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The best noise cancelling headphones in 2020

best noise cancelling headphones
(Image credit: Future)

The best noise cancelling headphones are the ones that grant the gift of peace and quiet. In a world of loud talkers, construction noise and screaming children, they silence your surroundings and allow you to enjoy music  the way it was meant to be heard – loud, clear, and most importantly, uninterrupted.

Though the benefits shouldn’t just stop there. Noise cancelling headphones are a serious investment, so you want to get your money’s worth and snag a pair that promises great sound, lengthy battery life, and superior comfort. Any extra accessories or special features (e.g. ambient listening, adaptive EQ,) only add to their value.

Elite active noise cancellation often comes at a premium, which is usually provided by the likes of industry titans such as Bose, Sony, Sennheiser, and even Apple/Beats. However, with the ANC market expanding vastly over the past year, newcomers like Jabra and Anker have also released superior headphones at affordable prices. 

There is plenty of variety in the category, from plush ANC cans to wireless earbuds. To help you choose wisely, we’ve reviewed dozens of noise-cancelling headphones in various styles, including budget and premium models, to choose the right fit for you.

What are the best noise cancelling headphones?

Based on our testing, the Bose 700 Noise Cancelling Headphones is the best noise cancelling headphones overall, as it offers superb ANC performance both when listening to music and making calls. It has an ultramodern design with sleek aesthetics, along with responsive physical and touch controls. Sound quality is also noticeably better than the company’s previous flagship mode, the QuietComfort 35 II, another great category option that shouldn’t be overlooked and is currently available at a lower price point.

Coming in a close second is the Sony WH-1000xM3, which rivals the Bose 700 in battery life, sound quality, and special features. Sony's new QN1 processor is the horsepower behind the headphones’ phenomenal audio processing and noise cancellation.

Those looking for something identical in a smaller package should look at Sony’s WH-1000xM3 wireless earbuds; they offer best-in-class noise cancellation and remarkable sound. 

Apple's AirPods Pro is currently the best noise cancelling wireless earbuds. It delivers surprisingly good ANC and has a Transparency mode to let in ambient sound (when you want it). Apple’s pearly danglers are also water-resistant and sweat-resistant, making the AirPods Pro an ideal workout partner. 

We can’t forget the Anker Soundcore Life Q20 and Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2, two great budget picks that promise rich sound and reliable noise reduction at a low cost. Another notable model that made the cut is the Microsoft Surface Headphones 2, which features solid noise cancellation and audio performance. 

In keeping up to date with the latest releases, there a few models on our radar we’re hoping to test in the coming weeks. At the top of the list is the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, which combines top-end audio with promising noise cancellation. The Technics EAH-AZ70W is another one that several critics are praising for its great all-around performance.

Also, keep in mind there are other promising releases in the category that we'll be monitoring as they launch in the coming weeks. This includes the hopefully-still-on-schedule Bose Noise Cancelling Earbuds 700 set for release in late 2020 and the long-rumored Sony WH-1000xM4 that experts believe will launch in Fall 2020. Let’s not forget the Apple AirPods Studio, the company’s rumored over-ear headphones set to come with ANC and other unique features.

There are lots of great options out there from top audio manufacturers and up-and-coming brands, so check out our full list of the best noise cancelling headphones below to see which models appeal most to your taste.

The best noise cancelling headphones you can buy today

Best noise cancelling headphones: Bose 700 noise cancelling headphones

(Image credit: Regan Coule)

1. Bose 700 Noise Cancelling Headphones

The best noise cancelling headphones overall

Size and Weight: 8 x 6.5 x 2 inches, 8.8 ounces | Battery Life (Rated): 20 hours (NC on) | Bluetooth Range: 30 feet (10 meters) | Digital Assistant Support: Yes

Adjustable active noise cancelation
Svelte, attractive design
Precise, balanced audio
Fantastic noise cancelling on calls 
Expensive

The Bose 700 Noise Cancelling Headphones are currently the best headphones and have a sexy new design and cool features that come with its high price tag. They’re equipped with a whopping eight microphones, six of which are employed to deliver Bose’s champion noise cancelation when listening to music or talking on the phone. It offers up to 11 levels of adjustable ANC that work equally well to neutralize noise across different frequencies. Bose even made improvements to sound quality, as the 700s produce clean, balanced audio for crisp highs and solid bass; lows are felt more when at max ANC level.

Despite sharing the same battery life as its predecessor, the QC35 II, it still holds up strong at 20 hours with ANC on. Apple also sells a special edition version of the 700 for $50 extra that comes bundled with a charging case offering an additional 40 hours of listening time; Bose sells the case individually for $80. Smart assistant integration, touch controls, and AR support also make these some of the most intuitive noise-cancellers for commuters and music lovers alike. 

See our full Bose 700 Noise Cancelling Headphones review

Best noise cancelling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM3

Sony WH-1000XM3

2. Sony WH-1000XM3

Class-leading sound in a deluxe package

Size and Weight: 10.4 x 7.3 x 2.9 inches, 9 ounces | Battery Life (Rated): 30 hours (NC on), 38 hours (NC off) | Bluetooth Range: 30 feet (10 meters) | Digital Assistant Support: Yes

Unbeatable sound
Superior noise-cancelling technology
Lengthy battery life
Companion app with sound customization
Not the best for phone calls

Advanced noise cancellation combined with intelligible features and a ton of sound-optimization features makes the Sony WH-1000xM3 one of the best noise cancelling headphones money can buy. Sony’s all-new HD Noise Cancelling Processor QN1 is a powerhouse that improves noise reduction, while reproducing high-fidelity sound that is unmatched. Booming bass is still at the forefront of Sony’s signature and plays nicely with mids and highs to achieve natural, full audio. Access to a built-in EQ and several presets that lend themselves well to different music genres via Sony Headphones Connect app opens the lane for personalized sound.

Comfort is another area where these wireless cans excel, taking on a lighter and more slender form than previous versions, for better wearability. Battery life remains a series highlight, and the addition of USB-C charging definitely ups the ante, rewarding listeners with 5 hours of use on a 10-minute charge.

See our full Sony WH-1000xM3 review.  
 

Best noise cancelling headphones: AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Future)

3. Apple AirPods Pro

A huge step forward for AirPods

Size and Weight: 2.4 x 1.7 x 0.9 inches, 8.8 ounces | Battery Life (Rated): 4.5 hours (NC on), 24 hours (with charging case) | Bluetooth Range: 30 feet (10 meters) | Digital Assistant Support: Yes

Active noise cancelling
Water-and sweat resistant
Multiple eartips with fit test
No companion app
Battery life could be longer

The AirPods Pro land on our list of best noise cancelling headphones because these wireless 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 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.

Best noise cancelling headphones: Anker Soundcore Life Q20

(Image credit: Anker Soundcore)

4. Anker Soundcore Life Q20

Best noise cancelling headphones under $100

Size and Weight: 7.7 x 7.1 x 3.1 inches, 9.3 ounces | Battery Life (Rated): 40 hours (ANC on), 60 hours (Standard Mode) | Bluetooth Range: 50 feet (15.4 meters) | Digital Assistant Support: Yes

Excellent overall battery life
Warm soundstage
Fairly decent ANC
Long-range connectivity
Clean, minimalist design
Proximate ambient noises are audible
Aux cable hinders audio

At nearly $50, you would be hard-pressed to find a better active noise cancelling bargain than the Anker Soundcore Life Q20. These over-ear wireless headphones pack some powerful circuitry underneath their hard-plastic shell, including custom 40mm drivers and one massive lithium polymer battery that afford listeners up to 40 hours of playtime with ANC on. Speaking of which, the Life Q20 minimizes external sounds better than you would expect, though it’s far from perfect; proximate noises like keyboard clatter and neighborly chatter can be heard at loud volume. Still, the technology is impressive for the price.

The headphones produce strong bass that doesn’t distort mids or highs and lends itself well to most modern music genres (e.g. hip-hop, alternative rock). However, you will want to refrain from listening in wired mode, as the aux cable makes audio sound hollow and disables the mic, so you won’t be able to use the digital assistant.

Best noise cancelling headphones: Bose QuietComfort 35 II

Bose QuietComfort 35 II

5. Bose QuietComfort 35 II

Bose noise cancelation at a lower price

Size and Weight: 7.1 x 6.7 x 3.2 inches, 8.2 ounces | Battery Life (Rated): 20 hours (NC on), 40 hours (NC off) | Bluetooth Range: 30 feet (10 meters) | Digital Assistant Support: Yes

Stellar noise cancelation
Crisp, wide sound
Lightweight and comfy design
Can listen in wired mode with ANC on
Bose Connect app support
Google Assistant integration could be improved
Same design as last-gen model

Before the 700s hit retail shelves, the QuietComfort 35 II was considered the gold standard in noise cancelling headphones. But just because the QC35 II has been overthrown by a sleeker, more advanced version doesn’t make mean it can’t still silence sound better than 90% of its competition. And with its recent price drop, you can snatch up this critical darling for $50 less.

Screaming babies, subway cars and planes are no match for these noise cancelling headphones, which are very light and comfy for enjoying the 20 hours of playtime on a charge. The controls are a cinch to use and the sound quality is top-notch among Bluetooth headphones. And if that wasn’t enough, Bose added a dedicated Google Assistant button, so that you can quickly inquire about the weather, a new restaurant or last night’s game.

See our full Bose QuietComfort 35 II review.

Best noise cancelling headphones: Microsoft Surface Headphones 2

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

6. Microsoft Surface Headphones 2

Solid noise-cancellers with smart controls

Size and Weight: 8.03 x 7.68 x 1.89 inches, 10.22 ounces | Battery Life (Rated): 20 hours (NC on) | Bluetooth Range: 800 feet (243 meters) | Digital Assistant Support: Yes

Adjustable ANC
Lively and spacious sound
Some of the coolest controls on a pair of headphones
Excellent wireless performance
Battery life is shorter than the competition
Companion app needs more features

The Surface Headphones 2 is a great follow-up to what we’ve considered to be one of 2018’s most underrated offerings, the Surface Headphones. This updated version retains much of what made the original a hit, including the aesthetically appealing design, smart (and easy to use) controls), and dynamic sound. Listeners also have 13 levels of active noise cancellation that they can cycle through via dial controls, a feature that works well to block out nearly 75% of ambient sound; the best results come with ANC at max level.

Unsung features like multipoint technology and Microsoft 365 integration are where these headphones showcase their distinctiveness, letting you connect to 10 devices simultaneously and use voice dictation on Office 365 apps (e.g. Word, PowerPoint) to verbally jot down notes. However, there are two areas where Microsoft will want to make improvements for the third-gen Surface Headphones: battery life and extra features.

Read our full Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 review.
  

Best noise cancelling headphones: Jabra Elite 85h

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

7. Jabra Elite 85h

Feature-laden headphones with powerful battery life

Size and Weight: 7.6 x 8.8 x 3.2 inches, 10.4 ounces | Battery Life (Rated): 36 hours (NC On), 40 hours (NC Off) | Bluetooth Range: 33 feet (10 meters) | Digital Assistant Support: Yes

Great battery life
Personalized sound with Jabra Sound+ app
Digital assistant support for Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa
Heavy
Listening modes cause distortion

Eight built-in mics, rain-proof aesthetics, three onboard digital assistants, and the highest-rated battery for noise cancellation – the Jabra Elite 85h has the spec sheet to go toe-to-toe with any of the best noise cancelling headphones out there. Jabra loaded these bulky cans with intuitive features, from ambient listening modes to on-ear detection that controls call management and music. But where the Elite 85h really holds a higher ground is in battery life, which is estimated at 35 to 40 hours with ANC enabled. 

The audio is warm and customizable via the Sound+ mobile app. Jabra’s Smart Active Noise Cancellation technology is also well-engineered, scanning your environment to filter out background noises and enhance sound output. If you don't want to spend big, this is one of the best ANC headphones that will get your far more performance for less money.

See our full Jabra Elite 85h review.

Best noise cancelling headphones: Beats Solo Pro

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

8. Beats Solo Pro

Surprisingly great on-ear noise-cancellers

Size and Weight: 7 inches (height), 9.4 ounces | Battery Life (Rated): 22 hours (NC on), 40 hours (NC off) | Bluetooth Range: 30 feet (10 meters) | Digital Assistant Support: Yes

Sexy, colorful design
Powerful noise-cancelling technology
Long battery life
Comfortable for extended periods of time
App lacks equalizer

Beats first on-ear noise-cancelling headphones will surprise you. For one, the active noise cancellation here is impressive, drowning out a large amount of ambient sound when listening to music at 50% volume and providing up to 22 hours of battery life when turned on. That is right there with the Bose 700 and QC35 II. We’ve found the Solo Pro’s Transparency Mode to be one of the best in the category as well; you’ll be able to engage in conversations with friends and listen to music clearly at the same time.

In addition, with Apple's H1 chip, owners receive many of the same iOS perks as the AirPods, including near-instantaneous pairing, hands-free Siri support, and audio sharing between two Beats headphones or AirPods models. And these noise cancelling headphones sound as good as the look. 

See our full Beats Solo Pro review.

Best noise cancelling headphones: Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Headphones

(Image credit: Sony )

9. Sony WF-1000XM3 Earbuds

Awesome noise-cancelling earbuds that rival AirPods Pro

Size and Weight: 7.8 x 5 x 2.4 inches, 1.6 ounces | Battery Life (Rated): 6 hours (NC on), 8 hours (NC off), 18 hours (with charging case) | Bluetooth Range: None | Digital Assistant Support: Yes

Stellar audio performance
Personalization via companion app
Luxe, sharp-looking design
Poor call quality
Touch controls are finicky

Kudos to Sony for doing such an outstanding job bringing top-tier ANC technology to truly wireless earbuds. The WF-1000XM3 earbuds are exemplary of this, combining stellar sonics with outstanding noise cancellation. They block out ambient sound better than the AirPods Pro, thanks to the company’s HD Noise Canceling Processor QN1e and adaptive mics that successfully cancel out sounds across different frequencies.

Deep, rich bass and tonal balance give these buds an edge in the audio department over numerous competitors. Better yet, listeners have the option to play with the built-in EQ and create their own sound profile or choose from nine different presets as well as adjust the ambient sound levels.  And with an estimated 6 hours of battery life (ANC on), you'll have a lot of time to enjoy your music, movies or podcasts.

See our full Sony WF-1000XM3 earbuds review.
  

Best noise cancelling headphones: Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2

(Image credit: Plantronics)

10. Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2

Praiseworthy noise-cancelers with smarts

Size and Weight: 9 x 8.1 x 7.8 inches, 10.9 ounces | Battery Life (Rated): 24 hours (NC On), 180 hours (NC off) | Bluetooth Range: 35 feet (10.6 meters) | Digital Assistant Support: Yes

Loud, warm sound
Favorable battery life
Better noise reduction than most sub-luxury ANC headphones
Sound becomes muddy at high volume
Very heavy

A Tom’s Guide favorite for the past few years, the BackBeat Pro 2 maintains its position as a performance workhorse with hard-hitting bass and extremely long listening times. Plantronics’ sound profile delivers emphatic lows, while its ANC technology hushes environmental fracas at a high level to hear music with little-to-no distractions. The company is also one of the first to integrate smart features into its headphones, such as on-ear detection to automatically pause music when removing the earcup from your ears, and it still works well.

Very little holds the Backbeat Pro 2 back from being a near-perfect model, mainly its large, heavy build and the muddiness it produces when blasting music at high volume. But these shouldn’t be viewed as deal-breakers by any means. While the standard model is a great value at $135, you may also want to look at the Special Edition, which has a sleeker design and NFC pairing for $15 more.

See our full Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 SE review.
  

How to choose the best noise cancelling headphones for you

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.

Next up is battery life. 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 offer anywhere between 15 to 40 hours, while noise cancelling wireless earbuds are 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

In creating our list of best noise cancelling headphones, Tom’s Guide rates each model based 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. Occasionally, we’ll perform further testing when comparing top-rated and popular models for our Face-Off features.

Active noise cancellation 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.  

  • sexylady_lioness
    Hi Sherri,

    I would like the noise cancelling headphones, not to listen to music, but to block out all noise, so I can concentrate and study, and to tune out background noise while at work. My question is, re this headphones, must I listen to music/audio in-order to tune out all noise? If I do not want to hear any sound - including music - is that possible ? or the headphones silence works only to tune out noise while listening to audio?

    Also, which one is the best re no noise AND no white noise OR hiss?

    Thanks in advance.
    Reply
  • jack_straw
    21457753 said:
    Hi Sherri,

    I would like the noise cancelling headphones, not to listen to music, but to block out all noise, so I can concentrate and study, and to tune out background noise while at work. My question is, re this headphones, must I listen to music/audio in-order to tune out all noise? If I do not want to hear any sound - including music - is that possible ? or the headphones silence works only to tune out noise while listening to audio?

    Also, which one is the best re no noise AND no white noise OR hiss?

    Thanks in advance.

    I use noise cancellation in the same scenarios as you are looking for help in (blocking noise while working or concentrating on studies).

    TL;DR: Bose QC35s work best for me. They're comfortable enough for all-day use, and have about the same noise cancellation as the best from Sony. I noticed a very slight hiss only from the Sonys when there was no music/voice playing.

    I used Sony's 1000XM3 for a while, and also tried Bose's QC35, since they had the highest ratings for noise cancellation. What I found was that the Sonys seemed to do a ever-so-slightly better job at noise cancelling, but they just were not comfortable for long-term usage. I've been much happier with the Bose QC35s because I can wear them 10+ hours per day without any pain or discomfort. The headband of the Sonys would slowly begin to hurt after 2-3 hours, and the earcups were not as comfortable, especially the lower part that pressed a little to hard behind my jaws. These may sound like minor issues, but when you wear headphones all day every day to block noise, comfort becomes a big issue.
    As for hissing, I don't hear any from the Bose, but I hear a slight hiss from the Sonys. If you get the Bose, be sure to update the firmware on them, because there was an older firmware that had issues with hissing.
    Reply
  • Rastafarius
    I beg to differ with you on the Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC Wireless Headphones on only one statement, but a very important one. "omfortable fit"???? I am willing to bet big money you didn't wear those headphones for much more than 10-15 minutes. I bought a pair late last month, and they are not only uncomfortable sitting on top of my ears (only a midget could fit his ears inside those ear cups) from the moment I put them on, but cause sufficient pain in my left ear to force me to take them off after I have worn them for something like 1 1/2 hours. Take a look at the reviews on Amazon, at least half of which talk about what a shame it is the ear cups aren't bigger and more comfortable. In fact, every review I looked at of the HD 4.50 BTNC headphones criticized their comfort. I'm sending the headphones I bought back. They were quite clearly made for people with half my stature. I have a pair of Corsair HS70s that don't have quite the same sound quality as the Sennheisers, but still work just fine for me.
    Reply