Best Noise Cancelling Headphones

By Richard Melville Sony
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Top headphones with noise cancelling tech

Don't disturb your fellow students or colleagues when getting in the zone... See gallery

Noise-cancelling headphones work by using battery powered tech to repel outside noise. It seems like magic but is one of the secret methods frequent flyers use to block noise and enjoy a fuller sound in a hectic environment.

The other benefit of noise cancelling headphones is that they work both ways - they keep your music private and don’t leak sound to anyone near you. Even close up, they’re silent to nosey passers-by which makes them an ideal choice for the library as well as your long distance train and plane trips.

We’ve picked ten of the most suitable pairs for use in the library, looking at function, cost and sound quality so you can pick a pair that’s right for you and your wallet...

Beats Audio
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Beats by Dre Studio 2013

Beats by Dre Studio 2013

The original Beats have had a reboot, four years after they made their debut. Available in three colours - black, white and red - the glossy new edition features a built-in rechargeable battery and are extremely rugged, portable and lightweight.

These headphones also have the best inline remote for iPhone control, can take calls and the battery lasts for around 20 hours. For pure ease of use and portability, it’s hard to fault the new Beats Studio. They’re comfy and the sound quality is punchy and designed to party and does a great job of keeping noise out.

The icing on the cake is the neat folding system with no sharp edges to rip your bag so you can take these anywhere and the slim profile means they won’t look ridiculous when you’re knee deep in papers at the library.

Key features: 20 hour battery life, foldable design, inline iPhone track and call controls.

Price: Around R4250

Parrot
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Parrot Zik

Parrot Zik

Arty and undeniably attractive, the design is a winner though the invisible ‘touch’ track controls on the headphone cups can be accidentally used when stroking them in deliberation about your next essay line.

The rechargeable battery lasts just four hours using the Bluetooth function alongside noise cancelling skills. Admittedly it’s handy having no wires but the battery life pay off isn’t worth it. You can tweak sound with a dedicated app too but overall, these are best kept at home.

Key features: Wireless music, rechargeable battery, foldable design.

Price: Around R4700

Audio Technica
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Audio Technica ATH ANC33iS

Audio Technica ATH ANC33iS

Audio Technica has scored a massive win with these headphones, still the best smallest noise cancelling headphones around. Simply stick an AAA battery in the small box on the cable and you’re ready to go.

Noise cancelling is great and while the sound isn’t as full as bigger headphones, it beats standard smartphone in-ear headphones by a mile. The box can weigh the headphones down on the go but there’s a clip to help the issue.

Sat at a desk or on a train, however, these headphones are practical, discreet and a massive bargain to boot - just remember to carry a spare battery. The biggest bonus is the fact that if the battery runs out, these headphones still work, just without the noise cancelling function. There’s a great range of ear tips to suit your lugholes too, alongside an iPhone remote and mic. An all-round in-ear winner.

Key features: Noise cancelling in-ear skills, works without batteries.

Price: Around R1000

Audio Technica
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Audio Technica ATH ANC9

Audio Technica ATH ANC9

The unique noise cancelling skills offer three distinct levels of silence - designed for the library, a plane or a noisy office environment and they actually work, minimising the amount of hiss from the noise cancelling tech.

The sound quality is a balance of defined sound and the party feel of Beats and when the noise cancelling is turned off, there's a good sound stage thanks to the large cups which means acoustic tracks sound great.

Although they're big, they can be folded and when power runs out, they still produce sound. The only downside is that the battery is a single AAA one rather than a built-in rechargeable one for the money.

Key features: Comfy, three noise cancelling modes, inline remote.

Price: Around R4400

PSB
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PSB M4U2

PSB M4U2

Solid, imposing and very black, these are the noise cancelling cans for audiophiles - they offer the best sound on test. The noise cancelling is good, rather than great but it’s worth the trade - you’ll need AAA batteries for the function but they still produce sound when you run out.

Sound geeks will like the fact that you can turn the noise cancelation off and turn on a built-in amplifier which makes the sound very special when you’re in a quiet environment. The actual seal and comfort of the PSBs is as good as the sound.

Kanye West has deep bass and even softer acoustic tracks sound superb. If you can cope with the fact that no one will recognise the brand (it’s a high-end speaker company) they’re the best ‘big’ noise cancelling cans around. For the ultimate in noise cancelling audio, we’d pair these with an Astell & Kern 100 Flac player.

Key features: Superb sound, battery powered amplifier.

Price: Around R4700

Sennheiser
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Sennheiser MM550

Sennheiser MM550

The style won’t be for everyone but the lightweight, foldable design instantly appeals. Sadly, because these headphones are ‘on-ear’ rather than ‘over-ear’, you won’t get as much noise blockage as you might hope for.

The hidden USP is that these are wireless via Bluetooth and though it means the rechargeable (and removable) battery takes a hit, it means they’re hassle free as well as lightweight. Handy and clear controls on the right cup (rather than a remote on the cable) mean you can skip tracks and take calls and the chunky buttons let your pair via Bluetooth quickly.

Sound is balanced but, again, the noise cancelation skills might not be enough for you or your fellow students in the library.

Key features: Wireless, works without battery (with cable), track controls on headphones.

Price: Around R4700

Bose
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Bose QC15

Bose QC15

One of the oldest models on test, Bose headphones used to be the default choice for noise cancelation thanks to spacious cups and good noise blocking.

They still do a great job of comfort and silence but rivals offer a fuller sound and more portable options, alongside a rechargeable battery system for less money. For soft acoustic tracks in crowded study areas, they’re ideal but for louder music, they lack the excitement of rivals.

Key features: Lightweight, in-flight adaptor, single AAA battery power.

Price: Around R4400

Beats
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Beats Executive

Beats Executive

Beats headphones are essentially as close as tech has ever come to fashion and, as a result, the makers came up with these sensible silver headphones to appeal to an older audience.

Boasting the same punchy noise cancelling skills as the original Beats Studio, the rugged build and folding design still works well. The only drawback is that you’ll need AAA batteries and the music stops when the batteries run out, while the new Beats Studio headphones feature a rechargeable battery system for the same price tag.

Key features: Punchy sound, foldable design, smart style

Price: Around R4250

Sony
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Sony MDR1RNC

Sony MDR1RNC

The noise cancelling version of Sony’s MDR1 range look slick yet sensible, small yet powerful. The build is solid and looks premium out of the box and they sound good for the money. The actual noise cancelling feature struggles a bit because and rather than add extra hiss in the background as some rivals do, the bass sound takes a slight hit.

It’s not a deal breaker though, especially when you consider that they work brilliantly without noise cancelling turned on and do a good job of sealing sound in the slim cups anyway. The design is smart and cool at the same time, meaning they’ll appeal to many as a credible Beats alternative.

Key features: premium build, slim style, fold flat for easy storage.

Price: Around R4250

Pioneer
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Pioneer NC21CK

Pioneer NC21CK

Chunky in-ear headphones with bass heavy sound for rock and pop. The noise cancelling is powered by a single AAA battery on the remote which doesn't feature track controls but does have a button for pausing the music so you can listen in to nearby chat without pulling your headphones out.

These are incredibly lightweight headphones even with the battery and are pocket-sized while most rivals demand a small bag or the use of your neck as transport. Price wise, the Audio Technica ANC33iS beat these but the price premium means a truly solid build.

Key features: Lightweight build, deep bass for in-ear headphones.

Price: Around R1900