Whether you're an audiophile working from home and need to drown out the sounds of your family or neighbors or you're on your commute and want to zone out to your favorite tunes or podcasts, the right headphones can make all the difference, no matter if you go with in-ear, on-ear or even wireless.
Of course, you have to go with noise-cancelling. After all, what's the point of buying a new pair of headphones if you're just going to be able to hear your surrounding environment around you with them on anyway? No one wants to listen to their favorite music that way.
But picking the right pair of noise-cancelling headphones isn't easy. How do you know which pair to trust? How much do you spend?
Here are the best noise-canceling headphones to make your shopping a little bit easier.
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Best Over-Ear and On-Ear Noise-Canceling Headphones
If you find that you can never keep track of your earbuds and you really like the look and feel of over-ear and on-ear headphones with cushy ear cups and adjustable headsets, try some of these options on for size.
These Bluetooth-enabled, noise-cancelling Sony wireless headphones came out in 2020 to a lot of hype — and it's hype that they live up to, according to reviewers. The lightweight headphones provide an unprecedented level of sound quality, plus they come with a whopping 30-hour battery life.
Jeremy Bongiorno is the owner and operator of Studio Frequencies — which specializes in finding the best equipment for home music studios — shared with us, “I recommend checking out the Sony WH-1000XM4 as your first set of noise-cancelling headphones. They are the newest version of widely popular XM3 headphones and have a longer-lasting battery plus a better overall sound quality to them than most headphones in their price range.”
Yes, the price is a bit much at around $350, but you pay for quality.
Bose is the premier name in noise-cancelling headphones and really audio of any kind. When it comes to the Bose 700 over-ear headphones, you'll find a price point similar to that of the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones if you buy them on sale, but closer to $400 on Amazon or at your big-box tech store.
These headphones feature active noise cancellation (see more on that below), and you can actually adjust the level of noise cancellation that the headphones provide. This allows you to dim your external noise if you want, so you can still hear anything important going on around you, but it also allows you to block out everything and anything conversely.
The lightweight headphones feature a few touch controls and buttons that are easy to use and travel well. The battery life is 20 hours.
For well-built headphones with equally great noise-cancelling capabilities, the Shure AONIC 50 headphones deliver. Reviewers say they even cancel more noise than the Bose variant above.
At $300, they fall in line with most other high-end noise-cancelling headphones, and the Bluetooth-enabled headphones will allow you to even connect to two devices at the same time. There's a built-in mic, which makes working from home that much more convenient; say goodbye to interrupted Zoom meetings!
These lightweight Bose headphones with a 20-hour-plus battery life come in at around $300 as well and are both extra comfortable and extra tech-savvy. That's because these headphones are outfitted with Google Assistant, allowing you to ask the assistant for anything you might need while you are on the go or at your desk, just as you might talk to Amazon's Alexa. If you find that you use Alexa multiple times a day, these are the noise-cancelling headphones for you.
You may not be familiar with the Jabra brand, but you should be. These noise-cancelling, lightweight and stylish headphones boast a 35-hour battery life, and you can get them for as low as $200 on Amazon if you manage to snag the right deal. This means that they easily compete with Bose and Sony headphones, especially for those shoppers who want a more affordable option.
If you're a huge Apple fan, you're going to want to get yourself a set of these over-ear headphones. After all, for the most part, Apple users have really been relegated to earbuds only, so the Apple AirPods Max is a big deal. Additionally, suppose you find yourself frustrated with the short battery life of the Apple AirPods earbuds. In that case, you'll appreciate that the Apple AirPods Max headphones will last for 20 hours without a charge.
The one thing that's hard to love about these headphones, though? The price. At around $550, they're almost the most expensive headphones on this list and nearly the cost of your iPhone.
On the other side of the spectrum, though, you have the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 headphones. These budget-friendly headphones go for a mere $150 when they're on sale (which is often), and you get an excellent level of quality for that price. While not wholly noise-cancelling, they do block a lot of street noise, and they're pretty comfortable too.
The Beats brand deserves a spot on this list. At $300, the Beats Solo Pro headphones are right up there with some of the other high-end headphones on this list, with noise-cancelling capabilities, 22-hour battery life and Bluetooth connectivity. With a luxurious build quality and sound, there's a reason this long-standing brand can boast the longevity that it does.
Sure, Montblanc may be better known for the brand's pens, but just wait until you hear these high-quality noise-cancelling headphones. The superior noise-cancellation capabilities are just the start, though — these headphones look pretty snazzy, too, with their gold trim and black leather padding.
Unfortunately, the Montblanc headphones take the top spot on this list when it comes to price. At nearly $600, you're paying for a high level of luxury.
Best In-Ear Noise Cancelling Headphones
But what if you hate big, bulky headphones that require you to mess up your hair in order to listen to some of your favorite tunes? Can't you get the same level of sound quality with earbuds? Well, yes and no. It all depends on the in-ear noise-cancelling headphones you choose. Here are some of the best.
Just as Bose creates some of the best over-ear noise-cancelling headphones, the brand also does pretty well when it comes to earbuds. The Bose QuietComfort earbuds are extra-comfortable, even if they are slightly bigger than what you may be used to with standard earbuds. With six hours of battery life, they're not going to last you too terribly long, but the charging is extra-quick.
Additionally, the earbuds are relatively impervious to water, so you can wear them during a light drizzle or a workout and not worry that you're ruining your $300 investment. The earbuds also feature a built-in ear tips microphone for all your phone calls and virtual meetings.
A little on the bulkier side, but for a good reason. The Sony WF-1000XM3 True Wireless earbuds boast a battery that lasts for 18 hours plus the extra size gives you some of the best noise cancellation capabilities you'll find in an earbud.
The only downside? They're not really water-resistant, which means these aren't earbuds you'll want to wear to the gym or on your daily run.
You know we had to include them! But how could we not? Apple makes high-quality headphones, and things are just getting better with the latest versions of the Apple AirPods Pro. The seamless connection with all of your current Apple iOS products, the $250 price tag and the active noise-cancellation capabilities all make for a stellar user experience.
The only bad thing? These earbuds only last for five hours on a full charge, meaning you won't get through a long plane ride and maybe not even a full day of work while using them. However, charging them is as easy as popping them into the charging case, which boasts its own battery life of 24 hours.
If you have a Samsung Galaxy Android phone, you'll appreciate the easy connectivity you'll enjoy with these Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro. The $200 earbuds can last for eight hours of use with the active noise-cancelling feature turned off but only last up to five hours with it turned on. Plus, when you use these earbuds alongside your Galaxy phone, you'll enjoy a range of other features thanks to the partnered software.
What to Look for in a Pair of Noise-Canceling Headphones
Before you buy any of the above headphones, there are a few key things you'll want to take into consideration.
Active Noise Cancelation (ANC) or Passive Noise Isolation?
So-called "noise-cancelling" headphones come in two varieties. They're either equipped with active noise cancelation or passive noise isolation. You want the former, not the latter.
Passive noise isolation is just a fancy way of saying that the headphones are physically blocking sound from getting into your ears. You could smother your head with a pillow and get the same effect, but that's not exactly noise-cancelling.
When you find headphones with active noise cancelation, it means those headphones use a high level of science to actively block out noise. It's complicated, but it involves many microphones, sound waves and the like to create a silent shell in which you can enjoy your favorite tunes.
Now, which would you rather have on a long, loud flight?
Just keep in mind, active noise-cancellation works best with consistent ambient noises — like that plane's engines. However, active noise cancellation doesn't work well when it comes to sudden and unexpected sound waves, like construction outside your window or the dog's occasional barking. This might be a good thing for some users (you want to know when the kid is screaming for you, after all), but a downside for others who genuinely want absolute silence when they put on their headphones.
Additionally, with some noise-cancelling headphones, you'll hear a bit of white noise, and they do make their own ambient sound. This is the active cancellation in action, but if white noise drives you up a wall rather than blends into your overall background noise, you might want to try out some noise-cancelling headphones at the store before you make an expensive purchase, just to see if they're a good fit for you.
Think about how you are going to use your headphones. Will you be using them on long flights? During your entire eight-hour workday? Or do you really only use your headphones during your morning run or when doing chores around the house? Or even when streaming your favorite shows from your laptop at night?
However you use your headphones, you want to ensure that the battery life can withstand your planned uses. After all, if you need headphones that last for eight hours without charging, you probably shouldn't go with headphones that need to be charged after five hours.
Design and Fit
Of course, you have to think about what's most comfortable for you. If you hate bulky headphones, avoid the bulky headphones. Even if you want better sound quality. If you're uncomfortable wearing them, you won't even enjoy the sound quality because you'll be too worried about your comfort.
You can't afford what you can't afford. If something is definitely out of your price range, don't break the bank just to get a better level of sound quality. Instead, go with something a little more budget-friendly but still respectable, like one of the more affordable options listed above.
Shopping for Noise-Cancelling Headphones?
It takes a fair amount of research and consideration! Don't rush the shopping process and take your purchase seriously. You want to end up with your perfect pair of noise-cancelling headphones that will last you for years of future listening.
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The 13 Best Over-Ear and On-Ear Noise-Canceling Headphones: