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Best noise canceling headphones for work
Want to tune out the world while you work? While there are many great headphones for work, headphones that specialize in active noise canceling (ANC) are the best option for people who get easily distracted or overwhelmed by noises like air conditioners, clacking keyboards, construction, and other people around you. So, we’ve compiled the best noise canceling headphones for work to help you tune in and focus on the task at hand.
The best noise canceling headphones for work is Sony WH-1000XM5
For best-in-class noise canceling, amazing sound quality, and an outstanding microphone, look no further than the Sony WH-1000XM5. It is pricey at $399 USD, but it won’t disappoint by any means. Its low-frequency noise canceling capabilities blow other headphones out of the water, and the microphone quality will get you through any and all voice and video calls you make. The microphone also has highly effective noise suppression. If there’s any wind or background noise around you, nobody on your call will hear it.
The WH-1000XM5 also has a long battery life, lasting 31 hours and 53 minutes, with ANC on in our standardized testing. Battery life like this will take you through the workweek easily without needing to charge it. The USB-C charging comes in handy since charging the XM5 headphones for only three minutes will yield 180 minutes of playback time. At $399 USD, this headset may be expensive, but it’s worth the price for top-tier noise canceling and stellar microphone performance. Notably, the WH-1000XM5 also takes the crown for best Sony headphones.
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The Bose Noise QuietComfort Ultra Headphones bring stellar ANC when you need it and good passthrough when you don’t
Bose leads the charge when it comes to noise canceling headphones, and the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones reduce loud noises like engines by about 87%. You’ll also enjoy a pleasing frequency response that aligns closely with our headphone target curve, even if the bass is a tad too emphasized. Like the Sony WH-1000XM5, there is no waterproof rating, but that won’t be much of a concern if your primary use space is an indoor office.
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones are also one of two products that currently support aptX Lossless — the other being the newly-released Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds. However, you will need an Android smartphone with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 or newer to take advantage of this platform. Apple users will be left out.
If you are listening to music and someone approaches your desk, you won’t need to remove the headphones as Bose’s Aware mode can be easily enabled and is quite good at faithfully representing your surroundings and other’s voices. Overall, it may be more expensive than our top pick, but if you have an Android phone, you and investing in a set of headphones that supports features like aptX Lossless and Snapdragon Sound, bringing more options to the table that will become more prominent in the next couple of years.
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You’ll notice that the large, dense ear pads do a great job sealing your ears, leading to excellent isolation, and the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones do a rock-solid job of dispelling outside noise.
The Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless brings ANC for half the cost
The Sennheiser ACCEMTUM Wireless is an affordable, lightweight headset that you will be able to wear for hours. Thanks to the good cup design, firm band, and relatively low mass, the Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless creates a decent seal with your head. This is important not only for sound quality but also for isolation. Our lab tests found that the Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless could physically block out 30-40dB of noise above 1kHz, which is about a 90% drop in loudness. Under 1kHz, the ANC can cancel about 15-20dB of noise, which lags behind competing headphones from Bose, Sony, and Apple. However, that still reduces the loudness of outside noise by up to 75%.
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The sound quality out of the box is also surprisingly great. Additionally, there’s a 5-band equalizer that allows you to make adjustments in fine increments. Overall, are a great choice for immersive, comfortable, and extended listening experiences. With over 40 hours of battery life, they are a great companion for the office that won’t break the bank.
The Apple AirPods Max will fit into your Apple ecosystem perfectly
Apple users will get a lot out of the Apple AirPods Max. They offer a remarkable Active Noise Canceling (ANC) experience, ranking them among the best in the class. Whether you’re at your desk drowning out your roommate’s playlist or simply trying to focus in a bustling office, these headphones get the job done effectively. Additionally, they feature an unparalleled Transparency Mode that amplifies external sounds so you can stay aware of your environment without missing a beat.
The large, plush ear cups distribute weight effectively, making it easy to wear these headphones for extended periods. While heavier than some rivals, the purposefully engineered headband ensures that the weight doesn’t become a burden. The quality of materials used suggests durability, so they’re not going to fall apart if you chuck them into your backpack.
For Apple users, these headphones are a no-brainer. They feature quick pairing with iOS devices, automatically connecting to all devices on your iCloud account. The onboard H1 chip assures a solid Bluetooth 5.0 connection using AAC and SBC codecs, delivering quality sound with minimal fuss. But while the AirPods Max offers some enticing features, they come with peculiar Apple-only idiosyncrasies. The absence of a 3.5mm jack may irk some, requiring a $35 Lightning-to-3.5mm cable for wired connectivity.
In a nutshell, if you’re entrenched in the Apple ecosystem and seek noise canceling headphones that offer premium comfort and top-notch functionality, the AirPods Max should be high on your list.
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The Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless is a solid choice
Because offices generally aren’t places where having an insane level of ANC is necessary, you might be better off with the higher sound quality of the Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless over the other picks on this list. Not only does it offer great sound quality, but the headset has the best battery life of any ANC headset we’ve tested that’s still on the market. With the tradeoff of slightly worse ANC for $50 less than the other top-flight options here, you may find that this tradeoff isn’t so bad.
Controls are pretty standard and operate through a capacitive touchpad on the right ear cup. Though the app of the Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless doesn’t have as many features as the Sony app, it does offer some creature comforts that are largely useful, like firmware updates.
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The best noise canceling headphones for work: Notable mentions
- Anker Soundcore Life Q35 ($99.99 at Amazon): A cheaper option in the noise canceling headphones market, the Life Q35 has LDAC support, wonderful battery life, a good microphone, and adequate active noise canceling.
- Bose QuietComfort 45 ($279 at Amazon): The QuietComfort has some of the best ANC in its class, with large ear cups that are comfortable to wear for long hours at the office. We also anticipate an upcoming price drop, given that the new QuietComfort headphones are set to replace them in Bose’s lineup.
- Jabra Elite 85h ($190.99 at Best Buy): f you just want something with a little bit of ANC with really good isolation, these are worth considering.
- Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 ($249.99 at Amazon): The Surface Headphones 2 has some nice features, like Bluetooth multipoint and aptX support. The ANC is good, and you can adjust the EQ to your liking as well. While it’s not exactly affordable, it’s cheaper than the more premium options out there.
- Monoprice BT-600ANC ($84.99 at Amazon): Monoprice makes amazing affordable audio products, and the Monoprice BT-600ANC is no exception. You get incredible ANC performance, aptX HD support, and an extra-long battery life. The microphone is perfectly fine for calls, too.
- Sony WH-1000XM4 ($348 at Amazon): The former holder of the crown for best noise canceling headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM4 is still a fantastic noise canceling headset. With amazing noise canceling, LDAC support, great battery life, and adjustable EQ, this headset is definitely still worth it, especially if you can find it on sale.
- SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro Wireless ($349.99 at Amazon): Not just a gaming headset! The SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro Wireless has a really good ANC, a fantastic microphone, and a 22-hour battery life. It can be used wired through a 3.5mm cable or wirelessly with Bluetooth 5.0, though it only supports the SBC codec. You can save a pretty penny and get the non-noise canceling, wired version instead for $196.99 at Amazon.
- Nothing Ear 2 ($149 at Amazon): A bit more affordable for a pair of noise canceling earbuds, the Nothing Ear 2 has pretty good ANC and a good microphone, and the design is unique and fun too. It’s a strong alternative to the AirPods Pro and performs quite well against Apple’s flagship buds.
- Sony WF-1000XM5 ($298 at Amazon): Excellent ANC from Sony, but in true wireless form, the WF-1000XM5 is a pair of earbuds for work. The microphone sounds good, and the sound quality is great too.
- Anker Soundcore Life Q20 ($59 at Amazon): The Anker Soundcore Life Q20 has really good ANC and an incredible battery life coming in at just under 52 hours in our battery test. The frequency response isn’t for everybody, but it’s still an incredible headset for the price.
What you should know about the best noise canceling headphones for work
When you’re shopping around for headphones of any kind, there are a few basic things to know. When shopping around for ANC headphones that you plan to use while working, well, there’s even more research to do. Below, we help you learn about how noise canceling works, the benefits of a good headset mic, and why Bluetooth codec support matters.
How does active noise canceling work?
Noise is heard through microphones on your headset, which creates “anti-noise” through phase-inversion. This means the headset creates a noise that is out of phase with the ambient noise it’s picking up, which cancels it out. For a more in-depth explanation, check out our article on how noise canceling headphones work.
Noise canceling is a difficult feat, and while technology is getting better all the time, it’s not perfect. Noise canceling headphones are best at blocking out ambient noise like the droning of a plane or a fan, not incidental noises like clattering dishes or dropping an object. To dampen incidental noise, you also need good passive isolation, which comes from a good fit. With over-ear headphones, a good fit requires the ear pads to fit around your ear without gaps. Those who wear earbuds need the ear tips to fit the seal to the ear canal entrances and stay in place during movement.
Why are microphones important for work headphones?
Mic quality matters a lot if you’re looking for headphones for work because you want to be understandable over a video or voice call. While laptop microphones are sufficient for this, you can get much better audio quality from a built-in microphone on your headphones.
Some headphones, like the Sony WH-1000XM5, have wonderful noise cancelation for the microphone, picking up basically no outside noise. But if your microphone isn’t top-of-the-line like that, you’ll want to ensure you’re in a fairly quiet environment. This is so your mic doesn’t pick up the sounds of other people around you or wind and traffic if you’re outside. A mic with better noise canceling will eliminate these variables, but it’s good practice to control your environment.
What are Bluetooth codecs, and do they matter for work headphones?
Bluetooth uses different codecs to encode and decode audio data from your device to your ears. The different codecs have different transfer rates, or bit rates, which is how much data is transferred per second. This also depends on the sample rate of the track, the amount of data in an audio file per second, as well as the bit-depth or how much data is encoded in each sample.
SBC is the baseline Bluetooth codec. It has a low transfer rate, while aptX and LDAC have much higher transfer rates. Higher transfer rates mean better quality audio, as long as the audio files are also higher quality. You can’t get the full experience of a lossless file like a FLAC using the SBC codec; you need to be wired for that—though LDAC can get the closest when it performs consistently. For a more in-depth explanation, check out our article about understanding Bluetooth codecs.
How we choose the best noise canceling headphones for work
At SoundGuys, we perform objective tests to measure things like frequency response, isolation, microphone quality, and more. To do so, we use a Bruel & Kjaer 5128 head and torso simulator (HATS) with an anatomically realistic ear canal and outer ear. We also use a standardized setup to test the microphone quality of products with pre-recorded phrases from a calibrated artificial mouth in our test chamber. This allows us to present standardized microphone samples so you can judge the quality of various products and compare them across the board. After we collect all of this data, we then score each product through various objective and subjective measures.
Our team then confers with one another regarding the best products for a given category and presents our list to you. It’s not over after we hit “publish,” though. Instead, we treat every article as a living document that we update as new and worthy products come out.
Why you should trust SoundGuys
Each writer at SoundGuys has accumulated years of experience reporting on the consumer audio market, and our staff adheres to a strict code of conduct. SoundGuys‘ survival depends mainly upon our readers enjoying their purchases. We pride ourselves on transparently outlining objective facts 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 for work
Noise canceling is great for blocking out consistent sounds, so the microphones have time to detect the sound and cancel it out. Loud, sudden noises are too quick to be properly canceled out, so you’ll still hear these unless you have really good passive isolation.
Making sure you’re in a quiet environment helps a lot. Environmental noise like construction, wind, traffic, or others talking might interfere with your voice over the microphone. You can also adjust your mic levels in the sound settings on your computer if you’re too quiet or loud.
Many headphones have a passthrough mode that you can turn on to talk to people without removing your headphones. Some headphones, like the Sony WH-1000XM5, have speech detection that turns off noise canceling and turns on passthrough when it hears you talking to another person. This is imperfect, though, and many still prefer just removing their headphones to carry a quick conversation.
Make sure you put your headphones into pairing mode, which is different for each pair of headphones. Open up settings on your computer, and find the Bluetooth settings menu. There should be a list of devices, and the headphones should show up as a device to connect to. Click on the name of the headphones in the menu, and you should connect almost instantly.
For top-tier noise elimination on the microphone end, ensuring clarity for the person on the other side of your call, the Sony WH-1000XM5 stands out. Its microphone boasts highly effective noise suppression, ensuring that even in environments with wind or background noise, the person on your call won’t be disturbed.