For any fan of aural entertainment, headphones are incredible. These over-ear cans provide us with our own space, dedicated to one thing – bringing us the sounds we love. While headphones offer a much-improved sound experience over their ear-bud and earphone counterparts, thanks to their large and carefully tuned drivers, there’s one thing that can ruin the listening experience. Outside noise.
Whether it’s a busy street, loud office space, a neighbour's DIY, or hysterical children, there’s a lot of noise trying to encroach on our listening space. Thankfully, many brands out there have felt this pain, and worked to develop active noise cancellation, or ANC. This powerful feature sits in a headphone shell and ensures that any disruptive noise is tuned out. It’s stated that effective noise cancellation can nullify around 70% of external ambience.
There's a wide range of wireless headphones available on today's market. While many of them boast some form of ANC capability, they're not all created equal. A wireless headphone set may have the best sound in the world, but have dreadful noise cancelling.
To help you find the right balance, we've rounded up the best noise cancelling headphones. All of our choices are loaded with great audio profiles and unfalteringly good ANC.
Here are our picks of the best wireless noise cancelling headphones:
The best wireless noise cancelling headphones
Best noise cancelling headphones
Sony's WH-1000XM3s feel as though they should cost twice what they do. The sound profile is wide and rich, full of all the frequencies you could hope for. They're comfortable on the ears, and boast a 35-hour battery life with quick charge. The noise cancellation is the best around, wiping out even the most obnoxious and penetrating of sounds, including drills, vacuums, and barking dogs. If you're looking to listen to music on your smartphone, then the Headphones Connect App will allow you to create a store custom EQ and soundfield modes using Virtualphones Technology. Simply, the WH1000XM3 won't disappoint.
When we tested the Huawei FreeBuds Studio, though we ran into a few small snags, we couldn't help but grow quite fond of the headphones. The sound is well balanced and clean, the ANC is reliable and carries useful modes, and the touch controls are really intuitive. We have a lot more to say about the FreeBuds Studio, so why not head over to our comprehensive review for more details.
Sennheiser is a name synonymous with listening gear, and the Momentum 3 headphones harness all of the audio giant's learnings. Stylish, light, and comfortable, the Momentum 3 feature the sound most have come to expect from Sennheiser products - full-bodied and accurate, with bass, mid-range, and treble delivered with detail. There are three active noise cancellation settings, allowing you to pick which works best for the situation, and a Transparent Hearing feature, which allows you to hear fully the world around you. They're truly lovely, but they come at a price.
Right out of the box, there's something special about the Elite 85h. Sleek and utilitarian, they look like they can stand up to anything u2013 and they can. They are sweat and dust resistant, and have a solid construction. They stand up regarding sound, too. They carry a natural and powerful audio warmth, and the ANC works well enough to keep the majority of outside noise at bay. When paired with the Sound+ smartphone app, the headphones will automatically scan the surrounding area and adjust the sound profile accordingly, guaranteeing you the best experience possible at tall times. The parameters of this setting can be customised in-app, along with other features, such as the preferred voice assistant. There are eight mics in-built too, providing wind-noise-reduction and clarity for calls and voice commands.Check out our full review here.
The Lindy BNX-60 is a great example of the adage, 'if it isn't broke, don't fix it'. Offering up an energetic and balanced audio experience, with a reliable active noise cancellation and long 30 hour battery life, there isn't any reason to avoid opting for these cans if you're on a budget. Sure, the onboard controls feel a little dated in comparison to newer models, but despite landing way back in 2016, the BNX-60 are still some of the best headphones around for under £100.
Bowers & Wilkins make a range of headphones, but we think the PX5s sit in the sweet spot, balancing performance and cost. Compact, light, and comfortable, these PX5s are made of luxurious materials and scream quality. Of course, that'd be useless without impressive sound performance, but the PX5s deliver in that area too, brining music a strong authoritative bass, and nuanced middles and highs. They're packed with features, reliable adaptive active noise cancelling, and carry enough juice to last for up to 25 hours of playback.
The Bose QC35 II provide you with the ultimate listening and user experience. Not only is the sound quality industry-leading and the design super-light and sleek, the noise cancelling capabilities (which you can now personalise on the fly) are reinforced by an AR noise rejecting microphone system which kills background noise, allowing you to make clear calls no matter your location. Amazon Alexa is in-built, allowing you to play music, command other Alexa devices, hear the news or check the weather all by voice command. Plus, the battery life is impressive, allowing you to 20 hours of wireless listening time, or 40 hours through a wired connection.
Noise cancelling explained
There are two methods of noise cancellation: passive and active. Passive noise cancellation is when a manufacturer uses thick, heavy padding around the ear cups to physically block out a surrounding’s sound.
Active noise cancellation is an electronic process by which frequencies of external noises are analysed and used by the headphones to create “sound waves that mimic the incoming noise in every respect except one: the headphone's sound waves are 180 degrees out of phase with the intruding waves” (via HowStuffWorks). These reversed frequencies are mixed in with audio playback to cancel out disruptive noises.
What is bass, midrange, and treble?
Bass, midrange, and treble are sometimes referred to as lows, mids, and highs. These terms refer to the different sound frequencies found in audio.
Bass, or low, is the booming section of sound, the frequencies that people can most often 'feel' - kick drums and bass guitars are an example of low-frequency instruments. Without bass, audio sounds very empty and 'tinny'. Too much bass and music can sound rumbly, overpowering, and wooly.
Midrange, or mid, are all the sound frequencies that happen in the middle - guitars, vocals, and regions of speech. Balancing this with bass brings audio to life. If you struggle to hear vocals in music or conversation in podcasts, boosting the midrange can bring these out for you without having to play with volume.
Treble, or highs (hi), are the high frequencies. These are important for picking out details in audio, but if they are too high they can annoy and be painful to listeners.
William Lobley is a Content Writer and reviewer for WhatsTheBest, specialising in technology, gaming, and outdoors. He also writes for Empire Online.
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