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Best Noise-Canceling Headphones: Advice and Recommendations

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Our evaluations and opinions are not influenced by our advertising relationships, but we may earn a commission from our partners’ links. This content is created independently from TIME’s editorial staff. Learn more about it.

updated: July 21, 2024
edited by Amber Katz
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There are too many loud, irritating, and obnoxious noises to list, but we all have at least a few that drive us insane—car alarms, shrieking babies, needlessly barking dogs, and the rest. For me, the worst noise in the world is someone blasting their terrible music from their phone’s tinny speakers on the subway—seriously, if you do this, I pray you get slowly disemboweled with a pointy root vegetable. To block out all that racket, I’ve compiled a list of the best noise-canceling headphones available.

Our picks for the best noise-canceling headphones

Best budget noise-canceling headphones: Soundcore Space Q45

Best budget noise-canceling headphones
Soundcore Space Q45

Since noise-canceling headphones can get expensive, I’m starting my list with a pick for a more reasonably priced pair. Jeff Mendez of El Jefe Reviews recommends the Soundcore Space Q45, saying that, “Soundcore has become a force in the audio community over the past several years—their wireless headphones have seen multiple iterations and the Space Q45 are the culmination of these efforts.” He adds that with their strong active noise cancellation, HearID personalized sound (which creates an ideal sound profile based on your hearing), Hi-Res Audio certification, and exceptional battery life, they’re the best option for under $200.

Specifications:

  • Headphone type: Over-ear
  • Battery life: 50 hours
  • Water-resistant: Yes
  • Return policy: 30-day money back guarantee
  • Warranty: 18 months
  • Price on publish: $149.99

What we like:

  • Reasonably priced
  • Personalized sound
  • Great battery life

What we don’t like:

  • A minority of customer reviews say they run a little large

The bottom line:

An inexpensive but feature-stuffed pair of headphones with great battery life.

Best budget noise-canceling earbuds: Soundcore Life P3

Best budget noise-canceling earbuds
Soundcore Life P3

These earbuds, also from Soundcore, come recommended by Ruth Reisman, AuD MBA CCC-A, founder and co-owner of Urban Hearing and full-time doctoral lecturer at the City University of New York. “I used these myself and found them to be a great budget find,” she says. “They have reliable active noise cancellation in a compact earbud design.” With a 4.4 out of 5 rating on Amazon from over 29,000 reviews, it’s clear most people agree.

Specifications:

  • Headphone type: Earbuds
  • Battery life: 7 hours (35 with the charging case)
  • Water-resistant: Yes
  • Return policy: 30-day money back guarantee
  • Warranty: 18 months
  • Price on publish: $79.99

What we like:

  • Affordable
  • Great active noise cancellation
  • Five nice color options

What we don’t like:

  • A small number of customer reviews complain that they don’t fit snugly in the ear

The bottom line:

A compact, powerful, and affordable set of earbuds with great active noise cancellation.

Best wireless noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM5

Best wireless noise-canceling headphones
Sony WH-1000XM5 The Best Wireless Noise Canceling Headphones with Auto Noise Canceling Optimizer, Crystal Clear Hands-Free Calling, and Alexa Voice Control, Black

Sony WH-1000XM5 The Best Wireless Noise Canceling Headphones with Auto Noise Canceling Optimizer, Crystal Clear Hands-Free Calling, and Alexa Voice Control, Black

These are exceptionally well-regarded headphones (they currently have an average of 4.5 stars on Amazon from nearly 12,000 reviews and also made our list of the best wireless headphones) and both Dr. Reisman and Mendez are fans. “The Sony WH-1000XM5 boasts some of the strongest active noise cancellation on the market, effectively blocking out ambient noise for an immersive listening experience,” says Mendez. “Their seamless connectivity and exceptional call quality make them a top contender for everyday use.”

Specifications:

  • Headphone type: Over-ear
  • Battery life: 30 hours
  • Water-resistant: Yes
  • Return policy: 30-day returns
  • Warranty: One year
  • Price on publish: $328

What we like:

  • Fantastic noise cancellation
  • Almost universally positive professional and customer reviews
  • Comfortable and lightweight

What we don’t like:

  • A minority of customers found the touch controls to be too sensitive

The bottom line:

A respected, well-reviewed pair of headphones with top of the line noise cancellation.

Best wired noise-canceling headphones: Audio-Technica ATH-M50X

Best wired noise-canceling headphones
Audio Technica ATH-M50X Professional Studio Monitor Headphones Black Bundle w/Pig hog 25’ Extension Cable & Liquid Polishing Cloth with Detachable Cable

Audio Technica ATH-M50X Professional Studio Monitor Headphones Black Bundle w/Pig hog 25’ Extension Cable & Liquid Polishing Cloth with Detachable Cable

While few people these days use wired noise-canceling headphones on the go, they’re still the best option for those seeking world-class sound at home or at work. Dr. Reisman’s pick is Audio-Technica’s ATH-M50X, which she praises for their studio-quality sound and passive noise isolation. They also feature 90-degree swiveling ear cups, professional-grade ear pads and headband, and detachable cables, making them super user-friendly.

Specifications:

  • Headphone type: Over-ear
  • Battery life: N/A
  • Water-resistant: No
  • Return policy: Only for issues covered by warranty
  • Warranty: Two years
  • Price on publish: $169.99

What we like:

  • Swiveling ear cups
  • Collapsible
  • Comes with four cables (4 - 9 foot coil cable, 4-foot straight cable, 9-foot straight cable, 25-foot extension cable), screw-on adapter, carrying pouch, and polishing cloth

What we don’t like:

  • Proprietary cable connections
  • Return policy only applies to issues covered by warranty

The bottom line:

Studio-quality wired headphones at an extremely reasonable price.

Best wireless noise-canceling earbuds: Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds

Best wireless noise-canceling earbuds
Bose QuietComfort® Earbuds II Triple Black

Bose QuietComfort® Earbuds II Triple Black

“If you need the strongest active noise-canceling earbuds on the market in 2024 and price is no concern, then the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds are your number one choice,” says Mendez. “They’re perfect for travelers, commuters, or anyone who needs to be completely isolated from distracting sounds.” With almost universally positive reviews from both the tech press and consumers, these are seriously worth trying out.

Specifications:

  • Headphone type: Earbuds
  • Battery life: Six hours
  • Water-resistant: Yes
  • Return policy: 90 days
  • Warranty: Two years
  • Price on publish: $249

What we like:

  • Comfortable
  • Excellent active noise cancelation
  • Two hours of play with just 20 minutes of charging

What we don’t like:

  • Expensive

The bottom line:

A pricey but well designed pair of earbuds with top of the line active noise cancellation.

Best noise-canceling headphones under $100: 1MORE SonoFlow Wireless

Best noise-canceling headphones under $100
1MORE SonoFlow Wireless

1MORE SonoFlow Wireless

Sadly, most cheap headphones are going to sound and feel exactly that—cheap. There are worthwhile buys under $100, though, and Mendez believes that 1MORE’s SonoFlow is the best of them. “1MORE has been known in the audio world to make some amazing products at affordable prices and these are no exception,” he says. He adds that, since they feature 1MORE's QuietMax™ technology (a proprietary active noise-cancellation improvement), LDAC support for Hi-Res audio over Bluetooth, and up to 70 hours of playback time, “These are a steal for their low price!”

Specifications:

  • Headphone type: Over-ear
  • Battery life: 70 hours
  • Water-resistant: Yes
  • Return policy: Free returns, provided product is in unused condition
  • Warranty: One year
  • Price on publish: $63.99

What we like:

  • Incredible battery life
  • Inexpensive
  • Free returns
  • Five hours of play with just five minutes of charging

What we don’t like:

  • A minority of customer reviews say they are underwhelmed by the bass

The bottom line:

An inexpensive pair of headphones with exceptional battery life.

Best noise-canceling headphones for airplane use: Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones

Best noise-canceling headphones for airplane use
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones White Smoke

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones White Smoke

For some weird reason, flying in a pressurized cabin full of people sitting on top of two 8,000-pound jet engines tends to be a somewhat noisy experience, so headphones that efficiently filter out those sounds are a huge plus when flying. “If you need the very best active noise cancellation for a flight, look no further,” says Mendez of Bose’s QuietComfort Ultra headphones. “Bose designed this product from the ground up for this exact use case—I tested these on a recent flight to Texas and the active noise-canceling strength was outstanding.”

Specifications:

  • Headphone type: Over-ear
  • Battery life: 24 hours
  • Water-resistant: No
  • Return policy: 90 days
  • Warranty: Two years
  • Price on publish: $379

What we like:

  • Great active noise canceling
  • CustomTune technology adapts sound to your ears
  • Lightweight and comfortable
  • Three color options

What we don’t like:

  • Very expensive, especially for something with so much plastic

The bottom line:

An admittedly expensive pair of headphones, but with truly world-class active noise cancellation, ideal for blocking out the unwanted sounds of a plane ride.

Best noise-canceling headphones for Apple users: Apple AirPods Max

Best noise-canceling headphones for Apple users
Apple AirPods Max

This will likely not come as a surprise, but both Dr. Reisman and Mendez opt for the AirPods Max when asked about their preferred Apple option. Dr. Reisman cites the premium design, seamless connectivity, and impressive noise cancellation, while Mendez says that, “Apple AirPods Max are still my top choice for Apple users—their seamless connectivity with iPhone, iPad, and Mac make them my top recommendation for people living in the Apple Ecosystem.” Shopping tip: Apple AirPods Max also made our list of the best headphones on the market.

Specifications:

  • Headphone type: Over-ear
  • Battery life: 20 hours
  • Water-resistant: No
  • Return policy: 14-day returns
  • Warranty: One year
  • Price on publish: $549

What we like:

  • Comes with six free months of Apple Music
  • Five minutes of charging gets you 90 minutes of listening
  • Five color options

What we don’t like:

  • Extremely expensive

The bottom line:

Despite an arguably too-high price tag, those looking for the best noise-canceling Apple headphones should look no further.

Best noise canceling headphones for Android users: Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless

Best noise canceling headphones for Android users
Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless

Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless

As well as being comfortable and featuring an impressive 60-hour battery life, these over-ear headphones from Sennheiser offer well-balanced sound and, through its companion Smart Control app, the ability to further tweak the sound to your liking. The active noise cancellation works especially well at blocking out wind noises and the lower frequencies associated with traveling on planes or other vehicles.

Specifications:

  • Headphone Type: Over-ear
  • Battery life: 60 hours
  • Water-Resistant: No
  • Return policy: 30 day returns
  • Warranty: 90 days
  • Price on Publish: $299.95

What we like:

  • Can listen while charging
  • Incredible battery life
  • Headphones fold flat

What we don’t like:

  • Some reviewers felt that only having three EQ sliders (bass, mid, and treble) is a little restrictive

The bottom line:

A respected, well-reviewed set of headphones that will pair well with Android phones for crystal-clear sound

Most upgraded noise-canceling headphones: Bowers & Wilkins Px7 2Se

Most upgraded noise-canceling headphones
Px7 s2e Headphones - Anthracite Black | Bowers & Wilkins

Px7 s2e Headphones - Anthracite Black | Bowers & Wilkins

In terms of headphones that are really taking advantage of all the new tech available, Dr. Reisman suggests checking out the Px7 2SE from Bowers & Wilkins. Upgraded from the already award-winning Px7, Dr. Reisman praises their high-end audio quality, premium build, and advanced noise-canceling technology.

Specifications:

  • Headphone type: Over-ear
  • Battery life: 30 hours
  • Water-resistant: No
  • Return policy: 30-day returns
  • Warranty: Two years
  • Price on publish: $399

What we like:

  • High-resolution sound
  • Memory foam ear pads
  • Included case
  • Seven hours of play with a 15 minute charge

What we don’t like:

  • A minority of customer reviews raise concerns about longevity of the headband

The bottom line:

A stylish, premium-looking set of headphones with excellent audio quality.

Read the full review: Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2e Review: Great “Entry-Level” Premium Over-Ear Headphones

Read, Also: Bowers and Wilkins px8 Review: Premium Wireless Headphones

What to consider when choosing noise-canceling headphones

When looking for the best noise-canceling headphones, you'll want to take into account several features to get the most appropriate technology for your budget.

Noise processing capability

First and foremost among the features to look for in noise-canceling headphones is their ability to block out unwanted sounds. “The noise processing capability will determine the quality and strength of the noise reduction,” says Amy Sarow, AuD, lead audiologist for Soundly. “This determines the effectiveness of the headphones in blocking out ambient noise, essential for creating private soundscapes in noisy environments.”

Audio quality

Obviously, if you’re investing in high-end headphones, you also want to make sure they sound fantastic. “The headphones should deliver clear, balanced, and immersive sound for an optimal listening experience,” says Dr. Sarow. “Additionally, as many headphones today are wireless, Bluetooth strength or codec support is crucial for a stable and high-quality wireless connection.”

Battery life

“Battery life is another factor that adds to convenience, as headphones with extended battery life are particularly beneficial for long commutes or travel,” says Dr. Sarow. Certainly, you won’t be happy if your headphones die with just three pages left in your audiobook.

Comfort

Even amazing-sounding headphones aren’t going to work out in the long run if they’re overly heavy, tight, or feel uncomfortable against your ears.

How we selected the best noise-canceling headphones

All of my picks came from a panel of audio experts and headphone enthusiasts, who considered performance, features, sound quality, design, and value when making their selections. I also checked that all of my entries had strongly positive customer reviews.

If you found this list helpful, be sure to also look at our guides for the best headphones and the best wireless earbuds.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Is it worth it to buy noise-canceling headphones?

“It's generally worth investing in noise-canceling headphones for enhanced focus and immersive audio experiences,” says Dr. Reisman.

Dr. Sarow agrees, adding that, “With standard headphones, the intrusion of background noise often necessitates increasing the volume, which can lead to potential hearing damage over time. Noise-canceling headphones eliminate this issue by neutralizing ambient noise, allowing you to enjoy your audio at a safer, lower volume.”

Is it okay to sleep with noise-canceling headphones?

Dr. Sarow advises that it’s safe, so long as you take precautions regarding headphone volume and hygiene. Headphone volume, she says, should be kept at a safe level (ideally 80 dB or less) to prevent potential hearing damage.

“Additionally, regular cleaning of the headphones is essential for maintaining hygiene,” she says. “As they're likely to be worn for extended periods during sleep, headphones can accumulate sweat, oils, and bacteria, which could potentially lead to ear infections. Regular cleaning can prevent this and prolong the lifespan of your headphones. It's always important to prioritize health and hygiene when using any wearable technology, including noise-canceling headphones.”

To learn more, read our guide on the best headphones for sleeping.

Are earbuds or headphones better for noise canceling?

Both earbuds and headphones can be effective for noise canceling, according to Dr. Sarow, but she notes that headphones often have an advantage in terms of passive noise cancellation due to their over-the-ear design. “This doesn't mean earbuds are ineffective, however,” she says. “They can also provide excellent noise cancellation, provided they have a snug fit that successfully blocks out surrounding noise. The best choice ultimately depends on personal comfort, usage scenario, and preference.” Learn more in our explainer on earbuds vs headphones.

Does noise cancellation block all noise?

“Noise cancellation technology does not block all noise entirely,” says Dr. Sarow. “It primarily consists of two components: Active noise cancellation (ANC) and passive noise cancellation. ANC is particularly effective at reducing low-frequency sounds such as the rumbling of an airplane or road noise. However, it tends to be less effective against high-frequency sounds like whistling or wind noise. Additionally, loud, sudden noises will not be completely muffled. This is due to the fact that ANC works by sampling the environment and producing a 'counter-sound' to the external noise, a process that is less effective for sudden, impulsive noises.”

“On the other hand, passive noise cancellation relies on the physical properties of the headphones (such as the ear cup design and materials used) to block out noise,” she continues. “The combination of both technologies provides a strong noise reduction solution, but it's important to note that no headphones can entirely block out all external noise.”

The information presented here is created independently from the TIME editorial staff. To learn more, see our About page.

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