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The top noise-canceling headphones -- and can they protect hearing?

The top noise-canceling headphones use advanced technology to reduce background noises, giving you an immersive listening experience. Here are the best noise-canceling headphones you can buy right now.

There are many instances when you may need to tune out the world around you. When it's time to really focus and keep your productivity flowing, or when you need to simply listen to a podcast or an album without distractions, noise-canceling headphones make a difference. 

Also: The best holiday tech gifts for everyone on your nice list

Active noise cancellation (ANC) technology has come a long way, and now, there are headphones on the market that allow you to make sound profile customization to noise-cancellation preferences, are compatible with smart voice assistant, and have long battery lives with quick-charging capabilities. 

Whether you need them for commuting, to tune out kids or housemates, or to work or study without surrounding noise, these are the best noise-canceling headphones to dampen the constant noise around you. 

More: 

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

Tech 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: 4 Hz-40,000 Hz

Sony's WH-1000XM line has offered the best active noise-canceling headphones since the technology was invented. Since then, Sony has continued to improve its sound quality, ANC functionality, and battery life. 

The latest iteration revamps the design with a slimmer aesthetic. While early reviewers seem divided about the new look, nearly everyone agrees that the WH-1000XM5 headphones offer the best ANC yet, and some of the best overall sound-blocking technology currently available. 

Read the 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 who's interested, first and foremost, in a long-wearing, comfortable pair of wireless headphones. These headphones will block out the vast majority of outside distractions through a combination of passive sound isolation and advanced ANC technology.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Supports two simultaneous device connections
  • Automatically pauses when headphones are removed
  • Folding design
Cons
  • Older visual aesthetics
  • Users with large ears may feel the inside of the earcups making contact
  • Pricey for a 2-year-old model
More Details

Tech 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: 4 Hz-40,000 Hz

While Sony's latest and greatest ANC headphones are the WH-1000XM5s seen above, the company still sells its incredibly popular WH-1000XM4s, which made their debut in 2020. This previous-generation model lacks the secondary ANC processor that gives the latest model its noise cancellation boost. However, it boasts a very similar level of sound quality, albeit tuned slightly differently, and a list of features that can still beat most other ANC headphones on the market.

On top of its impressive staying power, the WH-100XM4s travel more easily than the newer version, thanks to a folding design and compact carrying case. The portability is a huge boon to the business traveler or on-the-go worker who must constantly stow their ANC headphones in a backpack, briefcase, or carry-on. 

Read the review: Sony WH-1000XM4 review

The unit also has a unique design aesthetic, with the subtle accents like the metallic ANC microphone surrounds as well as metallic construction. This balance of more broadly appealing aesthetics, high-quality ANC audio, and lower cost can make these headphones a wiser choice than the more expensive successor. That said, those wanting the absolute best in ANC may still want to drop an extra $50 or so.

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

Tech 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: 10 Hz-20,000 Hz (estimated)

Before the AirPods Max came around, Apple's small, plastic earbuds targeted a very general audience. The Apple AirPods Max are over-ear headphones with a mostly metal construction. They feature a control scheme borrowed, rather unexpectedly, from the Apple Watch, and a collection of internals that Apple believed would justify a price several times higher than standard AirPods. 

While the debate rages over whether or not wireless audio is even worth considering, the AirPods Max has found a vocal, niche fanbase. Many enthusiasts point to the fact that the AirPods Max combine exceptional sound with the same benefits Apple device owners have enjoyed for years in the AirPods line. This includes instant connectivity, multi-device switching, and the ability to tweak settings and see charge levels via another Apple device, including iPhones, iPads, and more. 

Read the reviewAirPods Max review

The AirPods Max is not without haters, who usually point out the weight, widely panned case (which our own Jason Cipriani called "a joke"), and the unusual control scheme. However, these complaints are largely drowned out by the relative chorus of praise for the sound quality. Some consider the AirPods Max not only the best of any Apple headphones today, but also one of the best wireless headphones period. 

Combine this with a level of ANC that meets or exceeds what's currently offered by leaders like Sony and Bose, and you've got an entry that justifies its price tag for some users.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • 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
Cons
  • 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

Tech 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: 20 Hz-20,000 Hz

Most good ANC headphones aren't cheap, and neither are high-quality gaming headsets. You may be looking for a single product you can use to listen to music, participate in video calls, or game.

The problem is the vast majority of ANC headphones rely exclusively on Bluetooth for their connectivity. While this protocol has been updated over the years, it still suffers from some latency. This means the audio output by BT-powered ANC headphones can be delayed with a noticeable discrepancy between audio and associated visuals. This can be annoying for videos and downright disastrous for games, where a split second can win or lose a match for you. 

Read the reviewRazer Barracuda Pro review

This is where the Razer Barracuda Pro comes in. It combines Bluetooth, ANC, and most important, 2.4GHz wireless connectivity. Unlike Bluetooth, 2.4GHz wireless has almost no perceptible latency, putting it 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 more. You even can switch between the Bluetooth and 2.4GHz modes with a single tap to take a call, and hop right back into your game after.

Unfortunately, we noticed some issues with how the built-in ANC reacts to certain games in our full review of the Barracuda Pro. But the rare combination of features still makes it a unique option well worth considering for gamers who want impressive ANC while listening to music or video on the go.

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

Tech 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: 16 Hz-40,000 Hz

As we've mentioned before, ANC technology generally doesn't come cheap. The microphone arrays, onboard processing, and required power cells tend to push the price of most options well into triple digits. But Anker is a company known for taking traditionally expensive products and creating high-quality versions that are much cheaper.

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." 

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 or even supposedly responsible adults who can't seem to stop breaking or losing their wireless headphones. 

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

Tech 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 updated QuietComfort 45 headphones come with Bluetooth 5.1 connectivity, USB-C fast charging, and up to 24 hours of battery life. An array of microphones power its updated ANC system to provide what Bose claims is its "best noise cancelling." The company has also updated the hardware and software of this generation to provide a more personalized listening experience. Users can now use the compatible Bose Music app to apply Active EQ technology for additional sound profile customization to noise-cancellation preferences. 

Also: The best Bose headphones

All of this updated technology comes in a package that maintains Bose's trademark minimalistic design and all-day wearability. 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.

If you're a daily commuter, remote worker, or student that needs peace and quiet for studying, these headphones are a great option that you won't have to charge frequently. 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Capacitive controls
  • 8 total microphones
  • Can simultaneously pair with two Bluetooth devices
  • Sleek
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Comparably low battery life
More Details

Tech 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

Another great noise-canceling option from Bose are the Bose 700 noise-canceling headphones. What makes this pair of headphones shine are the eight microphones: six have active noise-canceling technology and four have voice pickup (two of these also have noise canceling). 

These headphones offer 11 levels of noise cancellation to provide the ideal amount of background sound for comfortable working and music listening. This can all be controlled via the capacitive right earcup, so you can tap and swipe to do things like play/pause, advance music tracks, take calls, or even issue voice commands to Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, or Siri. 

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 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. 

What are the best noise-canceling headphones for most people?

ZDNET deems the Sony WH-1000XM5 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.

Noise-canceling headphones

Price

Battery life

Quick charge

Sony WH-1000XM5

$398

30 hours

3 hours on a 3-minute charge

Sony WH-1000XM4

$349

30 hours

5 hours on a 10-minute charge

Apple AirPods Max

$499

20 hours

1.5 hours on a 5-minute charge

Razer Barracuda Pro

$250

40 hours

N/A

Anker Soundcore Life Q20

$60

40 hours

4 hours on a 5-minute charge

Bose QuietComfort 45

$329

24 hours

3 hours on a 15-minute charge

Bose 700

$379

20 hours

3.5 hours on a 15-minute charge 

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

Sony WH-1000XM4

The best portable option with maximum versatility and exceptional sound

AirPods Max

The best sound quality or a pair of headphones that "just works" with any Apple product

Razer Barracuda Pro

A one-device option that's great for gaming, entertainment, and professional use

Anker Soundcore Life Q20

An inexpensive option for younger users and those who tend to be hard on electronics

Bose QuietComfort 45

A comfortable set of ANC headphones from Bose

Bose 700

The best microphones in noise-canceling headphones

How did we choose these noise-canceling headphones?

While deciding on our recommendations, we focused on finding products that provide solid noise-canceling as well as additional features that make them stand out. We considered ratings and reviews (both good and bad), renowned brands, and pricing when making our top picks. 

What is noise cancellation?

Noise-canceling headphones reduce unwanted ambient sounds using active noise cancellation. Active noise-cancellation uses microphones to listen to outside sound and "cancels" out those noises by producing soundwaves that destructively clash with external sounds, canceling them out before they can reach your ears.

Is it worth buying noise-canceling headphones?

Yes. In a packed workplace or a busy street while working out, sometimes the outside noise can drown out the earbud noise. With noise-canceling headphones, you can focus less on what's outside and more on what you are working on.

Do noise-canceling headphones protect hearing?

No. 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.

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.

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