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The best noise-canceling headphones you can buy: Expert tested

I tested the top noise-canceling headphones from Sony, Bose, Apple, and more so you can tune out the world around you and focus on what's important.
Written by Jada Jones, Associate Editor
Reviewed by Nina Raemont
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones | Best noise-canceling headphones overall
Bose QuietComfort Ultra in White Smoke
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones
Best noise-canceling headphones overall
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Sony WH-1000XM5 | Best noise-canceling headphones for software fanatics
Closeup of Sony WH-1000XM5 headset
Sony WH-1000XM5
Best noise-canceling headphones for software fanatics
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Sony WH-1000XM4 | Best portable noise-canceling headphones
Sony WH-1000XM4
Best portable noise-canceling headphones
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Apple AirPods Max | Best noise-canceling headphones for Apple users
Apple AirPods Max
Best noise-canceling headphones for Apple users
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Bose QuietComfort 45 | Best comfortable noise-canceling headphones
Bose QuietComfort 45
Best comfortable noise-canceling headphones
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Monoprice BT-600ANC | Best budget noise-canceling headphones
The Monoprice BT-600ANC headphones lying on a desk
Monoprice BT-600ANC
Best budget noise-canceling headphones
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Are loud neighbors, droning lawnmowers, and never-ending office chatter distracting you? If so, it sounds like you can benefit from investing in a pair of headphones with solid noise-canceling technology. Noise-canceling earbuds could work, too, but needing to charge after a few hours could take you out of your deep focus earlier than intended.

Also: The best noise-canceling earbuds: Expert tested and reviewed

Noise-canceling headphones are your best friend during your daily commute, workday in the office, or long stretches of travel. If you need hours of quiet to get you through the day, you'll want headphones that offer comfort and longevity. I tested plenty of noise-canceling headphones that provide all-day comfort, lengthy battery life, and, of course -- effective noise-canceling tech. Keep reading to see my top picks.

What are the best noise-canceling headphones right now?

The Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones are the best noise-canceling headphones right now. Their strong noise-canceling technology, great sound, immense comfort, and incredible versatility make them not only the best noise-canceling headphones but also the best headphones for everyday use. 

The best noise-canceling headphones of 2024

Pros & Cons
  • Competitive ANC
  • Comfortable fit
  • Balanced sound
  • Battery life could be longer
  • Carrying case is restrictive
More Details

The Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones are best known for their impressive noise-canceling properties and all-day comfort, living up to their QuietComfort namesake. Bose's latest noise-canceling over-ear headphones are the best in class in the noise-canceling department.

Review: Bose QuietComfort Ultra

The QuietComfort Ultra headphones are ideal for commuting, studying, and working in an office, as the noise-canceling tech in these headphones does a great job of quieting conversational noises. Through my testing, I found that the QuietComfort Ultra's noise-canceling does a great job of silencing lower-frequency sounds, such as a running refrigerator, AC unit, or plane engine. 

As great as the noise cancellation is, the QuietComfort Ultra headphones also deliver top-notch transparency mode, allowing you to quickly toggle between letting the world in and blocking it out. Even more, the QuietComfort Ultra have great sound reproduction and a list of future-proof software features.

Bose QuietComfort Ultra specs: Weight: 8.96 oz. | Battery life: 24 hours (ANC off) | Bluetooth: Yes (5.3) | Multipoint: Yes | Noise cancellation (in dB): -28 dB

Pros & Cons
  • Best ANC on the market
  • Excellent voice sound quality
  • Modern design
  • Lacks portability
  • Larger carrying case
More Details

Sony is one of the biggest names in the consumer headphones world, and we think that's for good reason. Sony's WH-1000XM5 delivers superb sound quality, effective noise-canceling, a sleek design, and all-day battery life. When we reviewed the XM5 headphones last year, we enjoyed the XM5's immersive ANC and clear, crisp sound.

Review: Sony WH-1000XM5

The Sony XM5 headphones are equipped with automatic adaptive active noise-canceling (ANC), meaning the mics on the outside of the ear cups are constantly listening to your surroundings. These microphones then funnel the noise into internal audio processors that dictate how much noise-canceling technology you need based on your environment's noise levels.

The Sony XM5 over-ear headphones are ideal for commuting and travel, as their noise-canceling tech does a great job at dulling and reducing conversational noises. However, these headphones struggle to decrease external noises with lower frequencies, like the low rumble of a train or plane engine. 

Sony WH-1000XM5 specs: Weight: 8.81 oz. | Battery life: 40 hours (ANC off) Bluetooth: Yes (5.2) | Multipoint: Yes | Noise cancellation (in dB): -27 dB

Pros & Cons
  • Portable design
  • Future-proof software
  • Sturdy build
  • Outdated design
  • Shallow ear cups
More Details

While the WH-1000XM5 are the latest over-ear headphones from Sony, the WH-1000XM4 headphones, which debuted in 2020, are another great option. This model may lack the secondary ANC processor that's present in the newer version, but it still provides superb sound and noise-canceling quality. 

Review: Sony WH-1000XM4

When we reviewed the XM4 headphones, we found the ANC to be extremely effective at blocking external noises. These headphones have held their value over the years, and the ANC is still strong and outstanding. 

In fact, the Sony XM4 over-ear headphones' noise-canceling is slightly stronger than its successor, the XM5. The XM4 headphones are great for travel and commuting, as their ANC does well at minimizing lower-frequency sounds and quiet voice chatter.

Sony WH-1000XM4 specs: Weight: 8.85 oz. | Battery life: 38 hours (ANC off) | Bluetooth: Yes (5.0) | Multipoint: Yes | Noise cancellation (in dB): -28dB

Pros & Cons
  • Best for Apple ecosystem
  • Sturdy build
  • High-quality sound
  • Proprietary lightning cable charging
  • Bulky
  • Limited software functionality
More Details

If you're dedicated to the Apple ecosystem, you'll want the AirPods Max. We praised the AirPods Max for their clear, detailed sound and effective ANC properties. The AirPods Max can seamlessly connect with all your compatible Apple devices and can easily switch between your Apple device's audio outputs.

Review: AirPods Max

The AirPods Max are made of titanium and heavy metals, giving them a premium and sturdy build. Not to mention, their futuristic and clean design doubles as a fashion statement.

The AirPods Max are equipped with adaptive noise-cancellation, meaning microphones on the outer ear cups listen for noises, and the headphones' ANC adjusts itself based on external volume levels. AirPods Max's ANC performs well, and these headphones make a great companion for commuting and travel.

Apple AirPods Max specs: Weight: 13.6 oz. | Battery life: 20 hours (ANC off) | Bluetooth: Yes (5.0) | Multipoint: No | Noise cancellation (in dB): -25 dB

Pros & Cons
  • Durable
  • Comfortable fit
  • Strong ANC
  • Slightly dated design
  • Short battery life
More Details

If you want lightweight, comfortable, and reliable headphones, the Bose QuietComfort 45 headphones are for you. The QuietComfort 45 are a predecessor to the QuietComfort Ultra, offering many of the same beloved features.

Review: Bose QuietComfort 45

Through my testing, the Bose QuietComfort 45 have spectacular ANC, which is to be expected from Bose. Noises in the lower frequency range, like the hums and rumbles of engines, are blocked out exceptionally well by the QuietComfort 45.

These headphones' impressive ANC makes them great for commuting and travel, but you'll need to remember to charge them since their battery life is on the shorter side. If the QuietComfort Ultra are too expensive but you still want Bose headphones for their effective ANC, you should check out the QuietComfort 45.

Bose QuietComfort 45 specs: Weight: 8.46 oz. | Battery life: 22 hours (ANC off) | Bluetooth: Yes (5.1) | Multipoint: Yes | Noise cancellation (in dB): -24 dB

Pros & Cons
  • Effective ANC
  • Long battery life
  • Travel-friendly
  • No EQ settings
  • Lacks software features
More Details

If you want highly effective noise-canceling for less than $150, consider the Monoprice BT-600ANC headphones.

When I tested the Monoprice BT-600ANC headphones, I concluded that these headphones' noise-canceling properties could easily compete with Bose. However, other features like updated software and sound quality are on the lower-quality end. Still, if you want headphones with impressive noise-canceling for less than $150, these will satisfy you.

Review: Monoprice BT-600ANC

The BT-600ANC headphones successfully block higher, mid, and lower-frequency noises and effectively suppress quiet voice chatter. These headphones are great for commuting and travel but will also perform well for office workers, students, or people who share living spaces.

Monoprice BT-600ANC tech specs: Weight: 10 oz. | Battery life: 40 hours (ANC off) | Bluetooth: Yes (5.0) | Multipoint: Yes | Noise cancellation (in dB): -30 dB

What are the best noise-canceling headphones?

The Bose QuietComfort Ultra are a great option for people who take their headphones everywhere they go. These headphones have highly effective noise-canceling technology and sport plushy, soft ear cups. These two factors make them useful, comfortable, and suitable for all-day wear. To see how they stack up, here is a summary of the best noise-canceling headphones.

HeadphonesPriceWeightBattery lifeBluetooth version
Bose QuietComfort Ultra$4298.96 oz.24 hours (ANC off)5.3
Sony WH-1000XM5$4008.81 oz.40 hours (ANC off)5.2
Sony WH-1000XM4$3488.85 oz.38 hours (ANC off)5.0
Apple AirPods Max$54913.6 oz.20 hours (ANC off)5.0
Bose QuietComfort 45$3298.46 oz.22 hours (ANC off)5.1
Monoprice BT-600ANC$10010 oz.40 hours (ANC off)5.0

Which noise-canceling headphones are the right for you?

Whether you're 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, no noise-canceling headphones can completely eliminate noise, especially in noisy environments. Still, each option offers a unique set of features that make it best suited to particular users with more specific goals than just blocking noise.

Choose these noise-canceling headphones...

If you want...

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Sony 

The best headphones from Bose. The QC Ultra are the latest over-ear headphones from the company, delivering the best Bose has to offer

Sony WH-1000XM5

Exceptional noise-canceling technology and impressive sound quality. These headphones offer comprehensive software features for future-forward users.

Sony WH-1000XM4

Premium Sony headphones for a lower premium price. If your desire is a pair of premium cans from Sony, but you don't want to pay $400, these are for you.

Apple AirPods Max

The most premium option that will natively work well with your Apple devices. These headphones will deliver great sound and ANC while blending into your Apple ecosystem.

Bose QuietComfort 45

Bose headphones for a less premium price. The QuietComfort 45 are a few years older than the Ultra, but offer many of the same premium features for less money.

Monoprice BT-600ANC

The best ANC for the lowest price. The BT-600ANC delivers noise-canceling that can compete with the most expensive headphones in this list for only $100.

Factors to consider when choosing noise-canceling headphones

The ZDNET team conducted thorough, hands-on testing of the headphones on this list. Aside from simply including options that advertise noise-canceling tech, we tested the strength of each pair of headphones' noise-canceling properties. We also considered other metrics like design, build quality, and battery life.

  • Design: Some people want their headphones to have a sleek and uniform design, while others prefer flashier, standout design elements. We considered headphones that can fit into each category to offer the most design diversity possible.
  • Build quality: If your headphones are going with you everywhere you go throughout the day, you'll want a pair that can withstand some short drops, bumps, and scrapes. We chose headphones with frames made from hard plastics and tough metals to ensure they can handle everyday wear and tear.
  • Battery life: Noise-canceling headphones are likely to stick with you through your daily activities, and their battery life shouldn't give up on you halfway through the day. We chose headphones that have at least 24 hours of continuous use battery life, so you can stay focused all day.

How we test headphones

The ZDNET team spends weeks with a pair of headphones, using them in many environments like libraries, coffee shops, grocery stores, trains, and the office. We do so to test how well a pair of noise-canceling headphones perform in various environments, as each environment offers a different symphony of sounds.

Although you can test noise-canceling headphones objectively on a noise isolation graph, you should conduct your own testing in your frequented environments to see how they hold up. At the end of the day, the only way to know if a pair of headphones works for you is to try them yourself.

What are the different types of noise cancellation?

Headphones employ multiple types of noise-canceling technology, with the most common being active noise cancellation (ANC). However, some headphones use hybrid or adaptive noise cancellation, and all headphones use a degree of passive noise cancellation.

Active noise cancellation uses microphones on the inside of your ear cups to detect external noise and produce an equal but opposite sound wave to cancel the extraneous noise inside your ear cups. Headphones with only internal mics have less effective noise canceling, but the sound quality tends to remain untouched by the sounds produced by the microphones.

Hybrid noise cancellation is a type of ANC that uses microphones inside and outside your ear cups to listen for a greater frequency of external noise. The additional external microphones make the noise-canceling properties stronger, but sometimes the sound quality is compromised.

Adaptive noise cancellation works similarly to passive and active noise cancellation but uses computer algorithms to assess the noise in your environment. If your headphones with adaptive noise cancellation detect you've entered a noisier environment, they will increase the noise cancellation. 

Passive noise cancellation, sometimes called noise isolation, refers to how well headphones naturally block ambient by solely covering your ears. There is no technology involved with this kind of noise reduction. Closed-back headphones with a snug fit will have better passive noise cancellation, while open-back and loose-fitting headphones will allow more ambient noise to reach your ears.

Should I buy noise-canceling headphones?

If you work from home, are a student, frequently travel, or work in a shared office, noise-canceling headphones will benefit you. If you find yourself spending hours of your day in deep work but are frequently distracted by external noises, invest in a pair of noise-canceling headphones.

Noise-canceling headphones can also help you if you feel overwhelmed by the loud noises of crowded public spaces like airports and grocery stores. Keep in mind that noise-canceling headphones cannot completely mute the world around you, and you're likely to hear voices, cars honking, and other loud noises, just at a lower volume.

Why do my ears feel pressure with ANC headphones?

Do you feel pressure in your ears when wearing noise-canceling headphones? You may feel the urge to pop your ears, similar to how it feels when you're on an airplane, riding an elevator, or diving in a body of water. This urge is the result of ear barotrauma (sometimes called airplane ear). When your middle ear senses a change in air or water pressure, your ears may feel clogged or blocked. However, noise-canceling headphones are not actually causing changes in your ear pressure. 

The pressure-like feeling you're experiencing with noise-canceling is your brain playing a trick on itself. You're more likely to experience this sensation if you're new to noise-canceling headphones. This phenomenon is normal, and it will go away after a few uses.  

Without noise-canceling technology, your brain is used to hearing, processing, and filtering out ambient noises in your environment. However, noise-canceling technology blocks ambient noises from your ears. Usually, a lack of ambient noises signals a change in pressure in the middle ear, and you will pop your ears to relieve discomfort.

Still, noise-canceling headphones do not create pressure in your ear canal, and you shouldn't be concerned about experiencing minor cabin pressure. 

Why can I still hear with noise-canceling headphones?

Noise-canceling headphones can quiet the sounds around you. But noise-canceling technology has limitations. Noise-canceling headphones are most effective at canceling consistent sounds like an airplane engine or a lawnmower. They are not as effective at canceling sudden, sharp sounds, such as loud laughter or conversational noises.

Your noise-canceling headphones will serve you best when commuting or traveling. However, noise-canceling headphones can help decrease conversational noises when you're studying or working in public spaces.

Additionally, the fit and quality of noise-canceling technology affect its strength. If your headphones are too loose on your head or around your ears, external noises can slip through the ear cups.

Headphones with lower-quality noise-canceling tech are not as effective at canceling consistent or sudden noises.

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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