The best noise-canceling headphones for 2019

The best noise-canceling headphones paint your music on a cleaner canvas

Sony’s WH-1000xM3 are the best noise-canceling headphones. They’re also the best wireless headphones — 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 WH-1000xM3 will be an unbeatable 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 eight 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 absolutely 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 hides 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.

Are there better noise-canceling headphones? Yes — just scroll down! But there are no better headphones with noise cancellation, and we think you’ll agree.

Our full Sony WH-1000xM3 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: Bose QC35 II

Bose QC35

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, like public transit, airplanes, or trains.

Why we picked the Bose QC35 II:

Bose effectively created the noise-canceling headphone category, and the company’s Quiet Comfort line remains the industry leader in both comfort and silence. Though no longer its current flagship — that honor now goes to the new 700-series — the QC35 II, are no exception, boasting superb performance on both fronts.

The QC35 II are nearly identical to the original QC35 model, except with a button to activate Google Assistant or Siri control (or adjust noise-cancellation levels).

Critically, for long-distance travelers, the QC35 II will remain comfortable even when they spend the whole day on your head. With a jet-black appearance and a slim overall profile, they’re more understated than their nearest rival, the Sony WH-1000xM3 (see above). The noise-canceling itself is the big draw here, however, and it’s better (by a tad) than Sony’s cans, and serves as a reminder of how Bose established itself as the noise cancellation leader.

You’ll be treated to extremely high sound quality with the QC35 II, but audiophiles, be warned: They exhibit the same boosted-bass signature that Bose has prided itself on for a generation — an attribute that has been controversial amongst die-hard audio nerds. Nonetheless, when it comes to high-performing, wireless noise-canceling headphones the Bose QC35 II are undeniably among the very best.

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.

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 the course of 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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