Updated

The 6 Best Noise Cancelling Headphones - Spring 2018
Reviews

Best Noise Cancelling Headphones

239 Headphones Tested
  • Store-bought headphones; no cherry-picked units
  • Retest after major updates
  • Easily comparable results
  • No ads; unbiased reviews
Learn more about our approach to product reviews here.

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

Usage Ratings - Version 1.2
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Test Benches: test

  • 1.2: Winter 2018
  • 1.1: Summer 2017
  • 1.0: Winter 2017
  • 0.9: Winter 2016
7.5
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:
7.9
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:
7.8
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:
7.2
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:
7.8
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:
6.0
Home Theater
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Score components:
5.6
Gaming
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Score components:
Type : Over-ear
Enclosure : Closed-Back
Wireless : Yes
Noise-Cancelling : Yes
Mic : Yes
Transducer : Dynamic

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. 

See our review

Alternative with more Customization Options: Sony WH-1000XM2

Type : Over-ear
Enclosure : Closed-Back
Wireless : Yes
Noise-Cancelling : Yes
Mic : Yes
Transducer : Dynamic

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.

See our review

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

Usage Ratings - Version 1.2
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Test Benches: test

  • 1.2: Winter 2018
  • 1.1: Summer 2017
  • 1.0: Winter 2017
  • 0.9: Winter 2016
7.3
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:
7.7
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:
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
Show Help
Score components:
5.9
Gaming
Show Help
Score components:
Type : Over-ear
Enclosure : Closed-Back
Wireless : Yes
Noise-Cancelling : Yes
Mic : Yes
Transducer : Dynamic

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.

See our review

Alternative for a Better Companion App: Sennheiser HD 4.50

Type : Over-ear
Enclosure : Closed-Back
Wireless : Yes
Noise-Cancelling : Yes
Mic : Yes
Transducer : Dynamic

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. 

See our review

Best Budget Noise Cancelling Headphones: Cowin E7

Usage Ratings - Version 1.2
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Test Benches: test

  • 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:
6.7
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:
6.7
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:
Type : Over-ear
Enclosure : Closed-Back
Wireless : Yes
Noise-Cancelling : Yes
Mic : Yes
Transducer : Dynamic

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

More Portable Alternative: Jaybird Freedom

Type : In-ear
Enclosure : Closed-Back
Wireless : Yes
Noise-Cancelling : No
Mic : Yes
Transducer : Balanced Armature

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.

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
  • 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

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
5
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.
5
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.
4
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.
3
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.
3
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.
2
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.
2
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.
2
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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