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The best noise-cancelling headphones in 2020

best noise-cancelling headphones
(Image credit: Stevo24 on Getty Images)

In this guide, we run through the best noise-cancelling headphones on the market right now. Finding the best noise-cancelling headphones for you will depend upon a range of factors, including sound quality, design, comfort, price, and exactly how effective they are at cutting out the background noise. 

Not sure you need noise-cancelling? Take a look at our guide to the best wireless headphones around, or our best running headphones if you want to work out while listening to music or your favourite podcast. Or if you're looking for the best headphones for video editing, we've got you covered too. 

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(Image credit: Sony)
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(Image credit: Sony)

01. Sony WH-1000XM3

The very best noise cancelling headphones right now

Type: Over-ear, wireless | Battery life: 30 hours | Weight: 780g

Fantastic noise cancellation
Long battery life
Top sound quality
Not so good for calls

The best noise-cancelling headphones available right now are the Sony WH-1000XM3. A combination of top-quality sound and unbeatable outside noise cancellation mean these over-ear headphones have picked up multiple awards. These are very similar to the previous model; the WH-1000XM2, also in this list. However, the tweaks that have been made – a USB-C input rather than microUSB, and improved comfort thanks to more padding along the bridge – are both welcome.

These cans feature aptX HD and Sony LDAC, both of which are great ways to listen to hi-res music wirelessly. Like Sony's other flagship headphones, these also include Google Assistant and Alexa support. 

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02. Plantronics Backbeat PRO 2 headphones

The best noise-cancelling headphones for commuters

Type: Over-ear, wireless | Battery life: Up to 24hrs | Weight: 290g

Fantastic price
Punchy sound
ANC isn’t great
Quirky design touches

What do you look for in a good set of commuter headphones? Top of the list for some people is noise-cancellation, to block out the constant thrum of rush hour. For others, long battery life might be the most important thing. And then there are the people who need headphones to remain comfortable over prolonged use. The Plantronics Backbeat PRO 2 headphones tick all these boxes, and then some.

Weighing just 290g, the Backbeat PRO 2s can be worn for hours at a time without becoming uncomfortable. And with a Class 1 Bluetooth transmitter enabling extended connectivity, you should get up to 330 feet of range (and it also comes with support for the aptX codec). 

The Pro 2s are packed with features. With the flick of a switch, you can allow outside audio through, which is a useful feature if you need to interact with other people whilst commuting. And the PRO 2s also have pressure-sensitive earpads that detect when you don and remove your headphones, playing and stopping your audio accordingly.

You can pick up a pair of Backbeat PRO 2s for around the $200/£200 mark, which – though not what many would call budget – is less than most of its peers in this category. And for that you get a set of headphones that sounds great (particularly in the mid-range) and also boasts a build quality that puts some of its more expensive competitors to shame.

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The best noise-cancelling headphones

(Image credit: Master & Dynamic)
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The best noise-cancelling headphones

(Image credit: Master & Dynamic)
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The best noise-cancelling headphones

(Image credit: Master & Dynamic)
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The best noise-cancelling headphones

(Image credit: Master & Dynamic)

03. Master & Dynamic MW65 over ear headphones

The best luxurious, stylish noise-cancelling headphones

Type: Over-ear, wireless | Battery life: 24 (and a bit) hours | Weight: 245g

Rich, warm sound
Two active noise-cancelling modes
Great aesthetics
Massive battery life
The cost is a lot

You may or may not think (as we do), that the Master & Dynamic MW65s look the business – with their playful aviator/steampunk aesthetic, and premium leather and aluminium trimmings (first shown in M&D's arguably even more stylish MH40s). But we're sure you'll agree that these high end noise-cancelling headphones are amongst the best sounding.

Master & Dynamic is known for creating headphones with a real depth of sound, not fixating on bass, but rather the full range of frequencies – this was evident in its previous Bluetooth over-ear (though not ANC) MW60 headphones. With the MW65s, M&D has added active noise cancelling to that sound profile, and the results are fantastic.

As far as headphones on the go, they're ideal. They charge 12 hours-worth of play time in 15 minutes, and a full charge will give you a massive 24 hours listening. They're also lightweight, at around 245g, and fit comfortably on this reviewer's (fat) head. There's Google Assistant built in, and phone calls come through nice and crisp. 

But does all this justify the rather large asking price? Well, that comes down to the sound and the active noise cancelling. The sound, as mentioned, is rich and warm, picking up detail that most other headphones don't. The MW65s do not come with earth-shattering bass, but rather a well-rounded sound profile. 

The ANC has two levels, high and low. Low utilises mics in the headphone cup to cancel out noise that penetrates through, and the high uses the more aggressive approach of mics around the outside of the ear cup, picking up ambient noise, which the headphones then cancels by generating a negating sound wave. The end result? Two ANC settings that are genuinely effective depending on your listening environment, and an exquisite sound that always shines through. One of our top noise-cancelling headphones, and definitely one to grab if you see a discount on them.

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(Image credit: Bose)
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(Image credit: Bose)
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(Image credit: Bose)

04. Bose QuietComfort 35 II

Bose gives Sony a run for its money when it comes to noise-cancelling credentials

Type: Over-ear, wireless | Battery life: 20+ hours | Weight: 590g

Unbeatable ANC
Incredible sound
Integrated voice assistant
Uninspiring design
No instant mute
No autoplay/pause

Coming in a close second are the Bose QuietComfort 35 IIs. Bose still rules the roost when it comes to flat-out noise-cancelling chops – the ANC on these is amazing. There's also incredible, soft, balanced, clear sound. 

In terms of features, these were the first headphones in the world to incorporate Google's Voice Assistant. You don't need to yell 'Okay Google'; you can just press a button to interact with the assistant. The QC35 IIs will also read back notifications to you to save you from having to hunt out your smartphone. This will be exciting for some but irrelevant for others – if you fall into the latter camp, perhaps take a look at the previous QuietComfort 35s, which offer similar incredible sound and ANC.

Design-wise, the QC35 IIs are uninspiring, and we're not huge fans of the plastic build. There are better-looking cans out there if that matters to you – although they are very, very comfortable. They're also let down slightly by the fact that they don't currently support aptX, for streaming hi-res audio via Bluetooth.

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(Image credit: Sony)
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(Image credit: Sony)

05. Sony WH-1000XM2 headphones

A slightly older model, but still close to perfect

Type: Over ear, wireless | Battery life: Up to 30hrs | Weight: 275g

Amazing sound
Great ANC
Gesture controls can be fiddly

The version before our winners, the Sony WH-1000XM2 are still very much worth a look – if you can get your hands on a pair (these are increasingly hard to find). Out of the box, the XM2s sound incredible, and they support aptX for streaming hi-res audio via Bluetooth. While these aren't as strong as the Bose when it comes to noise-cancelling, these still do a great job of blocking out lower frequency audio. The overall look isn't terribly exciting, but Sony has done well to pay attention to refining details, such as hiding the hinges on the earcups, giving the XM2s a premium feel. 

When it comes to features, Sony has tried to innovate by adding gesture controls. Although these might flummox some, we found them intuitive and responsive. Swiping up or down on the right earcup controls the volume; tapping the earcup stops and starts playback; swiping back and forth selects previous and next tracks; and you can even place your hand over the earcup to lower the volume and allow ambient audio to enter the headphones. 

Although it's a tight battle, we think the WH-1000XM2s are currently the best noise-cancelling headphones on the market, thanks to their combination of ANC, sound quality, comfort, and design.

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06. Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless headphones

The most stylish noise-cancelling headphones

Type: Over-ear, wireless | Battery life: Up to 22hrs | Weight: 263g

Head-turning design
Good noise-cancellation
Lack of features
Could be more comfortable

If you’re looking for a set of noise-cancelling headphones to turn heads, the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless headphones are – hands-down – the best-looking headphones in this category.

From the metallic headband with its leather padding and colour-matched screws, to the curved lines of the earcups, all the way down to the violet charge light, every small detail has been considered. And the best thing of all is that Sennheiser has made sure that they sound great, too.

Outside of Sony and Bose, Sennheiser’s proprietary NoiseGard system offers up some of the best noise-cancelling we’ve come across. NoiseGard uses four mics to detect and dampen sound, and it effectively removes most steady background noise. (Other notable features include support for aptX and a soundstage that manages to avoid being as claustrophobic as some other over-ear headphones.)

For the price, we feel that Sennheiser could have added more features, but the few it does have work well. The power button doubles up for Bluetooth pairing duties, and there’s also a multi-function button that slides for volume and depresses for pause, play, skipping and calls.

Beyond the lack of features, there’s little to dislike about the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 headphones, and if you can bring yourself to part with the cash, you won’t be disappointed. 

Choosing the best noise-cancelling headphones

The key thing to look for when selecting the best noise-cancelling headphones is active noise control (ANC) technology. ANC isolates external noise – whether it’s coming from an engine, chatty workmates, or a busy train carriage – and neutralises it using hi-tech circuitry, leaving you with an audio feed free from ambient intrusion. Put simply, it actively removes all background noise. Or at least that’s the hope. 

You can then either fill the empty soundstage with your own music, or simply use your noise-cancelling headphones to block out your surroundings and help you focus. 

Active noise-cancelling was first developed in the 1950s to enable pilots to communicate in noisy cockpits. It wasn’t until the mid-'80s Bose created the first commercially available headsets to feature ANC, making it the go-to brand for noise-cancelling headphones for quite some time. However, more recently, the likes of Sony, Plantronics, and Sennheiser have all produced ANC headphones that compete with Bose in almost every respect.

Beyond ANC, you will also need to think about fit and comfort, weight, codec support, durability and general sound quality. The best noise-cancelling headphones do typically come with a hefty pricetag, but it's worth noting that there are often  great Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals on headphones, so that can be a good time to bag a bargain.

What are the best noise-cancelling headphones?

The best noise-cancelling headphones right now are the Sony WH-1000XM3s, with the earlier Sony WH-1000XM2s also ranking highly, along with Bose QuietComfort 35 II. Let's take a closer look at all these, and the rest of our picks, plus where you'll find the best prices.

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