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 56 noise-canceling headphones and below are our recommendations for the best ones you can buy in 2018.
The best noise cancelling 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.
They are easily one of the most comfortable noise-canceling over-ears that we've measured and they have an above-average performance in most categories. They're lightweight, easy-to-use, with a good wireless range, battery life, and a well-balanced audio reproduction that sounds great with most genres and still packs enough bass for fans of bass heavy music.
The Sony WH-100XM2 have more customizable options and an auto-calibrating noise canceling feature. The Bowers and Wilkins PX have a much better and more premium-looking build quality. Both headphones would be a decent alternative to the Bose but overall, the QC35 II offer a more complete and well-rounded performance that will be better for most listeners. If you're looking for a good noise-canceling headset for your daily routine, the QC35II will not disappoint.
If you want more customization options than the Bose QuietComfort 35 II have to offer and like to EQ your headphones, then go for the Sony WH-1000XM2 instead. They will not be as comfortable or as lightweight as the Bose. They're also not as easy to use, but on the upside, they have a more premium-looking design, they provide an auto-calibrating noise canceling feature that, given the right conditions, outperforms the Bose, and they support multiple high-quality audio codecs. They also have a better app that provides a good EQ with presets, room effects and noise canceling modes, so you can really customize their sound to your liking. The Sony WH-100XM2 are a good choice if you're looking for a noise-canceling headset.
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 you're on a tight budget but still want affordable headphones that deliver a decent noise cancellation, then we recommend the Cowin E7. They won't be as comfortable or as isolating as the high-end recommendation on this list. They also have slightly confusing controls.
On the upside, they're a well-rounded headset with decent noise cancellation under a $100 that sounds good enough for most listeners. They also have a good 26hr battery life, great wireless range and support NFC for easy pairing with mobile phones.
The Cowin E-7 Pro sound better but have a flaw with their noise cancellation that causes them to skip. The Cowin E8 sound better and have stronger noise isolation but they're more expensive and above $100.
If good, passive isolation is enough for most of your use cases and commutes and you want something a bit more portable than the Cowin E7, 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 and better than the Cowin E7. They're also more compact so you can have them on you at all times and they have a decent and customizable sound that's a lot better than the Cowins. 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. They're also much cheaper than all the other recommendations on this list.
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.