Best Noise-Canceling Headphones

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The world sure can be a loud place. Whether you’re in public transportation or in a busy workspace, the noise can make it difficult to think. It can even overpower the music you’ve put on to distract yourself. Fortunately, you can now use noise-canceling headphones to remedy the situation.

Headphones of this type have actually been around for quite some time in the aviation industry. Planes and helicopters are anything but quiet so the pilots needed help with that. But, they can be just as valuable when you’re on the ground.

What Are Noise-Canceling Headphones?

As their name implies, these headphones come with the ability to cancel out external noise. Or at least reduce it by a very large degree. In other words, they keep ambient sounds from interfering with whatever you’re trying to listen to.

One way to achieve this is through physical means. When the ear cups enclose your ears and provide a tight seal, you get a level of soundproofing. However, the term noise-canceling primarily refers to a process known as active noise control (ANC).

With ANC, the headphones use electronics housed within them to create special sound waves. These sound waves are produced specifically to negate the noise coming from your environment. In short, you are using one sound to cancel out another. There is, of course, a bit more to the process, but that is the gist of it.

Naturally, it is easy to see where headphones of this type come in handy – in any environment with excessive background noise. They will allow you to enjoy the audio content of your choice without the need to drastically turn up the volume. So, whether you’re dealing with a crowded room or heavy machinery, these headphones can give you the peace you need.

What to Look for in Noise-Canceling Headphones

All high-end headphones are complex products. Add noise-cancelation to the mix, and you get quite a few things to watch out for. Still, you should always keep the following in mind when choosing between different products in this category.

Quality of Noise Cancelation

Not all headphones will do an equally good job of keeping unwanted sounds out. In addition, ANC can sometimes result in white noise (you may hear a hiss at times). Naturally, you want a pair of headphones which eliminate external sounds and do not create noise of their own.

Sound Quality

Another possible drawback of noise-cancelation is that it can negatively impact the quality of the sound. So, you are looking for a product which will give you crystal-clear audio.

Added Features

There are far too many additional features out there to list at once. But, many headphones will have some capability which sets them apart. If you can find one that addresses a particular issue you have, it can make a world of difference.

Battery Life

Active noise control requires power in order to work. That is why it is important to see how long the headphones can last before you need to recharge. Good models should give you at least around 20 hours of use in one go.

Design

Although there are exceptions, noise-canceling headphones usually feature the over-ear construction. This can make them quite large so their design is all the more important. You want them to have a nice look (this will depend on your preferences) and to be comfortable to wear.

Price

Finally, the price will play a part in any purchase you make, and these headphones are no exception.

Methodology

While noise-canceling headphones are not a gadget absolutely everyone has, they are growing in popularity. This means that market is on the rise, providing you with numerous options to choose from. Therefore, it took a significant amount of research and comparison to narrow down our choices to just six models.

However, because this text focuses on headphones which eliminate unwanted sound, it is clear that the most important factor in this case was noise cancelation. Or to be more precise, the combination of noise cancelation and sound quality.

Simply put, we looked for headphones which would give you the best listening experience under unfavorable conditions. By extension, we appreciated any additional features related to this.

Naturally, this means that factors not directly connected to this were not quite as vital. It was still very important for us that all of our picks be great products overall (and they are, without exception), but dealing with noise is where they truly shine.

Top Six Noise-Canceling Headphones

1. Sony WH-1000XM3

Specs:

  • Wireless
  • Type: Over-Ear
  • Weight: approximately. 8.99oz / 254g
  • Battery life: 30 hours
  • MSRP: $349.99

Pros:

  • The sound quality is absolutely amazing
  • Noise cancelation is equally impressive
  • Has excellent added features

Cons:

  • Not a major improvement over the previous model
  • The touch controls may not be to everyone’s liking

Best for:

  • Frequent travelers
  • People in business settings (due to their professional-looking design)
  • People who can’t charge their headphones often (due to the excellent battery lifespan)

With the WH-1000XM3, Sony has managed to create what many believe to be the best set of noise-canceling headphones available at the moment. The sound quality these headphones provide is second to none, and the excellent noise cancelation will ensure you can always enjoy it to the fullest.

There are several features which make using these headphones an even more enjoyable experience. You can customize the noise cancelation to suit your preferences, and we really appreciate the “Quick Attention” feature which allows you to let in outside sounds without the need to remove the headphones.The only thing that can potentially be considered a downside is that many of these features were already present in Sony’s preceding model. The company clearly did not want to try and fix something that wasn’t broken and instead opted to make a series of subtle improvements.

2. Bose QuietComfort 35 II

Specs:

  • Wireless
  • Type: Over-Ear
  • Weight: 8.3oz / 235g
  • Battery life: 20 hours
  • MSRP: $349.95

Pros:

  • Noise cancelation is outstanding, probably best in class
  • Exceptionally comfortable to wear
  • Optimized for voice assistants

Cons:

  • While the sound quality is very good, there are some headphones which are better in this regard
  • Aside from the new “Action” button, there aren’t too many changes compared to the previous model

Best for:

  • Long-distance travelers (due to their comfort)
  • People who rely heavily on the Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa
  • Those who want to customize the color scheme of their headphones (although this costs extra)

Many people who follow the industry may instantly associate Bose with noise-canceling headphones. And with good reason as the company has played a prominent role in popularizing them. Therefore, it’s no surprise these headphones excel at keeping unwanted sounds at bay. So much so that you can even get pretty good results if you switch off the noise cancelation to conserve power. This is further proof of just how good Bose’s design is.

In addition, the associated app greatly expands the functionality these headphones provide. With a sound quality that will fully satisfy most regular users and a large degree of comfort, this is one set of headphones you will gladly wear for long stretches of time.

3. Sony WH-1000XM2

Sony WH-1000XM2
Credit: Sony.com

Specs:

  • Wireless
  • Type: Over-Ear
  • Weight: approximately. 9.7oz / 275g
  • Battery life: 30 hours
  • MSRP: $349.99/temporarily reduced to $199.99 (you should shop around as it is possible to find them at a lower price point because they are not the latest model)

Pros:

  • Many of the same features as the newer XM3
  • The sound quality is top-class
  • Noise cancelation is great

Cons:

  • The headphones are a 2017 model, meaning the XM3 is superior (but not by much)
  • Just like with the newer model, the touch controls come with a learning curve
  • Not the greatest for making voice calls

Best for:

  • The same categories as the XM3 (frequent flyers for example, due to the ability to adapt to atmospheric pressure

When we talked about the headphones which occupy the number one spot on this list, we mentioned they were not a groundbreaking improvement over the previous model. But the main reason for that is because the WH-1000XM2 is an outstanding set of noise-canceling headphones that did not need many enhancements. They are so good that they easily have a place on this list even though a newer model is available.

The sound quality and noise cancelation are not quite as amazing as what you get with the XM3, but they are remarkable nonetheless. If you can find them at a reduced price, there should be no doubt in your mind.

4. Beats Studio3 Wireless

Beats Studio3 Wireless
Credit: Beatsbydre.com

Specs:

  • Wireless
  • Type: Over-Ear
  • Weight: approximately. 9.17oz / 260g
  • Battery life: 22 hours
  • MSRP: $349.95 (we have noticed price drops for these headphones so there is a good chance you’ll be able to find a better deal)

Pros:

  • These headphones work extremely well with Apple devices
  • The range for Bluetooth is great
  • Different color options to choose from

Cons:

  • The sound is heavy on the bass, which isn’t always ideal
  • Android users will not enjoy all the benefits

Best for:

  • Apple users
  • People who like bass
  • People looking for stylish noise-canceling headphones

These are comfortable headphones which feature very efficient noise cancelation and can come in some interesting colors (including special collections). However, what truly earns them a spot on this list is the W1 chip. It is what makes using these headphones with Apple products an effortless experience.

Of course, these are solid headphones regardless of which device you use them with. As mentioned, they are quite good at eliminating unwanted sounds. But, it is clear where their strongest attribute lies.

5. Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless

Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless
Credit: Sennheiser.com

Specs:

  • Wireless
  • Type: Over-Ear
  • Weight: approximately. 8oz / 227g
  • Battery life: 30 hours
  • MSRP: $349.95

Pros:

  • Great sound quality
  • You can turn on or switch off the headphones by rotating the ear cups
  • Lightweight

Cons:

  • The noise cancelation is usually quite good but can struggle at times
  • The touch controls can sometimes be a bit problematic

Best for:

  • Long sessions (they are very lightweight for this category so the strain is reduced)
  • People looking for a nice, balanced sound quality
  • People who make a lot of voice calls (they are quite good as a headset)

The PXC 550 Wireless headphones offer nice all-around performance. They also provide a very comfortable fit, aided by their light weight. This makes them great if you plan on using them for longer, uninterrupted sessions. Their noise cancelation isn’t quite up to par with some of the other headphones we’ve covered, but it is still very good and the comfort factor can make up for that.

6. Bose QuietComfort 20

Bose QuietComfort 20
Credit: Bose.com

Specs:

  • Wired
  • Type: In-Ear
  • Weight: 1.55oz / 44g
  • Battery life: 16 hours
  • MSRP: $249.95

Pros:

  • Noise cancelation is amazing for a set of in-ear headphones
  • Comfortable to wear

Cons:

  • The battery pack can be a little awkward to carry around
  • The sound is good, but not the best out there
  • You cannot replace the battery

Best for:

  • People who want noise cancelation from in-ear headphones
  • Persons who do not like large, over-ear headphones
  • People who want very comfortable earbuds

Ending our list is a drastically different product. Being an in-ear model, the size and weight of the QuietComfort 20 are on a completely different scale compared to our other picks. This makes them incredibly portable and easy to pack.

The headphones come with three eartips in different sizes. They fit very softly and securely and provide a nice seal to help keep out the racket. But, the active noise control is the undisputed star of the show. It lives up to Bose’s stellar reputation and lets you enjoy your music in peace to a degree you would not expect from earbuds.

Finally, it takes but one press of a button to activate “Aware Mode” and instantly hear what’s around you once more.

Don’t Let the Noise Drown Out Your Tunes

It does not matter how good your music is if you can’t hear it from all the commotion. Sometimes, you just need to tune out for a bit and be alone with your thoughts. This is where the above-mentioned products can do wonders. They are all good choices, with slightly different strengths and weaknesses that will appeal to different preferences and usage scenarios.

In the end, you won’t really go wrong with any of them. Think what matters to you the most and also look at the prices – you never know when one of the models may be discounted. But once you put them on, listening to music while in public transportation will never be the same again.