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The best noise-canceling headphones for working and studying

The top noise-canceling headphones use advanced tech to give you the ultimate immersive listening experience.

Do you ever want to tune out the world around you? If you're returning to a busy campus or a crowded library to study, active noise cancellation (ANC) headphones are a sturdy wearable that makes all the difference. 

Currently, ANC technology is impressively advanced. Along with canceling capabilities, headphones on the market now provide sound profile customization, leverage smart voice assistant compatibility, and have long battery lives with quick-charging capabilities. This last feature is particularly beneficial before long study sessions.

ZDNET did hands-on testing of many of the top noise-canceling headphones on the market, evaluating their noise-canceling capabilities, features, and price. Our pick for the best noise-canceling headphones is the Sony WH-1000XM5 due to their excellent voice sound quality, quick charge options, and advanced ANC technology. Read on for the rest of our picks for the best noise-canceling headphones.

Also: The best noise-canceling earbuds (and how they actually work)

The best noise-canceling headphones of 2023

Pros & Cons
  • Best ANC on the market
  • Excellent voice sound quality
  • Quick-charge options
  • Divisive aesthetics
  • Not foldable
  • Larger carrying case
More Details

Sony WH-1000XM5 specs: Form factor: Over-ear, closed-back | Wireless protocol(s): Bluetooth 5.2 | Charging options(s): USB-C | Battery life: 30 hours (3 hours on a 3-minute charge) | Frequency response: 4Hz-40,000Hz | Speaker size: 30mm driver 

Sony has long been considered the best in class for audio equipment. Therefore, it's no surprise that Sony's WH-1000XM line offers some of the best active noise-canceling headphones since its invention. Since then, Sony has continued to enhance its sound quality, ANC functionality, and battery life with the WH-1000XM5 model. 

While customers and reviewers are divided on the latest iteration's slimmer aesthetic, it seems nearly everyone can agree that Sony nailed the ANC quality. ZDNET also came to that consensus after we reviewed the headphones last year, giving Sony props for improving an already outstanding sound quality and an ANC experience optimal for focus.

Review: Sony's WH-1000XM5 headphones are basically perfect

These upgrades don't come cheaply, but they offer an excellent value proposition for the shopper interested in a long-wearing, comfortable pair of wireless headphones that block out all the noise. Plus, their lightweight form factor makes for a great pair of workout headphones for both low and high-intensity training.

Pros & Cons
  • Folding design and portable case
  • Automatically pauses when headphones are removed
  • Supports two simultaneous device connections
  • More timeless, sleek visual aesthetics
  • Users with large ears may feel the inside of the earcups making contact
  • Pricey for a 3-year-old model
More Details

Sony WH-1000XM4 specs: Form factor: Over-ear, closed-back | Wireless protocol(s): Bluetooth 5.0 | Charging options(s): USB-C | Battery life: 30 hours (5 hours on a 10-minute charge) | Frequency response: 4Hz-40,000Hz

While Sony's latest and greatest ANC headphones are the WH-1000XM5s seen above, don't count out the company's ever-popular WH-1000XM4s, which debuted in 2020. This model may lack the secondary ANC processor that gives the newer version its extra noise-canceling boost, but it still provides superb sound and noise-canceling quality. ZDNET's 2020 review indicates extreme ANC efficacy, able to block out all the distractions in the thick of COVID-19 quarantine. 

One of those features includes the folding design and compact carrying case. For me, headphones are often synonymous with traveling and commuting, which is quite a beneficial bonus. Plus, the subtle metallic ANC microphone complements the overall aluminum construction and gives the headphones an overall sleek, professional look.

Review: Sony WH-1000XM4 wireless noise-canceling headset

This balance of more broadly appealing aesthetics, high-quality ANC audio, and lower cost may even make these headphones a wiser choice than the more expensive successor -- especially if you're looking to quickly block out noise and slip the headphones into a bookbag, gym tote, or suitcase. 

Pros & Cons
  • Benefits for Apple device owners
  • Metal construction and sturdy headband
  • Almost universally-praised sound quality
  • Proprietary lightning cable charging
  • Bulky
  • Heavy
  • Included case has become an embarrassing meme
More Details

Apple AirPods Max specs: Form factor: Over-ear, closed-back | Wireless protocol(s): Bluetooth 5.0 | Charging options(s): Lightning | Battery life: 20 hours (1.5 hours on a 5-minute charge) | Frequency response: 10Hz-20,000Hz (estimated)

Apple's pocket-sized AirPods have been a cultural moment for wireless audio. It came as no surprise that the AirPods Max metal-constructed over-ear headphones quickly rose in the ranks as a popular noise-canceling option, especially for Apple users who want to keep everything in the family and benefit from the exceptional sound and instant, multi-device connectivity. Speaking of Apple's ecosystem, the AirPods Mac unexpectedly leverages the same "digital crown" control scheme as the Apple Watch. 

In his review, ZDNET's Jason Cipriani praised the AirPods Max for their crisp sound quality and impressive ANC capabilities. Like many, however, his only complaint concerned the case that's not really a case. But these complaints are largely drowned out by the relative chorus of praise for the sound quality and overall comfort of the mesh canopy headband.

Review: AirPods Max: Stunning sound and performance mean I'm keeping the $550 headphones

While the $400 range is a large ask for headphones, the AirPods Max built off AirPods' impressive base, upgrading both size and sound without compromising the convenience of an Apple ecosystem. Combine this with a level of ANC that meets or exceeds what's currently offered by leaders like Sony and Bose, and you may find that ZDNET's Jason Perlow is right -- they're a rightfully expensive splurge. 

Pros & Cons
  • Supports Bluetooth and 2.4GHz
  • Quick switching between BT and 2.4GHz modes
  • Built-in amp is THX AAA-certified for low sound distortion and noise
  • A NC causes strange audio issues with some games
  • No built-in boom mic option
  • L-shaped USB-C receiver might interfere with some ports
More Details

Razer Barracuda Pro specs: Form factor: Over-ear, closed-back | Wireless protocol(s): Bluetooth 5.2, 2.4GHz wireless | Charging options(s): USB-C | Battery life: Up to 40 hours  | Frequency response: 20Hz-20,000Hz

Quality ANC gaming headphones usually come with a price tag, and unfortunately, even lag. The vast majority of ANC headphones exclusively use Bluetooth as their connectivity nexus point, which can cause some latency issues. This delayed discrepancy between audio and video could even be a game-altering factor, meaning blocking out noise for gaming laser focus only goes so far. Gamers need both quiet and speed.

This is where the Razer Barracuda Pro comes in. It combines Bluetooth, ANC, and most important, 2.4GHz wireless connectivity. When ZDNET put the Pro headphones to the test, we noticed almost no perceptible latency, putting them on par with wired solutions for gaming on your PC or modern console. 

Meanwhile, the model supports Bluetooth 5.2 technology for use with your phone, streaming device, laptop, and tablet. You can even switch between Bluetooth and 2.4GHz modes with a single tap to take a call and hop right back into your game after. The muted aesthetics help with versatility.

Review: Razer Barracuda Pro: Active noise ruination

Keep in mind, however, that there were some issues with how the built-in ANC reacts to certain games, specifically when we tested the game's directional sound. But the rare combination of features still makes it an option for gamers who want impressive ANC for playing games or listening to music.

Pros & Cons
  • Excellent quality for the price
  • 40-hour playtime
  • High-resolution audio certified
  • Micro-USB charging option is slower than USB-C
  • No included carry case
  • Smaller ear cups than other options
More Details

Anker Soundcore Life Q20 specs: Form factor: Over-ear, closed-back | Wireless protocol(s): Bluetooth 5.0 | Charging options(s): Micro USB | Battery life: up to 40 hours | Frequency response: 16Hz-40,000Hz

The microphone arrays, onboard processing, and required power cells push the price of most ANC headphone options well into triple digits. Not for Soundcore, Anker's audio company known for creating high-quality equipment for a lower price tag

The company's best budget-friendly take on ANC headphones at the moment is the Soundcore Life Q20. This unit offers one of the longest battery lives on the list, supports the same Bluetooth 5 protocol as the AirPods Max, and claims to block out up to "90% of ambient noise."

Also: The best wireless headphones 

You shouldn't expect it to have quite the same sound quality as options that cost over three times as much, but that doesn't mean it can't get you very, very close. Between the surprisingly small size of that performance gap and the shockingly low price, these headphones are a great option for the commuting youngster.

Pros & Cons
  • 24-hour battery life
  • 15-minute fast charge
  • Durable
  • Lightweight and comfortable fit
  • ANC Microphones double as voice pickups for cellular calls
  • Slightly dated aesthetic
  • Bulky
More Details

Bose QuietComfort 45 specs: Form factor: Over-ear, closed-back | Wireless protocol(s): Bluetooth 5.1 | Charging options(s): USB-C | Battery life: up to 24 hours | Frequency response: N/A

Bose's QuietComfort 45 headphones are a personal staple in my bag. Not only are they comfortable and double as ear muffs in the winter, but they're also equipped with Bluetooth 5.1 connectivity, USB-C fast charging, and up to 24 hours of battery life. An array of microphones powers the ANC system, providing what Bose says is its "best noise canceling" option. This QuietComfort iteration also comes with hardware and software updates for a more customizable listening experience. Plus, the compatible Bose Music app leverages active EQ technology for additional sound profile customization to noise-cancellation preferences.

Also: The best Bose headphones

All of this technology and comfort is packaged in Bose's trademark minimalist design that may not be as futuristic-looking as the AirPods Max but is just as (if not more) durable. The QC 45 also provides the option to switch between its ANC-enabled Quiet Mode for times when you need to concentrate and its Aware Mode for when you want to be alert to your surroundings.

Actively filtering out noise from the minute the cups slip over your ears, these headphones do their job so you can focus on doing yours -- all while lasting for days without a battery top-up. So if you're on the hunt for a pair of headphones that fit like that pair of jeans, look no further.

Pros & Cons
  • Capacitive touch controls
  • Eight total microphones, two of which are also ANC
  • Can simultaneously pair with two Bluetooth devices
  • Sleek
  • Pricey
  • Comparably low battery life
More Details

Bose 700 specs: Form factor: Over-ear, closed-back | Wireless protocol(s): Bluetooth 5.0 | Charging options(s): USB-C | Battery life: Up to 20 hours | Frequency response: N/A

I talk a lot. I also get distracted easily. With eight total microphones and Bose's world-class ANC tech, these headphones were made for people like me. Out of the eight mics, six have ANC technology, and four have voice pickup, two of which also employ noise-canceling.

Offering a whopping total of 11 noise cancellation levels, it's our understanding that these headphones likely give the perfect amount of background noise for all you working-while-listening folks. With the right earcup as the touch-control center, it's easy to play/pause, skip tracks, take calls, or even issue voice commands to Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, or Siri.

Also: The best studio headphones

The 20-hour battery life provided by the 700 line is almost as long as the QC line on its own. While the 20-hour battery life is not the best compared to competitors, travelers can extend the battery life further with the unit's included Charging Case. This enclosure provides security for the thinner-than-most headphones as well as a built-in battery pack that can fully recharge the built-in power cell twice, adding an extra 40 hours of listening time. As a multitasker, this sounds like a dream.

What are the best noise-canceling headphones?

The Sony WH-1000XM5 are the best overall noise-canceling headphones based on price, compatibility, battery life, isolation technology, noise reduction, and more. However, the Sony WH-1000XM4 are a close runner-up. You can quickly see how these two compared to the others I've mentioned with this handy table:

Noise-canceling headphonesPriceBattery LifeForm FactorWireless ProtocolsCharging OptionsFrequency ResponseWhere to Buy
Sony WH-1000XM5$36930 hoursOver-ear, closed-backBluetooth 5.2USB-C4Hz-40,000HzAmazon, Best Buy, Walmart
Sony WH-1000XM4$34830 hoursOver-ear, closed-backBluetooth 5.0USB-C4Hz-40,000HzAmazon, Best Buy, Target
Apple AirPods Max$47720 hoursOver-ear, closed-backBluetooth 5.0Lightning10Hz-20,000Hz (estimated)Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart
Razer Barracuda Pro$220Up to 40 hoursOver-ear, closed-backBluetooth 5.2, 2.4GHz wirelessUSB-C20Hz-20,000HzAmazon, Best Buy, Razer
Anker Soundcore Life Q20$45Up to 40 hoursOver-ear, closed-backBluetooth 5.0Micro USB16Hz-40,000HzAmazon, Walmart
Bose QuietComfort 45$279Up to 24 hoursOver-ear, closed-backBluetooth 5.1USB-CN/AAmazon, Best Buy, Walmart
Bose 700$380Up to 20 hoursOver-ear, closed-backBluetooth 5.0USB-CN/AAmazon, Best Buy, Target

Which are the right noise-canceling headphones for you?

Whether you're back in the workplace or at home, environmental noise can be a hindrance to productivity and entertainment. While every option on this list can help dampen noise, if not eliminate it entirely, each option also offers a unique set of features that make it best suited to particular users with more specific goals than just generally blocking noise.

Choose these noise-canceling headphones...

If you want...

Sony WH-1000XM5

The best overall ANC for blocking out ambient sound and sudden, loud noises. With an exceptional frequency response range of 4Hz-40,000Hz, these headphones can reproduce every detail of music.

Sony WH-1000XM4

The best portable option with maximum versatility and exceptional sound. Equipped with a feature that can automatically pause music playback when the headphones are removed from the ears.

AirPods Max

The best sound quality or a pair of headphones that "just works" with any Apple product. The headphones feature a sleek and durable metal design, making them both beautiful and sturdy.

Razer Barracuda Pro

A one-device option that's great for gaming, entertainment, and professional use. The built-in amplifier is THX AAA-certified for low sound distortion and noise, providing crystal-clear sound quality.

Anker Soundcore Life Q20

An inexpensive option for younger users and those who tend to be hard on electronics. These headphones are also high-resolution audio certified, ensuring exceptional sound quality.

Bose QuietComfort 45

A comfortable set of ANC headphones from Bose. Plus, with a 15-minute quick charge, users can enjoy up to three hours of playback time.

Bose 700

The best microphones in noise-canceling headphones. The capacitive touch controls on the earcup allow for easy music playback and call management.

How did ZDNET choose these noise-canceling headphones?

While deciding on our recommendations, we focused on finding products that provide solid noise-canceling and additional features that make them stand out. We considered ratings and reviews (both good and bad), renowned brands, and our own experience with the products when selecting our picks. 

What is noise cancellation?

Headphones with noise cancellation, or Active Noise Cancellation (ANC for short), uses microphones to listen to external sound. The headphones then omit a sound wave that counteracts the one threatening your peace and quiet, destructing and "canceling" out the noise. Read ZDNET's more in-depth explanation

Is it worth buying noise-canceling headphones?

If you often find yourself getting distracted by outside noise as you study, work, walk, commute, and wish you could just block it out, then yes. Noise-canceling headphones can be pricey, but worth it, especially when you just need to focus. If you don't want to commit to a larger pair of over-ear headphones, make sure to check out ZDNET's picks for the best noise-canceling earbuds, for a plethora of pocket-sized options. 

Do noise-canceling headphones protect hearing?

Noise-canceling headphones are not specifically meant to protect your hearing. That said, the lack of outside noise means you can often listen to your audio at lower volume levels than you would if it were competing with ambient noise. This results in indirectly protecting your hearing by helping you keep your volume at a safer level, as detailed in our five tips for preventing hearing loss caused by headphones.

Can you choose noise reduction levels on noise-canceling headphones?

Yes. Some headsets offer adaptive noise-canceling and will allow users to select the level of background noise they are comfortable with, including "transparent" or "hear-through" modes. This can be particularly useful if you want to wear them while on the move and stay aware of traffic or your general surroundings.

What is the difference between active and passive noise-canceling headphones?

Active noise-canceling headphones use advanced technology to generate sound waves that cancel out external noise, while passive noise-canceling headphones use physical materials like foam to block out sound waves.

Are there alternative noise-canceling headphones to consider?

The market is full of noise-canceling headphones to consider. Brands like Audio-Technica, JBL, and Sennheiser make great ANC headphones as well. In addition to our top picks, here are a few other noise-canceling headphones worth looking into.

Audio-Technica QuietPoint ATH-ANC700BT


Audio-Technica QuietPoint ATH-ANC700BT - A good noise-canceling alternative with long-lasting battery life

Audio-Technica QuietPoint ATH-ANC700BT Headphones offer excellent sound quality and long battery life.

View at Amazon
JBL Live 660NC


JBL Live 660NC - A good noise-canceling alternative with a comfortable design

JBL Live 660NC is a versatile option with a comfortable design and good sound quality.

View at Amazon
Sennheiser HD 450BT


Sennheiser HD 450BT - A good noise-canceling alternative with "premium" features at a reasonable price

Sennheiser HD 450BT provides premium audio quality and noise-canceling capabilities for a reasonable price.

View at Amazon
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