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Our 8 favorite noise-cancelling headphones that actually work

We're talking true ANC without the distracting hiss.
Our 8 favorite noise-cancelling headphones that actually work Credit: Bose

Whether you work from home, find yourself on an airplane more often than not, or simply want to turn down the volume of the outside world, noise-cancelling headphones can be exactly the tool you need.

Even the best value headphones will feel lacking if they don't come equipped with halfway decent noise cancellation. Besides, there are simply too many headphones on the market (our testing pool gets bigger month by month) for you to pay hundreds only to get subpar ANC.

To help you pick the right model, Mashable editors and reviewers tested dozens of headphones and earbuds and picked out the best noise-cancelling headphones of 2024 (so far). And with Prime Day season in full swing, it's a great time to pick up a new pair of headphones.

Do noise-cancelling headphones actually work?

There's a big difference between outside noise being blocked and music simply being loud enough to drown it out. There's also a difference between true active noise cancellation and hissing or white noise that some headphones rely on to "block out" sound.

Active noise-cancelling headphones electronically cover up the sounds coming from your surroundings by using internal microphones that listen to what's happening in the world around you, then invert the noise and send it to the speakers. The idea is that both the output and the input will cancel out, leaving you with near-silence. Over-ear headphones can also create a tight seal around your ears that adds another layer of sound blocking.

If you've tried a pair of noise-cancelling headphones before and haven't been impressed, don't be discouraged. It is possible to get headphones that quiet the hum of people talking around you, or noises from the street that invade your home office. While headphones that completely silence the world around you don't exist quite yet, we've found the ones that get pretty dang close.

In the past, not many earbuds featured active noise cancellation that was comparable to over-ear headphones, but newer iterations like the AirPods Pro and Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds hold their own in the ANC space. However, even these earbuds can't quite get the same seal that headphones can, so if you're looking for maximum silence, you might be happier with over-ear headphones. However, if you want to cut down on the bulk, earbuds make for great alternatives.

What are the best noise-cancelling headphones to buy?

Bose and Sony are both top names when it comes to any type of audio, but especially when it comes to noise cancellation. Both brands feature industry-leading ANC on top of superb sound quality. There are also some other brands and models worth checking out, so if you want to tune out ambient sound, we've laid everything out for you below, from your more premium options to your budget picks. In any case, you'll want to keep an eye out during Amazon Prime Day to see if you can score any of these headphones on sale.


Best for adjustable ANC: Bose 700

Read our full review of the Bose 700 headphones.

Who it's for:

For some people, active noise cancellation might be too intense. Sometimes, you need a little ambient noise. Maybe you're not a fan of this lack of awareness, or maybe it actually causes physical discomfort. That doesn't mean you have to forego ANC altogether — the Bose 700 headphones offer 10 different levels of active noise cancellation (as well as a transparent mode), so you can adjust based on what feels right for you.

Why we picked this:

One of the biggest cons of the Bose 700s is the cost, as Mashable tech reporter Alex Perry noted in his review. However, these headphones came out in 2019, and they're being phased out in place of Bose's new QuietComfort Ultra (another pick in this guide). That means while they're still around, you can get top-notch adjustable ANC for $379, and often for less — they were on sale for a flat $300 following Black Friday and have dropped even further in 2024. We're also hoping to see them drop even lower for Prime Day 2024. Unfortunately, we expect that if they sell out during the sale, it will be hard to find them new in stock, unless you're okay with sketchy, third-party sellers.

They won't be as comfortable for all-day wear as Bose's QuietComfort headphones, but if the best ANC is your priority above all else, these headphones are likely worth the trade off for you. If you are interested in buying them, you'll want to act sooner rather than later. Our next pick, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones, were recently released to replace the Bose 700s.

Battery life: Up to 20 hours | App-connected: Yes | Colors: Black


Most comfortable headphones: Bose QuietComfort Ultra

Read our full review of the Bose Quiet Comfort Ultra headphones.

Who it's for:

Over-ear headphones can be great for blocking out noise, but less great for comfort when they're too heavy or squeeze your head too much. If you're someone who wants to wear your headphones all day, the Bose QuietComfort line was made for you. We've previously tested the QuietComfort 35 IIs and the QuietComfort 45s, and the QuietComfort Ultra was easily the most comfortable of the three. They're also the most expensive at $429, so you will be paying a premium. Though, with Prime Day just around the corner, we wouldn't be surprised to see them drop $50 to their record low $379 — or lower.

Why we picked this:

The Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones up the ante on the long-popular line from the brand, giving you all-day wear with spatial audio.

We don't know how Bose improved on the design as much as they did, but we wore these headphones for hours — on flights, with glasses on, all day — and they wore through it all without squeezing or feeling heavy. To drop the royal Mashable we for just moment, I (Lead Shopping Reporter Bethany Allard) can attest to these easily being headphones I could wear all day, and I wasn't alone in that feeling. Shopping Reporter Sam Mangino also recently tested out these headphones, and found that their biggest draw was their comfort, noticing that she didn't experience the same ear aches she might get after wearing her Sony WH-1000XM4 for the same amount of time.

She did say, however, that their active noise cancellation and sound profile were good, but not great. In her opinion, she found them to be a bit lacking, noting that the ANC "is really good at blocking out low-pitched noises, [but] it can't wholly block high-pitched sounds unless you turn up the sound to unhealthy volumes." Personally, I found the ANC to do the job for me, but most of the noise I block out on a day to day basis isn't super high-pitched.

Where Mangino and I really agreed is that the ear cup controls and multipoint pairing leave much to be desired, especially at this price point. It can be difficult to easily connect with the button that acts as the on/Bluetooth pairing button — sometimes it's immediately responsive, and sometimes you have to press it a few times, and wait in between for it to properly turn on and connect. Like past QC headphones, these also can be touch and go with multipoint pairing, but I found them to function better at least than the QC 45 headphones, which often made audio have small skips with more than one device connected.

Finally, these headphones weirdly don't offer passive playback, so you will need to rely on them being charged whether you're listening wired or wirelessly. Thankfully, Mangino and I found that it was surprisingly hard to run down the battery on the Ultras, even if you're regularly using ANC and spatial audio. Ultimately, if what you prize above all else is comfort, we think these flaws will feel worth the trade-off.

Battery life: 24 hours | App-connected: Yes | Colors: Black, sandstone, white


Best for audiophiles: Sony WH-1000XM5

Check out our full review of the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones.

Who it's for:

If you want good ANC, but especially value clear and well-rounded sound, these are your headphones. Whether you really like to blast your music, or just want to hear the lows, highs, and mids of a song, the WH-1000XM5s are the headphones on our list most likely to deliver.

Why we picked this:

Sony's flagship noise-cancelling headphones produce a balanced sound that let your music shine, while giving you enough ANC to block ambient noise.

Here's what Mashable Deputy Reviews Editor Miller Kern had to say about listening to Brandi Carlile’s “Right on Time” on the XM5 headphones: "The vocals and instruments all got to shine, and the headphones made it feel like I was there in the studio. These are probably the best-sounding headphones I’ve ever tried." That audio quality, combined with their comfort and effective noise cancelling, are what earned them a Mashable Choice Award.

Their portability factor could be a little better — the ear cups don't fold in — but chances are, you'll want to be listening to them most of the time, anyway. When you are on the go, the microphone is another standout feature. Kern relayed that even on a walk home in New York City, she could hear who she was calling perfectly, and be heard herself without any background noise getting in the way. As an added bonus, they have a battery life that beats the Bose QC Ultras by a good six hours, offering some of the best battery we've seen from premium over-ear headphones.

When these headphones periodically go on sale, they typically run about $50 off, but we have seen them hit up to $70 off.

Battery life: 30 hours | App-connected: Yes | Colors: Black, navy, silver


Best for bass lovers: Sony ULT Wear

Check out our full review of the Sony ULT Wear headphones.

Who it's for:

If you don't need a fancy custom equalizer to know you like punching up the bass ten out of ten times, the new Sony ULT Wear headphones are made for you. Our reviewer praised these headphones for offering balanced sound and powerful bass, a rare combo. These are also a great pick for those looking for a more affordable alternative to the WH-1000XM5s.

Why we picked this:

Sony released the new ULT line in April, and considering the price, they're some of the best Sony headphones ever made. They're designed for anyone who's a fan of bass. In addition to the equalizer in the app, the headphones have a dedicated ULT button that lets you bump up the bass on demand. The 40-millimeter driver keeps it sounding clear and not crispy, making these headphones a worthy competitor to the WH-1000XM5s, our top pick for the best sounding noise-cancelling headphones.

When testing the two headphones side by side, Mashable's Miller Kern found that while both headphones sounded great, "the ULT Wear’s sound was fuller and felt more like surround sound. And even on the standard setting, the bass sounded richer on the ULTs." We still stand by the WH-1000XM5s as a better pick for audiophiles, but Kern makes a strong case for buying these over the XM5s. "[To] the average person, I’d say the ULT Wears are the winners — especially for those who prioritize bass and fullness in their audio."

For $100 cheaper, these are a more than fair alternative to Sony's flagship headphones. Plus, we've already seen the price dip $20 ahead of Prime Day. For the actual shopping holiday, we're hoping to see it drop even lower.

Battery life: 30 hours | App-connected: Yes | Colors: Black, off-white


Best noise-cancelling earbuds for Apple users: Apple AirPods Pro

Read our full review of the Apple AirPods Pro (Generation 2).

Who it's for:

If you want ANC without all the bulk, the AirPods Pro are small, discreet, and (thanks to the their long-awaited USB-C charging port) easier to charge. Though headphones typically provide superior ANC, these AirPods have impressive noise cancellation for a pair of buds. You'll probably enjoy them a little extra if you have other devices within the Apple ecosystem.

Why we picked this:

Are they pricey? Absolutely. Is their ANC worth it? Here's what Mashable Senior Editor Stan Schroeder had to say: "These are the first pair of earbuds I'd actually consider taking on an airplane (instead of my much larger and clunkier over-ear headphones)." Though these aren't the only Apple headphones with ANC, we highly prefer these over the AirPods Max, which we think are way overpriced (they're double the cost of these Pros) and don't have the performance to justify that price tag.

Other than that killer ANC, AirPods are great for travel because they take up minimal space in your carry on, they sound great, and they have a Conversation Awareness mode which automatically lowers the volume when you're talking, so placing a drink order is easy as can be. And with their new USB-C port, you can charge them directly from an iPhone 15.

To get a perfectly snug fit to maximize your listening experience, you'll have your choice between four ear tips. Apple claims these buds support lossless audio, but as of right now, only with the Apple Vision Pro, so you'd have to shell out an additional $3,500 for that experience.

It's actually fairly uncommon to see these earbuds at full price, so much so that we consider their "sale" price of $199 to barely count as a discount. Already, a week ahead of Prime Day, these earbuds are down to a new low price of $169 — beating their old record low of $179. We want to be greedy and see them drop even lower during the actual sale, but we wouldn't be surprised if this is the lowest price they hit during the Prime Day season.

Battery life: 6 hours (up to 30 hours with charging case) | App-connected: No | Colors: White


Best sounding earbuds: Sony WF-1000XM5

Who it's for:

Love high-quality audio but not so fond of the feeling of headphones over your ears? These Sony earbuds are the earbud model of the flagship WH-1000XM5 headphones we recommended above.

Why we picked this:

These earbuds deliver a rich, well-balanced sound profile, without the weight of over-ear headphones. The ear tips material are not the usual silicone found on AirPods and other earbuds, but a more foam-like material you'd find on an ear plug, allowing for all-day wear that creates a firm seal without sacrificing comfort. People who aren't fans of the stemmed design made popular by AirPods will appreciate that Sony didn't attempt to make a carbon copy. Plus, these Sony earbuds still offer functional touch controls.

The Sony companion app allows for a ton of customization, including for those aforementioned touch controls, paired devices, and of course, an equalizer. Those who feel a bit intimated by a completely custom equalizer will appreciate the "Find Your Equalizer" feature, which gives you two rounds of options to select from while listening to music to narrow down what settings actually sound the best. Once you've made your selection, a final before and after sound test confirms you're happy with the mix, making it easier than ever to get the most out of your music.

We also enjoyed the Adaptive Sound Control, which switches the earbuds automatically from noise cancelling to ambient sound transparency modes based on whether you're sitting or walking around (settings that can be adjusted). Multipoint pairing also lets you switch between two devices with next to zero lag. If you hate using transparency mode because of how it amplifies outside sounds, you can adjust that, too.

Admittedly, these earbuds are pricey, but we think the premium features and quality sound justifies the cost for someone who wants a lot out of their earbuds. And with Prime Day, if these earbuds follow with price cuts past, you can expect to see them anywhere from $20 to $50 off.

Battery life: 7-8 hours per charge (24 hours with case) | App-connected: Yes | Colors: Black, silver


Best mid-range earbuds: Beats Studio Buds+

Who it's for:

We don't think these earbuds perform quite as well as the newest AirPods Pro, but they also cost $80 less. If you're trying to get quality ANC earbuds for under $200 (but are willing to spend more than $50), then the Beats Studio Buds+ are the way to go. Plus, with Google Fast Pair support, they're better suited for Android users than the AirPods Pro.

Why we picked this:

We love a good dupe, what can we say? While these Beats aren't a one-to-one match for the AirPods Pro, they give a lot of the same basic functionality at a much more affordable price. And at six hours per charge with ANC, they match the Pro's battery life exactly.

As for how they sound, these are Beats headphones, so expect the bass to come through nice and clear. They're not too bass heavy though, and they give plenty of balance on higher frequencies. Their ANC definitely isn't at the same level as the Pros, so having a well-rounded sound is nice, as playing music in tandem with ANC will give you your best shot at blocking out the world around you.

You'll have your choice between four colorways, including black, silver, ivory, and transparent. During our testing, we also found these earbuds fit more comfortably than the AirPods Pro, so if you tend to have trouble getting AirPods to stay in your ears, these are a better option for you. If you can, we recommend waiting for these earbuds to go on sale — you can often find them for $149.95 or $129.95. About a week ahead of Prime Day, they're already just cents away from the latter price.

Battery life: 6 hours with ANC, 9 without (27 hours hours with charging case) | App-connected: No | Colors: Black, silver, white, transparent, pink


Best budget earbuds: Anker Soundcore Life P3i

Who it's for:

If you're on a tight budget but still want to enjoy noise cancelling, the Anker Soundcore Life P3i earbuds offer a surprisingly solid performance. Don't expect elite ANC, but these affordable earbuds don't require too much of a sacrifice in sound quality.

Why we picked this:

We're going to start with the major hitch of these earbuds: switching between devices sucks. They don't have multipoint pairing, and if you want to use them with your phone after using them with your laptop, you have to manually disconnect them (or in our experience, sometimes outright unpair them), with your laptop first. It's easily their biggest flaw, and where we most obviously felt their price point during testing.

With that out of the way, these earbuds still have a lot going for them. For starters, they cost $50 and can often be found on sale for even less. Already a week ahead of Prime Day, a 20% on-page coupon puts them down to a cool $40. Though inexpensive, these earbuds are comfortable to wear all day, have a custom equalizer in the app plus 21 presets (we're fans of the Treble Booster), customizable touch controls for each earbud, and a battery life that outdoes the Apple AirPods Pro. You won't have extras like spatial audio, and the ANC leans on background hiss more than premium models, but not terribly so.

For a pair of $50 earbuds, we're impressed. We recommend them for anyone who doesn't want to shell out $100 plus for a pair of noise-cancelling earbuds.

Battery life: 7 hours with ANC, 8.5 without (36 hours with charging case) | App-connected: Yes | Colors: Black, white


How we tested the best noise-cancelling headphones and earbuds

Every single pair of headphones we included in this guide was hands-on tested by a Mashable reporter or editor. What exactly makes a good noise-cancelling headphone? Here's what we considered:

  • Active noise cancellation performance: Though we always weigh this feature when testing headphones, we paid extra attention to it for the purposes of this guide. For the headphones tested specifically for this guide, we made sure to use them indoors and outdoors, to wear them while someone was trying to speak to us, while playing loud music externally, and while going about our usual workdays. (Many headphones not specifically tested for this guide, including the AirPods Pro and Sony WH-1000XM5s underwent very similar testing conditions).
  • Comfort: Though this category can be extra subjective due to different user preferences and head and ear sizes, we also look at how adjustable headphones are in terms of suiting different wearers, whether with earbud ear tips or headphone band adjustments.
  • Audio quality: While testing headphones, we listen to music across a variety of genres, as well as podcasts to tell how they perform in different audio settings. Where applicable, we test out different equalizer presets and play around with equalizer settings to see how they affect headphones' performance.
  • Battery life: We noted how quickly the battery drained while testing, and if the rate at which it drained held up to the battery life claims from the brands.
  • Value: We considered all the above features combined in relation to the headphones' price points, and compared them against each other to determine which products are worth it. Where applicable, we noted where the value for one feature made sense and where it didn't — for instance, in the case of the Bose QC Ultra headphones, their price point makes sense for something seeking incredibly comfortable headphones, and less so for someone who wants the best sound experience possible.
  • Premium features: We looked at the cool extras each headphone offered, whether that be spatial audio or a great customizable equalizer. While this did factor into the value somewhat, we didn't weigh it as heavily as the above conditions, as we believe that a headphone needs to be able to perform the basics well before getting to show off its extras.

We pulled these recommendations from our existing pool of headphone reviews and from hands-on testing performed specifically for this buying guide. A couple of options that didn't make our updated guide include the AirPods Max, which do have good ANC and sound quality, but also a less impressive feature to price ratio, especially compared to newer options from Sony and Bose. We also tested the JBL Tour One M2 headphones, and while we appreciated their excellent multipoint pairing, battery life, and balanced sound, we didn't find that their noise cancellation matched up with similarly priced headphones.

As of Jan. 2024, we removed the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 headphones from this guide not because they're sub-par headphones (they definitely aren't), but because they're an older model that's harder to find in-stores and online these days. We recently tested their replacement, the Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2e headphones, and though we loved how they sounded, wore, and looked, we were a little less impressed with the power of their ANC and finicky multipoint pairing. And as of April 2024, we've added the Anker Soundcore Life P3i earbuds, Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds, and Sony ULT Wear headphones to our list of recommendations.

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