A pair of the best noise-cancelling headphones are an everyday essential – whether that's because you walk a lot, travel a lot or because you have to commute to work. They'll out distracting noises so you can keep your focus on the music, or whatever type of media you choose to play.
If you're chilling out at home or trying to focus on your work in a busy office, noise-cancelling headphones will make you feel totally immersed in your tunes. They'll even be great for taking calls, whether you're catching up with friends and family or joining online meetings, you'll be able to hear everything with complete clarity.
To assemble this best ANC headphones list, we've selected the finest noise-cancelling headphones at a number of distinct price points, including the best noise-cancelling earbuds if you're looking just for in-ears specifically.
The biggest sale event in the calendar is Black Friday which falls on 24 November this year. For the best Black Friday deals, the T3 team will be scouring all the best retailers ahead of the long sale weekend to bring you curated deals (including on ANC headphones) of all the hottest discounts, so we'll do the work and save you the hassle!
Best ANC headphones 2023: The top 3
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The best noise-cancelling headphones for most people are the Sony WH-1000XM5. Simply the all-round best designed, featured, and noise-cancelling of the lot at a sensible price point.
The best noise-cancelling headphones for travel are the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones. If you want folding headphones that are super lightweight but deliver big when it comes to cutting out ambient sound then these are the top choice – but they cost a packet is their only real drawback.
The best in-ear noise-cancelling headphones are the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds. Looking for exceptional ANC from your earphones? Nothing can match the Bose. They also deliver big on sound – but are also rather big on price.
The T3 Awards 2022 winner of both Best Headphones and Best Noise Cancelling headphones, it's a no-brainer that the WH-1000XM5 has arrived top of the tree here on this best-of list. These headphones are truly astounding all-rounders and will be best for most people looking to lose themselves in exceptional noise-cancelling.
These over-ears are rather different from their predecessors, too, as they're designed to limit wind noise, meaning they're no longer folding headphones. But as they're not specifically for travel we don't think that matters: there's still a decent carry case included, while the size and weight and quality is robust enough to stand up to the rigours of everyday life.
As we said in our Sony WH-1000XM5 review: "Sony has managed to replace the best all-round wireless active noise-cancelling (ANC) over-ear headphones you can buy with, you guessed it, the best new all-round wireless ANC over-ear headphones you can buy." You'll struggle to beat the quality of these cans at any price point.
Headphones are about listening to music and the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones are not only ultimate at that, their active noise-cancelling is unrivalled. These are particularly ideal for blocking out the outside world when on your travels.
Throw is a great carry case and folding design and, for us, that makes the Bose the best ANC headphones for travellers. You could sleep in these things even, making them ideal for flights to drown out the hiss of airflow and some of your fellow passengers' droning.
As we said in our Bose QC Ultra Headphones review: "All hail the noise-cancelling king! If you're looking for incredible travel headphones then you can do no better. However, the price is certainly high." And that's the only reason they're not in the number one spot in this guide – 'cos they cost a packet (but are worth it).
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds are, as their name suggests, the 'ultimate' noise-cancelling earbuds. They're pricier than many of their competitors, but if blocking out extraneous noise to the extreme is your goal then these are the in-ear market leaders.
As we say in our Bose QC Ultra Earbuds review: "if you're in the market for one of the best-sounding pairs of earbuds, these sit in scarce company. Complete with a top-notch app you'll even find exceptional noise cancelling properties and a listening experience which doesn't fatigue on long sessions."
If it's in-ears that you specifically want then, in many respects, these are the very best on the market (as T3's Best ANC Earbuds feature suggests), save for their high price.
Best ANC headphones 2023: The best of the rest
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.
Not everyone loves these in-ears' looks, but one listen is enough to prove that these have precisely what it takes to win you over. During the time we used Sony's top-tier earbuds we found the ANC to be exceptional, hence their position on our list.
The overall sound one of the best, most dynamic and detailed audio experiences we've ever had from earbuds too. This is, at least in part, down to the DSEE Extreme audio processor with Edge-AI to upscale whatever you're listening to.
As we said in our Sony WF-1000XM4 review: these earbuds "are profoundly impressive across the board, and are arguably the best true wireless earbuds you can buy. The all-round package is very hard to beat." So there you have it.
AirPods Pro 2 feature noise cancellation and a whole raft of audio-enhancing features to give a much more immersive musical experience than regular AirPods. The ANC is really effective, plus there's also a Transparency mode, so you can talk to people without removing the earbuds.
As we said in our AirPods Pro 2 review: "Apple learned from the mistakes of the past and improved their top-performing true wireless earbuds to not only match the competition but, on occasion, surpass it. The sound is brilliant as is the fit, without a price increase generation on generation".
Contrary to what some people think, all AirPods work perfectly well with Android phones and other equipment. But you get lots of extra features when you use them within Apple's ecosystem, including fast-pairing, auto-switching between your Apple products, 3D Spatial Audio support (which is very cool), and Find My support for locating them when they seem lost. Very nice.
If you're the type who regularly forgets to charge their headphones then the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless are undoubtedly the best choice for you. Boasting a massive 60 hours of playtime, you can listen for hours on end and then when they do run dry, they only take 2 hours to recharge. But that's not all they offer.
In our tests, we were seriously impressed with the sound quality, it's clear and precise with plenty of energy and there's an equaliser in the app to customise it according to your tastes. You'll be able to keep focused on the music too, thanks to the adaptive noise cancellation which blocks out distracting sounds almost too well...
Looking for in-ear noise-cancelling headphones that you don't have to remember to charge very often? introducing 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 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 your music.
Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 is built on the outstanding original product that B&W made a global reputation on. It combines all the company's hard-won expertise in audio manufacture with cutting-edge noise cancellation and looks stunning as well.
But, above all else, it's these headphones' sound quality that sings out the most. It's true audiophile quality. Superb stuff. No, the ANC isn't as powerful as some others, but if that's a problem then these headphones aren't suited for your needs.
The PX7 S2 also features motion-sensing, which means if you lift a cup from your ear, the sound is paused, and if you take them off entirely, they go into standby mode. We found that's very useful when travelling, as you'll frequently need to remove them to talk to people.
More affordable than the top-of-the-line 'Ultra Headphones' is one of the main reasons to consider buying Bose's more travel-focused line. With great sound, exceptional ANC and a great carry case thrown into the mix, these are just ideal for when on the go.
As we said in our Bose QC45 review: "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."
How we test headphones
At T3 how we test our headphones is beautifully simple. We listen to them. A lot. And not just sitting in the office or in a quiet room. Out in the street. On public transport. On planes. Out shopping. The only way to test active noise cancelling is to find as many things to cancel as possible to make sure we can still hear the Encanto soundtrack.
And speaking of soundtracks, we hit every genre of music to make sure we can hear the full breadth of what each pair of headphones can offer. Treble, bass, mid tones and EQ all come under an aural microscope to make sure we get the most accurate impression. This also helpfully means we can get through plenty of battery to test manufacturer promises when it comes to how much juice is lurking in carry cases. And we’ll always check fast charging too.
Finally we also understand that our busy lives mean music is only half of what we expect from our headphones. We spend plenty of time testing call quality, not just in terms of speaker clarity but also making sure that those on the other end can actually hear what we have to say. We test in both calm and windier conditions to make sure that mic quality will always stand up to everyday life.
How to pick the best headphones for you
When it comes to picking the best headphones for you, the good news is that you don’t automatically always have to go for the most expensive option. First of all, it’s important to think about where you want to use your headphones. Are they for exercise? Wearing in the office? Or maybe to put the mute into your morning commute? Dreadful puns aside, if you do want the rest of the world to disappear, you definitely want to invest the extra in a pair of active noise-cancelling headphones, and if you’re a gym bunny you’ll really want something sweat proof.
Once you’ve worked out what you need, your next choice is what style of headphone you want. And truthfully it’s all about comfort and subjectivity. Maybe you want the subtlety of a pair of true wireless in ear buds or maybe you want the world to know you are actively listening to music. We’ve given you the best headphone for all budgets, all you need to do is choose what’s right for you.