Active noise cancellation headphones help block out unwanted sounds using clever technology – we pick the best for you
If you’re sick of your music being drowned out by the hubbub of city life or fancy a little peace and quiet on those interminable transatlantic flights, you need a pair of the best noise-cancelling headphones. These ingenious gadgets suck out the hum and rumble of everyday living and make sure you can hear your music, or movies, without having to crank the volume to ear-damaging levels.
Here we’ll explain how the noise-cancelling technology works and round up our pick of the very best ANC headphones. Below you’ll find a quick summary of the very best entries followed by a breakdown of the things you should consider before splashing out on noise-cancelling headphones.
If you just want to start shopping, scroll down the page and you’ll find a list of handy bite-size reviews. With prices starting from around £50 and soaring well over £300, there’s something for every budget.
Best noise-cancelling headphones: At a glance
- Best for smart noise cancellation: Huawei FreeBuds Pro
- Best audio quality: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2
- Best value: Urbanista London
How to choose the best noise-cancelling headphones for you
What types of noise-cancelling headphones are there?
There are two types of noise-cancelling headphones: active and passive. Passive noise cancellation just means blocking out external noises, which is why some companies call it “sound isolation” – for instance, closed-back, over-ear headphones and earphones both reduce outside noise to a greater or lesser extent. Active noise cancellation (ANC) is much smarter, using clever technology to silence ambient noise so nothing disturbs your listening.
The only downside of the technology is that it can come with a hefty price. If ANC is out of your budget, you may want to take a look at our roundup of the best Bluetooth headphones and the best wired headphones instead.
What is active noise cancellation?
ANC relies on a combination of outward-facing microphones that are built into the headphones and clever digital signal processing. The microphones constantly listen to the ambient sound around you, while the digital signal processor takes that audio and plays the exact inverse of that sound alongside your music. The result is that those outside noises are effectively cancelled out: distracting hums and rumbles are dramatically reduced (if not silenced completely), allowing you to enjoy your music as it was meant to be heard.
ANC is a very impressive technology, but it doesn’t completely eliminate every type of background noise. As high frequencies have a much shorter wavelength than lower tones, they’re harder to eliminate in real time. The technology is most effective at blocking out lower-frequency sounds, such as the rumble of aeroplane engines.
Be aware that ANC can very slightly affect the overall sound quality because the noise-cancelling wave can interfere with the frequencies in the song you’re listening to. The effect is usually minimal, though, and far preferable to putting up with background noise. You might also hear a slight high-pitched hiss in the background when nothing is playing – but, again, it’s a small price to pay for the ability to enjoy your music untroubled by intrusive external sounds.
ANC doesn’t just help you enjoy your music: it can protect your hearing. Without noise-cancelling technology, the only way to drown out ambient noise is to crank up the volume. Done on a regular basis, this can lead to permanent hearing damage. ANC lets you listen at lower volumes, meaning it’s far gentler on your eardrums. ANC is also useful if you have hypersensitivity, hyperacusis or a similar health condition, as the technology can help reduce the strain on your ears.
We’ve split this list into two categories – over-ear headphones and in-ear headphones/earbuds – there’s something for everyone, no matter your budget.
The best over-ear noise-cancelling headphones to buy
1. Sony WH-1000XM4: The best overall noise-cancelling headphones
Price: £350 | Buy now from Amazon
Sony’s WH-1000XM3 have finally been ousted as best ANC headphones by their successor, the WH-1000XM4. These over-ear cans take everything that was great about the previous generation and improve on it: the noise cancellation is smarter and more effective, the audio sounds better and the fit is more comfortable than ever.
The WH-1000XM4’s new features are what really set them apart though. Speak-to-Chat automatically pauses your audio when you strike up a conversation, multipoint Bluetooth pairing allows for simultaneous connection to two devices and wear detection pauses your audio when you take the headphones off. These intelligent new additions elevate what was an already stunning product, though sadly there’s still no water resistance: the WH-1000XM4’s only real weakness.
If you want the best ANC headphones that money can buy, look no further. If £350 is outside of your price range, however, the WH-1000XM3 remain a fantastic option two years after their initial release.
Read our full Sony WH-1000XM4 review for details
Key specs – Headphone type: Over-ear, built-in microphone, touch and physical controls; Connectivity: Bluetooth, 3.5mm jack plug; Weight: 254g; Cable length: 1.2m
Sony WH-1000XM4 Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphones – 30 hours battery life – Over Ear style – Optimised for Alexa and the Google Assistant – with built-in mic for phone calls – Black
£349.00 Buy now
2. Philips PH805: The best mid-range ANC headphones
Price: £160 | Buy now from Amazon
The Philips PH805 over-ear headphones are an impressive combination of comfort, sound quality, impressive active noise cancellation and affordability. They may not quite be as efficient at cutting out background noise as some of Bose and Sony’s line up but they’re significantly cheaper and in terms of audio output, they compete with their more expensive competitors.
In addition to their great sound, the PH805s utilise intuitive touch controls, support the latest version of Bluetooth (5.0) and are compatible with both Siri and Google Assistant. Fully charged they’ll give you 25 hours of playtime with ANC switched on and a handy travel case allows for safe storage and easy transportation.
Read our full Philips PH805 review for details
Key specs – Headphone type: Over-ear; built-in microphone and music control buttons; Plug type: 3.5mm jack (optional) Weight: 280g Cable length: 1.3m
Philips Wireless Headphones PH805BK/00 Bluetooth Headphones (Bluetooth, Active Noise Cancelling, 30 Hours Battery Life, Hi-Res Audio, Microphone, Google Assistant, Quick Charging Feature) Black
£129.00 Buy now
3. OneOdio A10: The best budget over-ear ANC headphones
Price: £50 | Buy now from Amazon
Budget noise-cancelling headphones typically fall into one of two camps: they’re either let down by poor quality audio, or the ANC itself just isn’t very effective. But these affordable headphones from Chinese manufacturer OneOdio manage to provide impressive sound and decent noise cancellation, particularly when it comes to lower frequency sound. Though the bass is a little woolly, the sound signature is well-balanced overall and excels when playing pop, R&B and dance music.
The A10 doesn’t support the Bluetooth aptX codec, which isn’t particularly surprising given the price, but you get a few extras to soften the blow, including a solid carrying case, USB-C to 3.5mm cable, USB-A to USB-C charging cable and a 3.5mm aircraft adapter.
Read our full OneOdio A10 review for details
Key specs – Headphone type: Over-ear, built-in microphone and music control buttons; Connectivity: Bluetooth, USB-C to 3.5mm jack plug; Weight: 250g; Cable length: 1m
OneOdio Noise Cancelling Bluetooth Headphones Over Ear Wireless with 40 Hour Play Time Hi-Fi Sound Deep Bass Super Soft Earpad CVC 8.0 Wireless Call, Quick Charge for Travel TV Mobile Phone PC
£49.98 Buy now
4. Nuraphone: The smartest, most personalised ANC headphones
Price: £349 | Buy now from Nura
The Nuraphone headphones are unlike any headphones (or earphones) you’ve ever seen before. These headphones not only fit around your ears but inside them, too. That’s right, they feel like a set of soft in-ears with an over-ear cushion. The headphones have ultra-sensitive microphones embedded in the cups, which are used to analyse which frequencies your ears can hear – and provide a truly unique, tailor-made sound for you.
These also have ANC technology, combined with impressive passive noise cancellation (in-ears and over-ears), making the Nuraphone headphones the perfect companion for commuting.
Read our full Nuraphone review for details
Key specs – Headphone type: Over and in-ear, built-in microphone and touch controls; Connectivity: Bluetooth, 3.5mm jack plug (optional); Weight: 329g; Cable length:1.3m
nuraphone — Wireless Bluetooth Over Ear Headphones with Earbuds, Creates Personalised Sound, Active Noise Cancellation (ANC), Social Mode, Multi-tap Buttons, 20 Hour Battery Life
£349.00 Buy now
5. Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700: The most stylish wireless headphones
Price: £350 | Buy now from Amazon
Bose is well-known for its noise-cancelling tech and its latest, the NC 700, is its best yet. These supremely stylish over-ear headphones have adjustable ANC, touch-based controls, and have the virtual assistants Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant built-in.
Aside from their design, the NC 700 have excellent noise-cancelling performance – one that slightly betters their predecessors, the QuietComfort 35 Series II. Sonically, these retain the calm and composed sound signature of other Bose headphones, making them easy to recommend.
Read our full Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review for details
Key specs – Headphone type: Over-ear, built-in microphone and touch controls; Connectivity: Bluetooth, 3.5mm jack plug (optional); Weight: 250g; Cable length: 1.2m
£289.00 Buy now
$379.00 Buy now
6. PuroPro: The best volume-limiting ANC headphones
Price: £200 | Buy now from Amazon
The PuroPro’s unique selling point is their ability to limit audio volume to ensure you don’t damage your ears. Out of the box, they hit a maximum 85dB: the level at which the World Health Organisation says it’s safe to listen for up to eight hours a day. Should you want your audio a little louder you can up the limit to 95dB.
Audio quality is solid regardless of which volume limit you use, with crisply articulated mids and vocals and tight bass. There’s no way to adjust the EQ via controls or a companion app but the PuroPro handles most genres well enough to make such customisation unnecessary.
Volume-limiting aside, the PuroPro have a few other neat features up their sleeve. They offer two levels of active noise cancellation: ANC One cuts out a significant proportion of external noise, while ANC Two functions as an ambient sound mode and is best used when you want to be more aware of your surroundings. Both are effective and allow you to enjoy your music without resorting to blasting it at full volume. There’s also voice assistant support, an impressive battery life of up to 28 hours with Bluetooth and ANC on and the headphones are both lightweight and comfortable.
The single built-in microphone for calls left a bit to be desired in terms of call clarity so if you spend a lot of time on the phone you’ll probably want to look elsewhere. But if you want to preserve your eardrums while cutting back on the clamour of the outside world, the PuroPro will be right up your street.
Key specs – Headphone type: Over-ear, built-in microphone and music control buttons; Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0; Weight: 287g; Cable length: 1.2m (detachable)
Puro Sound Labs: PuroPro Hybrid Active Noise Cancelling Volume Limiting Headphones, Wireless Over Ear Bluetooth Headphones, 32h Playtime, Hi-Res Audio, Memory Foam Ear Cups, for Travel and Home Office
£189.99 Buy now
7. B&W PX: Stylish, portable and excellent sound
Price: £330 | Buy now from Amazon
The PX is B&W’s first pair of noise-cancelling headphones and they’ve been worth the wait. Before you even put them on, the look and feel is a significant cut above similarly priced rivals – B&W’s engineers and design team have outdone themselves.
Pair them with your nearest Bluetooth device, though, and you best be prepared for aural fireworks. While B&W’s own P7 Wireless opt for bass-heavy bombast, and Bose tends to prioritise excitement over accuracy, the PX sound crisp and incisive from the deepest subs to the highest highs. Bass fiends may want to look elsewhere and some may find the upper frequencies a little too subdued (especially with ANC enabled), but be in no doubt – these are among the finest noise-cancelling headphones you’re ever likely to encounter.
There is room for improvement, however. Comfort isn’t up there with the best and their noise-cancelling abilities aren’t as refined as its Bose and Sony-branded rivals, either.
Read our full B&W PX review for details
Key specs – Headphone type: Over-ear, built-in microphone and music control buttons; Connectivity: Bluetooth (aptX HD), 3.5mm jack plug, USB-C (charging and direct connection); Weight: 335g; Cable length: 1.2m
£248.76 Buy now
The best in-ear noise-cancelling headphones to buy in 2020
1. NuraLoop: The best wireless ANC earphones
Price: £199 | Buy now from Amazon
While the NuraLoop will rightly receive plaudits for their ability to create you an amazing-sounding, personalised EQ profile, their noise-cancelling capabilities should not be underestimated. Pop these earphones in your ears and activate ANC and you’ll cut out a significant proportion of the noise going on around you, allowing you to focus on the exceptional sound quality.
ANC mode is easily switched on and off with a single press on the outside of your left earbud and the Social Mode works well if you need to hear important announcements or converse with a friend. The stable fit provided by the looped earhook design means you never have to worry about the earbuds falling out and sweat-resistance makes the NuraLoop a solid choice to wear when exercising. Microphone quality is also impressive and there’s even Immersion Mode, which lets you boost the bass if you want a bit more low-end oomph.
All-in-all, the NuraLoop are an outstanding pair of earphones that more than justify their price.
Key specs – Headphone type: In-ear, built-in microphone and touch controls; Connectivity: Bluetooth (aptX HD), 3.5mm jack connector; Weight: 27g, Cable length: 1.3m
NuraLoop – Wireless bluetooth earbuds with personalised sound, active noise cancellation, 16+ hours battery, crystal clear voice calls, immersive bass, and wired and wireless connection
£199.00 Buy now
2. Urbanista London: The best value for money ANC earbuds
Price: £129 | Buy now from Amazon
Swedish manufacturer Urbanista’s first pair of noise-cancelling earbuds are a resounding success, offering impressive ANC, enjoyable audio and an attractive aesthetic for a very reasonable price.
The Urbanista London demonstrate vibrant audio across the frequency spectrum, with vocals particularly well represented. Bass is impactful, if a little woolly in the sub-bass range, and really hits home on tracks where the low-end is most prominent. The earbuds are extremely comfortable and securely fitting, too. Once in your ears they won’t budge, even during an intense workout.
Touch controls are responsive and executed very well, though the Urbanista London do lack the ability to skip tracks via touch commands. Their auto-pause/resume function is also a little hit and miss but at such a competitive price, the Urbanista London can be forgiven a couple of minor flaws.
Read our full Urbanista London review for details
Key specs – Headphone type: In-ear, built-in microphone and touch controls; Connectivity: Bluetooth; Weight: 4.5g per earbud, 46g charging case; Cable length: N/A, true wireless
Urbanista London True Wireless Earbuds Headphones with Active Noise Cancelling, 25 Hours Playtime, Touch Controls & 6 Microphones for Clear Calling, Bluetooth 5.0 Earphones, White
£128.99 Buy now
3. Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2: The best-sounding earbuds
Price: £279 | Buy now from Amazon
If standout sound quality is what you’re after in a pair of true wireless earbuds, look no further than the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2. These earbuds offer a fantastic sense of listening space and their instrument separation is exceptional. The sound signature is largely neutral, with bass, mids and highs all represented equally well, making for a balanced listening experience. Should you want to play around with the EQ, there’s also a companion app that lets you do just that.
The ANC may not quite be of the standard of the class-leading Sony WF-1000XM3s, but the Momentum True Wireless 2 are comfortable in addition to sounding great. With seven hours of battery life plus a further 21 hours of playback with the stylish charging case, you’re certainly not short of reasons to pay an admittedly-steep price for these wonderful earbuds.
Read our full Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 review for details
Key specs – Headphone type: In-ear, built-in microphone and touch controls; Connectivity: Bluetooth; Weight: 6g per earbud, 58g charging case; Cable length: N/A
£240.94 Buy now
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 – Bluetooth in-Ear Buds with Active Noise Cancellation, Smart Pause, Customizable Touch Control and 28-Hour Battery Life – Black (M3IETW2 Black)
$299.95 Buy now
4. Sony WF-1000XM3: The most effective noise-cancelling earbuds
Price: £169 | Buy now from Amazon
Much like the Sony WH-1000XM3 over-ears, the company’s true wireless in-ears, the WF-1000XM3, are in a league of their own. The buds house the QN1e chip, a near-identical processor to the one found in the industry’s leading noise-cancelling headphones.
As a result, these buds block out a stupendous amount of ambient noise and have fantastic sonic capabilities. Better still, ANC can be tailored through Sony’s Headphones Connect app. If you’re looking for fun-sounding earbuds and want the best noise-cancelling around, look no further than the WF-1000XM3.
Read our full Sony WF-1000XM3 review for details
Key specs – Headphone type: In-ear, built-in microphone and touch controls; Connectivity: Bluetooth; Weight: 8.5g per earbud, 77g charging case; Cable length: N/A, true wireless
Sony WF-1000XM3 Truly Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones with Mic, up to 32 Hours Battery Life, Stable Bluetooth Connection, Wearing Detection with Alexa Built-in – Silver
£169.00 Buy now
Sony WF-1000XM3 Industry Leading Noise Canceling Truly Wireless Earbuds Headset/Headphones with Alexa Voice Control And Mic For Phone Call, Silver
$178.00 Buy now
5. Libratone Track Air+: The best noise-cancelling earbuds for exercise
Price: £179 | Buy now from Amazon
If you’re looking for earphones that have good ANC performance, are lightweight and boast impressive sonic capabilities, look no further than the Libratone Track Air+. IPX4 certification means these earbuds are both sweat- and water-resistant, making them a fantastic choice for runners and regular visitors to the gym.
The buds last six hours on a single charge, while the charging case provides an additional three charges – totting up to a total of 24 hours of playback. Elsewhere, these have touch-based controls and support the Bluetooth aptX codec. If you aren’t keen on true wireless earphones, consider the neckband-designed JBL Everest Elite 150NC instead.
Read our full Libratone Track Air+ review for details
Key specs – Headphone type: In-ear, built-in microphone and remote; Connectivity: Bluetooth; Weight: 5.6g per earbud, 36g charging case; Cable length: N/A, true wireless
Libratone LI0080000EU6006 TRACK Air+ true wireless earbuds smart noise cancelling (24h of battery – 6h ear buds / 18h charging case, ANC, sweat and splash proof design IPX4, Bluetooth 5.0) – Black
£179.00 Buy now
6. Huawei FreeBuds Pro: Intelligent ANC and impactful audio
Price: £170 | Buy now from Huawei
In the Huawei FreeBuds Pro, Android users finally have a pair of earbuds to rival the mighty AirPods Pro. They boast a stirring sound profile characterised by bold bass and detailed mids and treble, while offering some of the most intelligent and effective active noise cancellation on the market. When in Dynamic mode, the buds automatically select one of three noise-cancelling profiles based on how much external sound there is around you and each is highly effective at cutting out background noise.
Touch controls are implemented smartly, while microphone quality during calls is top-notch. Most of the other key features you’d expect from a pair of premium earbuds are present, too, with the case capable of being charged wirelessly, in-ear detection pausing your music when you take the buds out and Awareness mode offering the ability to let ambient sound in.
Their only real weaknesses are a lack of water resistance and the fact that iOS users will want to avoid them as the AI Life companion app is not available on the App Store.
Read our full Huawei FreeBuds Pro review for details
Key specs – Built-in microphone and music control buttons: Yes; Weight: 6g per earbud, 60g charging case; Battery life (total): 20hrs (ANC on), 30hrs (ANC off)
7. Panasonic RZ-S500W: The most effective noise-cancelling earbuds for £150 or less
Price: £150 | Buy now from Amazon
Panasonic’s first venture into the realm of noise-cancelling earbuds proves a successful one, with the RZ-S500W delivering impressive performance across the board. Their adjustable dual hybrid noise-cancelling can’t quite match that of the class-leading Sony WF-1000XM3 but is a cut above most other ANC earbuds around. Using them while journeying through London we found they dampened the sound of traffic and the low rumble of the tube, though you’ll still be able to hear conversations close by and obnoxiously loud public service announcements.
Audio is well presented, if a little bass-heavy, and the RZ-S500W handle a range of genres confidently. The earbuds’ companion app – Panasonic Audio Connect – allows for a decent amount of customisation, including EQ controls, bass enhancement and “Clear Voice”, which we found to significantly improve the clarity of speech and vocals. The buds themselves are rather chunky but fit very comfortably in your ears and come with five sets of different-sized eartips. They’re also IPX4-rated for water resistance so are gym-ready and well protected against the UK’s wet weather.
If you want earbuds offering top-notch noise-cancellation but can’t stretch your budget above £150, the Panasonic RZ-S500W are the best option around.
Key specs – Headphone type: In-ear, built-in microphone and touch controls; Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0; Weight: 7g per earbud, 45g charging case; Cable length: N/A
Panasonic RZ-S500WE-W True Wireless Earbuds with Dual Hybrid Noise Cancelling, Alexa Built-In and IPX4 Water Resistance – White
£149.99 Buy now