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 284 headphones and below are our recommendations for the best noise cancelling headphones you can buy in 2018. See also our recommendations for the best noise cancelling earbuds, the best budget noise cancelling headphones and the best noise cancelling headphones under $100.
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II are the best noise cancelling headphones we’ve reviewed so far. They are fairly similar to the first Bose QuietComfort 35 model, but with control upgrades, a slightly more neutral sound and a better isolation performance that you can set to high or low depending on your environment and use case.
The QC 35 II are one of the most comfortable headphones we’ve tested so far and they perform well in practically every category. They have a well-built and lightweight design, and a fairly neutral sound profile that still packs quite a bit of bass. This makes them a good wireless option for critical listeners with long listening sessions and their amazing noise canceling feature makes them an excellent choice for commuting and office work.
Unfortunately, they are a bit leaky at higher volumes, so be careful not to blast your music since the people around you will hear what you're listening to. They also don’t have all the customization options of the Sony WH-1000XM3 so they won't be as versatile for different users. Nevertheless, the QC 35 II are one of the best active noise canceling headphones on the market and the combination of good sound and a comfortable, easy-to-use design should satisfy most people.
If you prefer a more feature-packed headset with better customization options than the Bose QuietComfort 35 II, then get the Sony WH-1000XM3 instead. They're a more comfortable update to the Sony WH-1000XM2, however, they're still not quite as comfortable as the Bose. They're also not as easy-to-use out-of-the-box and have a more bass heavy default sound.
On the upside, they look and feel more premium than the Bose QC 35 II. They also have a longer battery life and come with an excellent EQ so you can tweak the sound profile of the XM3 to your liking, unlike the QC35s. They also provide an auto-calibrating noise canceling feature that outperforms that of the Bose in most conditions. Overall the QC 35 II are the easier-to-use and more comfortable option but if you want more control over your settings and like to tweak your headphones, then the WH-1000XM3 are the better choice. If you don’t like the bulkier over-ear design, we suggest looking at the more portable, but less isolating Marshall MID ANC on-ears.
If you want over-ear noise canceling headphones like the Bose QuietComfort 35 II or the Sony WH-1000XM2 but find them a bit too expensive, then get the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2. They do not block noise as well as the first two recommendations or even their alternative, the Sennheiser HD 4.50.
On the other hand, they have a good, bass-rich audio reproduction that sounds exciting on most tracks without being muddy or boomy. They have an excellent wireless range, easy to use and tactile controls and an amazing battery life that will last a really long time since they also have an auto-off feature to save power in case you forget to turn them off. They even support aptX LL (low-latency) so you can use them to watch TV or for gaming, provided you have the right Bluetooth transmitter.
They won't be as customizable as the Sennheisers or the JBL Everest Elite 700, but overall, they provide a good overall performance for their price range and are a great value for anyone looking to buy a noise canceling headphone under $200.
If you have a really noisy commute, then the noise canceling performance of the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 may not cut it. In this case, get the Sennheiser HD 4.50 instead. Their build quality feels a bit flimsier than the BackBeat Pro 2. They're not as easy-to-use, do not come with as many codec options, and have less range and shorter battery life. They're also less comfortable than the Plantronics or the Bose QC 35 II, since they're tighter on the head.
On the upside, this makes them a bit more stable than the other over-ears on this list for physical activities. They also have more customization options including an EQ, so you can change their sound profile to match your taste and preferences. They also isolate better in noisy conditions so they will be a bit more suitable for commute and travel.
If you want a good, mid-range noise-canceling headset but find over-ears like the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 or the Sennheiser HD 4.50 a bit too bulky, then get the Jabra Elite 65e. They won't block noise as well as the Sennheisers and their sound quality, though decent on human ears, was a bit difficult to match on our testing equipment, which means they may sound a bit inconsistent if you do not get the right fit for your ears.
On the upside, they have a comfortable around-the-neck earbud design, a bit reminiscent of the Bose QuietControl 30. They have above-average noise cancellation for noisy environments, low leakage and a surprisingly good microphone for making calls. This makes them a suitable option for the office and commuting, but they're also versatile enough for most use cases thanks to their sturdy and flexible neckband build quality, great controls and portable design.
If the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 are out of your budget, get the Mpow H5. They don’t have the same great sound quality and feel more cheaply made than the Plantronics, but their performance is quite surprising for their budget price and they have a good 12-hour battery life that should last you a whole day without any problem.
They're fairly well-padded and should be comfortable for most, but they are a bit tight on the head for some. They also come with a great hard case to protect the headphones from scratches and impacts when they're in your bag, which is surprising for a product in this price range.
Unfortunately, they don’t isolate much noise even if they are noise canceling headphones, which is a bit disappointing. Also, although they sound pretty good, they do have quite a bit of high-bass which makes them slightly boomy and muddy overall. If you’re looking for more noise isolation in the budget range, get the Cowin E7 Pro (however, they are more expensive and can't be connected to 2 devices simultaneously like the H5). The H5 also have a decently premium look and feel, especially when compared to the Mpow 059 at around the same price range.
If good, passive isolation is enough for most of your use cases and commutes and you want something a bit more portable than the Mpow H5, then get the Jaybird Freedom. Since they're not noise-canceling, they won't be as good as the high-end over-ears for canceling low-frequency noise like the rumbling sounds of an engine. They're also in-ears which won't be as comfortable as the over-ears for everyone.
However, they passively isolate as well as some of the noise canceling headphones on this list. They're also more compact so you can have them on you at all times and they have a decent and customizable sound. They're a great budget option for sports but thanks to their good passive isolation, they're also a good recommendation if you just want to block out ambient noise.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best noise canceling 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-canceling 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.