We review the best noise cancelling headphones and earbuds that you can pick up right now, to kill the background chatter and distractions on your daily commute.
Noise cancelling headphones are a double win in our books. For a start, they protect your ears by allowing you to listen more clearly to your music or podcasts at lower volumes, even in particularly noisy places. But they also enhance the aural experience by offering a muted backdrop, so you can take in every crisp, clear note.
Here’s everything you need to know about noise cancelling headphones, including how they work and the best noise cancelling ‘phones and earbuds that you can buy in 2017.
What are noise cancelling headphones and how do they work?
You can get basic passive ‘noise cancelling’ headphones for a cheap price these days, but their effectiveness is variable at best. These essentially just block out surrounding noise by creating a tight seal inside or around your ear, using special materials.
Some passive noise cancelling headphones and earbuds are quite effective, but you’re always going to get leakage and in some cases it can be quite bad. And manufacturers will still bill them as noise cancelling, as if they include the smart active noise cancellation tech found in our pick of the best ‘phones below.
Active noise cancelling headphones use external microphones to record any ambient noise around the wearer and then play the opposite sound wave to cancel that noise out. That’s a very simplistic way to describe the science genius at work here, of course. Take it from us, it’s very clever and often very effective.
Active noise cancellation is now so well refined that it’s no longer reserved for the most expensive headphones. This tech can be operated by tiny chips too, so can even work in earphones in 2017.
So, that’s the explanation out of the way. They sound great, right? They quite literally sound awesome when you’re using them too. Noise cancelling ‘phones and ‘buds are ideal for flight, trains, buses or even in a noisy home environment, for total immersion in your music, movies and gaming.
Here are the best noise cancelling headphones available for 2017.
The combination of engineering, design and technological innovation at play in Australian startup, Nura’s first product unquestionably impresses, and if you’re looking for some of the most capable headphones to straddle the worlds of consumer and audiophile, Nuraphones are one of your best options right now.
Available for £349 direct from Nura, these pricey cans use an impressive new ‘Inova’ ear cup design that surrounds your ear to deliver bass response, whilst also piping mids and highs directly into your ear canal using an integrated bud. The combined effect is incredible sound reproduction whilst also offering some of the best passive noise cancellation we’ve ever experienced.
The use of Tesla valves in each ear cup also feature to offer active cooling, whilst the soft silicon at play makes long periods of wear far more approachable than with some rival headphones. Nura’s technology also analyses a user’s unique hearing profile to edit audio output so that it sounds the best that it can for each individual listener.
Check out our in-depth Nuraphones review for more info.
Bose QuietComfort 35
Bose offers its QuietComfort 35 noise cancelling headphones as its premium wireless over-ears choice. For good reason too, as Bose has worked really hard on noise-cancelling tech and created some of the very best out there. Even if you’re sat on a bus or a plane, these headphones will leave you feeling like you’re chilling alone in a silent room.
Despite being wireless, the battery life of the QuietComforts is excellent at over 20 hours. Pairing over Bluetooth is simple too, thanks to NFC tap-to-pair friendliness. They might not be the best looking headphones out there, but when it comes to comfort and performance these earn every penny of their £290 asking price.
Check out our in-depth QC35 review.
On a tight budget? We’d heartily recommend the Damson Headspace as your next pair of noise cancelling headphones, then. That £90 UK asking price makes them one of the cheapest options here, yet you still get a premium experience throughout.
That noise cancellation is as good as many of its more expensive rivals, cutting out annoying background racket wherever you roam. That’s helped in part of course by the thick padded cups, which enclose your ears and block out a good portion of the surrounding sound. You can activate or deactivate the active cancellation with a flick of a switch on the left cup.
You’ll also find buttons for changing the volume, pausing and skipping tracks, over on the right cup. The overall build quality is strong, so you can generally abuse the Headspace without any signs of wear and tear. They’re super comfortable to wear for extended periods thanks to the generous padding and they’ll also fold away for easier storage when you’re done using them.
At this price point we’d struggle to complain about any aspect of these ‘phones. Audio quality is great, with bass levels particularly impressing. If you want to drown out the world for under a hundred quid, you can’t go wrong.
If sound quality is high on your list of must-haves then Sony’s MDR-1000X headphones could be for you. They pack in active noise cancellation but also work with a selection of high-res audio codecs including LDAC, AAC and aptX.
Battery life is good for around 20 hours on a charge, while the NFC and wireless range factors are also appealing. They also impress at that £330 price point, as the quality can really be heard through those dynamic drivers.
Quick Attention mode is another nice extra, which allows that active noise cancellation to be shut off so you can hear the world around you – ideal on long flights when it’s time to order another drink.
Sony MDR-100ABN h.ear on Wireless
Can’t quite stretch to the steep asking price of the MDR-1000X? No worries, the MDR-100ABN h.ear on Wireless headphones can be picked up for under £200 from the likes of Amazon and they offer many of the same benefits.
The noise cancelling feature can be activated or deactivated with just a push of a button on the left cup. You get full volume and skip controls on the right cup too, for ease of use. The h.ear on Wireless ‘phones come in a bright range of colours and fold away easily for storage when not in use. NFC support, a built-in mic and roughly 20 hours of battery life per charge round off a superb noise cancelling headset.
Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2
Despite a lower price at around £230, Plantronics’ BackBeat Pro 2 headphones still offer brilliant sound quality and impressive noise cancellation smarts.
You get up to 24-hours of battery life, an attractive design with super comfy ear and head cushioning plus plenty of button controls. There’s even automatic pause when the headphones are removed and autoplay when you slip them back on your noggin. Audible battery alerts complement the LED light meter, so you don’t get caught without power.
Sennheiser PXC 550
Sat at the pricier end of the noise cancelling headphones spectrum, where Sennheiser usually resides, are the PXC 550 ‘phones. For £330, these active noise cancelling headphones offer supremely comfortable cushioning in a well-fitted design. There’s also a variety of digital sound processing modes that’ll adapt the audio to suit what you’re doing, from music to gaming to movies.
Controls are simple to use, thanks to a capacitive touchpad built into the outer ear section. Ideal for skipping tracks or taking and making calls via a connected phone. Bluetooth connections are simple too, thanks to NFC support, while the battery keeps churning out audio for a good 30 hours between charges.
Creative Sounds Blaster Evo ZxR
It’s hard to believe that these cans cram in so much tech for that sub-£100 price. You get a limited eight hours of battery life, but that includes active noise cancellation and Bluetooth wireless connectivity via NFC.
As you’d imagine from the look and branding, these ‘phones are game console friendly too and can work via 3.5mm cable for those longer sessions that chew the power. Two 1.9-inch drivers deliver plenty of punch for whatever the situation. And you’ll have a job to lose these large red-accented beasts too.
AKG N60 NC
These are a really good looking minimalist set of headphones with metallic edging finish and crisp rounded finish. Despite that minimalist, lightweight design there’s plenty of cushioning for comfort and enough room for a battery that keeps going for a massive 30 hours on a single charge.
That audio is also really impressive with Grammy award-winning AKG reference sound, especially considering that £200 price. These fold up for easy transport and can be plugged in on flights using an included adapter – a nice touch for where these noise cancelling headphones really come into their own.
Despite being a budget-friendly £99, these Philips cans offer active noise-cancelling and a battery that will keep going for a good 16 hours on a charge. They also look good, offer plenty of comfy cushioning, boast lots of button controls plus impressive sound quality.
The 32mm drivers offer super clear sound with quality that pushes way beyond what you’d think possible for the price – especially when it comes to vocals.
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