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Best noise canceling headphones for work

Too much noise at work? Not anymore!
By

Published onMay 23, 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 style
Apple AirPods Max
MSRP: $424.99
8
Check price
Positives
Nice design and solid build quality
Amazing active noise canceling and transparency mode
Comfortable ear pads and fabric headband
Decent battery life
Button and digital crown are great to use
Good sound quality with no distortion
Great connection strength with Bluetooth 5.0
Negatives
No 3.5mm headphone jack becomes a pain
Uses a Lightning connector instead of USB-C
Proximity sensors and voice assistant activation do not work on Android or Windows
No aptX or LDAC high quality codec support
The smart case is absolutely terrible and provides no protection
Microphone quality is just okay
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

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, 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 Sony WH-1000XM5 have best in class noise canceling.

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 easily get you through the workweek 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.

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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Canceling sounds in the range where most music is found by around 30dB, the headphones make engines, trains, and street noise drop off to about one-eighth of their original perceived loudness. Basically, the WH-1000XM5 are the headphones to get if you absolutely need to stop buying cans for different purposes in your life.

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Like most consumer ANC headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM5 boosts bass probably a little too much, and definitely to the detriment of the midrange. The comparatively subdued midrange (from 300Hz to around 1050Hz) might sound a bit off as it gets drowned out by the much louder highs and lows. Read more in our full review.

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.

The Bose Noise QuietComfort Ultra Headphones are comfortable and quiet for long hours

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 reduce loud noises like engines by about 87%. They 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.

The Bose QuietComfort Ultra live up to the name and are comfortable to wear for long hours.

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. Still, if you have an Android phone, you are 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.j

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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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.

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With the latest firmware, the maximum ANC performance is very good. 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 chart below shows how the sound of the Bose QuietComfort Ultra 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.
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones score very high in Timbre.

Though there’s a little bit of distortion, the Bose Quietcomfort Ultra Headphones have rock-solid audio quality.

The Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless brings ANC for half the cost

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

The Sennheiser ACCEMTUM Wireless is an affordable, lightweight headset. Thanks to the good cup design and firm band, it creates a decent seal with your head. 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%.

Get ANC for half the price for high-end competitors.

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, they 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.

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.

Thanks to a good cup design, firm band, and relatively low mass, the Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless creates a decent seal with your head. 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% — still pretty good.

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

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 isn’t the highest we’ve tested, but it is fairly average for mid-range headphones.

The Apple AirPods Max will fit into your Apple ecosystem perfectly

The white Apple AirPods Max lying flat so you can see inside the ear cups as they rest on a coffee table.
Inside the ear cups are two sensors for detecting when they are on your head.

Apple users will get a lot out of the Apple AirPods Max. They offer a remarkable Active Noise Canceling (ANC) experience. Transparency Mode 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.

If you are immersed in the Apple ecosystem, the AirPods Max are the best over-ears.

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.

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.

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In short, the active noise canceling on the AirPods Max is fantastic. In our review, we found that wearing the AirPods Max while sitting at a desk completely blocked out ambient noise, such as others typing on keyboards.

One annoying thing about the noise canceling: you can’t turn it off unless you have an iOS device. By default, the button on the headphones toggles between transparency mode and active noise canceling mode. With an iOS device, this behavior can be modified, with neither ANC nor transparency available as an option.

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.
The AirPods Max score fairly high overall.

The simulated panel of listeners MDAQS represents rates the Apple AirPods Max fairly high across the board.

The Anker Soundcore Life Q30 are good bang for the buck

A man presses a button on the Anker Soundcore Life Q30.
Chase Bernath / SoundGuys
A simple button press unlocks Bluetooth multipoint to pair to a second device.

For just $80, the Anker Soundcore Life Q30 gets you good sound for casual listeners, active noise canceling that significantly reduces low and mid-frequency noise, and a battery life that lasts almost two days. There’s even a specific indoor noise canceling mode to help reduce office chatter or keyboard clicks to about a quarter of their loudness and a transparency mode to talk to your co-workers without removing your headphones.

This is probably your best option if you have $100 to spend and want a do-it-all headphone.

These headphones connect using Bluetooth 5.0. They also have a 3.5mm aux input, so you can listen wired when needed. There’s no support for fancy Bluetooth codecs such as aptX or LDAC, but you should have no connection problems using the AAC codec with most phones and laptops. Overall, this is one of the best options if you want affordable do-it-all headphones.

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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With active noise canceling (ANC) enabled, there is a significant reduction in low and mid-frequency noise. This means most environmental noise will sound about one-quarter as loud while wearing the headphones.

The chart below shows how the sound of the Anker Soundcore Life Q30 was assessed by the Multi-Dimensional Audio Quality Score (MDAQS) algorithm from HEAD acoustics.

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

The Anker Soundcore Life Q30 scored very well for both Timbre and Immersiveness. This means most people will likely enjoy how their music sounds on these headphones. The distortion score appears low but is about average for the Bluetooth headphones we’ve seen.

The Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless is a solid choice

A person uses the capacitive touch controls to control media playback.
Capacitive touch controls allow quick inputs like call controls and music playback options.

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.

The controls are pretty standard and operate through a capacitive touchpad on the right ear cup. Though the Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless app doesn’t have as many features as the Sony app, it does offer some useful creature comforts, like firmware updates.

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Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 WirelessSennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless
SoundGuys Editors Choice
Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless
App for EQ changes • Simple, elegant design • USB-C charging
MSRP: $350.00
High-end ANC over-ear headphones focus on style and comfort
If you need total immersion in your music, you need some ANC over-ears. The Sennheiser Momentum 4 focus on style and comfort while delivering the core features high-end shoppers need with their headphones.
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Sennheiser Momentum 4
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Sennheiser Momentum 4

The best noise canceling headphones for work: Notable mentions

A photo showing someone using the touch controls of the Sony WF-1000XM4.
The Sony WF-1000XM4 is a compact set of wireless earbuds that will serve you well at work.
  • Anker Soundcore Life Q35 ($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 BT-600ANC is no exception. It offers incredible ANC performance, aptX HD support, and an extra-long battery life. The microphone is perfectly fine for calls, too.
  • Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278 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?

Angled view of the Sony WH-1000XM5 power and noise canceling buttons
Power, Bluetooth, and noise cancelation can be controlled using hardware buttons underneath the left ear cup.

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?

A man wears the Bose QuietComfort 35 II sitting at a PC.
Sounding clear over a video call is pretty important!

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?

Image of Android Bluetooth codecs including aptX and LDAC
SBC, AAC, LDAC, it’s all so many letters; what do they mean?

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

We tested the Sony WH-1000XM5 in the lab with state-of-the-art equipment.
We tested the Sony WH-1000XM5 in the lab using state-of-the-art equipment, including our B&K 5128.

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

Sennheiser HD650 mounted on B&K5128 test head, viewed from the front.
We test our headphones on the B&K 5128.

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.

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