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  1. Table of Contents
  2. Intro
  3. Best Headphones
    1. Alternative
  4. Best Mid-Range
    1. Alternative
  5. Best Budget
  6. All Reviews
  7. Q&A
Updated

The 5 Best Noise Cancelling Headphones - Winter 2018
Reviews

Best Active Noise Cancelling Headphones

Active noise canceling headphones are geared towards listeners who wish to have a well-isolated listening experience and block the ambient noise of loud environments. These headphones actively cancel out the noise around you so that you can listen to your favorite albums or audiobooks at a lower volume, or just enjoy the silence.

So far, we've tested 64 noise-cancelling headphones and below are our recommendations for the best ones you can buy in the early months of 2018.

Best Noise Cancelling Headphones: Sony WH-1000XM2

Usage Ratings - Version 1.2
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Test Benches:

  • 1.2: Winter 2018
  • 1.1: Summer 2017
  • 1.0: Winter 2017
  • 0.9: Winter 2016
7.1
Mixed Usage
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What it is This is the combination of the different use cases to evaluate how versatile the headphones are. Therefore an everyday headphone should be well-rounded enough to adapt to most situations and environments without significant losses in sound quality, design ergonomics or isolation.
Score components:
7.4
Critical Listening
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What it is The level of audio fidelity a headphone can reproduce. Therefore a balanced and true representation of bass, mids, treble, soundstage and imaging, as well as a comfortable listening experience, is essential for critical listening.
Score components:
7.6
Commute/Travel
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What it is How well the headphones handle the loud environments involved in commuting or traveling. Therefore your listening experience should be comfortable, hassle-free and as isolated from noise as possible.
Score components:
7.0
Sports/Fitness
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What it is How well-adapted the headphones are, to use while doing sports or strenuous exercise. Therefore the headphones should not be too cumbersome and deliver a stable and comfortable listening experience.
Score components:
7.4
Office
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What it is How well the headphones can deliver a comfortable and isolated listening experience in an office-like environment. They should not leak much and should block the noise of a busy office.
Score components:
5.7
Home Theater
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Score components:
5.5
Gaming
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Score components:

The best noise cancelling headphones that we've tested so far are the Sony WH-1000XM2. They isolate as well as the MDR-1000X in loud environments and their adaptive noise-cancelling outperforms that of the Bose QuietComfort 35.

The WH-1000XM2 offer a few improvements over the previous model: a more consistent sound profile, softer pads, and app support that provides a lot of customization options. They're still not as comfortable or as practical for everyday use as the QC35 but they have the best active noise-cancelling performance for any over-ear headphone.

See our review

More Comfortable Alternative: Bose QuietComfort 35

If comfort is one of your major priorities when purchasing a headphone, then get the Bose QuietComfort 35 instead. They're more comfortable than the Sony WH-1000XM2 and have a good performance in most test categories, making them a versatile headset for most use cases and environments. 

They don't isolate as well as the Sony WH-1000XM2 and their app doesn't offer as many customization options but they're a lot easier to use and have a more consistent audio reproduction overall. 

See our review

Best Mid-Range Noise Cancelling Headphones: Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2

Usage Ratings - Version 1.2
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Test Benches:

  • 1.2: Winter 2018
  • 1.1: Summer 2017
  • 1.0: Winter 2017
  • 0.9: Winter 2016
7.3
Mixed Usage
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What it is This is the combination of the different use cases to evaluate how versatile the headphones are. Therefore an everyday headphone should be well-rounded enough to adapt to most situations and environments without significant losses in sound quality, design ergonomics or isolation.
Score components:
7.7
Critical Listening
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What it is The level of audio fidelity a headphone can reproduce. Therefore a balanced and true representation of bass, mids, treble, soundstage and imaging, as well as a comfortable listening experience, is essential for critical listening.
Score components:
7.4
Commute/Travel
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What it is How well the headphones handle the loud environments involved in commuting or traveling. Therefore your listening experience should be comfortable, hassle-free and as isolated from noise as possible.
Score components:
7.1
Sports/Fitness
Show Help
What it is How well-adapted the headphones are, to use while doing sports or strenuous exercise. Therefore the headphones should not be too cumbersome and deliver a stable and comfortable listening experience.
Score components:
7.5
Office
Show Help
What it is How well the headphones can deliver a comfortable and isolated listening experience in an office-like environment. They should not leak much and should block the noise of a busy office.
Score components:
6.2
Home Theater
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Score components:
5.9
Gaming
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Score components:

In the mid-range category, the best noise cancelling headphones are the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2. They are cheaper and have a better overall performance than the JBL Elite 700. They also outperform the Sennheiser HD 4.50 but won't be as isolating.

They block enough noise for moderately loud environments and commuting and they're the best option for their price, build and sound quality ratio. 

See our review

Alternative for a Better Companion App: JBL Everest Elite 700

If you want the highest isolating headphones in this price range, then get the JBL Everest Elite 700. The noise-cancelling is better than the Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2 and they come with one of the best companion apps.

They're not the most comfortable headphones but on the upside, the app is easy to use and intuitive while giving you a level of control over the noise cancellation and sound quality that not many headphones can reproduce.

See our review

Best Budget Noise Cancelling Headphones: Cowin E7

Usage Ratings - Version 1.2
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Test Benches:

  • 1.2: Winter 2018
  • 1.1: Summer 2017
  • 1.0: Winter 2017
  • 0.9: Winter 2016
6.4
Mixed Usage
Show Help
What it is This is the combination of the different use cases to evaluate how versatile the headphones are. Therefore an everyday headphone should be well-rounded enough to adapt to most situations and environments without significant losses in sound quality, design ergonomics or isolation.
Score components:
6.3
Critical Listening
Show Help
What it is The level of audio fidelity a headphone can reproduce. Therefore a balanced and true representation of bass, mids, treble, soundstage and imaging, as well as a comfortable listening experience, is essential for critical listening.
Score components:
6.6
Commute/Travel
Show Help
What it is How well the headphones handle the loud environments involved in commuting or traveling. Therefore your listening experience should be comfortable, hassle-free and as isolated from noise as possible.
Score components:
6.6
Sports/Fitness
Show Help
What it is How well-adapted the headphones are, to use while doing sports or strenuous exercise. Therefore the headphones should not be too cumbersome and deliver a stable and comfortable listening experience.
Score components:
6.6
Office
Show Help
What it is How well the headphones can deliver a comfortable and isolated listening experience in an office-like environment. They should not leak much and should block the noise of a busy office.
Score components:
5.6
Home Theater
Show Help
Score components:
5.2
Gaming
Show Help
Score components:

If you're on a tight budget but still want affordable headphones that deliver a decent isolation and sound quality, then we recommend the Cowin E7.

The Bluedio T4 has a slightly better performance when it comes to sound and build quality, but their incredibly high latency is not ideal for watching videos. Overall, the Cowin E7 are well-rounded headphones which are easy to recommend if you're looking for a pair of cheap wireless noise canceling headphones.

See our review

Notable Mentions

  • Sony MDR-1000x. Excellent noise cancelling and good design. The Sony WH-1000XM2 is the more up to date variation with app support. See our review
  • Bose QuietControl 30. Great isolation, portable and comfortable noise-cancelling earbuds but the neckband design is not for everyone. See our review
  • Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless. Versatile headphones with a customizable sound. Mediocre noise-cancelling for an ANC headphone. See our review
  • Sennheiser HD 4.50. Versatile noise-canceling wireless headphones with above average noise canceling. Slightly worse than the Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2 overall. See our review
  • Beats Studio3 Wireless. Sleek and comfortable over-ear headphones with a decent sound quality and a much better isolation than the original studio wireless. See our review
  • Parrot Zik 3.0. Noise cancelling headphones with a customizable sound and high isolation. Very short battery life and confusing pairing procedure. See our review
  • Samsung Level Over Wireless. A good alternative to the Backbeat Pro 2. Bulky design and slightly worse build quality. See our review
  • Bluedio T4. Good overall performance but incredibly high latency and mediocre comfort level. See our review
  • Denon AHGC20. Great noise canceling but a poor and uneven audio reproduction and they're very pricey. See our review
  • Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7NC. A good-sounding and well-built noise canceling headphone. But their isolation is mediocre and they're a slightly pricey for their relative lack of features. See our review

All Reviews

Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best noise-cancelling headphones to buy for most people in each price range. We factor in the price (a cheaper headphone wins over a pricier one if the difference isn't worth it), feedback from our visitors and availability (no headphones that are difficult to find or almost out of stock everywhere).

If you would like to choose for yourself, here is the list of all our reviews for noise-cancelling headphones. Be careful not to get caught up in the details. There are no perfect headphones and the level at which you play your music will naturally drown the ambient noise of lower amplitudes. 

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Questions & Answers

8 ANSWERED QUESTIONS
4
Do you have any plans to add the Denon Globe Crusier AHGC 20 to your test field? Would love to see how these compare to the Bose and Monoprice units you've tested.
Thanks for you suggestion. We weren't planning on reviewing the AHGC 20, but we will consider it.
3
Please review Sony Playstation Gold Wireless. I find these headphones perform surprisingly well in all areas.
Thanks. We haven't started reviewing gaming headsets yet, but are planning to do so in the near future. We will add your suggestion to our list of gaming headsets.
2
I'm looking forward to the gaming headsets. I'm in the market for a good gaming headset, mild music/movies/youtube, and the microphone and how well they filter out ambient/external noises.
Once we start reviewing gaming headsets, we should be able to cover all the areas of interest you mentioned. However, it will be some time before we get to gaming headsets, since in the coming months we will be mostly focused on open-back headphones, and sports/fitness earphones.
2
Your site is fantastic. I've really appreciated the information. I noticed in the "Best by Feature" section there is a note that the "Microphone" recommendations are coming soon. I use earbuds at work a lot and it's helpful to have a good microphone for client calls. Will you be releasing these recommendations soon?
Yes, in a couple of weeks.
1
In your research, have you found any plug-in, wired noise-canceling headphones? All of the noise-canceling headphones I've seen are either powered by traditional (i.e., AA or AAA) or rechargeable (usually via a USB cable) batteries. That's fine for travel, however, my only use for these headphones is at work, where I'd much rather utilize either a traditional 120V power outlet or a USB cable to power the noise cancelation. As such, if it wasn't plugged into an outlet or my computer, noise cancelation would not function (but audio could still be played in the former case, presumably if there were two cables coming from the headphones -- one audio and one power).
We have just recently added a new battery test, that also checks if the active headphones can continue streaming audio, wirelessly or plugged-in, while charging. As long as you don't mind having two cables, the PXC 550 would be the best recommendation overall, to use in the office, for their comfort, noise canceling, sound, and ability to play audio when connected to a direct power source. The QuietComfort 20 are also a good, completely wired option that work, while charging, but for more comparisons, please check our new battery test article.
1
I'd like to get an inexpensive pair of headphones for listening to podcasts while mowing the lawn. I want ANC to eliminate/reduce mower noise so I can listen at a reasonable volume. It looks like there aren't really any reasonably priced (under $1000) options that do a good job of noise cancellation though. Would the Plantronics Backbeat Pro be any good? What about the CB3 Hush?
Both in our measurements and subjective tests, the Sony MDR-1000X performs best in Noise Cancelling. However, we don't have a reference for the noise profile and loudness of a lawn mower, so it may or may not be adequate. Our other recommendations would the Bose QuietComfort 35 and QuietControl 30.
1
For $100 I can buy a set of Bose QuietComfort 3. I guess that they're Bose's 'budget' noise canceling headphones. Do you know how they compare with my Bose QC 35 (which I fear will disappear from my work desk)?
The QC35s are in high demand in our office too, but unfortunately we can't comment on QC3's noise cancelling performance, especially since they seem to be discontinued.
1
Hello, I work in a foundry with lots of grinding and noise. notice that my Bose Quite comfort 20 doesn't block grinding noise. which should be high pitch. it does block the fan. but im still looking for a good Headset. any recommendation? best regards, filipi
Active noise cancelling systems work only up to 1KHz, and are most effective only to 500Hz. Noise isolation at higher frequencies is achieved passively by the ear cups. In our tests, in-ears provide the most high frequency isolation, so maybe something like the X2, X3, and BeatsX would give you the most isolation in your environment (the QC20 is an earbud and not an in-ear).
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