Sony's most recent May 2022-issue WH-1000XM5 headphones are excellent; conclusive proof of Sony's continued and formidable talent in the over-ear realm. So why don't they take our top spot? Well, the older Sony WH-1000XM4 are iconic, frankly, and they fold up for easier transportation – a solid pair of comfortable all-rounders with top ANC, now available for quite a bit less.
But let's not forget the new Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless, which sauntered into this guide and then calmly took our award for the headphones of the year at the tail end of 2022, thanks to their excellent sound, comprehensive suite of features and super-impressive 60-hour battery life. Which is the right set for you? Grab a glass (or mug) of your chosen refreshment, and read on.
Becky Scarrott, Senior Audio Staff Writer
The best noise-cancelling headphones will upgrade your listening experience, delivering truly immersive audio in a range of environments – even on a noisy commute or in a busy office.
Noise-cancelling tech has evolved quickly in the space of a few years. Now many of the best noise-cancelling headphones can significantly drown out loud noises, as well as completely block out ambient sounds. This means you can pay better attention to whatever you're listening to and, without distractions, you'll generally get a superior listening experience as well.
Whether you want to feel fully immersed in your favorite music, are looking to block out the chatter to focus on a great podcast, or are sensitive to sound and need a buffer between your ears and the world, the best noise-cancelling headphones can make a huge difference. If you want new headphones for a more specific purpose, you'll also find noise-cancelling devices in our best running headphones and best workout headphones guides.
We've tested hundreds of noise-cancelling headphones, looking at their sound quality, noise cancellation ability, and battery life. Our list below features the best of the bunch, but it’s also worth considering cheaper options in our best budget headphones guide where you'll find some noise-cancelling models.
This guide is focused solely on headphones. These have two cups that fit over or on your ears and a band that sits around your head. But if you're looking for noise-cancelling tech in a different design, take a look at our best true wireless earbuds guide or best noise-cancelling earbuds guide for options that are lightweight, have no wires and boast the ultimate in portability.
Whatever your budget, preferred style or desired features may be, we've picked out the best noise-cancelling headphones you can buy right now. Our choices are based on value for money, design and sound quality, so there's something for everyone.
The best noise-cancelling headphones 2023
The Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones deliver excellent noise cancellation and surprising sound quality in a lightweight, comfortable design. While they don't look significantly different from their predecessors, the Sony WH-1000XM3, a number of new features including multipoint pairing, DSEE Extreme upscaling, conversational awareness and auto-play/pause using a built-in sensor all help the WH-1000XM4 claim the title of best noise-cancelling headphones right now.
By every possible metric, the Sony WH-1000XM4 are a wonderful pair of wireless noise-cancelling headphones. They deliver exactly what they promise and then some thanks to their exceptional noise cancellation and cutting-edge codec support. In our tests we listened to Janelle Monae’s absolute banger Make Me Feel. It sounded supremely powerful on the WH-1000XM4 headphones, from the bop of the percussion to the wall of sound that accompanies the pre-chorus.
On top of the adjustments listed above, the Sony WH-1000XM4 support Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format that enables spatial audio on stereo headphones plus the LDAC codec that can send a bitrate of up to 990 kbps. The unfortunate bit there, though, is that it no longer supports aptX or aptX HD, so your Hi-Res Audio support mileage may vary.
Read more: Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Headphones review
As an indication of how good Sony's wireless over-ear 1000XM lineup is, the Sony WH-1000XM3 were the best noise-cancelling headphones in the world for two years running. While they've now been upgraded by the new Sony WH-1000XM4 and the Sony WH-1000XM5, if you can find deals on the XM3s they're well worth considering.
Their noise cancellation is still excellent – only the XM4s and XM5s truly surpass them – and they're incredibly comfortable, with useful features including a battery life of about 30 hours.
In our tests, we liked the well-balanced soundstage; mids are straightforward, highs come through crystal clear and bass is weighty and can have some real slam to it. 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 wire. Plus, all of Sony's former flagship ANC headphones offer both Google Assistant and Alexa support. Only slightly weaker than the newer 1000XM4 and XM5, they remain a worthy purchase if you're looking for a more affordable pair of excellent noise-cancelling headphones.
Read more: Sony WH-1000XM3 review
The Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless are the newest wireless over-ear headphones from Sennheiser. They have an incredible battery life, a likeable app, an extensive feature set, easy on-ear controls, a zealous sound that'll have you nodding your head happily wherever you go and, importantly, talented noise cancellation that adapts to your surroundings.
We found the design to be a bit boring. Sennheiser has ditched its slightly quirky anchored aluminium headband for a more business-like black plastic and fabric aesthetic. But as soon as we put them on, the design choices were forgiven.
They're an evolution of the November 2019-issue Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless. We commended them for their excellent sound, feature set, built-in Tile tracking (so you needn't lose them) and active noise-cancellation (ANC) but we were disappointed by the 17-hour battery life. The Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless now boast a whopping 60-hour battery life even with ANC deployed, and to save you the bother of checking, we'll tell you right now that you only get 30 hours from the Sony XM3, XM4 and XM5 models.
The sound quality and battery life are excellent here and the ANC truly shines. We particularly rated the tweakable ANC, which works a treat (you can actually control it by 'pinching' the right ear cup in the same way you would to pan in and out of photos on your smartphone). If you want fantastic noise-cancelling in a design that boasts strong battery life, these are for you.
Read more: Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless review
They don't quite beat the Sony WH-1000XM4 in terms of battery life and price. However, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are still a brilliant pair of over-ear cans – and the best Bose headphones we've reviewed.
Traditionally, noise-cancelling headphones have been designed to block out the environmental sounds around you, so that you can hear your music more clearly (or catch some shut-eye on a noisy flight). This can be really effective if you’re listening to music. If you’re making a phone call however, the person you’re speaking to can still hear everything that’s happening around you.
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 seek to remedy this, by applying noise-cancellation to phone calls as well as music, which is a fantastic feature – that's why these are our top pick for the best noise-cancelling headphones for making calls. The sound quality is undeniably good, with a vibrant, lively character and well-balanced soundstage impressing during our tests.
If you’re trying to decide between buying the Sony WH-1000XM4s and the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, we’d recommend going for the former because of that lower price and better battery life make these the best all-rounder noise-cancelling headphones. However, if you make a lot of calls and want to lose yourself in immersive audio, you can't go wrong with Bose either.
Read more: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review
Sony has downsized the 40mm driver in the WH-1000XM4 headphones at the top of our list to the new 30mm driver in its latest WH-1000XM5 headphones. It's also changed the design. The XM5s no longer fold up completely. We were initially worried about these choices. Would the signature dynamism and space be lost with the smaller driver? Why change a design that's worked so well so far? Those fears were unfounded – they sound pretty much just as good as the exemplary XM4s, though we must admit they don’t sound dramatically better, either.
Sony’s again leaning on a one-two punch of both LDAC codec and DSEE Extreme support here to offer the best possible sound quality from your connected devices. LDAC is your hi-resolution audio option, and it's good: when Sinead O’Connor sings Nothing Compares 2 U she might as well be in the room with you, from forceful chorus to trembling bridge, these Sony cans pick up each inflection and sibilant cry with wondrous effect.
The noise cancellation here is without a doubt the best in the business, but the XM4s are still our favorite choice for most people. The XM5s are a solid option if you can afford a premium price tag and only the latest tech will do.
Read more: Sony WH-1000XM5 wireless headphones review
The Shure AONIC 50 headphones sport a wireless, active noise-cancelling over-ear design, selling at a premium price to compete with the likes of the Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bose NC 700 Headphones, and ensuring you still get great value for your money.
They provide listeners with a wide soundstage and great-sounding audio, all while feeling sturdily designed to last. In our tests, we were impressed by their energetic, textured, and detailed performance, which made our music sound characterful and emotive. While they might lack an auto-off feature and, annoyingly, any touch controls, when it comes to sheer audio quality, the Shure Aonic 50 know how to lure you in.
You won't find every feature under the sun here. However, the Shure AONIC 50 are laser-focused on delivering the best sound-quality of almost any noise-cancelling headphone – making them the best noise-cancelling headphones for audiophiles, even two years after their release.
Read more: Shure AONIC 50 review
The Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H95 are beautifully made noise-cancelling headphones. They offer a level of luxury that we’ve come to expect from the Danish audio brand.
These headphones offer expansive sound and come with an excellent control app. Noise cancellation is also very good, and we found it blocked out nearly all ambient sound - and like the audio, that’s fully adjustable to your liking, too.
As you might expect with a high-end pair of headphones from B&O, they’re extremely expensive. They won't amuse vegans either given their use of genuine leather, but they're gorgeous looking and feel great. If you want excellent quality and have the budget to match, then it's worth considering this excellent pair of headphones. Just be aware of the strange omission of an auto-pause function when you take them off.
Read more: Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H95 review
Offering class-leading battery life, terrific style and plenty of personalization when it comes to sound profiles thanks to a useful app, the Elite 85h is easy to recommend. That said, purists will bemoan the lack of high-end codec support and there are punchier headphones on the market at this price point.
When you consider that Jabra’s Elite 85h headphones are the company’s first attempt at premium wireless ANC headphones, the result is quite commendable. In our tests, we were impressed by the nicely balanced soundstage that favours warmth and clarity, allowing instrumentals to really shine without any of the muddiness found in the mids of bass-heavy headphones. They're also comfortable to wear and offer fantastic longevity for those long commutes or those times you simply forget to recharge.
If you want an alternative to Sony's WH-1000XM4, these are a great pair of noise-cancelling headphones. We can’t wait to see what the company’s next premium ANC headphones will accomplish.
Read more: Jabra Elite 85H review
The Apple AirPods Max come with active noise cancellation, superb audio quality, and a design that sets them apart from most noise-cancelling headphones on the market. During our testing we were truly impressed by these headphones, but they're not for everyone.
Audio performance is exceptional and class-leading ANC impresses, but they're let down by their eye-watering price, lack of support for Hi-Res Audio codecs and lack of a 3.5mm audio port – audiophiles will be disappointed. What's more, for Android users they're simply a high-performance pair of noise-cancelling headphones with an unusual design. Yes they sound fantastic, but the price isn't worth it.
However, if you've already bought into the Apple ecosystem, you have a lot of money to burn, and you don't care about hi-res audio, you won't find headphones that sound better or are easier to use than the AirPods Max.
Read more: Apple AirPods Max review
JBL is a popular name in the world of headphones and Bluetooth speakers, and rightly so. Solidly dependable, consumers know what to expect from the brand – decent sound quality for a decent price.
That's what we found with the JBL Live 650BTNC last year. Now, ready to take their place are the JBL Tune 750BTNC, a superior successor to the 650BTNC's as a high-spec and well-priced set of over-ear headphones.
The JBL Tune 750BTNC sound great, look great, and they fit well. Strong noise cancellation helps a bunch without it being to the detriment of good sound quality. Reliable and easy to use, you might miss waterproofing and a few minor features – but at this price, it feels foolish to complain too readily.
Read more: JBL Tune 750BTNC review
How to choose the best noise-cancelling headphones for you
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Design is hugely important, as a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones need to be comfortable for long listening sessions – look out for padded earcups and headbands in materials like memory foam for ultimate comfort.
Padded earcups also help with passive noise cancellation – in other words, they physically block sound from entering your ears. This works in tandem with active noise cancellation, with the best noise-cancelling headphones using a combination of the two methods to get rid of outside noise.
Not a fan of over-ear headphones? Our guide above is dedicated to headphones only — cups that sit over or on your ears with a band connecting them that fits over year head. But you can find true wireless earbuds with effective noise cancellation built-in, take a look at our best noise-cancelling earbuds guide instead.
As with any pair of headphones, the sound quality needs to be good, even if your focus is blocking out the world around you. How you define good sound quality depends on your personal taste. Do you like a warm, well-rounded sound, or do you prefer ultra high-fidelity that allows you to hear every single detail of your music? Are you a dedicated bass head or a classical music junkie?
Think about what works best for you so you know what to look for. With so many different noise-cancelling headphones out there, the choice can feel overwhelming if you don't know what's most important to you.
The best noise-cancelling headphones: FAQ
What is noise cancellation?
Noise-cancelling headphones use analogue and electronic methods to block out the environmental sound around you, allowing you to listen to your music in peace without distraction. Most noise-cancelling headphones make use of the following two approaches:
Passive noise cancellation: this is when the headphones physically block outside sound from reaching your ears, and this can be achieved in a number of ways. Noise-cancelling over-ear headphones typically have heavily padded earcups to achieve this, while in-ear headphones need to fit snugly in your ear to create a tight seal, stopping environmental sounds from entering.
Active noise cancellation: this method uses inbuilt microphones to analyze environmental noise and create 'anti-noise' frequencies that are mixed in with your music playback. This effectively cancels out the sound of your surroundings using analogue or digital filters.
Is it worth buying noise-cancelling headphones?
Much like with any purchase, it depends on how important noise-cancellation is for you. For most people, when wearing headphones, you want to be able to hear what you're listening to and not be distracted by environmental sounds.
While turning up the volume may help a little, a true pair of noise-cancelling headphones are able to filter out unwanted sounds more effectively without reducing the quality of the music or podcast you're listening to.
You'll be surprised how soon you become accustomed to noise-cancellation headphones and enjoying the relative silence away from the world.
How we test the best noise-cancelling headphones
We've tested every pair of the best noise-cancelling headphones on this list and to include them here, we were looking for each product to excel at a number of things.
The first, of course, is effective noise-cancellation. We tested for headphones that were able to block out sound effectively, no matter whether you're on a daily commute or simply taking a walk. We also looked at additional features like multiple noise cancellation modes or how well their transparency mode worked.
Audio performance was a key consideration too. Good noise cancellation should never have to mean poor sound quality – and we made sure to check thoroughly until we were satisfied that each pair of headphones here offer clear and powerful sound, irrespective of the deployment of ANC.
From there, we looked at Bluetooth connectivity. We tested for stable and reliable connections. After all, there's nothing worse than losing a track just as it reaches the good bit.
Next up, we wanted to ensure the headphones were designed with comfort and style in mind. We tested how comfortable they were for long periods of time and assessed their looks, too, from minimal to suitably stylish, while appreciating that everyone has different taste.
We also considered additional features, such as voice assistant integration and app support. Not all of the headphones in this list have perks such as these, but it's nice to know which extras you can pick up, regardless of your budget.
Talking of budget, we also considered whether the noise-cancelling headphones in this list were good value for money. That doesn't mean we only looked at budget headphones – far from it – but we wanted to make sure that each pair offered something that made their price worthwhile.
Our ultimate goal is to make sure you buy a set of noise cancelling headphones you'll be over the moon with. We want them to furnish you with good quality music, free of extraneous noise, for years to come. We hope we've achieved this