The best noise-cancelling headphones aren’t just great for everyday music playback. By engaging active noise cancellation (ANC) tech, they make irritating and distracting sounds from the world around you a lot quieter. With ANC tech enabled, the world carries on of course but you can bask in a tranquil pool of peace and quiet as the noise around you is cancelled out. ANC headphones can even help to get a better night's sleep, or you can simply play music and experience the sound of your favorite band or artist, or listen to podcasts and eBooks without distraction or interruption.
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. The best 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.
What are the best noise-cancelling headphones?
Taking the top spot in our best noise-cancelling headphones list is the new over-ear Sony WH-1000XM5. These build on their similarly excellent predecessor the XM4 to blend superb sound quality with elite active noise cancellation and comfy design. Sony’s companion app, meanwhile, is the best we've used, while we also applaud the headphones' eco credentials.
Coming in a close second is the Bose 700, which have unrivaled ANC performance and intuitive tech features. Sound is crystal clear when listening to music and taking calls. We also love the svelte, contemporary design with comforting ear pads and touch controls.
The Bose Quiet Comfort earbuds come in third. Think of these earbuds as the wireless in-ear variant of the Bose 700 (above), offering much of the same functionality to deliver unbeatable ANC performance but with fewer 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.
The best noise-cancelling headphones you can buy (updated May 13)
Sony has been steadily closing the noise-cancelling gap on Bose, and the new Sony WH-1000XM5 comes closer than ever to beating the Bose 700 (below) in this regard. It has two processors controlling eight microphones, where the XM4 before it had just one processor controlling four, and the result, in our testing, is near-seamless ANC. But the Sony's overall quality would make the XM5 our #1 option even if that weren't the case.
Audio quality is superb, the 30-hour battery life (with ANC) is excellent and everything from the touch controls to the ability to tweak the EQ via the Sony Headphones Connect app is well thought out and seamlessly integrated. Call quality has also been improved greatly and there's really nothing to criticize here beyond the slightly bland styling and the $50 price increase over the XM4.
Read our full Sony WH-1000XM5 review.
It truly is a close run thing between the Bose 700 and the Sony WH-1000XM4 (above) for the best overall noise-cancelling headphone crown, and there is no denying that Bose has the most effective active noise cancelling technology on the market. Period.
The Bose 700s reap those benefits, boasting 10 levels of ANC that can be adjusted in its Connect app and works flawlessly to silence the majority of external sounds. Most importantly, the 700s achieve 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.
We love the ultramodern design, and the slim, sexy silhouette is as much of an engineering feat as the ANC performance. But we need to address the elephant in the room – battery life, which at 20 hours with ANC enabled and outperformed by the Sony.
See our full Bose 700 review.
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds take the top spot in the wireless ANC earbuds category. Think of these earbuds as the wireless in-ear variant of the Bose 700 (above), offering much of the same functionality to deliver unbeatable ANC performance but with fewer 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 software update introduces 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 whether you're making or receiving a call.
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, they 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 feels looser this time around.
Read our full Sony WF-1000XM4 review.
You’re probably wondering how a pair of $500 wireless headphones with adequate noise cancellation could sneak its way onto this list. The answer is simple: spatial audio. We know these are two separate talking points, but hear us out. The YH-L700A are an excellent-sounding model that have a better 3D sound experience than the AirPods Max. They're equipped with accurate head-tracking technology and multiple well-engineered listening modes for different content. Even with spatial audio turned off, these headphones produce spacious sound with full bass presence, delivering rich lows, palpable mids, and crisp highs. And though Yamaha’s ANC won’t match what Apple, Bose, or Sony offers, it’s still effective to enjoy premium sound in most environments.
You just have to live with its large, heavy design and uneven battery life, which fluctuates when listening with 3D enabled.
Read our full Yamaha YH-L700A 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. Warp Charge technology generates 10 hours of use on a 10-minute charge, which you’ll be grateful for since ANC playtime is shorter than specified.
Read our full OnePlus Buds Pro review.
The AirPods Pro land on our list of best noise-cancelling headphones because these ANC earbuds blocked out 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 silicone tips and run an acoustical test from your iPhone to make sure you're getting the best sound. Sweat- and water-resistance mean these buds are great for working out and battery life with noise cancelling activated gives only 4.5 hours, but you can get 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 $150? That's the Cleer Enduro ANC, currently the #3 spot taker on our best cheap wireless headphones list.
The Enduro ANC aren't without their foibles — there's a fair bit of wind noise in ANC mode, and they are 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 travelers, and we got 50 hours and 15 minutes of ANC playback time form a single charge in our testing.
Read our full Cleer Enduro ANC review.
Take the Beats Studio Buds’ body, add wingtips and the coolest features from Apple's AirPods Pro, and you get Beats’ best wireless earbuds to date. The Fit Pro is an excellent workout companion that produces better clarity and punchier bass than Apple’s flagship buds, plus it comes with Spatial Audio to enjoy 3D-like sound when listening to select tracks on Apple Music, watching movies or jumping on FaceTime calls. Five of the six mics are used during calls, which, along with a voice accelerometer, helps isolate speech for interference-free voice and video chats. We also appreciate the updated design — granted wingtips were the only real change, but they reinforce stability when performing lateral-heavy exercises.
Despite operating on the H1 chip, these buds lack a few features found on current AirPods models, including Adaptive EQ and Enhanced Find My mode. The Android app doesn’t offer much extended functionality either. Besides those complaints, these are a top-tier product for both fitness and casual music lovers.
Read our full Beats Fit Pro 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 wireless 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 different sample tracks and span as many music genres as possible, including hip-hop, rock, jazz, classical and R&B, while evaluating volume, clarity and fullness. Find out what we listen for during our testing process and how to get the best headphone sound for you.
And now that more streaming music services are offering high-resolution audio, be sure to read our audio codec FAQ for all 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 Editor's Choice badge.