Best noise-cancelling headphones of 2017

Why does the world need noise-cancelling headphones? Because there's nothing worse than settling down to a long journey with a couple of your favorite albums, only to have your jam session ruined by the dull roar of jet-engine, the car horns of nearby traffic or by screaming toddlers.

That's why you need noise-cancelling headphones. These specialized headphones can remove the sound of everything around you, so you can listen to your music at a lower (and safer) volume. 

There are large variations in how well this effect is achieved, but even at their worse these headphones are still much better than a traditional pair of headphones in terms of keeping outside sound at bay. 

If you opt for one of our top picks for the best noise-cancelling headphones, you'll get a pair that not only effectively eliminate the most background noise possible, but will also make your music sound pretty good in the process. 

That said, sometimes the effect isn't completely perfect. They're less effective at cancelling out higher-pitched noises, but most of the high-end sets excel at dealing with low, consistent noises like the hum of a train or plane. 

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:

  1. Philips Fidelio NC1
  2. Bose QuietComfort 35
  3. Sony MDR-1000X
  4. Bose QuietComfort 25
  5. AKG N60NC Wireless
  6. Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC
  7. Bose QuietControl 30
  8. Samsung Level On Pro
  9. Sennheiser PXC 550
  10. Sony H.ear On MDR-100ABN

Philips Fidelio NC1

1. Philips Fidelio NC1

Executive looks and great sound reproduction

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: .74 pounds | Cable length: 3.9 feet | Frequency response: 7-25,000Hz | Drivers: Two 1.5" Neodymium drivers | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: 107 dB | Impedance: 16 ohm | Battery life: 25+ hours | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: No

Brilliantly balanced sound
Great build quality and battery life
Some sound leakage

Philips presents an elegant noise-cancelling solution with its NC1. These on-ear headphones aren't wireless, but that's hardly a reason to knock them. Coming in at $299, the same price as Bose' QuietComfort 25, the NC1 are a more compact set that's high on comfort and battery life.

You get a lot for the money here. In the box comes the headphones, a hard case for storage and the headphones rock a rechargeable battery that provides noise cancellation for close to 30 hours. But best of all, the sound performance is extremely well balanced and warm.

Read the full review: Philips Fidelio NC1

Bose QuietComfort 35

2. Bose QuietComfort 35

Bose has cut the wires off its flagship noise-cancellers with great success

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 0.68 pounds | Cable length: 3.94 feet | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 20+ hours | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: Yes

Broad and clear soundstage
Amazing noise cancellation
Active EQ an acquired taste
Boring looks

They're a little more expensive then the Philips NC1, but the Bose QC35 headphones offer wireless connectivity, so you can be free from cabling as well as background noise. 

They're also a much better sounding pair of headphones than Bose's previous (wired) attempt, the Bose QC25s, and their battery life is long enough for all but the longest of flights.

They also come with a cable in case you want to use them with a device that doesn't support Bluetooth. 

At $349.95 (£289.95 / AU$499) the QC35s sit firmly at the premium end of the spectrum, but if you want the best noise-cancelling headphones available right now at any price then there are few out there that can compete.

Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort 35

Best noise cancelling headphones

3. Sony MDR-1000X

Noise-cancelling headphones that care about Hi-Res Audio

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 275 grams | Frequency response: 4Hz - 40kHz | Drivers: 40mm | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: 103dB | Impedance: 46 Ohms | Battery life: 20 hours | Wireless range: 30 feet | NFC: Yes

Quick Attention mode
Noise cancellation
Lengthy battery life
Finicky Ambient Noise mode

The MDR-1000X are definitely the closest competitor to Bose's QuietComfort series we've ever had the pleasure of testing. Some high-end codecs (LDAC, AAC and aptX) help the 1000X sound even better than the QC35s, but ultimately the noise cancelling is a bit less effective in Sony's pair of cans.

What should drive your decision on whether to buy the MDR-1000X is your music player – if you're a Sony Xperia owner, you'd be hard-pressed to find a pair of headphones that sound as good as these with noise canceling tech built-in. Even if you're not, Sony's wares are still worth a listen – and maybe a purchase – if you aren't too put out by its $400 (£330 / AU$700) price tag.

Read the full review: Sony MDR-1000X

Sennheiser Momentum Wireless

4. Bose QuietComfort 25

Headphones fit for a king and an excellent value for all

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 0.68 pounds | Cable length: 3.94 feet | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 20+ hours | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: Yes

Stunning noise-cancellation
Full sound
A bit older
Colors cost extra
Wired

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, but in our opinion the QC35s are also the much better sounding pair of headphones. 

Nevertheless, the QC25s represent a great mid-range pick. You're getting 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

5. AKG N60NC Wireless

Wireless noise-cancellation from the mid-range master

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 199.4g | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: 10-22,000Hz | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: 111dB SPL/V@1kHz | Impedance: 32 ohms | Battery life: 15 hours | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: No

Great sound
Compact design
On-ear form-factor gets uncomfortable
Initially confusing controls

If you prefer on-ear noise-cancellation, then the AKG N60NC Wireless are a great pair of headphones. 

At their mid-range price point the headphones offer fantastic value for money, with great sound quality and a level of noise-cancellation performance that's on a level with the much more premium entries on this list. 

These are a fantastically compact pair of headphones, and offer a very complete package for the price. 

Read the full review: AKG N60NC Wireless

6. Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC

Noise-cancelling headphones with plenty of features

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 238g | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: 18 - 22,000Hz | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: 113dB SPL/V@1kHz | Impedance: 18 ohms | Battery life: 20 hours | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: Yes

Great noise cancelling
20-hour battery
Travel-friendly design
NoiseGuard tricky to activate
Headband lacks padding

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

Bose QuietComfort 20i

7. Bose QuietControl 30

Noise-cancelling comes to in-ears

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 23g | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 10 hours | Wireless range: 33 ft | NFC: Yes

Excellent noise-cancellation
Comfortable earbuds
Not great sounding
Divisive neckband

The Bose QC 30s are the only in-ear headphones on this list, after all, it's much easier to block out background noise when you've got two thick cushions sitting around your ears. 

Given the limitations of the form factor, Bose has done a fantastic job on the noise-cancellation of the QC30s, which is frankly better than a lot of over-ears out there. 

The downside is that these aren't the best sounding headphones on this list, but if you're willing to make that compromise then it's hard to find fault with them. 

Read the full review: Bose QC 30

Best Noise Cancelling Headphones

8. Samsung Level On Pro Wireless Headphones

Samsung crashes the wireless noise-cancelling party

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: .7 pounds | Cable length: 3.6 feet | Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz | Drivers: 40mm Dual-Layered Diaphragm | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 8 hours | Wireless range: 30 meters (98ft) | NFC: Yes

Comfy faux-leather earpads
Extra features for Samsung owners
Plastic, fragile bridge
Short-range wireless

The Samsung Level On Pro Wireless are one of the few headphones we've tested that feel like they're meant as a package deal for another device. Yes they'll work with every Bluetooth and 3.5mm jack-equipped handset on the market, but you're better off sticking to a Samsung device in order to squeeze every ounce of aural goodness from the UHQ audio codec.

It's one of the comfiest pair of cans on the market, and they're also much cheaper than a lot of the competition. If it had a better sound quality for the vast majority of cell phone users it would be an easy recommendation but, as it stands, really makes the most sense at checkout when purchased alongside Samsung's Next Big Thing.

Read the full review: Samsung Level On Pro Wireless Headphones

9. Sennheiser PXC 550

Great sound quality and noise-cancellation, but at what cost?

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: .7 pounds | Cable length: 3.6 feet | Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz | Drivers: 40mm Dual-Layered Diaphragm | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 8 hours | Wireless range: 30 meters (98ft) | NFC: Yes

Great sounding
aptX connectivity
Unresponsive touch controls
Noise cancellation could be better

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

Best noise cancelling headphones

10. Sony H.ear On MDR-100ABN

Sony's H.ear headphones look great and, more importantly, sound great too

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 1.9 pounds | Cable length: 3.94 feet | Frequency response: 5-40,000 Hz | Drivers: 1.57 inch | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: 103 dB/mW | Impedance: 32 ohms | Battery life: 20+ hours | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: Yes

Brilliant Hi-Res Audio functionality
Exceptionally comfortable
Lack of low-battery warning
No touch controls

Lovely to wear, great to look at and fantastic for sound, the Sony H.ear On MDR-100ABNs would be a fine buy for anyone looking for noise-cancelling wireless headphones with the added bonus of Hi-Res Audio.

At £220/$350 (around $AU480) they'll certainly be at the higher end of most budgets – but I wouldn't hesitate to hand over that sort of money for headphones that have enough tech in them to last years.

Read the full review: Sony H.ear On MDR-100ABN

We're constantly reviewing new noise-cancelling headphones, but let us know on Twitter if there is a set that you'd like us to take a look at.