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Best noise canceling headphones

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

Published onApril 4, 2024

The Best
Sony WH-1000XM5
MSRP: $399.00
8.6
Check price
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 features
Bose QuietComfort Ultra
MSRP: $429.00
8.5
Check price
Positives
Great ANC
Good passthrough mode
Snapdragon Sound
aptX Lossless
Negatives
Price
No IP rating
Immersive audio
Some channel matching issues
Best value
Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless
MSRP: $179.95
8.3
Check price
Positives
Price
Weight
Comfort
aptX, aptX HD support
USB-C audio
Negatives
Will not get LE Audio
No TRS jack
Best for iPhone
Apple AirPods Max
MSRP: $424.99
8
Check price
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
Anker Soundcore Life Q30
MSRP: $79.99
7.6
Check price
Positives
Price
Noise canceling
Battery life
Negatives
No touch controls
No dust or water resistance
EQ presets not very effective

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?

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.

Why is the Sony WH-1000XM5 the best set of active noise canceling headphones?

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

Sony brought a big update to its flagship noise canceling 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 canceling.

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.

If you’re looking for headphones that can go with you to the office, on your next trip, or handle working from home: the Sony WH-1000XM5 is an excellent buy.

Sony has been regarded as having the best active noise canceling headphones on the market, and that legacy continues with the WH-1000XM5. The newer headset attenuates noise even better than its predecessor, canceling 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 canceling headphones and are willing to pay a pretty penny for the best experience, look no further than the Sony WH-1000XM5.

Sony WH-1000XM5Sony WH-1000XM5
SoundGuys Editors 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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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.

The Sony WH-1000XM5 has a highly advanced noise canceling 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?

19574 votes
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, 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.

Sony WH-1000XM4Sony WH-1000XM4
SoundGuys Editors 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.

The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones are future-proof

The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones have only two buttons to control calls and playback.
Austin Kwok / SoundGuys
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones use two buttons and a capacitive volume slider to control calls and playback.

If you have deep pockets and want high-performing active noise canceling (ANC) headphones that will stay relevant for the next few years, look no further than the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones. Despite the lack of waterproofing, the QuietComfort Ultra stands out for its effective noise cancelation, reducing noises like bus engines and airplane whines by approximately 87%. This is complemented by an impressive Aware Mode, which allows ambient sounds to pass through without aggressive band-limiting, making it suitable for street or café environments.

Connectivity-wise, they come with Bluetooth 5.3 and support Snapdragon Sound and aptX Lossless, offering high-quality wireless audio. However, this is currently limited to devices with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 or newer. Apple users, unfortunately, miss out on this feature. Additionally, they provide a substantial 27 hours and 37 minutes of battery life, with fast charging capabilities that offer 2.5 hours of listening time with just a 15-minute charge.

These supports aptX Lossless and Snapdragon Sound, bringing more options to the table.

Sound quality is another strong point for the QuietComfort Ultra, featuring CustomTune technology that adjusts sound to the individual’s ear anatomy, providing a personalized audio experience. Users can also customize their experience further using the Bose Music app. Overall, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones are a top pick for those seeking cutting-edge noise canceling capabilities, comfortable design, and advanced wireless audio technology, albeit at a premium price point.

Bose QuietComfort UltraBose QuietComfort Ultra
SoundGuys Editors 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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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 Sennheiser ACCEMTUM Wireless is great value

The Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless held above wood.
The Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless is one of the best values in the ANC headphone world.

The Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless headphones present themselves as a valuable option in the ANC headphone market, especially for those seeking a balance between price and performance. While they may not offer the most advanced noise canceling technology compared to higher-end models, they still deliver a respectable level of ANC, suitable for most everyday environments. They reduce outside noise by up to 75% under 1kHz and achieve a 90% drop in loudness above 1kHz. Although their ANC performance might not match that of premium competitors from Bose, Sony, or Apple, it’s important to note that they are priced significantly lower.

This is one of the best value buys on the market at the moment.

These headphones are designed to provide a decent seal against the head, which aids in both sound quality and isolation. Beyond their ANC capabilities, the Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless also impresses with a battery life of approximately 46 hours and 40 minutes, making them suitable for extended use without frequent recharging. Comfort is another strong suit, thanks to their lightweight design and adequate padding, ensuring they can be worn for hours without discomfort. The sound quality is generally pleasing, with an emphasis on sub-bass and a 5-band equalizer available through the Sennheiser Smart Control app for personalized adjustments.

Overall, the Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless headphones offer a compelling mix of effective ANC, extended battery life, and comfortable wear, all at a more affordable price point. They are ideal for users who value sound quality and effective noise cancelation without the need for the most advanced features or the highest level of noise suppression available in the market.

Sennheiser ACCENTUM WirelessSennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless
SG recommended
Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless
Comfortable • Impressive battery life • Effective ANC
MSRP: $179.95
An affordable set of ANC headphones with excellent sound quality.
The Sennheiser Accentum Wireless headphones are a great choice for immersive, comfortable, and extended listening experiences. With up to 50 hours of battery life, they offer high-definition sound and effective ANC. These headphones deliver comfort and audio quality, making them a fantastic choice for both at-home enjoyment and on-the-go use.

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This chart shows the MDAQS results for the Sennheiser Accentum Wireless USB in USB mode. The Timbre score is 4, The Distortion score is 3, the Immersiveness score is 3.9, and the Overall Score is 3.6).
An overall score of 3.6 is average for mid-range headphones.

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Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless microphone demo (Office conditions):

Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless microphone demo (Street conditions):

Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless microphone demo (Windy conditions):

How does the microphone sound to you?

1073 votes

As you can probably hear, there’s an issue with noise rejection and mitigating wind noise, but intelligibility is okay.

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.

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 Editors 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.

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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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?

7124 votes

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.

If you have a budget of $100, don't hesitate to buy the Anker Soundcore Life Q30.

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 if you and 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.

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.

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.
  • Focal Bathys ($699 at Amazon):We have these tested, and they’re great—but they’re also $800 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.
  • 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 ACCENTUM Wireless ($179.95 at Amazon): For a set of ANC headphones that cost roughly half the price of the top-end competitors, these offer exceptional sound quality.
  • 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.
  • 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 ($799 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.

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 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.

Loading chart ...

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. 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’s 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 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

Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2e side view, held in hand.
Austin Kwok / SoundGuys
We get our hands on as many headsets as possible to put each product through its paces.

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 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 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.