The best noise-canceling headphones of 2023: Sony, Bose, and…

Noise-canceling headphones are a wonder of the modern world. No, seriously, the tech that makes them work is borderline magical, bringing much-needed quiet to our everyday bus and plane rides, study and work sessions, and movie, music, and podcast enjoyment. The best noise canceling headphones have a great mix of features, including that all-important ANC, transparency mode for letting in some outside sounds, comfort, battery life, and, of course, price.

While active noise cancellation has been around for a while now and it’s almost standard in headphones from over-ear (our focus here) to earbuds, the feature is better in some than in others. Whatever your listening needs may be, though, we’ve got you covered.

We test a lot of noise-canceling headphones, and when it comes to the very best we feel that the Sony WH-1000XM5 simply cannot be beaten. They come from a great line of fantastic headphones (we’ve even kept their predecessor, the WH-1000XM4s, on this list) that sound awesome, are comfortable, and have best-in-class ANC. We consider them to be among the best wireless headphone options overall, which in turn led us to crown them the best headphones, period.

And if the WH-1000XM5 aren’t right for you, we’ve put together this extensive list of excellent alternatives. They all cancel noise, but each pair has its own specific strengths.

sony wh 1000xm5 review

Simon Cohen / /

Sony WH-1000XM5

The best overall

Pros

  • Excellent sound
  • Very good comfort
  • Ultra-clear call quality
  • Best-in-class noise canceling
  • Very good battery life
  • Hi-res compatible (wired/wireless)
  • Hands-free voice assistant access
  • Classy, modern design

Cons

  • Fold-flat, but don’t fold up

When it comes to top-notch sound quality, comfort, and ease of use, the Sony WH-1000XM5 is the best in every way, bar none.

Improving upon the previous generation’s WH-1000XM4 (our runner-up pick below) in more ways than one, we were amazed to find out that there even could be improvements made. But the powers at Sony had a few more tricks up their sleeves.

For starters, the XM5 are cozier to wear, thanks to an improved cushioning system and better weight distribution from cup to cup. In terms of actual audio, interestingly, the XM5 speaker drivers are 25% smaller than the ones found in the XM4, featuring 30mm carbon-fiber-based transducers that make listening to any music genre an absolute joy.

And let’s not forget the power of the XM5’s active noise cancelation (ANC). Utilizing eight microphones and two onboard audio processors, the XM5 are constantly listening and adapting to whatever environment you’re in, delivering the very best noise cancelation on the market.

Factoring in its Sony-exclusive LDAC lossless listening for Android devices (sorry, Apple fans), modest battery life, and a bevy of additional must-haves, it’s easy to see why we can’t stop raving about the Sony WH-1000XM5.

Sony WH-1000XM5

Sony WH-1000XM5

The best overall

sony wh 1000xm4 review 00013

Riley Young /

Sony WH-1000XM4

The runner-up

Pros

  • Very comfortable
  • Excellent sound quality
  • Excellent noise canceling
  • Very good call quality
  • Very good battery life
  • Bluetooth multi-device pairing
  • Handy, customizable features

While the WH-1000XM5 may be Sony’s latest and greatest headphone option, the WH-1000XM4 still holds up well as an alternative pick with a slightly lower price but many of the same excellent benefits.

In terms of battery life, the WH-1000XM4 deliver up to 30 hours with active noise cancellation on and 38 hours without. The XM4 also use advanced software algorithms and hardware when it comes to active noise cancellation, powerful tools that essentially eliminate any distracting environmental noise.

Like the XM5s, the XM4s also include Bluetooth multipoint connection, allowing them to be connected to two different devices at the same time. Essentially, you could be watching Netflix on your laptop, field a phone call on your mobile device, then effortlessly return to your streaming enjoyment.

The XM4 also features a wear sensor to automatically pause content when you remove the headphones, as well as Sony’s music upscaling tech, DSEE Extreme.

If you’re looking for a way to silence the outside world so you can be left alone to enjoy your favorite music, we highly recommend the Sony WH-1000XM4 as well as its newer upgrade. If you want to compare a similar noise-canceling option that’s not from Sony, you could also take a look at the Bose QuietComfort 45.

Sony WH-1000XM4

Sony WH-1000XM4

The runner-up

bowers and wilkins px8 review 00014

Simon Cohen /

Bowers & Wilkins Px8

The most extravagant noise-canceling headphones

Pros

  • Beautifully designed and built
  • Incredibly comfortable
  • Great sound quality
  • Decent noise cancellation

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Not ideal for calls in noisy places

The Px8 offers an interesting proposition for those with deep wallets: Pay about twice as much as other high-end headphones cost, and get a unique, luxurious experience that includes incredible wireless audio and effective noise cancellation.

Of course, at this price, you also get a comfortable design with massive ear cushions, leather padding, and aluminum notes that combine for a durable, beautiful fit that can last for hours without any discomfort. And the Carbon Cone drivers put in the work to deliver exceptional sound, with support for Bluetooth aptX Adaptive wireless tech for the best possible wireless experience (just keep in mind that iPhones don’t support aptX yet).

Battery life is also quite good for headphones this size, lasting up to 30 hours on a single charge. Are all these features combined worth the super-high price tag? That’s up to you to decide, but these headphones look amazing while delivering the high-end audio experience you’d expect, so style points can count for a lot. And if you like these and are willing to drop a little extra cash, check out the McLaren Edition version of the Px8s that Bowers & Wilkins created in collaboration with the supercar maker.

Bowers & Wilkins Px8

Bowers & Wilkins Px8

The most extravagant noise-canceling headphones

sennheiser momentum 4 wireless review

Zeke Jones/ /

Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless

The best for battery life

Pros

  • Amazing battery life
  • Outstanding sound
  • Effective wind noise reduction
  • Comfortable
  • Effective ANC

Sennheiser may not collect the same fanfare as other titan headphone names, but when it comes to craftsmanship and performance, there’s no doubt that your listening experience is going to be stellar when you invest in a set of Sennheisers, and the Momentum 4 Wireless are no exception.

Comfortable to wear and rocking only one button for all of your Bluetooth headphone needs (play/pause, answering calls, and adjusting noise-cancelation settings), the Momentum 4 comes out on top in two major categories — sound quality and battery life.

In terms of the former, you can expect to hear all kinds of details in songs you may have heard a million times over. This is thanks to Sennheiser’s dedication to giving its listeners the most complete soundstage possible. Mids and highs are on point, with plenty of articulation and next to no distortion, and the bass is some of the best low-end we’ve heard from any set of headphones.

Now, are you ready for the crowning laurel? The Momentum 4 Wireless is rated for up to 60 hours of battery, and that’s with active noise-cancelation enabled. This beats the Sony XM5 by a long shot, and frankly, competitive brands should use the Momentum 4 Wireless battery specs as a benchmark for future product designs.

Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 4

Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless

The best for battery life

apple airpods max review

Riley Young/

Apple AirPods Max

The best for Apple users

Pros

  • Best-in-class ANC
  • Amazing transparency mode
  • Excellent build quality
  • Excellent sound quality
  • Top-notch call quality

Cons

  • Charges via Lightning cable
  • Heavy on head

Apple has been on a roll when it comes to personal audio. The second-generation AirPods Pro have finally landed, and so far have been another hit for their true wireless earbuds lineup. But for Apple fans who still prefer next-level over-ear cans, the AirPods Max (a stunningly beautiful — and expensive — set of over-ear ANC headphones) are still the way to go — or at least until the next generation of the AirPods Max comer along.

Their design, with aluminum-covered earcups, a weight-distributing mesh headband, and some of the most intuitive controls we’ve ever used, is truly exceptional. We can’t say enough about the build quality, which puts most other high-end wireless cans to shame.

As Caleb Denison covers in his excellent review of the AirPods Max, sound quality is close, but not quite on par with the Sony WH-1000XM4s, but what really blew us away was the AirPods Max’s noise-cancellation, transparency mode, and call quality — each of which is better than the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700, and that’s saying something given how good the Bose are.

You could use the AirPods Max with non-Apple devices, but to do so would be an unfortunate waste of the AirPods Max’s talents. They pair instantly with devices such as iPhones and Macs and can switch between them in a snap. The spatial audio feature that’s compatible with both 1st- and 2nd-gen AirPods Pro, the Beats Fit Pro, and the AirPods 3 is amazing in the AirPods Max and can now be experienced with various iPhones, iPads, M1 or M2 Macs, Apple TV 4K, and more.

They’re not perfect — we think their heavy weight will prevent people from wanting to wear them for long listening sessions, and their included protective case has rightfully become the object of ridicule for its non-existent protection. And then, of course, there’s the price.

Still, if you’re an Apple fan with money to invest in personal audio, you likely won’t find a better set of active noise-canceling headphones than the AirPods Max.

Apple AirPods Max

Apple AirPods Max

The best for Apple users

bose quietcomfort 45 review 00022

Simon Cohen /

Bose QuietComfort 45

Best for comfort and quiet

Pros

  • Super comfortable
  • Very good noise canceling
  • Very good sound quality
  • Can connect to multiple devices

Cons

  • No wear detection
  • No EQ adjustments

It’s right there in the name. These iconic noise canceling headphones from Bose are both incredibly quiet and super comfortable. Few audio gear makers do ANC like Bose, whose founder Amar Bose invented the noise cancellation that we know today in 1989. Bose is still a leader in the tech, with the QC 45s being the company’s flagship.

The Bose QC 45s deliver excellent sound quality, with Digital Trend’s resident headphone expert, Simon Cohen, praising their “Bose sound” as having a nice balance of frequencies: “Bass is never absent from the formula, but nor does it trample its way through songs like an elephant wearing combat boots. And at the high end, there’s this extra hit of energy, a brightness that teeters on the edge of being sharp, but never makes you flinch,” Cohen writes.

And, of course, the ANC is world class, supplying the headphones with the perfect, clear silence that they’re known for, even if they don’t have the fancy features like the Sony WH-1000XM4‘s speech detection that automatically activates transparency mode (Bose calls it Aware mode) when you start talking.

Similarly to their cousin, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, the QC 45s are great headphones for making phone calls, and Bluetooth multipoint makes connecting to two devices simultaneously a breeze for your work or study day.

Battery life on the QuietComfort 45s is a decent 22 hours on a charge with ANC on, they fully charge up in just 2.5 hours, and a quick 15-minute zap can net you up to three hours of use.

Bose QuietComfort 45

Bose QuietComfort 45

Best for comfort and quiet

1more sonoflow review side

Ted Kritsonis /

1More SonoFlow

The best budget noise-canceling headphones

Pros

  • Great sound quality
  • Very comfortable for long periods
  • Ridiculous battery life
  • Solid ANC performance
  • Great app support
  • Affordable price

Cons

  • No wear sensors
  • Wired mode disables extra features

Noise cancellation technology has finally become affordable enough to find in some excellent budget headphones, and the SonoFlow is a near-perfect example that combines affordable ANC with great sound. You’re not giving up much at all while saving a lot of money compared to picks from Apple or Sony.

The 1More SonoFlow includes important features like support for high-res audio, an in-depth app with plenty of EQ customization options, and ANC that includes a transparency mode. The battery life is particularly incredible, offering up to 50 hours with ANC turned on, something that even high-end headphones would struggle to achieve.

There are a couple of small drawbacks, like the lack of a wear sensor for automatic turn-off, but these are very mild features to give up when you’re getting some much at such an excellent price.

1More SonoFlow

1More SonoFlow

The best budget noise-canceling headphones

Man wearing Sony's WH-XB910N noise-canceling wireless headphones.

Sony

Sony WH-XB910N Extra Bass

Best for bass

Pros

  • Excellent bass sound
  • 30-hour battery life
  • In-app EQ control
  • Support for LDAC, AAC, SBC codecs

Cons

  • ANC is good, not great
  • Touch controls can be finicky

If you’re all about that bass in a pair of noise-canceling headphones, then look no further. In the most Captain Obvious way possible, Sony’s marketing team either just gave up or had a moment of clarity when naming the WH-XB910N: Extra Bass is what they’re called, and extra bass is definitely what you get. And that’s a good thing.

With a look similar to the company’s popular (and older) WH-1000XM4 but $100 cheaper, the WH-XB910Ns look great and deliver the expected extra bass with authority, rumble, and clarity, as well as punchy mids and clear highs. But as you’d expect from a set of cans labelled as such, if the bass is too much for you the accompanying Sony Headphones Connect app offers a ton of EQing options to dial it back with sliders and loads of presets based on different music types. Support for AAC and SBC audio codecs are great, but Sony’s own hi-res LDAC audio codec lets you enjoy higher quality 24-bit audio, too.

Noise canceling on the WH-XB910N is decent, too, and features Sony’s Adaptive Sound Control that modifies itself to the ambient noise of your surroundings. What’s more is that they learn the locations you visit over time for a more tailored experience. Speaking of detailed experiences, the WH-XB910N also support Sony’s object-based spatial audio technology for immersive surround sound.

Outside of the audio features, professional folks will also like these cans for their Bluetooth multipoint connectivity for connecting to two devices simultaneously (like your computer and phone when you need to seamlessly switch to take a call), but they also support Fast Pair and Swift Pair for easy connection with Android and Windows 10 devices.

The Sony WH-XB910Ns boast solid battery life at up to 30 hours per charge with a quick charge feature that can net 4.5 hours of listening time after 10 minutes on the charge cable.

Sony WH-XB910N EXTRA BASS Noise Cancelling Headphones

Sony WH-XB910N Extra Bass

Best for bass

A woman wearing the Edifier WH950NB ANC headphones.

Edifier

Edifier WH950NB

Great for battery life

Pros

  • 55-hour battery life
  • Effective ANC with ambient mode
  • Excellent, balanced sound

Edifier makes some fantastic headphones, and the WH950NB are proof positive of that, offering a solid all-round set of ANC cans for under $200.

The WH950NBs perform well and are consistently forgiving of all kinds of music, delivering realistic, full, and balanced sound signature from their 40 millimetre drivers. Android users will enjoy support for the LDAC Bluetooth codec means listeners will also benefit from their ability to play hi-res audio. But otherwise the WH950NBs only support the standard SBC codec (sorry, so AAC or aptX, folks). The Edifier Connect app’s EQing options include two presets, Classic and Dynamic, as well as the option to create a custom EQ. There are also Music, Theatre, and Game-specific modes, the later of which offers a low 80-milisecond latency for fast-action gaming.

Looks like we’ve buried the lede here — the Edifier WH950NB boast the longest lasting battery life on our list with up to 35 hours per charge with ANC on and an impressive 55 hours with it off. Speaking of which, the noise cancellation of these headphones does the job well, and while not top-shelf like Sony or Bose headphones, for the price they effectively block out everything from background noise on the streets and low rumble from long flights. There are five ANC settings to choose from, however, including High Noise Cancellation, Low Noise Cancellation, Wind Reduction, Ambient Sound, and Noise Cancellation Off.

The Edifier WH950NBs, like others on our list, also offer Bluetooth multipoint connectivity and Google Fast Pair for Android users. Lastly, if you’re concerned about your hearing, the WH950NBs offer a maximum volume limitation of 85dB that you can activate in the app to keep your ears safe.

Edifier WH950NB Active Noise Cancelling Headphones, Bluetooth 5.3 Wireless Headphones, LDAC Hi-Res Audio, 55 Hours Playtime, Google Fast Pairing for Android, Dual Device Connection, App Control, Black

Edifier WH950NB

Great for battery life

A teen using the Puro PuroQuiet headphones.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

PuroQuiet On-Ear

The best noise-canceling headphones for kids

Pros

  • Built-in volume limiter
  • 16 hours of battery life
  • Flexible and durable

Cons

  • Lacks the features of more advanced headphones
  • OK sound quality

It can be tough to find decent-quality headphones for kids even before you start looking for a feature like noise cancellation. Fortunately, the Puro PuroQuiet are both a great set of wireless kids headphones, and as a bonus, they’ve got noise-canceling too. But the best part for parents is that they come equipped with a software limiter that keeps the volume at or below 85dB, which is considered the maximum volume that children should be exposed to for prolonged periods (we don’t want them growing up needing OTC hearing aids, now do we?).

With 16 hours of battery life, it’s unlikely your kid will outlast these headphones, but if they do, there’s always the option of using an analog cable instead. We’re frankly surprised more kids’ headphones don’t offer noise canceling. If the goal is to keep the volume at a safe level, eliminating unwanted outside noise means you can get the same sound quality at lower volumes than without this feature. It feels like a match made in child-parent heaven, something that doesn’t come along very often!

You’ll also appreciate that while not exactly cheap, given that the PuroQuiets have a very solid construction that will withstand at least some of the abuse kids can inflict, the Puro PuroQuiet are very reasonably priced for what they offer. We think your kids’ ears are worth it.

PuroQuiet On-Ear Active Noise Cancelling Headphones

PuroQuiet On-Ear

The best noise-canceling headphones for kids

Frequently Asked Questions

How do noise-canceling headphones work?

They use exterior microphones to capture the sound around you. They then reproduce matching frequencies with the phase inverted to cancel ambient noise. Check out our full explainer on active noise cancelation, too.

Keep in mind, ANC (active noise cancellation) is very different from passive noise cancellation. Passive noise cancellation refers to the construction of the headphones, made with materials and fit to block out noise. ANC uses mics and generates matching feedback, which is much more effective at removing consistent background sounds.

Are noise-canceling headphones worth it?

If you plan on listening in noisy environments, absolutely. That could include busy traffic nearby, the rumbling of the train or subway you take, loud chattering in a cafe, or just the whine of an unexpectedly noisy radiator.

Are noise-canceling headphones better than earplugs?

Not usually. Earplugs can typically do a better job of blocking out noise, but they don’t have the benefit of being able to play audio.

Can noise-canceling headphones work without music?

Yes, noise-canceling headphones will reduce outside noise without music playing, but things will almost always seem quieter when music is playing over the top.

How we test

We test headphones the way normal people live.

We run every pair of headphones through a rigorous process over several days. That includes playing them in all sorts of scenarios — be it on a bus, in the listening room, or at the office — and playing back from a wide array of sources. We know most people use their headphones with a smartphone, often with lower-quality MP3 resolution tracks, so we do too.

However, we also move up to high-resolution audio files, as well as a wide variety of sources, including plugging in directly to a PC or Mac, using USB DACs (digital-to-analog converters), and employing high-quality dedicated portable players and amplifiers. Finally, we compare the headphones to some of our go-to models, both in their class and price point, as well as a level or two above to find out if they can punch above their weight.

What is transparency mode on ANC headphones?

Transparency mode —which goes by several different names from brand to brand, such as social mode, world volume, and hear-through — works with the headphones’ ANC mics, to allow some outside noise in, rather than blocking it. It’s very handy when you want to be aware of the sounds around you, like listening for someone who may be calling out your name, or to an upcoming subway stop, or to a child crying, for example.

Are noise-cancelling headphones safe to use in busy places?

Any type of loud music or noise cancellation is going to make you less aware of your surroundings, so it’s important to remember that that could cause some problems. That being said, noise cancellation isn’t particularly dangerous: Loud, sudden sounds can still get through, and you can always switch to the transparency mode when you need to pay attention to what’s going on around you.

Does active noise cancellation drain headphone batteries?

Yes, ANC modes will drain the headphone battery faster. How much faster depends on the model, but you can expect the battery life to be around 1/3 shorter than without ANC. If you’re worried about it impacting battery times, look for battery ratings with ANC turned on. We typically list any differences in our headphone reviews.






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