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Noise-cancelling headphones to avoid

If you're looking for headphones that deliver both sound and silence, listen to our experts and give these a miss.

noise cancelling headphones to avoid red cross
Last updated: 25 November 2020

From blocking out the sound of the neighbour's screaming kid to shushing the background hum of other commuters on the train so you can listen to your podcast, a good set of noise-cancelling headphones can be a lifesaver. 

But if you buy a dodgy 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 products 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, from $69 cheapies right through to $500-plus pairs that are a muso's dream. Here are five of the worst that we recommend you avoid.

sony wf sp700n

Sony WF-SP700N

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 46%
  • Listening quality score: 35%
  • Price: $209

Our experts literally couldn't find anything nice to say about these headphones: when asked to list their good points, they responded "none to mention". 

Sony does appear three times in our list of noise-cancelling headphones to avoid, but there are much better Sony headphones out there that are genuinely worth saving up a little more money for. Check our review to make sure you're buying the best ones. 

Read our full Sony WF-SP700N review

sony mdr zx110nc

Sony MDR-ZX110NC

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 46%
  • Listening quality score: 56%
  • Price: $69

These are one of the cheapest noise-cancelling headphones we've tested. Unfortunately, what you save in money, you more than lose out on in terms of quality. 

On the plus side, these headphones offer excellent passive noise reduction, but bizarrely they deliver very poor active noise cancelling, scoring just 13% in this test. They don't produce great listening quality either, scoring a borderline 56%. 

They're also pretty uncomfortable – our expert testers scored them just 40% for comfort. 

Read our full Sony MDR-ZX110NC review

skullcandy venue

Skullcandy Venue

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 47%
  • Listening quality score: 39%
  • Price: $299

"Skullcandy often puts a lot of focus on design, which is just as, if not more, important than audio for some people," says Peter.

"But not only do these noise-cancelling headphones sound bad, they also look bland compared with what we're used to seeing from Skullcandy."

These headphones scored poorly across all our tests, with their highest score being for comfort – but even that was a disappointing 60%.

For less than the price of these, you could pick up one of the top performers in our noise-cancelling headphones test – so check our reviews before you buy to make the most of your purchase. 

Read our full Skullcandy Venue review

sony wh ch700n

Sony WH-CH700N

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 50%
  • Listening quality score: 45%
  • Price: $199

"You may want to consider the WH-CH700N headphones if you're a particularly clumsy person, as they have excellent durability," says Peter.

"But poor audio quality and active noise-cancellation hardly makes them worth this asking price."

Read our full Sony WH-CH700N review

bang and olufsen beoplay e4

Bang and Olufsen Beoplay E4

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 50%
  • Listening quality score: 78%
  • Price: $380

For a premium brand like Bang and Olufsen, you'd expect excellent quality. These headphones deliver quite good listening quality, but terrible active noise cancelling. They're not especially durable either, scoring just 50% on our durability tests, so you could be forking out for a new pair far sooner than you'd like. 

Read our full Bang and Olufsen Beoplay E4 review

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact checking at CHOICE.