The best noise-cancelling headphones are a must-have for all forms of public transport, as anyone who's worn a pair on a flight or a train commute to and from work will tell you. ANC headphones have gone from strength-to-strength over the past couple of years, with many models improving their audio performances compared to predecessors, as well as incorporating the latest features such as Spatial Audio (opens in new tab) and 360 Reality Audio (opens in new tab).
The pick of models below represent the greatest ANC headphones across any form factor. Over-ear headphones often have superior noise-cancelling performance as the earcups form a seal around the ears, although in-ear buds are becoming increasingly more effective and are a lot more portable.
Read on to discover our pick of the best noise-cancelling headphones based on our testing. And don't forget, you'll find lots more info in our in-depth standalone reviews, covering design and comfort, features, ANC performance, and sound quality with all kinds of media, as well as how well they handle calls. Just follow the link at the end of each product summary or tap the product title to find out more. Read on to discover what are the best noise-cancelling headphones you can buy right now.
Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones March Update
- The Bose 700 retains the top spot with unrivaled ANC with 10 levels of adjustment, winning out over its sibling in our Bose 700 vs. Bose QuietComfort 45 face-off.
- The recently launched Sony WH-1000XM5 could rival Bose's ANC crown. Look out for our face-off coming soon to see how they compare.
- Could the so-called AirPods Max 2 ANC headphone be set for release in 2023?
Best noise-cancelling headphones you can buy right now
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Best ANC over-ears
It truly is a close run thing between the Bose 700 and the Sony WH-1000XM5 (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.
Read our full Bose 700 review.
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 terms of its ANC performance. It has two processors controlling eight microphones, where the 1000XM4 (still on sale and regularly discounted) 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.
Although the revamped design of Sennheiser's fourth generation Momentum Wireless headphones don't stand out quite like their classic-looking predecessor, the 60-hour battery life is a real crowd pleaser and make these the one to beat. Add in the easy-going Sennheiser sound and effective noise cancelling, and the Momentum 4 are one the most practical wireless headphones we've seen, perfectly built for a life on the road rather than tethered to a power socket needing regular battery top ups.
Sennheiser's smooth house sound handles a wide range of music content, from pounding beats to more mellow tunes with aplomb. It has Bluetooth 5.2 and aptX Adaptive support, and there's a supplied 3.5mm cable for audiophile wired connections. ANC performance is effective, and auto Wind Noise Reduction is very impressive when stood on a windy train platform on daily work commutes.
Read our full Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless 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.
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 one of the best cheap wireless headphones available.
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.
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 their 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.
The Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 over-ear headphones are priced the same as Sony's Sony WH-1000XM5. The active noise-cancelation proves ‘good’ rather than great’ — that’s to say, it will be perfectly acceptable to anyone who doesn’t insist on absolute silence, and this next-gen model are a worthy purchase if you prioritize overall sound quality. They feel good, are beautifully constructed and are either good-looking in an understated way or a bit too understated for their own good — it depends on your taste. They have active noise-cancelation and a control app — but ‘extended functionality’ is not their thing.
They’re designed to deliver the best wireless sound this sort of money can buy, and they do. The entire frequency range hangs together well, with nothing overstated and nothing struggling for representation. Tonality is clean, consistent and entirely convincing. If you want every wireless headphone feature under the sun, you have plenty of choice. If, however, you want headphones that make the most of the digital audio information you give them, the Px7 S2 really needs to be in your thinking.
Rear our full Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 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.
Like the Cleer Enduro ANC (above), Anker's Soundcore Space Q45 are quite the bargain with a remarkable set of features and effective ANC performance. They offer remarkable battery life, quality ANC, and superb sound powered by upmarket specs and special features. Sound quality has a liveliness that pulls listeners to the front row of the performance on whatever music you're listening to. The sonic soundstage is wide and immersive, and have a ramped up low end, rich mids and crisp highs.
Anker engineered the Space Q45 with a versatile Ambient Sound mode that features dual settings for both Noise Cancellation and Transparency settings. And they all work well when used in proper situations. These headphone are not without some flaws, but nevertheless they have compelling sound and noise neutralization for half the price of Bose and Sony’s flagship models and are worth tracking down.
Read the full Anker Soundcore Space Q45 review.
Best ANC earbuds
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 are top of the best noise-cancelling earbuds list for their outstanding ANC capabilities. They perform even better than the original QC Earbuds (below) that are still available. These are a remarkable follow-up that delivers better sound, great call quality, and unrivaled ANC. Proprietary technologies like ActiveSense and CustomTune balance sound and noise neutralization extremely well.
Bose’s redesign also makes these buds less of an eyesore compared to the original, and only the high price and mediocre battery life count against them. CustomTune automatically calibrates ANC and the sound frequency profile to the unique properties of your ear and optimal performance that's right for you. Sadly, there's no wireless audio codec support for aptX or LDAC.
Read our full Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 review.
Apple's next-gen AirPods Pro 2 have arrived, bringing significant upgrades to the popular original to take performance to the next level. Externally, they look pretty similar to the first generation but battery life has been increased to offer 6 hours on a single charge from the earbuds and a further 30 hours from the wireless charging case. Not only are the earbuds IPX4-rated, but now too is the case itself.
Designed for iPhone owners looking for a more tailored listening experience, these are the pinnacle of Apple technology. On the audio front, Apple has included a new H2 chip with custom amp and driver that delivers better lower and higher frequencies, and you can use the iPhone's TrueDepth camera to create a personalized spatial audio sound to listen to some of the best Dolby Atmos sound in any pair of earbuds. Noise cancellation is double what the last pair of AirPods Pro offered, and it is among the best we’ve yet to see, period.
Read the full Apple AirPods Pro 2 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.
Samsung’s ANC holds its own against the category best and blocks out close to 90% of ambient noise. The updated design also provides improved comfort and noise isolation. Each earbud houses three mics to block out external sounds at the highest level and soften wind presence, which the mic array does extremely well in combination with the wind shield.
It’s disappointing to see Samsung’s noise-cancelling models provide short ANC playtime. Sound alone makes the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro worth the investment, though, giving you a high quality audio experience and compelling 3D sound with precise head tracking. The Galaxy Buds 2 Pro are a stellar option to consider and have excellent mic quality for calls too.
Read our full Samsung Buds 2 Pro review.
How to choose
5 things to consider when choosing the best ANC headphones and earbuds 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?
1. Active vs. passive noise cancellation: When it comes to active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones, these use an 'active' combination of hardware (microphones) and firmware to make external sounds or noises sound quieter when you’re listening to your favorite media such as music, videos, or podcasts. Unlike passive noise isolation, which simply blocks sounds out by forming a seal with headphone ear cups around the ears, or in-ear tips inside the ear canal, active noise cancellation listens out for background sounds and uses clever audio trickery to “cancel” these potentially disruptive noises out. For a more in-depth explanation see ANC explained.
2. 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. Thanks to the arrival of Sennheiser's Momentum 4 over-ear headphones battery life standards have increased up to 60 hours, although more typical figures are anywhere between 15 to 30 hours. Noise-cancelling wireless earbuds are usually rated for 4.5 to 8 hours.
3. Sound quality: 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.
4. Design: The look, build and feel of a pair of headphones is massively important when selecting the best noise-cancelling headphones, so consider how it looks and feels and whether the style is right for you. The type of headphone is also important when it comes to the most effective noise cancelling models. 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.
5. Pricing considerations: Obviously, price is a big consideration when looking for the best noise-cancelling headphones. Although there are always exceptions, big-name brands will typically command a bit extra, but generally speaking, the less you spend on a pair of headphones the greater the chance that sound and features will be compromised. Going for a budget option isn't always the best choice, as any money you save on your purchase won't do you much good if you're constantly needing to recharge your audio gear, or the sound quality is poor.
As the saying goes: timing is everything; and right now many of our favorite models are being discounted by online retailers, meaning you can bag a bargain for even less. Bookmark our best headphone deals page to keep track on the latest price drops.
How we test
The best reviews criteria carried out by audio experts
With more than 30 years experience in testing and reviewing consumer audio products for all kinds of media outlets and big-name brands around the world, the Tom's Guide audio team follows a rigorous test regime when it comes to determining the best products for recommendation in our buying guides.
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.
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.
Contributions from: Alex Bracetti, Simon Lucas
More from Tom's Guide
- More: Find out how we test for more information on our reviewing procedures.
- Next: We're maintaining a separate list of the best noise-cancelling earbuds as well as the best over-ear headphones.
- Plus: Many ANC headphones can even help you get a better night's sleep by blocking out disruptive sounds while you're getting some shut-eye.
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.