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Best noise-canceling headphones for blocking out unwanted sounds

Best noise-canceling headphones for blocking out unwanted sounds

Quiet your noisy commute or chatty office mates with a good pair of noise-canceling headphones. Discover how Bose, Sony, B&W, and more can give you a true “music: on, world: off” experience.

All products featured here are independently selected by our editors and writers.If you buy something through links on our site, Mashable may earn an affiliate commission.


Listening to music is so much more than a distraction when you’re alone in public. It can have a profound effect on your state of mind, and it’s the reason we’re willing to spend iPad-level cash on headphones instead of opting for a cheap pair in the checkout line. Listening to music (or podcasts, or audiobooks) can be an integral part of getting through that daily commute or a long flight.

But if the incessant sound of jet engines, distracting chatter of a coworker, or deafening bass of partying neighbors prevents you from reaching that euphoric place — or from just getting your work done — noise-canceling headphones will be one of your favorite adult investment. (And if you’re in the market for a Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or Prime Day deal, it’s helpful to learn which devices are the best so when the sales start you’ll know what to buy. Prime Day is just around the corner BTW, so you want to lock down which pair of noise-canceling headphones you want ASAP.)

Do noise-canceling headphones actually work?

There’s a big difference between outside noise being blocked and music simply being loud. Just like not every pair of expensive glasses protect your eyes from blue light, a pair of pricey headphones doesn’t guarantee they have noise cancelation. For instance, the Beats Solo 3 are a great pair of headphones with special features like Apple’s W1 chip, but they don’t offer active noise cancelation. 

Active noise-canceling headphones can electronically remove the sound coming from your surroundings. They work by using internal microphones that listen to what’s happening in the world around you, then inverting the noise and sending it into the loudspeaker. The idea is, both the  output and the input will cancel out, leaving you with near-silence — or the music you want to listen to. Over-ear headphones are also able to create a tight seal around your ear that adds another layer of sound blocking.

In the past, not many earbuds featured active noise cancellation, but now there are plenty of noise-canceling earbuds if you don’t like the bulkiness of headphones. Earbuds can’t get the same seal that headphones can, though, so if you’re a noise cancellation snob, stick with headphones.

What are the best noise-canceling headphones to buy?

Bose and Sony are both top names when it comes to any type of audio, but especially noise-canceling headphones. Both brands feature industry-leading noise cancellation on top of superb sound quality. There are also some other brands and models of noise-canceling headphones worth checking out. We’ve laid everything out for you below.

One-touch Spotify access • 11 levels of noise cancellation • Adaptive microphone • Sync with other Bose speakers and headphones

Less comfortable than the QuietComforts • Can’t turn off the voice that tells you what’s paired and gives battery status updates

With a few minor annoyances, the pros outweigh the cons for these impressive noise-canceling headphones from Bose.

The Bose 700s are top tier. They feature 11 levels of active noise cancellation. The sound quality is the excellence you expect from Bose, and the headphones’ microphone has unrivaled voice pickup, so people on the other end of your calls will hear you and not the passing cars or windy background.
These headphones have built-in voice assistants for music, navigation, weather, and more controls. The coolest feature, though, is that if you’re using an iOS device, you can tap and hold the right earcup and it will resume your last Spotify session without you having to pull out your phone and open the app.

Flawless noise cancelation • Highly-customizable sound settings • Impressive battery life • Light and comfy

Fewer controls and customizations than Sony • Not great at switching between multiple devices

The QuietComfort 35s supply some of the best sound and noise cancellation money can buy.

Bose QuietComfort 35 II

The QC 35s are the archetype for ANC headphones and constantly adapt to your surroundings.

  • Battery life:
    20 hours wireless, 40 hours wired
  • Bluetooth range:
    30 feet
  • App-connected:
Bose, the veteran of noise-canceling tech, is universally recognized —even by people who couldn’t care less about fancy audio. The Quiet Comfort 35 II headphones hold down the fort as the best on Bose’s roster and some of the best you can buy period
The second generation of the QC 35 are the product of over 30 years of perfecting ambient noise blocking. The Action button lets you switch between settings (low for windy environments or high for things like voices, crowds, or engines), and the headphones continuously measure and react to protect against unwanted noises. Seriously, the silence is sublime. The addition of Alexa lets you use voice commands to control music, receive texts, or read notifications without having to look at your phone. 

Alexa and Google Assistant built in • Special features for flying and ambient sound monitoring • App offers tons of customization • Touch controls directly on the ear pieces

No multi-device support • Headband is creaky

Sony’s superb noise-cancelation and top-tier smart features give Bose a run for its money.

Sony WH1000XM3

Sony’s most intuitive headphones are Alexa-enabled and have a great high altitude feature.

  • Battery life:
    30 hours
  • Bluetooth range:
    33 feet
  • App-connected:
Noise cancellation isn’t one size fits all, and Sony’s flagship headphones are especially clutch for traveling. The 1000XM3 headphones automatically detect the noise in your environment and balance the blockage accordingly. The HD Noise Canceling Processor QN1 chip is apparently four times more powerful than that of the 1000XM2 (which was already really good). Frequent flyers will appreciate the atmospheric pressure optimizer, designed to nix droning sounds at high altitudes.
You can control stuff without getting your phone out, too. Hovering over the right ear cup lets you control songs, volume, and microphones for phone calls. One standout feature is Quick Attention mode, which lets you hear background noise (like an announcement in the airport) without completely stopping your music. Touching the ear cup is also how you access Google Assistant and Alexa.
If you’re constantly mishearing song lyrics, this is the clear, punchy audio you’ve been waiting for. While Bose tends to be more neutral, Sony’s signature sound is rich, boomy, and takes details to the next level. 

ANC mutes everything • “ToneTouch” audio customization • Chic design • Super wide Bluetooth range

Older model • Sound quality lessens with ANC turned on

Denmark’s superstar audio brand gives us a rare pair of genuinely stylish headphones that sound great, too.

B&O Beoplay H9i

These luxe headphones were carefully crafted with rich looks outside and rich sound inside.

  • Battery life:
    18 hours
  • Bluetooth range:
    121 feet
  • App-connected:
Bang & Olufsen didn’t come to play with the H9i headphones. They actually sport a stylish design and feature noise cancellation that deserves just as much hype. Their on-ear design won’t make you look like you’re always on your way to deejay somewhere.
In addition to looks, the H9i headphones are armed with stellar active noise cancellation, getting you the next best thing to muting the outside world. Bass, treble, and mids will come in crystal clear, but the “ToneTouch” section of the app lets you adjust music with options like warm, excited, relaxed, and bright. Remove your headphones to trigger the proximity sensor and pause music completely, or use the Transparency Mode button to lower volume and quickly tune into your surroundings.

Included carrying case • ANC modes based on environment • B&W’s spacial sound is just as great wireless • Impressive Bluetooth range

Not comfy for long periods • Fold awkwardly

Get the B&W quality you expect with the convenience of wireless connectivity.

Bowers & Wilkins PX

These are classy AF and offer some of the best-in-class ANC, particularly in outdoor settings.

  • Battery life:
    22 hours wireless, 33 hours wired
  • Bluetooth range:
    98 feet
  • App-connected:
Bowers & Wilkins has been on that speaker game since the 1960s, mastered wired headphones first, then brought the expertise to wireless noice-canceling headphones with the PX
If you’re concerned about Bluetooth headphones sounding inauthentic, know that the PX headphones have angled units that are derived from the P9 signature — one of B&W’s most beloved wired headphones. It’s the solid performance you’d expect, surrounding your ears with super roomy, powerful audio. Rock and electronic music particularly shine here, but softer vocals may leave you wanting more.
Spacial sound will have you in the zone, and the eminent noise blocking of the PX headphones will ensure that distractions are prevented at all costs. The tunnel vision (er, sound) is achieved by using sensors to adapt to your surroundings and customize the type of blockage, made even more specific with noise-cancellation modes like “flight,” “city,” and “office.” The buttons take some getting used to, but sound can also be controlled with the PX app or by lifting up the ear cups.
The physical design also deserves some kudos. Large headphones can quickly cross into obnoxious territory, these have a sleek aesthetic. An included carrying case is always a bonus, but it’s even better when it’s this nice and protective (and not a dinky drawstring bag.) Unfortunately, the PX headphones are known to get tight after bouts of long wear. 

Connect via Apple W1 chip • Tons of color options • Volume and play controls on ear piece • Impressive Bluetooth range

Audio controls are touch rather than buttons, making them hard to see • Other brands have better sound quality for similar price

The Pure ANC is reason enough to purchase, but iPhone users will kill for that W1 chip connection.

Beats Studio3

The only Beats with noise cancellation do an impressive job and have an impressive color selection.

  • Battery life:
    40 hours pure ANC off, 22 hours pure ANC on
  • Bluetooth range:
    100 feet
  • App-connected:
Beats by Dr. Dre get hyped up by audiophiles and casual listeners alike, and the Apple-owned company nailed noise cancellation with the Beats Studio3 model.
For iPhone users, Apple’s W1 chip is the one major advantage Beats have over all other over-ear headphones. Any headphones with the chip will skip pairing and automatically connect between any devices signed into your iCloud account. The chip also sees improved connections over distances and improved battery life — some walls or a few flights of stairs won’t cause your music to flinch, and 10 minutes of charging gets you three hours of listening.
There’s a reason you can’t get on public transportation without seeing a pair of these, and it’s not just because of the clout that comes with Beats. The Pure Noise Cancellation uses microphones that continually scan your environment and block low-frequency sounds, putting a soundproof bubble around you even in the loud-as-shit subway. The Pure ANC also analyzes how your headphones fit and adjusts the sound to prevent leakage.
Beats are known for that EDM subwoofer sound, but the Studio3s have turned it down (thankfully) for a clearer, more balanced presentation. Apparently, the speakers measure and calibrate audio up to 50,000 times per second to minimize distortion and achieve accurate timing. Beats’ punchy signature sound is definitely still present, and it’s more of a surround-sound feeling than ever.

Responsive ear cup gestures • Impressive battery life, even in wireless mode • Well-designed controls

Annoying sound effect when you put them on • Uncomfortable after long wear • Noise cancellation doesn’t compare to more expensive pairs

The ANC isn’t perfect, but the Pro 2 headphones are still a steal and last a full day on one charge.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2

These Bose alternatives will surprise you with functional smart features and energetic sound.

  • Battery life:
    24 hours
  • Bluetooth range:
    30 feet
  • App-connected:
Every pair of noise-canceling headphones is either really nice and $300 or really shitty and $50. There is usually no in between. The exception: the Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2 headphones. They’re a fantastic value alternative to Bose and Sony that won’t require you to give up decent specs.
The second generation BackBeat Pro headphones use sensors to detect when you’ve removed them, which will trigger the music to stop. Switching between devices is easy, the Bluetooth aptX HD connection is flawless, and button placement is extremely sensible. There’s even a switch for ambient noise mode to hear what’s around you without completely shutting ANC off — a convenience you’d usually only find in premium competitors. 
The ANC won’t freeze every nearby voice, but it’s definitely enough to get you through a loud city commute or studying through construction outside your window. The sound is fun and energetic (albeit bass-heavy), with slightly muted highs for pleasant extended listening sessions. And if you won’t be using them all day, every day, you could easily get a week’s worth of use on one charge.

Portable • Pair seamlessly with Apple products • Three sizes of silicone tips • Sweat and water resistant

Active noise cancellation can’t compare to headphones • Ear tips might be uncomfortable after extended wear • Microphone picks up surrounding sounds on calls

AirPods Pro provide good sound quality and noise cancellation without the bulk of headphones.

AirPods Pro

If you prefer earbuds to headphones, the AirPods Pro provide good noise cancellation.

  • Battery life:
    4.5 hours (up to 24 hours with charging case)
  • Bluetooth range:
    30 to 60 feet
  • App-connected:
While the original AirPods did not have noise cancellation, the AirPods Pro do. The silicone tips create a seal while the internal microphone counteracts outside noise to bring you active noise cancellation in a pair of wireless earbuds. You won’t get the same level of ANC or the same sound quality as headphones with larger speakers, but the AirPods Pro are seriously impressive and portable.
Holding down an earbud’s stem activates transparency mode that lets you hear outside noise if you need to be aware of what’s going on around you. You can also play/pause music and skip or go back to songs by squeezing the stem. When you open the AirPods Pro’s case, they should automatically connect to your iPhone, which adds a nice level of convenience. 

Great for sleeping and the gym • Decent noise-cancellation for the size

Not wireless • Rechargeable battery isn’t replaceable

Bose manages to pack powerful noise cancellation technology into compact buds that refuse to fall out.

Bose QuietComfort 20

You’ll be wowed by the oomph of these inconspicuous noice-canceling buds.

  • Battery life:
    16 hours
  • Bluetooth range:
  • App-connected:
If you prefer earbuds to over-ear headphones, the Bose QuietComfort 20 headphones are an option that tune out your environment while staying inconspicuous. We know, we know — they’re not wireless and they have to be recharged. But you get great sound quality and don’t have to worry about losing them the way you would with wireless earbuds.
Noise cancellation this downsized is achieved by housing two tiny microphones in each compact bud. All four work together to pick up external sound, constantly determining the proper amount of low tones required to tune things out. Though over-ear headphones have a size advantage by covering the entire ear, the snug fit of the StayHear+ tips do a good job of keeping out distractions. There’s an “aware” button to let you partially tune into the outside world, plus a button to totally turn noise-cancellation off. Once the rechargeable battery dies, they pretty much just work like regular headphones.
Kickass speakers were squeezed into the earbuds as well. Sound is smooth and relatively dynamic for how small the buds are, and the quality gets an extra boost when the NC is on. They use Bose’s Triport technology, which uses little vents and holes to act like ports on a speaker, giving the illusion of deeper bass inside the headphones. Cover one with your finger and you can hear the difference.

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