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The best noise-canceling headphones for 2020

Sony’s WH-1000XM3 are the best noise-canceling headphones. They’re also the best wireless headphones, which in turn led us to crown them the best headphones, period. Yes, they’re that good. With supreme comfort, sparkling sound, fantastic noise cancellation, a unique pressure equalization feature, and a host of options, we’d pick these headphones even if they were more expensive. For most people, the Sony WH-1000XM3 are an unbeatable choice for a set of noise-canceling headphones.

Our team has more than 50 years of combined audio experience, and we’ve tested more than 300 headphones — many of which offer noise cancellation. If the WH-1000XM3 isn’t right for you, we’ve assembled a list of excellent alternatives. They all cancel noise, but each has its own specific strengths.

The best noise-canceling headphones at a glance:

The best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM3

Sony WH-1000xM3 headphones

Our score: 4.5/5

Why you should buy them: Superb sound, great comfort, and impressive noise-canceling make Sony’s WH-1000XM3 our pick of the list.

Who they’re for: Those who want to block out distracting ambient noises, but without sacrificing terrific sound quality.

Why we picked the Sony WH-1000XM3:

Sony has a history of making incredible noise-canceling headphones. When we last did this roundup, Sony’s MDR-1000X earned the top spot (and a 5/5 rating in our official review) thanks to their unbeatable blend of comfort, control, and audio quality. The fact that they isolate sound as well as any cans we’ve used was the icing on the cake. They were so good, they were our favorite headphones, period.

But times have changed, and Sony has kept improving its offerings, so we’ve updated our list to reflect the new reality: Sony’s WH-1000XM3 actually improve upon the MDR-1000X in many ways and even cost less upon release. Under their ultra-soft leatherette earcups, the WH-1000XM3 hide dual 40mm dynamic drivers that bring both movies and music to life with stunning, warm detail. We love their excellent instrumental separation and powerful bass response, and you don’t have to be an audiophile to appreciate their precise performance in the mid and upper registers.

Lots of personalization and fine-tuning can be achieved through the Sony Headphones Connect app, including adjustments for ambient sound reduction, and the ability to optimize audio based on atmospheric pressure (an awesome feature for frequent flyers). Sony’s DSEE HX processing engine ensures that compressed audio from sources like YouTube sounds as good as possible.

If you’re looking for a way to silence the outside world so you can be left alone to enjoy your favorite music, there’s simply no better way to do it.

Read our full Sony WH-1000XM3 review

The best noise-canceling earbuds: Sony WF-1000XM3

Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Why you should buy them: If you want active noise cancellation in a pair of wireless earbuds, these are the best ones to offer it.

Who they’re for: Travelers and business people in loud offices, or anyone who needs excellent noise cancellation in a set of earbuds.

Why we picked the Sony WF-1000XM3:

Hey, this is a roundup of the best noise-canceling headphones, so why is there a pair of earbuds included? Well, until Sony launched the Sony WF-1000XM3, there weren’t any quality true wireless earbuds with active noise cancellation. And despite a recent influx of new ANC true wireless earbuds, Sony’s version are still the best.

Much more than just noise-canceling earbuds, they’re the true wireless equivalents of our pick for best noise-canceling headphones, the WH-1000xM3.

As such, you can expect superb noise-canceling performance whether you use them as a pair, or even using just a single earbud for making calls. Sound quality is just as impressive, thanks in large part to Sony’s inclusion of its proprietary DSEE HX engine, which magically makes every sound source — from the lowly MP3 to the lossless FLAC — sound much better than they would without Sony’s processing.

Battery life is a perfectly acceptable six hours when you engage active noise cancellation, but rises to a stellar eight hours when you turn that feature off. The included charging case, which somewhat hilariously looks like a massive Duracell battery with its copper-colored flip-lid, packs an additional three full charges. This extends the full life of the WFs to a most remarkable 32 hours with noise cancellation turned off.

Sony’s app delivers a host of fine-tuning adjustments for things like EQ, noise cancellation level, and voice assistant selection, making these among the most customizable wireless earbuds you can buy. They’re not perfect: They lack any kind of sweat resistance and compared to other top-notch earbuds like the AirPods Pro and the Jabra Elite 75t, they’re a bit on the bulky side. But these small nitpicks aside, the Sony WF-1000XM3 have set a very high bar, not just for truly wireless earbuds, but noise-canceling headphones in general.

Read our full Sony WF-1000XM3 review

The best noise-canceling earbuds for Apple users: Apple AirPods Pro

Apple AirPods Pro

Why you should buy them: If you’re an Apple fan, the AirPods Pro deliver excellent audio quality and top-notch noise-cancellation with all of ease-of-use and convenience benefits of regular AirPods.

Who they’re for: Apple users who love AirPods but want better sound and noise-cancellation.

Why we picked the Apple AirPods Pro: 

The AirPods have been a smash hit with Apple fans since they debuted, but even their most ardent supporters acknowledge their sound quality isn’t much better than average. With the AirPods Pro, Apple addressed not only this criticism but every other concern as well.

The AirPods Pro have excellent sound. That’s partly due to their noise-isolating in-ear design, and partly because of Apple’s adaptive EQ technology that automatically adjusts the frequency response to match a user’s ear. However, the real surprise with these new buds is the noise-canceling that Apple has added. We think they’re almost as good as the Sony WF-1000XM3, and that’s saying a lot given that we believe Sony has the best noise cancellation you can currently get in a set of true wireless earbuds.

But our admiration of the AirPods Pro doesn’t end there. We’re thrilled that they now offer an official IPX4 water resistance rating, which will help assure workout fanatics that their sweaty activities won’t ruin their earbuds. They’re also very comfortable, something which isn’t always a given with in-ear true wireless earbuds.

With a wireless charging case that is even smaller than the one that comes with the original AirPods, and all of the convenience you get when using these buds with an iPhone (like super-simple pairing and hands-free Siri access), these earbuds might be pricey at $249, but they certainly don’t disappoint.

Our only real beef? Apple wasn’t able to improve on battery life, which still sits at about 5 hours between charges and 24 hours when you include the charging case’s battery.

Read our full Apple AirPods Pro review

The best noise-canceling headphones for kids: Puro PuroQuiet

Why you should buy them: The PuroQuiet do more than cancel unwanted noise, they also protect your kids from dangerously loud sound levels.

Who they’re for: Parents who want to provide their kids with high-quality, noise-canceling headphones.

Why we picked the Puro PuroQuiet:

It can be tough to find decent quality headphones for kids even before you start looking for a feature like noise cancellation. Fortunately, the Puro PuroQuiet are both a great set of wireless kids headphones and as a bonus, they’ve got noise-canceling too. But the best part for parents is that they come equipped with a software limiter that keeps the volume at or below 85dB, which is considered the maximum volume that children should be exposed to for prolonged periods.

With 16 hours of battery life, it’s unlikely your kid will outlast these headphones, but if they do, there’s always the option of using an analog cable instead. We’re frankly surprised more kids headphones don’t offer noise canceling. If the goal is to keep the volume at a safe level, eliminating unwanted outside noise means you can get the same sound quality at lower volumes than without this feature. It feels like a match made in child-parent heaven, something that doesn’t come along very often!

You’ll also appreciate that while not exactly cheap, given that the PuroQuiets have a very solid construction that will withstand at least some of the abuse kids can inflict, they are very reasonably priced for what they offer. We think your kids’ ears are worth it.

Read our full impressions of the Puro PuroQuiet headphones.

The best noise-canceling headphones for work and travel: Bose Noise-canceling Headphones 700

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Why you should buy these: This is the best noise-canceling tech you can get, at any price.

Who they’re for: People who frequently listen to music in noisy locations, and who want crystal-clear call quality.

Why we picked the Bose Noise-canceling Headphones 700:

The new flagship of the Bose noise-canceling headphone lineup, the somewhat awkwardly named Bose Noise-canceling Headphones 700 (which we shall simply call the Bose 700) are a significant departure from the older QC35 II, which were our previous pick for this category.

Though still excellent for noise-cancellation for travel on planes, or anywhere you’ll find higher frequency noise to be a problem, the Bose 700 do let through middle frequencies a bit more than their predecessors. However, their improved microphone noise-canceling makes for some of the quietest, truest voice calls your callers will ever hear.

The new design is sleeker, with earcups mounted directly to the headband instead of the older yolk-based setup. Though not quite as adjustable, this new configuration lets the Bose 700 fold nearly flat in their storage case, making it easier to stow them in seat-backs and carry-on luggage.

Sound quality is just as good as the QC 35 II, and perhaps even better for movies and TV shows, though some audiophiles may notice a slight tendency to overemphasize the high frequencies. We think the Sony WH-1000xM3 sound better for music. The Bose companion app gives you more granular control over the headphones’ features like noise-canceling levels, but virtually everything you need can be controlled through a combination of touches and buttons on the earcups. This includes volume, play/pause, track skipping, voice-assistant activation (Alexa and Google Assistant are supported), and noise-canceling on/off and level.

We really like the Bose 700, but if you prefer the acoustics of the QC 35 II, Bose still sells them, and they’re $50 less than the 700s.

Read our full Bose Noise-canceling Headphones 700 review

The best cheap noise-canceling headphones: TaoTronics TT-BH060

Taotronics TT-BH060
Riley Young/Digital Trends

Why you should buy them: You want comfort and great sound without breaking the bank.

Who’s it for: Those looking for a great-sounding, feature-packed, pair of noise-canceling headphones, and don’t mind a non-premium brand.

Why we picked the TaoTronics TT-BH060:

In every category, there’s a product that manages to deliver 90% of the best features at a significantly cheaper price than everyone else. With 30 hours of battery life, active noise cancellation, and a simple and understated design that’s geared towards business trips and long commutes, TaoTronics’ TT-BH060 is that product in the noise-canceling headphone market.

Where many other models cost many multiples the price, this plucky TaoTronics model costs less than a single night out on the town.

Among the included features is a woven hard case with an included 3.5mm cable for wired listening, and easy-to-use controls that make it quick and easy to change songs, adjust volume, and turn off and on the active noise cancellation. Just make sure you turn the noise-canceling off when you’re not wearing the headphones — it doesn’t turn off when the headphones themselves are powered down.

We think the sound is warm and balanced, with tight and energetic bass performance, yet it doesn’t overwhelm the midrange the way so many other budget headphones tend to do. The active noise cancellation works like a charm, providing a blank slate over which the TT-BH060 can project your favorite sounds.

If you want a great pair of noise-canceling over-ear headphones, but you’re not interested in paying the premium prices that Sony and Bose command, these are probably just what you’re looking for.

Read our full TaoTronics TT-BH060 review

Research and buying tips

How do noise-canceling headphones work?

They use exterior microphones to capture the sound around you. They then reproduce matching frequencies with the phase inverted to cancel ambient noise.

Are noise-canceling headphones bad for your ears?

No. They were invented for pilots to preserve their hearing.

Are noise-canceling headphones worth it?

If you plan on listening in noisy environments, absolutely.

Are noise-canceling headphones better than earplugs?

Not usually. Earplugs can typically do a better job of blocking out noise, but they don’t have the benefit of being able to play audio.

Can noise-canceling headphones work without music?

Yes, noise-canceling headphones will reduce outside noise without music playing, but things will almost always seem quieter when music is playing over the top

How we test

We test headphones the way normal people live.

We run every pair of headphones through a rigorous process over several days. That includes playing them in all sorts of scenarios — be it on a bus, in the listening room, or at the office — and playing back from a wide array of sources. We know most people use their headphones with a smartphone, often with lower-quality MP3 resolution tracks, so we do too.

However, we also move up to high-resolution audio files, as well as a wide variety of sources, including plugging in directly to a PC or Mac, using USB DACs (digital-to-analog converters), and employing high-quality dedicated portable players and amplifiers. Finally, we compare the headphones to some of our go-to models, both in their class and price point, as well as a level or two above to find out if they can punch above their weight.

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