Sony's excellent WH-1000XM5 were a dead cert for this buying guide and sure as eggs is eggs, they debut in pole position for June.
That said, deals now abound for the older WH-1000XM4; it's the natural order.
Given the incremental gains both in terms of noise cancellation and sound quality between the two sets of Sony cans (the outgoing model was already excellent), for many, the smart money still goes on the XM4 – which is why we've kept it just below its younger sibling in this guide.
Which should you choose? Read on.
Becky Scarrott, senior audio staff writer
The best noise-cancelling headphones can really upgrade your listening experience, whether you want to feel fully immersed in your favorite music or you're looking to block out the world to focus on a great podcast instead.
Noise-cancelling headphones have become incredibly advanced over the years so they often feature amongst the best headphones and best over-ear headphones out there. They can now block out loud noises along with any ambient sounds. It's all in a bid to ensure you can pay full attention to whatever you're listening to.
Such technology is ideal for anyone who is easily distracted while working, or who simply wants to block out chatter and rumbling from their daily commute. Even the best running headphones and workout headphones can benefit from such functionality. Noise cancellation is also fantastic for anyone who is sensitive to sound and needs a buffer between their ears and the world around them.
Another advantage to noise-cancelling headphones is that you generally get a far superior listening experience when you can take in the audio quality on offer without distraction.
We've tested hundreds of noise-cancelling headphones, looking at their sound quality, noise cancellation ability, and features like battery life and other extras. If you simply want the best noise-cancelling headphones out there, you need the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones. However, it’s also worth considering cheaper options in our best budget headphones guide first if the Sony headphones are out of your budget.
Alternatively, if you’re a fan of Apple products, you may also want to try the AirPods Max. They might be eye-wateringly expensive, but they’re Apple’s first pair of over-ear wireless headphones. There are true wireless earbuds that will fill the role too if you prefer something more lightweight.
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.
Our favorite noise-cancelling headphones
The downsize from a 40mm driver in the WH-1000XM4 headphones (below) to the new 30mm driver in the latest WH-1000XM5 headphones (plus the fact that the earcups no longer fold up into the headband) had us initially raising our eyebrows – would the signature dynamism and space be lost with the smaller driver? And would we like a design that no longer folds up entirely? 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.
If it has to be the best, Sony is still sitting pretty at the very top of the pile – and the noise cancellation here is without a doubt the best in the business.
Read more: Sony WH-1000XM5 wireless headphones review
The Sony WH-1000XM4 deliver excellent noise-cancellation and surprising sound quality all 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 headphones in 2022.
By every possible metric, the Sony WH-1000XM4 is 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
They don't quite beat the Sony WH-1000XM4 in terms of battery life and price, but 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 fantastic feature – that's why these are 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. That being said, you wouldn’t be making a mistake if you opted for the Bose cans instead – they sound great, look stunning, and the noise-cancellation is out of this world.
Read more: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review
Back to Sony, eh? Well, 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 – and while they've now been surpassed by the new Sony WH-1000XM4 and the Sony WH-1000XM5, that means deals, and deals on these fantastic cans makes life very, very interesting. For instance, their noise-cancellation is only really second to their younger siblings. They still feel super comfortable too and offer 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.
Read more: Sony WH-1000XM3 review
It’s Bose’s second attempt at a set of true wireless earbuds, and the QuietComfort Earbuds are leaps and bounds better than the older SoundSport Free.
Not only is the design a lot better, but the noise cancellation is also exemplary, especially for earbuds. Sound quality is also really very good – although we found it to be a touch less bassy as compared to Sony – with superb clarity. They’re incredibly comfortable and well-balanced too, despite their bulky form factor, although we do wish there were on-board volume controls.
The case could offer more charge too and is a little on the bulky side, much like the earbuds themselves. However, in exchange, you know you're sure of excellent quality overall. It's hard to see past that rich audio quality despite the flaws here.
Read more: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review
Sony is largely responsible for the health of the active noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds market, and with the WF-1000XM4, the company has combined performance, ergonomics, and build quality more effectively than ever before.
Compared to their predecessors, the Sony WF-1000XM3, the new wireless earbuds offer enough quality-of-life features to make them worth upgrading to, even if they are more expensive.
While other true wireless earbuds surpass the Sony WF-1000XM4 in particular areas – noise cancellation, for example – and in our experience, no other model comes close to offering such excellent quality across the board. From crisp calls to full-bodied sound that will captivate you, the Sony WF-1000XM4 offer a lot to love. That’s why the Sony WF-1000XM4 are hands-down the best wireless earbuds you can buy today.
Read more: Sony WF-1000XM4 review
The Shure AONIC 50 sports 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.
While you won't find every feature under the sun here then, 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 into 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 comes 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
Coming in at number eight are the Bose QuietComfort 35 II – a nearly identical product to the already-excellent Bose QuietComfort 35 but updated with Google Assistant. This means you still get the class-leading noise cancellation Bose is known for, good sound quality and incredible comfort, plus a convenient assistant to answer any inquiries you might have while traveling.
There's no auto play or pause, or even instant mute, but that's a relatively small quibble amongst some great comfort and sound. The tonal balance is relatively neutral with a slight mid-bass bump, and while the Bose cans aren't as dynamic as the WH-1000XM4, we still found the audio performance enjoyable.
Taken as a whole, the Bose QC35 II NC are an excellent pair of headphones for travelers and commuters. Bose has found a good balance of features that will satisfy most mainstream listeners, even if they could look more interesting.
Read more: Bose QuietComfort 35 II 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 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
Apple's most recent true wireless earbuds come with active noise cancellation, as well as a better fit and sound than their predecessors, the Apple AirPods.
However, at $249 / £249 / AU$399/ R4199, they’re pretty pricey, but they're optimized for iPhone users. The redesign means they’re far less likely to fall out, and the additional microphones provide strong noise cancellation, as well as a useful Transparency mode, which really does let the outside world in.
The sound quality of the AirPods Pro has certainly improved since the previous iteration – in our tests, we found there’s a notable emphasis on vocals and bass, meaning these earbuds are better for pop fans than those that enjoy a more natural presentation that lends itself to classical music or more orchestral sounds.
Apparently, there's a new AirPods model on the horizon to join the original buds and the newer Pros. The AirPods Pro 2 are rumored to be a new, cheaper variant of the company's popular true wireless earbuds, and they could be released this year.
Read more: Apple AirPods Pro review
- Apple AirPods Pro vs AirPods: which buds are best?
If you’re looking for really stylish noise-cancelling headphones and you're not put off by the $399 / £349 / AU$600/ R3999 price tag, the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 are well worth considering.
With sophisticated noise cancellation, brilliant sound quality, and a honed aesthetic, the PX7 could give any of the headphones on this list a run for their money. They're quite the triple threat but somehow continue to offer even more.
That's because they are also packing aptX Adaptive for improved stability and latency between the headphones and your device, as well as high-quality (24-bit) streaming aptX HD brought to the table. Our only real complaint is the lack of swipe or touch gesture controls - something that not everyone is a fan of anyhow.
We really like the sound of these headphones. In our tests, we enjoyed their crisp highs and substantial (but well-controlled) bass frequencies.
The Apple AirPods Max were the most hotly-anticipated headphones for quite some time, having been the subject of rumor and speculation for two years, and come with active noise cancellation, superb audio quality, and a design that sets them apart from most noise-cancelling headphones on the market.
While their exceptional audio performance and class-leading ANC impresses, they're let down by their eye-watering price, baffling carrying case, and lack of support for Hi-Res Audio codecs.
Despite their high price, the AirPods Max aren’t exactly aimed at the audiophile crowd, owing to their lack of 3.5mm audio port; instead, these cans are squarely targeted at card-carrying members of the Apple ecosystem, with nifty features for iOS users and an unmistakably ‘Apple’ design.
For Android users, the AirPods Max are simply a high-performance pair of noise-cancelling headphones with an unusual design, as fantastic as they may sound – and for these users, we can't see how the high price is justified.
But, 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
In terms of sheer sound quality, the Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless headphones sound brilliant, with high levels of detail, warm bass, and natural-sounding highs.
The customizable noise cancellation on offer here is also good, but it doesn’t quite reach the class-leading standards set by the Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless headphones.
They have nowhere near the battery life of Sony’s headphones, and are more expensive – which begs the question, why buy the Sennheisers when you could have the WH-1000XM4?
Well, if built-in Tile tracking appeals to you, and you like the industrial design and premium materials of the Momentum 3 Wireless, that could be reason enough – and if you do opt for them over the Sony model, you won’t be missing out on any audio quality. In that respect, they’re truly matched.
Listening to Girl Ray’s Stupid Things, we were struck by how natural the harmonized vocals sounded, coming across with crystal clarity as warm piano chords shifted below and shimmering treble notes glisten at the higher end of the mix.
Read more: Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless 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 – and 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
The Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 are the tech giant’s second pair of noise-cancelling headphones, and they offer a ton of great improvements over the original Surface Headphones, while retaining some of their best qualities.
In spite of those improvements – which includes a longer battery life and a more comfortable design – the Surface Headphones 2 are considerably cheaper than their predecessors, making them the obvious choice if you’re trying to choose between the two.
Listening to Ducter by black midi, we noted that the bass sounds robust, but tightly controlled though these cans don’t quite have the dexterity of the Sony WH-1000XM4 when it comes to handling complex rhythmic changes.
However, their lower price also makes them a great alternative to the best headphones of 2022, especially as they’ve retained the winning design features of the original Surface Headphones, with built-in dials on each earcup to control your music and the active noise cancellation. They may be a little boring looking but they make up for it with quality.
Read more: Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 review
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 Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, particularly if you prefer a more flashy design to adorn your ears.
We did find that those with smaller ears sometimes find them a little uncomfortable, however, and their high price just stops them from taking the top spot of this round up. Still, they look expensive right down to their stylish charging case.
Sennheiser has pretty much knocked it out of the park with these buds, offering great noise cancellation alongside smart looks and stunning sound. Hi-Res Audio support is a delightful way to top off an already exceptional pair of earbuds.
Read more: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 review
Urbanista has exceeded expectations with its first pair of noise-cancelling over-ear headphones – they’re an easy recommend for those on a budget, who don’t want to sacrifice style or sound performance.
Noise cancellation itself isn’t the best on the market, and while the audio could be more detailed, an extended bass response makes the Urbanista Miami ideal for pop and RnB. Rock works, too; in Catatonia’s Mulder and Scully, the soundstage felt fairly spacious, with good separation between the different frequencies. Driving guitars and drums had plenty of power behind them, but never overpowered Cerys Matthews’ distinctive vocal.
At this price, they lend themselves well to anyone not looking to spend a fortune on new headphones while not missing out on key features.
Battery life of 50 hours and excellent connectivity mean mostly everything about these headphones are decent for the price. All these features combine make these a great alternative to pricier models such as the Sony WH-1000XM4 or the Apple AirPods Max.
Read more: Urbanista Miami review
On their own merits, the Earfun Air Pro buds are accomplished, but against the competition at this price point they shine. Amid a sea of similarly priced efforts on Amazon, they stand out thanks to their superior design and excellent audio chops, and show a high level of competence in almost all other areas.
If it weren’t for slightly fiddly gesture controls and – in our experience at least – a slightly uncomfortable fit due to their unique design, these would immediately earn our wholehearted recommendation. They sound pretty good and their noise cancellation is surprisingly excellent.
While the audio quality isn't best-in-class, we found the trebles has a sparkly quality, there was no muddiness to the mid-frequencies, and overall, these earbuds delivered a decent sense of space across the soundstage.
As it stands, these wireless earbuds are a great choice for most, offering a blend of useful features and strong performance that should make them popular with commuters in particular.
Read more: Earfun Air Pro review
If you haven't found something quite to your liking so far, we have one last option for you to look at – the all-new Nura Nuraphone over-ear/in-ear hybrid. Their form factor means you’ve not only got an earbud sitting at the entrance of your ear canal, but also an over-ear cushion sitting over your entire ear.
This effectively means you’ve got two physical barriers meaning that the noise from the outside world can’t get to your ears - they might be the weirdest headphones we've ever tested.
While more traditional over-ear headphones do a better job offering useful features at a reasonable price, the Nuraphone will appeal to the more experimental audio crowd looking to be on the bleeding-edge of the next big thing.
These may be increasingly older headphones but they still offer up some useful features to compare well against the rest of the pack.
Read more: Nuraphone Headphones review
How to choose the best noise-cancelling headphones for you
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? Nowadays, you can even find true wireless earbuds with effective noise cancellation built-in, so there really is an option for everyone as you've seen above.
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.
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 device 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 doesn't mean poor sound quality and we made sure to check for that. Each pair of headphones here offer clear and powerful sound.
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 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 extras like these, but it's nice to know what 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 in some cases - but we wanted to make sure that each pair offered something that made their price worthwhile.