These days, noise-canceling is almost a headphone necessity. Whether you’re trying to tune out the kids to finish a project or looking for some serenity during your flight, noise-canceling rules. And while headphones with Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) can’t eliminate all the noise, they can drastically reduce the worst of it. Add a little music into the equation and you've got some much-needed peace and quiet.
After testing dozens of headphones both in our labs and the real-world, we’re confident the Sony WH-1000XM5(available at Amazon for $398.00) are the best noise-canceling headphones available. They offer top-tier noise crushing, alongside best-in-class features, comfort, and sound quality. But our list includes multiple contenders, from over-ear models to true wireless earbuds, so you can find the perfect pair. And if you’re looking for more nimble options, check out our list of the best noise-canceling earbuds.
These are the best noise-canceling headphones we've tested:
Anker Soundcore Space A40
Bose QuietComfort 45
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
Bose QuietComfort 35 Series II
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3
Jabra Elite 85t
Apple AirPods Pro
Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro
Sony’s WH-1000XM5 come with a royal pedigree, and a more kingly pair of noise-canceling headphones you’ll be hard-pressed to find. Offering marked upgrades on Sony’s proven formula, the 1000XM5 serve as a pricey addition to the family, but one that’s well worth the premium for those who demand the ultimate in performance.
After years of iterative tweaks to Sony’s 1000X lineup, the 1000XM5’s design is a full reboot of the 1000XM4. The headphones (which will live alongside the XM4) offer more oval-shaped earcups reminiscent of Apple’s AirPods Max. Plush padding on the cups and headband is covered in ultra-smooth synthetic leather, resulting in even more luxurious comfort and longer wearability.
There are other improvements to note, but the XM5’s incredible noise canceling is the standout. With dual ANC chipsets and eight dedicated microphones, the adaptive ANC reacts to your environment to squash drone sounds, and even higher frequency chatter with impressive authority. The cans outpace the XM4 and virtually every other pair of travel cans we’ve tried, with Bose’s QC45 as the only exception.
The QC45 can’t stand with the XM5 when it comes to sound quality, though, which again improves on the XM4—especially when it comes to dynamics and definition. The soundstage is simply immaculate, offering brilliant detail for any and every genre, especially once you’ve tweaked a few EQ settings to your preference in the Sony Headphones app.
Speaking of the app, there you’ll find easy navigation for the same barrage of features that have kept Sony’s 1000XM series as our top headphones for multiple generations. From the EQ and adjustable transparency mode to engaging multipoint pairing or Quick Attention, it’s easy to tailor the cans to your liking. The convenient touch controls and battery life are the same as the XM4, but alongside 30 hours of playback you’ll also get three hours of playback on three minutes charge.
There are only a couple of downsides here. The longer ear cups don’t fold inward, which makes the case longer and the headphones tougher to take along. The other handicap is price, which is significantly higher than the XM4 at launch. That makes these a deeper investment, and most people (especially heavy travelers) may find the XM4 the better buy. But if you’re looking for the ultimate noise-canceling headphones, your search has ended.
Sony waited two years to upgrade its flagship noise-canceling earbuds, but it was worth our patience. While the WF-1000XM3 are still a fantastic pair for the money, the WF-1000XM4 (not to be confused with the WH-1000XM4 over-ears) take things to a whole new level. With a brilliant mix of incredible sound quality, innovative design, IPX4 waterproofing (finally), and noise canceling that puts them at the very top of the marketplace, these are an expensive, but excellent choice.
There’s only one pair of earbuds you’ll find that compares to the XM4 for noise canceling at time of publication: Bose’s well-regarded Quietcomfort Buds. Both pairs have their pros and cons, but the XM4 make for a more natural inclusion in most collections thanks to their smaller profile, next-gen battery life of up to 8 hours with active noise canceling (ANC) and a whopping 12 hours without it, and of course, their lovely, luscious sound.
It’s worth saying a bit more about that sound, as it’s among the best you’ll find in the genre. It’s sweet, smooth, accessible, and yet riddled with detail. And thanks to the stark canvas provided by the powerful noise canceling, it’s all the easier to enjoy. You’ll find tranquility with these earbuds on a level that’s hard to find with any headphones, let alone tiny earbuds.
The headphones also have plenty of features, thanks in no small part to Sony’s Headphones Connect app, which lets you tweak the EQ to your heart’s content (from ramping up the bass to cycling through presets), and you can even set the earbuds to rotate between noise canceling and ambient audio based on your routines and locations.
Their design includes comfy foam tips for a stable seal alongside intuitive touch controls, though it’s there where we’ll raise our primary complaint: the XM4 don’t allow you to use volume controls without giving up other integral functionality. In addition, they miss a few extras like Find My Earbuds and multipoint pairing, both features we’d like to see in this price range.
But if you’re looking for the best all-around noise-canceling earbuds, look no further. Sony’s WF-1000XM4 match or beat everything out there, and do so with great usability.
Over the past few years, Anker has been leading the charge when it comes to inexpensive active noise-canceling headphones and earbuds. The Space A40 takes the great ANC performance Anker has developed up a notch, competing above their price class. The Space A40 is at least as good as earbuds for $150, like the Jabra Elite 5, when it comes to noise canceling.
The adaptive active noise canceling on the Space A40 ably handles low drones, such as airplane cabin noise or HVAC units, and even takes the edge off of midrange conversation that you’ll find at the local coffee shop. It doesn’t completely remove it, but if you’re listening to music at a low level it’s enough to keep you focused in your own world. Two different Transparency Modes are available \wWithin the Soundcore app, one full range and one that puts the focus on letting voices through if you need to have a quick conversation.
The A40 have a nice sound profile, although their highs (especially cymbals) can be a tad piercing and mids are a little covered by the low end. Thankfully, the app includes an 8-band EQ to address these issues. There’s also HearID Sound, which profiles your hearing perception in each ear and creates an EQ curve customized to your ears. It works pretty well and delivers a nice improvement over the default profile. Hi-res audio and LDAC are both supported.
Touch controls—single tap, double tap, and hold for two seconds—can be turned on and off per control. They’re also fully customizable—assignable to volume, track controls, and for the two-second hold the added options of Ambient Sound Mode select, Voice Assistant activation, and Game Mode toggle.
Throw wireless case charging on top of the features pile and the Anker Space A40 set a new standard for earbuds performance under $100.
When Bose launched the Bose QuietComfort 35 in 2016, the masterful noise cancelers quickly became legend, especially among commuters and frequent flyers. With only a light update in the QC 35 II, Bose has been giving up ground in recent years, but the QuietComfort 45 finally arrived in late 2021 to refresh this storied series. While they’re not perfect, the QC45 are back on top for one very important feature: noise canceling.
During testing, the QC45 smashed through our usual noise canceling tests, besting our previous favorite noise cancelers and even managing to completely silence one very loud cat. In fact, judging by noise canceling alone, the QC45 are pretty much dead even with the top pick on our list.
That's not the only feather in the QC45’s cap, of course. They’re also relatively stylish and their smaller profile makes them particularly travel-ready, maintaining faithful design parity to the lauded QC35. With only two sound modes—”Quiet” for noise canceling and “Aware” for ambient awareness—and extremely simple software via the Bose Music app, the QC45 aim to provide a seamless user experience a la Apple AirPods, but for Apple and Android users alike.
Not everyone is going to love such a tightly controlled experience, though, especially at this price. Compared to the Sony WH-1000XM5 and XM4—and plenty of other rivals—the QC45 deliver extremely limited software. With no adjustable EQ or EQ presets available, you’d better hope you like the occasionally sharp treble of the QC45’s sound signature, too.
The Sony XM5 offer better overall sound and features, and they also do an impressive job of dialing up or down the noise canceling based upon your needs. If sound quality and advanced features are as important as squashing the noise, you'd be better off with our top pick, or even the similarly fantastic Sony WH-1000XM4. But if you just want world-class noise canceling in a simple and stout design, Bose’s QC45 are very tough to beat.
You might not even realize that Sony's WH-1000XM4 over-ear headphones are great noise cancelers—what with everyone gabbing about how comfortable they are, how great they sound, and how many impressive features they offer. But despite the XM4 seeming to excel at everything, the noise-canceling shouldn't be overshadowed or overstated: it's among the best we've ever tested.
The XM4 don't just cancel noise: they adapt to both your environment (read: changes in barometric pressure) and your movement/activity (sitting, walking, running, etc.) to intelligently and effectively block noise. Sony is so confident in the XM4's noise-canceling abilities, the company sent a huge, noise-making box alongside our review sample as a kind of "stress test" for them. And that confidence is well-placed: the XM4 eliminates a ton of ambient noise, alongside being luxuriously comfortable and marvelously lightweight.
The XM4 offer plenty of other great features too, including up to 30 hours of battery life, an adjustable EQ within Sony's loaded headphone app, and handy features like Speak-to-Chat to pause the music when you speak and multipoint pairing so you can bounce from your phone to your PC with ease.
We're not saying these headphones are a "magic bullet," but there’s good reason they’re so highly regarded. In fact, while they’re no longer our top noise-cancelers, for most folks the XM4 are still an easy choice as the best headphones you can buy.
Whether you’re a huge fan of Bose headphones or just looking for impeccable noise-quelching earbuds, the QuietComfort Earbuds are among best noise cancelers in the business. These earbuds were designed from the ground up for top-tier active noise cancellation, and they succeed immensely on that front. The QC Buds offer noise canceling as good or better than any buds we’ve tested, adding a premium design, clear sound, and a comfy and secure fit that keeps them snugly in place.
In order to benefit from their vacuum of tranquility, however, you’ll have to deal with both a high price tag and some compromises elsewhere in the design. Those compromises include an extra-large chassis that weighs around 50% more than the AirPods Pro, a chunky charging case that offers only two recharges for a relatively low 18 hours of total battery, and limited onboard controls that forgo any form of volume level or even song back-skip.
There’s also no form of EQ in the app, meaning you’re stuck with Bose’s sculpted soundstage no matter what. On the other hand, we applaud some of the convenience features within Bose's Music app, such as the ability to adjust noise cancellation level in multiple ways, along with the loudness of your own voice during phone calls and a few other parameters.
While the QuietComfort earbuds are pricier than most competitors, and their design is somewhat limiting, what you're really paying for is world-class noise cancellation, and that's exactly what you get. Simply put, if you want the best noise cancellation in the genre, nobody beats Bose.
Bose’s history as top noise cancelers has won the brand a devoted following, and the QuietComfort 35 Series II are among the biggest rock stars in the Bose library. The active noise cancellation (ANC) for which Bose is renowned is on display here, cutting out a wide range of noises from deep train rumbling to higher-pitched A/C humming.
The headphones are light and comfortable enough that they can be worn for hours at a time, although you may notice some heat or sweat build-up from where the cushy leather pads meet the sides of your head. The 20-hour battery life is less than you’ll get in the Bose QC45 and Sony's top pairs, but it's still more than enough to get you through the longest flights on your itinerary.
One tricky point is that, should you decide you don't want to use the ANC (for safety reasons or otherwise), you'll have to plug in and use them as wired headphones, since the Bluetooth switch doubles as the ANC on/off switch.
While Bose has since launched the QC45 as a successor to these storied headphones, the more affordable QC 35 II are still a very solid option—especially if you can find them on sale.
Sennheiser’s latest edition in its true wireless earbuds series offers everything we like about the previous iteration and improves on the biggest downside: active noise canceling. While it was passable in the Momentum TW 2, the TW 3 go back to the drawing board for responsive and powerful adaptive noise cancellation that stands tall with the best in the business.
Of course, the earbuds also keep our favorite aspect about the previous pair, namely their fantastic sound quality. The new pair offers a more stylized soundstage that’s a bit brighter than before, but also a smidge clearer with more attention to detail. If you don’t love the sound as is, the three band EQ now makes it easier than ever to adjust (though we wouldn’t have minded more control there). Battery life is competitive at 7 hours per charge and 28 total with the charging case.
Other notable features include adjustable controls (including volume controls on by default), a new wireless charging case (finally), and standards like auto-pause and the ability to use one earbud at a time. They also offer advanced audio codecs like aptX Adaptive and AAC for improved sound for Android or iPhone respectively.
The buds keep the same IPX4 water resistance, but their new design makes them sportier and comfier thanks to multiple ear tips and fins to keep them tight in your ear. They may not be your go-to running buds, but they’ll work in a pinch for most any activity. Perhaps the best news is that all the improvements come with a lower MSRP than Sennheiser’s previous pair—you can thank a competitive market there.
As for downsides, we still don’t find these buds quite as comfortable as semi-open pairs like the Jabra Elite 85t and Apple AirPods Pro, and their charging case is both heftier and bulkier than most competitors. Like Sony’s WF-1000XM4, there’s also no earbuds finder available and the buds don’t yet have multipoint connection (though it’s something Sennheiser plans to add in a firmware update).
That said, Sennheiser’s latest cook up a winning combination, mixing lots of features, a slimmer and sportier design, and powerful noise cancellation to go along with excellent sound.
Jabra’s Elite 85t offer plenty to crow about, including smooth and balanced sound, comprehensive controls, a compact form factor, solid battery life, and a barrel full of other top-flight features, making them among the very best wireless earbuds around—whether you pledge your allegiance to Android or iPhone.
Of course, no flagship earbuds would be complete without good active noise canceling, and the Elite 85t have that loaded in their weapons arsenal as well. While it doesn't offer the all-encompassing squashing of background noise provided by Bose's QC Earbuds or Sony’s WF-1000XM4, it's darn good for most any situation.
The open-style design of these earbuds makes their noise-canceling skills all the more impressive. While a more bulbous design means the fit is less stable than buds meant for action, such as Jabra’s own Elite 4 and Elite 7, or Beats’ Fit Pro, the Elite 85t's oval ear tips provide a proper seal without plugging up your ears. It's a similar desing to AirPods Pro, and makes them very comfy for long listening sessions.
Since they’re device agnostic, you can choose any of the major voice assistants (or none), and Jabra’s app provides tons of features, from customizable sound and controls to an earbuds finder and much more. While the noise canceling isn’t top of the class, if you’re looking for great all-around earbuds that are comfortable for hours, Jabra’s Elite 85t are a brilliant choice.
Apple's AirPods Pro offer everything we love about the original AirPods, and a whole lot more. Their sound quality is better than any pair of Apple earbuds before them, they offer proper water-resistance, and their noise-canceling is surprisingly good.
These are also the first Apple-brand earbuds with swappable silicone tips for a better fit, including a convenient, snap-away design. At 4.5 to 5 hours per charge, battery life is one of the primary knocks against these headphones (some competitors offer 8 hours or more per charge). That said, their tiny case holds multiple recharges for 24 hours of total listening time, and its quick-charging feature serves up an hour of listening in just five minutes, so you'll rarely need to worry about dead earbuds.
The AirPods Pro’s noise cancellation stood up well in our battery of tests when compared to pricier noise-canceling headphones, while their Transparency Mode sounds extremely natural, allowing you to comfortably filter in sounds around you when needed. They also offer impressive call quality, even in windy situations, thanks to advanced digital signal processing.
The AirPods Pro aren’t cheap, but their improved sound and impressive noise-canceling—along with their ultra-convenient design—makes them worth it for those who appreciate a great experience (and are willing to pay for it). Whether you’re working from home or hitting the road, these earbuds are a great companion for all your sonic adventures. And if you’re looking for something sportier, Apple’s Beats Fit Pro are a great alternative with very similar noise canceling, similar features, and even better battery life for about the same price.
The Liberty Air 2 Pro’s most improved feature is their active noise cancellation. The first of their kind from Anker's Soundcore line to offer it, the Liberty Air 2 Pro's ANC is impressively effective for the money. Though it's not quite as impactful as you’ll find in some of the pricier options on our list, for such a low price point, effective ANC with equally adequate transparency mode is a serious feat.
Both functions pair well with the excellent sound quality the Liberty Air 2 Pro provide. Soundcore makes both ANC and equalization fully customizable. However, we found sticking to the earbuds’ Soundcore Signature setting delivered the kind of balanced sound that suits most musical genres.
The Liberty Air 2 Pro’s other features, like IPX4 water resistance and solid battery life (around six hours with ANC and seven without), are common for the market, but also stand well with much pricier options.
We do wish Soundcore had made these earbuds more secure for workouts and found a way to offer more comprehensive controls. Still, those are small transgressions for an otherwise value-packed pair of true wireless earbuds.
The Sony WH-CH710N are positioned as a more affordable set of Sony's flagship WH-1000X series. They're considerably less expensive, but still deliver a lot of the same great features and punch impressively above their weight when it comes to performance, including perfectly respectable noise cancellation.
That feature is matched by clear and balanced sound, simple and reliable wireless connection, and a comfortable over-ear form factor. Whether you need to work from home or you're on the go you won't have to worry about recharging much thanks to a whopping 35-hour battery life. That's more than you'll get from both Sony and Bose's top pairs, and even Apple's shockingly expensive (and shockingly heavy) AirPods Max.
These mid-tier cans certainly aren't as premium as the Max, nor can they go toe-to-toe with their pricier siblings, the WH-1000XM4. But for what you're paying, they deliver. That's especially true since you can often find them on sale for well below their MSRP.
Though their name won't be winning any awards, the WH-CH710N cancel enough noise to be reliable headphones for work and play, and offer a taste of luxury at a price that's much more manageable than flagship travel cans.
Panasonic’s RZ-S500W won our hearts thanks to great sound and excellent noise canceling at a great price.
True wireless earbuds (those without any wires) are increasingly adding active noise cancellation (ANC), but until recently, many flavors served as an afterthought at best. Not so with the RZ-S500W. While no earbuds can kill all the noise around you, these beauties provide excellent passive noise isolation alongside powerful noise cancellation across frequencies to whisk your sonic troubles away, whether they be barking dogs, screaming kids, or buzzing fans.
And that’s not all we love about the RZ-S500W. As mentioned, sound is impressive, with a clear and relatively flat response that gives music of all genres its due. Plus, Panasonic's loaded app lets you adjust everything from EQ to noise cancellation and transparency mode (AKA ambient sound mode) so you can choose exactly how much environmental sound you let in or keep out. The S500W don’t have all the features, lacking extras like auto-pause, which is pretty handy for moments when you want to take a quick break. But it's definitely not a deal-breaker at this price.
With around 6 hours of playback per charge, the RZ-S500W sit right between two top competitors in the ANC earbuds space, the AirPods Pro and Sony's WF-1000XM3, but their charging case only holds two charges, meaning you’ll have to top it off more frequently than their rivals. In addition, while the RZ-S500W are comfortable, fit can be tricky due to their somewhat bulky design. Even when we got them properly sealed, they continued to jostle during jogging or other rigorous activities, making them much better for the office (home or otherwise) than the gym.
On the bright side the RZ-S500W offer solid water resistance (IPX4) to combat the elements. Add that to the fact that their sound quality and noise-canceling keep pace with some of the best in the business, and the Panasonic RZ-S500W earbuds are an ANC steal.
Ryan Waniata is Managing Editor for Reviewed's Electronics section and an audio obsessor. He's been reviewing electronics, including audio devices of all kinds, for over a decade. He's a recovering audio engineer, having worked in Nashville in both studios and live sound venues for multiple years, and also a musician who regularly records and edits audio in my home studio.
John Higgins is Reviewed's Editor for Audio/Video and Electronics. Before Reviewed, John covered all manner of electronics including TVs, projectors, AVRs, speakers, monitors, and computer peripherals for ProjectorCentral, IGN, Sound & Vision, T3, and Home Theater Magazine, among others. He also spent time as a sound editor and re-recording mixer for films, was a music teacher and music director at a private school in Los Angeles for 10 years, and recorded albums and played shows with a rock band.
Our entire home theater team takes testing and evaluating headphones quite seriously. We take them on flights, during commutes around the city, use them while working, and try to generally wring every likely use case out of each pair of headphones during evaluation.
Other testers who contributed to this guide include Reviewed's former A/V Editor Lee Neikirk, Reviewed Contributor Nick Woodard, Reviewed Contributor Nicole Carpenter, and Reviewed's Director of Content Production TJ Donegan.
When testing noise-canceling headphones, we naturally focus on noise cancellation as our north star. To make sure we’re properly simulating how you’ll use these headphones, we use a mix of real-world and lab testing, including data collection and A/B testing on factors like max volume, and both passive and active noise attenuation (including active noise cancellation).
We use all the headphones extensively, playing a wide variety of test tracks ranging from classical to hip-hop, rock, jazz, and more. In order to test accurately we A/B headphones with top competitors using simulated sounds like airplane drone, crowd chatter, and pink noise. We then run the headphones through our scoring system to determine an overall ranking that’s as close to objective as possible.
Noise canceling is just one part of your headphones experience, of course, so every pair that ranks in our list must also excel at all the other features that make headphones worth buying. We test for several key pain points consumers typically run into including (but not limited to) battery life, ease of use, controls, wireless range, and comfort.
Most features are tested in real-life situations, including sweat proofing, short- and long-term comfort, battery life, microphone quality, and connectivity over distances and through obstacles like doors and walls.
Perhaps the biggest missing link in all headphone reviews is durability. It's simply impossible for us to test a single pair and come to a meaningful conclusion about how well they'll hold up over time and with regular use (and abuse). To account for this, we note any major issues that popped up in user reviews (where available), though this doesn’t impact final scores.
We also use these headphones over a prolonged period and update their firmware when available to test out the latest features. We update relevant articles and reviews with our findings.
In-Ear vs. On-Ear vs. Over-ear
From their most basic design factor, headphones are primarily categorized into three types: in-ear, on-ear, and over-ear. These types include everything from bulky over-ear models to tiny true wireless earbuds that easily fit in the palm of your hand. While still available, on-ear headphones, which utilize ear cups that sit atop your ears rather than over them, are becoming less common in today's market.
Active Noise Cancellation vs. Passive Noise Cancellation
Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) is a process that minimizes exterior sound by using small microphones to analyze the frequencies and then flip their polarity to "cancel" them out. Passive Noise Cancellation (also referred to as passive noise isolation), on the other hand, uses materials built into the headphones or earbuds to muffle or block outside sound. A strong mix of both is generally preferred to create the most effective noise cancellation.
Because active noise cancellation may introduce additional sound when engaged, it can affect the sound quality of what you’re listening to (though this is becoming less of an issue with many newer models). Most noise cancellation headphones have an option to turn ANC on or off, while more advanced models allow for different levels of cancellation or Adaptive Active Noise Cancellation to automatically adjust for the scenario and environment.
Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.
John is the A/V Editor for Reviewed. He is an ISF Level III-certified calibrator with bylines at ProjectorCentral, Wirecutter, IGN, Home Theater Review, T3, Sound & Vision, and Home Theater Magazine. When away from the Reviewed office, he is a sound editor for film and musician, and loves to play games with his son.
Hailing originally from Montana, Ryan parlayed his time working as a musician and audio engineer into a career in digital media in 2012. Since then he's had extensive experience as a writer and editor, including everything from op-eds and features to reviews on TVs, audio gear, smart home devices, and more.
Nick Woodard is a tech journalist specializing in all things related to home theater and A/V. His background includes a solid foundation as a sports writer for multiple daily newspapers, and he enjoys hiking and mountain biking in his spare time.
Our team is here for one purpose: to help you buy the best stuff and love what you own. Our writers, editors, and lab technicians obsess over the products we cover to make sure you're confident and satisfied. Have a different opinion about something we recommend? Email us and we'll compare notes.