Even though most closed-back earphones provide some level of protection from external noise, they’re not going to do much for those looking to eliminate large amounts of ambient noise. That’s where noise-canceling headphones come into the picture. Noise-canceling headphones offer specific noise-canceling technology that reduces the amount of environmental noise you hear. These headphones are ideal for working out, sleeping, or the use of public transport.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 strikes the best balance between ANC performance, sound quality, and price.
Quick Pick – Our Awards!
We’ve selected the Sony WH-1000XM5 as our top pick recommendation for its balanced performance. This is a well-rounded pair of headphones that offer quality build, some great audio (albeit a little bass-heavy), and truly impressive noise cancelation performance.
If you’ve got a big budget to work with and aren’t too demanding in terms of ANC, you’re going to get the best sound out of the Focal Bathys. While the ANC performance on these headphones is subpar compared to other headphones on this list, the audio quality is where these speakers shine with a detailed, accurate, and refined sound signature.
Best Battery Life
Soundcore’s Space Q45 offers the best battery life on the list, and depending on your listening volume, you can see more than 50 hours of battery life from the Q45. At higher volumes, you’ll still get around 30 hours of use from a single charge.
Best Noise Cancelation
The BOSE Quiet Comfort 45 offers extremely efficient noise isolation, edging out the Sony XM5. The QC45 does particularly well at filtering out low-frequency sounds, such as engines or machinery, making it a good choice for traveling/commuting.
The Value For Money
The Soundcore Space Q45 is available for under $150 and, in true Soundcore fashion, can still compete with some of the flagship noise cancelation products in certain areas. These headphones offer a more casual listening sound without the balanced, accurate approach that the BOSE QC45 strives for, for instance.
The Best Noise-Canceling Headphones
Below we have presented products that we believe represent some of the best choices for noise-canceling headphones currently on the market. This list takes into account value for money, audio performance, connectivity, and build quality.
The Sony WH-1000 series has seen the birth of some truly amazing noise-canceling headphones. The Sony WH-1000XM4 was able to directly compete with the BOSE QuietComfort 35 on its release, and now, with the release of the Sony WH-1000XM5, we’ve seen some more gains made in this series, though there are still areas where the XM4 does better.
The WH-1000XM5 saw Sony focusing more on noise cancelation and sound signature. The XM5 performs better in terms of a balanced sound, a feature that will no doubt appeal to many critical listeners. However, there is an accentuated bass presence that may appeal to those looking for extra bass, not to those looking for a flat, accurate sound.
The noise cancelation is superior to the XM4 both in terms of sound presentation and microphone quality. While the XM4’s microphone struggled to capture clear audio in a noisy environment, the WH-1000XM5 excels at this, with minimal interference with the microphone, even in relatively loud locations.
The XM5 does a better job than the XM4 in noise cancelation, even if the XM4 offers a bit better passive isolation.
There are a few areas where the XM4 still outperforms the XM5, however. The XM4 has a faster recharge time with longer battery life and subjectively has a better design. The XM5, while comfortable for some, tends to cause some issues with those with smaller heads.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 draws on many of the features of the XM4 but with a few changes in direction as well. We could still honestly recommend either the XM4 or XM5 to those looking for a solid pair of noise-canceling headphones. The differences between the two models aren’t really linear. Instead, the XM5 and XM4 both outcompete each other in specific features, and both still have a place in the market.
If your focus is on the highest quality noise cancelation and sound signature, go for the XM5. However, if you’re looking to save some money and longer battery life and comfort sound more important to you, then the Sony WH-1000XM4 is still an extremely viable option.
Why We Recommend It
The Sony XM series has been seen as the king of noise-canceling headphones for quite some time now. It’s not that the Sony XM5 does anything remarkable or innovative. Instead, they focus on providing a versatile solution that can cater to almost all demands and do so with impressive results. These are ‘the safe choice.’
Much like the Sony XM5, the BOSE QuietComfort 45 had big shoes to fill when they hit the market. Its predecessor, the QuietComfort 35, was a beloved product that, in its own right, excelled at the key performance points we look for in a noise-canceling pair of headphones.
Unlike Sony’s range, however, the BOSE QuietComfort 45 brought a more objective and thorough increase in quality compared to its previous iteration. The BOSE QuietComfort 45 brought increases in comfort, improved noise cancelation, and in presenting a more balanced sound signature.
The QuietComfort 45 isn’t going to be the best choice if you’re into an elevated bass signature. Instead, they appeal to those looking for a more balanced and accurate sound signature. The frequency response of the QuietComfort 45 is impressive, most notably in the midrange, which sounds warm, crisp, and wide.
The comfort of the BOSE QuietComfort 45 is also especially worth mentioning. The way these headphones are designed, along with the materials used in the earcups, provides a comfortable fit that works extremely well on most head shapes and sizes.
Compared to the Sony, these two headphones go head to head in most areas, with the BOSE being better at providing a brighter and warmer midrange frequency performance and more subtle, balanced bass. The Sony, on the other hand, holds the advantage when it comes to noise handling. One area where the BOSE could use some improvement is in the imaging – which, while decent, isn’t as impressive as other competitors such as the AKG N700NC M2 or Sennheiser PXC550-II.
The move from Bluetooth 4.1 to 5.1 from the previous model is also a big upgrade, reducing latency and offering a lot more wireless range. We also see BOSE move away from the older BOSE connect app support and utilize the newer and more improved BOSE music, which features the addition of a graphical equalizer. Having the ability to EQ these headphones from an app ensures you can get closer to your own ideal sound signature.
A truly outstanding pair of speakers that have quickly become one of the most beloved noise-canceling headphones on the market. Whether you’re at home or using public transport, the BOSE QC45 does well.
Why We Recommend It
Why not may be an easier question to answer, given that the BOSE QC45 perform very well across the board. The new version sees improved sound quality and better connectivity support. Much like the Sony XM5, these are an everyday option that can be used at a desk, during your commute, or even while exercising.
3. Focal Bathys
Focal is a brand that may be foreign to the average consumer but is well-known to audio enthusiasts. The French company has released some incredible quality speakers over the years, and one of the more exciting products in recent times is the Focal Bathys.
What separates the Bathys from traditional noise-canceling headphones is… Well, there’s actually a lot. The first most noticeable difference is the unique design of these headphones, which, while familiar to audiophiles, maybe a little jarring for those used to clean, minimalist-style headphone designs found in traditional budget speakers. This unique and eye-catching design style is a feature that Focal has implemented on other headphones for a while now, and across high-end headphone brands, it’s not uncommon to see a signature style design used to individualize their products.
The Focal Bathys is not exactly a cheap pair of headphones and retails for around $800. At this price point, you expect something special, and Focal have provided it.
It’s important to consider that with these headphones, noise cancelation is considered secondary to performance. You’re not going to be getting the same levels of ANC that you would expect from most other speakers on this list. The Sony XM5 or BOSE QC45 both do a much better job at noise cancelation.
When we address the sound quality, it’s a very different story. The Focal Bathys is able to produce sound quality that is superior in imaging, soundstage, and overall frequency response. As one would expect from a Focal product, there is a distinct focus on balanced, accurate sound representation, but also with a whole lot of brightness and life to them. They produce an immersive sound that is especially impressive for being a closed-back headphones.
Although all that Focal has done right with the Bathys, it’s tough to ignore the quality control problems that have led to a number of these units getting returned. Focal themselves acknowledged that during early batches of shipment, there were issues around the packaging that caused the drivers to become damaged during transit. This resulted in some products causing a high-pitched sound that rendered them unusable. This is a problem that has since been rectified but is something to keep in mind when buying these second-hand, just in case someone decides to pawn them off instead of returning them.
Should you encounter this issue with your unit, Focal will swap it out for a replacement. So while this problem is an inconvenience, it doesn’t truly represent the quality of the product itself.
Why We Recommend It
Opting for the Focal Bathys is best suited for those with a primary focus on audio quality and a fairly large budget at their disposal. The ANC on these speakers is mediocre at best, but the overall sound quality exceeds all others on this list by quite some margin. This is the audiophile’s choice.
Soundcore has become synonymous with value, offering affordable products that perform well without being a huge investment. The best way to think of Soundcore products is that they are affordable but reliable.
The Space Q45 is Soundcore’s flagship ANC headphones and features a design that is familiar but also slightly unique, almost reminiscent of old-school headphone designs, but with that modern twist. They’re also available in three different colors.
The build quality on these headphones is really solid overall, and they don’t come across as particularly tight or loose but rather offer a comfortable fit for most head shapes. It should be noted that these aren’t going to be the best for gymming, though, as they are prone to slide back and forwards when leaning down or throwing one’s head back.
The padding on the headband and the earcups is one area where the Q45 falls a bit behind the likes of its predecessor, the Q35. While we really liked the thickness and texture of the Q35’s padding, the Q45’s is slightly thinner, which, while not a deal breaker, is a pity to see given how well the Q35 hit the mark.
The sound quality on the Soundcore Q45 isn’t quite as balanced as the BOSE or Sony, but at half the price, we need to be comparing apples with apples. Compared with other noise-canceling headphones under $150, the Q45 performs more than adequately. There is a fairly distinct V-shape sound signature to these headphones, so we can recommend them to more casual listeners who like their sound leaning towards fun more than accuracy. Still, one needs to give respect to the imaging performance that the Q45 provides.
You can expect a thumping bass which is, as mentioned, slightly accentuated. As we move more toward the mids, there are a few peaks in this range that cause the upper mids to come across a little too aggressively, especially when combined with the dips in the treble. Overall, the sound signature on these reminds us a little of the Sivga SV021.
When it comes to noise-canceling, this is really where the Soundcore Q45 flexes its muscle. These headphones can keep up with the best of them, being highly effective at reducing both high and low-frequency sounds with excellent efficiency.
The charging time and battery life are great with the Q45, with up to 50 hours of battery performance from a single 2-hour recharging time. However, this does change depending on your ANC settings.
Why We Recommend It
If you’re an audio enthusiast looking for the best money to buy, we suggest looking elsewhere. However, if you’re someone who doesn’t care about frequency response charts and measured data, these will probably sound more than good enough to you. The small drawbacks in sound are made up for with the exceptional noise cancelation performance.
The Sennheiser PXC 500 II has a clean aesthetic and familiar design to it. The materials used feel durable and high quality, though the size and shape of the headband can lead to discomfort for a few individuals who have very large heads. For most users, however, the PXC 550 II fits snugly yet comfortably. This makes it great for slightly more active users who have to worry about their headphones falling off. You’re not going to get the same protection from movement as you would with earbuds, of course, but when compared to other headphones on this list, they do a pretty good job in this regard.
These headphones have what is mostly a really impressive frequency response, with accurate, rich bass performance and warm, bright mid-tones. Unfortunately, the Achilles of the PXC 550 II is the treble, which while not terrible in its own right, falls short of matching the kinds of accuracy we hear in the bass and midrange. Even with this shortfall, these headphones still sound really good overall and require a pretty critical approach to fault.
The recharge time on the PXC 500-II is seriously impressive, with just over an hour of charge providing over 20 hours of battery life. I was a little confused by the micro-USB charging port used instead of what is now a pretty standard choice of USB-C. Despite the older port technology, these headphones still come with modern Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, giving you increased range and latency performance. This is especially true when utilizing the highly efficient aptX-LL codec, which these headphones support.
These headphones offer an adjustable noise cancelation control which can be adjusted using the mobile app as well. When it comes to the ANC performance, they do an excellent job and are able to perform on a similar level to the Sony XM5 in this regard. They manage to isolate both low and high frequencies, making them a versatile choice for office work or commuting.
Why We Recommend It
The Sennheiser PXC 500-II performs well overall in most departments. The sound quality is especially impressive in the bass and midrange. The extremely fast charging is also a major benefit. These are a versatile pair of noise-canceling headphones that we can easily recommend for those looking for a solid pair of travel headphones that can charge quickly in the hotel while you’re on the move.
When it comes to the headphone market, everyone is quick to throw shade toward brands that present themselves as gaming-focused, and with good reason. In many cases, the sound quality in gaming headphones is far lower than that found in similarly priced traditional headphone brands.
The Razer Barracuda is built differently. These noise-canceling headphones may come from one of the figureheads for gaming equipment, but what they’ve done with this pair of headphones is a step away from the gimmicky nature of gaming headphones and a direction into an overall quality audio product.
While Razer has had a myriad of loud, gamer-centric headphones drop over the years, the Barracuda Pro Wireless even looks like a different beast. The shell doesn’t scream Cheetos and Mountain Dew but instead creates a clean aesthetic with minimal accents. We can’t help but feel like these headphones draw a lot of design inspiration from the Sony XM series.
When it comes to sound, the Barracuda Pro Wireless performs much better than other Razer products we’ve worked with over the years. The sound signature is more balanced, but still not without a few small issues. The low end of the Barracuda Pro is actually very appealing. It’s slightly emphasized, but to a degree that few would argue is damaging to the presentation. In fact, even Sony could take some notes on the tuning of the bass on the Barracuda pro, especially for the XM5.
On the upper end of the midrange, we see a bit more of the classic Razer sound coming through, with some overemphasis that does create a bit of harshness in some of the vocals, especially. The performance in this area is still better than what we’re used to seeing from Razer products, but it does fall short of something like the Sony XM5 when it comes to the upper midrange.
When it comes to noise cancelation, the Barracuda Pro Wireless does a fairly impressive job. Firstly, the passive noise isolation is really good on these, so whether you use your ANC or not, there is already some passive noise reduction. However, when it comes down to the performance of the ANC, these headphones exceed expectations. While there are improvements that could be made to the reduction of low-end sound, as a whole, the Barracuda Pro Wireless performs on a similar level to some of the flagship noise-canceling headphones out there.
They offer Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity, so you’re going to be getting an efficient, modern wireless connection. The battery life of these headphones is also particularly impressive, with around 35 hours of battery life on a single charge. A charge cycle time on these is around 4 hours, which is very reasonable.
Why We Recommend It
Consider these headphones if you’re looking for a more hybrid-style design that offers a lot of versatility for gaming or for gym use. You’re going to have a hard time finding a better ANC headphone targeted toward gamers in this price range.
The AKG N700NC M2 may not have the same market share as the Sony or BOSE, but these noise-canceling headphones are a bit of a hidden gem.
When it comes to comfort, the AKG N700NC M2 is a little on the tighter side, which is something that is more of a preference than a feature that is inherently good or bad. If you have a smaller head, the tighter camping force can ensure a more comfortable fit, while for larger heads – this can create some discomfort over long listening periods.
The sound quality of the AKG N700NC M2 is excellent and, in my opinion, can even edge out the bigger names on this list. The sound signature of the N700NC is somewhat similar in style but offers a more accentuated bass response that is tuned extremely well. That is to say, even though the bass is slightly increased, the way it works in conjunction with the warm mid-tones and treble delivers an overall sound signature that feels filled with life without coming across as overtuned.
Released in 2019, there are some limitations with regard to latency when compared to newer headphone models. The N700NC still utilizes Bluetooth 4.2, which despite being completely viable in the current year, isn’t quite as efficient as Bluetooth 5 and upwards, which we see in a lot of other noise-canceling headphones.
Because these headphones fit quite snugly, they are a really good option for those who run or remain active while wearing the headphones. Granted, earbuds are better suited for this lifestyle, but when it comes to over-ear solutions, the AKG N7000NC M2 is a brilliant pair of noise-canceling headphones that don’t often get their dues.
Why We Recommend It
The AKG N700NC M2 may offer slightly outdated connectivity, but the sound quality, in combination with the low price point, make these headphones a great choice for those who appreciate good sound but may not have the budget to go for something premium.
Buyer’s Guide – What To Know Before Buying Noise-Canceling Headphones
In order to assist you in making an informed purchase, we’ve put together the following buyer’s guide to help you better understand noise-canceling headphones and what to consider when weighing out your options.
How Will You Be Using Them?
Not all noise canceling is equal. Some headphones do better at preventing the intrusion of higher-pitched sounds, while others excel at lowering deeper, low-frequency sounds. The type that’s best for you will depend on how you want to use your noise-canceling headphones.
If you’re in an office environment and want to minimize chatter from your colleagues, then a headphone that does well in higher-pitched noise-canceling would be the most beneficial. If, on the other hand, you’re around lower frequencies, such as on a train or in a factory, you’d be better suited with a noise-canceling performance that deals with either lower frequencies or both low and high frequencies.
If you’re going to need complete isolation from lows and highs, there are going to be some models which can still cater to your needs, but you will find that the number of options at your disposal will shrink a bit, as some headphones do particularly well only for certain frequencies.
If you’re going to be using your noise-canceling headphones for long periods, which is common, you’re going to need to ensure that the headphones you buy are comfortable.
Figuring out comfort can be a challenge when it comes to buying online, so consider the style of any existing headphones that you enjoy and try to find a model that offers a similar style or size. Unfortunately, this isn’t like buying a baseball cap, and you may need to look at other customer feedback to determine exactly how they fit each individual head.
We’ve tried to include as much information about the fit of our selected picks as possible.
They’ve Got To Sound Good
At no point in time is it ever worth investing in low-quality audio. Sound quality is the most essential part of headphones, and thankfully, there’s no need to sacrifice quality. Low-quality sound is typically the result of a misinformed purchase or a lack of guidance in the buying process.
While budget is going to play a part in limiting the quality of sound you can get from your headphones. The noise-canceling headphone market is filled with options that don’t always have the break the bank. In recent years, brands like Treblab and Soundcore have emerged with products that are comforting to both the ears and the pocket.
We tried not to overanalyze these speakers, as we believe that a balanced sound isn’t necessarily the best sound, just a preferred sound. Instead, we have included speakers that don’t struggle with distortion or excessive peaks within their frequency response range.
Don’t feel like you need to settle for bad quality just in order to stay within budget. We’ve included some headphones that are both affordable and good to listen to.
Ensuring You’ve Got The Required Battery Life
Noise-canceling headphones come in both wired and wireless variants. For this list, we didn’t seek to include a specific type, but instead, we found that most of the selections fall into the wireless headphone category. This is because most individuals looking for a pair of noise-canceling headphones are looking for a portable solution that they can take with them to work or on vacation.
You should carefully consider the impact that your desired pair of headphones may have on your daily routines. That is, if you find yourself utilizing your headphones primarily on flights or long voyages, you’re going to want to ensure that the battery life is able to keep up with your demands.
Battery life is one of those things that can vary slightly from the manufacturer’s claims, so we recommend always leaving yourself a little bit of padding. For instance, if you calculate that you need 20 hours of battery life on a charge, look for a solution that offers around 25 to 30 hours. This will also help take into account the natural, albeit slow, degradation of battery over time.
How We Selected These Products
When selecting these products for these recommendations, I wanted to acknowledge that there is no such thing as the perfect noise-canceling headphone. What’s good for the goose is not always good for the gander, and the sound profile of headphones is a highly subjective topic. Likewise, it’s not very useful to the consumer to suggest all the most expensive, premium products.
We ensured every headphone on this list offered fair value for their price. We omitted products that have excessive peaks and dips in their sound profile that cause them to present with a sub-par sound experience, and of course, we only included products that balance their performance with quality noise cancelation.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why can I still hear noises with my headphones on?
First, make sure you have your headphone’s noise cancelation mode active. This is something that is usually turned off or on via a button.
Additionally, each pair of noise-canceling headphones are unique. Even if the two models utilize a similar technology for the noise cancelation itself, the design of the earcup, the position of the driver, and how the headphones fit your head will all have an impact on how much noise can get sealed.
Similarly, the efficiency of noise cancelation will differ between brands and models.
Is there a difference between closed-back headphones and noise-canceling headphones?
Absolutely. If you’re new to headphones, you may mistake a traditional pair of closed-back headphones for noise-canceling ones. While closed-back headphones do offer some protection from noise compared to open-backs, this is a passive type of noise cancelation and not very effective compared to active or adaptive noise canceling.
Can I use noise-canceling headphones to sleep?
Noise-canceling headphones can be used for sleeping, but given their size, this is usually best for naps on airplanes where you’re seated upright. If you’re looking to lay on your side at all, I’d recommend looking at noise-canceling earbuds for the best results.
Should I get wired or wireless noise-canceling headphones?
If you tend to use your headphones while out of the house, we’d recommend a wireless option, as even if your phone does support the cable type, it’s never fun carrying cables around. Additionally, some of the best noise-canceling headphones in today’s market are wireless.
Thanks to the latest Bluetooth versions available, there is little change in wired and wireless options, and while latency is still present, this has been improved remarkably over the past few Bluetooth versions.
Wired options will give you the benefit of never needing to charge them, but they are far from the most versatile way to approach noise cancelation.