Active noise cancelling headphones use microphones to listen to the noise produced in an environment and then, through the use of an algorithm, produce an inverse sound that is superimposed onto whatever you are playing with the result that the external noise is reduced significantly. No headset completely cancels the noise, and the effect is often dependant on the type of sound being cancelled, for example, low frequency sound such as that produced by aeroplane engines is often cancelled much more effectively than high pitch sounds such as a baby crying or people talking.
Noise cancelling was once the reserve of specialist manufacturers such as Bose, and the headsets attracted high prices, however, nowadays the technology has become more mainstream and some of the lesser-known companies are producing well equipped headphones at attractive prices.
Some of these models only allow the ANC feature to be switched on or off, whereas others offer greater flexibility with multiple levels of control and the ability to allow varying degrees of ambient noise through so that you are not entirely distanced from the environment, which is useful in certain outdoor environments such as busy streets.
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Bose QuietComfort 35 (series 2)
- Three levels of world class noise cancellation for a better listening experience in any environment
- Alexa and the Google Assistant enabled for voice access to music, information and more
- Noise rejecting dual microphone system for clear phone calls and voice access to your phone's default virtual assistant, like Siri
- Balanced audio performance at any volume
- Hassle free Bluetooth pairing, personalised settings, access to future updates and more through the Bose Connect app
Recently replaced as Bose flagship noise cancelling headphones by the Bose 700 series, these are now available at a more reasonable price. The QuietComfort 35 were, until recently, the most respected noise cancelling headphones in the industry. They are extremely light weight and flexible with good ear and headband cushioning and are supplied with a charge cable, 3.5mm adaptor and a decent hard carry case with internal storage for the cables. This model is supplied in a range of colours including black, silver, triple midnight and rose gold (slightly hideous).
Compatible with both IOS and Android and with a wired interface for non-Bluetooth enabled devices, these ANC headphones have three levels of noise cancelation, a good wireless range, and NFC for quick pairing with compatible devices. They are compatible with a range of smart assistants including Alexa and Google Assistant and have a dedicated app for basic controls and firmware updates. Unfortunately, they do not have a customisable equaliser with Bose deciding to use special circuitry to dynamically adjust output depending on the material being played. Battery life is around 20 hours with ANC on which is less than most more recent models offer.
The sound is crisp and clear with a well-controlled bass response which may be slightly muted for some users. Bose headphones have a unique sound signature that is not for everyone – you either love it or hate it, and whilst the sound is fairly neutral it is highly processed. The noise cancelling is the best available on any headphones and is used as the benchmark by other manufacturers.
Users report that these headphones are extremely comfortable and work well for telephone calls, however they are not suitable for use when viewing videos as the latency is too high and there will be delays between the sound and picture output. There may be some distortion with some types of music at higher volume levels. Some customers have commented that the ear cushions are not very durable and that the coating flakes off eventually, however they are replaceable.
- AI Noise Cancelling with Dual Noise Sensor technology lets you cancel out the world tailored to your environment or choose to let it in with Ambient Sound Mode
- These long-lasting wireless bluetooth and NFC enabled headphones deliver up to 35 hours of playback
- New 30mm driver units provide the superior audio quality you'd expect of Sony headphones
- Get clear hands-free calling and Voice Control on the WH-CH710N
- With soft oval earpads these over-ear headphones have been designed for all-day comfort
One of the more budget friendly options in the Sony range, these headphones are compatible with IOS and Android, can be used wired, and have NFC for quick and easy pairing with compatible devices. They feature dual microphones for improved noise cancelation and voice calls. Accessories include a charging cable and 3.5mm adaptor cable, however there is no case supplied. Three colours are available – Black, Blue, and White.
This model has a respectable battery life of 35 hours, and a quick charge feature with a ten-minute charge enabling the headphones to be used for one hour. They are compatible with smart assistants including Alexa and Google Assistant, however there is no dedicated app.
These are smartly designed and good-looking headphones with good cushioning on both the headband and earcups, however they do not fold. These have a good sound separation with instrumentation projected clearly and accurately and a slightly emphasised bass response. As with all Sony headphones, maximum volume may be a little too quiet for energetic music types and they give the impression of being slightly muted. The noise cancelling feature is good with no reports of background hissing or buzzing which plagues some models at the lower price ranges.
Users have commented that the design is slightly flimsy and there are reports of cracked headbands after limited use, however most customers are happy with both the noise cancelling and sound quality.
Jabra Elite 85H
- Audio automatically adapts to your surroundings SmartSound analyses your sound environment and applies your personalised audio – Active noise cancellation and our HearThrough feature give you the sound you need
- Extra-long battery life With up to 41 hours of battery time and fast charging, the Elite 85h earphones let you take calls and play music while staying wirelessly connected
- Unmatched call quality and durability 8 microphones greatly enhance call quality, blocking out more wind noise and background distractions – Certified rain-resistant and dustproof
- On-ear detection and voice assistant enabled Headphones recognise when you remove them from your ears, auto-playing and pausing audio – One-touch connection to your digital assistant of choice
- Scope of delivery Jabra Elite 85h headphones, carry case, USB-C charging cable, audio cable – Weight 296g – Colour Titanium black
This premium model by Jabra is available in several attractive colours including Copper Black, Gold Beige, Navy Blue, and Titanium Black. It is compatible with IOS and Android and can be used wired if required. Supplied accessories include a charging cable, 3.5mm adaptor cable and a nicely designed carry case.
Featuring Bluetooth 5.0, these have very low latency and are suitable for use when viewing videos, a function that eludes many other headsets. The battery will last for up to 36 hours, which puts these towards the top of the pile. There is a very effective rapid charge feature which can provide five hours of power to the headphones after charging for just 15 minutes.
This model is compatible with most smart assistants including Alexa and Google Assistant and this feature is accessible using a one-touch feature. When the headphones are removed from the head, they automatically go into pause mode and resume playback when placed back on the head. Other features include a dedicated app with an equaliser (Jabra Sound+) and 8 microphones for an improved ANC and phone call experience. The “Smart Sound Environmental Analysis” feature ensures that the audio output is constantly tweaked to take into account the users’ surroundings. For use outdoors, these headphones are both rain and dust resistant. A “Hear Through” feature allows some environmental noise to be played back with the audio track thereby ensuring the user does not become completely detached from the surrounding environment, which is particularly useful when used outdoors.
Users are impressed with the range of features on offer and the durability of the headphones. The sound quality is reported to be average, but they have good volume levels and noise cancelling is good. Some users have reported problems getting this model to work correctly when used with a PC.
Anker Soundcore Life Q20
- Incredible Sound Loved by 20 Million+ People
- Hi-Res Audio: Custom oversized 40 mm dynamic drivers produce Hi-Res sound. Q20 active noise canceling headphones reproduce music with extended high frequencies that reach up to 40 kHz for extraordinary clarity and detail.
- Reduce Ambient Noises By Up to 90%: Our team of engineers conducted more than 100,000 tests in real-life scenarios to fine-tune Q20's 4 built-in ANC microphones and digital active noise cancellation algorithm. As a result, the Q20 foldable headphones' hybrid active noise cancellation can detect and cancel out a wider range of low and mid-frequency noises such as cars and airplane engines.
- 100% Stronger Bass: Our exclusive BassUp technology conducts real-time analysis of the low frequencies to instantly strengthen the bass output. Double press the play button on the foldable headphones when listening to bass-heavy genres like EDM and hip-hop for an amplified listening experience.
- 40-Hour Playtime*: Up to 40 hours of non-stop playtime in wireless active noise cancellation mode (at 60% volume) is extended to an enormous 60 hours in standard music mode. A single charge gives you enough juice to listen to over 600 songs or soundtrack multiple long haul flights. And when you’re in a rush, charge Life Q20 active noise canceling headphones for 5 minutes and get 4 hours of listening.
Anker was a relatively unknown company until recent years; however, they currently produce some very good quality equipment at a very attractive price which has won them many fans. The Soundcore Life Q20 are no exception, and they provide a fully featured ANC headphone at a fraction of the cost of some of the better-known brands.
This model is compatible with IOS and Android and can be used wired if required, even when the battery is exhausted (although ANC will be off in this scenario). They are equipped with Bluetooth 5.0 and have a low latency making them suitable for use when viewing videos as they avoid sync issues. Available in Black, Blue, or Silver, this model is supplied with a charging cable, 3.5mm adaptor cable and a basic travel pouch for storage. These are an attractive and professional looking set with memory foam earpads and good headband padding.
Battery life is exceptional, and these can last up to 40 hours when noise cancelling is enabled, or up to 60 hours when it is off. The fast charge feature is incredible, and a five-minute charge will power the headphones for up to 4 hours. Unfortunately, there is no dedicated app for customisation. The noise cancelling feature uses an innovative hybrid feature which has microphones positioned both outside the earpiece and inside which improves sound quality, especially when used for phone calls.
Users are generally impressed with the sound quality; however, some have commented that the maximum volume levels are a little low. ANC works well but on occasion there can be a crackling noise present which can be distracting, with an additional loud squeal emitted in certain conditions. There is some concern regarding the durability of the hinge mechanism, although his seems to be a theme that affects most headphones in this price range.
Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2
- On-demand active noise cancelling (ANC). Open listening mode lets you hear your surroundings. Note: Please update to the latest firmware
- Up to 24 hours continuous wireless streaming. Stays charged longer using smart power management
- Frequency response: 20–20,000 Hz. Immersive, high-res sound, and powerful speaker drivers deliver the right balance of rich bass, crisp highs, and natural midtones for your music
- Automatic music play/pause when headphones are put on/removed
- Headset battery level LEDs plus on-screen meter. Hear status alerts for remaining battery and more
These Plantronics headphones have a very premium design and are available in either Black Tan or Graphite Grey colour schemes. Supplied with a charging cable, 3.5mm adaptor, and a very nice hard travel case these are well equipped, although the cables are slightly on the short side.
This model is compatible with IOS and Android and can also be used wired. Unfortunately, they are only equipped with Bluetooth 4.0 which is slightly outdated, however they have a low latency for use when viewing videos and are multipoint compatible which means they can be connected to more than one device at a time.
Battery life is mediocre at just 24 hours, and the charge time is a slow 3 hours from empty. This unit has battery life LED’s on the earcups, and they automatically pause when removed from the head and resume when replaced. The “Plantronics Hub App” offers various customisations and the ability of update firmware.
Sound quality is very good – these offer a clear and balanced sound with good instrument separation and a slight bass boost above neutral. Noise cancelation works well but is not as effective as that provided in Bose headphones.
Users report that initially these headphones are extremely comfortable and luxurious with a good level of padding on both the headband and earcups, however this seems to deteriorate and there are concerns regarding longevity.
Sennheiser HD 450BT
- Active noise cancellation for uninterrupted listening pleasure: The closed back design delivers high quality audio even in loud environments
- Ideal wireless sound with deep dynamic bass and high quality codec support including AAC and AptX Low Latency. Sound pressure level (SPL): 108 dB (1 kHz, 0 dBFS)
- Reliable partner on the move: Always stay connected with 30 hours of music playback with ANC activated and short charging time of 2 hours
This model is towards the lower end of the Sennheiser range and as such it is supplied with only a charge cable and 3.5mm adaptor cable (no case). They are compatible with both IOS and Android and can be used wired if required. Bluetooth 5.0 compatibility is present, and this model has both AAC and APTX low latency codecs making it suitable for use when viewing videos as there will be no synchronisation issues between sound and image. Only two colours are available – Black and Silver.
Battery life is up to 30 hours, and while there is no specific fast charge feature, a complete charge can be completed from empty in around two hours. This model is compatible with all smart assistants such as Alexa and Google Assistant, and Sennheiser offer regular firmware updates. One of the strengths of this model is its call handling ability which is seamless and of an exceptional quality with no interference or wind noise. Noise cancelling is average and not up to the standards of either the Bose or Jabra models, although it is effective on flights. The sound has a pronounced bass response and is clear and bright with a hint of sibilance coming through at times.
Users are generally pleased with the sound quality, range of features and build quality of this headset, however there is mention that the earpads are not durable, which is a problem that plagues Sennheiser units due to the poor durability of rubber-based components. Some customers have mentioned that this model is not very loud.