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 46 noise-canceling headphones and below are our recommendations for the best ones you can buy in the early months of 2018.
Best Noise Cancelling Headphones: Bose QuietComfort 35 II
The best overall noise-canceling headphones that we've tested so far are the Bose QuietComfort 35 II. They're a slight update to the Bose QuietComfort 35 with better controls but the same great noise cancellation performance. Also, they're still one of the most comfortable over-ears that we've tested.
If comfort is one of your major priorities when purchasing a pair of headphones, then they're a great choice. 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 quite isolate as well as the Sonys 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.
Alternative with more Customization Options: Sony WH-1000XM2
If you need the most isolation for you noisy commutes and want more customization options, go for the Sony WH-1000XM2 instead. They isolate as well as the MDR-1000X in loud environments and their adaptive noise-canceling slightly outperforms that of the Bose QuietComfort 35 II.
They also offer a few improvements over the previous model, like a more consistent sound profile, softer pads, and app support that provides a lot of customization options. However, even with the softer pads, they are not as comfortable QC35 II and they also sound a bit worse out-of-the-box. On the upside, they have a better noise-canceling performance, more codec options, and a more premium build quality.
Best Mid-Range Noise Cancelling Headphones: Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2
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 block enough noise for moderately loud environments and commuting and they're the best option for their price, build and sound quality ratio. However, they are a little bulky and do not come with an app that offers as much customization options as the Sennheiser.
Alternative for a Better Companion App: Sennheiser HD 4.50
If you like to customize and EQ your headphones, then the Sennheiser HD 4.50 may be a better noise canceling option for you than the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2. They have a similar performance in most categories but they cancel noise a bit better, although the Plantronics sound more exciting and have a more reliable and efficient control scheme.
On the upside, you have a lot more control over the sound profile of the HD 4.50 thanks to the great parametric equalizer offered by the Sennheiser Captune app. They also have a good battery life, an above-average wireless range, and they're decently comfortable if a bit tight on the head.
Best Budget Noise Cancelling Headphones: Cowin E7
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.
More Portable Alternative: Jaybird Freedom
The Jaybird Freedom are not active noise cancelling but have strong passive isolation that makes them as good if not better than the Cowin E7. They're also an affordable wireless option with a decent set of features and a great app for added customization options.
They sound a lot more balanced than the E7s and you can EQ their sound profile to better suit your tastes. They're also portable and versatile enough for most activities including sports. However, they are in-ears which will not be as comfortable for everyone, and their charging clip is somewhat limiting. It's bulky, and if you forget it at home or lose it, you won't be able to charge your Jaybird Freedoms until you get a new clip.
- 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
- 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 slightly pricey for their relative lack of features. See our review
- Beoplay H9. Excellent build quality and great design. Average sound quality and a mediocre-at-best noise-canceling performance for the price. See our review
- JBL Everest Elite 700. Good headphones but the Plantronics BlackBeat Pro 2 are better for much cheaper. See our review
- Jaybird X2. A bit outdated compared to the Freedom and it doesn't have any app support. See our review
- Jaybird X3. Great overall performance but a bit outdated compared to the Freedom. See our review
- BeatsX. Good alternative to the Jaybird Freedom. Good sound but fewer customization options. See our review
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.