The best noise-canceling headphones can help you slip into audio nirvana in all kinds of situations, whether you’re commuting and trying to escape the sound of traffic and sniffling fellow commuters, on a long-haul flight and need to drown out the sound of kids screaming or just want to get away from everything and get comfy with your favorite music at home.
Noise-canceling headphones are true wonders of the modern era because they can totally tune out any unwanted sounds, while simultaneously making your music sound even better than any old pair of in-ear earbuds (except for the fantastic Sony WF-1000XM3s, of course).
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Best noise-canceling headphones at a glance
- Sony WH-1000XM3
- Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
- Sony WH-1000XM2
- Bose QuietComfort 35 II
- Sony WF-1000XM3 True Wireless Earbuds
- Jabra Elite 85H
- Philips Fidelio NC1
- Bose QuietComfort 25
- Bowers and WIlkins PX Wireless
- Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC
- JBL Live 650BTNC
- Microsoft Surface Headphones
What are the best noise-canceling headphones?
The Sony WH-1000XM3 are the best noise-canceling headphones in the world two years running. Sure, they might be a small refinement of last year’s excellent WH-1000XM2, but subtle tweaks like using USB-C instead of microUSB and adding padding along the bridge help make Sony’s award-winning cans even better.
So why does everyone love these Sony headphones so much? Well, it’s exceptionally good at cancelling outside noise. Put a pair on while vacuuming and you’ll barely hear the motor running.
For music lovers, the Sony WH-1000XM3 features aptX HD and Sony LDAC, two of the best ways to listen to Hi-Res music from your phone without a wire. Finally, all of Sony’s flagship headphones offer both Google Assistant and, starting in 2019, Alexa support, making them not only the best noise-canceling cans on the market but some of the smartest, too.
They don’t quite beat the Sony WH-1000XM3s in terms of battery life and price, but the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are still a brilliant pair of over-ear cans – and the best Bose headphones we’ve reviewed.
Traditionally, noise-canceling headphones have been designed to block out the environmental sounds around you, so that you can hear your music more clearly (or catch some shut-eye on a noisy flight).
This can be really effective if you’re listening to music. If you’re making a phone call however, the person you’re speaking to can still hear everything that’s happening around you, whether you’re standing on a busy street or trying to speak on a rumbling train.
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 seek to remedy this, by applying noise-cancelation to phone calls as well as music, which is fantastic feature.
The sound quality is undeniably good, with a vibrant, lively character and well-balanced soundstage.
If you’re trying to decide between buying the Sony WH-1000XM3s and the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, we’d recommend going for the former because of that lower price and better battery life. That being said, you wouldn’t be making a mistake if you opted for the Bose cans instead (and we wouldn’t blame you if you did) – they sound great, look stunning, and the noise-cancelation is out of this world.
If you can find a pair, the Sony WH-1000XM2 are still some of the best noise-canceling headphones around: They sound great, deftly wield noise cancelation technology and cost just as much as a pair of Bose QC35s.
They might have a slightly shorter battery life than Bose’s flagship over-ear headphones, but Sony’s WH-1000XM2 outclass the QC35 in terms of performance and feature-set.
You’d want to pick these Sony headphones over the Bose because not only do they provide the same level of awesome noise-cancellation, but they have three neat tricks that Bose just doesn’t have on its older headphones: one is an ambient noise mode that only lets in mid-to-high frequency tones (announcements over a loudspeaker, for instance) and another being Quick Attention mode that allows you to let in all outside noise without taking off the headphones. (The latter is perfect when giving a drink order on a plane or speaking to a coworker for a brief moment before diving back into your work.)
The last trick Sony has up its sleeve is the LDAC codec. Alongside the widely adopted aptX HD standard, LDAC enables Hi-Res Audio playback using the 1000XM2.
Great-sounding, feature-packed and just as affordable as the competition? The Sony WH-1000XM2 are a solid all-around pick for noise-canceling cans.
Coming in at number four are the Bose QuietComfort 35 II – a nearly identical product to the already-excellent Bose QuietComfort 35 but updated for 2018 with Google Assistant. This means you still get the class-leading noise cancelation Bose is known for, good sound quality and incredible comfort, plus a convenient assistant to answer any inquiries you might have while traveling.
Taken as a whole, the Bose QC35 II NC is an excellent headphone for travelers and commuters. Bose has found a good balance of features that will satisfy most mainstream listeners. While we don’t love them as much as the better-sounding Sony WH-1000XM2, they’re still top of the class for noise cancelation.
Despite the popularity of the QC35s, Bose has shaken things up by releasing a totally new wireless noise-canceling headphones model, with a focus on sleek design and “breakthrough” audio tech: the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. They may not have pipped Sony to the top spot of the best noise-canceling headphones, but they’re still a fantastic pair of over-ear headphones, coming in at number two.
It’s not often you’ll find a pair of wired earbuds, let alone a pair of true wireless earbuds on a list of the best noise-canceling headphones; considering it’s still rare to find the technology in earphones at all, the Sony WF-1000XM3s are very impressive indeed, and fully deserve a place in this roundup.
The Sony WF-1000XM3s manage to offer a level of noise-cancellation that’s very good for a pair of earbuds – they won’t offer the same isolation as a pair of over-ear cans, but if you’re after a sleek form factor then the compromise is worth it.
Not only are these hands down the best-looking true wireless headphones out there, but they combine serious noise-canceling tech with fist-pumping musicality. If you don’t want the inconvenience of carrying full-size cans, they’re a persuasive alternative.
Offering class-leading battery life, terrific style and plenty of personalization when it comes to sound profiles, the Elite 85h is easy to recommend. That said, purists will bemoan the lack of high-end codec support and there are punchier headphones on the market at this price point.
When you consider that Jabra’s Elite 85h headphones are the company’s first attempt at premium wireless ANC headphones, the result is quite commendable. We can’t wait to see what the company’s next premium ANC headphones will accomplish.
If you want an alternative to Sony’s WH-1000XM3, these are a great option.
Philips presents a more elegant noise-canceling solution with its NC1. These on-ear headphones aren’t wireless like our top pick, but that’s hardly a reason to knock them. Coming in at $299/£195, the NC1 are a compact set that’s high on comfort and battery life.
You get a lot for the money here. In the box comes the headphones, a hard case for storage and the headphones rock a rechargeable battery that provides noise cancelation for close to 30 hours. But best of all, the sound performance is extremely well balanced and warm.
(A quite note for our Australian readers: Philips sadly no longer sells the NC1’s down under, so you’ll need to import a pair if you’re keen.)
A few years ago, the Bose QuietComfort 25 are the best noise-canceling headphones we’ve ever used. The lows, mids and highs came through clear as day, never stepping over each other. Music of all sorts sounded predictably incredible. With the noise-cancellation turned on, we never felt further immersed and concentrated than when we let the QC25 engulf our ears.
But that was a few years ago and time has moved on since. Bose has released not just one sequel to these headphones, but two: the QC35 and QC35 II with Google Assistant built in, both of which we’d recommend above the QC25.
But, it’s not all bad. If you don’t mind using the older, wired headphones, the QC25s are a finely-tuned set of cans that provide over 35 hours of very good noise-canceling performance with one AAA battery.
Bowers and Wilkins are a little late to the noise-cancellation game, but their first foray impresses.
The PX Wireless aren’t just a great sounding pair of headphones, they’ve also got a number of other interesting tricks up their sleeve. They’ll turn on and off automatically depending on whether you’re wearing them or not, and they also feature the future-proof USB-C charging standard.
In our opinion their only downside is the sound quality, which we felt lacks the depth of the flagship headphones from Bose and Sony.
That said, if you’ve been a fan of the look of B&W’s headphones in the past then the PX Wireless are certainly worth a listen.
In terms of sheer sound quality, the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless (2019) headphones sound brilliant, with high levels of detail, warm bass, and natural-sounding highs.
The customizable noise cancelation on offer here is also good, but it doesn’t quite reach the class-leading standards set by the Sony WH-1000XM3 Wireless headphones.
They have nowhere near the battery life of Sony’s headphones, and are more expensive – which begs the question, why buy the Sennheisers when you could have the WH-1000XM3?
Well, if built-in Tile tracking appeals to you, and you like the industrial design and premium materials of the Momentum Wireless, that could be reason enough – and if you do opt for them over the Sony model, you won’t be missing out on any audio quality. In that respect, they’re truly matched.
For the money, the JBL Live 650BTNC punch above its weight in terms of sound quality, build, and features. They offer your choice of either Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, and can have their EQ customized by the JBL Headphones app. Battery life is rated at 20 hours with ANC and wireless enabled and if you use the JBL Live 650BTNC with a wire with ANC enabled, you can get upwards 30 hours on a single charge.
While they’re not quite up to par with the flagship noise-canceling cans from Sony and Bose, Microsoft’s Surface headphones are surprisingly good, with a stunningly warm sound, and generous bass frequencies.
Problematically, the active noise-canceling works pretty well, although it won’t block out all ambient noise in your environment, especially if you’re somewhere noisy. That being said, if you have the noise-canceling turned on while listening to music, you can pretty much get lost in the experience without being disturbed by your noisy shared office of the rumbling of the train on your commute.
Although we were initially unconvinced by the high price (particularly when you can buy quality cans from heritage audio brands for less), most of the Surface Headphone’s features work so seamlessly that it feels justified.
If you haven’t found something quite to your liking so far, we have one last option for you to look at – the all-new Nura Nuraphone over-ear/in-ear hybrid. Their form factor means you’ve not only got an earbud sitting at the entrance of your ear canal, but also an over-ear cushion sitting over your entire ear. This effectively means you’ve got two physical barriers meaning that the noise from the outside world can’t get to your ears. While more traditional over-ear headphones do a better job offering useful features at a reasonable price, the Nuraphone will appeal to the more experimental audio crowd looking to be on the bleeding-edge of the next big thing.
What is noise cancelation?
Noise canceling headphones use analogue and electronic methods to block out the environmental sound around you, allowing you to listen to your music in peace without distraction. Most noise-canceling headphones make use of the following two approaches:
Passive noise cancelation
This is when the headphones physically block outside sound from reaching your ears, and this can be achieved in a number of ways. Noise-canceling over-ear headphones typically have heavily padded earcups to achieve this, while in-ear headphones need to fit snugly in your ear to create a tight seal, stopping environmental sounds from entering.
Active noise cancelation
This method uses inbuilt microphones to analyze environmental noise and create ‘anti-noise’ frequencies that are mixed in with your music playback. This effectively cancels out the sound of your surroundings using analogue or digital filters.
How to choose the best noise-canceling headphones
We believe that noise-canceling headphones are just as vital as your laptop, TV or mobile phone when it comes to tech that’ll change how you live, work and play – especially if you have a long commute each day or a flight ahead of you. That means that choosing the right pair for you is important – the demands of a good pair of headphones for a flight are different to those you’ll only ever use at home.
Design is hugely important, as a good pair of noise-canceling headphones need to be comfortable for long listening sessions – look out for padded earcups and headbands in materials like memory foam for ultimate comfort.
Padded earcups also help with passive noise cancelation – in other words, they physically block sound from entering your ears. This works in tandem with active noise cancelation, with the best noise-canceling headphones using a combination of the two methods to get rid of outside noise.
As with any pair of headphones, the sound quality needs to be good, even if your focus is blocking out the world around you. How you define good sound quality depends on your personal taste. Do you like a warm, well-rounded sound, or do you prefer ultra high-fidelity that allows you to hear every single detail of your music? Are you a dedicated bass head or a classical music junkie?
Luckily, to help you pick out a pair of over-ear headphones (or in-ear headphones) that deliver all of the above in spades, we’ve put together a list of our favorite noise-canceling headphones, listed below and ranked by their price-to-performance ratio.