Some Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones 2016

Sometimes you want to isolate yourself from the sounds of the outside world. The drone of other people in the office, the sounds of traffic in the street, the constant droning of an aeroplane… What you want is a pair of active noise-cancelling headphones.

While active noise-cancelling headphones can have a price premium compared to regular headphones, the extra price can be more than worth it if you’re a regular commuter. ANC headphones can make even the worst commuter experience slightly more bearable by letting you enjoy your morning podcast or music playlist free of disturbance. ANC can also mean you don’t have to crank the volume up quite so high, helping conserve your hearing.

Hit the dropdown menu above to head straight to our short reviews, or read on for more buying advice. You can also click through to read the full reviews to find out everything you need to know about each model.

HOW TO BUY THE BEST NOISE-CANCELLING HEADPHONES FOR YOU

When considering headphones like these, there are a few basic questions you need to ask yourself.

First and foremost, do you want in-ear models or a larger over-ear or on-ear type? With in-ear pairs, all the cancelling gubbins is packed into a little remote housing that’s built somewhere along the cable. It generally gets a bit annoying, unless you wear clothes that are happy to accommodate a shirt clip. Larger pairs, such as Bose’s mega-popular models, fit everything into the earcups themselves. They’re therefore a lot neater and easier to live with.

A quirk of Bose’s active noise-cancelling on its QuietComfort 25 headphones was that they wouldn’t output any sound at all unless cancellation was switched on. Run out of battery and you were well and truly stuffed. Thankfully, the newer wireless QuietComfort 35 can fall back on a completely passive, wired experience when the battery runs out. Of course, this comes at the sacrifice of ANC. Some alternatives pull the same trick, while others don’t. Bear this is mind if you know you tend to spend a long part of your day away from a charger.

However, the battery life of ANC headphones is improving. These days, you’re looking at around 20 hours, though some offer up to 50 hours of use. Similarly, while many pairs use custom rechargeable units, plenty of others rely on good old AA/AAA batteries.

Last, but by no means least, there’s the question of sound quality. Buying into ANC, you’ll just have to accept that the sound won’t quite match the very best regular headphones at the price. It’s not a tech that can simply be slotted in for free. Some people can also experience discomfort from the perceived feeling of ear pressure some ANC headphones can exhibit, so it could be worth auditioning a pair before parting with your cash.

SONY MDR-1000X

Key features:
  • Over-ear design
  • Active, adjustable noise-cancelling
  • aptX Bluetooth

The Sony MDR-1000X are the best noise-cancelling headphones on the market. Not only do they block out a tremendous amount of noise, they’re also wireless, with aptX Bluetooth. They’re also very clever, with modes that let you choose how much sound to let in, in case you want to listen out for airport announcements. A particular highlight is the Quick Listen mode, which mutes your music briefly, so you don’t need to remove your headphones for a quick chat. All that, and they have touch-sensitive swipe controls, they’re comfortable, the battery life is long – and they sound lovely too. At the time of review the Sony MDR-1000X was available for £330.

BOSE QUIETCOMFORT 35

Key features:
  • Over-ear design
  • Active noise-cancelling
  • Bluetooth

The Bose QuietComfort 35 take the same great active noise-cancelling of the long-standing QuietComfort 25 and finally add Bluetooth wireless pairing. Without the tether of a wire, the QuietComfort 35 are incredibly comfortable and have great battery life to boot.

At time of review the Bose QuietComfort 35 were available for £289.95.

SONY MDR-100ABN H.EAR ON WIRELESS

Key features:
  • Over-ear design
  • Active noise-cancelling
  • Passive listening mode

The Sony MDR-100ABN h.ear on Wireless combine serious street cred-worthy looks with wireless functionality and excellent active noise-cancellation prowess. They’re priced very competitively, too, undercutting rivals by a considerable amount. These circumaural (over-ear) cans completely envelope your ears but are supremely comfortable. They also support Bluetooth aptX and Sony’s LDAC codec if you have a higher-end Sony Walkman or Xperia smartphone. Battery life at 20 hours is great and there’s a 3.5mm jack to fall back on if the battery runs out.

At time of review the Sony MDR-100ABN h.ear on Wireless were available for £219.

AKG N60

Key features:
  • On-ear design
  • Active noise-cancelling
  • Passive listening mode

The ultimate commuter headphones, the AKG N60 hit all the right notes. The noise-cancelling feature is impressive, and they‘re also compact and comfortable. Though they’ll be an expensive purchase for most, we think the price is fair when compared to close competitors.

At time of review the AKG N60 were available for £230.

PLANTRONICS BACKBEAT PRO

Key features:
  • Over-ear design
  • Active noise-cancelling
  • 24-hour battery life

The Plantronics BackBeat PRO is a superb pair of over-ear headphones that feature 24-hour battery life, which stretches to 60 hours without noise-cancellation. They also provide great sound quality, impressive ANC and a host of easy-to-use controls. The only downside is comfort, with the earcups feeling like they could do with a bit more padding.

At time of review the Plantronics BackBeat PRO were available for £150.

BOSE QUIETCOMFORT 25

Key features:
  • Over-ear design
  • Active noise-cancelling
  • 3-button remote for iOS and Android

The Bose QuietComfort 25 is a great pair of noise-cancelling headphones for taking the stress out of the city. The set looks more youthful than some of the other models in the QuietComfort line, and noise-cancellation is very good. However, the AKG N60 are very tough to beat.

At time of review the Bose QuietComfort 25 were available for £269.99.

SENNHEISER PXC 550

Key features:
  • On-ear design
  • Active noise-cancelling
  • Passive listening mode

The Sennheiser PXC 550 certainly don’t come cheap, but for the money these are feature-packed cans fitting of Sennheiser’s reputation. The active noise-cancellation can be adjusted based on your environment, too. It’s a nice change from the binary on-or-off choice found on many ANC headphones. There’s also a number of digital sound processing (DSP) modes for when watching movies. The outside of one of the earcups is also a capacitive touchpad to provide intuitive media controls and these headphones can fold up for easy transportation.

At time of review the Sennheiser PXC 550 were available for £330.

CREATIVE SOUND BLASTER EVO ZXR

Key features:
  • Over-ear design
  • Active noise-cancelling
  • 8-hour battery life

The Creative Sound Blaster EVO ZxR are expensive, but they’re difficult to fault in the areas that really count. These over-ear cans are comfortable, sound fantastic and offer plenty of connectivity. It’s just a shame they’re not particularly stylish.

At time of review the Creative Sound Blaster EVO ZxR were available for £250.
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