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Best noise canceling headphones

If you're trying to block out the noise, go with one of these.
By

Published onJune 3, 2024

The Best
Bose QuietComfort Ultra
MSRP: $429.00
8.5
Positives
Great ANC
Good passthrough mode
Snapdragon Sound
aptX Lossless
Negatives
Price
No IP rating
Immersive audio
Some channel matching issues
Best sound
Sony WH-1000XM5
MSRP: $399.00
8.6
Positives
ANC performance
Outstanding microphone
App features, including custom EQ
Bluetooth 5.2 with SBC, AAC, LDAC, and wired connectivity options
Bluetooth multipoint
Find My Device enabled
Negatives
Price
No IP rating
Best bass
Sony ULT WEAR
MSRP: $199.99
8.2
Positives
Comfort
360 Reality Audio
ANC
Touch controls
Negatives
Frequency response is either very bassy, unnecessarily bassy, or ridiculously bassy.
No audio over USB
Best for iPhone
Apple AirPods Max
MSRP: $424.99
8
Positives
Build quality
ANC performance
Comfort
Negatives
No TRS jack
No USB-C
Proximity sensors and voice assistant activation do not work on Android or Windows
Bang for your buck
Edifier W820NB Plus
MSRP: $79.99
7.4
Positives
Decent sound
Comfortable fit
Good isolation
Audio over USB
Negatives
Non-folding design
No customizable EQ
No continuous power light
Heat builds quickly in the ear cups

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 and buses 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 canceling can be a much-needed feature. Here are the best noise canceling headphones currently on offer based on our experience and testing.

What's new?

  • This article was updated on June 3, 2024, to add a section on the Sonos Ace and the JLab JBuds LUX ANC to the notable mentions.
  • If you are interested in other product recommendations, check out our list of the best headphones and the best noise canceling earbuds.

Everyone can benefit from noise canceling headphones. Besides sound quality, a good pair of noise canceling 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 are quite expensive), we decided to make a list of the best noise canceling headphones you can get.

The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones have the best ANC

The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones have soft padding that is very glasses-friendly.
Austin Kwok / SoundGuys
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones have soft padding that is very glasses-friendly.

The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones offer outstanding noise cancelation capabilities that make them a top choice for the best noise canceling headphones. In our testing,  we found headphones were able to reduce loud sounds like bus engines, train screeches, and airplane noise by about 87% and block out a significant amount of ambient noise across the entire frequency range.

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The large, dense ear pads create an excellent seal on the head, providing excellent passive noise isolation as well. With their exceptional noise cancelation along with premium audio quality and wireless connectivity features like support for Snapdragon Sound and aptX Lossless, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones emerge as one of the premier noise canceling headphone options on the market.

Bose QuietComfort UltraBose QuietComfort Ultra
SoundGuys Editor's Choice
Bose QuietComfort Ultra
Great battery life • Advanced audio experience
MSRP: $429.00
Quality and comfort noise canceling headphones
Going ultra with their ANC headphone experience, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra noise cancelling headphones offer up to 24 hours of battery life, a comfortable fit, Spatial Audio support, and powerful ANC.

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Our headphone preference curve can be used to compare these headphones to what we think they should sound like, but remember that these headphones’ CustomTune feature adjusts their sound to meet your biology.

The chart below shows how the sound of the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones was assessed by the Multi-Dimensional Audio Quality Score (MDAQS) algorithm from HEAD acoustics.

The Bose Quietcomfort Ultra Headphones have excellent sound quality for most, as reflected by MDAQS.
Though there’s a little bit of distortion, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones have rock-solid audio quality.

The Sony WH-1000XM5 is a close runner-up

A top down view of the Sony WH-1000XM5 resting on a dark grey graph patterned surface.

The Sony WH-1000XM5 firmly establishes itself as one of the premier noise canceling headphone options on the market. In our testing, we found these headphones excel at blocking ambient noise across all frequencies, with the ANC reducing the perceived loudness of low-end sounds like bus engines by around 87.5%. The redesigned ear cup shape and dense padding also help to get a good seal.

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While the noise cancelation capabilities are a major strength, we were also impressed by the WH-1000XM5’s audio quality. Our perceptual assessments indicate the default tuning should satisfy most listeners right out of the box, though the well-designed companion app does provide EQ customization options. Other standout features we evaluated include the outstanding battery life exceeding 30 hours with ANC on, support for the high-quality LDAC codec, multipoint connectivity, and a significantly improved microphone array for clear voice capture during calls.

Sony WH-1000XM5Sony WH-1000XM5
SoundGuys Editor's Choice
Sony WH-1000XM5
ANC performance • Outstanding microphone • Useful app features
MSRP: $399.00
The king of the ANC pack extends its reign

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The chart below shows how the sound of the Sony WH-1000XM5 was assessed by the Multi-Dimensional Audio Quality Score (MDAQS) algorithm from HEAD acoustics.

A bar chart showing how the Sony WH-1000XM5 rates in Multi-Dimensional Audio Quality Scores.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 rates pretty well in terms of audio quality, with good results across the board.
Side-on view of Sony WH-1000XM5 beside the Sony WH-1000XM4 hanging over a white horizontal pipe
The Sony WH-1000XM5 (left) looks a bit cleaner than the WH-1000XM4 (right).

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, the WH-1000XM4 still offers 360 Reality Audio and ANC optimization, 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.

Sony WH-1000XM4Sony WH-1000XM4
SoundGuys Editor's Choice
Sony WH-1000XM4
Great ANC • Sound quality • Connectivity options • Auto-wear detection
MSRP: $348.00
An exceptional pair of noise canceling headphones.
High-quality Bluetooth codecs, great sound, improved noise-canceling, good battery life, and smart features like auto-pause and Bluetooth multipoint make the Sony WH-1000XM4 a great all-round pair of headphones.
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WI-C100 combo

The Apple AirPods Max offers the best noise canceling for iPhone owners

The AirPods Max next to the AirPods Pro 2 case.
The AirPods Max uses stainless steel and weighs quite a bit more than other headphones (385g).

Apple’s first and only set of over-ear headphones are one of the best pure noise cancellers you can buy. However, the AirPods Max may not be the ones 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 comparable sound quality.

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As top-tier noise canceling headphones, the AirPods Max use hybrid active noise canceling for optimal noise cancelation. 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, adjusting for how the headset fits.

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 higher-bitrate codecs like LDAC.

Apple AirPods MaxApple AirPods Max
SoundGuys Editor's Choice
Apple AirPods Max
One of the best ANC • 20-hour battery life • Well-built pads
MSRP: $424.99
A spectacular pair of headphones with best-in-class ANC
The AirPods Max wireless headphones offer best-in-class noise canceling with twenty hours of battery life. They provide excellent frequency response and great audio features.
Save $154.01
Prime Day Deal!

Maybe. 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.

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The chart below shows how the sound of the Apple AirPods Max was assessed by the Multi-Dimensional Audio Quality Score (MDAQS) algorithm from HEAD acoustics.

This chart shows the MDAQS results for the Apple Airpods Max in Default mode. The Timbre score is 4.4, The Distortion score is 3.9, the Immersiveness score is 3.8, and the Overall Score is 4.5.
An overall score of 4.5 is fairly high, but not the highest we’ve seen from other options on this list.

The microphone performance is very good, but you may notice the 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?

7132 votes

The Sony ULT Wear has great ANC if you can withstand the bass emphasis

A close-up photo of the Sony ULT WEAR's enlarged ear pads.
Christian Thomas / SoundGuys
The Sony ULT WEAR’s ear pads are slightly wider than those of other headphones, allowing those with larger ears a little reprieve from pinna pressure.

The Sony ULT WEAR offers capable active noise cancelation performance for the price. Our tests found the headphones consistently attenuate over 25dB of ambient noise above 80Hz through a combination of ANC and passive isolation from the ear pads. While not quite on par with Sony’s highest-end options, the noise canceling should prove effective enough for commutes and air travel.

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Beyond the solid noise canceling, other strengths of the ULT WEAR include impressive battery life exceeding 32 hours per charge, multipoint Bluetooth connectivity, and a comfortable fit with large ear cups that accommodate bigger ears well. The headphones also support Sony’s immersive 360 Reality Audio with head tracking when used with the companion app. However, we were a bit disappointed with the excessive bass emphasis of the default tuning and special “ULT” sound mode, which dramatically boosts low frequencies to an overpowering degree. But if you’re a bass head, you’ll probably like it.

Sony ULT WEARSony ULT WEAR
Sony ULT WEAR
Comfortable • Long battery life • Immersive sound
MSRP: $199.99
Press ULT to rattle skull
The Sony ULT WEAR headphones are a new generation of folding, wireless headphones with ANC and a big, comfy design. Good connectivity options and a focus on immersive sound are the key selling features.

[

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Even with default settings, the bass and sub-bass are quite strongly emphasized over the highs — which are a little under-emphasized outside a peak near 8kHz. While this is a pretty expected result coming from a lineage of headphones branded “Xtra Bass,” there’s a point at which this needs to stop, and we’ve passed it.

/faq]

The chart below shows how the sound of the Sony ULT WEAR was assessed by the Multi-Dimensional Audio Quality Score (MDAQS) algorithm from HEAD acoustics.

This chart shows the MDAQS results for the Sony ULTWEAR WH-ULT900N in SBC DEFAULT mode. The Timbre score is 4, The Distortion score is 3.7, the Immersiveness score is 4.8, and the Overall Score is 4).
Christian Thomas / SoundGuys
An impressively high Immersiveness score is helped out by an emphasized bass response.

The Edifier W820NB Plus has great ANC for cheap

Edifier W820NB Plus on iron man head

The Edifier W820NB Plus presents a compelling budget choice for those seeking decent noise cancelation without breaking the bank. While not the most premium ANC experience, our tests show the W820NB Plus provides good passive noise isolation thanks to the well-fitting ear pads that help reduce ambient noise. The active noise canceling mode is also quite effective at nullifying low-frequency sounds like engine rumbles when commuting.

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Beyond the capable noise canceling, the W820NB Plus offers a well-balanced, natural-sounding default audio tuning that scores impressively well in our perceptual tests. Other strengths include a comfortable fit with plush padding, a long battery life exceeding 31 hours, and versatile connectivity with support for LDAC codec and a wired USB audio option.

However, the non-folding design is a notable drawback for travelers and commuters. The headphones also lack a customizable EQ for fine-tuning the sound. But for casual listeners on a tight budget seeking solid all-around noise canceling performance, the Edifier W820NB Plus emerges as a value-packed option that gets the job done without much fuss.

Edifier W820NB PlusEdifier W820NB Plus
Edifier W820NB Plus
Excellent sound • Superior ANC • Hi-Res audio
MSRP: $79.99

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You can see how the frequency response of the Edifier W820NB Plus compares to our headphone preference curve in the chart above. You’ll notice the headphones follow our preference curve quite closely in the low end, and there is only a bit of deviation in the mid and high frequencies.

The chart below shows how the sound of the Edifier W820NB Plus was assessed by the Multi-Dimensional Audio Quality Score (MDAQS) algorithm from HEAD acoustics.

This chart shows the MDAQS results for the Edifier W820NB Plus in SBC default mode. The Timbre score is 4.8, The Distortion score is 4.2, the Immersiveness score is 3.8, and the Overall Score is 4.8).
With an overall score of 4.8, the Edifier W820NB Plus punches well above their price.

 

Should you get the Sonos Ace?

A side profile photo of a man wearing the Sonos Ace headphones
Harley Maranan / SoundGuys
The Sonos Ace are comfortable to wear, so long as you don’t have big ears.

The Sonos Ace is a premium set of noise-canceling headphones that delivers an immersive audio experience, making it an excellent choice for cinephiles and Sonos ecosystem users. While not quite outperforming flagships from Bose and Apple, Ace’s active noise cancelation performs admirably, reducing environmental noise like buses, trains, and airplane engines by about 74%.

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The Ace’s dense ear pads provide excellent passive noise isolation, on par with the Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones. The headphones also feature a transparency “Aware” mode that effectively raises the volume of nearby speech while filtering out distracting ambient sounds like wind and room noise.

In addition to its impressive noise canceling prowess, the Sonos Ace boasts features like Dolby Atmos support with head tracking, custom-tuned 40mm drivers, and seamless integration with Sonos soundbars via the TV Audio Swap feature. While pricey at $449, the Ace offers a compelling option for those seeking a premium noise canceling experience, especially if they’re already invested in the Sonos ecosystem.

Sonos AceSonos Ace
Sonos Ace
Great build quality • Dolby Atmos support • Integration with Sonos soundbars
MSRP: $449.00
Premium noise canceling headphones designed for mobile cinephiles
The Sonos Ace are a pair of headphones designed to bring the home theater experience everywhere you go. These premium headphones offer an elegant design, good ANC, Lossless audio, Dolby Atmos support, and up to 30 hours of battery life.

The Soundcore by Anker Life Q30 are good bang for buck

Anker Soundcore Life Q30 headphones held in a hand above a wood table.
Chase Bernath / SoundGuys
The Anker Soundcore Life Q30 is a great value buy.

For those seeking a budget-friendly option with active noise cancelation (ANC), plus the benefits of fast charging long and decent sound quality, we recommend the Anker Soundcore Life Q30. This set of headphones is designed for everyday use thanks to its comfortable design and a battery life that exceeds 40 hours on a single charge. The inclusion of a hardshell carrying case, USB-C charging cable, and an analog audio cable for wired listening make it a complete package.

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The Q30’s ANC capability performs well in reducing environmental noise. You also get three ANC modes to toggle between in the app, depending on whether you are indoors, outdoors, or on the go. The Soundcore app further allows customization of the sound profile through its equalizer, though the EQ presets aren’t as effective as you’ll find in more expensive options. As is becoming common with headphones, there is a lot of over-emphasis on the bass and higher harmonics, which, while not ideal, can be fun for listening to high-energy genres.

Anker Soundcore Life Q30Anker Soundcore Life Q30
Anker Soundcore Life Q30
Comfortable design • 40-hour battery life • EQ customization
MSRP: $79.99
A reliable and affordable headset with ANC
The Anker Soundcore Life Q30 gives you 40-hour battery life with ANC on, all for a low price.

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A chart showing the MDAQS assessment of the Anker Soundcore Life Q30.
These are very impressive scores for a budget headphone.

The Bose QuietComfort Headphones have great noise canceling but an odd frequency response

The Bose QuietComfort Headphones showcase effective noise cancelation capabilities, adept at attenuating low-frequency noises like engine and street sounds by 50-85%. They manage to reduce noise by 10 to 30dB under 1kHz, and high-pitched noise sees a reduction of 20-45 dB. This performance, coupled with their well-designed ear cups that create a good seal, makes them a solid choice for commuters or those in moderately noisy environments.

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In terms of sound quality, the QuietComfort headphones present a mixed bag. The sub-bass is noticeably over-emphasized, overshadowing the mid frequencies and creating an unbalanced sound profile. This heavy bass can distort the perception of mid-range sounds, making them appear weaker. The headphones do align well with our preferred headphone curve above 60Hz, but the irregularities in the high frequencies (notably around 6-8kHz) can lead to an unusual listening experience. Compared to its predecessor, the Bose QuietComfort 45, the new model falls short in delivering a well-rounded audio experience. Despite the availability of the Bose app, it doesn’t rectify these sound issues fully.

In summary, while the Bose QuietComfort Headphones excel in noise cancelation, their peculiar frequency response in the sub-bass and high frequencies may not appeal to all users, especially those sensitive to tonal balance and treble clarity.

Bose QuietComfort HeadphonesBose QuietComfort Headphones
Bose QuietComfort Headphones
Great battery life • Comfortable materials • Great ANC
MSRP: $349.00
Comfortable cans with next-level noise cancellation and great battery life
The Bose QuietComfort Headphones focus on your comfort and listening experience in noisy environments. Enjoy up to 24 hours of battery life and Bose's high-quality sound in a plush set of new wireless headphones.
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The best noise canceling headphones: Notable mentions

The Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3 headphones lying flat on a backpack.
The Sennheiser MOMENTUM 3 Wireless headphones are chic and durable but the ANC isn’t the best.
  • Anker Soundcore Space Q45 ($149 at Amazon): Although they fall short in terms of frequency response, the Anker Soundcore Space Q45 deliver solid active noise canceling for a low price ($149 at Amazon). They are a decent option for anyone looking for an inexpensive headset that still handles loud environments with a deft touch.
  • Anker Soundcore Space One ($99.99 at Amazon): These are the latest noise canceling cans from Soundcore by Anker, stated to reduce outside noise by 98%. We are still in the process of testing these, but based on the majority of user feedback, it looks like another success in the brand’s value headset lineup.
  • Bowers & Wilkins PX7 ($99 at Amazon): While this set of headphones is very clearly geared to compete with the high-end cans listed here, it may be too pricy for the sound you get out of it. If they fit well, you’ll enjoy the ANC though.
  • Bose QuietComfort 35 II ($374 at Amazon): Though they are outperformed by the headphones on this list, the Bose QC 35 II are still a great pair of noise canceling cans. Even with the latest Bose QuietComfort 45 surpassing them, the QC 35 II’s price is a bit easier to swallow. And, if you want to use them for gaming, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II Gaming Headset offers everything the regular QC 35 II has, plus a detachable boom microphone for $279 at Amazon.
  • Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 ($379 at Amazon): The last generation Bose flagship headphones had top-notch ANC, beautiful design, and excellent sound quality.
  • Focal Bathys ($699 at Amazon): We have these tested, and they’re great—but they’re also $699 and only cancel noise as well as the Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless, so they’re a tough sell to a general crowd. For an audiophile, however, they’re definitely worth a look.
  • Jabra Elite 85h ($190.99 at Best Buy): These headphones offer great sound and good noise canceling for the mid-range market and also have automatic ear detection and water resistance, amongst other more unusual features.
  • JLab JBuds Lux ANC ($79.99 at Amazon): The JLab JBuds Lux ANC is a decent set of ANC headphones for the budget-conscious. With between 10 and 20dB of noise cancelation under 700Hz, you can expect between 50 and 75% of outside noise in the lows. But the JLab JBuds Lux ANC shines with high-frequency noise, as the ear cups do an outstanding job of creating a seal to your head. Because of this, the headphones isolate your ears from outside noise and physically block up to 46dB of outside noise the higher in frequency you go.
  • Monoprice BT-600ANC ($84.99 at Amazon): For most casual listeners, these are the best bang for your buck headphones. The combination of great isolation and noise cancelation, decent sound, and premium features is a sight for sore eyes in the sub-$100 headphone category.
  • Puro Sound Labs PuroQuiet ($139 at Amazon): An affordable and sleek pair of active noise canceling headphones for children. The design fits smaller heads and limits the maximum volume to help protect your kiddo’s hearing.
  • Sennheiser HD 450BT($129 at Amazon): A great choice because of their sound quality. However, unless you have tiny ears, the ear cups probably fit more like on-ear headphones than over-ears. A bit more affordable than the Sennheiser PXC 550-II, but the active noise canceling isn’t quite as good.
  • Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless ($289.23 at Amazon): If you’re looking for a slightly more affordable set of ANC headphones in comparison to the Bose or Sony offerings: the Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless is not a bad way to go. While its ANC is technically behind the other top-tier headphones, its sound quality is ahead of the pack—as is its battery life.
  • Sennheiser ACCENTUM Plus ($217.95 at Amazon): If you are looking for a middle-ground ANC headphone to last you a few years, these are great for the price.
  • Shure AONIC 50($298 at Amazon): 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. If you want something a bit lighter and more affordable from Shure, check out the AONIC 40.
  • Sony WH-CH710N ($748 at Amazon): This headset boosts bass a bit more than we like, but can still be pleasant to most peoples’ ears. You get great noise canceling performance and a nice, compact build.
  • Sony WH-CH720N ($99.99 at Amazon): If you’re looking for a decent set of noise canceling cans but don’t want to shell out the top-tier headphones, consider these as a good in-between option. They balance app support, good battery life, and solid functionality.

What are the best noise canceling earbuds?

A photo of the Jabra Elite 10 Gen 2 in a man's ear.
Christian Thomas / SoundGuys
A solid fit every time means consistently good results.

The Jabra Elite 10 Gen 2 are hands-down the best noise canceling wireless earbuds, achieving an impressive 85.1% noise reduction that surpasses the typical 83% ceiling of most competitors. You might notice that at about 500Hz the ANC will only dispel about half of outside noise, but that’s really the worst of it: the rest of the range of human hearing is well-managed by the ANC system.

They are also complemented by good sound quality, comfortable fit, and versatile connectivity options, including the ability to connect to wired sources through its innovative case-as-transmitter feature.

Jabra Elite 10 Gen 2Jabra Elite 10 Gen 2
SoundGuys Editor's Choice
Jabra Elite 10 Gen 2
Outstanding ANC • Comfort • Wireless charging • Sleep bud option
MSRP: $279.99
Any way you look at it, one heck of a swan's song.
The Jabra Elite 10 Gen 2 is an unbelievably good set of true wireless earbuds that overcome some of the biggest hurdles the category has. However, with Jabra's parent company retiring the product line, it's uncertain what will happen with future software updates.

What you should know about the best noise canceling headphones

How do noise canceling headphones work?

Active noise cancellers attempt to increase the quality of your music by using destructive interference to eliminate noise. By using active noise cancelation tech (ANC), you can simultaneously make your music sound better in noisy environments. Still, you can also reduce how much sound your inner ear is subjected to, staving off hearing loss. Even if you use noise canceling 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 all sounds above 85dB SPL if possible.

A chart depicts how an out-of-phase wave can cancel out background noise for ANC headphones.
Constructive and Destructive Interference Sound waves of equal amplitude, offset at 1/2 wavelengths, result in compression waves with an amplitude of 0—canceling out the sound.

Can a firmware update make the noise canceling 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. When you experience worse noise canceling 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.

A chart shows the noise canceling performance of the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700 firmware 1.8.2 compared to firmware 1.3.1, and it improved with the later firmware.
When Bose updated its NCH 700 firmware to 1.8.2, the noise canceling improved.

Yes, noise canceling can get better after an update, and we’ve seen this with multiple headsets, most notably the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700 and Bose QuietComfort 35 II. Let’s look at the Bose NCH 700. Above, you can see the NCH 700 noise canceling 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 canceling headphones?

Active noise cancelation 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 cancelation 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 canceling headphones?

The SBC, aptX, aptX HD, AAC, and LDAC bluetooth codec performance shown on a chart.
Represented is the max transfer rate (kbps) of each respective Bluetooth codec (greater is better). Each waveform depicts a transfer rate of 100 kbps.

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.

What about ANC headphones in the office?

The truth of the matter is that what makes a set of ANC headphones good in general will make them good for the office. We cover this topic in another article, but it shouldn’t surprise you that our picks for that category look suspiciously similar to the ones listed here.

In general, the level of ANC isn’t as important to an office setting as it is commuting, so don’t get too hung up on the headphones with the most attenuated noise. Instead, you want a good balance of battery performance, sound quality, and microphone performance. It’s probably no surprise then that the Sony WH-1000XM5, with its impressive mic array, does so well in this setting. You can compare how well each headset does in reviews by playing the appropriate office simulation, like so:

Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT: Office conditions

Sony WH-1000XM5: Office conditions

How SoundGuys tests headphones

An assortment of headphone products with the B&K 5128 test head.
An assortment of headphone products with the Bruel & Kjaer 5128 test head.

How well headphones and earphones attenuate noise is simple to test. Using our Bruel & Kjaer 5128 test head, we can offer accurate measurements of what a human would experience. Basically, we measure how much the headset under test attenuates our test signal (shaped noise) with and without ANC enabled.

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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. In those instances, passive acoustic isolation will serve you better (shown as a solid pink line on our charts)

How SoundGuys chooses candidates and winners

We’ve been covering the consumer audio industry for some time, and we’re aware of what’s happening in the market. 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 canceling 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 or YouTube to publish polls to see just how people are actually buying these headphones and what matters most to them.

Every week, we hash out which headphones are the most comfortable, best-sounding, etc. From there, we went down the list of the 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 Monoprice Dual Driver Bluetooth Headphones worn by bearded individual
Harley Maranan / SoundGuys

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Frequently asked questions about the best noise canceling headphones

Although the ATH-M50xBT2 is a great headset, it doesn’t have noise canceling. You get decent isolation, 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 canceling options don’t perform as well as these higher-end choices. That being said, some models, like the JBL Live 650BTNC, have decent active noise canceling 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 canceling 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.

For those looking for a solid all-rounder, you’ll probably dig the Sony WH-1000XM5. They tick all the boxes — from fab noise cancelation to slick sound quality. But remember, “best” can be pretty personal. It all depends on what you’re after.

They sure do! It’s all about that Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) magic. Put simply, these headphones listen to the outside world, and then they create their own sound waves to cancel out the noise. But, just to set the record straight, they won’t turn your surroundings into a zen-like silence. It’s quieter, not mute.

If the quiet life is what you’re chasing, the Apple AirPods Max has got your back. They’re top-notch when it comes to turning the volume down on the world.

Both over-ear and in-ear headphones have their perks. If you’re not big on battery life, in-ear headphones, especially with those squishy memory foam tips, can block out noise without the tech. But, if it’s the best ANC capabilities you’re after, over-ear headphones are usually where it’s at.

So, while we’re all for jamming out, sometimes you gotta unplug and stay alert. Think walking on a bustling street, cycling, or when you’re behind the wheel. Sometimes, it’s cool to just vibe with the world around you.

Just a heads up: even with any of these bad boys on, super loud environments can still be, well, loud. Aim to not expose your ears to sounds over 85dB to keep your hearing in check. And, you know, sometimes it’s good to give your ears a breather, especially for young ones.

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