When you’re in the market for headphones, you’ll see that noise-cancelling headphones are becoming the most popular variety. There’s a good reason for that: They block out ambient noise that can distract from you enjoying your favorite tunes. While they’re particularly useful for air travel and daily commutes—especially via mass transit—they’re also great at isolating you from at-home noise pollution, whether that be the whoosh of your HVAC system, the whir of your computer’s cooling fans, or your neighbor’s lawn mower. Many people don’t like active noise cancellation. If you’re in that group, you’ll find our top picks in conventional headphones at the preceding link.
Updated on August 2, 2022 with our Edifier NeoBuds 2 review. The big selling point for these truly wireless ANC headphones is their support for Snapdragon Sound, Qualcomm’s new hi-res streaming format. Unfortunately, Snapdragon Sound isn’t available for any phones currently on U.S. carriers, which makes the NeoBuds 2 expensive for what most of us will get.
Sony WH-1000XM5 — Best over-ear noise-cancelling headphone
New carbon fiber driver delivers intoxicating sound
Best-in-class noise cancellation is better than ever
Outstanding adaptive noise-cancelling performance
Beam-forming mics make near-perfect calls in noisy environments
Noise cancellation subject to the occasional audible artifact
Sony didn’t just refine its previous generation of noise-cancelling headphones, they redefined what was possible. The WH-1000XM5 are the finest noise-cancelling headphones Sony has ever made, and they’re the best noise-cancelling headphones we’ve ever reviewed. They’re supremely comfortable to wear for long listening sessions, they deliver unparalleled noise cancellation, and–most importantly–they sound absolutely fantastic. These are the noise-cancelling over-ear headphones to beat.
No support for surround sound formats, including Dolby Atmos
Slightly bulkier than the Sony WH-1000XM5 they compete with
Sony takes the crown in terms of whizbang features, support for surround sound formats like Dolby Atmos and its own 360 Reality Audio, and arguably superior active noise cancellation. But B&W’s cans sound every bit as good, and they’re certainly no slouch when it comes to active noise cancellation.
If you’ve got it, flaunt it–knowing that the lofty price Mark Levinson expects to fetch for its 5909 noise-cancelling headphones is justified by its performance and exquisite craftsmanship. These headphones sound as luxurious as they feel wrapped around your ears.
It’s hard to believe how inexpensive these noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones are, but that’s par for the course for Wyze Labs, a company that never seems to fail to package the most bang for the buck in every product they make. While their audio quality doesn’t compete with the higher-end models, and they might not be as durable as some of the more expensive brands, you won’t be too upset if they break and need to be replaced after a few years.
Wyze Labs beats Anker on price, but the Soundcore Life Q35 delivers excellent noise-cancellation and very good sound. But if you want to get the most out of these cans, do yourself a favor and download Anker’s app and spend some quality time EQ-ing them before you get into your first listening session.
Sony’s true wireless headphones are a phenomenal choice for anyone looking for active noise-cancellation from a high-end in-ear headphone. Boasting exceptional performance with music and phone calls, an impeccable fit, and–of course–best-in-class active and adaptive noise cancellation, no other manufacturer can beat Sony’s effort today. Let’s see how long that situation lasts.
The 1More ComfoBuds Mini noise-cancelling true wireless headphones offer excellent audio quality and active noise cancelling for the price, and they’re a godsend for anyone with small ears who’s had trouble finding in-ear headphones that fit well.
Sony and Bowers & Wilkins might win in terms of their active noise cancelling tech, but Bang & Olufsen comes close while blending stupendous audio performance with technology that gamers—especially Xbox and Windows gamers—won’t find anywhere else. And they wrap it all in an exquisite package of leather, lambskin, and aluminum.
Headphones with active noise cancellation (ANC) identify sound waves associated with noise and electronically generate an inverse sound wave that cancels it out. Here’s what we mean: A sound wave is similar to the ripples in a pond. Toss a pebble in the pond, then introduce ripples of the opposite pattern, and you’ll smooth the pond’s surface. Active noise cancellation (ANC) works in a similar manner. Microphones mounted on the headphone analyze ambient sound waves and then produce inverse sound waves that will cancel them out.
As you might expect, the ANC technologies from some manufacturers are incredibly effective; others, less so. We’ve tested models from AKG, Bose, Bowers & Wilkins, JBL, Libratone, and Sony and found them to be very good.
Adaptive noise cancellation is the most sophisticated type of ANC. It operates on the same principles, but adapts to your surroundings to apply more or less of the effect and to even bring in sounds from the outside world.
Some adaptive noise-cancelling solutions even take into account how fast you’re moving, the air pressure around you, and whether you’re likely in a plane, taking a walk, or holding a conversation. Many operate in conjunction with a mobile app on your smartphone.
Some individuals find that ANC headphones exert pressure on their ears, creating a similar sensation to being under water. If you find ANC headphones to be uncomfortable, you’ll prefer a model with good passive noise cancellation. That type of headphone deliver other benefits, too: They’re the least likely to color the music you’re listening to, and they don’t need batteries. On the other hand, not all headphones with passive noise cancellation are wireless.