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Best noise-cancelling headphones 2020: less noise, more rock when traveling

Best noise cancelling headphones 2020: less noise, more rock with Sony, Bose, et al
(Image credit: Pexels)

The best noise-cancelling headphones are a weapon in the fight against noisy neighbours and commutes, not to mention housemates who reckon their Best Of Kenny Loggins is so damn good, everyone in the house needs to hear it. If you want to block out as much of that as possible, all while turning up the volume on your music, grab a pair of top noise-cancelling headphones.

Noise-cancelling headphones really are one of the world's greatest inventions. Sounds dramatic? Not really. With these beauties nestled over or in your ears, you can kiss goodbye to rowdy people and places, and get lost in your favourite album or podcast instead. They kill background noise to varying degrees, thanks to noise cancellation tech, and sound just as good as the very best headphones in the world. 

You can buy noise-cancelling headphones in in-ear headphone form as well as in wireless headphone form for those of you who loathe wires.

Not too long ago, noise-cancelling headphones were rare, expensive and, because they focused mostly on noise cancellation, they weren't that good at delivering good audio. Reserved for Business Class frequent flyers who valued silence more than the sound with which it could be filled, the market more or less consisted of one pair of headphones made by Bose. 

But as you’ll see from our pick of today’s best noise-cancelling headphones, all of that has now changed. Indeed, the last couple of years alone has seen an explosion in the quantity and quality of noise-cancelling headphones; now you don’t have to sacrifice sound quality in order to get epic noise-cancelling tech.

You don’t have to spend much, either, as a good pair of noise cancelling headphones now start at under £100. For extra convenience, there are also wireless noise-cancelling headphones, one of which features in our round-up of the best budget wireless headphones.

For some of you, this abundance of choice means that finding the best noise-cancelling headphones can feel a little daunting. Luckily, we’re here to help and have rounded up all the big name players and indie gems in this area. Before we unveil all of our top picks for noise cancellation smarts, let’s take a look at our current No 1 squeeze.

Best noise-cancelling headphones: The Louder Choice

Having just said that you needn’t pay loads for noise-cancelling, it might come as a surprise to learn that the pair we recommend above all others currently costs close to £300. But here’s the thing: the Sony WH-1000XM3headphones are as close to perfect as headphones currently get, noise-cancelling or otherwise.

Not that the noise-cancelling tech isn’t great, because it really is – effective, customisable and able to automatically adjust to different scenarios, these Sony headphones do a brilliant job of keeping outside noise where it belongs. 

Aside from the clever noise-cancelling tech, the greatest success story with these cans is the sound quality which, thanks largely to the unusual use of analogue amplification, has a warmth and richness that other headphones in this area simply can’t match. So if you’re looking for the best noise-cancelling headphones  bar none, this is the pair to buy without any hesitation.

Choosing the best noise-cancelling headphones

With every Tom, Dick and Harry brand now offering a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, the quality can sometimes vary more than Limp Bizkit’s back catalogue. Now, we’re not saying that every pair of noise cancellers made by a company you’ve never heard of will be bad, but it makes sense to reduce your risk by sticking to brands that are established in this area.

And those brands with a reputation for great noise-cancellation tech should be familiar to you: Sony, Bose, Bowers & Wilkins and Sennheiser dominate the high-end, while JBL, AKG, Lindy and Sony (again) offer plenty of options at the more affordable end.

When it comes to choosing the best noise-cancelling headphones for you, there are a number of things to consider… 

Wireless design is now overwhelmingly commonplace and, given the ongoing demise of the headphone jack, it’s advisable to buy a pair of wireless noise-cancelling headphones. That said, it’s worth checking that your chosen pair can easily operate in wired mode in a cinch – so when you run out of battery or want to connect to in-flight entertainment, for example.

You should also consider which of the following is more important to you: the effectiveness of the noise-cancelling tech or the sound quality. This is a particularly good question to ask yourself if you’re working within a fairly tight budget. Going with noise-cancelling that’s merely decent can get you better sound, while compromising a little on the audio can bag you headphones that block out more external noise.

The final thing to consider is whether you want on-ear or in-ear design – you’ll find a variety among our top picks of the best noise-cancelling headphones. The latter are significantly less common than the former, but it’s worth tracking down a pair if you want to block out those awful tunes at the gym while you workout.

Best noise-cancelling headphones

The best noise cancelling headphones to buy now

Best noise-cancelling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM3

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Sony WH-1000XM3

Simply the best noise-cancelling headphones money can buy

Type: On-ear | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling/noise cancellation: Yes | Microphone: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 30 hours | Connector: USB-C

Awesome all-round sound
Excellent noise-cancelling
Comfortable fit
Slightly fiddly touch controls

Sony’s third-generation noise-cancelling cans are truly brilliant. Not only do they block out more noise than practically any rival, thanks to top-notch noise cancellation, but they sound better too. That’s thanks to the introduction of analogue amplification.

Via the companion app you can tweak the amount of noise cancellation, from an ‘I don’t want to hear anything but my own heartbeat’ level to ‘I’d quite like to know if a car’s about to run me over’. You can even set the headphones to automatically adapt the level of noise-cancelling to your immediate environment.

The exhaustive battery life (roughly 30 hours) means that even the longest of long-haul flights is covered, and the sound can even be optimised for altitude, ensuring you’re always getting the best audio quality. The only teeny, tiny issue is that the touch controls can take a little getting used to, although they are pretty accurate once you do get a handle on them.

Read our Sony WH-1000XM3 review

Best noise-cancelling headphones: Lindy BNX-60

(Image credit: Lindy)

2. Lindy BNX-60

The best noise-cancelling headphones for rock fans on a budget

Type: On-ear | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Microphone: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 15 hours | Connector: Micro USB

Awesome value
Very good sound
Comfy fit
Nothing at this price

The BNX-60s were perhaps the first to prove that it really is possible to get both noise-cancelling and Bluetooth technology for under £100 – and all without sacrificing sound quality.

These Lindy cans make our best noise-cancelling headphones list because they offer a comfortable and snug fit. They sport a volume control, on/off switch for active noise-cancellation (ANC), and a blue light that indicates when the ANC feature is in use on one ear.

There’s also a USB input for charging, pause/play/skip track controls, a Bluetooth connection light, and a standard wired headphone output on the other ear. A full charge gives you about 15 hours of wireless music playback, or a little less when the active noise-cancelling / noise cancellation is switched on.

Cheaper headphones often fall into the trap of producing loads of low-quality bass or overly sharp treble, but these Lindy headphones are surprisingly balanced and grown-up in their delivery. They’ve got a real groove and clarity to them, making them particularly well-suited to rock.

Best noise-cancelling headphones: Sony WF-1000XM3

(Image credit: Sony)

3. Sony WF-1000XM3

The best wireless noise-cancelling headphones around

Type: In-ear | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Microphone: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 6 hours (+18 hours from case) | Connector: USB-C

Gloriously open, detailed sound
Decent battery life for wireless
Snug in-ear fit
No volume controls

Meet the current pinnacle of true wireless earbuds. The Sony WF-1000XM3 has an all-new Bluetooth chip that sharpens up music synchronisation and a noise-cancelling processor that vastly improves noise-cancellation.

There’s better in-ear grip than before too but, more to the point, these sound great. They’re clear, rhythmic and detailed, and deliver all the musical energy you could need to get you through your morning commute or a tedious day in the office. Listen to your favourite albums on these and you’ll fall in love with them all over again.

Read our Sony WF-1000XM3 review

Best noise cancelling headphones 2019: Bowers and Wilkins P7

(Image credit: Bowers and Wilkins)

4. Bowers & Wilkins PX7

Love thrash? These noise cancellers make it sound ace

Type: On-ear | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Microphone: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 30 hours | Connector: USB-C

Classy as hell
Fun and detailed sound
Don’t fold for storage

Few companies can boast the hi-fi heritage of Bowers & Wilkins, so any new product from this company is worth getting excited about. The PX7 noise-cancelling headphones are even more exciting than most – not only are they the successors to the brilliant PX pair that debuted a couple of years ago, they also boast a brand new type of Bluetooth… 

This new aptX Adaptive Bluetooth allows for the wireless transmission of hi-res music and reduces lag so that audio and video are perfectly synchronised – great for when you’re surfing YouTube for music videos. There are three levels of noise-cancellation too, so you needn’t block out absolutely everything if you don’t want to.

The icing on the cake is undeniably brilliant sound. Solid, fast and punchy as anything, the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 are a great choice for a bit of thrash metal, but also have the detail and delicacy for those gentle acoustic moments. Other than the high price and non-folding design, these Bowers & Wilkins headphones are pure brilliance.

Best noise-cancelling headphones: AKG N60 NC Wireless Noise-Cancelling

(Image credit: AKG)

5. AKG N60NC Wireless Noise-Cancelling

A great option if portability and price are paramount

Type: On-ear | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Microphone: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 15 hours (with noise cancelling) 30 hours (without) | Connector: Micro USB

Weighty, punchy sound
Travel-friendly design
Full controls on ear cups
Again, not much at this price

The AKG N60 NC Wireless are one of the most compact and convenient pairs of noise-cancelling headphones you can buy, offering a superb performance for the money. Despite the relatively small earcups, the sound is powerfully bassy, but also detailed, crisp and dynamic, making them true all-rounders.

They're a good-looking pair of on-ears, too, with an excellent fit. They also fold smaller than any other of the on-ear models in our best noise-cancelling headphones list. You'd be perfectly content to wear these all day and, thanks to a battery life of 15 hours with the noise-cancelling and Bluetooth engaged and 30 hours if you can live without the noise-cancelling, you can do just that.

Add a full set of controls on one of the cups and a mic for taking calls, and you’ve got the complete noise-cancelling package at a very reasonable price.

Best noise-cancelling headphones: Sennheiser Momentum Wireless

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

6. Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless

The third-gen Momentum Wirelesses are noise-cancelling kings

Type: On-ear | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise cancelling: Yes | Mic: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 17 hours | Connector: USB-C

Super-energetic sound
Great features
Comparatively weak battery life

Sennheiser’s Momentum Wireless headphones have been hugely successful over the last few years, and this MkIII version takes the range to new heights. 

The sound has been vastly improved over that of the already excellent Momentum 2.0 model, with the new pair combining the energy of an excited puppy with the delicacy and eye for detail of a Bonsai artist.

There are new features, too, including automatic pairing when the headphones are unfolded and automatic pause when removed from your head. The only flies in the ointment are the high price and a relatively short battery life, but if neither of those puts you off, these Sennheiser noise cancelling headphones are a great option.

Best noise-cancelling headphones: Sony WH-CH700N

(Image credit: Sony)

7. Sony WH-CH700N

Block out noisy commutes and neighbours for less than £100

Type: On-ear | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Microphone: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 35 hours | Connector: Micro USB

Great battery life
Detailed and weighty sound
Sonically a bit rough round the edges
Not the most effective noise cancellation

Sony’s clearly the dominant force in noise-cancelling headphones these days, and if you want a taste of what the company can do but don’t have nearly £300 to buy the WH-1000XM3, the more entry-level WH-CH700N could be the best noise-cancelling headphones for you.

Naturally, the sound quality isn’t as accomplished and the noise cancellation is a little less effective, but for the money this is a really accomplished set of headphones. There’s a slight skewing towards the bassy end of the tonal spectrum, but not in a bad way. The overall balance is natural, there’s plenty of detail, and everything ticks along at a good lick.

On top of all that, this is a really comfortable pair of headphones to wear, and the battery life is amazing at roughly 35 hours. If £100 is your upper limit, you could do a heck of a lot worse.

Best noise-cancelling headphones: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

(Image credit: Bose)

8. Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

Top noise cancellation tech from the NC originals

Type: On-ear | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise cancelling: Yes | Microphone: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 20 hours | Connector: USB-C

Superb noise cancelling
Very comfortable
Battery life isn’t amazing
Others sound even better

Once the undisputed king of noise cancelling, Bose no longer has things all its own way (hello, Sony). That said, the latest premium pair of Bose noise cancelling headphones is still a strong option, particularly for constant long-haulers who don’t mind sacrificing just a little bit of sound quality in the name of superior noise cancellation and comfort.

The Bose 700 headphones use a brand new proprietary noise cancellation system that involves a newly developed chip, six noise-cancellation microphones (plus two to pick up your voice for calls) and 11 levels of noise-cancellation. 

That gives you excellent control over how much of the outside world you want to block out, and on the maximum setting these are as effective as noise cancelling headphones currently get.

And don’t go thinking sound quality is poor, either: the Bose 700s can’t quite match the other premium models in this list for sound, but they’re bold, detailed and attacking in their own right. Though you will need to charge them more often than the top models here.

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