Hear clearer audio with our pick of the best noise-cancelling headphones money can buy.
Buying noise-cancelling headphones can be a tricky proposition if you have no idea about what constitutes a good pair of headphones. There are so many different brands throwing around the term “noise cancelling” that it’s sometimes quite difficult to cut through all that… erm... noise, to discover which headphones are best ones for your needs.
There are two typical types of noise-cancelling headphones you need to be aware of: Active and passive. Passive noise cancellation simply means it’s capable of blocking out external noises via padding and headset construction. Some companies call this “sound isolation” and it normally applies to in-ear headphones.
Active noise cancellation, or ANC for short, is much smarter. This effectively cancels out external noise by playing an opposing sound wave through the headphones to balance out the background noise.
ANC headphones aren’t cheap, though, especially if you don’t want to sacrifice sound quality and features in the process. Luckily for you, though, we’ve rounded up the best ANC headphones you can buy from $300.
What is Active Noise Cancellation (ANC)?
ANC works by using small, outward-facing microphones to register the ambient sound in your environment. It then creates a soundwave that perfectly negates the noise and plays it alongside whatever audio source you’re listening to. The result: distracting noises melt away leaving you to focus on your music, movie, game or podcast.
ANC isn’t perfect, though, it excels at cutting out lower frequencies, but since high-frequency sounds have shorter wavelengths, it’s harder for ANC to cut them out. It is excellent at cutting out the rumble of aircraft engines, train travel or the general hubbub of a busy work environment.
It’s worth noting that, while ANC is a wonderful feature to have, if you’re an audio purist it will have a slight effect on the sound quality of whatever it is you’re listening to. Unfortunately, it’s just a necessary evil of the technology as some of the frequencies of your music will end up being cut out as ANC tries to clear up background noise.
The advantages of ANC
Aside from the obvious – cutting out background noise – ANC is also great for protecting your hearing. Because it cuts down on ambient noise, you’ll be able to listen to music at a much lower volume, and ANC is also great for sufferers of hypersensitivity, hyperacusis or similar health conditions since it reduces strain on your ears.
Best noise-cancelling headphones 2017
1. Bose QuietComfort 35: The best ANC headphones money can buy
Bose has been building ANC-enabled headphones for years now and so it’s become quite well known for its ANC technology. The QC35’s are easily the best noise-cancelling headphones on the market right now. Battery life is quoted at 20 hours via Bluetooth with noise cancelling enabled, making them perfect for long-haul flights or train journeys – with headband padding and over-ear cups making them super comfortable.
As you’d expect from a pair of Bose headphones, sound quality is fantastic. These headphones have tight bass, crisp treble and rich mids, too. Unfortunately, the steep price puts them out of reach for most people but, if you’re in the market for the best ANC headphones around, the QC35’s are worth splashing out on.
2. Sony MDR-1000X: ANC headphones with the best sound
The Sony MDR-1000X is, arguably, the best wireless ANC headphone available right now with regards to sound quality. The bass reproduction on these headphones is stupendous and the mids and treble aren’t anything to take lightly either, creating a deep soundstage for your listening pleasure with plenty of instrument separation.
On the ANC side of things, the MDR-1000X isn’t quite up there with Bose’s QC35, but it’s certainly a preferable option sound quality is more important to you than eking out that little bit extra noise cancellation. These headphones also have a few interesting features, such as support for high-resolution audio and gesture controls that, among other things, allow you to pause music and patch sound through from the outside world by cupping one earpiece with your hand. This allows you to cross roads safely or talk with others easily.
3. Bose QuietComfort 25: The best wired ANC headphones
Bose’s QuietComfort 25 wired ANC headphones are easily the most popular noise-cancelling headphone on the market. Not only are they outstanding at blocking out ambient noise, they’re incredibly lightweight, weighing just 195.6g. In fact, the only sticking point about the QC25’s is the fact that they’re cabled. No Bluetooth connectivity here.
In terms of sound quality, they’re on-par with the QC35s and, if you don’t fancy shelling out on a pair of the Sony MDR-1000X or the Bose QC35’s, these are easily the best alternative – wired or not.
4. B&O BeoPlay E4: ANC-enabled earphones with impressive output
Sometimes you don’t want to wear clunky over-ear headphones to listen to music without annoying background noise. That’s where the B&O BeoPlay E4 comes in. These in-ear headphones do a great job at blocking out background sound, with all the ANC electronics housed in a small in-line pod attached to the main audio cable.
The only downside is that the black box hanging around your neck does weigh down the earphones somewhat. Thankfully, the E4 is great at cutting out low frequencies and its sound quality is superb for a pair of earphones with a strong overall soundstage reproduction.
5. Philips SHB9850NC: ANC headphones with flair and aptX support
Despite the truly awful name, the Philips SHB9850NC are an excellent pair of headphones with a reasonably tasteful design and sweet price point. The headphones are light in weight, very comfortable and do a reasonably good job of noise cancellation, although they’re not the best in this regard.
In terms of sound quality, Philip’s headphones have a slight warmth to them, but bass is punchy and treble sparkly enough to get you tapping your feet along with the music. There’s also a rather neat touch-sensitive panel on the right earphone, allowing you to control your music without needing to fiddle around with physical buttons.