It's fair to say that the best noise cancelling headphones aren't as much a luxury as they are a necessity these days, particularly as the world is opening back up and we're forced to face it again. If you're travelling, whether it be in-flight, on the bus, on foot or by some other creative measure, they're perfect: they cut out outside noise, allowing you to focus on whatever media you're playing. With that background noise squashed, noise cancelling headphones typically allow you to listen at lower volumes without needing to blast it away with sound.
The best noise cancelling headphones are not just for travel. They're perfect for leaning back and chilling out, and great for concentration – if you're struggling with an assignment, fighting with the din of a distraction-laden office, just want to block out (most of) the kids' wailing, noise cancelling headphones will do it.
For this list we've selected the finest noise cancelling headphones at a number of distinct price points. You can certainly spend a lot if you want to, and you'll generally get better-made headphones with superior noise cancelling if you do, but equally it's possible to get some very creditable active noise cancellation (ANC) at a price which doesn't break the bank. And we're not just looking at noise cancelling cans here; ANC over-ears, in-ears, on-ears, wired or wireless, whatever your favourite headphone style, there's a noise cancelling option to match.
We have a dedicated guide to the best noise-cancelling earbuds if you're looking just for buds. If you just want to know today's best noise cancelling headphones deals then head straight for that, though you'll find the lowest prices for all the headphones we recommend right on these pages.
What are the best noise cancelling headphones?
If you want the best overall – balancing powerful audio, features and noise-stopping power – go for the Sony WH-1000XM4. They're comfy, they're sturdy, and they pack some serious chef's kiss ANC power. If you want to save a few bucks, the model that this Sony replaces – the Sony WH-1000XM3 – is still available for a much lower price.
For solely the best actual ANC power, the Bose QuietComfort 45 (just) take the cake. For the best cheap noise cancellers, you need the JBL Tune 660NC.
The best noise cancelling headphones right now
The Sony WH-1000XM4 have a combination of audio and noise cancellation that is simply brilliant. Best in class. With no music playing, the moment you put them on it’s like entering another world. The ANC can cope with massive challenges like roadworks on streets streaming with traffic, and the sound quality is also brilliant. Bass seems even richer than the PX, and music always seems lively, stimulating and involving.
Looks-wise, they're not entirely exciting, and you'll absolutely be able to find some sexier-looking cans elsewhere on this list, but they're also not offensive. The touch/gesture controls aren't something we're entirely keen on, but they work well enough once you've practised a bit. Holding a cup to let in ambient sound works especially well, even if you do look a little special when doing it. You can also use the app to change the noise-cancellation button to work with Google Assistant or Siri.
You can read our full Sony WH-1000XM4 review here.
At the end of the day, headphones are about listening to music and the Bose QuietComfort 45 are very heavily focused on that. We were seriously impressed at how well these were able to stop outside noise distracting us from our music, the noise-cancelling technology is truly outstanding here. You'll be hard pushed to find any that do it better right now – the best Bose headphones are always at the forefront of noise cancellation, and these are no different.
Simple and comfortable, these headphones don’t overcomplicate the design. We were able to listen to these headphones for hours on end without our ears feeling fatigued. That’s partly down to the lightweight plastic build and partly because of how they’re tuned, they're sure to suit a lot of people and a lot of types of music.
If you're looking to immerse yourself in music without spending hundreds for the privilege, the JBL Tune 660NC delivers excellent noise-cancelling capabilities. They're genuinely surprising. You wouldn't expect on-ear headphones to block out noise this well, but in our tests, we found that they really do. Pair that with a weighty, punchy sound, and there's basically no hope of the outside world distracting you from your favourite tracks.
This set of cans is proof positive that there's very solid ANC available on the lower end, and reaches so high on our list chiefly for that reason. Don't get us wrong – spending more gets you much more effective noise cancellation and better sound quality but for those on a budget who just need a bit of quiet, they're a top buy.
Looking for budget noise-cancelling headphones? You should read the JBL Tune 660NC review.
Best noise-cancelling headphones: best of the rest
Not everyone loves it, but however you feel about the Sony WF-1000XM4's looks, one listen is enough to prove that these have precisely what it takes to win you over. During the time we used them we did find that the ANC is not quite a strong as the best over-ear options, but it's still absolutely superb in its own right.
The overall sound one of the best, most dynamic and detailed audio experiences we've ever had with earbuds. This is, at least in part, down to the new DAC, analogue amplifier, and the same DSEE Extreme audio processor with Edge-AI featured in the fourth-gen over-ears. There's no such support for Apple, and there's no aptX HD onboard. These are very minor omissions in what are otherwise a set of very accomplished true wireless noise cancelling earbuds.
Check out our full Sony WF-1000XM4 review.
Looking for in-ear noise-cancelling headphones that you don't have to remember to charge very often? Let me introduce you to the Philips Fidelio T1. They are pricey but they are also oh so worth it with up to 48 hours of battery life provided by the earbuds and the charging case combined.
That's not the only area they excel in though - we thought that these earbuds sound incredible so if you're an audiophile you won't be disappointed. When it comes to ANC, they didn't let us down either. On the High Noise Control mode, they'll block out distracting sounds almost entirely so you'll barely hear train noise, chatter or even keyboard taps through the music.
We go into more detail about these headphones in the Philips Fidelio T1 review.
If the best Sony headphones on this list are a bit out of your price range, then the Sony WH-XB910N are a more affordable alternative. While you can't expect them to look or feel as premium, they're not worlds apart either. What's great is that despite being a lot cheaper, the Sony WH-XB910N have equally as good noise-cancelling, cutting the world out and creating your own musical bubble.
Sony makes it very clear that these have 'extra bass' and they're not wrong. We were surprised by how punchy and energetic the sound is, which will be great if you're someone who listens to a lot of upbeat dance tunes, but not so much if you're more into classical music.
Has this entry whet your appetite? Take a look at the full Sony WH-XB910N review.
I'll start off by saying that the Bang & Olufsen Beoplay HX aren't for everyone because their price tag will literally make your eyes water, but if you don't mind splashing the cash then you're in for a truly fantastic time. When we tested them out we were wow-ed in a few ways but most importantly, the sound quality is impeccable and will suit most types of music.
What will your eye first though is of course their design which is very blatantly B&O, screaming opulence and luxury with their soft lambskin leather earcups and sturdy aluminium frame. You'll also get an in-depth smartphone app to go alongside them, giving you tonnes of control over everything from the sound to the level of ANC.
Discover more about these premium cans in our Bang & Olufsen Beoplay HX review.
If you want a pair of noise-cancelling headphones for making calls and using voice assistants, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are an outstanding choice. And in terms of sound quality, the Bose NC 700 are equally as excellent, rivals to the brilliant Sony cans but not precisely perfect. We don't see how anyone could conclude the Bose sound better, because they are a bit flatter overall, which makes them less exciting but on the other hand, they're also easy to use for hours on end.
Bose's audio AR… thing uses movement sensors in the headphones to detect where you are looking and to adjust what you hear accordingly. Applications for this include a kind of sonar for golf players and some surround sound type things. It's clever and interesting but maybe not all that essential. Funnily enough, we think the Bose NC 700 are a sexier looking pair of headphones than Sony's effort, which is not something you could have said about the old QuietComfort 35.
Clearly, the Bose NC 700 are a worthy buy – as our full Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review explains.
Despite Bose's position at the very beginning of the noise-cancelling timeline - this is the first set of ANC earbuds the company has put out. In our opinion the noise cancelling is pretty brilliant, more than good enough to make up for the (just slightly) lacking battery life, at 6 hours on a charge or 18 with the included case. That's not deal-breaking, by any means, but it may not be enough for lengthy travel situations.
Design is very reminiscent of Sony's older buds, with a chunky rectangular outer packing in some hefty drivers. And the price? Well, it's possibly a little high, particularly considering that Sony's WF-1000XM4s sit at basically the same point – and you'll find a slightly more detailed soundstage there.
Our full Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review goes into all the details.
If you need noise cancelling but can't stretch to the big-ticket buys, we think you'll like the Skullcandy Hesh ANC headphones: we found that their noise-cancelling tech is more than up to the job of quieting your commute or helping you focus in the office. When you look at them it's pretty clear where the corners have been cut, the all-plastic design isn't going to fool anyone into thinking you've got a pair of AirPods Max.
In our testing, the audio jumped out at us as being very bass-heavy but it's also bright and energetic if a little lacking in clarity. The noise-cancelling helps considerably because it means you don't need to turn the headphones up quite so loud to get the full audio experience: the Hesh struggle to cope with heavy bass at high volume.
Tempted? Take a look at T3's full Skullcandy Hesh ANC review.
The Yamaha YH-L700A are designed around creating 3D spatial audio, meaning that instead of sounding like stereo drivers on the sides of your head, they create sounds as if you're in the middle of a surround sound speaker system – or in a concert hall. It's really effective, and unlike Apple's AirPods Max, it does it with audio from any source. When mixed with the fantastic sound balance and overall richness of the audio, these are very much headphones that give you a new perspective on your music – as long as what you want is a new perspective.
However, this 3D audio is the main reason to get these headphones. The active noise cancellation isn't as good as the likes of the Sony and Bose at the top of this list, despite being more expensive than them. And the music isn't perfect – it lacks a little when it comes to timing, meaning it doesn't have quite the flawless rhythm of the best headphones. But it still makes a strong case for itself overall, because it does things that almost no other headphones do.
Read the Yamaha YH-L700A review to get more detail on what we thought about these noise-cancelling headphones.
Noise cancelling cans: what you need to know
A few years back, noise cancellers were wired affairs with big batteries, big carry cases, and a distinct lack of style. Now, they're increasingly Bluetooth rather than wired, and the batteries have shrunk, whilst battery life has got longer. But you do still usually get a carry case. There are also more in-ear options and even some true wireless ones.
As a result, where noise cancellers used to be sold very specifically on their ability to quell background sounds – specifically aeroplane noise – they're now more universal, with the line blurring between ANC and Bluetooth headphones.
There is still a bit of mild controversy over active noise cancelling headphones. They just don't generally sound as good as standard cans, when it's quiet. Obviously they come into their own where there is background noise.
I don't want to overstate this, because the best ANC headphones sound really, very good. But if you're in search of a more refined audio experience, a wired headphone without ANC, at the same price, will almost invariably sound better.
Because of the way they're engineered, they also generally sound less good with the ANC turned off – deactivating noise cancelling is more a battery-saving measure than anything.
That said, the most recent candidates are a big improvement over what was around a few years back, when ANC cans tended to feel a bit like listening to music in a vacuum chamber. For noisy environments – from trains to planes to, well, just life in general, really – they offer a better overall experience than standard headphones.
Oh, and why are they called 'active' noise cancelling? Because they use technology to cancel out sound. This is on top of the usual 'passive' noise cancelling, which means using padding on headphone ear-cups, or simply filling your ear canal, with in-ear headphones, in order to keep out sound.
ANC cans fit into two categories. The ones at the top of the chart below are noise cancellers first and foremost. With the exception of the Beats Studio3, which was made by witches, the best over-ear ANC headphones all sound somewhat worse with the noise cancelling turned off.
The other category of best noise cancellers could be more described as excellent headphones that happen to have ANC as a bonus feature. The noise cancelling is not as awe-inspiring as on the market leading cans, but it is handy where there's a lot of background noise. The headphones also tend to sound pretty damn good with the cancelling turned off.
Most noise cancellers, and particularly the on-ear ones, can be used with a wire, without noise cancelling – that's handy for when the battery runs out. Some can even cater for wired listening with noise cancelling, just like it's 2009 all over again.
As noted above, the audio does suffer with the more high-end noise cancellers when you turn ANC off, but at least you won't have to stop listening entirely, until you can recharge.