If you travel a lot, you need one of the best noise cancelling headphones. They suppress outside noise, prevent your music, podcasts, and audiobooks from being ruined by the outside world, and allow you to listen at an average volume, potentially preserving your hearing. The best noise-cancelling headphones not only block out passive noise by providing a physical barrier, as is the case with all in-ear and over-ear headphones.
They use technology to add an additional level of Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) that’s especially invaluable in airplanes, trains, and city streets – wherever lower noise levels are constant. The best noise-cancelling headphones from Bose, Sony, Marshall, and others are currently the most popular and profitable parts of the over-ear headphones market at some distance.
Best Noise Cancelling Headphones
The best is the high-end technology that makes noise-cancelling headphones fantastic, not just in some of the most expensive models. There are many styles and brands to choose from these days, from the ultra-premium to more budget-friendly cans.
The best noise cancelling headphone right now
The Sony WH-1000XM4 delivers excellent noise cancellation and surprising sound quality in a lightweight, comfortable design. Although they do not look significantly different from their predecessors, the Sony WH-1000XM3, a number of new features such as multipoint pairing, DSEE Extreme upscaling, conversation awareness, and auto-play/pause using a built-in sensor, help the WH-1000XM4 claim the title of best headphone in 2020. The Sony WH-1000XM4 is in every way a beautiful wireless noise-canceling headphone.
They deliver exactly what they promise, and then some thanks to their exceptional noise cancellation and advanced codec support. On top of the above adjustments, the Sony WH-1000XM4 supports Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format, which enables spatial audio on stereo headphones, plus the LDAC codec, which can transmit a bit rate of up to 990 kbps. The unfortunate thing is that it no longer supports aptX or aptX HD, so the mileage of your Hi-Res Audio can vary.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
The best alternative to the Sony WH-1000XM4
They don’t quite beat the Sony WH-1000XM4s in terms of lifespan and price, but the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 is still a brilliant pair of over-ear cans – and the best Bose headphones we’ve reviewed. Traditionally, noise-cancelling headphones are designed to block out the ambient noise around you, so you can hear your music more clearly (or pick it up a little during a noisy flight). This can be really effective when listening to music. However, when you make a phone call, the person you’re talking to can still hear everything that’s going on around you.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 try to address this by applying noise cancellation to phone calls and music, which is a great feature – which is why these are the best noise-cancelling headphones for making calls. The sound quality is unmistakably good, with a lively, vibrant character and a well-balanced sound image.
If you’re trying to choose between the Sony WH-1000XM4s and the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, we recommend you go for first because of that lower price and better battery life. That said, you wouldn’t make a mistake if you chose the Bose cans instead – they sound great, look great and the noise cancellation is out of this world. Overall, this is one of the best noise cancelling headphones right now.
Still, one of the best noise cancelling headphones
The Sony WH-1000XM3 was the best noise cancelling headphones in the world for two years in a row – and although they have been surpassed by the new Sony WH-2000XM4, there is still a lot to love about these over-ear looks. For music lovers, the Sony WH-1000XM3 features aptX HD and Sony LDAC, two of the best ways to listen to Hi-Res music from your phone without a cable. Moreover, all of Sony’s flagship headphones offer both Google Assistant and Alexa support. If you can get hold of the older, second-generation Sony WH-1000XM2, they are still very much worthwhile as a more affordable (if slightly lower-specific) model.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II
The best noise cancelling headphone with the best voice assistant support
Number four is the Bose QuietComfort 35 II – an almost identical product to the already outstanding Bose QuietComfort 35 but updated with Google Assistant. This means you’ll still get the industry-leading noise cancellation for which Bose is renowned, good sound quality and incredible comfort, plus a handy assistant to answer any questions you might have while traveling. Taken as a whole, the Bose QC35 II NC is an excellent pair of headphones for travelers and commuters. Bose has found a good balance of features that will satisfy most mainstream listeners.
Despite the popularity of the QC35s, Bose has shaken things up by releasing a completely new model of wireless noise cancelling headphones, with an emphasis on sleek design and “breakthrough” audio technology: the Bose Noise-cancelling Headphones 700. They may not have grabbed Sony to the top spot of the best noise cancelling headphones, but they’re still a fantastic pair of over-ear headphones, coming in at number two.
The best noise cancelling true wireless earbuds
It’s rare to find a pair of wired earphones, let alone a pair of real wireless earphones on a list of the best noise-cancelling headphones; given that it’s still rare to find the technology in earphones, the Sony WF-1000XM3’s are very impressive, and fully deserve a place in this roundup. The Sony WF-1000XM3s manages to offer a level of noise cancellation that is very good for a pair of earplugs – they will not offer the same isolation as a pair of over-ear cans, but if you are looking for a slim form factor then the compromise is worth it.
These are the best noise cancelling headphones for those who prefer an in-ear shape factor. Not only are these the best wireless headphones out there, but they also combine serious noise-cancelling technology with a fist-turning musicality. If you don’t want the inconvenience of carrying full-size cans with you, they are a convincing alternative.
Shure AONIC 50
Finally, a noise cancelling headphone from Shure
The Shure AONIC 50 has a wireless, active noise-canceling over-ear design, and sells at a premium price to compete with Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bose NC 700 headphones. In the end, while you won’t find every feature here under the sun, the Shure AONIC 50 is focused on delivering the best sound quality from almost any noise-cancelling headphone – making them the best noise cancelling headphones for audiophiles.
Jabra Elite 85H
A decent alternative to Sony and Bose
The Elite 85h offers class-leading battery life, great style, and plenty of personalization when it comes to sound profiles, and is easily recommended. That said, purists will complain about the lack of high-end codec support and there are punchier headphones on the market at this price point. Considering that Jabra’s Elite 85h headphones are the company’s first attempt to create the best ANC wireless headphones, the result is highly commendable. We can’t wait to see what the company’s next premium ANC headphones will achieve.
Apple AirPods Pro
For Apple fans
Apple’s latest true wireless earphones come with active noise cancellation and a better fit and sound than their predecessors, the Apple AirPods. At $249, they’re pretty pricey though, but they’re optimized for iPhone users. The redesign means they’re much less likely to fail, and the additional microphones provide strong noise cancellation, as well as a useful Transparency Mode that really lets the outside world in.
The sound quality of the AirPods Pro has certainly improved since the previous iteration – there’s a remarkable emphasis on vocals and bass, which means these earbuds are better for pop fans than those who enjoy a more natural presentation that lends itself to classical music or more orchestral sounds. Overall, this is one of the best noise cancelling headphones that you can buy.
Marshall Monitor II ANC
Excellent value for money
The Marshall Monitor II ANC is undoubtedly the brand’s best headphones yet; the audio quality offered here far surpasses all previous models, with a balanced presentation, smooth midrange tones, and a generally powerful, rock-solid sound. They feel comfortable, come with tons of cool rock heritage, and look stylish. This makes the Marshall Monitor II ANCs, next to their good noise cancellation, easy operation, and accompanying app, a convincing alternative to the Sony WH-1000XM4. They do not completely win in terms of sound quality or noise cancellation, but these over-ear headphones are still very good.
Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless
Headphones that don’t skimp on smart features
In terms of pure sound quality, the Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless headphones sound brilliant, with high levels of detail, warm bass, and natural-sounding treble. The adjustable noise cancellation offered here is also good but does not quite reach the leading standards set by the Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless headphones. They are far from the battery life of Sony’s headphones, and are more expensive – which begs the question, why buy the Sennheisers if you could have the WH-1000XM4?
Well, if the built-in Tile tracking appeals to you, and you like the industrial design and high-quality materials of the Momentum 3 Wireless, then that could be reason enough – and if you choose these headphones instead of the Sony model, you won’t miss out on any sound quality. In that respect, they are truly attuned to each other. Overall, this is one of the best noise cancelling headphones that you can buy.
JBL Tune 750BTNC
A budget noise cancelling headphones
JBL is a popular name in the world of headphones and Bluetooth speakers, and rightly so. The consumer is trustworthy and knows what to expect from the brand: a decent sound quality at a decent price. That’s what we found with the JBL Live 650BTNC last year – and now, ready to take their place, are the JBL Tune 750BTNC, a superior successor to the 650BTNCs as a high-specification and well-priced set of over-ear headphones. The JBL Tune 750BTNC sounds great, looks great, and fits well. Reliable and easy to use, you may miss the waterproofness and a few small features – but at this price, it feels silly to complain too easily.
Bowers and Wilkins PX7 Wireless
Strong overall performance with great looks
If you are looking for truly stylish noise-cancelling headphones and you are not put off by the $399 price tag, then the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 is worth considering. With advanced noise cancellation, brilliant sound quality, and sophisticated aesthetics, the PX7 can give any of the headphones on this list a run for their money. Plus, they pack aptX Adaptive for better stability and latency between the headphones and your device, as well as high-quality (24-bit) streaming aptX HD brought to the table. Overall, this is one of the best noise cancelling headphones that you can buy.
Microsoft Surface Headphones 2
Decent noise cancelling performance and impressive bass
The Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 is the tech giant’s second pair of noise-cancelling headphones, and they offer a lot of great improvements over the original Surface Headphones while retaining some of their best qualities. Despite these improvements – including longer battery life and more comfortable design – Surface Headphones 2 are significantly cheaper than their predecessors, making them the obvious choice when trying to choose between the two.
That lower price also makes them a great alternative to the best 2020 headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM4, especially as they have retained the winning design features of the original Surface Headphones, with built-in dials on each ear cup to control your music and active noise cancellation.
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2
A decent alternative to Sony WF-1000XM3
The sound quality, battery life, and design of the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 are truly brilliant – and they’re a really good alternative to the Sony WF-1000XM3, especially if you prefer a more flashy design to decorate your ears. We did find that people with smaller ears sometimes find them a little uncomfortable, and their high price only keeps them from reaching the top of this round. Different? Sennheiser has pretty much knocked it out of the park with these buds, offering a smart look and stunning sound as well as great noise cancellation.