How to pick a pair of headphones
There are a few things to consider when buying headphones, from the design and build quality to price and performance. But first, check if you really want a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, as they are more expensive than many regular headsets.
Why go for noise cancelling?
Noise-cancelling headphones are not actually known for giving the very best sound quality, so if you are a pure audiophile you may want to choose a different type of headset.
Active noise-cancelling headphones have tiny speakers built in, which cut out ambient outside noise. They require battery power to do this.
“Price for price, the sound quality won’t be quite as good as regular headphones and they do require battery power, but they can make all the difference between a stressful journey and a soothing one,” says the Richer Sounds headphone buying guide.
In ear or over ear?
In-ear and over-ear headphones offer different advantages. In-ear headphones, or earbuds, are smaller and sit inside the cup of your ear. They tend to be lighter in weight, more portable and can provide good noise-cancellation. Over-ear headphones are larger and have chunky cups to block out noise. We’ve included both types in our breakdown.
or music lovers who want the peace of zero interference from the outside world, getting the perfect pair of noise-cancelling headphones is the key to musical satisfaction.
Noise-cancelling headphones are ideal for long journeys, or for frequent flyers looking to get some quiet.
They are not always the very best headphones for sound quality, contrary to what many believe, but many modern noise-cancelling headphones can still offer excellent sound.
The best noise-cancelling headphones
There have been several new releases at the top of the range for noise-cancelling headphones in recent months, not least the new Bowers & Wilkins PX, which are one of our favourite luxury picks.
For a mid-range option, we enjoyed using the Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2 at £185. Although their sound quality doesn’t quite match the top picks, they were comfy and easy to set up. For a more budget choice, you can currently get the Sony MDR-ZX770 for under £100.
Getting a pair of noise-cancelling headphones at a entry-level asking price is not the easiest task, but these headphones from Audio Technica offer the best cheap option for earbuds. They feature 90 per cent noise reduction and a switch to turn noise reduction on and off.
At around £50 from some sellers they are also excellent value, while providing the full noise cutting experience – unlike some cheaper headsets. They are powered by one AAA battery and have a built-in microphone for taking phone calls.
For under £100 it can be a push to find a really decent pair of headphones that offer noise control as standard. Fortunately, Sony offer the MDR-ZX770 as a bargain pair that are on sale now from the likes of John Lewis and Currys PC World for £95. These wireless headphones connect via NFC and Bluetooth with a 10 metre range and offer up to 98 per cent noise reduction.
Bringing noise-cancelling headphones into the mass mainstream, this new Sennheiser pair are one of the best mid-range options out there. With NoiseGard technology, they are effective at cutting down background sound. At just £169 seriously undercut most of the premium competition.
These headphones can pair wirelessly using NFC – so you can simply touch them to a smartphone to pair up. They have a dark minimal look and can fold up easily. With a 19 hour battery life they should last multiple flights on a single charge.
Plantronics Backbeat 2 headphones sit in the middle of the competition and sit snug over the ears. The comfortable pair are a solid mid-range buy, with intuitive touch controls for skip and play on the right cup and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the left. They can also connect wirelessly and offer active noise control.
If you prefer something smaller that will still deliver the power and performance of noise control, these earbuds from Bose feature active noise reduction built-in through the neckband.
They offer high quality sound and are less cumbersome than some headphones, although the design may not be to everyone’s taste. They connect via Bluetooth and offer 11 hours of battery life. They can link up to the easy-to-use Bose app.
Bose has been making brilliant noise-cancelling headphones for years and still creates some of the best. A couple of years old now but still one of the top sets out there, are the Bose QuietComfort 25. Although slightly dated, using a triple AAA battery and needing wired connections for some devices, the sound quality is still one of the best for noise-cancelling headphones. If you can find them for under £250 then you are on to a bargain.
Luxury noise-cancelling headphones
These stylish Beats headphones will win many over on looks and offer a superior sound compared to many older Beats iterations. The Beats Studio3 have an impressive all day battery life of 22 hours when using active noise-cancelling, and can offer three hours of play with just a 10 minute charge.
Soft and padded, these headphones are also made for use with iOS devices, meaning Siri can be used to answer calls and control music.
The simple design of these top-of-the-range Sennheiser PXC 550 headphones hides a brilliant build that produces deep quiets of almost all deep noise, allowing you the chance to immerse yourself in your music or podcasts.
They connect via Bluetooth and NFC for wireless listening, while you can also customise your sound experience on the fly with the smartphone app. The controls are neatly hidden on a swipe-based touch panel, which may take some getting used to but is a clever feature.
We also loved the comfort of these headphones and the multiple noise control levels. They also come with a handy case to keep your pair secure.
From the masters of quiet, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II are a slight upgrade on last year’s pair. They have Google’s Assistant, which can be used to link up to your smartphone and perform voice commands. But importantly, they sound excellent and have world-beating noise reduction.
The sound is also great, clear and crisp. They are an easy fit on the ears and flexible, simple to adjust and fold down quickly. Perhaps the only snag is the unchanged look, but if you prefer something understated for business travel or commuting they will fit the bill. They come packed with a sturdy case for protection.
Battery life is a solid 20 hours with noise cancelling on, while the controls are simpler than those on the Sennheiser PXC 550. We recommend these if silence and comfort are a priority – if your budget can manage them, that is.
In terms of style, Bowers & Wilkins’ brand new PX headphones win on looks and luxury. The company’s first wireless noise-cancelling headphones offer everything you would expect. Despite the bold design, they are surprisingly comfortable over the ears, although maybe not as snug as those from Bose and Sennheiser. They come with a neat case to protect them in your bag. They have 22 hours of battery with active noise-cancelling on when wireless, and up to 50 hours when wired.
And that’s all before the impeccable sound quality of this pair. They show Bowers & Wilkins are well and truly challenging Bose for the mantel of noise-cancelling leader. They have excellent noise-cancelling, punchy bass and deal well the softer details. (The Telegram)