Best Noise-Canceling Headphones
There are many reasons why you would want to buy a high-quality pair of noise-canceling headphones. Not the least of which is to drown out background noise that is surrounding you. Really, that right there is the main premise behind this technology. However, finding the right pair and model for you is not even close to as simple. There is no need to sugarcoat this, certain features and specific technologies can literally make all the difference in the world. And, for the record, no, noise-canceling is not all the same as a cheap pair of headphones could have the technology but could pale in comparison to higher-end models. But, step-by-step, you can learn exactly what you need to look out for and subsequently be able to have confidence as you search the open market. So, let’s get this show on the road.
In a Hurry? The test winner after 2.75 hrs of research
The comfort is unmatched
The sound quality is completely superb
A multi-directional motion sensor is embedded inside
OUR TOP PICKS FOR THE BEST NOISE-CANCELING HEADPHONES
1. BOSE QUIETCOMFORT 35 II
The comfort is unmatched
The sound quality is completely superb
A multi-directional motion sensor is embedded inside
Not as many features as Sony’s best
Being honest for a second, you could create a 5000-word guide just debating between this model and the next one. By literally a hair, though, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II Headphones get the edge as the absolute best.Read more
The primary reason why Bose headphones are so revered is due to their sound quality and the QuietComfort35 II exemplifies that perfectly. It also helps that the noise cancellation technology is about as good as it will ever get.
In terms of physical comfort, you will not find many superior models out there. Yet, with that being said, in a few hours of extensive wear, your ears will probably get pretty darn warm.
These are fully wireless and they are able to connect with your smart devices via the integrated Bluetooth technology. Also, the battery is rated to last up to 20 hours (this will vary based on various settings).
Though Sony’s elite model offers more features, these are still Alexa-enabled and that means that you can enjoy hands-free operation. Additionally, you can adjust the noise-canceling to three different settings.
Being made with glass fiber reinforced nylon, these are going to hold up to mild abuse. The build quality is just another amazing aspect of this option.
Wow; does any other word truly sum up the QuietComfort 35 II headphones better than “wow”? As mentioned, they get the edge just barely over the next model coming up.
2. SONY WH1000XM3
Utterly packed with features
The comfort is fantastic
Features industry-leading noise cancellation technology
The headband has been known to crack
There are many online buyers and experts that will choose these over the previous model. The real main reason they fell short of the top spot, though, is due to the infamous issue with the headband cracking.Read more
Okay, so this is not where these fall short; not even close. Many would argue that these right here are the best sounding option on the entire market. That is fair and they are headlined by Sony’s industry-leading adaptive noise cancellation technology.
In addition to sounding terrific, these are also superb in the comfort area. Even after extensive wearing, you will not feel fatigued due to overheating or to too much pressure.
Sony utilizes Bluetooth 4.2 technology here and it makes these wireless. As for how long they will last on a full charge, they are rated to do so for up to 30 hours.
There are more features integrated here that you will probably even use, quite frankly. This includes voice assistance, quick attention mode, smart listening mode and various touch controls that add convenience.
Alright, let’s address the elephant in the room. If you have not heard by now, these headphones have had issues with their headband breaking. Unfortunately, this is a chance you take here.
Look, if not for the infamous headband issue, a case can be made that these are unquestionably the best option on the market today. But, you can’t simply ignore that issue. Let’s just hope it does not happen to you.
3. BOWERS & WILKINS PX
One of the best sounding units on the market
Sports a 22-hour battery life
Designed with world-class build quality
The comfort could be improved
Okay, so Sony and Bose are not the only two manufacturers that can make highly impressive headphones as Bowers & Wilkins is right up there with them. And, this is proven with this model right here.Read more
With the combination of the superb adaptive noise cancellation, the same drivers that are used in the P9 headphones, and the fact that those same drivers are angled, very few users will complain about the sound quality here.
Though the sound is amazing, the comfort here has been criticized. Though supple and comfortable leather is used, the ear cushions are pretty thin and the clamping pressure is a bit too much.
It is noted that the PX will run for 22 hours on a single charge. Again, though, this will depend on many different variables. Again, this is another model that utilizes Bluetooth technology.
One of the most notable features here is the built-in sensors. They are designed to put the audio to sleep when you take these off your head.
You can’t really fault the build quality here as Bowers & Wilkins did not skimp out on their craftsmanship and the materials that they utilized throughout.
It is a little unfortunate that these are not more comfortable but man, the sound quality is just too good to ignore. Additionally, the quality is real as you can tell these are not cheap in the slightest.
4. SENNHEISER PXC 550
Designed with Bluetooth 4.2 technology
Both the audio and build quality are great
The comfort is pretty good
They can be tight for people with larger heads
The touch controls should not have been implemented for calling
Sennheiser can sometimes get slighted when people start talking about the technology-leading brands of this type of technology. Well, they let their designs speak for themselves much like with their PXC 550 model.Read more
The NoiseGuard adaptive noise cancellation technology really is awesome here and when combined with Sennheiser’s signature sound quality, you have a recipe for success.
Even though these can be tight for those of you who have larger craniums, they have been raved for their comfort. Part of the reasons why are due to the ergonomic design, padded headband and rotating ear cups.
Thanks to the Bluetooth 4.2 technology, you can connect these wirelessly with your smart devices. Also, the integrated battery can last up to 30 hours on a full charge.
There are some nice features here including the intuitive user control and the triple-microphone but there is also a questionable one. While good in theory, the execution of using touch controls for calling is not very good here.
Sennheiser is a German technology company and if you know anything about them then you probably know their craftsmanship skills are superb. That is exemplified pretty much perfectly here.
Some slight flaws prevent these from reaching the stratosphere of the top three units on this list. But, hey, on a list of this magnitude, fourth place is pretty darn impressive.
Will last up to 30 hours on a single charge
They can be folded down
Designed with Bluetooth 5.0 technology
Could be more comfortable
Is this ranking too high for a model at this price range? Look, maybe these deserve brownie points for being so darned impressive for their price but hey, not everyone can afford $300 models.Read more
So, the 40-millimeter drivers are pretty impressive and emit thumping bass and quality sound. However, the noise-canceling, while pretty good, is not at the level of Sony or Bose.
While there have been a few reviewers who have commented on the uncomfortable fit, these are equipped with 90-degree rotatable ear cups, an adjustable headband, and also pillow-soft cushions.
What is literally amazing is these are a lower-end option yet feature a more advanced version of Bluetooth (5.0) than virtually all of its competitors. Also, the battery can run for up to 30 hours on a full charge.
Though there are not a ton of features integrated here, these can be folded and that comes in handy when you need to travel with them.
Just by holding these headphones you can tell that they are made with solid materials that will not break or wear down very easily.
For a lower-end option, does it really get much better than this? Yes, the noise cancellation technology could be better but Bluetooth 5.0 is utilized, which is still astounding.
6. PLANTRONICS BACKBEAT PRO 2
Comes with a rigid travel case
There are buttons integrated
Fully wireless design
For longer sessions, comfort can be an issue
Even though it should not be your top priority, it really is worth noting that this option could just be the “coolest” looking on the entire market. Of course, the technology is pretty good too.Read more
For the price, it is fair if some of you expect more out of the noise cancellation (though it is still good here). Of course, the powerful speaker drivers do deliver crisp highs and rich bass.
The good news is this model has been designed to be 35 percent smaller and 15 percent lighter than its predecessor. However, some users have complained about the tight fit.
If you have a Class 1 Bluetooth smart device then you can utilize these up to 330 feet away. In addition, the battery is rated to last for up to 24 hours on a full charge.
Overall, the features here are quite admirable. This includes the ear cups that will swivel flat for travel, buttons on the side for quick setting changes and built-in sensors that will turn off audio when the headphones are removed from your head.
High-quality materials were used in the construction phase of these and just by looking at them, you can notice this right away.
Yes, the overall comfortability could be enhanced but there still is a ton to love about the BackBeat Pro 2 Headphones. Not the least of which is the premium quality and excellent sound.
7. BOSE QUIETCOMFORT 25
Features an inline remote
They are very light in weight
The noise cancellation is terrific
For whatever reason, it needs to be used with a 2.5-millimeter cable
Look, just because these right here are not quite as good as Bose’s top model on this list, it does not mean they are obsolete. In fact, consider these a cheaper, high-quality alternative. However, they are wired.Read more
Even though these are a cheaper alternative to the QuietComfort 35 II, they certainly do not sacrifice in the sound quality department. This is Bose, after all.
Okay, so you do have to deal with a wire but the actual comfort of these is phenomenal. In addition to being lighter in weight to reduce heat buildup, the ear cups are properly cushioned and can rotate.
As one buyer pointed out, the QuietComfort 25’s jack is too small for a normal 3.5-millimeter cable. This is a little maddening as in the description it claims a 3.5-millimeter cable is used.
No, these are not loaded with design features but they can be folded flat for travel. Also, there is an inline remote that allows you to control various settings.
For the most part, most buyers agree that these are well-made. Though they may not withstand that much abuse, the construction is solid as a whole.
Yes, you do have to deal with a wire here but hey, if that is okay with you then you are going to love these. In nearly every area, Bose knocks it out of the park.
8. SENNHEISER HD 4.50
Backed by a two-year warranty
Sports intuitive controls
Features Bluetooth 4.0 technology
The ear cups are very small
Much like Bose, Sennheiser makes their second appearance on this list and while the noise cancellation technology that is implemented is not top-notch, it more than gets the job done.Read more
The ball certainly was not dropped with the sound and the combination of the NoiseGard noise cancellation technology and the proprietary drivers prove that with flying colors.
Now, the ear cups are made of soft leatherette for enhanced comfort. The main issue, though, is their size. As one buyer pointed out, these are more like on-ear headphones as opposed to over-ear.
The combination of aptX and Bluetooth 4.0 provide the wireless convenience here. As for the battery, it is rated to last up to 19 hours with both Bluetooth and NoiseGard activated.
Due to the fact that there are built-in controls located on the ear cup, you can change tracks and make phone calls with relative ease.
Alright, do not be scared that these include plastic. The plastic that is used is high in quality and is not the cheap stuff that you are probably imagining.
If you know you have large ears and do not enjoy the feel of on-ear headphones then you may want to be wary about this option. For everyone else, these will be fantastic.
9. ANKER SOUNDCORE
Sports built-in controls
The noise cancellation is pretty good
Optimized for travel
The wireless range is limited
They can break if you are not careful
It can sometimes be tough to find high-quality options at affordable prices when it comes to this type of technology. Yet, much like with the option from TaoTronics, these right here are an example of such.Read more
For the price, the sound of the Soundcore is just remarkable. It is thanks to its hybrid active noise cancellation technology and 40-millimeter drivers.
Here is the thing; many reviews allude to the provided comfort here. Yet, others claim that the headphones themselves place too much pressure underneath your ears.
While you can operate these in either wired or wireless mode (with Bluetooth), the latter is limited due to the minimal wireless range. The battery will last up to 20 hours, though.
In addition to the fact that you can fold these flat, touch control is also implemented for more convenient control.
Just be careful with this model as they can break if you are not careful (some cheaper plastic is implemented).
Anker is a high-quality brand, there is no doubting that. Granted you do not expect their model to compete with Bose or Sony, you should be mostly satisfied with them.
10. AKG N60NC
Features a compact and foldable design
The battery is long-lasting
Sports top-notch construction quality
The integrated microphone is just not very good
The headband could use more padding
AKG makes a good set of headphones but they can’t quite compete with Bose or Sony quite yet. These, in particular, are more than good in their own right but do also come with a hefty price tag.Read more
The main reason why AKG is behind Bose and Sony is because of their noise-canceling. Still, the technology present here is solid. Overall, these still do emit AKG’s signature sound (which is still above-average).
If AKG had to do it over again, perhaps they would have added more padding to the top of their N60NC model.
With both Bluetooth and the active noise cancellation enabled, these can last for up to 15 hours. This is doubled to 30 hours if you turn off Bluetooth, however.
Honestly, this is the area that needs the most improvement. First off, the integrated microphone is just plain bad. Secondly, the button control is a bit flimsy and thirdly, you can’t turn off noise-canceling.
In spite of the issues with the last section, the construction here is absolutely top-notch. You treat these with respect and they should last a long, long time (at least the main materials).
Look, if you require a model that sports superb features then you are going to be disappointed here. At the same time, the above-average sound quality and phenomenal build quality make up for it.
Criteria Used for Evaluation
In addition to the noise cancellation, there are additional factors that will enhance the sound quality.
Yep, this is all about the noise cancellation. It was alluded to earlier and it really is important to clarify that not all headphones will sound the same simply because they have the technology. As with anything else, certain engineers have a better handle on it than others. Of course, the price is also going to matter. But, anyway, noise cancellation is a technology that uses built-in circuitry to counteract exterior sounds. In essence, without going into too much detail, it cancels out ambient noises and sounds. Yet, some brands (such as Sony) will have advanced noise cancellation that will actually adapt and tailor itself to your current surroundings. As you can expect, this will result in more efficient results. And, others will implement active noise cancellation which implements minuscule microphones that will learn the outside sounds and then emit the opposite sounds to counteract them.
Of course, assessing sound quality requires more than just this. You can also look at the frequency response, though this is not too critical as most humans can only hear a certain frequency range anyway. Additionally, some models will have larger drivers and while this does not always equate to better sound, it can be more powerful. Oh, and also look for models that do not emit flat sounds as you ideally want balance and also bass.
Do you really want to wear headphones that are punishing or painful?
This one is pretty easy, is it not? Depending on your usage, you may want to wear your headphones for several hours at a time and even if you do not, the pair you get should be comfortable to wear. It is such a simple concept but oh is it ever so important. So, let’s take a look at what you should keep in mind starting with the actual fit. While most models will be adjustable, you can only adjust them so far and some will be too small to fit your head. And, this leads into the second point that the pair you buy should not have too much clamping pressure.
Oh, and you have to talk about the padding and ear cups. No one wants a metal or plastic headband digging into their skull so look for designs with enough padding to prevent this. Along the same line, look for ear cups that are properly cushioned. Also, do not forget that it is always a good idea to glance through user feedback to see what previous buyers have had to say.
This really comes down to whether or not you want wired or wireless.
What this ultimately comes down to is if you want a wired or wireless model. But, did you notice that many of the options on this list are wireless? This is not because wired models are inferior, per se, and is more indicative of how wireless technology has improved and adapted over time. Clearly, the most obvious convenience to these models is the lack of any wires. For most, this will be worth it alone but let’s look at wireless headphones a little more closely. First off, as opposed to 10 years ago, they sound much, much better. Sound quality continues to improve and so does Bluetooth (which is the primary wireless protocol that most models will utilize).
Of course, this also means you have to deal with a battery and will need to charge it when the time comes. And, remember, that certain variables can affect this so you can always prolong the battery a little longer if you needed to (like turning the volume down or turning off the noise cancellation). Lastly, you can’t forget that wireless models will require a wireless signal which is more unstable than a wired connection. Also, you may encounter inferences from time to time.
There are actually quite a few extra features that you can look out for.
This is where things take a little turn. One could make the argument that design features on noise-canceling headphones are more for luxury and are not mandatory. That is fair but some of the features can really make or break your purchase but it does depend on your preferences. For example, more advanced models may equip compatibility with artificial intelligence software (such as Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant). This can allow for convenient voice control and can actually come in handy if your hands are not free at certain moments. Along the same line, most designs will incorporate button controls on the side that can control various settings such as the volume, current track, etc.
Oh, and what about a pair of headphones that could pause the audio when you take them off your head? Yep, there are those types on the market, as well. Also, if you want to make phone calls, look for designs with integrated microphones. And, lastly, if you plan to travel with your pair a lot, some models will sport collapsible ear cups so it may be in your best interest to look out for them.
Much like with the comfort, you really do not want to buy a model that is made of cheap materials.
You can spend as little as $50 or as much as $300 on a pair of noise-canceling headphones. And, while the price is not always indicative of the quality, it is often here. Alongside everything else that has been discussed, higher-end models should be built as such. After all, if you are going to spend $300 on a pair then they better survive moderate drops and such. While each individual component needs to be assessed (such as the headband, ear cups, etc.), you really just want to look for high-quality materials and craftsmanship.
Most of your big time brands such as Sony, Bose, Sennheiser and Bowers & Wilkins will not skimp on their materials. And, whether they are made out of metal, leather, memory foam, plastic, or any other materials, look for them to be high in quality.
Expert Interviews & Opinions
It always is the case with any type of product that emits sound but the number one area of concern here is with the sound quality. Of course, all the models on this list do implement some form of noise cancellation technology but as is stated, they are not all the same. Additionally, you do need to keep other factors in mind as they can all affect the quality of the emitted sound.
Really, this right here is self-explanatory. The last thing you want is to don a pair of headphones only for them to be uncomfortable in a few hours. As with the sound quality, there are many variables that will come into play such as the fit, heat buildup, and cushioning. And, if you are planning on wearing your new pair extensively, you will want to pay really close attention to this section.
As technology continues to evolve and improve, it seems that more and more products are switching to wireless operation. While the wired vs wireless debate could go on for hours on end, the case for wireless continues to get better and here it is no different. Then again, it will come down to your personal preferences. Just know that there are pros and cons to each style.
Frequently Asked Questions
q: Okay, so will these block out all ambient noise?
It is almost beating a dead horse at this point so we will not reiterate again that noise-canceling technology will differ from brand to brand (oops, we did it again). Anyway, clearly, the more advanced it is and the higher frequencies it can counteract, the better it is going to be. Yet, it is hard to say that any headphones will block out all ambient noise. And, quite frankly, a lot of it depends on the frequencies of sounds that are emitting around you.
q: Do they make in-ear models?
Based on this list, you would think that in-ear noise-canceling headphones do not exist. That is simply not the case and the primary reason why they were not highlighted on this list is that over-ear models are typically preferred. In general, just by the nature of their design, they are able to cancel out more ambient noise. Yet, with that said, there are top-name brands out there that do make in-ear models (and some of them are quite good).
q: Will these headphones damage your ears?
There is something about this technology that actually has not been touched on yet, until now. You see, if you have sensitive ears and active noise cancellation is active and no audio is playing, these pressure relations could have an effect on your ears. Even with music, the sensation may be too much for you. If you are possibly worried about this then look for models with return policies.
q: Is there a difference between noise isolating and noise cancellation?
Not only is there a difference between these two “technologies” but the difference is astronomical. And, what is ironic are noise-canceling headphones are actually also noise isolating ones (but that door does not open both ways). The major reason why is noise isolating models will merely block out the sound through the coverage of the ear cups. Meanwhile, actual noise cancellation models use specific technologies to cancel out the noise.
q: Will they make the audio sound better?
The way this question is worded makes it hard to answer, quite frankly. The reality is that even if regular headphones do sound better, most of the time you are going to want the effects of noise cancellation. Think about it, unless you are listening to music in isolated areas where ambient noise is literally not an issue at all, you will want the benefits of models that block out external noise. Of course, you will see some models out there that will allow you to disable or turn off the noise cancellation.
q: So, what is the big deal about Bluetooth 5.0?
As was mentioned, Bluetooth is the standard wireless protocol when it comes to this technology. But, there are numerous versions out there and the latest (as of this writing) is Bluetooth 5.1. Yet, version 5.0 made the biggest leaps and is the more noteworthy of the two. Knowing the upgrades may make you think twice about getting noise-canceling headphones that still use a fourth version of the wireless protocol. Most specifically, Bluetooth 5.0 took leaps in its speed and range. Its speed jumped up to two Mbps while the range went from 30 to 260 feet (which is incredible).