Chances are your search for a pair of the best headphones has yielded several of the noise-canceling variety. Bose was the first out of the gate with the technology in the late '80s, and while they still do it better than most, the noise-blocking feature has almost become standard in headphones from over-ear to earbuds, making music, podcasts, movies and TV a much less noisy listening experience.
But not all noise-canceling headphones are created equal. There are some models built for only the most discerning of audiophiles with unlimited budgets to back up their tastes, and there are also much less expensive options that cut out some of the glitz and high-fidelity features but still sound pretty great. Whatever your listening needs may be, though, we've got you covered.
Right now, when it comes to the very best noise-canceling headphones, we feel that the the best headphones, period.simply cannot be beaten. In fact, we consider them to be among the best wireless headphone options overall, which in turn led us to crown them
And if thearen't right for you, we've put together this extensive list of excellent alternatives. They all cancel noise, but each pair has its own specific strengths.
The best overall
- Excellent sound
- Very good comfort
- Ultra-clear call quality
- Best-in-class noise canceling
- Very good battery life
- Hi-res compatible (wired/wireless)
- Hands-free voice assistant access
- Classy, modern design
- Fold-flat, but don’t fold up
When it comes to top-notch sound quality, comfort, and ease of use, the Sony WH-1000XM5 is the best in every way, bar none.
Improving upon the previous generation's WH-1000XM4 (our runner-up pick below) in more ways than one, we were amazed to find out that there even could be improvements made. But the powers at Sony had a few more tricks up their sleeves.
For starters, the XM5 are cozier to wear, thanks to an improved cushioning system and better weight distribution from cup to cup. In terms of actual audio, interestingly, the XM5 speaker drivers are 25% smaller than the ones found in the XM4, featuring 30mm carbon-fiber-based transducers that make listening to any music genre an absolute joy.
And let's not forget the power of the XM5's active noise cancelation (ANC). Utilizing eight microphones and two onboard audio processors, the XM5 are constantly listening and adapting to whatever environment you're in, delivering the very best noise cancelation on the market.
Factoring in its Sony-exclusive LDAC lossless listening for Android devices (sorry, Apple fans), modest battery life, and a bevy of additional must-haves, it's easy to see why we can't stop raving about the Sony WH-1000XM5.
- Very comfortable
- Excellent sound quality
- Excellent noise canceling
- Very good call quality
- Very good battery life
- Bluetooth multi-device pairing
- Handy, customizable features
- No aptX or aptX HD
While the WH-1000XM5 may be Sony's latest and greatest headphone option, the WH-1000XM4 still holds up well as an alternative pick with a slightly lower price but many of the same excellent benefits.
In terms of battery life, the WH-1000XM4 deliver up to 30 hours with active noise cancellation on and 38 hours without. The XM4 also use advanced software algorithms and hardware when it comes to active noise cancellation, powerful tools that essentially eliminate any distracting environmental noise.
Like the XM5s, the XM4s also include Bluetooth multipoint connection, allowing them to be connected to two different devices at the same time. Essentially, you could be watching Netflix on your laptop, field a phone call on your mobile device, then effortlessly return to your streaming enjoyment.
The XM4 also features a wear sensor to automatically pause content when you remove the headphones, as well as Sony's music upscaling tech, DSEE Extreme.
If you're looking for a way to silence the outside world so you can be left alone to enjoy your favorite music, we highly recommend the Sony WH-1000XM4 as well as its newer upgrade. If you want to compare a similar noise-canceling option that's not from Sony, you could also take a look at the Bose QuietComfort 45.
Bowers & Wilkins Px8
The most extravagant noise-canceling headphones
- Beautifully designed and built
- Incredibly comfortable
- Great sound quality
- Decent noise cancellation
- Not ideal for calls in noisy places
The Px8 offers an interesting proposition for those with deep wallets: Pay about twice as much as other high-end headphones cost, and get a unique, luxurious experience that includes incredible wireless audio and effective noise cancellation.
Of course, at this price, you also get a comfortable design with massive ear cushions, leather padding, and aluminum notes that combine for a durable, beautiful fit that can last for hours without any discomfort. And the Carbon Cone drivers put in the work to deliver exceptional sound, with support for Bluetooth aptX Adaptive wireless tech for the best possible wireless experience (just keep in mind that iPhones don’t support aptX yet).
Battery life is also quite good for headphones this size, lasting up to 30 hours on a single charge. Are all these features combined worth the super-high price tag? That’s up to you to decide, but these headphones look amazing while delivering the high-end audio experience you’d expect, so style points can count for a lot. And if you like these and are willing to drop a little extra cash, check out the McLaren Edition version of the Px8s that Bowers & Wilkins created in collaboration with the supercar maker.
Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless
The best for battery life
- Amazing battery life
- Outstanding sound
- Effective wind noise reduction
- Effective ANC
- No auto-off function
Why you should buy them: You want an excellent set of noise-canceling headphones from a trusted name that sound amazing and have unbeatable battery life.
Who they're for: Those looking for a toe-to-toe alternative to the Sony XM5s and Apple AirPods Max.
Why we picked the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless:
Sennheiser may not collect the same fanfare as other titan headphone names, but when it comes to craftsmanship and performance, there's no doubt that your listening experience is going to be stellar when you invest in a set of Sennheisers, and the Momentum 4 Wireless are no exception.
Comfortable to wear and rocking only one button for all of your Bluetooth headphone needs (play/pause, answering calls, and adjusting noise-cancelation settings), the Momentum 4 comes out on top in two major categories — sound quality and battery life.
In terms of the former, you can expect to hear all kinds of details in songs you may have heard a million times over. This is thanks to Sennheiser's dedication to giving its listeners the most complete soundstage possible. Mids and highs are on point, with plenty of articulation and next to no distortion, and the bass is some of the best low-end we've heard from any set of headphones.
Now, are you ready for the crowning laurel? The Momentum 4 Wireless is rated for up to 60 hours of battery, and that's with active noise-cancelation enabled. This beats the Sony XM5 by a long shot, and frankly, competitive brands should use the Momentum 4 Wireless battery specs as a benchmark for future product designs.
Apple AirPods Max
The best for Apple users
- Best-in-class ANC
- Amazing transparency mode
- Excellent build quality
- Excellent sound quality
- Top-notch call quality
- Charges via Lightning cable
- Heavy on head
Apple has been on a roll when it comes to personal audio. The second-generation AirPods Pro have finally landed, and so far have been another hit for their true wireless earbuds lineup. But for Apple fans who still prefer next-level over-ear cans, the AirPods Max (a stunningly beautiful — and expensive — set of over-ear ANC headphones) are still the way to go — or at least until the next generation of the AirPods Max comer along.
Their design, with aluminum-covered earcups, a weight-distributing mesh headband, and some of the most intuitive controls we've ever used, is truly exceptional. We can't say enough about the build quality, which puts most other high-end wireless cans to shame.
As Caleb Denison covers in his excellent review of the AirPods Max, sound quality is close, but not quite on par with the Sony WH-1000XM4s, but what really blew us away was the AirPods Max's noise-cancellation, transparency mode, and call quality — each of which is better than the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700, and that's saying something given how good the Bose are.
You could use the AirPods Max with non-Apple devices, but to do so would be an unfortunate waste of the AirPods Max's talents. They pair instantly with devices such as iPhones and Macs and can switch between them in a snap. The spatial audio feature that's compatible with both 1st- and 2nd-gen AirPods Pro, the Beats Fit Pro, and the AirPods 3 is amazing in the AirPods Max and can now be experienced with various iPhones, iPads, M1 or M2 Macs, Apple TV 4K, and more.
They're not perfect — we think their heavy weight will prevent people from wanting to wear them for long listening sessions, and their included protective case has rightfully become the object of ridicule for its non-existent protection. And then, of course, there's the price.
Still, if you're an Apple fan with money to invest in personal audio, you likely won't find a better set of active noise-canceling headphones than the AirPods Max.
The best noise-canceling headphones for kids
- Built-in volume limiter
- 16 hours of battery life
- Flexible and durable
- Lacks the features of more advanced headphones
- OK sound quality
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 (we don't want them growing up needing OTC hearing aids, now do we?).
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, the Puro PuroQuiet are very reasonably priced for what they offer. We think your kids' ears are worth it.
Final Audio UX3000
The best features for the price
- Foldable design
- 35 hours of battery life
- Great sound quality
- Bluetooth multipoint connectivity
- Could be better-looking
The Final Audio UX3000 manage to pack a ton of flagship audio features into a set of headphones that cost less than $200. Powered by four intuitive far-field mics that actively listen for environmental noise to cancel out, listeners will be wowed by how little ambient sound creeps into their music-listening session.
In terms of driver technology, the UX3000 use an active equalizer to cancel out unwanted high frequencies, making for a clear and crisp soundstage from bass to treble.
Then when you factor in 35 hours of battery life (which will vary based on ANC and listening volume), multipoint connectivity, and an ergonomic foldable design, it becomes clear why the Final Audio UX3000 are the best noise-canceling headphones for the price.
The best budget noise-canceling headphones
- Great sound quality
- Very comfortable for long periods
- Ridiculous battery life
- Solid ANC performance
- Great app support
- Affordable price
- No wear sensors
- Wired mode disables extra features
Noise cancellation technology has finally become affordable enough to find in some excellent budget headphones, and the SonoFlow is a near-perfect example that combines affordable ANC with great sound. You’re not giving up much at all while saving a lot of money compared to picks from Apple or Sony.
The 1More SonoFlow includes important features like support for high-res audio, an in-depth app with plenty of EQ customization options, and ANC that includes a transparency mode. The battery life is particularly incredible, offering up to 50 hours with ANC turned on, something that even high-end headphones would struggle to achieve.
There are a couple of small drawbacks, like the lack of a wear sensor for automatic turn-off, but these are very mild features to give up when you’re getting some much at such an excellent price.
They use exterior microphones to capture the sound around you. They then reproduce matching frequencies with the phase inverted to cancel ambient noise. Check out our full explainer on active noise cancelation, too.
Keep in mind, ANC (active noise cancellation) is very different from passive noise cancellation. Passive noise cancellation refers to the construction of the headphones, made with materials and fit to block out noise. ANC uses mics and generates matching feedback, which is much more effective at removing consistent background sounds.
No. They were invented for pilots to preserve their hearing.
If you plan on listening in noisy environments, absolutely. That could include busy traffic nearby, the rumbling of the train or subway you take, loud chattering in a cafe, or just the whine of an unexpectedly noisy radiator.
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.
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.
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.
Transparency mode —which goes by several different names from brand to brand, such as social mode, world volume, and hear-through — works with the headphones' ANC mics, to allow some outside noise in, rather than blocking it. It's very handy when you want to be aware of the sounds around you, like listening for someone who may be calling out your name, or to an upcoming subway stop, or to a child crying, for example.
Any type of loud music or noise cancellation is going to make you less aware of your surroundings, so it's important to remember that that could cause some problems. That being said, noise cancellation isn't particularly dangerous: Loud, sudden sounds can still get through, and you can always switch to the transparency mode when you need to pay attention to what's going on around you.
Yes, ANC modes will drain the headphone battery faster. How much faster depends on the model, but you can expect the battery life to be around 1/3 shorter than without ANC. If you're worried about it impacting battery times, look for battery ratings with ANC turned on. We typically list any differences in our headphone reviews.
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