Tech Published: 18 April 2024 Update: 18 April 2024

Our 8 favorite noise-cancelling headphones that actually work

Tech news
person wearing bose quietcomfort ultra headphones outside

Best for adjustable ANC

Bose 700 headphones
$379 at B&H Photo Video
bose 700 headphones on pink background

Most comfortable headphones
bose quietcomfort ultra headphones on airplane seat back tray

Best for audiophiles

Sony WH-1000XM5
$398 at Amazon
black sony wh-1000xm5 headphones

Best for bass lovers

Sony ULT Wear
$199.99 at Amazon
black Sony ULT wear headphones on a red background

Best noise-cancelling earbuds for Apple users

Apple AirPods Pro
$189 at Amazon
(save $60)
usb-c airpods pro on wood boards

Best sounding earbuds

Sony WF-1000XM5
$299.99 at Best Buy
sony earbuds and case next to pad of paper and pen

Best mid-range earbuds

Beats Studio Buds+
$169.95 at Amazon
ivory beats studio buds+ with charging case

Best budget earbuds
cream colored anker soundcore life p3i headphones and case next to laptop

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 a godsend.

Headphones are a modern-day necessity, and if noise cancellation is an important feature to you, then even the best wireless headphones may leave you wanting more. You don’t want to shill out a few hundred bucks just to realize that while your headphones sound great, their noise cancelling is subpar.

To help you pick the right set, Mashable editors and reviewers tested dozens of headphones and earbuds and picked out the best noise-cancelling headphones of 2024 (so far).

Do noise-cancelling headphones actually work?

Yes, but not every product that promises to cancel noise actually delivers. Sometimes, bad noise cancellation comes in the form of ambient noise — a hissing sound that’s more distracting than it is helpful. Other times, the active noise cancellation simply lets through too much sound from the outside world. But when you find a pair of earbuds or headphones with noise cancelling that actually works (and works well), you’ll notice the difference immediately.

There’s a big difference between outside noise being blocked and music simply being loud enough to drown it out. While typically, this does mean investing more to get true high-quality ANC, you shouldn’t write off all budget headphones (or blindly trust a high price tag). In the same way that not every pair of expensive glasses will also protect your eyes from blue light, a pair of pricey headphones won’t guarantee true noise cancellation.

Active noise-cancelling headphones electronically cover up the sounds coming from your surroundings. They use 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 — and the perfect soundscape for listening to your favorite music. Over-ear headphones can also create a tight seal around your ears that adds another layer of sound blocking.

In the past, not many earbuds featured active noise cancellation, but now there are plenty of noise-cancelling earbuds if you don’t like the bulkiness of headphones. However, earbuds can’t quite get the same seal that headphones can, so if you’re a noise cancellation snob, you might be happier with over-ear headphones.

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.

Best for adjustable ANC: Bose 700

bose 700 headphones on pink background

Credit: Zlata Ivleva / Mashable

Bose 700 headphones
at B&H Photo Video

Save $110.00

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 on this list). 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.

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. Already, we’ve seen them sell out at Amazon, and once at Best Buy (though they appear to be back in stock and on clearance at the time of writing). 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

bose quietcomfort ultra headphones on airplane seat back tray

Credit: Bethany Allard / Mashable

Who it’s for:

Over-ear headphones can be great for blocking out noise, but less great for comfort. 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 be ready to pay for that comfort.

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. They’re also supremely comfortable.

We wore these headphones for hours — on flights, with glasses on, all day — and they wore through it all without squeezing or feeling heavy. Even more importantly, they sound incredible, complete with Bose’s new immersive spatial audio, which gives you a concert-like experience when listening to music, all the while blocking out the world around you.

We occasionally need to turn the headphones on a couple times for them to connect, but their multipoint pairing works better than past QuietComfort headphones (with the QC 45s, we needed to disconnect one of the two connected devices from the app to avoid annoying skips in the audio). We were also surprised that these headphones don’t support passive playback, especially for their price point (which is still $100 less than the Apple AirPods Max at full price).

Still, if you’re willing to live with those minor annoyances, you will be rewarded with excellent ANC on the most comfortable noise-cancelling headphones we’ve tested yet.

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

Best for audiophiles: Sony WH-1000XM5

black sony wh-1000xm5 headphones

Credit: Molly Flores / Mashable

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.

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

Best for bass lovers: Sony ULT Wear

black Sony ULT wear headphones on a red background

Credit: Joe Maldonado / Mashable

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 slightly cheaper alternative to the WH-1000XM5s.

Why we picked this:

Sony just 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.

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

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

usb-c airpods pro on wood boards

Credit: Stan Schroeder / Mashable

Apple AirPods Pro
at Amazon

Save $60.00

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.

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

Best sounding earbuds: Sony WF-1000XM5

sony earbuds and case next to pad of paper and pen

Credit: Bethany Allard / Mashable

Who it’s for:

Love high-quality audio but not so fond of the feeling of headphones over your ears? These Sony earbuds have got you covered on both fronts, all the while providing some pretty impressive active noise cancellation.

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.

The Sony companion app allows for a ton of customization, including 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.

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

Best mid-range earbuds: Beats Studio Buds+

ivory beats studio buds+ with charging case

Credit: Bethany Allard / Mashable

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.

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

cream colored anker soundcore life p3i headphones and case next to laptop

Credit: Bethany Allard / Mashable

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 most obvious indicator of their price point.

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. For that price, you get earbuds that 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, and 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 on this list was hands-on tested by a Mashable reporter or editor. What exactly makes a good noise-cancelling headphone? Here’s what we considered: the effectiveness of active noise cancellation in relation to price, comfort, battery life, audio quality, and any premium features offered (like spatial audio) and how those features perform.

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 list 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 list not because they’re not excellent headphones (they are), but because they’re an older model that’s harder to find in-stores and online these days. We’re in the process of testing the Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2e headphones to see how they stack up. 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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