The best noise-cancelling headphones buying guide: Welcome to TechRadar's round-up of the best noise-cancelling headphones to buy in 2020.
The best noise-cancelling headphones can help you slip into audio nirvana in all kinds of situations, whether you're commuting and trying to escape the sound of traffic and sniffling fellow commuters, on a long-haul flight and need to drown out the sound of kids screaming or just want to get away from everything and get comfy with your favorite music at home.
Noise-cancelling headphones are true wonders of the modern era because they can totally tune out any unwanted sounds, while simultaneously making your music sound even better than any old pair of in-ear earbuds (except for the fantastic Sony WF-1000XM3s, of course).
If you're yet to try a pair, we bet you'll be truly blown away by just how well they can cancel out the outside world so you can focus on your favorite music, audiobook, podcast or anything else with zero distractions.
How to buy noise-cancelling headphones
So what do you want to look for when looking for a pair of the best noise-cancelling headphones? Look for anything with the words "active noise-cancellation technology" on it.
Active noise cancellation involves some pretty interesting processes to cancel out sound. Along with the padding which passively blocks sound, microphones planted in the ear wells of headphones actively analyze the ambient noise level and reflect sound waves back into your ear that work to zap the outside noise. The goal is to hear nothing but the music, or whatever it is you're listening to.
Active noise cancelling headphones are more effective at what they do, but the downside is that this noise cancellation requires batteries in order to function, which means you'll have to remember to keep them charged.
Now that you know all that, you're ready to choose a set. Let's take a look at the best noise-cancelling headphones around:
- We have exhaustive guides to the on the market buy today including the , the and the .
- Want to go wire-free? Check out our guide to the .
- Looking for some headphones you can take in the pool or on a run? Check out our guide to the and best running headphones.
What are the best noise-cancelling headphones?
The Sony WH-1000XM3 are the best noise-cancelling headphones in the world two years running. Sure, they might be a small refinement of last year's excellent WH-1000XM2, but subtle tweaks like using USB-C instead of microUSB and adding padding along the bridge help make Sony's award-winning cans even better.
So why does everyone love these Sony headphones so much? Well, it's exceptionally good at cancelling outside noise. Put a pair on while vacuuming and you'll barely hear the motor running.
For music lovers, the Sony WH-1000XM3 features aptX HD and Sony LDAC, two of the best ways to listen to Hi-Res music from your phone without a wire. Finally, all of Sony's flagship headphones offer both Google Assistant and, starting in 2019, Alexa support, making them not only the best noise-cancelling cans on the market but some of the smartest, too.
Read the full review: Sony WH-1000XM3
They don't quite beat the Sony WH-1000XM3s in terms of battery life and price, but the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are still a brilliant pair of over-ear cans.
Traditionally, noise-canceling headphones have been designed to block out the environmental sounds around you, so that you can hear your music more clearly (or catch some shut-eye on a noisy flight).
This can be really effective if you’re listening to music. If you’re making a phone call however, the person you’re speaking to can still hear everything that’s happening around you, whether you’re standing on a busy street or trying to speak on a rumbling train.
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 seek to remedy this, by applying noise-cancelation to phone calls as well as music, which is fantastic feature.
The sound quality is undeniably good, with a vibrant, lively character and well-balanced soundstage.
If you’re trying to decide between buying the Sony WH-1000XM3s and the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, we’d recommend going for the former because of that lower price and better battery life. That being said, you wouldn’t be making a mistake if you opted for the Bose cans instead (and we wouldn’t blame you if you did) – they sound great, look stunning, and the noise-cancelation is out of this world.
Read the full review: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
The Bose QuietComfort 25 are the best noise-cancelling headphones we've ever used. We say that as a publication who strives for maximum performance per dollar when purchasing headphones. We say that as someone who believes that, in most circumstances, you can find a cheaper product that performs as well, if not better, than a more expensive option if you do some research.
But, in the case of the Bose QuietComfort 25, that's simply not true. They are still the best noise-cancelling headphones on the planet in 2018.
If you want the same level of excellent noise-cancellation as the Bose QC35s but want to save a bit of money, consider opting for the last-generation QC25s. (The biggest sacrifice you'll be making is wireless.)
Nevertheless, the QC25s are a finely-tuned set of headphones that provide over 35 hours of very good noise-cancelling performance with one AAA battery.
Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort 25
Coming in next is the Bose QuietComfort 35 II – a nearly identical product to the already-excellent Bose QuietComfort 35 but updated with Google Assistant. This means you still get the class-leading noise cancellation Bose is known for, good sound quality and incredible comfort, plus a convenient assistant to answer any inquiries you might have while traveling.
Taken as a whole, the Bose QC35 II NC is an excellent headphone for travelers and commuters. Bose has found a good balance of features that will satisfy most mainstream listeners. While we don't love them as much as the better-sounding Sony WH-1000XM2, they're still top of the class for noise cancellation.
Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort 35 II
With noise-cancelling tech just as effective as that in headphones from rival Bose, and with a more musical sonic ability, the Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC are a definite contender for the noise-cancelling crown. More affordable and easy to travel with, these lightweight headphones are a great value all-rounder, whether for flights, commuter trains or busy offices.
Design-wise, the Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNCs seem a more slimmed-down, lighter and more focused effort than the bulky and expensive alternatives from Bose and Sony; and crucially, the HD 4.50 BTNCs are just as good with audio, and almost as good on noise-canceling. Whether you're after noise canceling for long-haul ravel, for the commute, or just to stay more productive in a noisy office, the Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNCs are worth considering.
Read the full review: Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC
The PXC 550's greatest strength is their sound. Other wireless noise-cancelling headphones might offer a better user interface or better noise-cancellation technology, but ultimately none of the above match up to the sound quality of these Sennheisers.
However, that said, there are a couple of irritations that prevent us from being able to fully and unreservedly recommend them, such as unresponsive touch controls. These annoyances aren't quite deal-breakers, but there are definitely other noise-cancelling headphones out there that don't suffer from the same issues.
Read the full review: Sennheiser PXC 550
It's not often you'll find a pair of wired earbuds, let alone a pair of true wireless earbuds on a list of the best noise-cancelling headphones; considering it's still rare to find the technology in earphones at all, the Sony WF-1000XM3s are very impressive indeed, and fully deserve a place in this roundup.
The Sony WF-1000XM3s manage to offer a level of noise-cancellation that's very good for a pair of earbuds – they won't offer the same isolation as a pair of over-ear cans, but if you're after a sleek form factor then the compromise is worth it.
Not only are these hands down the best-looking true wireless headphones out there, but they combine serious noise cancelling tech with fist-pumping musicality. If you don’t want the inconvenience of carrying full-size cans, they’re a persuasive alternative.
Read the full review: Sony WF-1000XM3
If you haven't found something quite to your liking so far, we have one last option for you to look at – the all-new Nura Nuraphone over-ear/in-ear hybrid. Their form factor means you’ve not only got an earbud sitting at the entrance of your ear canal, but also an over-ear cushion sitting over your entire ear. This effectively means you’ve got two physical barriers meaning that the noise from the outside world can’t get to your ears. While more traditional over-ear headphones do a better job offering useful features at a reasonable price, the Nuraphone will appeal to the more experimental audio crowd looking to be on the bleeding-edge of the next big thing.
Read our full review: Nuraphone Headphones
We're constantly reviewing new noise-cancelling headphones, but let us know on Twitterif there is a set that you'd like us to take a look at.