Best Noise Cancelling Headphones of 2018 – A Noise-Free Guide!

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Just a few years ago Active Noise Cancelling headphones were considered a niche product with only a select few knowing anything about what they were, never mind using them on a day to day basis.

Fast forward to present day however and you get a different story, not only have most people heard about Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) headphones, their demand has never been higher. The many who own a pair (maybe more for some) rave about their usefulness, with good reason.

More of an earbuds fan? Check out our Best Noise Cancelling Earbuds guide!.

Click on each product to go straight to the review on this page.


Advantages of Noise Cancelling Headphones

If you’re a music lover you’ve probably had one of those instances where you’re trying to listen to your music but there’s so much noise around you that it’s permeating through the earphones and you really can’t enjoy yourself.

Usually, the only solution to that would be to blast your music on full volume, more than likely damaging your eardrums in the process. For those with low volume cans, in that situation you’re just straight out of luck.

In those circumstances, Noise Cancelling Headphones would be heaven sent with their capability to mute background sounds to almost imperceptible levels and pretty much zero in some instances.

Most hard-core users of ANC headphones started out using them for travel, in airplanes, trains, etc where they excel at shutting out the noise from either mode of transport.

Another good use is if you need to do some studying in places you don’t have control of the noisy environment.

It’s important to note however that ANC headphones aren’t completely capable of shutting out loud talking or shouting but will dampen those sounds noticeably.

Identifying the Noise Cancelling Headphones for You

With the increased demand for ANC headphones comes the inevitable flood of different models from headphone manufacturers all over. While this has the positive impact of speeding up the innovation in the field greatly and lowering price points in the same breath, it makes it harder for the customer to decide which product is best for their particular need.

To make it easier for those diving into the market for the first time I’ve reviewed a few of the best headphones in this niche and also come up with some tips on what to look for.

How do Noise Cancelling Headphones Work?

The first and most important aspect of choosing ANC headphones is, of course, the ANC technology itself.

The technology within Noise Cancelling headphones comprises of a few components that work together to create the peaceful cocoon many have come to love.

First of all a microphone picks up incoming external sounds. Noise cancelling circuitry then takes the input from the microphone and generates a noise wave that is 180 degrees out of
phase with the incoming ambient noise.

The new soundwave generated cancels out the incoming noise (think an “eraser” of sorts) without diminishing the sound (music/podcast/white noise) you’re playing.

Knowing how the technology works means you have an easier job when picking out the headphones for you as not all circuits will work to the same degree when cancelling out noises like the drone of an airplane, trains, factory machinery producing continuous noise, etc.

Another thing to note is most, if not all, ANC headphones produce some level of white noise in the process of eliminating background noises. How loud the noise is depends entirely on how good the ANC circuitry is. The white noise produced by good ANC headphones is pretty much unnoticeable while the bad ones will pretty much ruin your listening experience.

Can You Use Noise Cancelling Headphones Without Music?

A question I hear often is if you can use noise cancelling headphones without listening to any music. The answer is ‘yes’.

Here are a few examples of several situations where you just don’t want to listen to any music, but you still want to block out external noises.

  • Reading a book in a noisy public place.
  • Taking a quick nap on the train, bus, airplane, or even in the car (as a passenger that is).
  • Sleeping at night if you have a partner that snores.

Noise Cancelling vs Noise Isolation, Which Is Better?

People tend to confuse and misuse the term noise cancelling quite often when talking about headphones that in fact use a technology that’s called noise isolation.

The big difference is that noise isolation does not depend on electronics to do its work. Instead, these isolate your ears by using earpads which are designed to keep noise out as good as possible.

There are multiple benefits to a noise isolation headphone. They’re cheaper, more light-weight and don’t require batteries to power the ANC. However, in the end, they will not be a match in terms of keeping ambient noises out.

Battery Life

As the name suggests (Active Noise Cancelling) the process is active, meaning it requires a source of energy, hence batteries. In this case there’s no one size fits all, some headphones come with inbuilt battery packs that you’ll need to recharge while others make use of AAA or AA replaceable batteries.

If you’re one of those people who care about that particular detail then it’s important to check on the battery type used in your top pick to avoid surprises. The type of battery used usually has some sort of impact on battery life as well, for example rechargeable batteries usually last from 8 to 20 hours while AAA/AA batteries are in the 20 to 40 hour region.

That said for the typical ANC headphone anything 16 hours and over is very good and should more than serve for the more demanding customers out there. On the other side of the scale, anything with below 8 hours battery life will be frustrating as you’ll need to constantly recharge it.

Multi-functionality, Ease of Use and Durability

For some people buying ANC headphones has always been a big no simply because of the battery issue. I’ll explain.

Traditionally ANC headphones could only be used with the battery, and if the battery ran out you’d be done until such a time as you could recharge.

Thankfully, quite a lot of manufacturers realized this was a problem so now a lot of models come with the capability to bypass ANC, giving you the option of switching off ANC and using the headphones as normal cans when the battery runs out or if you want to save it for a later time.

Another thing to look out for is how easy the controls are to find and use, the easier it is to switch between preset functions the better.

Lastly, no one wants to spend money on something that will just die in a few months so durability should be high on the list of things to look for. Typically metal reinforced housing, braided cables, reinforced joints all point to a well made, durable headphone.

There are however more than a few headphones made entirely of plastic (hard plastic in most cases) that will stand the test of time, you just have to find the right one.

Durability is closely tied to price so barring a few standouts, the cheaper the headphone the less likely it is to work problem free for years.


V Moda Crossfade Wireless Over-Ear Headphone

First on the list is a headphone that isn’t actually actively noise cancelling, but rather uses passive noise isolation to block out ambient noise. If that’s got you confused as to why it’s made the list, well don’t worry, the reasons will be abundantly clear by the time you’re done with this review.

V-MODA Crossfade Wireless Over-Ear Headphone - Gunmetal Black

Pros
  • Noise Isolation shuts out a wider range of noise
  • Ear pressure and hiss generated by ANC headphones is absent
  • Durable
  • Wireless and wired modes
  • Nice sound quality

Cons
  • Noise Isolation makes it hard to hear people speaking should you want to
  • Thin earpads are uncomfortable after a few hours of use
  • Small soundstage
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Design, Comfort and Durability

The V-Moda brand, at this point, is well known for producing nigh on indestructible headphones and the V-Moda Crossfade is no exception. Built like a tank, the Crossfade is pretty much the Timberland of headphones, not stylish in the traditional sense but those who love it will die for it.

Made from hard plastic reinforced with metal, it’s not difficult to see why this headphone is so highly rated in terms of durability. Even the cable provided, in case you want or need to go to the wired version, is braided and hard to pull apart.

The Crossfade comes in four different colors, mainly, Black (with grey earcups), Rouge, Phantom Chrome (No idea why the Phantom was necessary either) and White Silver. The primary color in the Rouge and Phantom Chrome version is black with the Rouge and Chrome highlights creating a stylish visual that’s at odds with the usual V-Moda design. It works really well though and should pull in a few more of the style-conscious crowd.

In terms of comfort, the headband is a tight fit but doesn’t exert too much clamping force thus not too much discomfort on the head.

The earcups however are another story. First of all, these are over ears, so no discomfort on the ears as a result. The problem here is the ear cushions, mainly because they are too thin. To counter that problem, I had to buy V-Moda’s memory foam earpads and if you’re going to be using these for long periods at a time you’ll probably need to as well.

The controls are easily found however the buttons somehow feel clunky when pressing and require a little force to feel the actual action, something which can get annoying very quickly. The good part is all controls are easy to use as is Bluetooth pairing. Switching Bluetooth on and off is literally done via a switch on the headphones.

Noise cancellation and Sound Quality

As mentioned above, these aren’t strictly noise cancelling but isolating. The reason they made it onto this list is because of the depth of noise isolation achieved by these bad boys.

Putting them on feels like a vacuum seal has been activated around your head and they do a pretty good job at quieting noises like the drone of an airplane, noise on buses, trains, cars, etc.

Because they don’t work by shutting out certain frequency ranges only, even the sound of people talking around you is distinctly muted, to the point where you’ll have to take them off should you wish to engage in conversation (or eavesdrop if that’s what floats your boat, no judgment here, we all do it from time to time).

That said they don’t outshine traditional ANC headphones in the area of continuous sounds like fans whirring or a planes cabin drone.

Moving on to sound quality, the sound profile is balanced enough to attract audiophiles but the punchy bass is a bass fiend’s wet dream. Throaty without the unnatural feel that comes from too much bass boost, it balances out quite well with the mids and highs. All three ranges are full and warm without any one outshining the others.

The lack of any soundstage is probably the only thing to criticize in this regard but that’s just me nitpicking. Sound quality is on par in wired and wireless mode so no problems there.

Battery Life

Battery life is rated at 12 hours by V-Moda and that’s pretty much true, while that’s nothing to shout about, it’s not to be scoffed at either and does the job in most situations.

As mentioned above should battery run out then the wire can be plugged in and you can continue enjoying your music. Charging to full strength requires about 2 hours which is just about the standard for most wireless headphones.

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MPOW H5 ANC Bluetooth Headphones

BEST BUDGET

Probably the least well-known brand on this list, MPOW has successfully put out a headphone good enough to tango with the big boys in this niche.

Mpow [Update] H5 Active Noise Cancelling Bluetooth Headphones, Hifi Stereo Headset Over Ear w/Mic, Foldable, Soft Memory-Protein Earpads, Wired & Wireless Headphones for PC/Cell Phones/TV

Pros
  • Ultra comfortable Memory Protein earpads
  • Multi-connect Bluetooth
  • 18 hour battery life
  • Wireless and wired modes
  • Good sound quality

Cons
  • Headband is really tight fitting causing discomfort after several hours of use
  • Plastic materials feel cheap and flimsy
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Design, Comfort and Durability

Black with silver trimmings the MPOW H5 looks sleek and stylish in a muted sort of way.

Wearing it diminishes that sleek feeling some, purely because you’ll instantly notice how flimsy it feels due to the completely plastic casing. The plasticky feel makes them seem liable to break should you handle them roughly.

The memory protein earpads are a whole different story, well made and just the right amount of soft, they extend some serious comfort to the over ear H5s. Were that the only factor on comfort these would get an A+.

Sadly the headband also has to be taken into account and while the padding is comfortable, the headband is too tight for anything above average sized heads, despite its ability to extend.

Buttons controlling everything from ANC and Bluetooth to volume and incoming calls are located on the earcups. The buttons are easy to find and responsive when pressed, including the all-important ANC switch on the right earcup.

On the multi-functionality side of things, these can be used as wireless (via Bluetooth) headphones or connect a wire and you’ll have yourself a wired version.

MPOW’s H5 headphone is also foldable, with the earcups swiveling inwards 90 degrees, which comes in handy should you want to pack or store them away without taking up too much space.

Noise Cancellation and Sound Quality

The H5s’ sound quality is surprisingly good. The profile is quite balanced with lively mids and highs. The lower frequencies are well represented, deep and full. Good enough to be pleasing to those actively seeking out bassy headphones without overpowering the mids and highs.

Noise Cancelling compliments the good sound quality quite well, while it’s not spectacular, it’s pretty good and manages to lower ambient noise by a noticeable amount. In particular the sound of my lawnmower was drastically reduced whenever I had these on.

They also made travelling on the train a breeze, pretty much muting the sound of the train. Conversations can still be heard though, especially if the people talking are close.

The only problem in terms of sound quality is sometimes static can be heard through the headphones, whether this is from the Bluetooth connection or ANC acting up is a mystery, either way it kind of takes away from how good everything else is.

Battery Life

Rated at a solid 18 hours, the H5s’ battery is another plus, bearing in mind in this case the battery powers both Bluetooth and ANC. 18 hours means even the hardiest of users should manage to put in some solid hours before needing to recharge the built-in battery.

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Bose QuietComfort 35 (Series II) Noise Cancelling Bluetooth Headphones

BEST NOISE CANCELLING

The name most associated with Noise cancelling headphones, Bose is the gold standard of Noise Cancelling headphones and the one to beat for everyone else. The QuietComfort 35 is their latest in a series of market dominating headphones.

Bose QuietComfort 35 (Series II) Wireless Headphones, Noise Cancelling - Black

Pros
  • Multi-device Connection
  • Good sound quality
  • Noise Cancellation is unrivaled
  • 20 hours of battery life in wireless mode (40 in wired)

Cons
  • Cannot turn ANC off when Bluetooth is on
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Design, Comfort and Durability

If there’s one thing Bose knows how to do, aside from their incredible noise cancelling tech of course, it’s designing a great headphone. Presented in all black or all white, the QuietComfort 35 is definitely built to turn heads. Something it manages to do without appearing too loud.

As the name suggests, comfort is another area where great care was taken and it shows. The earcushions are soft and lightweight, while the clamping force exerted by the headband is never too tight at any point.

Although it’s made of plastic, the QuietComfort 35 feels quite sturdy, in other words, durable enough to last quite a few years barring any misfortune.

Like most wireless headphones, the controls are found on both earcups. The headphone on/off doubles as a switch between simultaneously connected Bluetooth devices. The left earcup carries the Google assistant/Siri button which doubles as a noise cancellation switch should you so wish.

Noise Cancellation and Sound Quality

The QuietComfort 35 features what can only be described as a very clean, crisp sound profile. In true audiophile styles, the three frequency ranges are all well represented. In short, the QC 35 sounds really good, that said it’s definitely not the world’s best sounding headphone.

When switching between ANC settings (low to high), the sound profile does change slightly. Sound is purest at the lowest setting then as you move to the highest setting, bass sounds more and more pronounced such that on high ANC it almost sounds geared towards bass lovers.

Moving on to ANC, the QC 35 is undisputedly incredible. From the low setting, ANC shines, distinctly muting all ambient noise and progressively getting better the higher you go. On high, expect almost only human voices to filter through, with an eerie silence coming from the lack of ambient noise around you.

On the negative side, it’s at this setting that you experience some pressure on the ears from the ANC. Thankfully, there’s no audible hiss to accompany it.

One design flaw that you cannot run away from with the QC 35s is that when Bluetooth is turned on, ANC will automatically go on as well, this is because Bose decided to use the same button for Bluetooth on/off as well as ANC on/off without making it possible to switch between the two. This can be lessened by putting ANC to the lowest setting or using the provided cable should you not want ANC on. That said, it’s still a major flaw and a huge oversight from Bose.

Battery Life

At 20 hours in wireless mode, the QC 35 has very good battery life, so good it should satisfy even the most demanding of users. In wired mode, that goes up to 40 hours of ANC use.

The built-in battery is obviously rechargeable, taking 3 to 4 hours for a full charge. A voice prompt will let you know how much battery you have left when you switch these on so you won’t be hit with any surprises.

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Sennheiser HD 4.50 Bluetooth Headphones

As one of the most well-known headphone brands, Sennheiser has gained a reputation for solid headphones with really good sound.

Sennheiser HD 4.50 Bluetooth Wireless Headphones with Active Noise Cancellation (HD 4.50 BTNC)

Pros
  • Wireless and Wired modes
  • 19 hour battery life with ANC
  • Quality durable construction
  • No sound leakage
  • Good sound quality

Cons
  • Uncomfortable for larger sized heads and ears
  • On-ear headphones instead of the marketed over-ears
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Design, Comfort and Durability

The design for the HD 4.50 headphone is meant to be eye catching and it is. Black with silver trimmings, the headphone has a polished, business-like look to it. It’s the type of headphone that would look just as good on someone wearing a suit, as it would with street-wear.

In comfort terms, the HD 4.50s have comfortable pleather earcushions, however instead of the over-ear size marketed, these sort of straddle the line between over-ear and on-ear without actually committing to one. The result is slight discomfort for anyone with adult-sized ears as the pads will sit on the edges of your ear. This in turn causes the ears to heat up over several hours of listening, adding to the discomfort.

For some reason the headband is also pretty tight, giving the wearer a squeeze that adds to the discomfort especially at the top of the head.

Moving on, although made from plastic, the HD 4.50s are quite sturdy in construction and durable as a result. As a wireless headphone, all the important controls are found on the earcups and are quite easy to find and use.

Noise Cancellation and Sound Quality

Noise Cancellation on the HD 4.50s is fairly average, it won’t blow you away but it’ll do the job it’s meant to in terms of shutting down ambient noise. However, you can expect some sounds to still be able to filter through and I’m not just talking about human voices here.

Sound quality is much better than the ANC, in fact, it’s quite good, especially if your device engages the APT-X which enhances the sound quite a bit. Clear and crisp are the terms I’d use to describe the sound quality, mids and highs are warm and strong, while bass is punchy (although not bass head type punchy I should note). All in all, a vibrant sound that satisfies.

Battery Life

A 19 hour battery life is really good and most people should find that sufficient, especially given that there’s a cable included should you find yourself in a situation where you need to go wired.

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V-Moda Crossfade LP2 Vocal Over-Ear Headphone

The second installment from V-Moda on this list is again not an active noise cancelling headphone but rather noise isolating.

V-MODA Crossfade LP2 Vocal Limited Edition Over-Ear Noise-Isolating Metal Headphone (Matte Black)

Pros
  • Noise isolation shuts out a wider range of noises
  • No ear pressure or hiss from ANC
  • Extremely durable with Kevlar reinforced cable
  • Sound quality is top notch

Cons
  • Can only be used as a wired headphone
  • Noise Isolation makes it hard to hear people speak
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Design, Comfort and Durability

The Crossfade LP2 mimics the style and make of most V-Moda headphones out there.

Built with durability in mind above all else, exemplified by the aluminum trimmings on the headphone, the headband is complete aluminum covered by leather padding.

The all black over ear headphones are really comfortable and don’t exert too much pressure on the head as the clamping power isn’t excessive.

The earpads fit snugly and should go over most ears without a problem, especially if you opt for the XL version like I did.

The Kevlar reinforced braided cable features an in-line microphone with volume controls on it. The swivels are also well-made aluminum and should stand the test of time for most people.

Noise Cancellation and Sound Quality

As mentioned at the start, these aren’t strictly noise cancelling headphones, but rather noise isolation is their niche. In that they excel, especially because of their nice fit and the earcushions which swallow your ears whole.

The noise isolation achieved as a result is really good and like their cousins above they made this list based on that alone.

Good isolation mutes just about every sound and that’s what you get when you out these on, unlike ANC headphones these don’t target certain frequency ranges. The downside of that is there’s no way to control it, should you wish to listen to someone talk you’ll have to take the LP2s off.

Sound quality is firm, balanced and even to the untrained ear, really, really good. While these aren’t studio headphones by any means, the profile is really balanced and doesn’t push bass on you like most headphones tend to do nowadays. Rather, the bass naturally nudges at the listener in a provocative manner that most should find enticing.

The mids and highs are lively and hold their own to provide a sound that should have most nodding their heads in pleasure. The soundstage on these also helps sell the incredible sound quality.

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Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless Headphone

BEST OVERALL

The second pick from Sennheiser on the list, the PXC 550 is Sennheiser’s stab at overpowering Bose’s dominance in the Noise Cancelling niche.

Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless – NoiseGard Adaptive Noise Cancelling, Bluetooth Headphone with Touch Sensitive Control and 30-Hour Battery Life

Pros
  • Intuitive touch controls
  • Incredible balance in sound
  • App to customize listening experience should you wish
  • NFC pairing and automatic Bluetooth on when you unfold the headphones
  • 30 hour battery life
  • Excellent sound quality

Cons
  • Nope
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Design, Comfort and Durability

In terms of looks, the PXC 550 looks almost exactly like its cousin the HD 4.50, all black with silver trimmings. The colors complement each other in a muted chic way that screams elegance, covering all the bases on the fashion side of things.

Made from hard plastic, the PXC 550 is durable and can withstand most mild forms of abuse for some time. The only worry I would have is how the touch interface would respond to the headphones being dropped.

On the comfort side of things, the PXC 550s hold their own really well. The earcushions are well made, soft and comfortable enough to be worn for hours without ear fatigue. The headband features generous padding that protects the head from unnecessary pressure.

The right earcup looks solid but is, in fact, a touch responsive surface (much like a laptop’s touch interface) featuring all the controls in Bluetooth mode. To play music, all you have to do is touch once, swipe up and down to reduce volume and swipe backwards and forwards to control playback. The touch controls are very responsive and intuitive to use.

Switching the headphones on and off is a simple matter of unfolding them and folding them respectively, adding to the feeling of intuitive elegance.

Noise Cancelling and Sound Quality

Noise cancelling on the PXC 550 is pretty good, cancelling out ambient noises almost to the same level as Bose’s QC 35, almost. Sounds from an airplane’s cabin, trains, buses, etc are distinctly quieted.

Like all ANC headphones though, you can still hear voices. A talkthrough feature is provided for when you want to be able to fully hear people talking, a good thing because you won’t have to take of your headphones should you want to listen to someone talk.

Sound quality is incredibly good, pure and crisp, with fully detailed, spacious mids and highs. Bass is tight and throaty, although it’s not exactly bass head type, it’ll satisfy most people.

Sound equalizer presets are installed into the headphone and you can switch between off, club, movie and speech mode. The same presets can be found on the apps should you wish to control your payback from there instead.

Battery Life

At 30 hours, the PXC 550 has incredibly good battery life, unexpectedly so, especially with both Bluetooth and ANC engaged. A full charge takes just about 3 hours so you don’t have to worry about it needing days to recharge.

A cable is also provided should you wish to go wired. The cable is also intuitive in that it turns Bluetooth off automatically the moment it connects to the headphones.

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Conclusion

Picking the best headphone on this list is no easy task given how different some of them are from each other. Not to mention they all excel in some way or other.

Having said that, I’ll buck the trend slightly and go for the Sennheiser PXC 550 as overall best headphone on the list. This choice is purely based on the fact that while the QC 35 wins on ANC functionality, the difference between the two isn’t so great as to discount the fact that the Sennheiser wins at just about everything else, from sound quality to ease of use and battery life, while both are on par in terms of comfort.

Bose’s faux pas (Bluetooth and ANC function being irreversibly intertwined) is worth mentioning as a strike against the QC 35. That said if you’re looking for the best headphone at noise cancelling with no frills attached then the Bose QC 35 is the way to go.

The V-Moda Crossfade is also worth mentioning as the noise isolation it achieves is really good, that it has great sound quality to boot is a plus, especially if you’re a bass head as there aren’t too many headphones geared towards lovers of the lower-end in the ANC market.

8 Comments

  1. AnxietyPanda May 20, 2018
    • Jurgen May 21, 2018
  2. Daniel May 17, 2018
    • Jurgen May 17, 2018
  3. Furkan May 15, 2018
  4. Dan May 15, 2018
    • Jurgen May 15, 2018

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