Noise cancelling headphones to help you hear more
Noise cancelling headphones have, like Bluetooth ones, become much more commonplace in recent years. That's no surprise as the world becomes ever noisier.
Removing background sound - whether it be the aeroplane or train you're on, or just general background din - not only gives a better listening experience, it can also help preserve your hearing. That's because it allows you to listen at a lower volume.
Because they're priced at a premium, noise cancelling headphones tend to be fairly comfortable and generally perform well.
There are still some right stinkers out there, mind. If brands get their noise cancelling tech wrong, you can end up with cans that kill music as effectively as the quell background sound. Some have awful battery life, too.
And let's face it, if you're paying a lot of money for noise cancelling headphones - which you will be - you obviously want the best.
That, my friends, is where this buyers' guide steps in, with the expert opinions of veteran tech-head music lovers Chris Haslam and Mark Mayne to guide you…
These are the very best noise cancelling cans. They're not 'cheap' but they're not silly money either, and they're all worthy of your hard-earned dosh. They're ranked with the very best first and then roughly in order of how highly we rate them.
Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 wireless
A few years back, wireless noise-cancellers were rare but as with non-noise-cancelling headphones, Bluetooth connectivity is now rapidly becoming the norm. These ones don't even bother to announce the noise-cancelling in the name, in fact. But oh boy, is it there.
To cut to the chase, these Sennheisers are everything a premium priced pair of wireless headphones should be. They're elegantly engineered, beautifully made - in this case from stainless steel, faux-suede and leather - packed with tech, and sound stupendous.
Sennheiser’s NoiseGard noise cancelling is second to none, sucking out real-world cacophony while leaving acres of head space for you to enjoy one of the most impressive wireless performances we’ve heard, and with a 22hr Bluetooth battery life and folding frame they were born to travel.
T3 rating 5
Bose QuietComfort QC35
Bose basically invented the category of noise cancelling cans, and they still lead the way. The QC35 is essentially the old, award winning Bose QC25, but wireless.
There's the same case, with only a mildly tweaked design. Its micro-USB rechargeable, with a battery life of 20 hours. Yep, 20 hours. That’s pretty strong, and actually a real-world figure too.
Bose has very much played for the noise cancelling, rather than audiophile market, and that shows in almost every aspect of these cans.
They’re not beautiful, more aluminium functional, and the music playback itself isn’t jaw dropping for the price. It’s fine: balanced, relatively refined, but not majorly exciting.
What is exciting is the ‘total’ immersion these cans bring. Flip the switch, and London’s roar disappears almost utterly. Airports, planes, tubes, trains are uncannily silenced - the QC35’s are your audio invisibility cloak made into chunky, silvery flesh.
With their twin dedicated chipsets and mic arrays, they're excellent for making phone calls over, too. True story: we took a call on them recently, and didn’t even realise the caller could barely hear us over all the background noise. We were in an altitude chamber at the time. The QC35 shut it off.
The right-ear-based volume/play/pause,etc controls work, the zip-up carry case is functional, if sizeable, the charger and standby manual cables are grey and listless, but that headline noise cancelling is awesome.
If you’re a regular flyer, you need these; if you’re a regular commuter, you’ll want them - that silence speaks volumes.
T3 rating 5
£290 | Buy Bose QC35
(Bose words: Mark Mayne)
AKG N60 NC
Don’t let the cable put you off, because what these ultralight (150g), super-portable headphones lack in Bluetooth they make up for with awesome noise cancelling performance, a long-haul loving 30-hour battery life and thoroughly enjoyable, surprisingly immersive listen, whatever your musical tastes.
Classy looks, smart, folding design and tough neoprene case make these the perfect travelling companion, and a worthy rival to the Bose and Sennheiser cans.
T3 rating 4
£200 | Buy AKG N60 NC
With Bluetooth AptX, NFC, 98% ambient noise cancelling and a 13-hour battery life all for an rrp of £130 (shop around and you'll get it for less), buyers on a budget can’t hope for a better spec. While admittedly, the plastic used in its construction hints at how Sony hits this bargain price point, the headphones are still light, comfortable and far from ugly.
The noise cancelling mode cuts out the hum-drum of public transport brilliantly without feeling like your head is in a vacuum, while the 40mm drivers provide plenty of poke with a clean dependable sound free from any harsh edges. Exceptional value.
T3 rating 4
Circa £100 | Buy Sony MDR-ZX770BN
Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay H8
They’re prohibitively expensive and the ‘gesture control’ ear pad epitomises style over substance, but we still love, no, lust after, the H8.
The flawless aluminium build quality and marshmallowy memory foam ear cups make them a pleasure to wear all day, while the noise cancelling swaddles you from the real world as impressively as the vast majority of larger, over-ear designs.
Combine this with a 14-hour battery life, Bluetooth 4.0 aptX and a rich, exciting, bass-boosted sound quality and you’ll do well not to be wooed.
T3 rating 4
About as business class as headphones get, with executive matt styling, full travel case, airline adapter and sumptuous long haul comfort. Even without the two types of active noise cancelling switched on, the over ear design muffles all but the shrillest of toddlers, and once you flick the switch the silence is deafening.
The 40mm drivers tuned to combat ambient noise and Bluetooth aptX make for a great listen, especially if you’re looking for a bit more bass.
T3 rating 4
Almost on a par with the Sony MDR-ZX770BN, and even cheaper, the Philips brings impressive tech and above par performance to the bargain basement.
Multi-pairing Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, ActiveShield noise cancelling, one button Siri and Google Now access, 16-hour playback (and 28 hours if you eschew noise-cancelling and just use Bluetooth) are all jammed into these comfy on-ear cans.
The silver and black, folding design is suitably modern. Some may find the look a little icey, but we love it, and the bright, level-headed sound is anything but cold.
T3 rating 4
£90 | Buy Philips SHB8850NC
Parrot Zik 2
High-end and high-tech, these cans are co-designed by Philipe Starck.
Owners of his lemon squeezer will not be surprised to learn that these are highly over-engineered, and look rather odd.
However, even if you never use all the digital EQ functions built into the Zik 2, you will be impressed by the comfort, audio quality and noise cancelling on offer.
The Zik 2 is extremely punchy, and while the motion sensing controls take some getting used to, they are effective once mastered.
T3 rating 4
£170 | Buy Parrot Zik 2