Product Use case Rating
Bose QuietComfort 35 II Best Overall 9
Beats Executive Headphones Best Over-Ear 7
Bose QuietComfort 3 Headphones Best On-Ear 8
Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 Best Continuous Audio 8
Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 QuietPoint Headphones Best Budget 6
Sennheiser Momentum Wireless Headphones Best Premium 8

Best Noise Cancelling Headphones and Earbuds

In a world of noisy construction traffic, screaming children and loud talkers, the best present you can give (or receive) is the gift of peace and quiet. While you might not be able to afford tickets to a desert island, a pair of active noise-cancelling headphones is the next best thing. They're great for playing your favorite tunes while keeping the outside world at bay. And with an average 15 hours of battery life, they're perfect for long trips.

But with a glut of ANC headphones on the market, how do you choose the right pair? Tom's Guide is here to help you select the best set, just in time to muffle the sound of rush-hour traffic. Whatever your tastes or budget, here are the best active noise-cancelling headphones available.

What to Look For

  • Learn the difference between active noise cancelling (ANC) and passive noise cancelling (PNC). Passive noise-cancelling  headphones partially block out ambient noise via the ear cups. The denser the foam used and the tighter the seal around your ears, the more outside sound will be reduced. A pair of headphones with ANC features one or more microphones that measure the noise level outside the cans. From there, electronics within the headphones work to create sound waves that block ambient noise. 
  • Not all ANC is created equal. Some ANC headphones unintentionally create white noise. The negative noise can be soothing, but can be so pronounced that it bleeds into your music, inadvertently altering the audio quality. A good pair of ANC headphones will effectively block out ambient noise without adding unwanted effects to your music. 
  • Check for is battery life. ANC headphones typically last 15 to 20 hours on a single charge. You'll also want to check whether the headphones will still function once the juice runs out. Just because the ANC ran out doesn't mean the music has to stop, too.

News and Updates (November 2017)

  • Apple's new Beats Studio 3 Wireless headphones feature Pure Adaptive Noise Canceling technology, meaning they're always scanning your surroundings so that they can block out lots of noise in busy areas, and not as much in quiet spots. The high-end cans also sport Apple's W1 chip, which allows them to instantly connect to your iOS device or Mac as well as offer quick charging and up to 40 hours of battery life.

How We Tested

To help you separate the wheat from the chaff when shopping for headphones, Tom's Guide evaluates the following criteria: design, comfort, features, performance and value. We employ a rigorous review process, comparing products with similar fit, features and pricing.

Each pair is worn over the course of a week for 2 hours at a time. During this testing period, the staff is evaluating comfort, ease of use and, of course, audio quality. We listen to several predetermined sample tracks that span a number of genres, including hip-hop, rock, jazz, classical and R&B, and we evaluate the volume, clarity and fullness.

In terms of features, we test the effectiveness of active noise cancelling, Bluetooth range and battery life. For the fitness-focused models, we test to see how they stand up to vigorous workouts, evaluating both how securely they fit while we exercise and how well they handle ambient noise from things like falling weights and gym machines.

Once we complete our testing, we rate headphones based on our ten-point system (1 = worst, 10 = best). If a product is truly exemplary, it's awarded an Editors' Choice.

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.

Related Buying Guides:
Best Cheap Headphones
Best Cheap Earbuds
Best Lightning Headphones
Best Gaming Headsets

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  • Sammy_2
    What about Jaybird X2?
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  • Eric_31
    So essentially this article can be summed up with "all the headphones listed have great noise cancelling and great sound." I would have appreciated at least a bit of effort in comparison. The only point of comparison is the price and the seemingly arbitrary and unexplained rating. This article was absolutely no help at all.
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  • LizzyHarris
    Great, thanks! :)
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  • Peter_133
    How bout Audio Technical MTH 50X or Sennheiser 598SE or Jaybird X1 or X2 or Grado SR 60E and maybe NoiseHush nx80 for $12.00 on Amazon.com. I know music is subjective but the equipment listed here is mostly crap.
    1
  • neuronet
    Eric I agree this seems to have none of the usual standards they would use to evaluate, say, a motherboard.
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  • neuronet
    Peter also great points they mostly included mainstream brands that the audiophiles would agree are not very high quality. For instance, Sennheiser is sort of a "go to" brand for people that really want great sound. They really need to do a much more thorough product test. This is sort of like doing an evaluation of laptops and only including Dell and Lenovo.
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  • Royharper
    Great article, I'm surprised to not see the JBL Everest Elite 700 on here. I saw a review on Audio46 where they compared it to The QC 35 and said the Everest was better. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yn18BkBnZ5U When I a&b tested the two I felt the same way that they did, and was actually underwhelmed by the sound quality on the QC35. While it has great noise cancelling It didn't sound as good as I would expect.
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  • Geoff_11
    looks to me like maybe this review was done on paper without actually testing all the products? Otherwise, you'd know that that the SMS biosport is no longer supported by any apps (i.e. the HR monitor is useless because you can't get anything to read it). This has been the case for about 6 months!
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  • hydrangea
    The Sentey earbuds are no longer available. Do you have a new suggestion?
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  • jumavictor49
    great article, but terming this list as the 'best headphones' I would disagree. Can you please update the list and also feature planar magnetic headphones, they are one of the best technology headphones in the market.
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  • SkyBill40
    Given your relatively sample size and the exclusion of brands seen as audiophile grade or higher than average, I find difficulty in accepting the results here. That's not to say that what is shown here are poor choices or anything, but the testing could have and should have been a lot more robust given the"best" tag thrown into it.
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