Noise-cancelling headphones can feel a little magic the first time you put them on with the way they massively reduce the amount of background noise you're able to hear while using them.
They do this using microphones to listen to what's going on around you, and then doing some technical wizardry to trick your ears into not hearing it.
The effect isn't completely perfect. They're less effective at cancelling out higher-pitched noises, but for the most part they're excellent at dealing with low, consistent noises like the hum of a train or plane.
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.
When it comes to noise-cancelling headphones, there are two types to look out for: active and passive. Passive means that when the headphones are pressed against your head, some sound is cut out in the process of closing your ears off to the world outside. It's not high-tech. Lots of headphones claim that this is some sort of advanced technique, but it's nothing more than a few layers of foam trying their darndest to keep sound out.
Active noise cancellation, on the other hand, 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, so you'll have to keep them charged if you want to keep the noises of the outside world at bay.
Now that you know, you're ready to choose a set. Let's take a look at the best noise-cancelling headphones around.
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
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
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
Bose has finally brought its fantastic noise-cancelling technology to a pair of wireless headphones and it's done so without any of the traditional drawbacks of wireless headphones. They sound great, and their battery life is long enough for all but the longest of flights.
At $349.95 (£289.95 / AU pricing tbc) the QC35s sit firmly at the premium end of the spectrum, but if you want the best noise-cancelling headphones available right now then you can't get any better.
Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort 35
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
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 canceling 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 or AU$700) price tag.
Read the full review: Sony MDR-1000X
4. Sennheiser Momentum Wireless
Incredible audio fidelity backed by a serious price
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: N/A | Cable length: 4.6 feet | Frequency response: 16-22,000Hz | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: 28 ohms | Battery life: 25+ hours | Wireless range: 30+ feet | NFC: Yes
If an exceptional set of noise-cancelling headphones is something you're prepared to shell out for, consider the excellent Sennheiser Momentum Wireless, which we think are one of the better looking pairs of headphones on this list.
Where to start? The audio performance is killer, only helped by the supreme comfort of the leather-coated memory foam earpads. Active noise cancellation kicks on automatically to help keep out noises from the outside world.
Finally, these headphones feature a 22-hour battery life, which is long enough to get you through a flight overseas, and some. The only kicker? These are $499, which is a lot to swallow. But for what you're getting here, it's worth it.
Read the full review: Sennheiser Momentum Wireless
5. Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2
Wireless noise-cancelling headphones on the cheap
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 0.64 lbs (289g) | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: 40mm | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 24 hours | Wireless range: 100 meters (330 feet) | NFC: No
If you're a frequent traveler you're probably all too familiar with headphones that can't hold a charge, can't block out sound and, for the most part, don't sound very good. If you're tired of buying headphones like that let us introduce you to the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2, one of the few headphones on the market that can do all of the above and cost less than half as much as one of the bigger names like Beats, Bose and Sony.
If we had to boil it down to its core, the BackBeat Pro 2 offers an excellent travel headphone with incredible battery life, supreme comfort, the ability to pair two device as once and, most importantly, good sound quality for the cost.
Read the full review: Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2
6. Parrot Zik 2.0
App-powered Bluetooth headphones with many features
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: .59 pounds | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: 20Hz-22kHz | Drivers: Two 1.5" drivers | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 6+ hours | Wireless range: 30+ feet | NFC: Yes
You'll be hard-pressed to find a set of headphones that defies convention more than the Zik 2.0. They're bold in design, but where they really go off the beaten path is their app-centric approach to delivering features.
Coming in at $399, these headphones pack incredible sound and oodles of app-powered features for the price. One of the cooler features made possible with the app is the noise cancellation, which is fully customizable. It's up to you to decide how much sound you want to tune out of your listening experience. I've never had that much freedom with a set of headphones before.
Read the full review: Parrot Zik 2.0
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
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
8. Creative Sound Blaster EVO ZxR
An all-around headset offering quality sound and noise cancellation
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: N/A | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: 20Hz-20kHz | Drivers: Two 1.9" drivers | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 8+ hours | Wireless range: 33 feet | NFC: Yes
If the design of the likes of the Bose QC 35 is a little too tame for you, check out the Creative Sound Blaster EVO ZxR. The name of these headphones is a bit of a tongue-twister, but you'll get equally tripped-up running down the exhaustive list of features found in them too.
Active noise cancellation helps keep your immersion at an all-time high with support for listening over Bluetooth. You can even tap an NFC-enabled device for a super-quick wireless connection. But if you feel like keeping things wired, connecting a 3.5mm cable opens up support for PS4, Mac and PC. As mentioned earlier, the design is bold, but it matches the feature-set packed into the offering.
Read the full review: Creative Sound Blaster EVO ZxR
9. 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
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
10. 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
The Samsung Level On Pro Wireless are one of the few headphones I'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 one of the best noise-cancelling, too. 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
We're constantly reviewing new noise-cancelling headphones, but let us know if there is a set that you'd like us to take a look at in the comments below.