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The best noise-canceling headphones for 2024

Some advice if ANC performance drives your buying decision.

Photo by Billy Steele / Engadget

For most wireless headphones, active noise cancellation (ANC) is a primary feature, especially at the mid-range to premium levels. ANC is a popular tool, especially for headphones you’re going to use in a variety of locations and settings. To help you cut through the noise of all the options on the market, we’ve compiled a list of the best noise-canceling headphones you can buy right now. Judged primarily in terms of ANC performance, this guide not only offers suggestions in various scenarios and prices, but also gives you advice on what to look for on a spec sheet while you’re shopping.

Quick overview

When you’re shopping for a pair of wireless headphones, the first thing you’ll need to decide on is wear style. Do you prefer on-ear or over-ear? For the purposes of this guide, I focus on the over-ear style as that’s what most noise-canceling headphones are nowadays. Sure, you can find on-ear models with ANC, but over-ear, noise-canceling headphones are much more effective at blocking sound since your ears are completely covered.

Next, you’ll want to look at the type of ANC a set of headphones offers. You’ll come across terms like “hybrid active noise cancellation” or “hybrid adaptive active noise cancellation,” and there are key differences between the two. A hybrid ANC setup uses microphones on the inside and on the outside of the device to detect ambient noise and cancel it out. By analyzing input from both mics, a hybrid system can combat more sounds than “regular” ANC, but it does so at a constant level that doesn’t change.

Adaptive ANC takes the hybrid configuration a step further by continuously adjusting the noise cancellation for changes in your environment and any leakage around the padding of the ear cups. Adaptive ANC also does a better job with wind noise, which can really kill your vibe while using headphones outdoors. For the purposes of this best headphones list, I’m only considering products with hybrid ANC or adaptive ANC setups because those are the most effective at blocking noise.

You’ll also want to check to see if the ANC system on a prospective set of headphones offers adjustable levels of noise cancellation or presets. These can help you dial in the amount of ANC you need for various environments, but it can also help you save battery life. Master & Dynamic, for example, has ANC presets that provide both maximum noise blocking and more efficient cancellation that is more energy efficient. Other companies may include a slider in their companion apps that let you adjust the ANC level to your liking.

The primary way we test headphones is to wear them as much as possible. I prefer to do this over a one-to-two-week period, but sometimes deadlines don’t allow it. During this time, I listen to a mix of music and podcasts, while also using the headphones to take both voice and video calls.

Since battery life for headphones can be 30 hours or more, I drain the battery with looping music and the volume set at a comfortable level (usually around 75 percent). Due to the longer battery estimates, I’ll typically power the headphones off several times and leave them that way during a review. This simulates real-world use and keeps me from having to constantly monitor the process for over 24 straight hours.

To test ANC performance specifically, I use headphones in a variety of environments, from noisy coffee shops to quiet home offices. When my schedule allows, I use them during air travel since plane noise is a massive distraction to both work and relaxation. Even if I can’t hop on a flight, I’ll simulate a constant roar with white noise machines, bathroom fans, vacuums and more. I also make note of how well each device blocks human voices, which are a key stumbling block for a lot of ANC headphones.

ANC-related features are something else to consider. Here, I do a thorough review of companion apps, testing each feature as I work through the software. Any holdovers from previous models are double checked for improvements or regression. If the headphones I’m testing are an updated version of a previous model, I’ll spend time getting reacquainted with the older set. Ditto for the closest competition for each new set of headphones that I review.

Connectivity: Bluetooth | ANC type: Hybrid Adaptive | Customizable ANC: Yes | Max battery life with ANC: 30 hours | Transparency mode: Yes

Read our full review of the Sony WH-1000XM5

Sony opted for two audio chips on its 1000XM5 headphones, adding a V1 Integrated Processor alongside its QN1 HD Noise Canceling Processor chip to bolster distraction blocking. The company outfitted the M5 with eight total mics, doubling the number of microphones that detect distractions. On top of that, there’s an automatic ANC optimizer that adjusts in real time to ensure you always get the best performance even with changes in how the headphones fit and the level of clamor in your environment. The result is the best noise-canceling setup available in terms of pure sound blocking — and, thanks to Sony’s tweaks, the M5 is better in the frequency range that includes human voices.

Sony has been cramming its flagship headphones with features for years, so you get a lot of conveniences on the 1000XM5 that other companies don’t offer. Things like automatic pausing with Speak-to-Chat, Quick Attention mode, 360 Reality Audio support and compression-fighting DSEE Extreme audio upscaling. There are tools here that are available on other Sony headphones as well, like Adaptive Sound Control that automatically changes settings based on your activity or location, which you can finetune to your preferences.

Somehow, Sony also found a way to enhance the already stellar sound profile of the M4, though the improvement is mostly only noticeable in the finer details of songs. There’s more depth, so everything sounds more immersive, but the overall audio has better clarity too. This brings the texture of an acoustic guitar or the intricacies of Jake White’s trademark guitar sounds to your ears in a novel manner. The headphones also offer plenty of bass, but provide only the oomph when needed and not a drop more.

Pros
  • Supreme comfort
  • Great sound
  • Powerful ANC
  • 30-hour battery life
Cons
  • More expensive than the M4
  • Occasional audio issues on macOS
$328 at Amazon
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$328 at Macy's$330 at Sony Electronics

Connectivity: Bluetooth | ANC type: Hybrid Adaptive | Customizable ANC: Yes | Max battery life with ANC: 24 hours | Transparency mode: Yes

Read our full review of the Bose QuietComfort Ultra

Bose’s unique take on spatial audio may be the headline feature on its QuietComfort Ultra Headphones, but the company didn’t overlook ANC on this model. Described as “the quietest quiet” available on any of its headphones yet, the ANC here is noticeably better than the Bose 700 and iconic QuietComfort Headphones. This is due in part to microphone enhancements that also improve call quality. The changes are especially apparent when dealing with the hard-to-combat frequency range of people talking. The company also offers presets that mix ANC, transparency mode and its spatial Immersive Audio, allowing you to quickly switch the sound to match your surroundings.

While the spatial sound feature is a bit of a mixed bag, the stock tuning on the QuietComfort Ultra Headphones is still good – even before you switch on Immersive Audio. Bose has generally lagged the competition in terms of sonic prowess, but these headphones show that gap is narrowing. There’s a dash more bass to enhance a default sound profile that’s warmer, clearer and more inviting than previous Bose models. When Immersive Audio hits, it’s amazing. But, the company is relying on signal processing rather than specially crafted content so the results vary.

Pros
  • Excellent ANC
  • Improved audio
  • Clearer transparency mode
  • Comfy
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Immersive Audio is inconsistent
  • No USB-C audio
$379 at Adorama
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$379 at Amazon$379 at Macy's

Connectivity: Bluetooth | ANC type: Hybrid | Customizable ANC: Yes | Max battery life with ANC: 35 hours | Transparency mode: Yes

Read our full review of the Sony WH-CH720N

The WH-CH720N won’t win any design awards, but what you get for the price is well worth some aesthetic sacrifices. Due to their all-plastic construction, the CH720N are super lightweight and comfy, allowing you to wear them for hours at a time. The ANC isn’t as robust as that on more expensive headphones, but it’s above average for products in this price range. Toss in customizability and a handy transparency mode, and you’ve got a solid device that costs only $150 — and regularly goes for around $100.

In addition to decent noise blocking for a small investment, the CH720N has 35-hour battery life, physical controls, DSEE upscaling and Sony’s 360 Reality Audio. You can also adjust both the EQ and the level of ambient sound. Plus, the company’s ever-present Adaptive Sound Control can automatically switch the sound settings based on your activity or location. Last but not least, the overall sound quality is really impressive for headphones at this price. There’s plenty of detail and subtlety in the audio; you can really hear the gritty texture of distorted guitars and near-pristine acoustic instruments.

Pros
  • Affordably priced
  • Lightweight and comfy
  • Great sound quality
  • Some handy features
Cons
  • ANC struggles in certain environments
  • Lots of plastic
  • No automatic pausing
  • Advanced features reserved for pricier models
$150 at Amazon
Photo by Billy Steele / Engadget

Connectivity: Bluetooth | ANC type: Hybrid Adaptive | Customizable ANC: Yes | Max battery life with ANC: 60 hours | Transparency mode: Yes

Read our full review of the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless

Sure, there are headphones that will last longer than Sennheiser’s Momentum 4 Wireless, but they don’t offer the combo of battery life, ANC and sound quality you’ll find here. On this model, the company made big improvements to its active noise cancellation, catching up to rivals like Bose and Sony. Specifically, the ANC on the Momentum 4 handles constant distractions more effectively than previous models in the series.

I don’t care for the design Sennheiser introduced on the Momentum 4 as the company ditched what was a quite novel look for something much more generic and plastic. However, the change comes with the bonus of increased comfort. You’ll also get excellent sound quality, in fact, it’s some of the best you’ll find in wireless headphones. There’s noticeable depth to the audio profile with a wide soundstage that complements all genres. You might even discover finer details you previously missed. And, of course, the 60-hour battery life with ANC on is double what a lot of flagship headphones offer these days.

Pros
  • Impressive 60-hour battery life
  • Better ANC performance
  • Great sound quality
  • Improved comfort
Cons
  • Pinch gesture feels unnecessary
  • Standout design is gone
  • Auto on/off needs work
$290 at Amazon
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$300 at Adorama$380 at Macy's