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Noise-cancelling headphones to avoid

Looking for headphones that deliver both great sound and silence? Listen to our experts and give these a miss.

noise cancelling headphones to avoid red cross
Last updated: 15 September 2021

Need to know

  • Our experts tested over 40 pairs from popular brands including Sennheiser, Sony, Apple, Audio Technica and more
  • We assess key factors like sound quality, noise-cancelling listening, comfort, durability, battery life and more
  • Become a CHOICE member to access our full reviews

From blocking out your neighbour's barking dog during a video call, to shushing the background hum of other commuters on the train, a good set of noise-cancelling headphones can be a lifesaver. 

But if you pick a poor pair, you can say goodbye to the sound of silence – and they can even affect the quality of the audio you're listening to. This is why it's worth doing your research, especially given how expensive some brands can be. 

"A good pair of noise-cancelling headphones can provide a great listening experience while you're on the go, as they're designed to filter out environmental noise," says CHOICE's expert audiophile Peter Zaluzny

"However, just because some headphones have this feature doesn't necessarily mean they sound good. In fact, poorly implemented noise-cancelling technology can actually make your music sound worse, which is why we test audio quality with it turned on and off."

CHOICE has tested the gamut of noise-cancelling headphones on the market, reviewing over 40 products from popular brands like Sennheiser, Sony, Apple, Audio Technica, Huawei, JBL and more. Our experts assess key factors like sound quality, listening (with noise cancelling on and off), comfort and durability. 

Poorly implemented noise-cancelling technology can actually make your music sound worse

CHOICE expert Peter Zaluzny

So you don't pick up a sub-par pair, here are the five products that rated lowest in our latest sound lab tests. Consider becoming a CHOICE member to access our full reviews and test results.

Samsung Galaxy Buds Live

samsung galaxy buds live

Samsung Galaxy Buds Live.

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 41%
  • Sound quality: 53%
  • Noise-cancelling listening score: 13%
  • Price: $319

Buy these and you might have steam coming out of your ears, rather than music. Despite their shiny luxury look and hefty $300+ price tag, these wireless buds ranked dead last in our test group with a woeful CHOICE Expert Rating of 41%. 

They scored an ordinary 53% for overall sound quality but got even worse with noise cancelling switched on, rating a shocking 13% in our test. With it turned off, they sounded better but still only managed a mediocre mark of 50%. 

They also received middling scores for comfort and durability too. If you crave amazing audio, these buds are not your friend. See our full review

Jabra Elite 85T

jabra elite 85t

Jabra Elite 85T.

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 45%
  • Sound quality score: 47%
  • Noise-cancelling listening score: 13%
  • Price: $299

Music to your ears these in-ear phones ain't. Despite their 'Elite' title, our testers found them passable at best with an overall CHOICE Expert Rating of 45%.

Like the Samsung shockers above, this pair received just 13% in our noise-cancelling listening test. Luckily, they rate much better at 95% with noise cancelling turned off, but that's not really what you're buying them for, right? 

Likewise, they only rated OK for comfort and durabilty, which is also a worry. See our full review

Sony MDR-ZX110NC

sony mdr zx110nc

Sony MDR-ZX110NC.

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 46%
  • Sound quality score: 56%
  • Noise-cancelling listening score: 13%
  • Price: $79

Proving it's not just earphones that perform poorly, these on-ear headphones also delivered a pretty lousy listening experience. Bizarrely, these ones offer excellent passive noise reduction, but they're undone by very poor active noise cancelling, also rating an unlucky 13% in the test. 

On the upside, they are cheaper than other pairs here and boast the longest battery life of the test with a whopping 80 hours, so you can make a song and dance for days without recharging. See our full review.

Huawei Freebuds 4

huawei freebuds 4

Huawei Freebuds 4.

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 49%
  • Sound quality score: 44%
  • Noise-cancelling listening score: 50%
  • Price: $159

These Huawei in-ear earphones failed to impress our experts on every single test, but particularly for battery life. They'll give you just two hours' listening time – by comparison, other ear phones deliver six to seven hours' worth. 

With or without noise cancelling, these earphones deliver only mediocre sound quality, scoring just 50% for both tests. And they don't fare much better in terms of comfort or durability either, scoring just 56 and 50%, respectively. 

See our full review

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