Links on SoundGuys may earn us a commission. Learn more.
Best noise cancelling headphones
Sometimes listening to the sounds of nature or the sounds of the people around you can be an enlightening experience, but sometimes you just need a vacation from the world. As people who ride subways every day, we know how necessary it is to block out the world sometimes just to keep your sanity—and hearing—intact. Whether you’re always in crowded areas, working at your desk, or a frequent commuter: noise cancelling can be a much-needed feature. Everyone can benefit from any of the best noise cancelling headphones.
Besides sound quality, a good pair of noise cancelling headphones does two things: provide a comfortable fit for extended use and also accurately cancel out unwanted outside noise. Without getting too technical, Active Noise Cancelation (ANC) is achieved by using built-in microphones that pick up what is going on around you. The headphones then produce their own out-of-phase sound waves that destroy outside noise. With so many options out there (and a lot of them quite expensive), we decided to make a list of the best noise cancelling headphones you can get.
Editor’s note: this list of the best noise cancelling headphones was updated on January 20, 2023 to update internal links and add FAQs.
Why is the Sony WH-1000XM5 the best set of noise cancelling headphones?
Sony has finally released the update to its flagship noise cancelling headphones: the Sony WH-1000XM5. This new model features a redesign from its predecessor, the Sony WH-1000XM4, and an improvement to the already best-in-class active noise cancelling.
Most listeners will enjoy a consumer-friendly sound, but for those who want a little less bass: use the Sony Headphones Connect app to boost mids and drop highs a bit. While it’s a little annoying to need to equalize headphones instead of having them sound perfect out of the box, at least it’s easy enough to navigate.
Sony has been regarded for having the best active noise cancelling headphones on the market, and that legacy continues with the WH-1000XM5. The newer headset attenuates noise even better than its predecessor, cancelling out sounds such as the hum of an air conditioner or the rumble of a jet engine—perfect for travelers and commuters. Passive isolation is also better, so it blocks out more high-pitched noises than the Sony WH-1000XM4 as well.
Additional features that make the Sony WH-1000XM5 our top pick include Bluetooth multipoint connectivity, automatic ear detection, support for multiple audio codecs (SBC, AAC, and Sony’s LDAC), fantastic microphone quality that makes it our favorite ANC work headset, intuitive touch controls, Sony 360 Reality Audio, and great in-app control. If you’re looking to go all-in for a pair of active noise cancelling headphones, and are willing to pay a pretty penny for the best experience, look no further than the Sony WH-1000XM5.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 has a highly advanced noise cancelling microphone system that effectively blocks out background noise.
Sony WH-1000XM5 microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Sony WH-1000XM5 microphone demo (Office conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
The Sony WH-1000XM4 is still a great headset and compares well against the WH-1000XM5. If you don’t want to spend $400 USD on the latest model, you will still enjoy very good ANC from the XM4 headset. Sound quality isn’t nearly as good out of the box on the fourth-generation model compared to the newest one, but you can equalize some of the XM4’s heavy treble away.
Neither pair of headphones is water-resistant but you should still be able to skate by with some sweat so long as you clean them regularly. As far as software features go, you still get 360 Reality Audio and ANC optimization with the WH-1000XM4 along with the option to prioritize connection stability or sound quality. Unless you absolutely need the best ANC around, you’ll still be happy with the WH-1000XM4 and the extra cash in your wallet.
The Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless has great sound quality
Sennheiser flagship, the MOMENTUM 4 Wireless, continues the lineage of the MOMENTUM series through line of excellent sound quality, closely reflecting our ideal frequency response. What’s more it uses SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD, or aptX Adaptive codecs, or optional 3.5mm headphone jack to check off all your boxes.
In addition to the premium build of the MOMENTUM 4 Wireless, it also has one of the longest battery lives we’ve tested with an impressive, 56 hours and 21 minutes (with ANC activated). A long battery life tends to mean the headphones will last longer too by necessitating fewer recharges.
While the ANC performance of the MOMENTUM 4 Wireless does not quite beat out the Sony WH-1000XM5 for example, it gets close. For the better codec selection and slightly better frequency response of the Sennheiser cans, it may be the preferred choice for some. The free Sennheiser app also has a nice user interface, and overall supports the elevated feeling experience of the MOMENTUM 4 Wireless.
The Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless is one of the better examples out there of headphone with mics, providing a reasonably representative sound of your voice. It struggles a little with complete noise rejection, but it prioritizes your voice, as demonstrated in the example below with street noise.
Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless microphone demo (Street conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 is work of modern art
Bose has made a name for itself in the consumer space by making more premium headsets for frequent flyers and those with deeper pockets. The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 is the flagship product for the Massachusetts-based company, and it has a lot of really good features along with a premium build. It also boasts integrated voice assistant support, including Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, or Apple’s Siri.
As far as sound quality goes, these aren’t going to satisfy bass heads. However, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 aligns with our targets really well, and should sound good to most people right out of the box. Sometimes the best things in life are the boring things that work without much fuss, and that’s very true here.
The active noise cancelling is very good here but can’t keep up with Sony’s XM5 flagship headphones. Still, the NCH 700 will render low frequencies anywhere from one-half to one-sixth as loud as they’d sound without the headset on at all. Aside from very good ANC, the NCH 700 provides stellar touch controls with a seemingly perfect amount of sensitivity. Whether you’re rocking an Android or iOS device, the playback controls should function exactly the same when you’re connected via Bluetooth.
Battery life is somewhat disappointing as far as ANC headphones go—but that’s still miles ahead of true wireless earphones. A single charge will last you about 21 hours, 25 minutes of battery life with ANC and Bluetooth turned on. At most, you’ll only be plugging them in to charge maybe twice a week. you shouldn’t have to worry much about battery longevity with the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, as they sport much larger cells than true wireless earphones do.
Bose’s microphone sounds quite good in ideal conditions but it won’t block out as much background noise as the WH-1000XM5 or AirPods Max.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Bose NCH 700 microphone demo (Office conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
The Apple AirPods Max offers the best noise cancelling for iPhone owners
There’s no getting around it, Apple’s first set of headphones is the best pure noise cancellers you can buy with only the Sony WH-1000XM5 really giving the AirPods Max a run for its money. However, the AirPods Max may not be the right thing to buy owing to their high cost and relatively poor flexibility. Unless you own an iPhone and have a large budget, there are too many competing models out there that offer a similar level of ANC performance and better sound quality.
As with other top-tier noise cancelling headsets, the AirPods Max uses hybrid active noise cancelling for optimal noise cancellation. As we’ve seen from the Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation), the AirPods Max supports Adaptive EQ, which adjusts the frequency response in real-time, according to your environment and how the headset fits. Apple’s taking a big gamble with this headset, and it’s bound to pay off as loyal Apple fans, and those beholden to the brand will appreciate the convenience and smart features.
Audio performance is right where you’d expect it to be for an Apple product, with much better performance than some of the cheaper options on this list. However, the headphones use only SBC and AAC—meaning no high-bitrate codecs like LDAC. You can, however, enjoy digital wired audio via Lightning-to-USB-C cable but this will cost extra.
No. Only iPhone users will truly enjoy all the benefits the AirPods Max has to offer. As an Android user, you’ll miss out on call quality, firmware updates, Spatial Audio, and more. Hence, if you’re choosing between the Apple AirPods Max and the Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 or the Sony WH-1000XM5, pick one of the latter two or get an iPhone.
The microphone performance is very good but you’ll notice better performance when you pair the headphones to an Apple device.
Apple AirPods Max microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Apple AirPods Max microphone demo (Office conditions):
How does the mic sound to you?
The best pair of cheap noise cancelling headphones is the Monoprice BT-600ANC
While it’s not really a household name, Monoprice makes a decent set of low-cost ANC headphones. The Monoprice BT-600ANC comes in at $99 USD, while also providing a fairly respectable noise cancelling performance for the money. Typically this is a category that requires a minimum of $200 to get ANC headphones worth their salt, but this is a very extreme outlier.
Sure, they don’t sound the greatest (consider a third party EQ app), and you could probably get better headphones for $100—but you can’t get better ANC headphones for that price. With the feature enabled, you can reliably see a reduction between 20-30dB of droning outside noise, even in the range where most music sounds live. That’s pretty good, considering that most cheap ANC headphones struggle here. It’s just gravy that these headphones also isolate noise well, meaning they physically block sound from reaching your ear a little better than most headphones do.
We will point out, however, that there is no companion app, and these headphones are very Spartan by their nature. Monoprice as a company often goes the barebones route, and for those looking for a simple headset that’s great. However, if you really want things like equalization and voice assistant support: you’ll have to figure something else out.
Monoprice BT-600ANC microphone demo (Non-standardized):
How does the microphone sound to you?
The Bose QuietComfort 45 has great noise cancelling but an odd frequency response
Bose’s QC 45 headset looks very similar to the Bose QC 35 II and has the best ANC of any Bose headphones to date. Although the Bose QuietComfort 45 is an excellent set of headphones, the inability to fully disable ANC and use the headset as a normal pair of wireless headphones is a thorn in our side. It’s also a big reason we recommend the Sony WH-1000XM5 or AirPods Max over the QC 45. The Bose QC 45 also didn’t make the cut as a top five pick for its boosted treble response, which can be unpleasant for listeners who like early aughts punk tracks and the like. Bose retroactively added a custom EQ to the QC 45, though so you can try your hand at equalizing the treble down.
Even with these gripes, the Bose QC 45 is one of the most comfortable headphones around and features very good button controls. Some of our staff actually prefer buttons over touch controls because they’re easier to operate when wearing gloves. The microphone is also quite good here, though not on par with the WH-1000XM5.
The microphone does a very good job blocking out fairly predictable sounds like wind. When working from an office, sounds like ringing phones and clacking keyboards will come through though.
Bose QuietComfort 45 microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Bose QuietComfort 45 microphone demo (Office conditions):
Bose QuietComfort 45 microphone demo (Windy conditions):
How does the sample sound to you?
The Sony WH-XB910N is of the best sets of noise cancelling headphones for bass
Bass heads, look no further than the Sony WH-XB910N. The “XB” moniker stands for “extra bass” and Sony delivers: the sub-bass is about 25dB louder than mids. You can decrease the bass response via the Sony Headphones Connect app, and you’ll want to do this if you listen to non-bass heavy music, or enjoy a podcast every now and then. You get other features here like ANC performance that’s similar to the famed WH-1000XM3 headphones and a comfortable fit. It doesn’t take down the Sony WH-1000XM5, but it also costs much less money than the latest Sony flagship.
The best noise cancelling headphones: Notable mentions
- Anker Soundcore Space Q45: Although it falls short in terms of sound quality, the Anker Soundcore Space Q45 delivers solid active noise cancelling for a fairly cheap price ($149.99 at Amazon). It’s a decent option for anyone looking for an inexpensive headset that still handles loud environments with a deft touch.
- Bowers & Wilkins PX7: While this set of headphones is very clearly geared to compete with the high-end cans listed here, it’s too pricy ($279 at Amazon) for the sound you get out of it. If you’re willing to put up with some discomfort, you’ll enjoy the ANC though.
- Bose QuietComfort 35 II: Though it’s outperformed by the headphones on this list, the Bose QC 35 II is still a great pair of noise cancelling cans even with the latest Bose QuietComfort 45 surpassing it, the QC 35 II price is nicer at $329.64 at Amazon. And, if you want to use them to game, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II Gaming Headset offers everything the regular QC 35 II has plus a detachable boom microphone for $329 at Amazon.
- Jabra Elite 85h: These headphones sell for $190.99 at Best Buy with very good noise cancelling. The headphones also have automatic ear detection and water resistance amongst other more unusual features.
- Puro Sound Labs PuroQuiet: This is an affordable and sleek pair of active noise cancelling headphones for children. The design fits smaller heads and limits the maximum volume to help protect your kiddo’s hearing. It sells for $129 at Amazon.
- Sennheiser HD 450BT: This is a great choice because of its sound quality. However, if you have anything larger than tiny ears, the ear cups probably fit more like on-ear headphones than over-ears. This is a bit more affordable (at $91 at Amazon) than the Sennheiser PXC 550-II, but the active noise cancelling isn’t quite as good.
- Sennheiser PXC 550-II: This lightweight headset is technically discontinued, but you can still find it for $339.95 at Amazon. Despite the older tech onboard like microUSB, it uses SBC, AAC, aptX, and aptX Low Latency for giving you plenty of options for your audio, as well as doing a decent job cancelling low frequency noises.
- Shure AONIC 50: This is an excellent headset for listeners who want as many options to connect as possible. You get SBC, AAC, aptX HD, and LDAC support along with a standard wired connection and support for USB-C passthrough audio. We also love this headset for its premium build, extremely comfortable design, and excellent sound quality. Get it at $249 at Amazon. If you want something a bit lighter and more affordable from Shure, check out the AONIC 40.
- Sony WH-CH710N: This headset boosts bass a bit more than we recommend, but this can still be pleasant to most peoples’ ears. For $149.99 at Amazon, you get great noise cancelling performance and a nice, compact build.
- Under Armour Project Rock Over-Ear Training Headphones by JBL: If you’re looking for a set of ANC capable workout headphones here’s the best choice. The aesthetic and default sound might turn some off, but bull horns aside, the app offers good EQ, and the IPX4 rating means it’s sweatproof to boot. Find it for $275 at Amazon.
Hold up! Something’s different:
Some of our picks’ frequency response and isolation charts were measured with our old testing system. We have since purchased a Bruel & Kjaer 5128 test fixture (and the appropriate support equipment) to update our testing and data collection. It will take a while to update our backlog of old test results, but we will update this article (and many others!) once we’re able with improved sound quality measurements and isolation performance plots. These will be made obvious with our new chart aesthetic (black background instead of white).
Thank you for bearing with us, and we hope to see you again once we’ve sorted everything out.
What you should know about the best noise cancelling headphones
How do noise cancelling headphones work?
Active noise cancelers attempt to increase the quality of your music by using destructive interference to prevent auditory masking. In simpler terms, outside noise (a “masker”) can drown out notes that are similar in frequency, making them completely inaudible. By using active noise cancellation tech (ANC), you can simultaneously make your music sound better in noisy environments, but you can also reduce how much pressure your inner ear is subjected to, staving off hearing loss.
You should also know that noise cancelling tech doesn’t mean the noise goes away, or that it can’t reach your ear. Even if you use noise cancelling headphones, you’re still at risk for noise-induced hearing loss because it doesn’t block out all noise. Be sure to limit your exposure to junk sound above 85dB if at all possible. That may be an impossible task on trans- or intercontinental flights, but the best way to listen to music is in a quiet environment—ANC should be the last resort.
If you’re still set on ANC headphones, there’s nothing wrong with that! But it’s always good to explore your options. Other considerations you should keep in mind are that Bluetooth is messy and your audio quality will almost always sound better with wired headphones.
Can a firmware update make the noise cancelling worse on your headphones?
There have been many accounts of ANC performance declining after an update; we’ve seen this with the Bose QuietComfort 35 II and others. This typically happens because the installation process gets interrupted. When you experience worse noise cancelling after an update, try to factory reset the headset. After resetting the headset, try to install the latest firmware again but only after your source device and headset are fully charged.
Yes, noise cancelling can get better after an update and we’ve seen this with multiple headsets, most notably the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 and Bose QuietComfort 35 II. Let’s look at the Bose NCH 700. Above, you can see the NCH 700 noise cancelling improved after Bose released firmware 1.8.2. Bose takes its headphone updates seriously, and the fact that you get improved performance throughout a headset’s lifespan increases the product’s value.
What should you get if you don’t want noise cancelling headphones?
Active noise cancellation requires the use of batteries, and that’s a pain for many people. There’s really no way around it unless you ditch the active noise cancellation and go for passive isolators. Really, the best way to do that is to get some in-ears. You may find them uncomfortable, but we’ve had good luck with Comply memory foam tips. They conform perfectly to your ear canal every time, which not only means super-good isolation with whatever earbuds you want but also they’re as comfortable as it gets with that type of audio device.
Do Bluetooth codecs matter for noise cancelling headphones?
Additionally, you may find that you may need to upgrade your phone if you haven’t in the last few years to get the most out of your audio. Remember how I just said Bluetooth is messy? Well, that’s because its great irony is that despite its namesake, it’s a fractious and varied set of standards that don’t play well together. Unless you have a flagship phone like an iPhone, Galaxy, or V20, chances are good that you’ll be stuck on an older, crappier codec. When studying spec sheets, you’re going to want to make sure that both the headphones and the phones support either AAC, aptX, or LDAC. However, Android phones with Android 8.0 or higher will have these standards by default.
How SoundGuys tests headphones
How well headphones and earphones attenuate noise is actually a fairly easy thing to test. using our Bruel & Kjaer 5128 test head, we can offer much more accurate measurements of what a human would experience than most other outlets can. Basically, we measure how much the headset under test attenuates our test signal (noise) with and without ANC enabled.
While ANC is certainly getting a lot better, it won’t always be perfect at getting rid of incidental noise like people talking, people dropping things, crashes, kids banging pots and pans… you get the idea. Just keep that in mind when you peruse our charts: a higher pink line (isolation) is always better than an equally-high dashed blue one (ANC).
How SoundGuys chooses candidates and winners
We’ve been covering the audio industry for some time and we’re acutely aware of what the top of the market is. It’s not exactly a huge mystery which companies are great at this sort of thing, and which ones aren’t as much. However, we give everyone their fair shot because we’re not all-knowing gods of consumer audio or anything, and there are always some surprises out there; yes, even for this best noise cancelling headphones list.
It’s also important to check our ideas about what people want at the door because we’re not the ones buying: you are. So from time to time, we take to Twitter to see just how people are actually buying these headphones. Like good journalists, we posted the question, and the results were a little surprising:
So with that in mind, we set off to assess each candidate product in the order of importance established by the poll.
After using all of our candidates, we hashed out which headphones are the most comfortable, best sounding, etc. From there, we went down the list of most important factors and averaged the ranks based on a system of weighting that rewarded categories in order of performance. If we ever encountered two headphones that were roughly “the same” as each other in any one metric, we didn’t split hairs, they got the same sub-rank. Once we got our new number, it was easy to pick our winners!
Why you should trust SoundGuys
The writers at SoundGuys have accumulated years of experience reporting on the consumer audio market, testing audio products, and helping consumers find the right audio product for them. Our staff adheres to a strict ethics policy and no writer will gain anything from recommending one brand over another.
We don’t use sponsored content on the website at a time when doing so is the norm, and SoundGuys’ survival depends mainly on readers enjoying their purchases. We pride ourselves on transparently outlining objective facts and measurements, while accounting for the subjective experience to contextualize an audio product’s performance. When we do misspeak, we correct and own up to it.
Frequently asked questions about the best noise cancelling headphones
Although the ATH-M50xBT2 is a great headset, it doesn’t have noise cancelling. You get decent isolation out of it though, and very good sound quality that works well for daily listening and studio work. We love the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 for its uniquely long battery life and various connection options too.
Great question! We’re actually looking at expanding our current ANC test to include various noise types you’d commonly encounter and assess headphones on their ability to cancel out each one separately. Stay tuned.
JBL makes decent budget-friendly headphones, but their active noise cancelling options don’t perform as well as these higher-end choices. That being said, some models like the JBL Live 650BTNC has decent active noise cancelling for the price, but the sound quality is only okay. If you’re willing to fork over a bit more money, you can get better-quality headphones in the Sennheiser PXC 550-II.
Active noise cancelling headphones work by detecting the sound going on around them and then creating a sound wave exactly opposite to the detected sound wave. If a sudden sound occurs, it’s difficult for this technology to detect it and cancel it on time.