The Best Noise Cancelling Headphones for Pretending You Don’t Have KidsThe Best Noise Cancelling Headphones for Pretending You Don’t Have Kids

The Best Noise Cancelling Headphones

Or how to block all the noises out.
Sarah Idle
Words by 
Sarah Idle
Updated 
Dec 28, 2020
Category -> 
Living
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At a glance

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.

The 7 best noise cancelling headphones in Australia

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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.

Best headphones -> Sony WH-1000XM

Sony WH-1000XM3

When you’re working from home, complete noise cancellation is ideal. If you’re outside or travelling or walking around? Less so. That’s why we rate the Sony WH-1000XM3 as the best noise cancelling headphones. They’ve got Adaptive Sound Control. Which basically means they automatically detect your activity (think travelling, walking and waiting) and then adjust ambient sound settings for you. So, if you’re waiting for a plane, you’re not going to miss an important announcement. Smart. (Note you need to download the Sony Headphones Connect app to do this.) 

Their other smart features include Quick Attention. If you need to talk to someone, you can - without taking your headphones off. Simply place your hand over the housing and the volume turns down instantly. You can also choose the direction you want sound to come from, like with a speaker. A panel on the housing lets you change the track or volume or take or make calls, just by tapping or swiping. They’re also compatible with voice assistants like Google Assistant, Alexa and Siri. 

Oh and did we mention the ‘Unique Personal Optimizing’ which analyses the sonic characteristics caused by your head size, glasses and hair and then optimises the sound for you? It’s like your very own music butler. Sony reckons they’re ideal for flying too, because of the ‘Atmospheric Pressure Optimizing’ which delivers optimal sound at high altitude.

These over the ear wireless headphones have a 30-hour battery life and a 3-hour charge time. Lighter weight (around 255g) with super soft foam earpads, they’re comfortable to wear. It comes with a 1.2m headphone cable and a carry case. The ear cups swivel inwards so they pack neatly into the case.

Reviewed by CHOICE, Sony is Canstar Blue’s #2 headphones brand. This love is reflected in its ProductReview.com.au rating - it gets almost 4.5 stars from over 110 reviews. Expect to spend around $399.

Choose this if...

You want over the ear wireless noise cancelling headphones that are absolutely stuffed with tech and smart features. We reckon they’re the best noise cancelling headphones for the home office.

Shop now

Best earbuds -> 1MORE Dual Driver ANC Pro

1MORE Dual Driver ANC Pro

Turns out, it’s quite tricky to find noise cancelling earbuds with most Aussies preferring over ear headphones. But we kept going and found the 1MORE Dual Driver ANC Pro - what we reckon are Australia’s best noise cancelling earbuds.

Why? Well, they feature 2 stage active noise cancelling plus wind-resist function. Which means if you’re somewhere particularly noisy or windy (like when biking or running), you’ll still only hear your music. We like that they’re IPX5 water and sweat resistant, making them even more suitable for outside exercise. They also have a voice-enhancement mode that lets you chat without taking out your earbuds. 

They’ve got a 20-hour battery life plus a fast charge feature - 10 minutes gets you 3 hours of battery. Although they’re wireless, if you feel like going wired, you can. The neckband is soft and foldable for slipping into pockets. The earbuds are magnetic too, so storing them is easy. 

They’ll set you back around $230. Although CHOICE hasn’t reviewed them and they’re not on ProductReview.com.au, the Wirecutter loves them. One of its top picks, it reckons they’re “perfect for commuters” and “cancel an impressive amount of noise” - in fact, they “offered the best noise reduction in our tests”. 

Choose this if...

You want earbuds with impressive noise cancelling that are water and sweat resistant.

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Best for control -> Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

If you’re serious about noise cancelling, meet the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 - they’ve got a serious price too (RRP $599.95). These over ear wireless headphones offer 11 sound settings. These range from full noise cancelling (block it all out) to full transparency (like you’re not wearing headphones). There’s also 1-click conversation mode which pauses your music and switches your headphones to full transparency so you can stop ignoring the kids. 

They’ve got an impressive microphone for clear call quality and built-in voice control. Quick touch sensors let you manage the volume, calls and music all from the right earcup. They’re compatible with the Bose Music app and assistants, including Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and Siri. 

Because they’re Bose, they look amazing and come in 4 modern colours. They also feel amazing thanks to the tilted earcups that mirror the shape of your head and ears, ear cushions made of protein leather (so it’s suitable for vegans and vegetarians) and soft silicone-covered foam underside. Their design is award-winning - they’re the reddot winner 2020 for best of the best. 

They have a battery life of 20 hours and a charge time of up to 2.5 hours. Give them a quick 15-minute charge and you’ll get up to 3.5 hours of use. They come with a 1.06m audio cable, 0.5m USB charging cable and a carrying case. 

They get a respectable almost 4 stars from less than 10 reviews on ProductReview.com.au. Plus, Bose is Aussies’ third most popular headphones brand. Although CHOICE hasn’t tested them, 1 of their writers has. He reckons “though noise-cancellation is top notch, sound quality comes off second best”. However, the Wirecutter chooses these as their top pick, stating this is “the best wireless noise-cancelling headphones set that Bose has ever released”. Wow. 

Choose this if...

You’re serious about noise cancelling (and possibly not too hung up on the best sound quality) and want 11 noise cancelling settings and an award-winning design with a steep price.

Shop now

Best for budget -> Anker Soundcore Life Q20

Anker Soundcore Life Q20

The Anker Soundcore Life Q20 headphones are proof that you don’t need to spend a fortune on noise cancelling headphones. These over ear wireless headphones are just RRP $129.95, making them our pick for the best budget noise cancelling headphones. 

Anker reckons they can block out up to 90% of ambient noises, especially things like traffic and airplanes. They don’t skimp on the audio quality though. They’re Hi-Res Audio certified which is only awarded to audio devices that produce exceptional sound. Plus, they’ve got BassUp technology which strengthens the bass output. Listening to your bass-heavy favs? Double press the play button and amplify that bass.

You can get up to 40 hours of playtime, which is extended to a huge 60 hours if you’re using the standard music mode (i.e. no noise cancellation). Use a 5 minute quick charge and get 4 hours of juice. For comfortable listening, the memory foam earcups adapt to your ears while the headband rotates automatically to adjust the angle to fit your head shape. 

In the box you’ll find a travel pouch, micro-USB cable and AUX cable (we haven’t found the length of this). 

Although not reviewed by CHOICE or Aussies on ProductReview.com.au, the Wirecutter has these as their top budget pick. They reckon these headphones “offer surprisingly decent sound, comfort, and noise cancelling”.

Choose this if...

You want simple and affordable noise cancelling headphones with certified great music quality.

Shop now

Best for looks -> Beats Studio3

Beats Studio3

Less about the noise cancelling, more about the looks? Meet the Beats Studio3 Wireless. With 7 different on-trend colour options, they’re the most looks-conscious we’ve found. 

Looks aside, their features are fairly standard. There’s active noise cancelling to find and cancel exterior noise in real time. There’s a “b” button so you can control calls, music and Siri. They last for up to 22 hours with noise cancelling on or up to 40 hours with it off. They’ve also got fast fuel - charge for 10 minutes and get 3 hours of playback.  The earcups are ergonomic and pivoting and there’s venting to help keep you cool. It has Class 1 Bluetooth for great connectivity, even when your device isn’t next to you. 

They come with a carrying case, 3.5mm remotetalk cable and a USB charging cable. They cost around RRP $450 and have been reviewed by CHOICE. They get just over 4 stars from around 30 reviews on ProductReview.com.au. Beats is Australia’s #5 headphones brand, according to Canstar Blue. 

Choose this if...

On-trend looks are important to you and you’re happy to spend around $450 on them. 

Best loved by Aussies -> Bose QuietComfort 35 II

Bose QuietComfort 35II

If there’s a special birthday coming or you need to suck up big time (we’re not asking), consider the Bose QuietComfort 35 II. A pair of these costs around $500, so about $100 less than the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. This means you’re getting 3 levels of noise cancellation, not 11. 

As the name suggests, Bose has included plenty of stuff to make these over the ear wireless headphones comfortable to use. Like the headband that’s wrapped in Alcantara - a soft, luxurious material. Plus the ear cushions that are made from synthetic leather. Bose has also focused on making them durable. That’s why they’re made of impact-resistant materials and rust-resistant stainless steel. This helps to protect your (significant) investment. 

Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa are built-in, giving you hands-free access to your songs and more. They also connect to the Bose Connect app. This allows you to adjust the noise cancellation levels and even connect 2 pairs of wireless Bose headphones so you and your bestie can listen to your fav songs, together. 

They offer up to 20 hours of battery life, plus a quick 15-minute charge for 2.5 hours of power. They come with a USB charging cable, 1.2m audio cable and a carry case.

These headphones are currently the top rated headphones on ProductReview.com.au, where they’re an award winner 2019 and 2020. They rack up an impressive over 4.5 stars from a huge almost 300 reviews. Plus, they’ve been reviewed by CHOICE and Bose is Canstar Blue’s #3 headphones brand. 

Choose this if...

You want wireless noise cancelling headphones that Aussies love, with 3 levels of noise cancellation, and a $500 price tag.

Best mid-range -> JBL Live 650BTNC

JBL Live 650BTNC

For a mid-range price option, the JBL Live 650BTNC over the ear wireless headphones are a great choice. They come in around $280. A mid-range price means their features are pretty mid-range too.

These include integration with Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, plus the JBL App. They offer hands-free calling and the option to plug in the audio cable when the battery’s flat. They’ll last up to 30 hours without noise cancelling, or up to 20 hours with it. They’ve got a 15-minute quick charge function to give you 2 hours of battery. You can switch between Bluetooth devices easily, thanks to the multi-point connection.

They come with a soft storage pouch, 120cm headphone cable plus a charging cable. Reviewed by CHOICE, they get a great 4 stars on ProductReview.com.au and JBL is also Canstar Blue’s #4 headphones brand. Although not a top pick, the Wirecutter likes them too. They reckon: “The sound was pleasant (balanced but lacking the clarity and low-end definition of pricier models), the ANC was passable, and the fit was comfortable. Plus, the included cable has a remote and mic, which is rare. These headphones are highly recommendable, especially for the price.”

Choose this if…

You want to stay in the mid-range price point.

Important 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.

Controls

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.

Carry case

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.

Comfort

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.

Frequently asked questions

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.

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