Headphones with active noise cancelling (ANC) are geared towards listeners who want to block the ambient noise of loud environments and have a well-isolated listening experience. 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 over 400 headphones and below are our recommendations for the best ANC headphones you can buy in 2020. See also our recommendations for the best noise cancelling earbuds, the best budget noise cancelling headphones, the best office headsets, and the best noise cancelling headphones under $100.
The best wireless noise cancelling headphones we’ve tested so far are the Sony WH-1000XM3. With a few iterative improvements over their predecessors, the Sony WH-1000XM2 Wireless, Sony finally hit the jackpot and produced a pair of headphones that are crammed full of features, of which the active noise cancelling is the most impressive.
Of course, the amount of noise cancellation is adjustable within Sony’s Headphones Connect mobile app, but at its highest setting, the overall noise attenuation can reach -29db. The app will also allow you to customize the sound endlessly, either through a preset or graphic EQ. The default sound of these headphones is one that is quite heavy handed in the bass and veiled, suitable for genres such as hip-hop, EDM, funk, etc.
One notable issue that we must address is that of the touch controls. While they work fine under normal conditions, they may not be as responsive when used in colder temperatures. Aside from this minor hiccup, these are a great pair of headphones and may just be your best travel companion.
Bose’s take on wireless over-ear headphones with active noise cancelling comes in the form of the QuietControl 35 II Wireless. They’re lighter than the Sony WH-1000XM3 Wireless, which makes them considerably more comfortable to use for long listening sessions. Although they lack the customizability of the Sony and the ANC isn't as good, their sound profile is much more versatile, with an emphasis on vocals and lead instruments. Build quality isn't as good as the Sony; while they feel durable, the plastic construction feels cheap for the asking price.
If you want industry-leading active noise cancelling, go for the Sony, but for a no-fuss, comfortable pair, the Bose will do just fine.
The best wired noise cancelling headphones we've tested so far are the Bose QuietComfort 25. They're very comfortable headphones with a lightweight design that you can wear for hours with little fatigue or discomfort. They have excellent ANC and cancel noise especially well in the mid-range, which means they're a good choice if you want something specifically for blocking out lively chatter. They sound very well-balanced too and are suitable for all kinds of music, from hip-hop to classical.
These headphones use AAA batteries, which can be convenient during a road trip where you don't have access to a wall charger but isn't ideal if you don't have batteries on you. Although they can be used passively when the battery's dead, they lose a bit of audio quality. Thankfully, they give you nearly 33 hours of playback before the batteries run out. Unfortunately, they leak quite a bit of sound, which can be an issue if you work in a noise-sensitive office, but if you don't listen to your music very loud, you shouldn't have a problem.
The best noise cancelling earbuds we’ve tested so far are the Bose QuietControl 30. They have a comfortable neckband design that’s fairly easy to use and a stable earbud fit that stays put even during a light jog. They have great noise isolation and leak even less sound than the Bose QuietComfort 35 II/QC35 II Wireless 2018, which makes them a decent choice for use while commuting or at the office.
Although they look nice, the rubber sleeve that protects the neckband and in-line remote tends to split and peel off with time. The Sony WI-1000X Wireless feel better-built and are also more customizable thanks to the Sony | Headphones Connect app, but they’re less comfortable and their battery performance is inferior, so if you’re looking for the best ANC earbuds for an upcoming trip, the Bose are worth taking a look at.
If you like the convenience of wireless earbuds but need something with a decent microphone, then get the Jabra Elite 65e. They don’t sound as good or isolate as much noise as the Bose QuietControl 30/QC30 Wireless, but they’re better-built and their Bluetooth microphone performs much better. They have a very complete control scheme that provides access to not only call/music and ANC control, but also mic muting and talk through. While they have great bass, they’re not ideal for more vocal-centric music. Thankfully, you can customize the way they sound with the Jabra Sound+ app.
Get the Bose if you want ANC earbuds that perform better straight out-of-the-box, but if mic performance is a priority for you and you’re concerned about build quality, you’ll want to go for the Jabra.
The Sony WI-1000X are the best noise cancelling in-ear headphones we’ve tested so far. Unlike earbuds, in-ears such as these need to be inserted deeper into the ear canals. While they may be uncomfortable for some, they do effectively create a tighter seal, which improves noise isolation and helps with getting a proper bass response.
The build quality of the neckband is near exemplary; strong yet flexible. However, the cables leading to the earphones are a bit thin. As with other wireless headphones from Sony, these are compatible with the Headphones Connect app, with all the customizations that we’ve come to appreciate. Sony even included their DSEE HX technology, which upscales compressed music to near high-resolution quality. If you’re looking for the best noise cancelling in-ears, these headphones are definitely worth considering.
The best noise cancelling headphones under $150 we’ve tested so far are the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2. They're comfortable headphones with a sturdy build that feels decently premium for the price. They have dense ear cups and their headband is reinforced with metal and should be able to withstand a few accidental drops and bumps without breaking. They have an exciting sound profile which is suitable for a variety of music genres, but should especially please fans of genres with a lot of low-bass like EDM and dubstep. Their great 30-hour battery can be fully charged in two hours and they even allow passive playback so you can plug them in to use if the battery dies on you. They support aptX-LL (low latency) which means you can use them to watch TV or play games, provided you have an aptX-LL Bluetooth transmitter.
On the downside, their ANC is decent but not great, and does a better job at blocking out speech than the low-rumble of engines. Their app also doesn’t provide an EQ, so if you like being able to fully customize your sound, consider the JBL Live 650 BTNC. The JBL don't have the same remarkable battery performance as the Plantronics, but they have a similar sound profile and their companion app offers a great parametric EQ. The Plantronics perform well for their price overall, however, and provide good value for anyone looking to buy decent noise cancelling headphones.
The best affordable noise cancelling headphones we’ve tested so far are the Mpow H10. Their ANC is decent and they isolate noise fairly well across the board. They're better-suited for those who prefer bass-heavy music genres like EDM or hip-hop, however, as their mid-range is a bit recessed, affecting the intensity and projection of vocals and lead instruments. On the upside, they have a great 23-hour battery life, can be used while charging, and feature a standby mode to help save power when not in use.
Unfortunately, they leak a lot of sound, and while this shouldn’t be a problem on a loud flight, you may disturb your colleagues with the sound of your music if you use them in the office. They also don't feel very well-built and make a concerning snapping sound when you fold the headband, though it's unclear if this will prove to be an issue. If you want something in the same price range that feel more durable, you should consider the Mixcder E9 Wireless, though their ANC isn't as good. Overall, the Mpow provide a satisfactory listening experience all around and provide excellent value for their price.
If you don't mind spending a bit more money but want something that feels more premium, go with the Anker SoundCore Space NC. They sound less balanced than the Mpow H10 Wireless, but feel significantly more premium and leak a lot less. They're a comfortable pair of headphones that feel decently premium for their price point. Their ANC is good and they leak significantly less sound than the Mpow, making them better-suited for using in an office environment. Their sound reproduction is decent, though they're a bit bass-heavy and aren't great for more vocal-centric music like rock or pop.
Get the Mpow if you want good ANC without spending much money, but if you're concerned about build quality and want something that feels a bit more premium, go with the Anker.
The best budget noise cancelling headphones we’ve tested so far are the Mpow H5 Wireless. At such a low price, Mpow didn't cut many corners when it comes to build quality. They're decently comfortable with well-padded cups, but the headband can be a bit tight. The overall sound profile is bass heavy, where it's punchy, but a bit boomy.
Unfortunately, the noise cancelling feature just isn't up to par. They do a decent job at cutting out higher frequencies, but won't do much when it comes to the low rumbles of bus engines. With ANC on, you can expect an average of 12 hours of playtime, but since the ANC isn't that great, you can probably get a bit more with it turned off. The controls are easy to use and Mpow has included a hard case to protect the headphones.
Although they don't have industry-leading noise cancelling technology, these headphones are still decent if you're shopping on a budget.
If you prefer the compact form factor of wireless earbuds, then get the AUKEY Latitude. They don’t have ANC like the Mpow H5 Wireless, but their in-ear fit isolates even more noise passively. They also hardly leak any sound, so they’re a good option if you like to listen to your music a bit loudly but don’t want to bother anyone. They sound decent and are easy-to-use. Unfortunately, their great noise isolation comes at the expense of comfort since their earbuds fit quite deeply in the ear canal.
If you prefer over-ears, you’ll want to stick with the Mpow, but if you want something more portable with even better noise isolation, go for the AUKEY.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best ANC headphones to buy for most people in each price range. We factor in the price (cheaper headphones win over pricier ones 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.
11/29/2019: Minor text and structure changes, no change in recommendations.
10/31/2019: Removed 'Customizable Alternative' to "Best Noise Cancelling Headphones Under $200". Added Anker SoundCore Space NC as 'More Expensive, Better-Built Alternative' to "Best Noise Cancelling Headphones Under $100".