If you want to block out the drone of daily life and listen to your music collection 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 interrupt your precious playlists.
Some simply allow you to switch 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, for example.
Noise-cancelling headphones also tend to go hand-in-hand with Bluetooth connectivity, giving you the freedom of wireless plus a battery life that can push north of 24 hours. You usually 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 simply tapping your phone on one of the earpieces.
So, here are the best noise-cancelling headphones around in 2020, no matter if you want an over-, on-, in-ear or Bluetooth pair. Prices range from just under £100 to over £300.
The WH-1000XM3s are Sony's latest over-ear noise-cancellers, and they're one of the most comfortable pairs we’ve tested with thick, cushioned earpads that completely envelop your ears.
Many features carry over from the original XM2s which feature towards the bottom of this list, 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-1000XM3, 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
Got a slightly bigger budget for a pair of wireless noise-cancellers? This pair is an extraordinary effort by Sennheiser’s engineering team.
Sennheiser doesn’t need any ‘third time lucky’ well wishes for its third-generation Momentum Wirelesses – both the originals and second versions were instant knockouts when they arrived. These have been much improved over their predecessors in the sound department, promising an energetic, timely and hugely insightful listen you've no choice but to be entertained by.
That sonic success is backed by enhanced usability features too, although be aware that battery life is only 17 hours next to the above Sony's 30-hour claim.
Read the full review: Sennheiser Momentum Wireless
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 new Sony WF-1000X3 earbuds are comfortably the best around. 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 six hours, although the supplied carry case doubles as a charger, giving you an extra 18 hours.
Wonderfully musical, tonally natural and brilliantly punchy, these true wireless buds sound superb, and the noise-cancelling is excellent - even better than that of the preceding model (the Sony WF-1000X). If you want noise-cancelling but you don't want on-ear 'cans', you need to check out the Sony WF-1000XM3.
Read the full review: Sony WF-1000XM3
B&W’s flagship noise-cancellers are born entertainers and can rub shoulders with the very best. All a pair of headphones can do is sound, look and feel great – and the B&W PX7s tick all three boxes.
The Sonys that top this list might have pipped them to a What Hi-Fi? Awards Best Buy, but these are fine alternatives – especially for those who value sonic sprightliness and street-cred style.
Read the full review: Bowers & Wilkins PX7 review
The rather unwieldy name of Bose’s newest headphones doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, but it does reflect the company’s recent focus on improving noise-cancelling technology in its headphones. The 700s use a new noise-cancelling system with everything from new acoustics to new digital signal processing – all running off Bose’s own NC chip. It features an eight-microphone system (six to cancel noise, two for voice pick-up) and 11 increments (from 0-10) of noise-cancellation intensity to choose from, allowing you to transition from full isolation to full transparency. Zero doesn’t turn noise-cancelling off; it is a light veil that allows you to hear your environment, while ‘10’ represents the most extreme level of sound blocking. Whichever level we use, in whatever environment, the isolating effect is as good as we’ve experienced in a pair of headphones.
For a hands-free experience, there’s built-in voice control, and when listening to music, (which is, after all, what they're designed to do) the sound is bold, clear and upfront. Bose claims the sonic quality in these 700s is comparable to the four-star QC35 IIs (listed below) and we’d agree.
Read the full review: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
The BNX-60s show that noise-cancelling and Bluetooth can both be carried off in a package for 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
If you're looking for the best-sounding noise-cancelling in-ears available, you're looking for the Sony WF-1000XM3s. But if you're looking for the lightest, most comfortable, most terrifically techie noise-cancelling in-ears (and you're already an Apple user), you should absolutely give the AirPods Pros a go.
They work flawlessly in terms of their wireless connection, the noise-cancelling is extremely capable, and there's a Transparency mode that allows outside noise in so effectively that it's like using a pair of completely non-isolating headphones.
Thanks to the bespoke, elliptical silicone tips, the Pros burrow far less deeply into your ears than most in-ear headphones and exert far less pressure, making them barely noticeable in everyday use. They're still secure enough for most people to use them while going for a run.
Sound wise, they lack a little of the punch and dynamism of the Sonys, but they counter with a rich, easy-going nature that works well with all tracks - even those that are rather low quality.
Read the full review: Apple AirPods Pro
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
These are probably the most mature-sounding Beats headphones we’ve heard. Bass response has long been a sticking point with Beats. Not so with the Solo Pros. There’s still plenty of low-end kick and a pleasingly full-bodied overall tonality, but they’re extremely well balanced, entertaining and detailed.
They’re held back somewhat by a looser sense of timing and less sympathetic low-level dynamics than the class leaders, such as Sony’s WH-1000XM3s, but the design, build and noise cancelling ability of the Solo Pros will be more than enough to tempt many into buying them.
Read the full Beats Solo Pro review
It wouldn't be a round-up of the best noise cancelling headphones if there weren't a few Bose options. And the QC 35 IIs are arguably 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