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The best noise cancelling headphones in 2020

best noise cancelling headphones
(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

The best noise cancelling headphones are the ones that grant the gift of peace and quiet. In a world of construction noises, rowdy pedestrians, and screaming children, they silence your surroundings and let you enjoy music the way it was meant to be heard — loud, clear, and most importantly, uninterrupted. But the benefits shouldn’t just stop there. You want to get your money’s worth, so snagging a pair that promises great sound, lengthy battery life, and superior comfort is essential.

UPCOMING NOISE CANCELLING HEADPHONES RELEASES

(Image credit: LG)

The last big noise-cancelling headphone release this year looks to be the LG Tone Free HBS-FN7, an updated version of the company’s self-cleaning wireless earbuds. However, 2021 will have many surprises in store, including the heavily rumored AirPods Pro 2 and AirPods 3, as well as numerous other models set to make their debut at CES 2021.

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 Microsoft have also released superior headphones at affordable prices. 

And the category continues to grow, with the highly anticipated Apple AirPods Studio over-ear headphones rumored to arrive this year and take on heavy hitters like the Bose 700 and Sony WH-1000xM4. To help you choose wisely, we’ve reviewed dozens of the best noise-cancelling headphones in various styles, including budget and premium models, to choose the right fit for you.

Black Friday 2020 deals on headphones
Looking for new headphones ? Black Friday deals are expected to kick off earlier than ever this year. We expect sales to start as soon as November 1 — if not earlier. 

The best noise cancelling headphones you can buy 

best noise cancelling headphones: Sony WH-1000xM4

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

1. Sony WH-1000xM4

The best noise cancelling headphones overall

Size and weight: 9.94 x 3.03 x 7.27 inches, 8.95 ounces | Battery life (rated): 30 hours (ANC on), 38 hours (ANC off) | Bluetooth range: 40 feet (12 meters) | Special features: Active noise cancellation, customizable EQ, multipoint technology

Unbeatable sound
Excellent noise cancellation
Lots of customization features via Sony Connect Headphones app
Many connectivity options (Bluetooth, NFC, Multipoint Technology)
Call quality needs work

The Bose 700 may have more powerful active noise cancellation, but the Sony WH-1000xM4’s incredible overall performance at $50 cheaper 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 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.
  

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

(Image credit: Future)

2. Bose 700 Noise Cancelling Headphones

The best wireless noise cancelling headphones

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) | Special features: Adjustable active noise cancellation, customizable EQ, charging case (optional)

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

Engineered with 11 levels of ANC, 8 individual microphones, and a revamped mobile app that extends functionality, the Bose 700 makes the strongest case for both the best noise cancelling headphones and best wireless headphones. The ability to set and toggle between different ANC settings on the fly is an awesome feature, giving listeners full control of noise neutralization, which is incredible on these cans. Enabling the highest level will quiet most high-frequency noises effectively without disrupting the soundstage. 

The call quality is even more impressive with Bose’s mic system pulling double duty to block out rumblings and amplify vocals for clearer calls, as well as voice command recognition. Not to mention these headphones deliver top-tier sound reproduction and don a svelte design that justifies its luxury price. Bose has a software update in the works as well that will introduce several enhancements, including an adjustable EQ, improved connectivity, and better level/voice prompt fixes are on the list.

For those working remotely, Bose has launched an updated version of this model called the 700 UC that is compatible with popular video-conferencing programs like Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams.

See our full Bose 700 Noise Cancelling Headphones review

best noise cancelling headphones: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

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

3. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

Best noise-cancelling wireless earbuds

Size and weight: 1.54 x 1.02 x 1.06 inches, 0.3 ounces (per bud) | Battery life (rated): 6 hours, 18 hours (with charging case) | Bluetooth range: 30 feet (10 meters) | Special features: Adjustable ANC, Bluetooth 5.1, Self Voice mode for enhancing calling

Best-in-class ANC
Dynamic sound
Excellent call quality
Bluetooth 5.1
Disappointing battery life

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.

Best noise cancelling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM3

Sony WH-1000XM3 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

4. Sony WH-1000XM3

Superb sound and ANC at a great price

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) | Special features: Active noise cancellation, customizable EQ, NFC

Some of the best sound in the category
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)

5. Apple AirPods Pro

The best noise cancelling earbuds

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) | Special features: Active noise cancellation, “Hey Siri” support, spatial audio

Active noise cancelling
Water-and sweat resistant
Excellent call quality
Multiple eartips with fit test
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 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.

Best cheap noise cancelling headphones: Anker Soundcore Life Q30

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6. Anker Soundcore Life Q30

Best noise cancelling headphones under $100

Size and weight: 7.8 x 7.09 x 3.07 inches, 9 ounces | Battery life (rated): 40 hours (ANC off), 60 hours (ANC off) | Bluetooth range: 50 feet (15 meters) | Special features: Multiple ANC modes, customizable EQ, NFC

Unbeatable battery life
Loaded with special features
Surprisingly good sound and ANC
Extremely limited touch controls
Huge and heavy

Anker upgraded its popular, low-cost ANC headphones with better sound, noise cancellation, and features. The Life Q30’s 40mm drivers produce impactful lows and mids that make listening to contemporary music genres enjoyable and enabling ANC mode doesn’t diminish audio quality. Highs aren’t the headphones’ greatest strength, but you can select from a variety of presets or tweak the EQ to tailor the sound to your ears, which is a huge feature for any pair of wireless headphones listed under $100. But what’s most satisfying is the amount of music time you get out of these bad boys, with Anker’s massive battery generating up to 40 hours with ANC on and a whopping 60 hours in standard mode.

We do wish the headphones came with more touch controls; they only support a 2-second hold gesture on the right earpad to enable ANC/Transparency mode. Also, while we admire the updated premium construction, the design does apply more force on both the skull and ears, which creates discomfort after an hour of listening. Still, the price point is unbeatable when looking at the amount of functionality these headphones afford you.

Best noise cancelling headphones: Bose QuietComfort 35 II

Bose QuietComfort 35 II (Image credit: Future)

7. Bose QuietComfort 35 II

Bose noise cancelling headphones 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) | Special features:: Active noise cancellation, dedicated digital assistant button, Music Share

Stellar noise cancelation
Crisp, wide sound
Lightweight and comfy design
Can listen in wired mode with ANC on
Google Assistant integration could be improved

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 $100 less (the Black and Silver versions are currently available for $200).

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: Jabra Elite 85t

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

8. Jabra Elite 85t

Great ANC and greater sound

Size and weight: 0.91 x 0.75 x 0.64 inches, 0.25 ounces (per bud) | Battery life (Rated): 5.5 hours (ANC on), 7.5 hours (ANC off), 24 hours (with charging case and ANC on), 28 hours (with charging case and ANC off) | Bluetooth range: 35 feet (10 meters) | Special features: Adjustable ANC, customizable EQ, wireless charging

Loud, energetic sound
Strong noise neutralization
Lots of personalization features via companion app
So-so battery life
Still has some bugs in the system

Jabra’s first-ever noise-cancelling wireless earbuds are a fantastic upgrade to the universally acclaimed Elite 75t series. The Elite 85t is loaded with technical firepower, housing its own ANC chip and the versatile Qualcomm QCC5126 processor that elevates audio performance across the board. There are five adjustable ANC levels to control how much ambient sound you want to block out, which the feature does tremendously well at max level, while HearThrough Mode grants the option to let in as much noise as you want to hear. But what you really buy Jabra earbuds for is sound, and it’s bigger and more detailed this time around. The ability to customize it through several presets or by tweaking the frequency levels via built-in EQ on the Sound+ app is also clutch for those with different sonic preferences.

We had really hoped to see some advancement in battery life, which is stuck at 5.5 hours with ANC on. One positive takeaway is that this is an hour more than what the AirPods Pro gives you, plus Jabra did a commendable job with power management to help you get the most juice out of the battery, per charge.

Best noise cancelling headphones: Microsoft Surface Headphones 2

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

9. Microsoft Surface Headphones 2

The best noise cancelling headphones for productivity

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) | Special features: Adjustable active noise cancellation, customizable EQ, multipoint connectivity up to 10 devices

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

The original Surface Headphones were a pleasant surprise we didn’t see coming and its successor is even better. Now available in sleek matte black, Surface Headphones 2 is an ideal option for audiophiles and work-from-home types who constantly switch from platform to platform, device to device. Digital assistant support works well, and Microsoft 365 integration is a cool feature that lets you use voice dictation to jot down notes and captions hands-free on Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and other Office programs. Being able to connect up to 10 devices simultaneously is pretty sweet too.

But let’s not forget that this is a noise-cancelling headset first and a productivity tool second. That being said, the Surface Headphones 2 delivers quality ANC that can be easily adjusted through the dial controls. Microsoft’s 40mm Free Edge drivers produce lively sound to enjoy music, videos, and games as well. If only the headphones weren’t short on battery life and extended features.

Read our full Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 review.
  

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

(Image credit: Sony )

10. Sony WF-1000XM3

The best Sony noise cancelling earbuds

Size and weight: 5.6 x 4.7 x 2.5 inches, 0.3 ounces | Battery life (rated): 6 hours (NC on), 8 hours (NC off) | Bluetooth range: 30 feet (10 meters) | Special features: Active noise cancellation, customizable EQ, NFC

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 generous amount of time to enjoy your music, movies or podcasts. Rumors of the WF-1000xM4 receiving aptX HD support have been hot for the past several months, which, if true, would allow for wireless streaming of Hi-Res Audio codecs and extends the buds shelf life.

See our full Sony WF-1000XM3 earbuds review.
  

How to choose the best noise cancelling headphones for you

PICKING THE BEST HEADPHONES AND EARBUDS STYLES

Check out Tom’s Guide’s comprehensive guides for the best headphones and earbuds you can buy, across every major category and price point.

·      Best Cheap Wireless Earbuds

·      Best Wireless Earbuds

·      Best Headphones

·      Best Fake AirPods

·      Best Running Headphones

·      Best Wireless Headphones

·      Best Cheap Running Headphones

·      Best Cheap Wireless Headphones 

·      Best Cheap Noise-Cancelling Headphones

·      Best Cheap Headphones

·      Best Cheap Earbuds

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