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.
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 noise-cancelling headphones you won't be disappointed.
Read the full review: Sony WH-1000XM3
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.
Read the full review: Sony WF-1000X
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.
Read the full review: Lindy BNX-60
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.
Read the full review: AKG N60 NC Wireless
These JBL on-ears are a decent bet for anyone with less than £100 to spend on noise-cancelling headphones. There's a good level of comfort on offer, 22hr battery life and built-in volume and playback controls. The JBLs will treat you to a powerful, punchy sound with beefy bass and exciting dynamics. That bass can overwhelm at times and the plastic scuffs a bit too easily, but if you can live with these minor quibbles, these talented headphones will serve you well.
Read the full review: JBL Tune600BTNC
Sony's already snaffled a couple of places in this list and now we've got another pair of its noise-cancelling headphones for you to consider. The WH-CH700Ns sit at the more affordable end of the spectrum and boast a solid Bluetooth connection, impressive 35hr battery life and tight, detailed sound. Noise-cancelling is okay for the money, but isn't as accomplished as the tech in Sony's more expensive cans. If your budget is a strict £100, you could do a lot worse.
Read the full review: Sony WH-CH700N
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.
Noise-cancelling is excellent and like the more recent WH-1000XM3s mentioned above, the 2s also 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.
Read the full review: Sony WH-1000XM2
It wouldn't be a round-up of the best noise cancelling headphones if there wasn't a Bose option. And the QC 35 IIs are arguable the best pair we've heard from the brand in recent memory. There's a lot of competition at the price point, not least from the Sony WH-1000XM3s at the top of this list, but these QCs are still hugely competitive. Noise-cancelling is among the the best in class, while they're also super comfy and deliver a detailed and entertaining sound. The fact Google Assistant is built-in just adds to their appeal.
Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort 35 II
If you want to buy Bose but don't want to pay a premium, then the QC25s are worth taking for a spin. You have to sacrifice Bluetooth, but these closed-back over-ears are still extremely comfortable to wear, and noise-cancelling is still up to scratch even though this particular model came out way back in 2014. There's loads of detail on offer and a sparkling, open treble which makes you sit up and take notice. They're solidly built and feature in-line controls and a remote so they'll handle your daily commute without any problems.
Read the full review Bose QuietComfort 25