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I Tested To See If Noise-Cancelling Headphones Are Worth The Price

Should you ~listen~ to the hype?

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Expensive headphones are a luxury for someone like me, aka a non-musical pleb with no audio-editing requirements.

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However, I too want to enjoy music without being accosted by the sound of a crying baby, so noise-cancelling headphones have been on my wishlist for years. As with any piece of tech, the price of a good pair of headphones can be the same as a lovely weekend city break, so it's difficult to know whether they're worth it.

I wanted to find out if noise-cancelling headphones are worth it, and if the price reflects the quality when your needs are pretty basic.

Before we go on, let's get one thing clear: There is a difference between "noise-cancelling" and "noise-reducing". Basically, active noise-cancelling means the headphones produce an "anti-noise" that actually cancels out other ambient, annoying noises, actively making it seem quieter. "Noise-reducing" means that it just blocks outside sound.

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* I will test out three pairs of headphones at three different price points: one pair under £50, one under £100, and one under £150.

* All must have some noise-reducing quality.

* All will be judged by how they look, how they sound, and how practical they are to use.

(All prices are correct at the time of writing.)

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Looks: Because they're pretty thin and unobtrusive, they look alright. Not nice or fancy, but fine.

Sound: Awful. Everything sounds like it's in a different room. Like you're at a party but you're having a crap time so you decide to sneak away and sit alone in a bedroom and everyone is downstairs having fun. I do not want any traumatic teen memories from my audio equipment, thank you, but the noise-cancelling element is good – I couldn't hear the tube or my coworkers' conversations.

Practicality: The most annoying thing about these headphones is that you need to charge them before you can use them. However, this is pretty standard for active noise-cancelling headphones and they do come with a two-prong aeroplane adapter, which is super handy if you just want to use them for travelling. The charge doesn’t seem to last very long, though, which is a bummer.

Score: 5/10. They're flimsy and need constant recharging, which is annoying. However, if all you want them for is to block out the sound of screaming babies as you watch La La Land on the plane, these definitely fulfil that purpose.

Mid-range: Eonfine Wireless Bluetooth Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones, £49.99

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Looks: These were by far the best-looking of the bunch. However, pretty much every single time I wore them I had to sacrifice a few hairs as they'd get trapped in the headband and snap, which is very annoying.

Sound: The noise-cancelling is amazing, almost to the point that I wonder if I'm putting my life in jeopardy by blocking out my ability to hear so much. The sound itself is great, too, so much so that they actually made my noisy morning commute on the Central line marginally tolerable.

Practicality: Again, you have to charge these, and it's difficult to know when they're about to run out of battery. (The light is supposed to start flashing but it's on the headphones, which you can't exactly see when you're wearing them!) That said, the wire is long enough that you can use them while they're charging, and most planes have USB docks at every seat so you can use them for long-haul flights. Additionally, once they're charged, they actually don't need to be recharged for a while – I get a good week's use out of them!

Score: 9/10. I actually took these with me on a flight to Sydney and back, which totalled around 60+ hours of travelling and they were a lifeline. I managed to sleep on my flight thanks to these, even though I was in close proximity to two crying babies throughout the flight. Of the headphones I tried, these sounded the best and were the ones I found myself always reaching for.

High-end: Sennheiser HD 380 Headphones, £129.99

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Looks: These things are the business. No flashy chrome effects here, just big ol' hair-flattening, face-squishing pads. They also have a huge, ugly telephone-like wire that my coworker Ben was super weirded out by.

Sound: Unlike the other headphones, these don't have active noise-cancelling, but they still block out sound pretty well. Not well enough to block out a crying baby, though, for sure. I also wasn't particularly impressed with the sound itself. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't amazing – it seemed to become a bit fuzzy if it was too loud. All the reviews state that the sound is great, but I imagine this comes from people who are using actual musical instruments with these headphones, not an iPhone 6.

Practicality: These are not practical at all, at least not for everyday use. The coiled wire is heavy and gets in the way, especially if you're using them at a desk, and it was super cumbersome on my commute. They come with a giant headphone jack that is, again, for studio use. You need to unscrew that to reveal a regular one underneath. However, you don't need to charge these, which is great, but then again you don't get active noise-cancelling either.

Score: 5/10. I think these headphones are just not for my purposes at all. They're completely unpractical for layman use and basically should be in a studio only. I'm giving them a diplomatic 5/10 as I was completely unimpressed but might have been stoked if I was producing an album or something.

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I think once you actually get used to noise-cancelling or noise-reducing headphones, you wonder how you could cope with any other kind. My favourite are, by far, the Eonfine ones. They're the most practical and the sound is great. I found shopping for headphones a little overwhelming as there were few indicators of what should be for studio use only and what's best for regular, everyday use. It also takes some time to get used to the idea that you need to charge your headphones, and for that reason I still carry around my old in-ear headphones!

Mostly, though, I'm glad that you don't need to shell out £300 for a decent pair of noise-reducing headphones, because there was absolutely no way in hell I was ever going to buy a pair of headphones to use on a plane that are more expensive than the flight.

Do you have any recommendations for headphones? Tell us in the comments below.

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