Noise can be glorious - your favourite band, live - and noise can be terrible - your neighbour’s favourite band, banging through your shared wall. Although there isn't a solution for terrible music taste, there is one for dealing with unwanted noise - noise cancelling headphones. The best noise cancelling headphones (or earbuds) are comfortable to wear and easy to use. They provide hours of quality audio that’s not interrupted by other noise. Here are the top noise cancelling headphones for working from home, travelling, commuting - or simply ignoring the kids. They’ve been chosen from hours of research, including expert testing and real Aussie insights.
How we picked
We’ll be honest. We’re not audiophiles. So you’re not going to find an in-depth look into the technical specs of noise cancelling headphones. But what you will find is useful info about the smart features of these headphones, what they come with, how easy they are to use and stuff like their run- and charge-time.
We started with CHOICE, Australia’s leading consumer advocacy group, who had tested a huge range of noise cancelling headphones and earbuds. Armed with this list, we turned to ProductReview.com.au, Australia’s first consumer review website. Again, we found hundreds of options.
To narrow down our list, we checked out Canstar Blue and their recent headphone brand survey. This let us know what headphone brands Aussies rate, although not the specific models.
We took a quick swing past The Wirecutter, a New York Times shopping website, to see what wireless headphones they rate.
With all this research under our belts, we set out to choose our favourites based on features, price, consumer happiness and type (over ear headphones and in-ear earphones). This gave us 7 contenders for Australia's best noise cancelling headphones.
Features to consider
There are loads of noise cancelling headphones available in Australia. Here’s what to look for to help you find your perfect pair.
Wired, wireless or true wireless
You can get wired, wireless or true wireless headphones. Here’s what this means:
- Wired headphones plug into the headphone jack. They offer good audio quality and a clear connection. There’s also no battery to remember to charge. But a cable can be annoying (especially when exercising) and you need to be near your device.
- Wireless headphones mainly connect to your device using Bluetooth. Maintaining this connection is battery-draining, for both your headphones and your device. Even though they’re called wireless, there’s usually a cable or headband connecting the two earcans / earbuds. (But the connection between the headphones and your device will be wireless.)
- True wireless headphones are basically the same as wireless, but the earbuds aren’t connected in any way. True wireless cans aren’t available and the small earbuds are easily lost, damaged and prone to interference in busy places, like public transport.
Check out where the controls are located. If they’re on the cans, buds or cable, it means you don't need to fiddle with your device to change tracks or the volume, etc. Sometimes, models are available in Apple or Android versions rather than being functional across all operating systems. So make sure you check compatibility with your device before buying.
Whatever type of headphones you go for, you’ll need a handy carry case. It also might hold attachments and cables, etc. for decent storage. A hard case can protect your headphones, but it’s bigger, bulkier and more expensive. A soft pouch is easier to pack but offers little protection.
Even if you’re only planning occasional use, it’s important your new headphones are comfortable. Look for padded headbands, ideally with some breathability built in, like mesh, and soft padded earcups. Fancier (read: more expensive) models might offer tilted or ergonomically designed cups.
Earbuds should come with a range of different size rubber pieces to fit different size ears.
What you get if you spend more
When it comes to noise cancelling headphones, the more you pay, the better quality headphones you’ll buy. This means the more expensive models tend to have much higher audio quality. If you’re an audiophile, it’s worth investing in a higher end pair. Plus, the quality also extends to the materials and construction; a more expensive pair should last longer.
How do noise cancelling headphones work?
Team, it’s a long and technical process. If you’re into the details, ask your favourite search engine. Otherwise here’s the very short answer.
Noise cancelling headphones use tiny microphones to process the sound that’s heading towards your ears. Once this sound is picked up, the headset plays the exact opposite of that sound. This means the 2 sounds cancel each other out, so all you hear is your music, not any other noise.
Are noise cancelling headphones better than standard headphones?
It depends how you define ‘better’. If you’re asking if noise cancelling headphones are better at cancelling noise than other headphones, then the answer is absolutely, yes. But does that mean everyone needs to run out and buy a pair? No.
Noise cancelling headphones are great if you’re working from home or in an office with loads of noisy distractions, whether that’s ringing phones, talking or your child watching Frozen 2 for the sixth time that day. They’re also great for commuters or travellers who want to block out the sound of annoying fellow commuters or travellers. If you really need to concentrate, and listening to music, a podcast or audio book is how you do that, then noise cancelling headphones make sense. They’re also a good choice if you have sensory issues and need to quieten down the world around you.
Should I buy headphones or earphones / earbuds?
This comes down to personal choice. Headphones can be around / over ear or on ear. Around / over ear headphones feel like ear-muffs. They completely surround your ear. This helps to create a tighter seal to keep noise out. However, they tend to be large and bulky to store and carry. They can also get hot and sweaty when you’re using them.
On ear headphones are smaller and rest on the outside of your ears. There’s more airflow (and less sweat) but the direct pressure on your ears can get uncomfortable.
Earphones / earbuds fit inside your ear. They’re small and lightweight, for easy wearing and storing. They’re a good choice for exercising, especially wireless ones. The payoff is that sound quality isn’t usually as good as headphones. Plus, because they’re so small, there’s no way to block out ambient noise, unless you pony up for the high-end noise cancelling tech.