The best noise-cancelling headphones aren’t just great for everyday music playback — by engaging active noise cancellation (ANC) tech, they can make ambient sounds much quieter and less distracting. All that remains is whatever you’re listening to, allowing you to enjoy your favorite songs, podcasts or eBooks without distraction.
We're maintaining a separate list of the best noise-cancelling earbuds as well, but our picks below represent the greatest ANC headphones across any form factor. Over-ear headphones can aid the noise-cancelling effect by forming seals around your ears, though in-ear buds can still deliver high-performance ANC, just in a more portable package. Whichever you prefer, you’re sure to find the right pair in our best noise-cancelling headphones picks below.
- Our picks of the best wireless headphones
- Save with the best cheap noise-cancelling headphones
- Check out the best over-ear headphones
Editor's Note: The Tom's Guide Awards 2021 for audio have been announced, and the Sony WH-1000XM4 has won the Best noise-cancelling headphones award! Head to the audio awards page to see all the winners and recommended runners-up.
The best noise-cancelling headphones you can buy
The Bose 700 may have more powerful active noise cancellation, but the Sony WH-1000XM4’s incredible overall performance and lower price makes it the better value. Everything that made the WH-1000XM3 a critical darling remains intact, including the phenomenal soundstage and touch controls that allow for seamless playback and call management. Having the ability to personalize audio via the Sony Headphones Connect app is awesome, letting you create your own sound profiles or pick from multiple fine-tuned presets that lend themselves well to almost every music genre. You’re also getting top-tier ANC that gives competitors a run for their money and lets you enjoy longer playtimes than any Bose model with the feature enabled.
Sadly, the call quality isn’t great, which has been a reoccurring problem for the Sony Mark series. But to the WH-1000XM4’s credit, this is the only legitimate complaint that can be made about Sony’s flagship headphones.
Read our full Sony WH-1000XM4 review.
An argument can be made for the Bose 700 being the best overall noise-cancelling headphones that would bring up some compelling points. There is no denying that Bose has the strongest, most effective active noise cancelling technology on the market. Period. The Bose 700 reaps those benefits, boasting 10 levels of ANC that can be adjusted in the Bose Connect app and works flawlessly to silence the majority of external sounds. Most importantly, the 700 achieves this without compromising sound quality, allowing listeners to enjoy clean, well-balanced sound reproduction. Bose’s companion app also lets you adjust the EQ for personalized audio.
And what’s not to love about the headphones’ ultramodern design? The slim, sexy silhouette of the 700 is as much of an engineering feat as Bose’s ANC performance, and the high price point should certainly make you believe it. But we need to address the elephant in the room – battery life – a field where many other models in the category outperform the 700.
See our full Bose 700 review.
Although there’s only one level of active noise cancellation on the ultra-premium AirPods Max, it works like a charm. The cans do a great job of blocking out ambient sounds, especially at the lower end of the frequency spectrum. It’s almost as good as Bose’s ANC, which is a fine showing for Apple’s first pair of over-ears.
Elsewhere, the AirPods Max sound great, especially with the surround-sound spatial audio feature switched on, and there design standards and build quality are so high you can almost forget that these headphones cost $549. That’s a lot more than the Sony and Bose headphones higher up the list, so this is a luxury purpose, but can very much be a worthwhile one.
See our full Apple AirPods Max review.
Another premium ANC option is the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Carbon Edition. These over-ear cans has the fine craftsmanship to challenge even the AirPods Max, and they sound superb. A beautifully wide soundstage delivers big-sounding songs magnificently, but it's just as capable with more detailed, intimate-sounding tracks.
There's no customizable EQ, but it doesn't feel particularly necessary, and ANC is highly effective as well. There's also a very cool Soundscapes feature that adds in various nature sounds, adding a relaxing touch when you need to chill out for a while.
See our full Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Carbon Edition review.
The AirPods Pro may be considered the better overall model between the two, but we’re talking noise cancellation here, a category now dominated by the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. Think of these earbuds as the wireless in-ear variant of the Bose 700, offering much of the same functionality to deliver unbeatable ANC performance, and that is with half the mics. They come with 10 levels of ANC that can be adjusted in the Bose Connect app, which also blends with an ambient listening mode to allow full awareness of what’s happening around you. Sound is warm and clean, though call quality is the product’s unsung feature, producing excellent clarity on both ends.
Aside from the bulky design (both earbuds and charging case), the only thing holding Bose’s flagship earbuds from perfection is the middling battery life. A single charge is rated at 6 hours, but that number drops quickly to 5 hours when factoring in the listening modes and heavy streaming. The charging case only offers an additional 18 hours as well, a major letdown when seeing how huge it is.
Read our full Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review.
The AirPods Pro land on our list of best noise-cancelling headphones because these ANC earbuds blocked noise quite well in our testing, whether we were commuting or walking around New York City. It's also easy to activate the ANC with just a long press on the earbud stem. And for those times when you need to be aware of your surroundings, there's Transparency mode that lets ambient noise in so you can listen to music and listen to the world around you. The latest iOS 14 update brings new features like automatic switching and spatial audio, which creates 3D-like sound for listeners, into the mix.
The AirPods Pro offer a very comfortable and secure fit, which you can personalize thanks to three sets of included silicone tips and even a fit test you can run on your iPhone. And these buds are great for working out, as the AirPods Pro offer sweat- and water-resistance. The battery life with noise cancelling on is only 4.5 hours, but you can 24 hours of juice through the wireless charging case.
See our full Apple AirPods Pro review.
How's this for an ANC headphones bargain: great sound, a modern and flexible design, ample features, a useful app, a full set of accessories and the best battery life in its class, all for $149? That's the Cleer Enduro ANC, currently the #1 spot taker on our best cheap wireless headphones list.
The Enduro ANC isn't perfect — there's a fair bit of wind noise in ANC mode, and it's seemingly made with smaller ears in mind — but there's no arguing about the incredible value for money. Cleer's noise-cancelling headphones are particularly good for travellers, as we got a superlative 50 hours and 15 minutes of ANC playback in our testing.
Read our full Cleer Enduro ANC review.
The active noise cancellation on the Samsung Galaxy Buds is not, truth be told, as effective as the ANC of the AirPods Pro or Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. But it is a major improvement on the Galaxy Buds Live, and also plays in well with an ambient mode that can kick in automatically when you start speaking.
This blend of general high quality and smarter functionality helps the Galaxy Buds Pro stand out as much as its sleek design does. They’re best paired with a recent Samsung Galaxy smartphone, as this will unlock even more advanced features like 360 Audio: you’ll need a handset running Samsung’s OneUI 3.1 software.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro review.
Sennheiser's flagship true wireless buds place sound quality above all else. ANC effectiveness is decent but not on Bose's level, and battery life is nothing special — but when these buds are pumping out such detail-rich, immaculately balanced audio, it's easy to see why Sennheiser charges a premium for them.
You also get a very well-judged fit, blending both solidity and comfort, while the EQ is completely customizable through the easy-to-use app. Again, though, these almost feel like sideshows: the clarity, depth and width of the soundstage really is impressive.
Read our full Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 review.
It pains us slightly to replace the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro with the Soundcore Life P3, as the latter, newer model isn't a straight upgrade. It is, however, even cheaper, and when such little cash nets you good-quality ANC it's just too hard to ignore. And battery life, at the very least, is better on the Life P3 than on the Liberty Air 2 Pro.
This pair of cheap ANC buds also offers extensive app-enabled features, IPX5-rated protection against rain and sweat and perhaps most important, surprisingly decent sound quality. The Life P3 even has a low-latency Gaming Mode, which slightly improves sound effects when playing mobile games.
Read our full Anker Soundcore Life P3 review.
How to choose the best noise-cancelling headphones for you
Active vs. passive noise cancellation
The first item to check off the list when shopping for the best noise-cancelling headphones is active noise cancellation, which shouldn’t be confused with passive noise cancellation. What are the differences?
ANC uses advanced circuitry and microphones to pick up noise signals and create inverse waves that cancel out these sonic disruptions, whereas PNC physically isolates high-pitched sounds through the headphone design and materials. Most headphones advertised with noise cancellation are categorized under ANC.
Noise-cancelling headphones have a reputation for sucking up lots of power, so you’ll want a pair that holds a charge long enough to get you through a long business flight or weekly commutes. ANC wireless headphones can typically offer anywhere between 15 to 40 hours, while noise-cancelling wireless earbuds are usually rated for 4.5 to 8 hours.
ANC technology can compress sound and reduce dynamics, which may affect audio performance when turned on. In some cases, you’ll notice a background hiss when listening to music. However, there are noise-cancelling headphones out there that limit these disruptions to deliver full, crisp sound.
Design is just as important when selecting the best noise-cancelling headphones. Over-ear headphones tend to give the best noise cancellation, though some of the more recent Bluetooth on-ear and in-ear models are proving to be just as effective.
How we test noise-cancelling headphones
We've judged the best noise-cancelling headphones on several factors: audio performance, battery life, Bluetooth range, call quality, comfort and fit, and the effectiveness of the noise cancellation. We also weigh special features, such as included apps, and how easy they are to use.
During the testing phase, our reviewers wear each pair of headphones for 2 hours at a time throughout the course of a week, to test comfort over time.
ANC, meanwhile, is tested in both indoor and outdoor environments where ambient sounds are produced at high levels. This includes airplanes, city parks, convenience shops, offices, and public transportation. ANC headphones programmed with transparency modes are also tested thoroughly to determine how well the listener can hear their surroundings.
For sound quality, we listen to many sample tracks that span a number of genres, including hip-hop, rock, jazz, classical and R&B, while evaluating volume, clarity and fullness. And now that more streaming music services are offering high-resolution resolution audio, be sure to read our audio codec FAQ for everything you need to know about FLAC files, MP3s and everything in between.
Once we complete our testing, we rate headphones based on our five-point system (1 = worst, 5 = best). If a product hits nearly every mark, it’s awarded an Editors' Choice badge.