Best noise-cancelling headphones 2018: The best headphones for muting background noise
There are so many different brands throwing around the term “noise cancelling” that it’s sometimes quite difficult to cut through the… erm… noise, to discover which headphones are the best 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 £70. At the end of this article, you’ll also find a short explanation of how ANC technology works.
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Best noise-cancelling headphone deal this month
Bose QuietComfort 25 Noise-cancelling headphones (was £250, now £170) – Buy now from Currys
Featuring in our roundup below, the Bose QuietComfort 25 headphones are one of the most popular noise-cancelling models on the market for good reason. Featuring a quiet and comfortable design, they’re fantastic at blocking out background noise and the remote control is easy to use, too. Currys have reduced the over-the-ear headphones down to just £170, which will see you pocket an £80 saving. Bargain.
Best noise-cancelling headphones 2018
1. Bose QuietComfort 35 II: The best ANC headphones you can buy
Price: £330 –
Bose’s QuietComfort 35 have been the best wireless noise-cancelling headphones you can buy for a while now and they’ve just been updated. The mark II headphones don’t change much.
The noise cancellation is still the best you can get, cutting out an incredible amount of ambient noise. The fit is still super comfortable. And the sound quality is still great. The only thing Bose has changed, in fact, is to add a button on the left-hand earcup to activate Google Assistant. Tap the button and the headphones will read out recent notifications, hold it down and you can ask Google Assistant a question or issue a command, just as you would if you had your phone in your hand.
It works brilliantly, and the headphones cost no more than they did before. They’re still our favourite wireless noise cancelling headphones.
Key specs – Headphone type: Over-ear headset; Built-in microphone and remote; Plug type: 2.5mm headset jack plug (optional); Google Assistant support; Weight: 310g; Cable length: 1.2m
2. Sony MDR-1000X: The best sounding ANC headphones
Price: £250 – Buy now from Amazon
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 with plenty of instrument separation.
On the noise cancelling side of things, the MDR-1000X isn’t quite up there with Bose’s QC35, but it’s certainly a preferable option if 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. If you like the cream version, you can currently save a further £50 at Amazon, picking up them up for a bargain £199.
Key specs – Headphone type: Over-ear headset; Built-in microphone and music control buttons; Plug type: 3.5mm jack plug; Weight: 275g; Cable length: 1.5m
3. B&W PX: The prettiest ANC headphones
Price when reviewed: £329 – Buy Now from Amazon
The PX is B&W’s first pair of noise-cancelling headphones, and it’s fair to say that they’ve been worth the wait. The look and feel is a significant cut above its similarly-priced rivals and they sound absolutely fantastic. Where Bose tend to prioritise excitement over accuracy, the PX’s are crisp and incisive from the deepest subs to the highest highs. Bass fiends may want to look elsewhere, and some might find the upper frequencies a little too subdued (especially so with ANC enabled), but be in no doubt – these are among the finest sounding noise-cancelling headphones you’re ever likely to find.
There is however, room for improvement in the comfort stakes – we found the headband took several weeks to soften up and even then, we were much more aware of them than the featherweight Bose alternatives. The PX’s noise-cancelling abilities aren’t as refined as its Bose-branded rivals, either. Finally, B&W’s ‘smart’ features – pausing and resuming the music automatically as you lift an earcup, or as you take the headphones off and put them on again – aren’t always that smart, so try before you buy if you can.
4. Bose QuietComfort 25: The best wired ANC headphones
Price: £160 – Buy now from Amazon
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.
Key specs – Headphone type: Over-ear headset; Built-in microphone and music control buttons; Plug type: 3.5mm jack plug; Weight: 195.6g; Cable length: 1.42m
5. B&O BeoPlay E4: ANC-enabled earphones with impressive output
Price: £199 – Buy now from Amazon
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.
Key specs – Headphone type: In-ear; Built-in microphone and remote; Plug type: 3.5mm headset jack plug; Weight: 50g; Cable length: 1.3m
6. Philips SHB9850NC: ANC headphones with flair and aptX support
Price: £110 – Buy now from Amazon
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.
Key specs – Headphone type: Over-ear headset; Built-in microphone and remote; Plug type: 3.5mm headset jack plug (optional); Weight: 275g; Cable length: 1.2m
7. Lindy BNX-60: Great ANC headphones for a reasonable price
Price: £80 – Buy now from Amazon
The Lindy BNX-60 is an affordable, comfortable pair of Bluetooth ANC headphones that offer a solid 15 hours of listening over Bluetooth with ANC enabled – with a cable attached, you can enjoy upto 30 hours of ANC listening.
Sound quality is decent, with punchy mid-bass and an accurate reproduction of the mids and highs. The BNX-60 also supports the aptX codec, resulting in a top-quality Bluetooth stream. Simply put, they’re the best ANC headphones for under £100. If you’re looking for the same sound signature, and don’t mind wires, get the Lindy NC-60 instead. It’s the £57 wired variant of the BNX-60. It requires two AA batteries for ANC to work and has the same design and sound quality as its older sibling.
Read a full of the Lindy BNX-60 on our sister title Expert Reviews Key specs – Headphone type: Over-ear headset; Built-in microphone and controls; Plug type: 3.5mm headset jack plug (optional); Cable length: 1.2m
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 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 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. This means ANC is fantasic for sufferers of hypersensitivity, hyperacusis or similar health conditions since it reduces strain on your ears.
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. What it’s excellent at is cutting out the rumble of aircraft engines, train travel or the general hubbub of a busy work environment. It’s also 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.