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.
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds is the king of the wireless ANC 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.
A new software update introduces new ANC profiles that were engineered for specific activities and places, as well as Aware Mode, which automatically reduces “loud distractions as they happen,” returning to full transparency mode when they pass. 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 latest entry in the QC over-ear series is the best yet, welcoming several improvements, including better active noise cancellation, sound, and battery life. ANC is as effective as it is on the 700, blocking out nearly 90 percent of ambient sound at a high rate. Bose’s ambient-listening mode (Aware) does a fantastic job of piping in external sounds for increased awareness. The combination of proprietary TriPort acoustic architecture and a volume-optimized Active EQ gives these headphones a refined, well-balanced sound signature to enjoy most music genres. Having 24 hours of ANC playtime is also huge, considering all the older Bose models only give you 20 hours.
Not being able to turn off ANC means the battery will drain more quickly, plus the absence of some features found on the 700 and QC35 II might have you hesitant about choosing this model over the others. Well, just know that the ANC, sound quality, and battery life make up for any shortcomings.
Read our full Bose QuietComfort 45 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.
When the WF-1000XM3 launched, it set the standard for active noise cancellation on wireless earbuds. What would Sony do for an encore? Release an even more advanced version that trumps the original and other category leaders in several areas, including ANC, battery life, design, sound, and touch controls. Sony tweaked its noise cancellation to better deal with louder frequencies and rumblings, while also completely silencing common disturbances in home and office environments.
Audio remains unbeatable with the WF-1000XM4 given a more dynamic, well-defined sound profile ideal for all music genres, video content, and other media (e.g., podcasts, eBooks). The plethora of features in the Sony Headphones Connect app opens the lane to personalize your listening experience, from the multiple well-engineered EQs to spatial audio via 360 Reality Audio for immersive 3D sound. A full charge gets you 8 hours of ANC playback, some of the highest in the category,
The revamped design is sleeker and more practical than its predecessor, though the fit is looser this time around.
Read our full Sony WF-1000XM4 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 first-gen OnePlus Buds were a notable entry in the audio space for the Android mobile manufacturer, but their noise-cancelling brethren have already left an even greater impression, rivaling the AirPods Pro in aesthetics, ANC, and audio. A more premium design with a dual-tone finish and aluminum plating, alongside IP55 water-resistant protection for the buds and an IPX4-rated charging case, show OnePlus can create buds that complement their high-end smartphones. The 11mm drivers produce well-balanced audio with substantial frequency range to enjoy a nice blend of lows, mids, and highs. Three-level ANC is also impressive, filtering noise levels almost up to 40dB.
Then comes Warp Charge technology to generate 10 hours of use on a 10-minute charge, which you’ll be grateful for since ANC playtime is shorter than advertised.
Read our full OnePlus Buds Pro 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.
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.