2024 Best Noise-Canceling Headphones

May 6, 2024

Why Noise-Canceling Headphones?

Noise-canceling headphones can be one of the best ways to listen to music, get in the zone, and block out the world around you. They're perfect for people who travel a lot, those who like to work out in the gym and focus on getting through a set, and those who need to concentrate at work.

Finding the right pair for your needs can be tricky, though. In addition to blocking out the sound around you, you need to know that they have quality audio, too.

Note: When you see ANC, it's short for active noise canceling.

So, how do you choose the right headphones for your needs, and what are some of the best on the market? Let's get into it!

Factors to Consider When Choosing Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Sound Quality

Music streaming services like TIDAL, Deezer, Apple Music, and more have implemented their highest-quality audio ever. The headphones you choose should be able to deliver that quality. You should be able to hear the intricate beats, melodies, and more as you listen.

So, what do you look for regarding the sound quality you can expect with headphones?

You're looking for clarity, noise isolation, bass response, frequency response, and, ideally, the ability to tweak your EQ levels.

There should be no distortion at higher volumes, no muddiness in the mid-levels, no hiss, no cracking, and clarity. The best way to find that is by testing a few pairs. Head to audiophile forums and read plenty of reviews before you buy online. And keep in mind that you need to listen to it in a couple of ways (when possible).

Battery Life

Most noise-canceling headphones in the mid and higher range have between 30 and 50 hours of battery life. ANC will often reduce battery life, so there is some balance to be found between the listening time you will actually get when you are using your headphones without wires.

Design and Comfort

Most earbud noise-canceling headphones will have similar comfort levels. One thing you'll need to decide on is the material. Some come with interchangeable soft inserts, while others might be hard plastic.

The interchangeable silicone can make long listening sessions more comfortable. And, of course, it means the earbuds are a little more personalized to your ear shape.

With over-ear headphones, there are a couple more points of comfort to consider. The pads need to be good quality—something that will last. The foam inside should be soft enough for comfort but sturdy enough to stay in place, bouncing back after each use.

The band that sits on the top of your head is better when padded, and they come in different sizes. Some over-ear headphone shapes are tighter and can feel more restrictive than others.

Connectivity Options

The best listening experience, with the highest sound quality, comes from having your headphones plugged in.

While Bluetooth is fantastic, it doesn't have the ability to give you the highest quality, although, for most listeners, the difference between the two is negligible. Some headphones can connect to multiple devices, and for some people, that makes their day and workflow smoother. For others, that is something they don't need.

Price Range

You can get great quality from a good brand for a couple of hundred dollars with noise-canceling headphones. However, some good-quality ANc headphones come in the 'cheaper' bracket - but that is relative.

Top Picks for Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless

The Sony WH-1000XM4 wireless ANC headphones are considered one of the best headphones around right now. They aren't insanely priced and are packed with features. There is an updated version of these, but for the price, they are worth every gram of their 253g weight.

Their noise-canceling ability is phenomenal, and the listening experience is rich. These do the job perfectly for those looking for multipoint pairing (for example, your iPhone and laptop simultaneously). Pairing is simple; you can pair a few devices to be auto-connected.

One of the things that sets these apart is the Sony 360 Reality Audio. Which works perfectly with TIDAL. The amount of personalization with the Sony app is another huge plus point for those who like to curate their listening experience. You can also save your settings and change them using your mobile device.

Other plus points are the DSEE Extreme Upscaling, auto play/pause when the conversation is detected, and easy-to-use touch commands.

They're not perfect, but they are hard to beat. The Sennheiser Momentum Wireless has double the battery life. But for that battery life, you've got more weight and they tend to be on the more expensive side.

When it comes to increased audio quality, you'll be looking at Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones.

That said, the Sony WH-1000XM4 is the ideal all-rounder, with 30 hours of battery life and a frequency response of between 4Hz and 40kHz—all for about $350. Though they are often cheaper in sales, the lowest price was seen on Amazon in December 2023 for $228.

Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless

These headphones have a lot going for them. Really… It is a lot. And, of course, with Sennheiser being synonymous with audio quality, you wouldn't expect anything less. So, what is included in the $379.95 price tag?

Unlike some of their previous models, the headset is decidedly fuss-free. The aluminum headbands are gone, and instead, you're getting a sleek-looking over-ear headphone. But looks aren't everything, and there is something about the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless headphones that offers a unique listening experience.

It is immersive and crisp. The crispness means you can hear more details that you might not be able to pick out with other headphones. The ANC is better than the Sony WH-1000MX4's but not as good as the MX5's.

But the star of the show is the incredible battery life. 60 hours is enough for people who work long hours, commute often, travel, and often forget to charge their electronics—and that's with ANC on.

This model's drawbacks are that it isn’t foldable and is on the higher end of the budget for most people.

Anker Soundcore Space A40

So what if we said you could get ANC, 22 EQ presets, even sound quality, multipoint Bluetooth, and water resistance, and they are under $100? These Anker Soundcore Space A40 earbuds have a lot for a low price.

The earbuds are light and small and aren't the type to fall out of your ear. You'll need to try out the ear tip options to ensure they are secure since they don't have any stabilizing wings. Once you have the right tips, they are snug and good to go.

The touch controls allow you to control the buds, and when used in combination with the app, you have even more control. The Soundcore app is available on both Android and iOS. You'll want to have the app even if you don't want to play with the sound so that you can update the firmware when needed.

With ANC on, you'll get about 7 - 8 hours of listening time; without it, you can get an extra 2 hours of listening time. The case will also give you an extra four hours of charge.

Since buds typically have less padding to help them out in the first place, these do a good job of blocking lower frequencies out, and general ambient noise. Mechanical keyboards, bells, and other things will creep in, but they will be significantly dampened. To get the best from the ANc, you'll need to make sure they are a secure fit.

All in all, these are ideal for the budget-conscious and those who don't need or want cans and cost just under $100.

Other Notable Options

Apple AirPods Pro

A noise-canceling headphone review and recommendation wouldn't be complete without looking at the best noise-canceling AirPods. The Apple AirPods Pro are the updated and upgraded versions of the AirPods, which are reported to be the most popular headphones in the world (Apple reported this).

The Pro version became the preferred option because it has more comfortable silicone tips and a shorter stem. The shorter stem was enough to house the force sensors for answering calls, pausing or playing music, and skipping tracks, too.

iPhone users have the bonus of being able to use Siri voice commands, reply to messages, and have other notifications read out.

And if you really want to, you can turn off the ANC by pressing and holding the stem. It's easy—unless you are running or you have your hands full. This is one case where touch control could be easier than multi-press buttons.

These earbuds aren't what you'd call sports-focused, so while they are water-resistant, you'd be better off with Beats Fit Pro.

The Ear Tip Fit Test is one of the most valuable features for setting these up correctly. Follow the instructions to ensure that you get the best sound from the buds.

Something cool is that the AirPods Pro adjusts to the surrounding noise about 200 times per second. They measure outside sound and leakage, plus how the music is responding. So, when it comes to noise-canceling, they are effective. They will block out high pitches, low rumbles, and general ambiance in your location.

You can test the strength of it by using the Transparency mode for a few moments and then switching back. However, using this mode doesn't really dampen the listening experience like it does with their headphones. It reaches a balance, again due to the continuous processing.

Battery life is around 5 hours, with another 19 possible from the case. They are ultra-light at just 5.4g per bud and come in at about $189. If you want to spend a little more and get the MagSafe charging, the 2nd Gen is $249.

Although prices do vary, you may be able to get a pair of AirPods if you are buying a new Apple product. And, of course, they are ideal for combining with Apple Music since they work with Apple's ALAC and Spatial Audio.

If earbuds aren't your thing, then the AirPods Max, while more expensive, offers crisp listening experiences.

Bose QuietComfort Ultra

Weighing in at 250 grams and 30 hours of battery life, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra is known for the exception of noise-canceling. And yes, that means these are better than everything else on the list for blocking out noise. They really live up to their name.

While less expensive than Bowers & Wilkins or the Focal Bathys, they're not cheap at $429. They have been seen at $395, so it is worth taking a look around. But, you get what you pay for with this headset, and more besides.

The silence that these provide is extreme. It will cancel out flight noise, people, ringing, high pitches, buses and trains, city sounds, and more. This model is newer, but if you want pure environmental noise reduction, you can get close to being as good with the Bose QuietComfort (not Ultra).

These Bose headphones are phenomenal for those who like to enjoy their music with some texture, some richness, and all of the layers of what they are listening to. The trade-off between the incredible ANC and the stunning audio quality is less-than-average battery life.

Another downside users experience is that if you want to use them with an audio cable while turned off, you'll need to plug in the USB charger and then turn them on.

"To continue listening to audio on your source device when the headphone battery is depleted or the headphones are off when a Bluetooth connection isn't available, connect both the USB cable and the audio cable" - from the manual.

For many, this is a deal breaker since many cans can use the audio cable to listen without turning the set on.

1More Sonoflow

These are considered to be the best cheap noise-canceling headphones. At 250 grams, they are light enough to be comfortable, have around 50 hours of battery life with ANC on, and are under $100.

The app has a couple of EQ settings, which, considering the price, is a nice bonus. The app is generally light, though, so go in expecting the bare bones.

The battery life without ANC is a huge 70 hours, though, so if you want a set of headphones that can do both without breaking the bank, these are them.

The actual quality of the ANC is good but not great. These headphones work well for those who work in a medium-noise environment or don't need total nullification of ambient sound. Interestingly, the headphones have a nice, rich bass, and the highs are crisp and clear.

These are ideal for someone who needs all-around good headphones without breaking the bank.

How to Choose the Right Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Before you buy any pair of headphones, think about a couple of things. The first is the type of music you listen to. For those who like bass, look for a paid model that specifically mentions bass or EQ controls so that you can manage that.

Secondly, consider your listening habits. Listening for long periods away from charging points means you'll need ones with longer battery life. Or opt for earbuds with a charging case.

Your streaming service matters, too! If your budget isn't high and you listen to Spotify, then cheaper pairs of headphones like the 1More Sonoflow will be fine.

Spotify doesn't have a crispy, clean sound, and the audio quality isn't the highest, so you won't miss anything. If you are using TIDAL, Qobuz, or Deezer, then the Sony WH-1000MX4s are ideal.

You'll get the FLAC plus a lot of EQ tweaking ability. TIDAL, in particular, has Sony Reality 360 compatibility.

And, of course, anything Apple works better with Apple products and services, so an iPhone, AirPods (or Beats), and Apple Music are a match made in heaven.

You can mix and match until you find your perfect sound quality. Luckily, you can move your music to different streaming services until you find the right fit. Use our Basic Package or Premium subscription to move playlists, albums, and liked songs across almost 20 services.

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