There's nothing worse than settling down to a long journey with a couple of your favorite albums, only to have your jam session ruined by the outside world.
Enter noise-cancelling headphones, which remove the sound of everything around you, so you can listen to your music at a lower (and safer) volume.
There are large variations in how well this effect is achieved, but even at their worse these headphones are still much better than a traditional pair of headphones in terms of keeping outside sound at bay.
The top picks for the best noise-cancelling headphones include devices that not only effectively eliminate the most amount of background noise, but also make your music sound pretty good in the process.
That said, sometimes the effect isn't completely perfect. They're less effective at cancelling out higher-pitched noises, but most of the high-end sets excel at dealing with low, consistent noises like the hum of a train or plane.
- Check out our guide to the best headphones overall.
How to buy noise-cancelling headphones
So what do you want to look for when looking for a pair of the best noise-cancelling headphones? Look for anything with the words "active noise-cancellation technology" on it.
You see, when it comes to noise-cancelling headphones, there are two types to look out for: active and passive. Passive means that when the headphones are pressed against your head and the sound is cut out in the process of closing your ears off to the world outside. It's not high-tech, it's just isolation.
Lots of headphones claim that this is some sort of advanced technique, but it's nothing more than a few layers of foam trying their darndest to keep sound out.
Active noise cancellation, on the other hand, involves some pretty interesting processes to cancel sound out. Along with the padding which passively blocks sound, microphones planted in the ear wells of headphones actively analyse the ambient noise level and reflect sound waves back into your ear that work to zap the outside noise. The goal is to hear nothing but the music, or whatever it is you're listening to.
Active noise cancelling headphones are more effective at what they do. The downside is that this noise cancellation requires batteries in order to function, so you'll have to keep them charged if you want to keep the noises of the outside world at bay.
Now that you know all that, you're ready to choose a set. Let's take a look at the best noise-cancelling headphones available, starting with a list of our top 10.
The Sony WH-1000XM2 are a great pair of wireless headphones which offer excellent audio quality to the listeners. If battery life is one of the major factors that concerns you then fear not, the Sony WH-1000XM2 come with a powerful battery which can serve your needs for up to 30 hours. Yes, you heard it right. 30 hours of continuous playback time.
Apart from this, you will also get to experience hands-free calling which can be easily controlled using the touch panel given on the sides of the headphones.
Read the full review: Sony WH-1000XM2
Philips presents an elegant noise-cancelling solution with its NC1. These on-ear headphones aren't wireless, but that's hardly a reason to knock them off. In the same price range as the Bose QuietComfort 25, the NC1s' are a more compact set that's high on comfort and battery life, making them perfect for the traveler on-the-go.
You get a lot for your money in this set. The box comes with the headphones, a hard case for storage and the headphones have a rechargeable battery that provides noise cancellation for close to 30 hours. The headphones come with a replaceable cable that's tangle proof.
The only thing to be aware of is that there may be some noise leakage to the people around you and that could prove to be an annoyance.
But best of all, the sound performance is extremely well-balanced and warm.
Read the full review: Philips Fidelio NC1
They're a little more expensive then the Philips NC1, but the Bose QC35 headphones offer wireless connectivity, so you can be free from cabling as well as background noise.
They're also a much better sounding pair of headphones than Bose's previous (wired) attempt, the Bose QC25s, and their battery life is long enough for all but the longest of flights.
They also come with a cable in case you want to use them with a device that doesn't support Bluetooth.
The QC35s sit firmly at the premium end of the spectrum, but if you want the best noise-cancelling headphones available right now at any price then there are few out there that can compete.
Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort 35
If you want the same level of excellent noise-cancellation as the Bose QC35s but want to save a bit of money, consider the last-generation QC25s.
The biggest sacrifice you'll be making is wireless, but in our opinion the QC35s are also the much better sounding pair of headphones.
Nevertheless, the QC25s represent a great mid-range pick. You're getting a finely-tuned set of headphones that provide over 35 hours of very good noise-cancelling performance with one AAA battery.
Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort 25
Bowers and Wilkins may not be the most popular name when it comes to headphones, but their devices don't fail to impress.
They do their job of delivering decent sound quality but also come packed with extra features. For instance, they're capable of turning on or off on their own depending on whether on you're wearing them.
You won't have to switch them out any time soon either, since they come with a USB type-C charging port.
Coming back to the audio, it's decent but it's not perfect. It doesn't exhibit the same depth that's seen in flagship models from Bose or Sony. But, they're definitely worth a listen and their features make them a tempting purchase.
Read the full review: Bowers and Wilkins PX Wireless
Wireless headphones aren't always the cheapest pair to but, but the AKG N60NC do a pretty decent job of offering a mid-range product that's on level with premium models.
The combination of great sound quality, longer than average battery life and noise-cancellation that actually works, the AKG N60NC gives you bang for your buck.
The main hang up with this pair of headphones is the fact that it comes with a 2.5mm jack serving as a charging point as well as the link for a wired connection. In either case, a 3.5mm jack and a USB type-C port would've been preferred.
Read the full review: AKG N60NC Wireless
The Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC provide a great audio experience to the users. In addition to this, they can also become your ideal travelling partner. Weighing 238g, the headphones are easy to carry and light, compared to their rivals. Despite stiff competition in this category, these headphones hold their own thanks to their pocket-friendly price tag.
These headphones aren't the best in appearance with the aluminium finish looking flimsy but that's also the primary reason that they're so lightweight. The bass isn't very strong and the fall in music quality is noticeable when the NoiseGuard mode is on. But then again, this isn't unusual for headphones using NoiseGuard. It's effective and does what it's supposed to do.
These headphones compare well with others and are optimal for frequent travelers.
Read the full review: Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC
If you're a frequent traveler then you're probably familiar with headphones that can't hold a charge, can't block out sound and for the most part, don't sound very good.
If you're tired of buying headphones like that, let us introduce you to the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2, one of the few headphones on the market that can do all of the above and cost half as much as compared to one of the bigger names like Beats, Bose and Sony.
If we had to boil it down to its core, the BackBeat Pro 2 is an excellent travel headphone with incredible battery life, supreme comfort, the ability to pair two devices at once and, most importantly, good sound quality for the cost.
Read the full review: Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2
The Samsung Level On Pro Wireless are one of the few headphones we've tested that feel like they're meant as a package deal for another device. Yes they'll work with every Bluetooth and 3.5mm jack-equipped handset on the market, but you're better off sticking to a Samsung device in order to squeeze every ounce of aural goodness from the UHQ audio codec.
It's one of the comfiest pair of cans on the market, and they're also much cheaper than a lot of the competition. If it had a better sound quality for the vast majority of cell phone users it would be an easy recommendation but, as it stands,it really makes the most sense at checkout when purchased alongside Samsung's Next Big Thing.
Read the full review: Samsung Level On Pro Wireless Headphones
The PXC 550's greatest strength is their sound. Other wireless noise-cancelling headphones might offer a better user interface or better noise-cancellation technology, but ultimately none of the above match up to the sound quality of these Sennheisers.
However, that said, there are a couple of irritations that prevent us from being able to fully and unreservedly recommend them, such as unresponsive touch controls. These annoyances aren't deal-breakers, but there are definitely other noise-cancelling headphones out there that don't suffer from the same issues.
Read the full review: Sennheiser PXC 550
We're constantly reviewing new noise-cancelling headphones, but let us know on Twitter if there is a set that you'd like us to take a look at.