What to Look For in Noise Cancelling Headphones in 2022
One of the first things you’ll want to think about when it comes to any set of headphones is sound quality. This may seem obvious, but different people have different needs, so don’t dismiss this right away.
Are you listening to classical, jazz, or another type of music with plenty of nuances and dynamic range? If so, you’ll want a pair of headphones that can capture that range. Are you mainly listening to podcasts and audiobooks? If that’s the case, overall sound quality isn’t as big an issue for you, so you might prioritize other features.
Next comes the actual noise cancellation. While all of the headphones we’ll look at here feature noise cancellation, some are better at it than others. Depending on how much time you spend in noisy environments, it may be worth spending more for better noise cancellation. On the flip side, if you just need to filter out some noise at home or in the office, you can save a bit of money with a product with serviceable noise cancellation.
Another major consideration is the form factor. Over-ear and in-ear headphones (more commonly known as earbuds) have their own benefits and drawbacks. In this article, we’re mainly focusing on over-ear headphones, so don’t forget to check out our list of the best earbuds if you’re leaning more toward in-ears.
Battery life is another important element to keep in mind. If you’re mainly listening at home where a charger is always handy, you don’t necessarily need the same battery life as if you’re always on the go.
Similarly, a microphone is a must-have feature for some, while others will never use it. If you plan to use your headphones for calls, you’ll want to make sure that they do indeed have a built-in mic, as they won’t do you much good otherwise.
Once you’ve figured out what you need in your noise-cancelling headphones, check our recommendations for the best below.
Best Noise Cancelling Headphones Overall: Sony WH-1000XM4
- ✓ Best in class noise cancellation
- ✓ Comfortable to wear all day
- ✓ Great call quality
- ✓ Excellent battery life
- ✗ Touch controls can be finicky
For years, Bose was the leader when it came to noise cancellation in headphones, even if not everyone was a fan of the sonic signature. Sony has since claimed that throne and the Sony WH-1000XM4 shows exactly why that is.
Sony’s noise cancellation has been the best in its class for at least two headphone iterations now, and that isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. On the Amazon page for the Sony WH-1000XM4, the company claims that these headphones offer a 20 percent increase in noise cancellation over the previous generation.
That said, noise cancellation is far from all these headphones have to offer. The 40mm drivers feature a broad 4 Hz to 40 kHz frequency range, which pairs with Sony’s DSEE Extreme processing to make streamed music sound near-lossless in quality.
The XM4s also features touch sensor controls for playback, volume, and interacting with your phone’s virtual assistant. They’ll automatically pause and resume playback as you take them off and put them back on as well. If call quality is important, you’ll appreciate the clarity of the built-in mic.
Finally, the Sony WH-1000XM4 features a 1,200 mAh battery that can provide up to 30 hours of playtime, depending on the playback volume. Don’t worry about running it down, either, as a quick 10-minute charge can get you up to five more hours of listening time.
Best Noise Cancelling Headphones Overall
The leader of the pack when it comes to noise-canceling headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM4 are an easy choice for the go-to pick.
Best Budget Noise Cancelling Headphones: Philips SHP9600
- ✓ Wide sound signature
- ✓ Good noise isolation
- ✓ Soft earpads are very comfortable
- ✗ Technically these are noise isolating, not noise canceling
- ✗ Anyone nearby may hear what you’re listening to
If you’re always listening to music, a good set of noise-isolating headphones can be just as useful as a set of noise-cancelling headphones. The Philips SHP9600 is a great example of this.
Unlike active noise cancellation, noise isolation doesn’t require mics or processing. Instead, it just provides an amount of passive isolation between your ears and the world around you. These headphones don’t do much when they’re not plugged in but start listening to a song and everything else melts away.
Sure, this won’t drown out a crying baby on a plane, but if you’re looking to block out a distracting conversation nearby, these headphones are perfect. As a bonus, because you’re not paying for noise cancellation, the extra money you do pay is going more toward the overall audio quality of the headphones.
One issue to mention is that these are open-back headphones. For the listener, that means a wider soundstage and a better overall stereo image. However, that also means everyone nearby can hear what you’re listening to, albeit quietly. If you’re in a normally quiet environment, these headphones may not be the best.
If you’re looking for an affordable set of headphones with a focus on sound quality, go for the Philips SHP9600, but remember they’re noise isolating, not noise-cancelling.
Best Budget Noise Cancelling Headphones
Okay, so they’re technically noise isolating, but they sound so good for the price that you’ll be busy paying attention to your music.
Best Noise Cancelling Headphones Under $100: OneOdio A30
- ✓ Comparatively flat but still fun sound signature
- ✓ Surprisingly light and comfortable
- ✓ Great battery life for the price
- ✗ Noise cancellation isn’t up to par with the best of the best
If you’re looking for active noise cancellation in an affordable set of headphones, it quickly becomes a game of which trade-offs you’re willing to accept. But despite the low price, the OneOdio A30 manages to nail many of the most important features.
Unlike many headphones under $100, the OneAdio A30 favors a relatively flat sound signature. These aren’t exactly reference-class headphones, but they’re far from the V-shaped EQ profile you’ll hear on many headphones, no matter the price range.
Noise cancellation isn’t as effective as you’ll find in more expensive models, but it does an admirable job for the price. The A30s do a better job canceling noise near the bass end of the spectrum and higher up, but it comes up somewhat lacking in the midrange.
This means that while the headphones will filter out the low rumble of a train commute or a high-pitched whistle, it doesn’t filter the human voice so well. There are times when you might actually prefer this type of cancellation—such as ensuring you can hear co-workers—but this isn’t something you’ll always want.
Using Bluetooth and ANC, you’ll manage about 15 hours before you need a charge, though turning off both can get you up to as high as 45 hours of playback time.
Best Noise Cancelling Headphones Under $100
You may not have ever heard of them, but the OneOdio A30 are a surprisingly capable set of headphones for the price, even if the noise cancellation isn’t as good as the big names.
- ✓ 11 different types of noise cancellation
- ✓ Adaptive mic is great for frequent calls
- ✓ Easy to use touch controls
- ✗ Bose QC45 have longer battery life
With its latest bid to reclaim the noise-cancelling crown, Bose might not have dethroned Sony, but they might be getting close. The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 might well be the most feature-packed set of headphones from the brand to date.
Instead of a “one size fits all” style of noise cancellation, Bose opted to use 11 different types of noise cancellation in the 700, meaning you can tailor it to what you’re listening to. Various modes favor music, podcasts, videos, or calls, letting you choose precisely what works best for you.
Bose advertises the 700s as a home office system in a box, letting you effortlessly switch between listening to music and taking calls. To that end, the company focused on the voice communication aspect. The adaptive mic system aims to make sure that your voice is heard, regardless of where you might be at a given time.
Bose claims a maximum playback time of up to 20 hours, which is more than enough if you’re regularly charging the headphones overnight. Keep in mind that listening at higher volumes will reduce that battery life, so you may not get that much out of these headphones.
While the Bose QC45s might be newer, the addition of Bluetooth 5.1 and four more hours of battery life isn’t a major upgrade, and you end up missing out on the touch controls. If you really need the additional battery life, though, the QC45s are also a good replacement.
Best Wireless/Bluetooth Noise Cancelling Headphones
- ✓ Works as standard headphones with ANC turned off
- ✓ Up to 40 hours battery life
- ✓ Uses standard AAA battery
- ✗ No built-in mic
Wireless headphones continue to explode in popularity, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that wired noise-cancelling headphones are becoming hard to find. Some wireless models do let you plug in, but if you’re looking for a wired-only set of cans with noise-cancelling, take a look at the Panasonic RP-HC800-K.
One of the best features of the RP-HC800-K is that if you turn off the ANC, they turn into a standard set of headphones, with no battery required. The battery is still required to power the noise cancellation, even thought thse are wired headphones.
This means you don’t have to worry about suddenly being without sound should the battery give up the ghost. It also means that in situations where you don’t absolutely need noise cancelling, you can turn off that feature and save the battery life for when you do. To that end, instead of using a built-in battery, these use a standard AAA battery, which can get you up to 40 hours of playback.
From their product images, it Panasonic built these headphones for anyone looking to block out noise in an office environment. That makes sense, as the noise cancellation will work well in that type of setting. Take it into a noisier situation, and you might find it somewhat lacking.
If you’re looking for a set of noise cancelling headphones for calls, look elsewhere, as these don’t feature a built-in mic.
Best Wired Noise Cancelling Headphones
If you love noise cancellation but you don’t need wireless connectivity or a built-in microphone, the Panasonic RP-HC800-K headphones are a great match for you.
Best In-Ear Noise Cancelling Headphones: Sony WF-1000XM4/B
- ✓ Noise cancellation is nearly as good as their larger sibling
- ✓ Excellent overall sound quality
- ✓ Comfortable despite somewhat larger size
- ✓ Great call quality
- ✗ Fit is an important factor in how well noise cancellation works
The model numbers can be a little confusing here, but we’re not talking about our best overall pick. The Sony WF-1000XM4/B have the same noise cancellation technology and similar features, but unlike their larger sibling, these are a set of earbuds, not over-ear cans.
These are true wireless in-ear earbuds, so you don’t need to worry about a cable dangling around your neck. They’re somewhat larger than Apple AirPods, for example, but still small enough that you’re not going to feel the weight of them while you’re wearing them.
If call quality is paramount to you, this could be the best entry on this list for you. Not only does Sony’s beam-forming microphone zero in on your voice, but it also uses bone conduction to get a clear signal of what you’re saying, even in noisier environments.
The noise cancellation is slightly less effective than the larger siblings, but that is only because of the smaller size of the drivers. If you compare the Sony WF-1000XM4/B to other similar models of in-ears in their price range, the noise cancellation is still tough to beat.
Considering the smaller overall size, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the battery life is lower than its over-ear counterpart. That said, it offers eight hours of playback on a single charge, and Sony says the charging case adds up to 16 hours to that time.
Best In-Ear Noise Cancelling Headphones