[Update: The best noise-cancelling headphones of 2020 has a new winner. The Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Headphones are finally here, and they lived up to all our expectations and more.]
A pair of the best noise-cancelling headphones are a must-have for music lovers, whether you use them when you’re working from home or listening on-the-move.
A good pair of noise-cancelling headphones can make you feel truly immersed in a state of pure audio nirvana whenever you want to listen to music with zero distractions. These days, the best noise-cancelling options offer up unmatched audio quality, design and a range of smart features.
If you’ve never tried a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, you really are missing out. They’re one of the true wonders of the modern era as they can totally tune out any unwanted sounds or even ambient noise while making your music sound better than any pair of earbuds (well, except for fantastic noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds like the Sony WF-1000XM3s and the Apple AirPods Pro, of course).
The best thing is the high-end tech that makes noise-cancelling headphones fantastic isn’t just included in a few of the most expensive models. There are many styles and brands to choose from these days, from the ultra-premium to more budget-friendly cans.
Whatever style, price or features you’re looking for, we’ve rounded up the very best noise-cancelling headphones you can buy right now, based on value for money, design, and sound quality – read on for our top picks.
Our favorite models
The Sony WH-1000XM4 deliver excellent noise-cancellation and surprising sound quality all in a lightweight, comfortable design.
While they don’t look significantly different from their predecessors, the Sony WH-1000XM3, a number of new features including multipoint pairing, DSEE Extreme upscaling, conversational awareness and auto-play/pause using a built-in sensor all help the WH-1000XM4 claim the title of best headphones in 2020.
By every possible metric, the Sony WH-1000XM4 is a wonderful pair of wireless noise-cancelling headphones. They deliver exactly what they promise and then some thanks to their exceptional noise cancellation and cutting-edge codec support.
On top of the adjustments listed above, the Sony WH-1000XM4 support Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format that enables spatial audio on stereo headphones plus the LDAC codec that can send a bitrate of up to 990 kbps. The unfortunate bit there, though, is that it no longer supports aptX or aptX HD, so your Hi-Res Audio support mileage may vary.
Read more: Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Headphones review
The Sony WH-1000XM3 were the best noise-cancelling headphones in the world for two years running – and while they’ve been surpassed by the new Sony WH-2000XM4, there’s still loads to love about these over-ear cans.
For music lovers, the Sony WH-1000XM3 features aptX HD and Sony LDAC, two of the best ways to listen to Hi-Res music from your phone without a wire. Plus, all of Sony’s flagship headphones offer both Google Assistant and Alexa support.
If you can get hold of the older, second-gen Sony WH-1000XM2, they’re still very much worth a look as a more affordable (if slightly lower-spec) model.
Read more: Sony WH-1000XM3 review
They don’t quite beat the Sony WH-1000XM4s in terms of battery life and price, but the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are still a brilliant pair of over-ear cans – and the best Bose headphones we’ve reviewed.
Traditionally, noise-cancelling headphones have been designed to block out the environmental sounds around you, so that you can hear your music more clearly (or catch some shut-eye on a noisy flight).
This can be really effective if you’re listening to music. If you’re making a phone call however, the person you’re speaking to can still hear everything that’s happening around you.
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 seek to remedy this, by applying noise-cancellation to phone calls as well as music, which is fantastic feature – that’s why these are the best noise-cancelling headphones for making calls.
The sound quality is undeniably good, with a vibrant, lively character and well-balanced soundstage.
If you’re trying to decide between buying the Sony WH-1000XM4s and the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, we’d recommend going for the former because of that lower price and better battery life. That being said, you wouldn’t be making a mistake if you opted for the Bose cans instead (and we wouldn’t blame you if you did) – they sound great, look stunning, and the noise-cancellation is out of this world.
Read more: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review
Coming in at number four are the Bose QuietComfort 35 II – a nearly identical product to the already-excellent Bose QuietComfort 35 but updated with Google Assistant. This means you still get the class-leading noise cancellation Bose is known for, good sound quality and incredible comfort, plus a convenient assistant to answer any inquiries you might have while traveling.
Taken as a whole, the Bose QC35 II NC are an excellent pair of headphones for travelers and commuters. Bose has found a good balance of features that will satisfy most mainstream listeners.
Despite the popularity of the QC35s, Bose has shaken things up by releasing a totally new wireless noise-cancelling headphones model, with a focus on sleek design and “breakthrough” audio tech: the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. They may not have pipped Sony to the top spot of the best noise-cancelling headphones, but they’re still a fantastic pair of over-ear headphones, coming in at number two.
Read more: Bose QuietComfort 35 II review
It’s not often you’ll find a pair of wired earbuds, let alone a pair of true wireless earbuds on a list of the best noise-cancelling headphones; considering it’s still rare to find the technology in earphones at all, the Sony WF-1000XM3s are very impressive indeed, and fully deserve a place in this roundup.
The Sony WF-1000XM3s manage to offer a level of noise cancellation that’s very good for a pair of earbuds – they won’t offer the same isolation as a pair of over-ear cans, but if you’re after a sleek form factor then the compromise is worth it. These are the best noise-cancelling headphones for those who prefer an in-ear form factor.
Not only are these hands down the best-looking true wireless headphones out there, but they combine serious noise-cancelling tech with fist-pumping musicality. If you don’t want the inconvenience of carrying full-size cans, they’re a persuasive alternative.
Read more: Sony WF-1000XM3 review
The Shure AONIC 50 sports a wireless, active noise-cancelling over-ear design, selling at a premium price to compete with the likes of the Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bose NC 700 Headphones.
Ultimately, while you won’t find every feature under the sun here, the Shure AONIC 50 are laser-focused on delivering the best sound-quality of almost any noise-cancelling headphone – making them the best noise-cancelling headphones for audiophiles.
Read more: Shure AONIC 50 review
Offering class-leading battery life, terrific style and plenty of personalization when it comes to sound profiles, the Elite 85h is easy to recommend. That said, purists will bemoan the lack of high-end codec support and there are punchier headphones on the market at this price point.
When you consider that Jabra’s Elite 85h headphones are the company’s first attempt at premium wireless ANC headphones, the result is quite commendable. We can’t wait to see what the company’s next premium ANC headphones will accomplish.
If you want an alternative to Sony’s WH-1000XM4, these are a great pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
Read more: Jabra Elite 85H review
Apple’s most recent true wireless earbuds come with active noise cancellation, as well as a better fit and sound than their predecessors, the Apple AirPods.
However, at $249 / £249 / AU$399/ R4199, they’re pretty pricey, but they’re optimized for iPhone users. The redesign means they’re far less likely to fall out, and the additional microphones provide strong noise cancellation, as well as a useful Transparency mode, which really does let the outside world in.
The sound quality of the AirPods Pro has certainly improved since the previous iteration – there’s a notable emphasis on vocals and bass, meaning these earbuds are better for pop fans than those that enjoy a more natural presentation that lends itself to classical music or more orchestral sounds.
Apparently, there’s a new AirPods model on the horizon to join the original buds and the newer Pros. The AirPods Pro Lite are rumored to be a new, cheaper variant of the company’s popular true wireless earbuds, and they could be released this year.
Read more: Apple AirPods Pro review
The Marshall Monitor II ANC are undoubtedly the brand’s best headphones yet; the audio quality on offer here far surpasses any of its previous models, with a balanced presentation, smooth mids, and a generally powerful, rock-ready sound.
They feel comfortable, come with tons of cool rock heritage, and look stylish. That, alongside their good noise cancellation, easy controls and accompanying app, makes the Marshall Monitor II ANCs a compelling alternative to the Sony WH-1000XM4.
They don’t quite win out in terms of sound quality or noise cancelation, but these over-ear headphones are still very good indeed.
Read more: Marshall Monitor II ANC review
If you’re looking for really stylish noise-cancelling headphones and you’re not put off by the $399 / £349 / AU$600/ R3999 price tag, the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 are well worth considering.
With sophisticated noise cancellation, brilliant sound quality, and a honed aesthetic, the PX7 could give any of the headphones on this list a run for their money.
Plus, they’re packing aptX Adaptive for improved stability and latency between the headphones and your device, as well as high-quality (24-bit) streaming aptX HD brought to the table.
In terms of sheer sound quality, the Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless headphones sound brilliant, with high levels of detail, warm bass, and natural-sounding highs.
The customizable noise cancellation on offer here is also good, but it doesn’t quite reach the class-leading standards set by the Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless headphones.
They have nowhere near the battery life of Sony’s headphones, and are more expensive – which begs the question, why buy the Sennheisers when you could have the WH-1000XM4?
Well, if built-in Tile tracking appeals to you, and you like the industrial design and premium materials of the Momentum 3 Wireless, that could be reason enough – and if you do opt for them over the Sony model, you won’t be missing out on any audio quality. In that respect, they’re truly matched.
Read more: Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless review
JBL is a popular name in the world of headphones and Bluetooth speakers, and rightly so. Solidly dependable, consumers know what to expect from the brand – decent sound quality for a decent price.
That’s what we found with the JBL Live 650BTNC last year – and now, ready to take their place are the JBL Tune 750BTNC, a superior successor to the 650BTNC’s as a high-spec and well-priced set of over-ear headphones.
The JBL Tune 750BTNC sound great, look great, and they fit well. Reliable and easy to use, you might miss waterproofing and a few minor features – but at this price, it feels foolish to complain too readily.
Read more: JBL Tune 750BTNC review
The Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 are the tech giant’s second pair of noise-cancelling headphones, and they offer a ton of great improvements over the original Surface Headphones, while retaining some of their best qualities.
In spite of those improvements – which includes a longer battery life and a more comfortable design – the Surface Headphones 2 are considerably cheaper than their predecessors, making them the obvious choice if you’re trying to choose between the two.
That lower price also makes them a great alternative to the best headphones of 2020, the Sony WH-1000XM4, especially as they’ve retained the winning design features of the original Surface Headphones, with built-in dials on each earcup to control your music and the active noise cancellation.
Read more: Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 review
The sound quality, battery life, and design of the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 are truly brilliant – and they’re a really good alternative to the Sony WF-1000XM3, particularly if you prefer a more flashy design to adorn your ears.
We did find that those with smaller ears sometimes find them a little uncomfortable, however, and their high price just stops them from taking the top spot of this round up.
Otherwise? Sennheiser has pretty much knocked it out of the park with these buds, offering great noise cancellation alongside smart looks and stunning sound.
Read more: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 review
If you haven’t found something quite to your liking so far, we have one last option for you to look at – the all-new Nura Nuraphone over-ear/in-ear hybrid. Their form factor means you’ve not only got an earbud sitting at the entrance of your ear canal, but also an over-ear cushion sitting over your entire ear. This effectively means you’ve got two physical barriers meaning that the noise from the outside world can’t get to your ears. While more traditional over-ear headphones do a better job offering useful features at a reasonable price, the Nuraphone will appeal to the more experimental audio crowd looking to be on the bleeding-edge of the next big thing.
Read more: Nuraphone Headphones review
Noise cancellation explained
What is noise cancellation?
Noise-cancelling headphones use analogue and electronic methods to block out the environmental sound around you, allowing you to listen to your music in peace without distraction. Most noise-cancelling headphones make use of the following two approaches:
Passive noise cancellation
This is when the headphones physically block outside sound from reaching your ears, and this can be achieved in a number of ways. Noise-cancelling over-ear headphones typically have heavily padded earcups to achieve this, while in-ear headphones need to fit snugly in your ear to create a tight seal, stopping environmental sounds from entering.
Active noise cancellation
This method uses inbuilt microphones to analyze environmental noise and create ‘anti-noise’ frequencies that are mixed in with your music playback. This effectively cancels out the sound of your surroundings using analogue or digital filters.
What to look for
How to choose the best noise-cancelling headphones
Which headphones style is best for you?
We believe that noise-cancelling headphones are just as vital as your laptop, TV or mobile phone when it comes to tech that’ll change how you live, work and play – especially if you have a long commute each day or a flight ahead of you. That means that choosing the right pair for you is important – the demands of a good pair of headphones for a flight are different to those you’ll only ever use at home.
Design is hugely important, as a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones need to be comfortable for long listening sessions – look out for padded earcups and headbands in materials like memory foam for ultimate comfort.
Padded earcups also help with passive noise cancellation – in other words, they physically block sound from entering your ears. This works in tandem with active noise cancellation, with the best noise-cancelling headphones using a combination of the two methods to get rid of outside noise.
Not a fan of over-ear headphones? Nowadays, you can even find true wireless earbuds with noise cancellation built-in, so there really is an option for everyone.
As with any pair of headphones, the sound quality needs to be good, even if your focus is blocking out the world around you. How you define good sound quality depends on your personal taste. Do you like a warm, well-rounded sound, or do you prefer ultra high-fidelity that allows you to hear every single detail of your music? Are you a dedicated bass head or a classical music junkie?
Best noise-cancelling headphones, at a glance:
- Sony WH-1000XM4
- Sony WH-1000XM3
- Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
- Bose QuietComfort 35 II
- Sony WF-1000XM3 True Wireless Earbuds
- Shure AONIC 50
- Jabra Elite 85H
- Apple AirPods Pro
- Marshall Monitor II ANC
- Bowers and WIlkins PX Wireless
- Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless
- JBL Tune 750BTNC
- Microsoft Surface Headphones 2
- Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2