The best noise-cancelling headphones are perfect for blocking out the noise of the world around you. If you’ve ever had your musical enjoyment disturbed by rumbling engine noise, the rattle of a train carriage or just other peoples’ conversations, active noise cancellation (ANC) could be just what you need.
Both audio specialists like Bose and Sennheiser and more wide-reaching tech companies like Apple will all have their own implementations of ANC, so some noise-cancelling cans be simply be more effective than others — but then some might make their ANC effect adjustable, and some might also add ambient or transparency modes, where you can amplify rather than silence outside sounds so you can hear without taking the headphones off. To simplify things, here’s our ranking of the best noise-cancelling headphones, based on our own testing.
We’ll keep this list updated in the future as more top-grade noise-cancelling headphones are released. There are already a few to start thinking about, like the new Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro and the rumored AirPods Pro 2.
The best noise cancelling headphones you can buy
The Bose 700 may have more powerful active noise cancellation, but the Sony WH-1000XM4’s incredible overall performance and lower price makes it the better value. Everything that made the WH-1000XM3 a critical darling remains intact, including the phenomenal soundstage and touch controls that allow for seamless playback and call management. Having the ability to personalize audio via the Sony Headphones Connect app is awesome, letting you create your own sound profiles or pick from multiple fine-tuned presets that lend themselves well to almost every music genre. You’re also getting top-tier ANC that gives competitors a run for their money and lets you enjoy longer playtimes than any Bose model with the feature enabled.
Sadly, the call quality isn’t great, which has been a reoccurring problem for the Sony Mark series. But to the WH-1000XM4’s credit, this is the only legitimate complaint that can be made about Sony’s flagship headphones.
Read our full Sony WH-1000XM4 review.
An argument can be made for the Bose 700 being the best overall noise cancelling headphones that would bring up some compelling points. There is no denying that Bose has the strongest, most effective active noise cancelling technology on the market. Period. The Bose 700 reaps those benefits, boasting 10 levels of ANC that can be adjusted in the Bose Connect app and works flawlessly to silence the majority of external sounds. Most importantly, the 700 achieves this without compromising sound quality, allowing listeners to enjoy clean, well-balanced sound reproduction. Bose’s companion app also lets you adjust the EQ for personalized audio.
And what’s not to love about the headphones’ ultramodern design? The slim, sexy silhouette of the 700 is as much of an engineering feat as Bose’s ANC performance, and the high price point should certainly make you believe it. But we need to address the elephant in the room – battery life – a field where many other models in the category outperform the 700.
See our full Bose 700 Noise Cancelling Headphones review.
Although there’s only one level of active noise cancellation on the ultra-premium AirPods Max, it works like a charm. The cans do a great job of blocking out ambient sounds, especially at the lower end of the frequency spectrum. It’s almost as good as Bose’s ANC, which is a fine showing for Apple’s first pair of over-ears.
Elsewhere, the AirPods Max sound great, especially with the surround-sound Spatial Audio feature switched on, and there design standards and build quality are so high you can almost forget that these headphones cost $549. That’s a lot more than the Sony and Bose headphones higher up the list, so this is a luxury purpose, but can very much be a worthwhile one.
See our full Apple AirPods Max review.
The AirPods Pro may be considered the better overall model between the two, but we’re talking noise cancellation here, a category now dominated by the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. Think of these earbuds as the wireless in-ear variant of the Bose 700, offering much of the same functionality to deliver unbeatable ANC performance, and that is with half the mics. They come with 10 levels of ANC that can be adjusted in the Bose Connect app, which also blends with an ambient listening mode to allow full awareness of what’s happening around you. Sound is warm and clean, though call quality is the product’s unsung feature, producing excellent clarity on both ends.
Aside from the bulky design (both earbuds and charging case), the only thing holding Bose’s flagship earbuds from perfection is the middling battery life. A single charge is rated at 6 hours, but that number drops quickly to 5 hours when factoring in the listening modes and heavy streaming. The charging case only offers an additional 18 hours as well, a major letdown when seeing how huge it is.
Read our full Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review.
The AirPods Pro land on our list of best noise cancelling headphones because these wireless earbuds blocked noise quite well in our testing, whether we were commuting or walking around New York City. It’s also easy to activate the ANC with just a long press on the earbud stem. And for those times when you need to be aware of your surroundings, there’s Transparency mode that lets ambient noise in so you can listen to music and listen to the world around you. The latest iOS 14 update brings new features like automatic switching and spatial audio, which creates 3D-like sound for listeners, into the mix.
The AirPods Pro offer a very comfortable and secure fit, which you can personalize thanks to three sets of included silicone tips and even a fit test you can run on your iPhone. And these buds are great for working out, as the AirPods Pro offer sweat- and water-resistance. The battery life with noise cancelling on is only 4.5 hours, but you can 24 hours of juice through the wireless charging case.
See our full Apple AirPods Pro review.
Anker upgraded its popular, low-cost ANC headphones with better sound, noise cancellation, and features. The Life Q30’s 40mm drivers produce impactful lows and mids that make listening to contemporary music genres enjoyable and enabling ANC mode doesn’t diminish audio quality. Highs aren’t the headphones’ greatest strength, but you can select from a variety of presets or tweak the EQ to tailor the sound to your ears, which is a huge feature for any pair of wireless headphones listed under $100. But what’s most satisfying is the amount of music time you get out of these bad boys, with Anker’s massive battery generating up to 40 hours with ANC on and a whopping 60 hours in standard mode.
We do wish the headphones came with more touch controls; they only support a 2-second hold gesture on the right earpad to enable ANC/Transparency mode. Also, while we admire the updated premium construction, the design does apply more force on both the skull and ears, which creates discomfort after an hour of listening. Still, the price point is unbeatable when looking at the amount of functionality these headphones afford you.
If the Bose 700 is out of your financial reach and you still want excellent Bose noise-cancelling headphones, then grab the QuietComfort 35 II while it’s available at a lower price. These over-ear cans are as functional as their svelte-looking successor, delivering crystal-clear audio and programmed with a dedicated Google Assistant button to shoot out quick voice commands. You can also share audio using the Music Share feature to hear music on two sets of Bose wireless headphones. More importantly, the battery life, while the same as on the Bose 700, actually lasts longer on the QC35 II.
But what you’ll really want this model for is the noise cancellation, which set the standard in the category when originally released and still outperforms any model not named the Bose 700 or Sony WH-1000xM4. The color options (Black, Silver, Rose Gold, Triple Midnight) are also appealing for fashion-forward listeners who want to accessorize the cans with their outfits.
See our full Bose QuietComfort 35 II review.
Jabra’s hot streak of superb true wireless releases continues with the Elite 85t. The company’s first-ever ANC wireless earbuds are a solid update to one of our favorite models, the Elite Active 75t (minus the waterproof protection), featuring slightly improved audio and more powerful specs. Underneath the hood are Jabra’s own noise-cancelling chip and a Qualcomm QCC5126 processor that boosts audio quality and connectivity. Music sounds pleasant and energetic and can be customized through several presets or by tweaking the EQ in the Sound+ app. You can select from five levels of noise neutralization that each work hard to minimize ambient sounds across different frequency ranges, a skill that the buds do extremely well.
It would have been great if Jabra increased battery life, which remains at 5.5 hours when enabling ANC mode; this is only an hour more than the AirPods Pro. Luckily, Jabra programmed the Elite 85t to get the most juice out the battery, so you won’t be rushing to toss the buds into the charging case.
The original Surface Headphones were a pleasant surprise we didn’t see coming and its successor is even better. Now available in sleek matte black, Surface Headphones 2 is an ideal option for audiophiles and work-from-home types who constantly switch from platform to platform, device to device. Digital assistant support works well, and Microsoft 365 integration is a cool feature that lets you use voice dictation to jot down notes and captions hands-free on Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and other Office programs. Being able to connect up to 10 devices simultaneously is pretty sweet too.
But let’s not forget that this is a noise-cancelling headset first and a productivity tool second. That being said, the Surface Headphones 2 delivers quality ANC that can be easily adjusted through the dial controls. Microsoft’s 40mm Free Edge drivers produce lively sound to enjoy music, videos, and games as well. If only the headphones weren’t short on battery life and extended features.
Read our full Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 review.
At one point, we thought great active noise cancellation was not possible on true wireless earbuds. Then Sony dropped these compact sound-silencers and blew expectations out of the water. The Sony WF-1000XM3 successfully combines stellar sonics with best-in-class ANC technology, letting you enjoy your favorite music, movies or podcasts in peace. Deep, rich bass and tonal balance give these buds an edge over the rest of the competition.
The Sony Headphones app also hosts a variety of unique features, from adjustable ambient listening to custom sound profiles, elevating the WF-1000xM3’s status among the elite to land on our list of best wireless headphones. And with an estimated 6 hours of battery life (ANC on), you’ll have a lot of time to indulge in some YouTube binging. If the rumors of Sony adding aptX HD support come true, then that’s just another to consider owning these buds.
See our full Sony WF-1000XM3 earbuds review.
How to choose the best noise cancelling headphones for you
The first item to check off the list when shopping for the best noise cancelling headphones is active noise cancellation, which shouldn’t be confused with passive noise cancellation. What are the differences?
ANC uses advanced circuitry and microphones to pick up noise signals and create inverse waves that cancel out these sonic disruptions, whereas PNC physically isolates high-pitched sounds through the headphone design and materials. Most headphones advertised with noise cancellation are categorized under ANC.
Next up is battery life. Noise cancelling headphones have a reputation for sucking up lots of power, so you’ll want a pair that holds a charge long enough to get you through a long business flight or weekly commutes. ANC wireless headphones can typically offer anywhere between 15 to 40 hours, while noise cancelling wireless earbuds are usually rated for 4.5 to 8 hours.
ANC technology can compress sound and reduce dynamics, which may affect audio performance when turned on. In some cases, you’ll notice a background hiss when listening to music. However, there are noise cancelling headphones out there that limit these disruptions to deliver full, crisp sound.
Design is just as important when selecting the best noise cancelling headphones. Over-ear headphones tend to give the best noise cancellation, though some of the more recent Bluetooth on-ear and in-ear models are proving to be just as effective.
How we test noise cancelling headphones
In creating our list of best noise cancelling headphones, Tom’s Guide rates each model based on several factors: audio performance, battery life, Bluetooth range, call quality, comfort and fit, and the effectiveness of the noise cancellation. We also weigh special features, such as included apps, and how easy they are to use.
During the testing phase, our reviewers wear each pair of headphones for 2 hours at a time throughout the course of a week. Occasionally, we’ll perform further testing when comparing top-rated and popular models for our Face-Off features.
Active noise cancellation is tested in both indoor and outdoor environments where ambient sounds are produced at high levels. This includes airplanes, city parks, convenience shops, offices, and public transportation. ANC headphones programmed with transparency modes are also tested thoroughly to determine how well the listener can hear their surroundings.
For sound quality, we listen to many sample tracks that span a number of genres, including hip-hop, rock, jazz, classical and R&B, while evaluating volume, clarity and fullness. And now that more streaming music services are offering high-resolution resolution audio, be sure to read our audio codec FAQ for everything you need to know about FLAC files, MP3s and everything in between.
Once we complete our testing, we rate headphones based on our five-point system (1 = worst, 5 = best). If a product hits nearly every mark, it’s awarded an Editors’ Choice badge.