Best noise-cancelling headphones 2024 – tested by our experts

Best noise-cancelling headphones: quick menu

Are you fed up with crying babies, noisy engines and office chit-chat interrupting your music? We hear you... and have a solution. The best noise-cancelling headphones can help block disruptive noise around you, whether that's in the office, on a train or plane, or just around the house, ensuring you can enjoy your music playlists and podcasts uninterrupted.

Our in-house expert reviews team has tested hundreds of active noise-cancelling (ANC) headphones since the first pair from Bose surfaced three decades ago and is pleased to report that the rising presence of sound-blocking functionality in headphones in recent years has certainly gone hand in hand with increased quality. Not only is ANC reaching truly isolating levels, but sound quality is also ever-improving while smart features such as spatial audio are arriving on the scene too.

Every pair on this page has been rigorously reviewed by our experts – who have over 150 years of collective testing experience – and represents the best of its kind at its price point. Indeed, comparative testing is a big part of how we test noise-cancelling headphones: we keep our favourite pairs on-site so that every arrival can be put directly against the best-in-class competition. That way, you know you're getting a true winner.

Speaking of which, here are our picks of the best noise-cancelling headphones...

After in-ears specifically? Check out our expert best noise-cancelling earbuds picks instead.

The quick list

Recent updates

May 2024: No new entries this time, but the just-announced Sonos Ace look very promising. Could they replace the AirPods Max in this list? We'll find out very shortly.

Written by
About Us
Written by
Becky Roberts

As the managing editor of What Hi-Fi?, with over a decade of audio reviewing experience, I've listened to hundreds of pairs of headphones, many of which have included active noise-cancelling technology. I'm a keen traveller, so I quickly learnt the value of ANC on trains and planes! While benchmark sound quality is a huge priority when it comes to choosing the best noise-cancellers, so too is sound-blocking ability. Battery life and all-day comfort are also important considerations. To that end, you can rest assured that every pair below is an excellent all-rounder and class leader at its respective price.

Best noise-cancelling headphones overall

What Hi-Fi? Awards winner. Sony’s top wireless headphones are fabulous all-rounders

Specifications

Bluetooth: SBC, AAC, LDAC
Bluetooth Multipoint: Yes
Battery life: 30hr
Charging: USB-C
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Transparency mode: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Sensational sonic clarity
+
Excellent ANC
+
Punchy and precise, agile bass

Reasons to avoid

-
Build seems less premium than previous XM4
-
Don’t fold away completely
-
No aptX Bluetooth support

Sony's latest wireless noise-cancelling headphones are the best-value pair and our favourite overall, as their current What Hi-Fi? Award attests to.

It can be tricky for a manufacturer to push the sound performance of a product consistently from generation to generation, but that is what Sony has managed to do with the WH-1000XM5 headphones.

When we saw the official pictures of the XM5, we were more than a bit surprised. We wondered whether it was sensible to give one of Sony’s biggest success stories in recent memory – the previous WH-1000XM4, which are still knocking around as cheaper alternatives – a major overhaul. But it paid off. 

The Sony XM5 headphones might feel a little less classy than before, but the jump in sound quality from the previous generation is a big one and once again sees Sony sit at the top of the pile. If you're looking for a new pair of wireless noise-cancelling headphones, your auditioning should start here. 

That said, the more analytical and stylish B&W Px7 S2e are worth stretching to if budget allows, while the older Sony XM4 are still worth snapping up if you find the XM5 too pricey. Wondering where Bose's rivals fit into all of this? The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones block sound better and are on level terms for sound quality, but they are significantly more expensive. The closest price match, the Bose QuietComfort 45, are not recommendable over the Sonys, but they have recently been replaced (by non-'45' models) which we are yet to go twelve rounds with.

Read our full Sony WH-1000XM5 review

Best cheap noise-cancelling headphones

What Hi-Fi? Awards winner. The best noise-cancelling headphones you can buy on a budget

Specifications

Bluetooth: SBC, AAC
Bluetooth Multipoint: No
Battery life: 25hr
Charging: USB-C
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Transparency mode: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Clear, direct sound presentation
+
Decent ANC for the price
+
Solid build quality at this level

Reasons to avoid

-
A little over-enthusiastic in the bass
-
No case or foldability

The What Hi-Fi? Award-winning Sony WH-CH720N are the best over-ear ANC headphones we’ve tested at this more affordable price.

As headphones go, we were outright gobsmacked by how well they performed, both in our listening rooms and in the real world, with our experts finding they matched – and at points beat – significantly more expensive sets in many areas.

The navy blue set we tested looked wonderfully unassuming, and while the WH-CH720N don’t fold down or come with a carry case, as their more expensive sibling the Sony WH-1000XM5 (above) do, we found them surprisingly comfortable to wear. 

Noise-cancelling performance is also excellent. While pricier pairs like the XM5 and Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones offer undeniably more effective ANC, the WH-CH720N did manage to dampen background noise during morning commutes reliably – an achievement most affordable sets fail to manage.

The ANC also didn’t completely eat the WH-CH720N’s battery, with our reviews team generally getting a full week’s use out of them.

As a final perk, they also sound pretty darned good considering their price. With all our test music across multiple genres, the WH-CH720N delivered a confident and enthusiastic performance. Our only minor qualm is that on a few occasions, the Sony’s could deliver excessive bass, but at this price that’s hardly a deal breaker. In fact, if you like lots of bass and your budget sits somewhere between the WH-CH720N and XM5, you might want to check out Sony's brand-new, bass-boosted ULT Wear headphones.

At this price, we haven't found another pair that comes close to the WH-CH720N's all-round appeal. Want more choice at the budget end of the market? Check out our dedicated page for the best cheap noise-cancelling headphones.

Read our Sony WH-CH720N review

Best premium noise-cancelling headphones

Worth their premium price for their step-up sound and ANC performance – particularly for Apple users

Specifications

Bluetooth: AAC, SBC
Bluetooth Multipoint: No
Battery life: 20hrs
Charging: Lightning
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Transparency mode: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Superb audio and noise-cancelling
+
Cinematic spatial audio
+
Exceptional build quality

Reasons to avoid

-
Near-pointless case
-
Audio cable not included
-
Apple-only features

When Apple released its first over-ear headphones in 2020, they were priced above the current crop of premium wireless ANC models – your Sony WH-XMs (above), your Bose QuietComforts and your Sennheiser Momentums, for example. Thankfully, the AirPods Max justified their extra expense with superior sound quality, not to mention a gorgeous design and (then-unique) spatial audio support.

Pricier pairs have since surfaced, no doubt given the green light by the AirPods Max's arrival – one such pair is below. But for the money (and especially if you can get a deal on them), the AirPods Max are still hugely recommendable – particularly for Apple users who will be able to benefit from certain features like spatial audio for music and movies, and the ability to connect to two Apple devices at once. They will work with non-Apple products using standard Bluetooth 5.0, but you’ll miss out on many of their unique features.

Assuming you are a keen Apple user, the AirPods Max are among the very best wireless headphones you can buy. Their authenticity, detail, crispness and spaciousness elevate them so far above the previous crop of wireless noise-cancellers deemed 'premium' that the comparison starts to become a little redundant, and you instead begin to consider them alongside proper hi-fi products.

Read our Apple AirPods Max review

Best audiophile noise-cancelling headphones

Next-level sound quality and very decent ANC justify the sky-high price tag

Specifications

Bluetooth: aptX Adaptive, LDAC, AAC
Bluetooth Multipoint: Yes
Battery life: 34hrs
Charging: USB-C
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Transparency mode: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Exceptional wireless performance
+
Decent ANC effectiveness
+
Build quality in-line with price

Reasons to avoid

-
Inaccessible price for most
-
Basic on-cup controls

The aesthetic of these high-end wireless noise-cancelling headphones might not be to everyone's taste, but their build quality and performance are nothing short of remarkable.

The Mark Levinson No. 5909 perform substantially better than the class-leading crop of slightly cheaper (but still very premium) competition – think the Apple AirPods Max (above) and Focal Bathys – and for not much extra now that they have been reduced from their original £999/$999/AU$1599 RRP.

If we hadn’t unboxed the Levinsons and gone through the simple Bluetooth pairing process ourselves, we would have been tempted to check for any wires dangling from the earcups. While the No. 5909’s performance is still short of the best available from similarly priced wired headphones, it’s easily among the best wireless headphones performance we’ve heard. In fact, the only wireless pair we've come across that performs better is the T+A Solitaire T at £1200/$1600/AU$2160.

The Mark Levinsons physically block sound more than most noise-cancelling pairs due to their substantial build and solid-yet-satisfactory clamp force, and we admire the consistency of their sonic character and quality when ANC is on and off – not by any means a given for noise-cancelling wireless headphones. 

For anyone who is after the convenience of wireless and ANC without sacrificing too much sound quality, the No.5909 are highly recommendable.

Read our full Mark Levinson No. 5909 review

Best cheap noise-cancelling earbuds

What Hi-Fi? Awards winner. Affordable wireless ANC earbuds that deliver sensational value for money

Specifications

Bluetooth: AAC, SBC
Bluetooth Multipoint: Yes
Battery life: 7.5hrs (+7.5hrs from charging case)
Charging: USB-C
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Transparency mode: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Very comfortable, all-day fit
+
Detailed, dynamic and musical sound
+
Decent ANC for the money

Reasons to avoid

-
Charging case doesn't add a lot to battery life
-
No aptX or LDAC Bluetooth support

Looking for the best noise-cancelling earbuds as opposed to over-ears? Sony's excellent value WF-C700N slot neatly between the budget (non-noise-cancelling) WF-C500 and flagship WF-1000XM5, both of which feature on our list of the best wireless earbuds overall.

The C700N are nicely compact, but what's really impressive is how their lightweight design actually helps to make them even more comfortable than the more premium Sony XM5. They are supremely comfy and almost unbelievably well-made considering the price. 

Sony's value buds do lack high-quality aptX HD and LDAC Bluetooth codec support, but crucially they do feature noise-cancelling technology. Adaptive Sound Control automatically switches listening modes depending on your location, and Sony's DSEE (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) upscales low-res digital audio files to higher quality, a truly impressive feature at this level. A software update has seen Bluetooth Multipoint also added so you can be connected to two devices simultaneously.

Best of all, Sony's knack for a sound profile that feels energetic yet nuanced and well-balanced is fully on display with the C700N, with deep, detailed bass, expressive mids and engaging highs. They're a very musical listen for the money and a clear step up from the cheaper WF-C500, so you're not just paying extra for ANC and a few added features.

Downsides? The charging case only provides one extra charge which seems a little mean. But the superb sound and great feature set make these easy to recommend as some of the best Sony headphones available.

Read our full Sony WF-C700N review

Top Tip
Andy Madden bio pic
Top Tip
Andy Madden

I haven't come across a pair of wireless earbuds that offers this much value for money for some time. They sound musical, mature, refined and detailed. In our WF-C700N review, we said that “there’s a fantastic sense of power and drive on display that grabs your attention and hooks you into the song”. They also boast impressive levels of comfort, 7.5 hours of battery life, a rechargeable carry case and, of course, that all-important noise-cancelling functionality. 

Best premium noise-cancelling earbuds

Bose's top-tier earbuds lead the noise-cancelling field – and sound the business too

Specifications

Bluetooth: SBC, AAC
Bluetooth Multipoint: No
Battery life: 6hrs (24hrs with charging case)
Charging: USB-C
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Transparency mode: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Class-leading ANC
+
Punchy, musical sound
+
Solid, weighty bass

Reasons to avoid

-
Immersive Audio severely impacts battery life
-
No multipoint Bluetooth
-
No wireless charging

The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds are more than just a new lick of paint over the previous QuietComfort Earbuds II they replace; they usher in a new 'Ultra' line of headphones with a revised design, new features and an improved sound.

Interesting is the addition of Immersive Audio, the company’s take on spatial audio technology. It essentially aims to get the sound 'out of your head' so that it feels more like you're listening to a pair of stereo speakers than a pair of headphones. Its ambition is impressive, though we found it a little hit-and-miss during testing so it isn't, in our minds, an imperative feature.

We’d be worried if the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds weren’t competitive on the ANC front, mind you, given Bose's history in the field. Thankfully and not at all surprisingly, we can confirm they’re still arguably the class leaders in this department. They’re able to effectively silence even the noisiest environments, whether it's the rumble of heavy machinery as you walk past a building site or the loud chatter and sound system of a crowded pub.

As for sound quality, Bose has stayed true to the character it settled on years ago. There’s a familiar richness and fullness to the sound, but the new Ultra have a bit more of a skip in their step too, sounding a touch punchier and a little clearer in their delivery. A welcome move indeed.

It's a tough call between the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds vs Sony WF-1000XM5. The Sonys took the latest What Hi-Fi? Award at this price point for their more impressive feature set and an analytical sound we just about preferred over the Boses' more energetic, fun one. But the Boses are more comfortable and do have more comprehensive noise-cancelling technology, making them more attractive to those who prioritise ANC.

Read our full Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds review

Top Tip
Andy Madden bio pic
Top Tip
Andy Madden

Immersive Audio is Bose’s take on spatial audio; it works with any stereo music to try to add a layer of extra spatialisation to the sound. While we’re not 100 per cent sold on the technology, we would still suggest it’s worth having a play with to hear the effects for yourself. It should work out of the box, and there is an option to recalibrate the headphones should the mode sound completely out of sorts. Head to the main menu then select Immersive Audio to have a listen.

Also consider

  • Focal Bathys: If style is important to you, Focal's premium ANC Bluetooth over-ear headphones are great alternatives to the Mark Levinsons and AirPods Max picks on this page. They have a compellingly big, spacious, clear and full-bodied sound, coupled with a gorgeous design and the bonus of high-quality aptX Adaptive Bluetooth and USB-C wired listening.
  • Sony WF-1000XM5: While the premium Bose earbuds boast the best ANC we have ever come across in a pair of buds, these Sonys come very close to their sound-blocking ability and offer a slightly more insightful sound. They're more affordable, too.
  • Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2e: If you like the sound of the Sony WH-1000XM5 on this page but can stretch your budget a little further, consider these B&Ws. They're considerably more stylish in our eyes and take the edge when it comes to sonic insight. The complete portable headphones package, inside and out. We simply find the cheaper Sonys better value when it comes down to the wire.

How to choose the best noise-cancelling headphones for you

Noise-cancelling tends to go hand in hand with wireless Bluetooth connectivity; you'll find few wired ANC pairs these days, which is logical considering noise-cancelling is associated with portability. Indeed, it's one of the key differences between wireless and wired headphones. That wireless/ANC combination gives you both the freedom of no wires and the isolation to block out sound on the go. Meanwhile, battery life often now pushes north of 24 hours.

Most pairs of ANC (active noise-cancelling) headphones not only include microphones to cancel out external sound but also to allow for chatting with friends and family, or for those video meetings that are all the rage these days.

The two most important things to consider are whether having different levels of ANC is important to you or whether you want an over-ear or in-ear pair. The best noise-cancelling over-ears tend to isolate you pretty substantially, while the effect is certainly noticeable but generally less severe in earbuds. Both styles offer ANC for affordable prices below £100 / $100 / AU$150 these days, though.

Some pairs simply allow you to switch ANC on or off, which is fine if you're listening to them on a train or plane. Other models, however, give you greater flexibility and the ability to adjust the intensity of the noise cancellation effect in a companion app based on the scenario you are using them in. (Some can even do this automatically.) You might also want to allow external noise through if you're using them in traffic-heavy areas, so most ANC headphones today feature a 'Transparency Mode' that, when activated, temporarily allows for just that.

Another increasingly popular feature of wireless noise-cancelling headphones to look out for is Bluetooth Multipoint, which lets you connect more than one device to your headphones at the same time, allowing you to, for example, listen to music through your laptop but seamlessly switch over to your phone when a call comes in.

You should also note the Bluetooth codec support of your phone or other source device and look for that same support in your noise-cancelling headphones – if they both support, say, LDAC or aptX HD, you will benefit from more efficient wireless transmission and therefore better sound quality.

Battery life with ANC activated is pretty decent across the board nowadays, with 30 hours offered by many over-ear headphones and 20+ hours by in-ear earbuds.

How we test noise-cancelling headphones

While we have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London and Reading, where our in-house team of experienced reviewers test the majority of hi-fi and AV kit that passes through our door, noise-cancelling headphones are different beasts whose testing requires everyday use on the go in different – and yes, noisy – environments.

Therefore, we use noise-cancelling pairs under review in an office, amidst street noise, on public transport and, when we can, even on a plane. We judge a pair on its ANC effectiveness as well as its portability, comfort levels and battery life, and naturally sound quality is king in forming our verdicts and star ratings too.

As What Hi-Fi? is all about comparative testing, each pair we review is compared to the best in its price and style class – whether that's one standout pair or a few we favour most among the many models we listen to each year for reviews and during the What Hi-Fi? Awards judging. We keep class-leading products in our stockrooms so we can always compare new products to rival ones we know and love and see how they perform contextually in the market.

All review verdicts are agreed upon by the team rather than an individual reviewer to eliminate any personal preference and to make sure we're being as thorough as possible, too. There's no input from PR companies or our sales team when it comes to the verdict, with What Hi-Fi? proud of having delivered honest, unbiased reviews for decades.

Read more about how we test and review products at What Hi-Fi?

Recent updates

F.A.Q.

Which headphones block out the most noise?

Thankfully, this one is relatively easy. Our current pick as the best noise-cancelling headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM5 – which you will find at number one in our list on this very page – offer great active noise-cancelling performance. Partner that with excellent sound, a good fit and decent build, and that's why we think they're the best option for most people. Unlike some features, i.e. sound quality, it's not the case that you can spend more and more for better and better performance. If noise-cancelling is your key concern, you can be more than content with these Sonys. 

Is noise-cancelling worth it in headphones?

Yes, we certainly think so. If you spend any time listening to music (or podcasts) in a loud environment, then noise-cancelling is a real game-changer. ANC is the difference between being able to hear the heated discussion on your radio show, and simply not being able to – or having to turn the volume up and up in order to hear it clearly. And it's the same for music. So for noise offices, loud trains, or just busy households, we're serious fans of the noise-cancelling technology. 

Do 100% noise-cancelling headphones exist?

In a word, no. But almost. You'll be hard-pressed to find headphones capable of blocking out absolutely all noise-cancelling headphones but the best over-ear models (which are on this list), will block out a huge amount of outside noise. This ANC tech alongside a good, over-ear noise-isolating fit for the headphone cups (more on that below), will ensure only the loudest and closest noises penetrate your sonic cocoon. 

What is the difference between noise cancelling and noise blocking headphones?

Active noise cancelling (ANC) technology means your headphones have tiny microphones on the outer housing of the headphones that listen to the noise around you and quickly create an artificial sonic mirror image of that external sound. If you produce one sound wave with the same amplitude but opposite phase, you get something called an antiphase. Added together, the two sounds cancel each other out. The result? Silence (or near enough). Clever, eh? You can read a more detailed explanation on our page about how active noise-cancelling technology works.

Can noise cancelling headphones damage your ears?

Noise-cancelling headphones specifically will not damage your ears or give you tinnitus. This damage happens if you listen to music at high volume for extended periods of time – and we tend to be referring to sound levels found in clubs, bars and other music venues. But certainly, like with any headphones, you shouldn't listen at loud volumes for a long time. However, if anything, noise-cancelling headphones will allow you to listen at lower volumes, as you don't need to turn the volume up to counter outside noise. 

Becky Roberts

Becky is the managing editor of What Hi-Fi? and, since her recent move to Melbourne, also the editor of Australian Hi-Fi magazine. During her 10 years in the hi-fi industry, she has been fortunate enough to travel the world to report on the biggest and most exciting brands in hi-fi and consumer tech (and has had the jetlag and hangovers to remember them by). In her spare time, Becky can often be found running, watching Liverpool FC and horror movies, and hunting for gluten-free cake.

With contributions from
  • David Homer
    BE WARNED: The Sony WH-1000XM4 are NOT rated for sports. I had a pair I used during lockdown for spin classes and they packed in completely - Sony couldn't fix them and said that they're not covered by warranty if they get wet (clearly you can't get sweaty with them without throwing away £300)!
    Reply
  • 0rdep
    What about soundcore Liberty pro 3? Better than 90% of the above list
    Reply
  • stripeycat
    In the interests of flagging what I (and other internet users) consider to be a glaring design flaw in these and their predecessors, the mx3, glaring enough to warrant not actually purchasing the product as a result, it is worth noting for anyone fastidious enough to make their way to the comments module of articles such as this that the outer plastic slider component that attaches the earpiece assembly to the headband and allows this to move up and down to account for different head sizes is extremely flimsy and is prone to snapping with a very limited amount of careful use (eg. on no more than twenty separate occasions while sitting at a seated desk over the lockdown period).

    This plastic slider CANNOT be replaced without completely disassembling the entire right earpiece component which includes desoldering 10 microwires from the board housed inside this unit. The slider itself can also not be purchased from the manufacturer but has to be sourced via third party providers such as aliexpress where the best a user can hope for is a copy manufactured in china.

    i do not care how good the sound quality in a noice cancelling headphone is if, quite frankly, i cannot use the thing after a year and a half because it will not remain on my head, and may cost me - should i agree to the prohibitive cost of repair specified by the manufacturer - £120 MINUS labour costs, in this case.

    Waiting on delivery of my new QuietComfort 45s. I don't care if it is claimed that they are 'not as good' as these things. My QC I set are still my backup headphones and are going strong after seven years. I'll continue to vote with my wallet.
    Reply
  • stripeycat
    0rdep said:
    What about soundcore library pro 3? Better than 90% of the above list
    Did you mean the Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro.
    Reply