using the 1000XM2.
Great-sounding, feature-packed and just as affordable as the competition? The Sony WH-1000XM2 are a solid all-around pick for noise-cancelling cans.
- Not sure which Sony headphones to buy? read our roundup of the best Sony headphones we’ve reviewed so far
Coming in at number four are the Bose QuietComfort 35 II – a nearly identical product to the already-excellent Bose QuietComfort 35 but updated for 2018 with Google Assistant. This means you still get the class-leading noise cancellation Bose is known for, good sound quality and incredible comfort, plus a convenient assistant to answer any inquiries you might have while traveling.
Taken as a whole, the Bose QC35 II NC is an excellent headphone for travelers and commuters. Bose has found a good balance of features that will satisfy most mainstream listeners. While we don’t love them as much as the better-sounding Sony WH-1000XM2, they’re still top of the class for noise cancellation.
Despite the popularity of the QC35s, Bose has shaken things up by releasing a totally new wireless noise-canceling headphones model, with a focus on sleek design and “breakthrough” audio tech: the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. They may not have pipped Sony to the top spot of the best noise-canceling headphones, but they’re still a fantastic pair of over-ear headphones, coming in at number two.
It’s not often you’ll find a pair of wired earbuds, let alone a pair of true wireless earbuds on a list of the best noise-cancelling headphones; considering it’s still rare to find the technology in earphones at all, the Sony WF-1000XM3s are very impressive indeed, and fully deserve a place in this roundup.
The Sony WF-1000XM3s manage to offer a level of noise-cancellation that’s very good for a pair of earbuds – they won’t offer the same isolation as a pair of over-ear cans, but if you’re after a sleek form factor then the compromise is worth it.
Not only are these hands down the best-looking true wireless headphones out there, but they combine serious noise cancelling tech with fist-pumping musicality. If you don’t want the inconvenience of carrying full-size cans, they’re a persuasive alternative.
Offering class-leading battery life, terrific style and plenty of personalization when it comes to sound profiles, the Elite 85h is easy to recommend. That said, purists will bemoan the lack of high-end codec support and there are punchier headphones on the market at this price point.
When you consider that Jabra’s Elite 85h headphones are the company’s first attempt at premium wireless ANC headphones, the result is quite commendable. We can’t wait to see what the company’s next premium ANC headphones will accomplish.
If you want an alternative to Sony’s WH-1000XM3, these are a great option.
Philips presents a more elegant noise-cancelling solution with its NC1. These on-ear headphones aren’t wireless like our top pick, but that’s hardly a reason to knock them. Coming in at $299/£195, the NC1 are a 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.
(A quite note for our Australian readers: Philips sadly no longer sells the NC1’s down under, so you’ll need to import a pair if you’re keen.)
A few years ago, the Bose QuietComfort 25 are the best noise-cancelling headphones we’ve ever used. The lows, mids and highs came through clear as day, never stepping over each other. Music of all sorts sounded predictably incredible. With the noise-cancellation turned on, we never felt further immersed and concentrated than when we let the QC25 engulf our ears.
But that was a few years ago and time has moved on since. Bose has released not just one sequel to these headphones, but two: the QC35 and QC35 II with Google Assistant built in, both of which we’d recommend above the QC25.
But, it’s not all bad. If you don’t mind using the older, wired headphones, the QC25s are a finely-tuned set of cans that provide over 35 hours of very good noise-cancelling performance with one AAA battery.
Bowers and Wilkins are a little late to the noise-cancellation game, but their first foray impresses.
The PX Wireless aren’t just a great sounding pair of headphones, they’ve also got a number of other interesting tricks up their sleeve. They’ll turn on and off automatically depending on whether you’re wearing them or not, and they also feature the future-proof USB-C charging standard.
In our opinion their only downside is the sound quality, which we felt lacks the depth of the flagship headphones from Bose and Sony.
That said, if you’ve been a fan of the look of B&W’s headphones in the past then the PX Wireless are certainly worth a listen.
With noise-cancelling tech just as effective as that in headphones from rival Bose, and with a more musical sonic ability, the Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC are a definite contender for the noise-cancelling crown. More affordable and easy to travel with, these lightweight headphones are a great value all-rounder, whether for flights, commuter trains or busy offices.
Design-wise, the Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNCs seem a more slimmed-down, lighter and more focused effort than the bulky and expensive alternatives from Bose and Sony; and crucially, the HD 4.50 BTNCs are just as good with audio, and almost as good on noise-canceling. Whether you’re after noise canceling for long-haul ravel, for the commute, or just to stay more productive in a noisy office, the Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNCs are worth considering.
For the money, the JBL Live 650BTNC punch above its weight in terms of sound quality, build, and features. They offer your choice of either Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, and can have their EQ customized by the JBL Headphones app. Battery life is rated at 20 hours with ANC and wireless enabled and if you use the JBL Live 650BTNC with a wire with ANC enabled, you can get upwards 30 hours on a single charge.
If you don’t want to splurge on the Bose QC35 II or Sony WH-1000XM3, you’ll be satisfied with the JBL Live 650BTNC knowing that you’re getting 80% of the performance at 50% of the price tag.
While they’re not quite up to par with the flagship noise-cancelling cans from Sony and Bose, Microsoft’s Surface headphones are surprisingly good, with a stunningly warm sound, and generous bass frequencies.
Problematically, the active noise cancelling works pretty well, although it won’t block out all ambient noise in your environment, especially if you’re somewhere noisy. That being said, if you have the noise cancelling turned on while listening to music, you can pretty much get lost in the experience without being disturbed by your noisy shared office of the rumbling of the train on your commute.
Although we were initially unconvinced by the high price (particularly when you can buy quality cans from heritage audio brands for less), most of the Surface Headphone’s features work so seamlessly that it feels justified.
If you haven’t found something quite to your liking so far, we have one last option for you to look at – the all-new Nura Nuraphone over-ear/in-ear hybrid. Their form factor means you’ve not only got an earbud sitting at the entrance of your ear canal, but also an over-ear cushion sitting over your entire ear. This effectively means you’ve got two physical barriers meaning that the noise from the outside world can’t get to your ears. While more traditional over-ear headphones do a better job offering useful features at a reasonable price, the Nuraphone will appeal to the more experimental audio crowd looking to be on the bleeding-edge of the next big thing.
- We have exhaustive guides to the best headphones on the market buy today including the best on-ear headphones, the best in-ear headphones and the best over-ear headphones.
- Want to go wire-free? Check out our guide to the best wireless headphones.
- Looking for some headphones you can take in the pool or on a run? Check out our guide to the best swimming headphones and best running headphones.
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