Noise-canceling headphones are one of the most popular types of cans, and for good reason. They block out ambient noise that can distract you while you enjoy your favorite songs. While they are particularly useful for air travel and commutes, especially via public transportation, they are also great at insulating you from noise pollution in the home, be it the hum of your HVAC system, the hum of your cooling fans. computer, or your neighbor’s lawn mower.
Updated November 1, 2021 with our review of the BuddyPhones Cosmos + ANC kids headphones. You may think pink headphones with a sparkly anime princess on the headphones would be found in the bargain bin and sound like garbage, but they actually sound just as good, or better, than some “serious” headphones that cost considerably more.
Noise cancellation can be achieved in two ways: by active or passive measures. Our focus here is on the former. The latter is not a technology in itself; rather, it refers to the amount of ambient noise that a headset will physically block. Closed in-ear headphones and in-ear headphones with memory foam tips offer the best passive noise cancellation. You will find our reviews of everybody types of headphones here.
Active Noise Canceling (ANC) headphones identify sound waves associated with noise and electronically generate a reverse sound wave that cancels it. This is what we mean: a sound wave is similar to ripples in a pond. Throw a pebble into the pond, then introduce ripples of the opposite pattern and you will smooth the surface of the pond. Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) works in a similar way. Headphone-mounted microphones analyze ambient sound waves and then produce reverse sound waves that will cancel them out.
Unsurprisingly, some manufacturers’ ANC technologies are incredibly effective; others less. We have tested models from AKG, Bose, Bowers & Wilkins, JBL, Libratone and Sony and found them to be very good.
Adapted noise cancellation is the most sophisticated type of ANC. It works on the same principles, but adapts to its environment to apply more or less the effect and even bring on sounds from the outside world.
Some adaptive noise cancellation solutions even take into account how fast you are moving, the air pressure around you, and whether you are likely on a plane, taking a walk, or having a conversation. Many work in conjunction with a mobile app on your smartphone.
Some people find that ANC hearing aids put pressure on their ears, creating a sensation similar to being underwater. If you find ANC headphones uncomfortable, you will prefer a model with good passive Noise Cancellation. Those kinds of headphones offer other benefits too: they’re less likely to color the music you’re listening to, and they don’t need batteries. On the other hand, not all passive noise canceling headphones are wireless.
Best Active Noise Canceling Headphones
Sony didn’t do much to change its approach from noise-canceling headphones, because it didn’t have to. Their first WH-1000XM3 headphones are fantastic, and these next-gen cans are even better. If noise cancellation is an important feature to you, the Sony WH-1000XM4 is the best headphone you can buy.
Bowers & Wilkins introduced their PX7 noise-canceling headphones in 2019, but this Carbon Edition is brand new this year and features a new finish and an even prettier design. Sonic-accurate, active noise-canceling headphones may sound like an oxymoron, but let the engineers at B&W do it. All that said, many buyers will stick with Sony’s WH-1000XM4, and not just because they cost less.
Best budget noise-canceling headphone
It’s hard to believe how inexpensive these noise-canceling Bluetooth headphones are, but that’s part of the course at Wyze Labs, a company that never seems to fail to pack top performance into every product it makes. While their audio quality doesn’t compete with higher-end models, and they may 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.
Best noise-canceling headphones for gamers
Sony and Bose might win in terms of their active noise cancellation technology, but Bang & Olufsen comes close by combining great audio performance with technology that gamers, especially Xbox and Windows gamers, won’t find anywhere else. And they wrap it all in one exquisite leather, lambskin and aluminum package.
Best Wireless Noise Canceling Headphones
We’re adding true wireless headphone coverage to our repertoire and starting with a bang – Bowers & Wilkins PI7 in-ear headphones deliver phenomenal performance, are compatible with Qualcomm’s aptX adaptive audio codec, and their charging case can act as a transmitter. Bluetooth, so you can listen to music from almost any source, including a NAS box on your network. We tested it using a Roon Nucleus and a MacBook Pro, among other devices.
Our Latest Active Noise Canceling Headphone Reviews
We will update this list as new models arrive for your evaluation.