The greatest noise-cancelling headphones aren’t simply for listening to music. They use active noise cancellation (ANC) technology to make annoying and distracting noises from the world around you much quieter. The world goes on, of course, but you may relax in a serene pool of peace and quiet while the noise around you is muted. ANC headphones can even help you sleep better. Furthermore, you can simply listen to music and enjoy the sound of your favorite band or artist, or listen to podcasts and eBooks without interruption or disturbance.
The choices below reflect the best ANC headphones in every form factor. The best over-ear headphones can help with noise cancellation by creating seals around your ears. However, in-ear buds can also provide high-performance ANC in a more compact format. Whichever you choose, the best noise-cancelling headphones options below are guaranteed to have the appropriate pair for you.
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Sony has been progressively reducing the noise-cancelling gap with Bose, and the new Sony WH-1000XM5 is now closer than ever to outperforming the Bose 700 (below). It boasts two processors handling eight microphones, whereas the XM4 before only had one CPU controlling four, resulting in near-seamless ANC. Even if that weren’t the case, Sony’s overall quality would make the XM5 our top pick.
The audio quality is fantastic, the battery life is amazing (30 hours with ANC), and everything from the touch controls to the option to tune the EQ via the Sony Headphones Connect app is well put out and effortlessly incorporated. Call quality has also improved significantly, and there’s absolutely nothing to complain about here other than the rather bland appearance and the $50 price hike over the XM4.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
The wireless ANC earbuds category is led by the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. Consider these earbuds to be the wireless in-ear version of the Bose 700, with much of the same features to give unrivaled ANC performance but fewer microphones. They have ten levels of ANC that can be changed in the Bose Connect app, as well as an ambient listening mode for complete awareness of what’s going on around you.
A software update adds ANC profiles designed for certain activities and locations, as well as Aware Mode, which automatically minimizes “loud distractions as they happen” and returns to full transparency mode when they pass. The sound is pleasant and crisp, but the product’s hidden feature is its call quality, which produces exceptional results.
Aside from the hefty design (earphones and charging case), the only thing keeping Bose’s flagship earbuds from being flawless is the mediocre battery life. A single charge is rated to last 6 hours, however with listening modes and heavy streaming, that number soon goes to 5 hours. The charging case only extends the battery life by 18 hours, which is disappointing given how large it is.
Bose 700 Noise-cancelling Headphones
The Bose 700 and the Sony WH-1000XM4 are neck and neck for the best overall noise-cancelling headphones crown, and there is no doubting that Bose offers the most effective noise-canceling technology on the market. Period.
The Bose 700s reap these advantages, with ten levels of ANC that can be adjusted in the Connect app and perform flawlessly to mute the bulk of external noises. Most significantly, the 700s accomplish this without sacrificing sound quality, letting listeners experience clean, well-balanced audio reproduction. The Bose companion app also allows you to customize the EQ for unique sounds.
The ultramodern design is one-of-a-kind, and the thin, beautiful profile is an engineering accomplishment on par with the ANC performance. But we must confront the elephant in the room: battery life, which Sony outperforms at 20 hours with ANC activated.
Bose QuietComfort 45
The most recent addition to the QC over-ear series is the greatest yet, with significant enhancements to active noise cancellation, quality, and battery life. ANC is just as effective as it is on the 700, suppressing approximately 90% of ambient noise at a high rate. Bose’s ambient-listening mode performs an excellent job of piping in environmental noises for enhanced awareness. The combination of unique TriPort acoustic construction and volume-optimized Active EQ provides these headphones with a polished, well-balanced sound profile that allows you to enjoy most music genres. Having 24 hours of ANC playtime is particularly significant since all earlier Bose versions only provide 20 hours.
Because you can’t switch off ANC, the battery will drain faster, and the lack of several functions present on the 700 and QC35 II may make you reconsider purchasing this model over others. Just know that the ANC, audio quality, and battery life more than compensate for any limitations.
When they released the WF-1000XM3, they established the benchmark for active noise cancellation in wireless earbuds. What might Sony do for a follow-up? release an improved version that outperforms the original and other category leaders in a variety of aspects, including ANC, battery life, design, sound, noise cancelling, and touch controls. Sony improved its noise cancellation to deal with higher frequencies and rumbles while also totally blocking out frequent disruptions in the home and workplace.
Audio remains unsurpassed with the WF-1000XM4 given a more powerful, well-defined sound profile suited for all music genres, video material, and other media. The wealth of functions in the Sony Headphones Connect app opens the road to tailor your listening experience, from the many well-engineered EQs to positional audio via 360 Reality Audio for rich 3D sound. A full charge provides 8 hours of ANC playback, which is among the best in the category. The new design is sleeker and more functional than its predecessor, however, the fit is looser this time.
Apple AirPods Max
Although the ultra-premium AirPods Max only has one degree of active noise reduction, it performs well. The cans do an excellent job of filtering out ambient noise, especially at lower frequencies. It’s almost as excellent as Bose’s ANC, which is a strong showing for Apple’s initial over-ear headphones.
Other than that, the AirPods Max sound amazing, especially with the surround-sound spatial audio function turned on, and their design and build quality are so outstanding that you almost forget they cost $549. That’s a lot pricier than the Sony and Bose headphones farther up the list, so this is a luxury item, but it may be extremely useful.
The new over-ear Sony WH-1000XM5 takes the top place on this list of the best noise-cancelling headphones. These improve on their equally great predecessor, the XM4, by combining superb music quality with superior active noise cancellation and a comfortable shape. Meanwhile, Sony’s accompanying software is the finest we’ve experienced, and we love the headphones’ green credentials.
The second place goes to the Bose Quiet Comfort noise-cancelling headphones. Consider these earbuds to be the wireless in-ear version of the Bose 700, with much of the same features to give unrivaled ANC performance but fewer microphones. They have ten levels of ANC that can be changed in the Bose Connect app. There’s also an ambient listening mode for complete awareness of what’s going on around you.
The Bose 700, which has unequaled ANC performance and smart tech features, comes in third place. When listening to music or accepting phone calls, the sound is very clear. We really like the slim, modern design, which has comfortable ear cushions and touch controls.