Noise-canceling headphones may not be an absolute necessity just yet, but they're darn close. Whether you’re taking a flight, commuting, or—much more likely lately—working remotely, they can be a godsend for filtering out the many distractions in your busy life. While no pair of noise-canceling headphones can eliminate all of the noise around you, a pair with active noise cancellation (ANC) can still drastically reduce it, granting you a little peace and quiet.
After weeks of research in both our labs and real-world environments, we’re confident the Sony WH-1000XM3(available at Amazon for $179.99) are the best noise-canceling headphones right now. They offer a bounty of features, great sound, and top-notch noise canceling. That said, there are plenty of other options on our list, from over-ear models to true wireless earbuds, all of which h. And if you don’t find what you like here, be sure to check out our best headphones list for even more options.
These are the best noise-canceling headphones we tested, ranked in order:
Bose QuietComfort 35 Series II
Apple AirPods Pro
Phiaton BT 120NC
Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2
Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 2.0
Beats Studio 3 Wireless
Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless
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How We Test
Active Noise Cancellation vs. Passive Noise Cancellation
Sony’s WH-1000XM3 Wireless Noise-Canceling Headphones are expensive, but you won’t be disappointed with your purchase. The active noise-cancellation technology blocks out a variety of sounds at varying decibel levels. Sony allows the headphones’ users to customize the level of noise-cancellation they experience: This lets you hear as much—or as little—of the world around you as you desire. And, just as importantly, the sound quality is also superb.
The level of aural tweaking that the WH-1000XM3 allow for is impressive. By playing with the WH-1000XM3’s ambient sound and adaptive sound control features, it’s possible to, for example, block out the wall of sound experienced when riding on public transit, but still be able to pick out enough an announcement for the next stop. All of this tweaking is done via Sony’s Headphones Connect app, available from the iTunes App Store Google Play. Basic control over the headphones—turning the volume up or down or pausing or playing music—is done through touch controls on the WH-1000XM3’s earcups. Despite being so feature-rich, these headphones are still incredibly user-friendly.
The WH-1000XM3 are a great pair of all-around headphones that meet every need: they sound great, fit well and provide a number of luxury features that you never knew you wanted until you put a pair of them on for the first time. While we still love our previous Best Overall—the Bose QC 35 II—Sony's XM-1000XM3 simply up the ante.
I’m Nicole Carpenter, a freelance reporter, and reviewer who specializes in the tech and gaming industry. Before entering journalism, I worked in an open office, and I came to understand the real importance of noise-canceling headphones. I work from home now, but often find myself in crowded coffee shops, and noise-canceling headphones are still an important work tool. I’ve tried out a lot in my search for a perfect pair of headphones, and I’d love to help you find peace and quiet in any setting.
Other contributors to this article include Reviewed's Home Theater Editor, Lee Neikirk, and our Electronics Managing Editor, Ryan Waniata.
Headphone manufacturers are typically aiming for either a flat or a curved sound profile. A curved profile is most common and can be used to try to replicate the Equal Loudness Curve (ELC). The human ear hears higher tones more easily than it hears the bass tones, so for a human to perceive highs and lows at a similar volume, the headphones boost the volume of the lows, and moderate the volume of the highs. Other headphones boost frequencies at different levels to create a distinctive sound signature, such as bass-forward headphones.
A flat profile is usually found in "studio" headphones; the treble, midrange, and bass tones are presented at similar volume levels. Studio headphones are designed to reproduce music exactly as it was recorded and, as the name implies, they're most commonly used in studio control rooms to help mixers figure out which frequencies they should boost or reduce.
In addition to the more scientific lab testing, we also wear each pair of headphones around town to get a sense of their features (like noise cancellation and transparency mode), sound quality, as well as short-and long-term comfort.
Active Noise Cancellation vs. Passive Noise Cancellation
With headphones, 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 (PNC), on the other hand, uses materials built into the headphones to muffle 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 to adjust for the scenario and environment.
In-Ear vs. On-Ear vs. Over-ear
You've probably seen a bunch of different headphones in your everyday life, but what you may not realize is that headphones, while they have a number of different selling points, 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 earcups that sit atop your ears rather than over them, are becoming less common in today's market.
Other Top Noise-Canceling Headphones We Tested
Bose QuietComfort 35 Series II
Bose has a devoted following, and with a pair of headphones like the QuietComfort 35 Series II, that's not surprising. The active noise cancellation (ANC), for which Bose is renowned, cuts 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 also a huge selling point.
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 a new set of ANC-equipped cans, the Bose 700s, our review units exhibited a number of Bluetooth connectivity issues that made them hard to recommend over the still-available (and more affordable) QC 35 II.
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 few knocks against these headphones (some competitors offer 10 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.
In our testing, the AirPods Pro’s noise cancellation stood up well 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.
Sony’s WF-1000XM3 are essentially the true wireless version of the top-rated WH-1000XM3 headphones, and the apple didn't fall far from the tree. While pricey, the WF-1000XM3 offer whisper-quiet active noise cancellation, clear and detailed sound, and impressive features to boot.
Their battery life outdoes the AirPods Pro, offering 6 hours per charge with noise cancellation on, and 8 hours without it. In addition, their accompanying app provides granular control over their noise cancellation and transparency mode, helping you dial in exactly what you want to hear–and what you don't. Downsides of these earbuds include a somewhat obtrusive design (they stick out a fair bit from your ears) and a lack of any real water resistance. The charging case is also a lot bulkier than Apple's.
That said, a robust collection of features and brilliant sound quality easily place the WF-1000XM3 among our favorite true wireless earbuds on the market. If you’re looking for the premium experience offered by Sony's stellar over-ear model, but in a tiny, wireless design, these are the earbuds you need.
New for 2020, the Sony WH-CH710N are kind of like a more affordable set of our top-rated WH-1000XM3. They're considerably less expensive, but still deliver a lot of the same great features.
With the WH-CH710N, you're still getting decent noise-canceling, good sound, wireless/Bluetooth, and a comfortable over-ear form factor. These are billed as "travel headphones," and their 35-hour battery life suggests that billing is accurate.
They're not quite as premium and downright awesome as the pricier WH-1000XM3s, but for what you're paying, you could do a lot worse. They cancel enough noise to be reliable commuting headphones, and with battery life like that you won't have to charge them more than once every week or two.
Like their heavier sibling, the Phiaton BT150, the BT120 NC are designed as a sports product. The BT120 are flexible and light enough to easily forget about while in your ears.
Volume and power controls are set on the headset’s neckband, making them easy to access. The earbuds ship with a number of sizes of ear tips, allowing for a tight seal to aid in noise cancelation and a precise fit.
These are a great option for general music or podcast listening while commuting or working out, but serious audiophiles will likely be a bit disappointed in the treble. Additionally, while their active noise cancelation is an improvement over what might be reproduced while using them passively, it doesn’t compare to the silence our higher picks offer.
We really liked the previous Plantronics Backbeat Pro, so it's probably not surprising that the next edition gets a big thumbs up as well.
One issue with the Backbeat Pro 2 is that their ANC is less effective than some of our top picks. It minimizes lower-pitched train rumbling, but other sounds are still audible. To some extent, this effect is intentional, since the Backbeat Pro 2 boast an open-back setting that allows you to easily hear ambient noise, in addition to your tunes.
Like many modern headphones, these have sensors that detect when the headphones are being worn and pause when you take them off. We had no trouble with this feature, though some users have reported defective units that would auto-pause when the headphones were still on their heads.
The sound profile is pretty flat, making it possible to hear your tunes without an extra emphasis on bass or treble. We thought the call quality was great, but other users have had trouble with the mute button (which would never un-mute).
The Backbeat Pro 2 are ridiculously comfortable; we had no issues with them after hours of use. If you like comfy headphones, a 24-hour battery life, and tech-y features, then these are the cans for you.
Some headphones with active noise cancellation (ANC) have difficulty reproducing high-quality audio, since, to some extent, your music has to compete with the noise-cancellation algorithm. At this price point, the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9 headphones do a surprisingly good job maintaining that balance. The bass notes are definitely boosted, but not at the expense of the upper register for good balance. However, when the ANC is activated, you may notice that detail is muted slightly.
On the other hand, the active noise cancellation does a really solid job of blocking out the lower frequencies, which is helpful when you don't want to hear trains rumbling or planes humming while you're in transit. If you're curious about ANC, these are a good pair to try out; they'll give you a taste of active noise cancellation without breaking the bank. Read the full review.
The Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 2.0 over-ear headphones have a lot of great things going for them: wireless pairing via NFC or Bluetooth, active noise cancellation, a 22-hour battery life, memory foam core earcups wrapped in leather, and two different cases (a hard-backed case and a soft pouch). That's especially true now that the headphones have dropped a fair bit in price.
The active noise cancellation (ANC) manages to block out a fair amount of both high and low frequencies, which can really help you focus when you're out and about (or working around distractions). We did notice that the sound profile, which emphasizes the midrange over bass and treble, could get a little fuzzy when it gets down too low, but unless you have especially sensitive hearing, it shouldn't be too noticeable.
Even with these minor quibbles, we like the rest of the package enough that we'd definitely recommend the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 2.0 headphones to any friends of ours, especially now that their price has dropped significantly from most retailers. Read the full review.
Note: While we didn't have this problem, there have been reports of issues with the Bluetooth connectivity, so if you can, see if you can try a pair out before you commit to the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 2.0 headphones.
Beats is one of the most (in)famous headphone brands around. The Studio 3 Wireless try (mostly successfully) to offer a compromise between the notable bass-forward sound signature for which the brand is known and balanced frequencies above. The active noise cancellation makes a significant dent in both train rumbling and A/C hums alike. The W1 chip also makes pairing nearly instantaneous with any Apple or iOS device.
The Studio 3 Wireless headphones are very comfortable in the short term but can squeeze your head and cause immense heat/sweat build-up in the long run.
Between the 22-hour battery life, solid noise cancellation, and sleek aesthetic, it's understandable why some people are willing to drop a lot of cash on these headphones, which serve a dual purpose as a pair of headphones and a fashion statement.
These over-ear headphones are huge. If you're looking to reproduce the studio headphone experience with no wires, look no further. The Blue Satellite have both the heft and the flat audio profile (with a slight emphasis on the highs) of your favorite studio headphones. In addition to active noise cancellation (which blocks some train rumble, but not all of it), the Satellite also has an AMP setting which instantly boosts the volume and presence of your music.
The Satellite is built with high-quality materials, cushy ear pads, and 24-hour battery life, so what's not to like? The three major issues upon release were long-term comfort, the controls, and the price. Luckily, the latter is largely solved, as these headphones have come down quite a bit in price since their debut.
Still, the headphones are so heavy and so rigid that I had a headache a few hours of wearing them, and from the looks of the Amazon reviews, I'm not alone. The controls also do not give you audio feedback, so it's tough to tell when the headphones are actively pairing. The audio quality is stellar, but it definitely comes with compromises.
Sennheiser’s PXC-550 noise-canceling headphones offer a slightly lower price than some of the other higher-end headphones on the list without sacrificing quality. What we liked most about these is the sound quality and sleek, light feel. When it comes to sound, the headphones are clear and sharp, even with noise cancelation switched on. When noise cancelation is on, these do a pretty good job of blocking out human sounds, but traffic noise came through, still.
But where these really stand out is in comfort. They fit nicely on the head—they fit close, but they’re not tight. With glasses, the cups don’t put too much pressure on frames, something that’s often a big complaint with over-ear headphones.
Audio Technica is well-respected for its sound quality, and we're happy to report that these headphones live up to the standard. Oftentimes with noise-canceling headphones, sound will be great with the option ticked off, but sound will get muddled when noise cancelation is activated. There’s a little of that here—there often is, even in high-quality headphones—but the sound is hardly compromised.
Costing slightly less than our favorite Sony headphones, they’re still expensive enough to be a competitor in the high-end market. As with many headphones these days, the ATH-ANC 900BT offer touch and swipe controls on their earcup. You can answer calls, change volume, and pause-and-play music. Thankfully, they’re a little less fiddly than some of the other options, like the Anker Soundcore Space headphones.
Skullcandy’s Venue headphones have a great look—a classic, sleek design that’s minimal in appearance and reminiscent of the Beats line, but for a much cheaper price. We love that these have almost no noticeable branding, really solidifying that minimal feel.
These are a bit more expensive than other budget options, yet they still seem a bit cheap. These don’t feel as sturdy as others in their class, and we were able to hear these moving around, despite having noise cancellation turned on.
Sound, however, is pretty good, and better than average for a price point like this. The bass on these headphones is powerful, but doesn't overpower other sounds. As mentioned earlier, though, the noise cancellation is below average.
The Reviewed staff is based in the heart of Cambridge, MA. Backed by our knowledgeable writers and rigorous test labs, we're working hard to make sure you can make the right decisions about what to buy.
Nicole Carpenter is a reporter and reviewer based out of Massachusetts. For the past few years, she’s specialized in the technology and gaming sectors, reviewing a number of different headphones with a specialty in gaming gear.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.