If you want to block out the drone of daily life and listen to music without any distractions a pair of noise-cancelling headphones should be on your shopping list.
The best noise-cancelling headphones protect your ears (and your music) from the outside world, cutting out frequencies and rumbles that would otherwise detract from your precious playlists.
Some simply allow you to turn noise-cancelling on or off, which is fine if you're listening to them on a train or plane. Other models give you greater flexibility and the ability to adjust the strength of the noise-cancelling based on where you're using them. You might want to allow some noise through if you're using them in built-up areas where there's loads of traffic around.
Noise-cancelling headphones also tend to go hand-in-hand with Bluetooth connectivity, giving you the freedom of wireless and battery life that pushes north of 24 hours. You also get controls and mic built-in, so everything you need to have a conversation and skip tracks is within easy reach.
Some also boast additional features such as NFC pairing, which allows you to connect noise-cancelling headphones with compatible Android smartphones by just tapping your phone on one of the earpieces.
So here are the best noise-cancelling headphones around, no matter if you want an over-, on-, in-ear or Bluetooth. Prices range from just under £100 to over £300.
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The BNX-60s show that noise-cancelling and Bluetooth can both be carried off in a package under £100. They offer a comfortable, snug fit for an average pair of ears. One ear has a volume control, the on/off switch for the active noise-cancellation and a blue light that indicates when the ‘ANC’ feature 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 groove and also do a decent job with vocals. For this kind of money it's extremely hard to grumble.
One of the most compact and convenient pairs of noise-cancelling headphones we've ever tested, the AKG N60 NCs deliver a superb performance for the money. They're a good-looking pair of on-ears with an excellent fit. Battery life is 15 hours with the noise-cancelling and Bluetooth engaged and this ramps up to 30 hours when the noise-cancelling is turned off.
Bass delivery is powerful yet transparent with crisp, detailed vocals, soaring highs and convincing dynamics. You'd be perfectly content to wear these all day and for the money, they're extremely tough to beat.
Sony's become something of an expert in the noise-cancelling headphone category in recent years. The WH-1000XM2s arrived on the market in 2017, but they're still hugely competitive for the money. Comfort levels are high and the headphones sit securely on your head. Playback is controlled by the touchpad built into the textured surface of the right earpiece. Swipe sideways to change tracks and slide up or down to change volume.
Noise-cancelling is excellent - the WH-1000XM2s even include an Atmospheric Pressure Optimiser which boosts the noise cancellation when your flying. Battery life is around hours 20 hours with all features turned on but it can be extended if you switch from Bluetooth to a wired connection.
The WH-1000Xs time well and are equally happy bounding along to an enthusiastic bout of house music as they are communicating slower, more emotive melodies. Wide-ranging dynamics at either end of the frequency scale sandwich an impressive level of detail, and the result is that this musical package maintains your interest at all times. These Sonys keep you coming back for more.
The WH-1000XM3s are Sony's latest noise-cancellers and an evolution of the XM2s mentioned above.They're one of the most comfortable pairs of on-ears we’ve tested with thick, cushioned earpads that completely envelop your ears.
Many features carry over from the XM2s, including the Atmospheric Pressure Optimiser, touchpad controls and the accompanying Headphones Control app. Thanks to a quick charging battery (done via USB-C), the XM3s go from empty to full in three hours while a ten minute charge gives you a whopping five hours of use.
For the WH-100XM3, Sony has switched from digital to analogue amplification and achieved spectacular results. They produce an open, spacious sound that gives every instrument, effect and vocal room to breathe. Vocals sound focused and direct, but the instruments around them are delivered in a way that makes it feel as if you’re in the room with the band. Combine that spaciousness with greater detail, dynamic subtlety and loads of lovely deep bass and you've got the best noise-cancelling headphones we've heard in recent times. If you can stretch to these excellent cans you won't be disappointed.
There are wireless in-ear headphones and then there are truly wireless in-ear headphones. If you want to cut the cord completely, then the Sony WF-1000X earbuds are our current favourites. They're a lightweight design and compact with it. It's quite the achievement, given the Sonys squeeze in batteries, playback controls, a Bluetooth receiver and active noise-cancelling. Battery life is three hours, although the supplied carry case doubles as a charger, giving you an extra six hours. Their tonal balance is beautifully judged and timing is superb, with a good sense of rhythm and dynamics. Given the WF-1000Xs started out with a £200 price tag, the fact they're now available for under £150 makes them a bit of a bargain and the best noise-cancelling in-ear headphones we've heard to date.