Best cheap noise-cancelling headphones 2024: expert-tested recommendations

Sony WF-C700N next to their carry case and an Apple Watch
(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Time was, active noise cancellation was reserved for only high-end headphones. But not anymore. As prices have come down, and competition has ramped up, more and more features are making it to more wallet-friendly pairs of wireless headphones, with many now able to silence the world around you.

That doesn't mean sacrificing sound quality. All of the below have scored highly in our reviews, so you can guarantee they have decent features and solid (if not excellent) sound for the reasonable asking prices.

But which pair is right for you? We've been testing audio kit for nearly 50 years, including headphones of all types and abilities. That's why you can trust that the below are the best cheap noise-cancelling headphones you can buy.

How to choose the best cheap noise-cancelling headphones for you

Why you can trust What Hi-Fi? Our expert team reviews products in dedicated test rooms, to help you make the best choice for your budget. Find out more about how we test.

So, should you go wireless? In short, yes. It's more convenient, and sound quality has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, even if it doesn't yet compete with the wired alternatives for the same price. It will also give you much more choice – wired active noise-cancelling (ANC) pairs are becoming a rarity these days.

Most pairs with ANC feature microphones that cancel outside sound, and also those to let sound in, so you can be more aware of your surroundings or even have a chat without taking the headphones off. This 'ambient aware' mode (or 'talkthrough', as it's also known) was once the preserve of pricier pairs, but is now trickling down to the budget end of the market.

The big consideration is: in-ear or over-ear? The former are smaller and more pocketable, while the latter's design – the fact that they tend to envelop your ears completely – makes for more effective noise-cancelling.

Battery life should also be a key factor. Budget pairs can't match their pricier counterparts, but you should still demand around 20 hours to avoid having to plug in too often.

Sony WF-C700N with their charging case and an Apple Watch

Sony's midrange wireless earbuds are a great middle ground between its high-end and budget models. (Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)
What Hi-Fi? Awards winner. Exceptional wireless earbuds combine comfort, ANC and sensational sound quality.

Specifications

Bluetooth: 5.2 (AAC, SBC)
Battery life: 15hrs (buds: 7.5hrs; case: 7.5hrs)
Charging: USB-C
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Transparency mode: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Very comfortable fit
+
Refined presentation for the money
+
Detailed, dynamic, musical sound

Reasons to avoid

-
Charging case lacks battery oomph
-
No aptX or LDAC support

Sony's excellent wireless earbuds slot neatly between its other Award winners, the wallet-friendly WF-C500 (which don't have ANC) and premium WF-1000XM5 (which are much more expensive).

They do a great job of bringing noise cancellation down to a more affordable price. The buds are small and lightweight enough to be even more comfortable than Sony's XM4. Battery life is competitive at seven and a half hours.

They lack aptX HD and LDAC but do have some other neat features. Adaptive Sound Control automatically switches listening modes depending on your location, and Sony's DSEE (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) upscales low-res digital audio files to higher quality. A software update has seen Bluetooth Multipoint also added so you can be connected to two devices simultaneously.

They sound superbly balanced too, with deep, detailed bass, expressive mids and engaging highs. They're a very musical listen for the money and a clear step up from the cheaper WF-C500.

Downsides? The charging case only provides one extra charge which seems a little harsh. But the superb sound and great features for an affordable price make these some of the best cheap noise-cancelling headphones available.

Read the full Sony WF-C700N review

A man cupping the Lindy BNX-60 Bluetooth headphones in his hands

The BNX-60 are proof you don't need to spend big on a pair of noise-cancelling over-ear headphones. (Image credit: Lindy)
Easily among the best cheap noise-cancelling headphones we've tested.

Specifications

Bluetooth: AAC, SBC, aptX
Battery life: 15hrs
Charging: Micro USB
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Transparency mode: No

Reasons to buy

+
Great value
+
Detailed, solid sound
+
Noise-cancelling and Bluetooth

Reasons to avoid

-
Treble a little muffled in standard mode

You might think of over-ear ANC headphones as expensive, but they really don't have to be. The BNX-60 show that noise-cancelling and Bluetooth can both be carried off in a very modestly priced package.

One ear cup has a volume control, an on/off switch for the active noise-cancellation and a blue light that indicates when ANC is in use. The other has the USB input for charging, pause/play/skip track controls, a Bluetooth connection light and a standard wired headphone output. A full charge is good for 15 hours of wireless music, or a little less with the active noise-cancelling.

At this price, you'd be worried about bright treble or booming bass, but instead, the Lindy BNX-60 headphones produce a balanced sound that’s easy to listen to. They also deliver a nice groove while doing a decent job with vocals. 

For this kind of money, it's extremely hard to grumble. So we won't.

Read the full Lindy BNX-60 review

JBL Live Pro 2 TWS with their charging case on a herringbone rug

All the features you could want for a price that's more than reasonable. (Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)
A great shout if you want fine sound quality packed with plenty of useful features.

Specifications

Bluetooth: 5.2 (AAC, SBC)
Battery life: 30hrs (buds: 8hrs; case: 22hrs)
Charging: USB-C
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Transparency mode: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Punchy, lively sound
+
Solid, meaty bass
+
User-friendly app and set-up

Reasons to avoid

-
No aptX HD or LDAC
-
Control customisation could be better
-
Only three ear tip choices

If you've got a decent-sized budget to play with but can't stretch to more premium options like the Sony WF-1000XM5 or the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, these JBL earbuds could be right up your street.

For the money, you get all the features you could wish for, including ANC, IPX5 water resistance, a thorough control app which offers some customisation, a good user experience, and a comfortable enough design. A few more ear tip options to help get the perfect fit wouldn't go amiss, though, but we're nitpicking by this point.

Battery life is good at eight hours with Bluetooth and noise-cancelling on, while the wireless charging case will top the total combined time to 30 hours. Touch controls are included at the top of each stem and you also have Multipoint Bluetooth so you can connect two sources simultaneously and switch between them on the fly. 

The excellent sound quality is the icing on this cake, with the JBLs favouring a lively and entertaining sound. Bass weight is nicely judged and there's good extension there, too. Detail levels are excellent at this level, as are the dynamics on offer. If you're looking to make the step up from a cheap pair of earbuds and want an entertaining sound, these JBLs have to be on your list.

Read the full JBL Live Pro 2 TWS review

Sony WH-CH720N propped against a wall

Sony's budget over-ears lead the way in terms of affordable quality (Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)
What Hi-Fi? Awards winner. Anyone seeking cheap over-ears with solid sound and great ANC should look no further.

Specifications

Bluetooth: 5.2
Battery life : 50hrs (ANC and BT off), 35hrs (ANC / BT on)
Charging: USB-C
Built-in mic and controls : Yes
Transparency mode: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Lively sound presentation 
+
Decent ANC for the price 
+
Solid build quality 

Reasons to avoid

-
A little over-enthusiastic in the bass
-
No case or foldability 

The WH-CH720N were designed to be an affordable pair of over-ears with a heavy feature set and a particular focus on budget noise cancelling. In this sense, they've delivered exactly what Sony intended, and for a very reasonable price, they’re a dependably made, enthusiastic-sounding pair of headphones that, while occasionally straying into the realm of excessive bass, deliver strong ANC and a large feature set to the market's mid-to-low price bracket. 

A big part of the CH720N’s appeal is to provide noise cancelling without a huge expenditure, and the novice cans don’t let themselves down. More premium models such as the WH-1000XM5 over-ears or the Bose QuietComfort 45 will block out external noises more effectively, we find these affordable Sonys do a pleasing job of dampening, if not silencing completely, outside noises and distractions. Further features, including Bluetooth multipoint, voice calls, a hefty battery life and Sony DSEE sound upscaling, only sweeten the deal.

Sonically, meanwhile, the CH720N are great for the price, and while you'll certainly receive more refinement and balance the higher up the price ladder you go, the affordable cans feel like they're spoiling you for £100. Sony might have focused on features, but the sound these over-ears provide is detailed, robust and exciting, with decent texture and feeling across the board.  Job done. 

Read the full Sony WH-CH720N review

A runner wearing the Panasonic RZ-S500W wireless earbuds

Unbelievably, the RZ-S500W are Panasonic's first entry into the true wireless ANC market. (Image credit: Panasonic)
A hugely talented and affordable pair of earbuds.

Specifications

Bluetooth: AAC, SBC
Battery life: 19.5hrs (buds: 6.5hrs; case: 13hrs)
Charging: USB-C
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Transparency mode: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Expansive detailed presentation
+
Excellent noise cancelling
+
Superb touch controls

Reasons to avoid

-
Fit could be an issue for some

Panasonic isn't a brand that immediately springs to mind when you think of cheap headphones, but just as the RZ-S500W wowed us enough to be included on our list of the best running headphones, so too do they earn a place here. The previous What Hi-Fi? Award-winning RZ-S500W are the company's first foray into a wireless noise-cancelling model, and they're sensational performers at a low price.

Specs are thorough, with noise-cancelling tech, an Ambient Mode, twin mics for voice calls, and a battery life that totals 19.5 hours (6.5hrs from the buds and 13hrs from the charging case). They're built to withstand rain, and a 15-minute USB-C quick charge can deliver 70 minutes of playback. The touch controls on each bud are responsive and intuitive, allowing you to control your music and switch between noise-cancelling modes with zero fuss. 

You also get five sizes of ear tips to help with fit. We found this a little hit-and-miss, so we would definitely experiment and consider mixing the sizes if it means getting a more secure fit.

Both noise cancelling and sound quality are excellent. Music sounds clear and there's a great deal of refinement on show, while bass is deep and detailed. To sum up, these Panasonic earbuds are superb for the money. A great buy for runners or casual users on a budget, but you'll have to hurry: as time catches up, they won't be around forever.

Read the full Panasonic RZ-S500W review

EarFun Air Pro 3 in three colours with their charging cases

Active noise-cancelling, an attractive price tag and entertaining sound quality are a winning combination. (Image credit: EarFun)
One of the cheapest pairs of ANC headphones we've had the pleasure of testing.

Specifications

Bluetooth: SBC, AAC
Battery life: 25hrs (7hr with ANC earbuds, 18 hrs case)
Charging: USB-C
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Transparency mode: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Solid, accurate bass weight
+
Effective noise cancelling
+
Classy build and finish

Reasons to avoid

-
Harsh upper midrange

Earfun has a reputation for making capable pairs of wireless earbuds at wallet-friendly prices, and the Earfun Air Pro, complete with ANC, don't disappoint.

They fit snugly, pair easily, and are simple to use with their intuitive controls. Their noise-cancelling modes might be a little basic, but they're effective. And to be honest, having anything more than just ANC on or off is nothing short of amazing at this price.

Amazing because they cost little more than the ultra-cheap Earfun Air. Add in USB-C charging, wearer detection, and decent sound for the money, and you've got an unbeatable proposition at this price. At the time of writing, we haven't come across much at this level that does everything these Earfuns do, as well as they do it, and that includes the Earfun Air Pro 2!

Read the full Earfun Air Pro review

How active noise cancellation works

It's all very clever really. Noise-cancelling headphones essentially use two or more tiny microphones on their outer housings to "listen" to the external noise around you and create a mirror image of the compression and rarefaction of the air that it detects.

We can think of the soundwaves around us like peaks and troughs, or ripples in a pond. Plane engine noise is an ideal example since the thrum you hear in the cabin is typically a soundwave of constant amplitude – the height of the peaks and the depths of the troughs are largely continuous. 

If you produce another sound wave with the same amplitude but opposite phase – with a peak where the engine sound wave has a trough, and vice versa – you get something called antiphase. Added together, the two sounds cancel each other out. The result: silence. And – voila – you're listening to your music in peace!

Passive vs active noise-cancelling

Some manufacturers may say their headphones boast a "noise-isolating design" or "natural noise-cancelling abilities", but that doesn't necessarily mean they are 'proper' active noise-canceling headphones.

Active noise cancellation is a technology; it's an electrical feature that requires power to work. When you're using it, you'll soon notice ANC will drain your wireless headphones' battery at a faster rate. Toggle ANC on and tiny microphones on your headphones pick up that irksome engine thrum. This is then quickly measured by the headphones' internal electronics to produce an opposite sound, which is fed into your ears. If the tech does a good job, all you'll hear is the chug of the train fading into nothingness.

Passive noise-cancelling – or noise isolation, as it's often referred – is, instead, a physical thing; a term used to describe headphones that block out external sounds and reduce the amount of sound leaking into your ears without the need for power. This is simply achieved through physical design elements.

Closed-back designs, leather earpads, a good in-ear seal, sizing up or down in eartips, a heavier clamping force in the headband (meaning the earcups fit tighter over your ears), dampening in the earcups and even the shape or material of the driver housings all contribute to passive noise isolation. But remember: it's not the same as the active noise-canceling headphones listed above.

How we test noise-cancelling headphones

While we have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London, Reading and Bath, where our team of experienced, in-house reviewers test the majority of hi-fi and AV kit that passes through our door, noise-cancelling headphones are different beasts that require use on the go in different environments.

Therefore, our noise-cancelling headphones reviewing process sees us use pairs in an office, on busy streets, on public transport and, when we can, even on a plane. We judge a pair's portability, comfort and battery life, and of course, sound quality is also key in forming our verdicts and star ratings. 

As What Hi-Fi? is all about comparative testing, each pair we review is compared to the best in its price and style class – whether that's one standout pair or a few we favour the highest among the many models we listen to each year for reviews and What Hi-Fi? Awards judging. We keep class-leading products in our stockrooms so we can always compare new products to rival ones we know and love.

All review verdicts are agreed upon by the team rather than an individual reviewer to eliminate any personal preference and to make sure we're being as thorough as possible, too. There's no input from PR companies or our sales team when it comes to the verdict, with What Hi-Fi? proud of having delivered honest, unbiased reviews for decades.

MORE:

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More to spend? The best wireless headphones you can buy

Sony WF-1000XM5 vs Sony WF-C700N: which five-star wireless earbuds reign supreme?

Joe Svetlik

Joe has been writing about tech for 17 years, first on staff at T3 magazine, then in a freelance capacity for Stuff, The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, Men's Health, GQ, The Mirror, Trusted Reviews, TechRadar and many more (including What Hi-Fi?). His specialities include all things mobile, headphones and speakers that he can't justifying spending money on.

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