Best noise-cancelling (ANC) headphones 2020 for blocking out external sound

Noise-cancelling headphones have become almost an essential everyday item for many of us, whether they're used to isolate your listening pleasure on your morning commute or drown out the drone of an aeroplane jet engine.

With so many pairs now available, finding the best choice for your ears is no easy task. Some pairs will have more effective noise cancellation, while others will sound better - so finding the middle ground can be tricky.

We've rounded up our favourites and picked out what we believe to be the best pair money can currently buy, to make the decision whole lot easier.

Over-ear noise-cancelling headphones

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

Think of noise-cancelling headphones and chances are you'll think of Bose. The company has a new non-folding flagship: it's called the Headphones 700.

Despite the imaginative name, these over-ear cans deliver very imaginative sound quality to rival the best competition out there. And the multi-level noise-cancelling is class-leading.

There's also smart assistant integration for the big three (Google, Amazon, Apple), a solid app for various customisations (but no EQ, sadly), and well-integrated touch-based controls on the right earcup.

We can think of no other pair we'd rather take on our travels. Bose is boss when it comes to noise-cancelling.

sony xm3

Sony WH-1000XM3

Sony has updated the 1000X headphones three years in a row, taking an approach as aggressive with product launches as it is with cutting out external noise. Design tweaks add quality and refinement to these headphones, while a new-and-more-powerful chip provides the grunt to cancel out more noise.

The results are sensational, with the 1000XM3 not only sounding great as a set of headphones, but also being some of the most effective at combatting external noise through more selectable levels.

These cans also offer Google Assistant control with a button press - to give it commands or ask it questions - but we don't think it's very well implemented, which is about its only weakness in this smart pair of headphones. Oh, and the Bose pair (above) have a more seamless design.

Bowers & Wilkins PX7

Bowers and Wilkins is no stranger to the audio game; the British-based company has been going since 1966, and its older ANC pair of headphones, the PX, was a mainstay on this list. So when we heard it was redeveloping them with new tech, safe to say our ears certainly pricked up. When we actually got them onto our ears, our expectations were, amazingly, exceeded once again.

The PX7 headphones look great, and they sound even better. B&W's noise cancellation is at the top of its class, and adding features like aptX Adaptive support makes for smoother listening experiences and better future-proofing. Really impressively, too, the headphones are even more comfortable than ever before, making for a dreamy user experience.

While they might not be sitting on the very top of our list, these are a seriously impressive pair of headphones, make no mistake, and you'll be certain to like them if you pick them up.

Beats Studio 3 Wireless

The Beats Studio 3 Wireless are likely to appeal to iPhone owners more than those using an Android phone, only because they're one of the the latest pair to benefit from Apple's W1 chip (which has been replaced with the H1 chip, moving forward). This means these cans automatically try to pair with an iOS device when within distance, and once paired are available to instantly connect to from all other Apple devices using the same iCloud account.

The Studio 3 Wireless have some very clever noise-cancellation technology onboard too. It constantly measures the sounds around you - up to 50,000 times per second - and adjusts both the noise-cancellation and sound profile accordingly, to make sure you're getting the most effective sound blasted into your ears.

The sound is less bass-tactic that you might expect from this headphone company too, yet still impactful, while the battery life just goes on and on and on.

B&O BeoPlay H9i

The B&O BeoPlay H9i is one of the more expensive pairs of noise-cancelling headphones to grace our ears, but in return these cans provide a supreme level of comfort, thanks to high-quality materials.

To complement the fantastic build quality is incredible sound quality - and these headphones evolve themselves beyond the original H9s. The H9i has boosted the noise-cancelling ability, while shrinking the ear cups a little, thus making them a little more practical.

With a wealth of competition at lower prices, the B&O BeoPlay H9i need to do a lot to justify their asking price, but we'd spend the extra for the build and comfort. If you want really strong noise-cancelling, however, then look to the Bose (above) for that totally 'locked-in' quality.

Sennheiser HD 450BT

Most of the cans on this list so far have something in common - they're seriously pricey. Now, Sennheiser's great HD 450BT aren't exactly cheap, but they're more affordable and offer superb sound at a reduced price point. You get really long battery life to go with that nicely balance listening, and they're really comfortable to wear, too.

Plus, the noise cancellation might not be adaptive, but it's still effective and more than enough for most people to get lost in their music with. We're really impressed by the HD 450BT, and are confident they'd make a great pick for anyone with a slightly tighter budget.

Microsoft Surface Headphones

Ok, so we don't like the big Windows-like logos on the side of these headphones... but Microsoft has otherwise done a stellar job with its first bash at a pair of headphones, thanks to a variety of great features.

First up, these cans are comfortable on the ears for long periods of wear. Second, the two earcups rotate - the left for noise-cancelling level, the right for volume - which gives a great, natural way to control the headphones without needing any unsightly or hard-to-locate buttons.

But there are imperfections: we'd like to see more exciting colours and design, along with some stronger ANC at the maximum level to rival the Bose (further up), plus a greater variety of ANC types like the Sony (up top). That said, if you want comfortable, long-lasting and easy-to-control ANC headphones then don't overlook Surface - whether or not you use a Microsoft laptop/2-in-1 or not!

True wireless noise-cancelling headphones

Sony WF-1000XM3

Sony has applied its audio expertise to noise-cancelling in-ear headphones too. We've seen what the company can do with a pair of over-ears, so we had mighty high expectations for the entirely wire-free in-ear model - now in its third-gen form.

These wireless in-ears deliver a well-balanced sound that's neither too bassy nor too bright; we found it to be just right. The noise-cancellation is just as accomplished, too, effectively blocking out the general hum drum of everyday life, as well as aeroplane and train noises.

Sony isn't the only maker to market with true wireless headphones with ANC - Apple's on the scene now, and we recently also tested the Libratone Track Air+ in-ears (see below) - but the WF series has a style, swagger and musicality that's hard to beat.

Apple AirPods Pro

In some ways Apple took its time getting to noise cancellation, although the huge success of its AirPods without the feature might have given it some time to work with. The AirPods Pro adds the functionality at last, though, and in one fell swoop has solved what were likely to be most people's two biggest issues with its earbuds.

Firstly, they can now fit a far wider range of ears, with three earbud sizes to pick from rather than the older AirPods "hope they fit" approach. Secondly, the superb ANC Apple's used means that you can actually rely on the AirPods Pro to be audible even on the busiest of commutes.

With slightly smaller stems than previously, they're also less obvious than ever, design-wise, and make a great choice, especially if you're an iPhone user. That quick and reliable pairing is as useful as always.

Master & Dynamic MW07 Plus

Adding ANC to its MW07 earbuds has proven a complete masterstroke from Master & Dynamic - the MW07 Plus has skyrocketed up to become one of our very favourite pairs of true wireless earbuds.

We really like their unique design, and they're improved battery life makes them a truly great performer. The sound profile is superb, offering up crisp details to go with punchy, impressive bass, and the ANC is useful for when you're on flights or trains and the like. Frankly, the seal offered by the earbuds is good enough that you often won't need it.

The reality is that the ease of use of the AirPods Pro might make them a better fit for iPhone users, while Sony's sound is unparalleled, but the MW07 Plus are a brilliant option in an increasingly competitive part of the market.

Libratone Track Air+

As in-ear headphones go, this product sounds truly exceptional, is comfortable to wear, offers a sweat-proof build for those active sessions, and a noise-cancellation system that's genuinely smart.

In a world where the so-so AirPods seem to get all the attention, or far pricier Sony and Sennheiser products receive some of the loudest shout-outs, Libratone has done its utmost to stand out from the crowd.

The price alone will be a massive lure. But that's not the sole reason to buy the Air+ - no, you'll want to don these in your ears because everything on offer, from sound to comfort to capability, is delivered at the highest level.

In-ear noise-cancelling headphones

Bose QuietControl 30

Noise-cancelling isn't solely reserved for over-ear headphones, as we're now seeing the technology finding its way into in-ear models too. The best pair we've come across so far is the Bose QuietControl 30. Not only do these in-ears exhibit the same superb sound profile as Bose's other headphone models, but the noise-cancelling is adept too.

You can fine-tune just how much external sound you want to block out using the companion app, so if you're on a train, for example, you'll want the tech to be turned up to the max, but if you're cycling and you want to be aware of your surroundings then you'll dial it down a little to let some sound pass through. In practice, it works tremendously and is the best example of noise-cancelling we've come across in a pair of in-ears.

Some may find the neckband design a little irksome, but given enough time to adapt to this design, we think the Bose makes for a near-perfect pair of headphones to carry around with you.


Libratone Track+

The Libratone Track+ offer a neckband-style set of headphones which are lightweight, smart and brilliantly designed. While sound quality and noise-cancellation skills are common to all the headphones on this list, it's the brilliant design that's worth paying attention to.

Perfectly balanced is how they are pitched and that holds true, so whether you're wearing these on your commute, or running a 10k, these headphones stay comfortably sitting where they are supposed to.

In addition, the noise-cancelling is pretty good, offering different levels and, via the app, you can have this automatically change based on your motion. The result is a very effective and comfortable set of headphones, as competent on your travels as on the running track.

If you want to ditch the wires entirely then look to the Air+, featured above.

Sony WI-1000X

If you're more concerned about battery life but still want the same winning combination of Sony sound and noise-cancellation, look no further than the WI-1000X. These in-ears, like the Bose QC30, utilise a neckband design - which is very comfortable and one you won't notice during listening sessions.

Like their WH- and WF- siblings, this WI- pair has sensors onboard to detect what you're doing or where you are and adjust the sound profile and noise-cancellation accordingly. There's also high-resolution audio support if you have such files, but if you don't then these in-ears will upscale, while equaliser settings can be adjusted within the companion app. Google Assistant will come in a future update too.

Top this off with a 10-hour battery life and you have yourself a pretty darn good pair of noise-cancelling in-ears, one that we wholeheartedly recommend if you're ok with a neckband design.

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