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Best noise cancelling headphones for work
Want to tune out the world while you work? While there are many great headphones for work, active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones 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 cancelling headphones for work to help you focus on the task at hand.
Editor’s note: this best list was updated on December 20, 2022, to update formatting.
The best noise cancelling headphones for work is Sony WH-1000XM5
For best-in-class noise cancelling, 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 cancelling 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 cancelling. If there’s any wind or background noise around you, nobody on your call will hear it.
The WH-1000XM5 also has a nice, long battery life, lasting 31 hours, 53 minutes with ANC on in our standardized testing. A battery life like this will take you through the work week easily without needing to charge it. The USB-C charging comes in handy, since charging the XM5 headphones for only three minutes will replenish 180 minutes of playback time. At $399 USD, this headset may be expensive, but it’s worth the price for top-tier noise cancelling and a stellar microphone. Notably, the WH-1000XM5 also takes the crown for best Sony headphones.
You can get an idea of just how well the WH-1000XM5 microphone performs below. The background noise from our office and wind simulations is practically inaudible.
Sony WH-1000XM5 microphone demo (Ideal):
Sony WH-1000XM5 microphone demo (Office):
Sony WH-1000XM5 microphone demo (Wind):
How does the microphone sound to you?
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 block the world out and looks beautiful doing it
Bose leads the charge when it comes to noise cancelling headphones and the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 (aka NCH 700) renders low-end sounds about one-sixth as loud as they’d sound without the headset on at all. You’ll enjoy a pleasing frequency response that aligns really closely with our target consumer curve. This pair of headphones also has an IPX4 rating, so it’ll fare better in light rain better than something like the Sony WH-1000XM5, which is not water-resistant at all.
Bose’s durable headband uses a sliding mechanism rather than a traditional notched one, which contributes to the sleek design of the NCH 700. It’s low on buttons, consistent with its minimal design, and it has touch panels for more controls on the outside of the right ear cup.
The microphone on the Bose Noise cancelling headphones 700 is good for work calls, and not too much background noise in an office environment will come through. Listen for yourself:
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 microphone demo (Ideal):
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 microphone demo (Office):
How does the microphone sound to you?
Get comfortable at work with the Bose QuietComfort 35 II
For super comfortable noise cancelling headphones that you can wear the whole workday, look to the Bose QuietComfort 35 II. The QC 35 II is known for its supreme comfort, and it’s also very durable. For $299 USD, you’re getting great value for the comfort and noise cancelling capabilities this headset has to offer. It also has excellent sound quality, following our consumer curve very closely. Most people will love how this sounds, and if you don’t like the EQ that much, you can always change it in the Bose Music app.
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II uses the SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs, so unfortunately Android users don’t have a reliable high-quality codec here. Like the WH-1000XM5 and Bose NCH 700, the QC 35 II also supports a wired connection, so you can enjoy high-res playback. The battery life is really good, lasting about 21 hours in our standardized battery testing, so you’ll likely only have to charge it once during your work week.
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II has a great microphone, but it will let some incidental office noises through. It won’t make your voice choppy, but others will hear noises around you.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II microphone demo (Ideal):
Bose QuietComfort 35 II microphone demo (Office):
How does the microphone sound to you?
The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) will fit into your Apple ecosystem perfectly
Apple users will get a lot out of the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation). It integrates seamlessly with Apple devices, allowing you to switch between Apple devices easily due to the H2 chip. It also has a pretty consistent output across the bass and midrange with less emphasis on treble frequencies than we typically see from wireless earbuds. All genres will sound good through the earbuds. With a nice secure fit, great noise cancelling, and handy controls on the ear stems, this pair of earbuds will get you through the work day and anything else you need it to.
The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) is also IPX4 water-resistant, including the case, so you can take them outside without worrying about them dying in the rain. You can also take calls easily on it, since it has a good microphone. It’s not the best microphone out of all of these picks, but it’s definitely good enough for people to hear you clearly on the other side.
The AirPods Pro (2nd generation) has a good microphone in ideal conditions, but you can hear in our demo below that incidental noise can cancel out your voice. In a real life scenario the AirPods Pro is supposed to detect vibrations from your speech to ensure it doesn’t block out your voice, but our testing can’t account for that since it’s done with a calibrated artificial mouth in our testing chamber. Your real-life results will likely be different from ours.
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) microphone demo (Ideal):
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) microphone demo (Office):
How does the microphone sound to you?
The Shure AONIC 50 is collecting codecs with its many connectivity options
For the most versatile connectivity options, the Shure AONIC 50 has you covered with Bluetooth 5.0 and support for the SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD, aptX Low Latency, and LDAC codecs. Not only do you get a wide range of high-quality Bluetooth audio options, but you can also connect by 2.5-to-3.5mm audio cable or via USB-C audio passthrough. It also has Bluetooth multipoint, so you can connect the AONIC 50 to two source devices simultaneously. The noise cancelling on the Shure AONIC 50 isn’t quite as good as some of the other options on this list, but it will still do a great job of blocking out unwanted noises around you.
The Shure AONIC 50 also sounds really good. You can select from EQ presets or create your own within the free, OS-agnostic ShurePlus PLAY app. This headset is also good for video and voice calls, since it has a good microphone. But make sure your firmware is up to date, since the firmware version 0.4.1 made voices sound slightly less intelligible. Originally, the AONIC 50 carried a hefty $399 USD price tag but you can find it for as low as $249 USD nowadays. Generally speaking, the Shure AONIC 50 will satisfy your high-quality audio and noise cancelling needs, especially if you switch between devices throughout the day.
The microphone system on the AONIC 50 is good but not great. It’s promising to see that Shure updated the microphone quality with a firmware update early into the product’s lifecycle.
Shure AONIC 50 microphone demo (firmware 0.4.1):
Shure AONIC 50 microphone demo (firmware 0.4.9):
How does the microphone sound to you?
How different is the Bose QuietComfort 35 II Gaming Headset from the Bose QuietComfort 35 II?
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II Gaming Headset is pretty much the same as the Bose QuietComfort 35 II, but this time with a detachable boom mic. It connects to devices through a 3.5mm headphone cable, or over Bluetooth like the original QC 35 II. The addition of the boom mic does make a bit of a difference in mic quality, since the mic is now closer to your mouth, and the microphone has an under-emphasis in the bass range to combat the proximity effect. When placed correctly, you’ll get clearer audio from the boom mic than the embedded headset mic.
The microphone has no problems with voices, and it will perform well for video and voice calls, as well as gaming as the headset was originally intended. Whether or not that’s worth the extra $30 USD is down to whether you care about the slight increase in vocal quality over the microphone. For most, the difference won’t matter much.
Does the Jabra Elite 85h have good ANC for a work headset?
As a more affordable noise cancelling headset, the Jabra Elite 85h might be enticing because of its comfortable build, water-resistant coating, and battery life, alongside the cheaper price tag. But if you’re looking at it for the noise cancelling, you might want to look elsewhere.
The ANC on this headset lags behind other noise cancelling headphones and does a poor job of cancelling out low-end frequencies. The passive isolation is pretty good, though. If you just want something with a little bit of ANC with really good isolation, this might be worth considering, but if you want to block most sounds out, look elsewhere. For $249 USD, you’re better off picking up a pair of Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones on sale.
What about the Sony WH-XB910N?
Bass heads out there might appreciate the Sony WH-XB910N (the XB stands for “extra bass”), and while you can equalize the sound using the Sony Headphones Connect app, it won’t quite be perfect. The ANC is decent, being similar to the Sony WH-1000XM3, so it can definitely block out a lot of outside noise that may distract you. It also supports the SBC, AAC, and LDAC Bluetooth codecs, so you have high-quality Bluetooth audio options to choose from. If you’re going to pay $248 USD for the Sony WH-XB910N, you’d better be sure you like loud bass.
The best noise cancelling headphones for work: Notable mentions
- Anker Soundcore Life Q35: A cheaper option in the noise cancelling headphones market at $109.99 at Amazon, the Life Q35 has LDAC support, wonderful battery life, a good microphone, and adequate active noise cancelling.
- Microsoft Surface Headphones 2: 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 at $249.99 at Amazon.
- Monoprice BT-600ANC: Monoprice makes amazing affordable audio products, and the Monoprice BT-600ANC is no exception. For $69.99 at Amazon, 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: The former holder of the crown for best noise cancelling headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM4 is still a fantastic noise cancelling headset. With amazing noise cancelling, LDAC support, great battery life, and adjustable EQ, this headset is definitely still worth it, especially if you can find it on sale. You can get it for $329 at Amazon.
- SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro Wireless: Not just a gaming headset! The SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro Wireless has 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. It’s available for $349.99 at Amazon. You can save a pretty penny and get the non-noise cancelling, wired version instead for $246.9 at Amazon.
- Nothing Ear 1: A bit more affordable for a pair of noise cancelling earbuds, the Nothing Ear 1 has pretty good ANC, 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. You can purchase it for $53.99 at Amazon.
- Sony WF-1000XM4: Excellent ANC from Sony but in true wireless form, the WF-1000XM4 is a pair of earbuds for work. The microphone sounds good, and the sound quality is great too. It’s available for $178 at Amazon.
- Anker Soundcore Life Q20: For just $59.99 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.
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 for work
When you’re shopping around for headphones of any kind, there are a few basic things to know. Whens 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 cancelling works, the benefits of a good headset mic, and why Bluetooth codec support matters.
How does active noise cancelling 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 cancelling headphones work.
Noise cancelling is a difficult feat, and while technology is getting better all the time, it’s not perfect. Noise cancelling 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 fit around your ear without gaps. Those who wear earbuds need the ear tips to fit 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 cancellation 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 cancelling 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, or 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 cancelling 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 ethics policy. We don’t use sponsored content on the website at a time when doing so is the norm. SoundGuys‘ survival depends almost exclusively on 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 cancelling headphones for work
Noise cancelling 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 cancelled 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 cancelling 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.