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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

54 Models Considered
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123 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

Shopping guide for best noise-cancelling headphones

Last Updated March 2019

If you’re looking for isolated music listening or just a moment of quiet, noise-cancelling headphones are a great way to block out the world. Designs vary in their noise-cancelling method and headphone style, so it’s important to know your needs before making a purchase.

Passive noise-cancelling headphones use padding to dull the noise of your surroundings. Comparatively, active noise-cancelling headphones have a microphone that listen to surrounding sounds and target them for a truly isolating experience. The latter is more expensive but may offer the performance you need. You should also consider what style of headphones you prefer and whether you want wireless connectivity.

Noise cancelling headphones can be an investment, and they can last for years, so you should know what features and style you are looking for before buying a new pair of headphones. If you are ready to make a purchase, take a look at our top recommendations.

By reducing ambient noise, a good pair of active noise-cancelling headphones can help you remain alert longer.

Traditional vs. noise-cancelling headphones

Just about anyone can appreciate the isolation provided by a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones. But with the higher price tag, they may not be the best option for everyone.

Casual listeners might find noise-cancellation unnecessary and be fine with a decent pair of traditional headphones or earbuds. But if you’re an audiophile who wants to hear nothing but the music, noise-cancelling headphones will give you the best sound when you’re away from home.

For those who work in a loud environment, nothing else can create privacy as effectively. Some models are designed specifically for extremely noisy environments, such as construction sites. If you do opt to use a pair at work, make sure the noise reduction rating (NRR) meets your needs and the standards of your workplace.

Superior quality and noise cancellation

These wireless over-ear headphones are the best noise-cancelling headphones available. The impressive battery life lasts up to 20 hours, and they charge fairly quickly. Features include dual microphones for clear phone calls even in noisy environment, a free app for personalizing your settings, and exceptional comfort.

How noise-cancelling headphones work

There are two types of noise-cancelling headphones: passive and active.

Passive: These headphones use materials like high-density foam to physically block and muffle sound. Over-ear headphones tend to be best at this, but some on-ear headphones and earbuds offer passive noise cancellation as well. These headphones work for lower-volume environments and won’t provide the dynamic noise cancellation offered by active models. However, they are almost always less expensive.

Active: These noise-cancelling headphones use a microphone to “listen” to outside sounds. Using this information, the headphones create sound that eliminates the outside noise through a process called destructive interference. This is a superior way of blocking sound that allows you to enjoy your music in an artificial bubble. Some people find that they hear a slight rumble with active noise-cancelling headphones, which can be distracting and disturb their listening experience. Active noise cancellation also needs extra power. Even wired headphones will need another power source – usually a battery – for noise cancellation. These headphones are generally more expensive than passive models.

CAUTION

Hearing nothing but your music is great, but you should always remain alert and aware of your surroundings. Wearing noise-cancelling (or any) headphones while driving isn’t recommended and may be illegal where you live.

Noise-cancelling headphone features to consider

Construction and design

Headphones vary in weight, shape, and style. Heavier headphones are often bulkier and can be uncomfortable for some people to wear, but they can work well for shorter commutes. If you plan to wear your headphones for several hours, look for a lightweight model with good reviews for comfort. Take note of the materials used, too, particularly in the headband and ear cushions. Leather and synthetic leather tend to be the most comfortable when it comes to padding. And durability is another important factor, particularly if you plan to carry your headphones with you.

Fit

You have three choices: earbuds, on-ear, and over-ear headphones.

  • Earbuds will almost always offer lower sound quality and isolation than traditional noise-cancelling headphones, but they’re highly portable and generally less expensive.

  • On-ear: These headphones are lighter and generally more portable than over-ear models, but they don’t usually block out sound as effectively.

  • Over-ear headphones create a seal against your head that physically blocks outside noise. Many people find them more comfortable than other types, but they are bulkier, less portable, and often more expensive than other types. But when it comes to over-ear versus on-ear designs, there is no right answer. It mostly comes down to personal preference.
     

Wired vs. wireless

  • Wired: These headphones are the classic choice for a reason. They’re easy to use and produce the best sound. By plugging into a digital-to-analog converter (DAC), you can get the best possible quality. If you’re using your headphones with your phone, you might need to use a cable converter (newer iPhone and Pixel phones lack a headphone jack). Additionally, you’ll still need batteries with most models to power the active noise-cancelling technology.

  • Wireless: If you regularly listen on the go or need mobility while you enjoy your music, wireless headphones might be your best option. By connecting to your device via Bluetooth, wireless headphones offer comfort and convenience, and the batteries can usually last for several hours. However, you’ll need to recharge the headphones regularly, and the battery may eventually wear out. Wireless headphones often produce lower-quality sound than wired models, and there’s also the risk of losing your connection.
     

Compatibility

With wireless noise-cancelling headphones, it’s crucial that you ensure your devices are compatible. Most headphones will indicate which operating systems they can connect to.

Additional features

Though the main functions of noise-cancelling headphones are generally similar, there are a handful of additional features that may suit your needs. If you’re on a budget, there’s no need to pay for features you won’t use.

  • Volume control: Many headphones have built-in volume control, usually in the form of a button on the cable or one of the ear cups. While not necessary, it’s a handy feature to have, especially for commuters who would rather keep their phones in their pocket.

  • Microphone: If you plan to use your headphones for video calls or phone calls, you’ll need a good built-in microphone with clear output. In addition, it’s useful to find a pair of headphones that allow for multiple audio sources, in case you want to use Bluetooth to pair with more than one device to listen to music and make a call at the same time.

  • Smart assistant compatibility: If you regularly rely on a smart assistant, there’s no guarantee your headphones will be compatible even if they have a microphone. If this is a dealbreaker for you, check for smart assistant compatibility before you buy.

  • Variable noise cancellation: This might sound counterintuitive, but it can be great to have in offices or other social environments. Variable noise cancellation allows you to change the settings to let in some outside noise. This feature can only be found in active noise-cancelling headphones.

  • Carrying case: Some headphones may include a carrying case, offering a way to store your headphones and carry things like charging cables and batteries. The extra bulk may not appeal to some, but the extra protection might be worth it.

  • Style and color: If you wear your headphones every day, they become a part of your style. Most noise-cancelling headphones come in a few color options, so you can pick a style and color that fit with or complement your wardrobe.
EXPERT TIP

You don’t have to listen to music to block outside sounds. You can simply turn on your noise-cancelling headphones to isolate yourself in a bubble of silence.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

Comfort is key. Look for headphones that won’t irritate your ears after extensive use, are easily adjustable, and are wearable with glasses if necessary.


Staff  | BestReviews

Noise-cancellation headphone prices

Noise-cancelling headphones range greatly in price, but they’re generally more expensive than traditional headphones.

For $20 to $50, you can get earbuds with passive noise cancellation and some active noise-cancellation headphones. Products in this range offer lower sound quality and passable noise cancellation.

Models costing $60 to $150 offer passive or active noise cancellation and may be wired or wireless. These usually have sound quality that will please most but underwhelm audiophiles.

In the $160 to $300 range are high-quality headphones that offer excellent sound and sometimes different noise-cancelling settings.

Headphones that cost more than $300 generally produce sound that will disappoint no one and offer the best noise cancellation available.

Affordable comfort

These are great day-to-day headphone for blocking out ambient noise. The light weight means you can wear them for hours on end, and the foldable design makes it easy to take your headphones with you wherever you go. Excellent battery time (but replacing the AAA battery will cost extra over time). Still, decent noise cancellation for a budget-friendly price.

Tips

  • Keep batteries or the charge cable with you, especially if you’re traveling. You don’t want to lose access to the noise-cancelling capabilities while on a plane or at the office.

  • Care for your headphones. Use a cloth or paper towel dampened with rubbing alcohol or dish detergent and water. Gently wipe down the padding of the ear cups, and dry gently. Care may vary for delicate materials like leather.

  • Turn off your headphones when they’re not in use. This will extend the life of the battery.

Other products we considered

There are plenty of noise-cancelling headphones on the market with different features and styles. We focused on headphones with reliable active noise cancellation, but there are many models to choose from. We love the Koss QZ-99 for the rugged design and impressive passive noise cancellation. The price is quite low, and it’s difficult to damage these over-ear headphones, making them a good choice for teens or use at sporting events. If you prefer earbuds, you might find the Mpow D7 earbuds meet your needs. With decent battery life and Bluetooth connectivity, these do a great job of passively blocking out a good amount of noise.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re listening to music, watching a video, or catching up on your favorite podcast, noise-cancelling headphones can improve your listening experience.

FAQ

Q. Can noise-cancelling headphones protect your hearing?

A. Absolutely. Most active models can block up to 20 decibels. While this doesn’t come close to the maximum volume levels of subways or busy streets, it’s that much less noise that your eardrums have to endure.

Q. What happens if the battery dies in wired headphones?

A. You won’t get any more noise cancellation, but you can continue listening to your music. But since this turns your noise-cancelling headphones into traditional headphones, you’ll want to replace the battery when you can.

Q. Can an amplifier improve the sound quality of my headphones?

A. If you have a pair of passive noise-cancelling headphones, an amplifier can be a worthwhile investment for high-quality sound. Active models effectively have built-in amplifiers, so an external amplifier won’t make a significant difference.

The team that worked on this review
  • Alvina
    Alvina
    Photographer
  • Amos
    Amos
    Director of Photography
  • Branson
    Branson
    Videographer
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Ciera
    Ciera
    Production Assistant
  • Devangana
    Devangana
    Web Producer
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Katie
    Katie
    Editorial Director
  • Peter
    Peter
    Writer
  • Steph
    Steph
    Web Producer

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