The Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones for 2023

Headphones are great for blocking out your surroundings and letting you enjoy your favorite music, podcast, or audiobook. Sometimes the outside world can bleed through, though, and the sound of planes, traffic, and crowds can cut into your listening experience. If you want to avoid all the noise, you should consider headphones with active noise cancellation (ANC) to really get the job done.

Now is as good a time as any to consider noise-cancelling headphones because the once-wide gap between Bose and other audio manufacturers has shrunk enough to allow for some serious competition in the space. Bose still offers some of the best ANC on the market, but several other brands are now highly competitive. Beyond that, many of these options offer sound signatures that you might prefer over what you get from Bose, along with better apps that allow for more customization of the audio and ANC experiences.

We’ve gathered our favorite noise-cancelling headphones and earphones below. Read on for our top picks, followed by everything you need to know to assist your search.

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Deeper Dive: Our Top Tested Picks

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation)

Best Earphones for iPhone Users

Why We Picked It

The second-generation AirPods Pro deliver exceptionally strong noise cancellation, even though the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II edge them out slightly overall. Nonetheless, the AirPods Pro wipe out deep, low-frequency rumble and are effective against more complex, higher-frequency sounds. Beyond ANC, Apple’s Adaptive Transparency mode gives you a more natural way to monitor your surroundings without letting loud noises (above 85dB) harm your hearing. It works much better than Bose’s equivalent mode.

Who It’s For

First and foremost, anyone who wants seamless integration between their earphones and iPhone should enjoy the AirPods Pro experience. Pairing is as simple as opening the case, while the iOS settings menu offers all the controls and features you need. The other stealth use for these earbuds is as active, transparent earplugs—in Adaptive Transparency mode, you can wear them to a concert (if you’re okay with getting some confused looks) or a job site and still monitor your surroundings without the risk of hearing damage.


  • Rich, well-balanced audio performance
  • Excellent active noise cancellation
  • Adaptive Transparency mode is genuinely impressive
  • Charging case has a useful built-in speaker
  • Seamless integration with Apple devices


  • No hi-res codec support
  • Offers only non-adjustable EQ presets

Read Our Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation) Review

Bose QuietComfort 45

Best Headphones Overall

Why We Picked It

There are a lot of headphones on this list, but no over-ear models deliver more consistently excellent noise cancellation performance than the Bose QuietComfort 45. Head to head with the Sony WH-1000XM5, Bose is slightly better at dialing back mids and highs, though both pairs are about as effective at blocking out the low-frequency.

Who It’s For

Anyone looking for the best noise-cancelling headphones should at least start their search here. You get more in the audio and app department from the WH-1000XM5, but if ANC is your top priority, this is our top pick.


  • Best-in-class noise cancellation
  • Sculpted audio with rich bass and crisp highs
  • Exceptionally comfortable


  • ANC can’t be adjusted
  • Sound signature isn’t accurate for true audiophiles

Read Our Bose QuietComfort 45 Review

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II

Best Earphones Overall

Why We Picked It

The Bose QC Earbuds II reset our expectations for noise-cancelling earphones. They use a combination of calibration tests and subtle adaptive ANC tweaks to produce impressive results. Although their performance against higher frequencies is comparable with that of other high-end options, they outclass everything else against low-frequency noise. The earbuds also now offer an Active Aware mode, which, like Apple’s Adaptive Transparency mode, tamps down louder environmental noises while still allowing you to hear your surroundings.

Who It’s For

Audiophiles might prefer the Sony WF-1000XM4 (for superior codec support) and iPhone owners might favor the second-gen AirPods Pro (for their seamless integration with Apple products), but you should choose the QC Earbuds II if you want the most effective noise cancellation. Other top-tier options sometimes get close to what the Bose achieves, but aren’t nearly as consistent overall or effective against the deep lows. Otherwise, this pair offers a pleasing bass-forward sound signature and a snug in-ear fit.


  • Engaging audio performance with deep lows and bright highs
  • Fantastic low- and high-frequency noise cancellation
  • Useful Active Aware mode
  • Water-resistant build


  • No way to turn off noise cancellation altogether
  • Case doesn’t support wireless charging

Read Our Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II Review

Sony WF-1000XM4

Best Earphones for Audiophiles

Why We Picked It

The Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds don’t cancel noise quite as effectively as the latest flagships from Apple and Bose, but their foam eartips help them perform the best against high frequencies out of the three. They also feature the most comprehensive EQ of the group and support the audiophile-friendly LDAC Bluetooth codec.

Who It’s For

If you value noise cancellation and audio performance equally, these are the earphones to buy. They’re a particularly strong option for Android users who can take advantage of the hi-res-capable LDAC codec.


  • Exceptional active noise cancellation
  • Powerful bass depth and crisp, defined highs
  • Adjustable EQ
  • Good battery life

Read Our Sony WF-1000XM4 Review

Sony WH-1000XM5

Best Headphones for Audiophiles

Why We Picked It

Two headphones sit at the front of the pack for active noise cancellation: the Bose QuietComfort 45 and the Sony WH-1000XM5. Both are so good that it almost feels absurd to pick a winner, but Sony’s headphones sound better, while Bose maintains the ever-so-slight edge in the noise cancellation department. That makes these our top pick for audiophiles.

Who It’s For

If you like to make changes to how your headphones sound, Sony’s companion app (with its adjustable EQ) offers more flexibility than you get with Bose. And, if you use an Android device, Sony’s support for the high-end LDAC codec can help you take the fullest advantage of hi-res streaming services.


  • Excellent audio performance with robust bass depth and crisp highs
  • Top-notch active noise cancellation
  • Intuitive on-ear controls
  • App offers an adjustable EQ and other customization settings
  • Comfortable, stylish design

Read Our Sony WH-1000XM5 Review

Anker Soundcore Space A40

Best Earphones Under $100

Why We Picked It

We’ve reviewed a number of solid noise-cancelling earbuds under $100, including some from Anker. But the company’s latest earphones, the Soundcore Space A40, punch far above their price with above-average active noise cancellation abilities and an excellent app that offers a customizable EQ.

Who It’s For

If you have a budget of around $100 and don’t want to compromise on sound quality or noise cancellation performance, look no further. These earphones deliver a natural sound signature by default and last for roughly 10 hours on a charge (with ANC off). Anker even lets you adjust the ANC behavior to a degree.


  • Rich, detailed audio performance
  • Quality active noise cancellation for the price
  • App includes customizable EQ and controls
  • Strong battery life
  • Water-resistant build


  • Light on sub-bass
  • Noise cancellation mode slightly affects sound signature

Read Our Anker Soundcore Space A40 Review

Urbanista Los Angeles

Best Energy-Efficient Headphones

Why We Picked It

What’s not to love about headphones that recharge via all sources of light, from the sun to an ordinary light bulb? The Urbanista Los Angeles over-ears are one of the most unique picks on this list. In addition to their admirable eco-friendly solar charging tech, they cancel noise effectively and reveal plenty of details in your music.

Who It’s For

This Urbanista pair is an obvious pick for anyone who wants to use less energy or spend less time charging their devices (the company says the headphones should last for around 80 hours on a full charge, which is impressive). You do get a USB-C port for charging, but you likely won’t need it often.


  • Solar-powered charging
  • Impressive audio performance with rich, deep bass and crisp highs
  • Quality noise cancellation for the price
  • Stylish design


  • No in-app EQ
  • Noise cancellation slightly impacts sound signature

Read Our Urbanista Los Angeles Review

Apple AirPods Max

Best Headphones for iPhone Users

Why We Picked It

If you want to stay in the Apple ecosystem and prefer proper headphones, the AirPods Max are a striking (but very expensive) option. They offer effective noise cancellation that’s just slightly less consistent than that of the best Bose and Sony models and look cooler than most of the competition.

Who It’s For

Like the AirPods Pro, the primary advantage of these headphones is their seamless integration with Apple devices and services. And, in addition to excellent audio and noise cancellation performance, you get Spatial Audio support.


  • Excellent audio performance with rich lows and crisp, detailed highs
  • High-quality active noise cancellation, especially for low-frequency rumble
  • Stunning, unique design
  • Adaptive EQ and Spatial audio
  • Hands-free Siri access


  • Expensive
  • Sound signature and Adaptive EQ/spatial audio aren’t for purists
  • No user-adjustable EQ
  • Button placement makes it easy to misfire when adjusting fit
  • Smart Case does little to protect the headphones

Read Our Apple AirPods Max Review

Monoprice Horizon ANC

Best Earphones Under $50

Why We Picked It

The Monoprice Horizon ANC earphones are one of the least expensive models on this list, but they don’t disappoint. They offer rich sound, support for both the AAC and AptX Adaptive codecs, and surprisingly competent active noise cancellation for the price.

Who It’s For

If you are looking to spend the least amount of money possible on noise-cancelling earbuds, these are the ones we recommend.


  • Rich, detailed audio performance with bright highs
  • Good Bluetooth codec support
  • Affordable


  • No app
  • Cumbersome touch controls

Read Our Monoprice Horizon ANC Review

Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless

Most Stylish Headphones

Why We Picked It

Although the aforementioned Bose and Sony headphones are our clear front-runners, Sennheiser’s Momentum 4 Wireless over-ear headphones are also worth a look. They sport a refined design, deliver excellent audio performance, and cancel ambient noise quite well.

Who It’s For

If you don’t want to buy headphones from Bose or Sony for whatever reason, this pair is a great alternative. The headphones look handsome and boast excellent audio chops. They also offer strong Bluetooth codec support—you don’t get LDAC, but AptX Adaptive is an option.


  • Excellent audio performance with robust bass, detailed highs
  • Effective noise cancellation
  • Strong Bluetooth codec support
  • Handsome design with easy-to-operate on-ear controls


  • Underwhelming in-app EQ
  • App sometimes has trouble connecting to headphones

Read Our Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless Review

1More SonoFlow

Best Sub-$100 Headphones

Why We Picked It

We get it—not everyone wants to spend $400 or even $200 on noise-cancelling headphones. The affordable 1More SonoFlow headphones buck the trend a bit by providing commendable active noise cancellation for around $100. If you can look past a disappointing app experience, 1More also delivers quality audio performance here in an exceedingly comfortable design.

Who It’s For

If you have a strict budget of $100 for ANC headphones, these are your best option. They aren’t quite as effective at lowering outside noise as the slightly pricier Anker Soundcore Q45 (let alone flagship models from Sony and Bose), but they still beat our expectations. Otherwise, LDAC support makes the SonoFlow headphones even more of a bargain for Android users.


  • Bass-forward, sculpted sound signature
  • Effective noise cancellation
  • Attractive, comfortable over-ear design


  • Clunky, beta-like app
  • No customizable EQ
  • Odd layout of on-ear controls

Read Our 1More SonoFlow Review

Buying Guide: The Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones for 2023

What’s the Difference Between Active Noise Cancellation and Passive Noise Isolation?

Plenty of headphones and earphones claim to isolate or reduce noise, but that doesn’t mean they offer proper ANC.

Passive noise isolation, sometimes called passive noise cancellation, is basically a fancy term for what earplugs do. Simply, when an object (such as a thick earpad with memory foam) blocks sound, it is passively (without any battery power) reducing the ambient noise you hear. When you put your fingers in your ears when a loud siren goes by, that’s a form of passive noise isolation.

Active noise cancellation is much more complicated. It uses microphones that actively sample the surrounding noise in an environment and then produce an inverse wave that cancels out those sounds. Think of it like this: If you have a perfect sine wave and play it along with its inverse wave—the mirror opposite—the result would be no wave at all. It works in theory on a graph, but the results are messier in real life. Regardless, modern ANC implementations are quite effective at (nearly) eliminating low and mid-range frequencies. This all requires battery power to work, of course.

Nearly all ANC headphones use some degree of passive noise isolation in addition to their active circuitry, primarily because it’s an easy way to improve performance against high-frequency noises, which tend to give headphones more trouble.

What Noise Cancellation Can and Can’t Do

If you haven’t used noise-cancelling headphones before, you need to understand that they don’t fully eliminate noise and are notably less effective at eliminating inconsistent noise. It’s not like going into a soundproof chamber every time you put them on—it’s more like using highly effective earplugs.

Sony WH-1000XM5

Sony WH-1000XM5
(Credit: Tim Gideon)

What does this mean in practice? Most of the headphones worth their price can tamp down the low, consistent rumble of an airplane or a train quite well. The same goes for the ongoing whir of a loud AC unit or fan. That’s because these are consistent, relatively unchanging noises. But noise like music, conversation, or dogs barking—anything that is more complex than a constant drone—is likely to be more problematic. The best noise-cancelling models eliminate these sounds to a degree, but you’re still going to hear some of them.

What Is Adaptive Noise Cancellation?

Adaptive noise cancellation refers to active noise cancellation that adjusts to environmental sounds it measures with mics in real time. Technically, all ANC must be adaptive to a degree or it wouldn’t work—after all, as the sound around you changes, so too must the ANC’s inverse response. But the term adaptive ANC refers to models that adjust not only to surrounding noise changes but also to shifts in your head’s position. Apple’s adaptive transparency mode is one of the best we’ve tested and can protect your hearing.

With plenty of adaptive models, you can quite literally hear the noise cancellation changing in real time when you turn your head slightly or even feel pressure changes in your ear canal. For some users, adaptive ANC represents a crucial advancement, and to others, it’s quite distracting. As such, some apps now let you switch between adaptive or manual ANC modes based on your preference. You might even be able to set the ANC to focus on a specific frequency range or use a fader to change its overall intensity.

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation)

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation)
(Credit: Tim Gideon)

What Is Hybrid Noise Cancellation?

Hybrid ANC is the combination of feed-forward (exterior mic-based) and feedback (interior mic-based) noise cancellation technology. While many of the most effective (and expensive) models use hybrid technology, that feature doesn’t guarantee top-notch performance. Even within hybrid ANC implementations, the number of mics and their placement (to highlight only two of many factors) can have a tremendous impact on the system’s effectiveness. Hybrid ANC implementations are present on both in-ear and over-ear models.

Should Noise Cancellation Add Hiss?

Some noise cancellation modes add an audible hiss—think white noise—to the signal. It doesn’t sound awful, but it serves to mask the high frequencies that the circuitry is less effective at eliminating. As mentioned, active noise cancellation works far better on lows and mids than it does on highs, so reducing some of the high-frequency noise passively is essential. The hiss adds another layer that can enhance the sense of quiet you get but is actually somewhat deceiving.

You can tell if a hiss is present when you enable the ANC mode in a very quiet room. If it’s there, the hiss will have the opposite effect of noise cancellation in this scenario—it will sound louder than the room itself. Most hiss is not a deal breaker, and when your music is playing, it won’t even be audible. But generally speaking, the better the noise cancellation mode, the less it relies on a masking hiss.

We should also note that some people feel pressure inside their ears with powerful ANC, while others don’t notice a thing. It’s worth trying on multiple pairs of headphones in a store before you invest in an expensive product that can potentially cause you discomfort.

Should You Get Noise-Cancelling Headphones or Earphones?

Over-ear (circumaural) headphones typically offer the most effective ANC. Their earcups can create a tight seal and the earpads act as an additional barrier. That said, the less-common on-ear ANC models can still eliminate plenty of surrounding noise, are often far more comfortable, and stow away more easily.

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Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II
(Credit: Tim Gideon)

ANC-capable earphones have also improved quite a bit in recent years. The greatest advantage of these models is their passive isolation—their eartips seal off your ear canal and effectively eliminate high frequencies even before you enable the ANC.

The advantages one style may present over another are less about ANC performance at this point and more about your preference and comfort—you can find class-leading active noise cancellation in each category.

How Do Noise Cancellation Apps Work?

Many noise-cancelling headphones work with free apps that can alter the experience to better suit your environment. And most ANC models feature an ambient mode that allows you to hear your surroundings and talk with someone nearby without removing your headphones. The latter is a useful, nearly ubiquitous feature, but some manufacturers go further and let you blend ANC and ambient levels to your preference. When this is available, you can usually adjust the levels with a slider in a companion app.

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Is It Worth Buying Noise-Cancelling Headphones?

Noise cancellation circuitry isn’t cheap. If a model has been around for more than a year or two, you might find some deals, but a quality pair of headphones rarely sells for less than $200. If they do, the ANC on offer is probably solid for the price, but not on the same level as the top-tier options. If you’re looking for the best of the best, prepare to pay between $350 and $400. Earphones are the exception and you can get good performance for less than $300.

If noise cancellation isn’t a big deal to you, focus on other characteristics with our lists of the best wireless headphones, the best earphones, and the best headphones overall. And if you’re on a tight budget, check out the best headphones for under $50.

Once you find the right pair of headphones, make sure to take good care of them. To start, explore more of our audio coverage: 5 Easy Tips to Extend the Life of Your Headphones and 8 Ways You’re Using Your Headphones Wrong.

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