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Best noise-cancelling headphones 2024: The top tried and tested opinions this Prime Day

Sony WH-1000XM5 laid down showing noise cancelling button

The best noise-cancelling headphones you can buy - of every style, and at every price - tested and selected by audio experts

The best noise-cancelling headphones – often called active noise-cancelling or ANC headphones – are the only way to enjoy tunes, podcasts, films and TV shows free from the distracting noise of the outside world. And their popularity is such that they’re now available in various styles, at all sorts of prices.

At Expert Reviews we’ve assembled a team of audio experts with decades of experience between them. We’ve tested hundreds of pairs of headphones, at every price and of every style, and have compiled a list of our favourite noise-cancelling options to help you buy the pair that will suit your requirements and your budget.

So it doesn’t matter if you want a pair of noise-cancelling headphones to use on your commute, in the office or to enjoy your favourite tunes without cranking up the volume to drown out the rest of the world. Below, you’ll find out how ANC headphones work, what to look for and our picks of the best noise-cancelling headphones to suit you based on the most rigorous testing.


Amazon Prime Day deal

The five-star Apple AirPods Pro (USB-C) are available for an all-time low price of £179 this Prime Day, down from an average of £217. You only have until midnight on Wednesday, 17 July to take advantage of this great offer, however.

View deal at Amazon

Amazon Prime Day deal

The Anker Soundcore Life Q30 are a great budget buy, particularly at their Prime Day price of £49. That’s only £5 cheaper than they were before the event, which ends at midnight on 17 July, but a decent saving on their average price of £66.

View deal at Amazon

Amazon Prime Day deal

You can pick up Sony’s brilliant WF-1000XM5 for £200 during the Prime Day sales event, which runs until midnight on 17 July. That price is £37 cheaper than the earbuds’ average price and £59 cheaper than they were when they received our Best Buy award.

View deal at Amazon


Best noise-cancelling headphones: At a glance

Over-ear

True wireless earbuds


How we test the best noise-cancelling headphones

Our testing of noise-cancelling headphones focuses on two key areas: audio quality and sound attenuation.

To test audio quality, we listen to a broad range of content across multiple platforms and whichever connection types the headphones in question support. This content includes music from Spotify, Tidal and Apple Music, videos from YouTube, and TV shows and films on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney Plus. We test across the full range of supported Bluetooth codecs and audio formats and explore any audio options a pair of headphones may have, such as in-app presets and customisable equalisers.

Testing a pair of Sony WH-1000XM4 noise-cancelling headphones

These audio tests are undertaken in a range of environments, as are those focusing on the effectiveness of active noise cancellation. At-home tests with kettles and washing machines are used to assess a pair of headphones’ ability to dampen the impact of common household appliances, and we’ll also test headphones in noisy public environments such as crowded streets, the London Underground and our bustling office. We try out every single ANC option, including various levels of attenuation and transparency modes where available, and run side-by-side comparisons with similarly priced models for context.

Sound quality and attenuation aren’t the only things we test, however. We evaluate build quality and comfort by wearing the headphones for extended periods of time, while headphones with an IP rating will be exposed to rain and sweat. We keep a close eye on playing time to assess manufacturers’ battery life claims. ANC headphones with microphones are used on calls – both over the phone and using web platforms such as Zoom and Teams – while we also make audio recordings to better assess voice pickup and background noise reduction.


The best noise-cancelling headphones to buy in 2024

1. Sony WH-1000XM5: Best noise-cancelling headphones overall

Price when reviewed: £379 | Check price at Amazon

Sony WH-1000XM5 laid down showing noise cancelling button

  • Great for: Premium performance, smart features
  • Not so great for: Foldability, water resistance

Although the fifth-generation model of Sony’s flagship over-ear headphones look rather different to their predecessors, they demonstrate all the same qualities, with a few notable upgrades. They deliver greater detail across the frequency spectrum, external sound is attenuated more effectively, and the new ‘noiseless’ design is supremely comfortable.

Add a whole host of useful features such as Adaptive Sound Control, Quick Attention mode, Speak-to-Chat, wear detection and DSEE Extreme upscaling, and you have a pair of noise-cancelling headphones that tick just about every box. We say ‘just about’, as the WH-1000XM5 have no water resistance – so they aren’t cut out for gym use – and can’t be folded, which will be offputting for some.

Despite those minor grumbles, the XM5 are the new undisputed noise-cancelling kings. Their predecessors the WH-1000XM4 still remain a viable option, however, and are a more budget-friendly option.

Read our full Sony WH-1000XM5 review

Key specs – Headphone type: Over-ear headphones, built-in microphone, touch controls; Connectivity: Bluetooth, 3,5mm jack; Weight: 250g; Cable length: 1.2m


2. Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds: Best noise-cancelling earbuds

Price when reviewed: £299 | Check price at Amazon

best noise cancelling earbuds Bose QuietComfort Ultra on a wooden worktop

  • Great for: Class-leading ANC, comfort
  • Not so great for: No wireless charging or multipoint connectivity

The QC Ultra Earbuds offer the best noise cancellation of any true wireless earbuds we’ve tested, reducing the impact of external sound by an incredible degree. They get closer to achieving silent listening conditions than their peers and they sound fantastic, too. Snapdragon Sound support unlocks high-resolution streaming on compatible Android devices, and Bose’s new Immersive Audio modes enhance immersion considerably, regardless of the type of content you’re consuming and the platform it’s on.

The Ultra Earbuds are also extremely comfortable to wear, have responsive touch controls and sport the same streamlined design as their predecessors, the QC Earbuds II. The absence of Bluetooth multipoint and wireless charging is frustrating, but these are the buds to buy if you want class-leading ANC.

Read our full Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds review

Key specs – Headphone type: True wireless earbuds, built-in microphone, touch controls; Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3; Weight: 6.2g per earbud, 60g charging case; Cable length: N/A


3. Anker Soundcore Life Q30: The best budget noise-cancelling headphones

Price when reviewed: £80 | Check price at Amazon

  • Great for: Battery life, customisation options
  • Not so great for: Audio balance on the default sound profile

The Life Q30 may not be the best-looking noise-cancelling headphones around, but they’ve got a lot going for them. Their ANC is highly effective given their budget price and there are three modes available catering for different circumstances: Transport, Indoors and Outdoors, all of which successfully help mitigate environmental sound.

The Soundcore companion app that lets you freely switch between those modes is one of the most comprehensive around, with 22 different EQ presets to choose from and an eight-band graphic equaliser to create your own EQ. Those audio customisation options are particularly welcome as the Life Q30’s default sound profile is overly bassy to the point where the earcups vibrate and things sound rather muddy. But tone the low end down a bit and things start to sound much better.

The Life Q30 also have an outstanding battery life of up to 40 hours with ANC turned on. With that stamina, impressive noise-cancelling capabilities and audio you can tweak to suit your own preferences, the Life Q30 are the ultimate budget ANC headphones.

Read our full Anker Soundcore Life Q30 review

Key specs – Headphone type: Over-ear, built-in microphone, touch and physical controls; Connectivity: Bluetooth, 3.5mm jack plug; Weight: 265g; Cable length: 1.2m


4. Sony WF-1000XM5: The smartest noise-cancelling earbuds

Price when reviewed: £243 | Check price at Amazon

Sony WF-1000XM5 - charging case with lid open

  • Great for: Personalisation options, smart features
  • Not so great for: Not especially affordable

The WF-1000XM5 may not be as effective at attenuating external sound as Bose’s flagship earbuds, but they have smarts on their side. Using Sony’s Adaptive Sound Control, the XM5 can adjust your level of noise cancellation based on where you are and what you’re doing. This worked incredibly well during testing and proved useful in all manner of situations.

The buds are comfortable and sound good too, though the step-up in sound quality between them and the XM4 isn’t as obvious as it was between those buds and the third-gen model. Still, their new, more compact design is a big hit, and the XM5 offer an impressive range of features and functionality to customise your experience. If you’re after best-in-class ANC buy the Bose instead, but for a top-tier all-round experience, you can’t go wrong with the Sony WF-1000XM5.

Read our full Sony WF-1000XM5 review

Key specs – Headphone type: True wireless earbuds, built-in microphone, touch controls; Connectivity: Bluetooth; Weight: 5.9g per earbud, 39g charging case; Cable length: N/A


5. Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 4: Best noise-cancelling earbuds for Bluetooth specification

Price when reviewed: £259 | Check price at Amazon

best noise-cancelling headphones sennheiser momentum true wireless 4 sitting in the carry box

  • Great for: Connectivity options, premium build and finish
  • Not so great for: Assertive sound

Many true wireless earbuds support various Bluetooth codecs and sound platforms, but the Momentum True Wireless 4 have them all beat. They’re the first earbuds we’ve tested to use Bluetooth 5.4, and boast SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX Adaptive, aptX Lossless and LC3 compatibility. There’s also support for LE Audio and Snapdragon Sound, meaning you’re guaranteed an optimal audio experience regardless of the device you’re streaming from.

The buds are also among the first to support Auracast features; these aren’t available just yet, but will be added via a firmware update in the coming months. When this happens you’ll be able to use your phone to broadcast public audio streams (like those on a TV in a pub) directly to your earbuds. That’s incredibly handy and helps set an already highly impressive pair of noise-cancellers apart from the crowd.

Read our Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 4 review

Key specs – Headphone type: True wireless earbuds, built-in microphone, touch controls; Plug type: N/A; Weight: 6.2g per earbud, 66.4g charging case; Cable length: N/A


6. Apple AirPods Max: Best noise-cancelling headphones for iPhone users

Price when reviewed: £549 | Check price at Argos

  • Great for: Immersive spatial audio, iOS integration
  • Not so great for: Those on a budget

They may be the most expensive entry on this list, but Apple’s AirPods Max deliver where it matters most: noise cancellation and audio quality. The ANC uses six external microphones and two internal mics and does a superb job at reducing external sound, while the transparency mode works extremely well, too.

When it comes to their sound signature, the AirPods Max are relatively laid back. Their soundstage is nice and wide and this provides plenty of room for you to make out different elements of more complicated musical arrangements. Top-end frequencies are slightly rolled off, so the AirPods Max never become fatiguing to listen to.

But what really sets the AirPods Max apart from the competition is their incorporation of Spatial Audio. This uses head tracking to deliver surround sound and works wonderfully while watching content that supports the technology. Sound comes from different directions based on your head’s position, and the result is a truly immersive experience.

If you own an iPhone and are after the most luxurious over-ear noise-cancellers around, the AirPods Max should be top of your wishlist.

Read our full Apple AirPods Max review

Key specs – Headphone type: Over-ear headphones, built-in microphone; Connectivity: Bluetooth; Weight: 384g; Cable length: N/A


7. Anker Soundcore Life P3: Best budget noise-cancelling earbuds

Price when reviewed: £70 | Check price at Amazon

  • Great for: Value for money, effective ANC on a budget
  • Not so great for: Responsive controls

The Life P3 are the most effective ANC earbuds we’ve tested costing less than £100 and, like their over-ear counterparts the Life Q30, offer three different noise-cancelling levels: Transport, Indoor and Outdoor. The difference between them isn’t huge, but each attenuates sound to an impressive degree given the P3’s very reasonable price.

The Life P3 also offer a huge range of EQ options, with 20 preset EQs available within the companion app along with the ability to create your own custom profile. Customisation options are also available for the P3’s touch controls but while the commands the controls cover are comprehensive, executing is a little hit and miss.

Still, if you can live with occasionally having to tap them a few more times than should really be necessary, you’ll be getting a pair of earbuds capable of cutting out a significant chunk of external sound and delivering decent audio while they’re at it.

Read our Anker Soundcore Life P3 review

Key specs – Headphone type: True wireless earbuds, built-in microphone, touch controls; Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0; Weight: 5.5g per earbud, 50g charging case; Cable length: N/A


8. Apple AirPods Pro 2: Best noise-cancelling earbuds for iPhone users

Price when reviewed: £229 | Check price at Amazon

  • Great for: Seamlessly integration with iPhones; enjoyable spatial audio
  • Not so great for: Android users, conversational awareness

If you own an iPhone and are after noise-cancelling earbuds, the Apple AirPods Pro 2 are the obvious option. They play extremely nicely with iOS devices, attenuate external sound effectively and deliver an engaging audio experience.

The latest model ditches Apple’s proprietary connection for a USB-C port, which is much more convenient, and battery life clocks in at a very reasonable total of 30 hours. We found the new conversational awareness mode didn’t work as well as we’d hoped, and the sound signature could perhaps do with a bit more bass, but overall, the latest AirPods Pro are easily the best buds an iPhone owner can buy.

Read our full Apple AirPods Pro 2 USB-C review

Key specs – Headphone type: True wireless, built-in microphone, touch controls; Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3; Weight: 5.3g per earbud, 51g charging case; Cable length: N/A


9. Urbanista Los Angeles: Best noise-cancelling headphones for battery life

Price when reviewed: £169 | Check price at Urbanista

  • Great for: Near-infinite battery life, low-end response
  • Not so great for: Attenuating sound further up the frequency spectrum

We’ve been impressed by Urbanista’s headphones over the past couple of years, with the London earbuds receiving our coveted Best Buy award and the Miami securing a commendable four-star rating. The Los Angeles are essentially a solar-charged version of the Miami, with a headband housing a solar cell that draws power from any light source to top up the Los Angeles’ battery.

Because the cell is always charging the headphones regardless of whether they’re turned on or not, you should never have to charge the Los Angeles using their USB-C port. They’re the first headphones to incorporate such technology, and it’s certainly a unique selling point.

The Los Angeles also look good, and sound quality will appeal to those that favour a bass-forward presentation. The noise cancellation isn’t the most effective going but does the job well enough and ultimately, less capable ANC is a sacrifice worth making if you never want to have to charge your headphones again.

Read our full Urbanista Los Angeles review

Key specs – Headphone type: Over-ear, built-in microphone, physical controls; Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0; Weight: 322g; Cable length: N/A


10. Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700: Most stylish noise-cancelling headphones

Price when reviewed: £350 | Check price at Amazon

  • Great for: Supreme noise-cancelling, lovely looks
  • Not so great for: Can sound fractionally laid-back

Bose is well known for its noise-cancelling tech, and the NC 700 are probably its best over-ear headphones yet. These supremely stylish cans have adjustable ANC, touch controls, and have the virtual assistants Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant built-in.

Aside from their design, the NC 700 have excellent noise-cancelling performance – one that slightly betters their predecessors, the QuietComfort 35 Series II. Sonically, they retain the calm and composed sound signature of other Bose headphones, making them easy to recommend.

Read our full Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review

Key specs – Headphone type: Over-ear, built-in microphone, touch controls; Connectivity: Bluetooth, 3.5mm jack plug (optional); Weight: 250g; Cable length: 1.2m


How to choose the best noise-cancelling headphones for you

With prices starting from around £50 and soaring to well over £300, there’s a pair of noise-cancelling headphones out there for everyone, no matter their budget. But which style is right for you and what features should you look for? The answers to both of those questions can be found in the buying guide below.

What types of noise cancellation are there?

Headphones can feature two types of noise cancellation: active and passive. Passive noise cancellation simply means physically blocking out external noises. It’s often referred to as “sound isolation”, and the style of headphones you choose will have a significant impact on how effective it is.

Active noise cancellation is a much smarter process using clever technology to reduce ambient noise so nothing disturbs your listening. The only downside of the technology is that it’s rather expensive, though we’re seeing more affordable options emerging. If you can’t stretch your budget to a pair of ANC headphones, you may want to take a look at our roundups of the best Bluetooth headphones and best cheap headphones for some less dear alternatives.

What style of noise-cancelling headphones should I buy?

Noise-cancelling headphones come in all shapes and sizes, and their ability to passively block out ambient sound varies greatly from style to style.

Over-ear headphones of the closed-back variety offer the best passive noise-cancellation as their earcups are sealed and envelop your ears. Open-back over-ear headphones actively let sound in, so you won’t find any noise-cancelling headphones with an open-back design.

On-ear headphones let some sound in owing to the way they sit on your ears. This doesn’t make ANC redundant, but there aren’t nearly as many on-ear headphones with ANC as there are over-ear options.

In-ear headphones do passive noise cancellation slightly differently: they use silicone eartips to seal your ear canals and isolate sound that way. There are some in-ear noise-cancelling headphones that use an open-fit design – where the earpieces rest just inside your ears – but we recommend you steer clear of these if you’re after decent ANC as they let too much sound in.

Ultimately, the style you choose will be the one you find most comfortable and practical for the conditions in which you plan to use your noise-cancelling headphones.

How does active noise cancellation work?

ANC relies on a combination of outward-facing microphones built into the headphones and clever digital signal processing. The microphones constantly listen to the ambient sound around you, while the digital signal processor takes that audio and plays the exact inverse of that sound alongside your music. The result is that those outside noises are effectively cancelled out, allowing you to enjoy your music as it was meant to be heard.

ANC is a very impressive technology, but it doesn’t completely eliminate every type of background noise. As high frequencies have a much shorter wavelength than lower tones, they’re harder to eliminate in real-time. The technology is most effective at blocking out lower-frequency sounds, such as the rumble of aeroplane engines.

What are the benefits of noise-cancelling headphones?

Noise-cancelling headphones don’t just help you enjoy your music; they can protect your hearing, too. Without noise-cancelling technology, the only way to drown out ambient noise is to crank up the volume. Done on a regular basis, this can lead to permanent hearing damage. Noise-cancelling headphones let you listen at lower volumes, reducing the impact on your eardrums.

ANC is also useful if you have hypersensitivity, hyperacusis or a similar health condition, as the technology can help reduce the strain on your ears.

It’s worth noting that ANC can affect the overall sound quality of your headphones because the noise-cancelling wave can interfere with the frequencies in what you’re listening to. The effect is usually minimal, though, and preferable to putting up with background noise. You might also hear a slight high-pitched hiss in the background when nothing is playing – but again, it’s a small price to pay for the ability to enjoy your music untroubled by intrusive external sounds.

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