Six of the best noise-cancelling headphones to silence the commute | Headphones | The Guardian

Travellers know that when it comes to making travel more bearable, a good noise-cancelling headset can make all the difference.

active noise canceling (anc) headphones use microphones located in the ear cups to detect unwanted incoming sound and eject reverse sound from the headphones. sound waves overlap, canceling each other out and silencing outside noise.

Reading: Best noise cancelling headphone 2014

Most noise-canceling technology is designed to block out the hum of airplanes, road noise, or the hum of computers, placing a veil of silence over the ears that allows listeners to clearly hear the music without turning the volume up to 11 but there are hundreds of nc headphones available, making it hard to choose the right pair.

Here’s a quick guide to six of the best that fit just about any budget.

ds-321d digital mute

price: £42

Both the smallest and cheapest in this selection, these are surprisingly effective at blocking out background noise and putting some higher-priced rivals to shame. They fit comfortably in the ear and block out background noise with rubber earcups in addition to the ANC. they also sound reasonably good for in-ear headphones, with clear reproduction of music and voices, but no really deep bass.

A battery pack on the cable just before the headphone jack powers the electronics and is about the size of a thumb with a sturdy clip on the back.

Monitor mode, which allows users to listen to announcements, is activated at the touch of a button on the battery pack, while an in-line remote on the cable has a pause/play button and microphone for use it as a headset with a smartphone.

They give about 14 hours of use, but will continue to play music when the battery runs out, albeit without noise cancellation. a full charge via microusb takes two hours.

verdict: small, cheap and surprisingly good and on a budget.

  • others to consider: audio-technica anc33is, digital mute ds-421d

sennheiser pxc 250-ii

price £105

Lightweight and compact on-ear headphones that are comfortable to wear and fold up like a pair of reading glasses for travel. the tiny earmuffs do little to passively block out noise, but noise cancellation is effective at silencing background hum.

They have a full sound, characteristic of sennheiser headphones, with precise highs and clear highs. bass isn’t as powerful as you’d expect from small speakers.

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The main detractor is the bulky battery pack, which requires a single AAA battery that lasts about 50 hours. it has a clip on the back and an analog volume control wheel.

Verdict: Small and compact headphones, but the bulky battery is annoying.

anc70 audio-technique

price: £140

A mid-range set with full-size over-the-ear cups. Unlike smaller earbuds, the earbuds contain all the electronics and an AAA battery to power the electronics for up to 40 hours, eliminating the need for a separate box attached to the cable.

The headphones are lightweight with soft foam ear cushions, comfortable to wear for extended periods, such as a seven-hour plane ride.

The mug on the left has an on/off switch, a volume slider, and a pause/play button, along with a bright blue light when anc is active. the headphones work without current and the cable is removable.

Noise cancellation is decent at blocking out drones, but it doesn’t block out conversations or other non-background noise, and headphones aren’t good at passively blocking out noise.

Audio quality is average, with a clear and precise midrange, but harsh highs and no real bass despite the size of the earphones.

Verdict: Lightweight and comfortable, but noise cancellation and sound quality could be better.

  • others to note: ultimate 9000 ears

plantronics backbeat pro

price: £190

plantronics backbeat pro is a noise-canceling bluetooth headset that connects wirelessly to two smartphones, tablets, or computers at the same time. they will also work with a detachable cable and will continue to play music when the battery is empty.

The large, soft cups that sit over the ears and the foam-padded headband are comfortable. the left cup has a pause and play button and a jog dial for skipping tracks. the right cup has a large volume dial, an audio monitor button, and a call handling button. the volume dial is particularly intuitive and satisfying to use.

noise cancellation is effective at blocking out more ambient noise than the audio-technica anc70s, while the thick ear cups passively mute conversations and other noises.

Deep, solid bass, precise mids and highs produce a warm, rounded sound. The battery lasts for 24 hours with bluetooth noise cancellation and up to 60 without active ANC. Sensors in the earbuds also pause music and turn off noise cancellation when removed to save battery life.

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verdict: comfortable, with good noise blocking and wireless with impressive sound.

  • others to consider: beats studio wireless, parrot zik

bose quietcomfort 20

price: £260

Bose QuietComfort 20 Headphones are the best noise-cancelling in-ear headphones money can buy.

They have a slim but long and wide 16-hour battery, which can be cumbersome in a pocket, and an in-line music remote with monitor button and a microphone for taking calls.

The soft silicone earbuds have hooks to secure them in the ear and are comfortable to wear for long periods. they have solid bass, tight highs and punchy highs, sound a cut above the ds-321d digital mute, but don’t sound as good as non-noise canceling headphones costing £260.

The QC20s have impressive noise cancellation and are very good at blocking out both background and foreground noises, such as people talking, much better than most full size noise canceling headphones.

verdict: the best noise canceling headphones, but very expensive.

  • others to consider: sony xba-nc85d

bose quietcomfort 25

price: £270

The newly released QC25 are Bose’s new flagship noise-cancelling headphones. The large earcups and padded headband are comfortable, while they’re lightweight for extended wear. they have a fairly firm grip on the head which some may find uncomfortable.

the qc25 have good passive sound blocking, while their noise cancellation is unparalleled, silencing more background ambient noise than any other earphone tested.

a single AAA battery lasts 35 hours. once it runs out, the headphones continue to play music, but sound muted. the headphone cord is detachable and has an in-line remote.

The soundscape of the headphones is open and less direct to your ears than many headphones, which should make listening for extended periods easier. treble, treble and bass are accurate but lack power with a more neutral balance – people looking for deep, rumbling bass will have to look elsewhere. the best-sounding headphones are available without noise cancellation at £270.

verdict: the best noise cancellation with decent sound but at a high price.

  • others to consider: sony mdr-1rnc, audio-technica anc9

other reviews:

five best laptops that fit any budget

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