The best noise-cancelling headphones in 2019
(Image credit: Sony)
Looking for the best noise-cancelling headphones? You’re in the right place. In this guide, we’ll run through the top options on the market right now. Finding the best noise-cancelling headphones for you will depend upon a range of different factors, including sound quality, design, comfort, price, and exactly how effective they are at cutting out the background noise.
Before we reveal our picks, let’s briefly explore what you should be looking for in your new noise-cancelling headphones. Not sure you need noise-cancelling? Take a look at our guide to the best wireless headphones around.
Choosing the best noise-cancelling headphones
The key thing to look for when selecting the best noise-cancelling headphones is active noise control (ANC) technology. ANC isolates external noise – whether it’s coming from an engine, chatty workmates, or a busy train carriage – and neutralises it using hi-tech circuitry, leaving you with an audio feed free from ambient intrusion. Put simply, it actively removes all background noise. Or at least that’s the hope.
You can then either fill the empty soundstage with your own music, or simply use your noise-cancelling headphones to block out your surroundings and help you focus.
Active noise-cancelling was first developed in the 1950s to enable pilots to communicate in noisy cockpits. It wasn’t until the mid-’80s Bose created the first commercially available headsets to feature ANC, making it the go-to brand for noise-cancelling headphones for quite some time. However, more recently, the likes of Sony, Plantronics, and Sennheiser have all produced ANC headphones that compete with Bose in almost every respect.
Beyond ANC, you will also need to think about fit and comfort, weight, codec support, durability and general sound quality. The best noise-cancelling headphones do typically come with a hefty pricetag, but it’s worth noting that there are often great Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals on headphones, so that can be a good time to bag a bargain.
Which are the best noise-cancelling headphones?
The best noise-cancelling headphones right now are the Sony WH-1000XM3s, with the earlier Sony WH-1000XM2s also ranking highly, along with Bose QuietComfort 35 II. Let’s take a closer look at all these, and the rest of our picks, plus where you’ll find the best prices.
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01. Sony WH-1000XM3
The very best noise cancelling headphones right now
Type: Over-ear, wireless | Battery life: 30 hours | Weight: 780g
Fantastic noise cancellation
Long battery life
Top sound quality
Not so good for calls
The best noise-cancelling headphones available right now are the Sony WH-1000XM3. A combination of top-quality sound and unbeatable outside noise cancellation mean these over-ear headphones have picked up multiple awards. These are very similar to the previous model; the WH-1000XM2, also in this list. However, the tweaks that have been made – a USB-C input rather than microUSB, and improved comfort thanks to more padding along the bridge – are both welcome.
These cans feature aptX HD and Sony LDAC, both of which are great ways to listen to hi-res music wirelessly. Like Sony’s other flagship headphones, these also include Google Assistant and Alexa support.
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02. Bose QuietComfort 35 II
Bose gives Sony a run for its money when it comes to noise-cancelling credentials
Type: Over-ear, wireless | Battery life: 20 hours | Weight: 590g
Integrated voice assistant
No instant mute
Coming in a close second are the Bose QuietComfort 35 IIs. Bose still rules the roost when it comes to flat-out noise-cancelling chops – the ANC on these is amazing. There’s also incredible, soft, balanced, clear sound.
In terms of features, these were the first headphones in the world to incorporate Google’s Voice Assistant. You don’t need to yell ‘Okay Google’; you can just press a button to interact with the assistant. The QC35 IIs will also read back notifications to you to save you from having to hunt out your smartphone. This will be exciting for some but irrelevant for others – if you fall into the latter camp, perhaps take a look at the previous QuietComfort 35s, which offer similar incredible sound and ANC.
Design-wise, the QC35 IIs are uninspiring, and we’re not huge fans of the plastic build. There are better-looking cans out there if that matters to you – although they are very, very comfortable. They’re also let down slightly by the fact that they don’t currently support aptX, for streaming hi-res audio via Bluetooth.
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03. Sony WH-1000XM2 headphones
A slightly older model, but still close to perfect
Type: Over ear, wireless | Battery life: Up to 30hrs | Weight: 275g
Gesture controls can be fiddly
The version before our winners, the Sony WH-1000XM2 are still very much worth a look – if you can get your hands on a pair (these are increasingly hard to find). Out of the box, the XM2s sound incredible, and they support aptX for streaming hi-res audio via Bluetooth. While these aren’t as strong as the Bose when it comes to noise-cancelling, these still do a great job of blocking out lower frequency audio. The overall look isn’t terribly exciting, but Sony has done well to pay attention to refining details, such as hiding the hinges on the earcups, giving the XM2s a premium feel.
When it comes to features, Sony has tried to innovate by adding gesture controls. Although these might flummox some, we found them intuitive and responsive. Swiping up or down on the right earcup controls the volume; tapping the earcup stops and starts playback; swiping back and forth selects previous and next tracks; and you can even place your hand over the earcup to lower the volume and allow ambient audio to enter the headphones.
Although it’s a tight battle, we think the WH-1000XM2s are currently the best noise-cancelling headphones on the market, thanks to their combination of ANC, sound quality, comfort, and design.
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04. Plantronics Backbeat PRO 2 headphones
The best noise-cancelling headphones for commuters
Type: Over-ear, wireless | Battery life: Up to 24hrs | Weight: 290g
ANC isn’t great
Quirky design touches
What do you look for in a good set of commuter headphones? Top of the list for some people is noise-cancellation, to block out the constant thrum of rush hour. For others, long battery life might be the most important thing. And then there are the people who need headphones to remain comfortable over prolonged use. The Plantronics Backbeat PRO 2 headphones tick all these boxes, and then some.
Weighing just 290g, the Backbeat PRO 2s can be worn for hours at a time without becoming uncomfortable. And with a Class 1 Bluetooth transmitter enabling extended connectivity, you should get up to 330 feet of range (and it also comes with support for the aptX codec).
Operating the PRO 2s is done via a set of touch controls on both earcups, and a jog wheel is also set into the left earcup, which enables you to turn the volume up and down.
Beyond the basics, the Pro 2s are packed with features. With the flick of a switch, you can allow outside audio through, which is a useful feature if you need to interact with other people whilst commuting. And the PRO 2s also have pressure-sensitive earpads that detect when you don and remove your headphones, playing and stopping your audio accordingly. Brilliant.
At the time of writing you can pick up a pair of Backbeat PRO 2s for around $200/£150, which – though not what many would call budget – is still only half the price of most of its peers in this category. And for that you get a set of headphones that sounds great (particularly in the mid-range) and also boasts a build quality that puts some of its more expensive competitors to shame.
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05. Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless headphones
The most stylish noise-cancelling headphones
Type: Over-ear, wireless | Battery life: Up to 22hrs | Weight: 263g
Lack of features
Could be more comfortable
If you’re looking for a set of noise-cancelling headphones to turn heads, the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless headphones are – hands-down – the best-looking headphones in this category.
From the metallic headband with its leather padding and colour-matched screws, to the curved lines of the earcups, all the way down to the violet charge light, every small detail has been considered. And the best thing of all is that Sennheiser has made sure that they sound great, too.
Outside of Sony and Bose, Sennheiser’s proprietary NoiseGard system offers up some of the best noise-cancelling we’ve come across. NoiseGard uses four mics to detect and dampen sound, and it effectively removes most steady background noise. (Other notable features include support for aptX and a soundstage that manages to avoid being as claustrophobic as some other over-ear headphones.)
For the price, we feel that Sennheiser could have added more features, but the few it does have work well. The power button doubles up for Bluetooth pairing duties, and there’s also a multi-function button that slides for volume and depresses for pause, play, skipping and calls.
Beyond the lack of features, there’s little to dislike about the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 headphones, and if you can bring yourself to part with the cash, you won’t be disappointed.