Best noise-cancelling headphones 2023: top ANC choices rated
Want audio without distraction? The best noise-cancelling headphones cut out the background sound for superior listening
You’re probably reading these words because you typed “best noise-cancelling headphones” into Google. If so, congratulations: you’re in the right place. Take a seat and get comfy, because there are quite a few options to consider.
Don’t worry though — we’ve done all the leg work by testing out the best headphones around, so by the time you’ve scrolled down, you should have a solid shortlist.
From Sony and Bose, to Apple and Sennheiser, there are all sorts of in-ear and over-ear noise-cancelling headphones fighting for the coveted spot in (or around) your lugholes. Some excel at the noise-cancellation part. Others provide better sound. And some do both. They’re all available across different budgets, and we’ve even included some older models which still offer excellent performance, at an even better-discounted price.
So without further ado, let’s dive straight into our top picks of the best noise-cancelling headphones — because no one deserves to be bombarded with the sound of screeching tube breaks, incessant engine noises, or the piercing, soul-cleaving shriek of a toddler in full Tantrum Mode.
Our pick of the best noise-cancelling headphones to buy today
Sony has nothing to prove when it comes to noise-cancelling headphones: the WH-1000XM4 (below) were already our favourite pair. And given the brilliance of those ‘phones, we didn’t see much room for improvement. But just for fun, Sony has found a way to make the best cans even better.
New 30mm carbon fibre composite drivers offer even greater clarity, with beautifully precise sound reproduction. And Sony has further refined the noise-cancelling performance, particularly at higher frequencies. Using the same processor as the WF-1000XM4 buds below, the Sony Headphones app will auto-detect your environment and adapt settings accordingly.
There are a couple of caveats. While the WH-1000XM5 remain lightweight and easy on the ear, they no longer fold in at the arms for compact carrying. They also cost more than their predecessors did. But these minor quibbles can be quickly set aside: these are the best noise-cancellers by almost every measure.
Sony does it again, offering an unrivalled combo of great sound, noise-cancelling and comfort
Tech spec:Battery: 30 hours (ANC) • Driver size: 30mm • Weight: 250g • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2
That’s right — Sony also makes one of the best overall noise-cancelling wireless in-ear headphones too, in the form of the WF-1000XM4.
Sound quality is top-notch, with tight, balanced audio that’s as accurate as it is enjoyable. Their design is sleek, with a comfortable and secure fit, while eight hours of continuous battery life should be more than enough for most people.
Touch-sensitive controls make operation a breeze, while noise-cancellation is among the best we’ve seen from wireless ‘buds. With the same Speak to Chat feature as its over-ear sibling, it’s got all the bells and whistles you’re ever likely to need.
The WF-1000XM4 continue Sony’s long and proud tradition of building the best wireless earphones you can buy
Tech spec:Battery: 8 hours (earphones), 16 hours (case) • Driver size: 6mm • Weight: 7.3g (earbuds), 41g (case) • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2
Sennheiser Momentum 4
Equipped to compete with Sony’s all-conquering cans, Sennheiser’s undercut the class-leaders considerably. And remarkably, it’s done so without scrimping: they might be understated to the point of anonymity, but the Momentum 4 give a convincing impression of quality and longevity.
Sound is handled by a pair of 42mm full-range dynamic drivers, while eight mics are deployed for adaptive ANC, wind-suppression and clear voice pick-up. You don’t get a Bose-like blanket of silence, but whack up the ANC and background noise is considerably reduced. Audio itself is bold, detailed and thoroughly enjoyable, while battery life is simply epic at 60 hours.
Impressively specified and built to last, the Momentum 4 get plenty right at a price that gives Sony’s noise-cancelling cans a lot to think about
Tech spec:Battery: 60 hours (ANC) • Driver size: 42mm • Weight: 293g • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2
Bose QuietComfort 45
Bose spearheaded the noise-cancelling revolution – and the QC 45 over-ears showcase the company’s noise-blocking skills with masterful effect. If cutting yourself off from the madness of the world is a priority, then look no further.
While the cans are delightfully comfortable with solid sound quality, they don’t offer the best soundscape: rivals from the likes of Sony offering a tighter listening experience. Some features like auto-pause and EQ customisation are also missing. Still, if you’re a Bose fan, these remain some of the best around.
Lacking a few features we’ve come to think of as standard, Bose are still right up there when it comes to no-nonsense noise-cancelling
Tech spec:Battery: 24 hours (ANC) • Driver size: Not disclosed • Weight: 241g • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.1
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3
Building on the excellent benchmark set by their predecessors, the third generation of Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless in-ears cement their rightful presence among the best ANC earbuds. Build quality is as solid as we’ve come to expect from Sennheiser, while a 16% size reduction means the upgraded Momentum ‘buds go easier on the ears.
Touch controls can be customised through the feature-rich app. What you can’t adjust is ANC; instead you get standard, transparency and anti-wind settings to toggle through. With ANC enabled, the True Wireless 3 cancel external sounds almost entirely, without sacrificing their likeable audio balance. Favouring fidelity over forceful bass, they demonstrate remarkable detail and tonal integration. Battery life might be average at seven hours, but everything else here is convincingly premium.
Compact and comfortable, Sennheiser’s third-gen wireless earbuds offer wind-beating ANC, stacks of sonic fidelity and a feature-packed app to boot
Tech spec:Battery: 7 hours (earphones), 28 hours (case) • Driver size: 7mm • Weight: 5.8g (earbuds), 66.4g (case) • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation)
The AirPods Pro aren’t the best noise-cancelling wireless in-ears money can buy when it comes to raw sound quality. But they still sound great, have impressive noise-muting skills to help carve out some peace and quiet from loud surroundings, and they’re delightfully light and comfortable for all-day wear.
Their connection is rock-solid too, with a handy Transparency mode that lets you hear the outside world at the touch of a button, saving you from having to remove them to hear train announcements and the like. A no-brainer for iPhone users.
Apple’s AirPods Pro are fantastic wireless in-ears, with a comfortable fit and intuitive interface making for a seamless user experience – even if their sound quality doesn’t quite match up to similarly priced competitors
Tech spec:Battery: 5 hours (earphones), 19 hours (case) • Driver size: 11mm • Weight: 5.4g (earbuds), 45.6g (case) • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
Sony’s convoluted product names have a lot to answer for, but if this list proves anything, it’s that the Japanese company makes some of the best headphones in the world. Take the WH-1000XM4: since surpassed by the WH-1000XM5 (above), they remain a top choice for most people – especially if you can find them at a discount.
Lightweight and comfortable to wear, they serve up a predictably enjoyable listening experience. 40mm drivers benefit from the combined efforts of Sony’s QN1 noise-cancelling processor and Bluetooth Audio System on Chip. Working together, these adjust music and noise control more than 700 times per second. Together with an AI-powered DSEE Extreme sound processor, they’ll pump delightfully balanced tunes into your eager ears.
Throw in a Speak to Chat feature that allows you to converse with someone without having to remove them, and it’s easy to see how these cans have earned their coveted reputation.
Since surpassed, but still some of the best all-round noise-cancelling headphones you can buy
Tech spec:Battery: 30 hours (ANC) • Driver size: 40mm • Weight: 254g • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
The QuietComfort Earbuds are Bose’s first foray into the world of noise-cancelling wireless in-ears. They’re sleek, attractive and comfortable, with delightfully bassy performance to boot. Impressive noise-cancellation smarts are also bolstered by a handy Transparency mode, with 11 levels of ANC available in the app.
Battery life is around six hours per single charge – respectable, but not the best around. Still, a total of 18 hours with the case included isn’t too shabby, as long as you remember to actually charge them.
If silence is what you seek from your true wireless earbuds, the QC Earbuds turn it up to 11
Tech spec:Battery: 6 hours (earphones), 12 hours (case) • Driver size: 10mm • Weight: 8.5g (earbuds), 76g (case) • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.1
Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2
The original PX7 were a fixture of our best headphones list. Predictably, the follow-up is another brilliant pair of noise-cancelling cans, with a lovely feel, wonderful sound quality and improved ANC that’s simply brilliant.
The design hasn’t really changed from the first version, which means you still get the same tricky row of buttons on the right ear cup. The 3.5mm port has also disappeared, so USB-C is your only option for hard-wiring.
But the PX7 S2 remain a fundamentally comfortable pair of premium headphones. New 40mm driver units deliver consistent, well-balanced sound which isn’t compromised by ANC, while battery life is still solid at 30 hours. The only cause for hesitation? The flagship PX8, which now take pride of place in the B&W stable.
Tech spec:Battery: 30 hours (ANC) • Driver size: 40mm • Weight: 307g • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2
Apple AirPods Max
If you’re an Apple fan with a penchant for over-ears, the AirPods Max are clearly going to catch your eye. With beautiful anodised aluminium ear cups, a stainless steel headband and an open knit mesh canopy, they ooze Apple’s design DNA. While comfortable at first, you might find them a little pinchy after prolonged use, as they’re heavier than quite a few rivals. Heads come in all shapes and sizes though, so your experience may vary.
As for their performance, you won’t be disappointed. Coupled with beefy 40mm drivers, Apple’s H1 processor-powered adaptive EQ produces an exceptional soundscape, with some of the best noise-cancelling results thrown in to boot.
You’ll be paying a premium for the privilege though – and the AirPods Max offer less bang for buck than certain Sony rivals. But if you’re an avid Apple user and can handle the weight, you’ll be more than happy with the results.
Apple’s first over-ears are big, heavy, often brilliant, and far too expensive
Tech spec:Battery: 20 hours (ANC) • Driver size: 40mm • Weight: 135g • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 have a horrifically convoluted name, but we’ll forgive them because they nail it where it counts — namely, noise-cancellation.
With six microphones working in conjunction to serve up 11 increments of noise-blocking, these cans are aimed at those looking to master their environment above all else. Not only that, but they also have the bonus of letting you clearly hear the outside world without taking them off, if you want to be aware of your surroundings or chat to a member of staff about any false discrepancies in your bagging area.
They sound great too, though they can’t quite reach the same sonic levels of Sony or Apple’s offerings.
There are superior sounding headphones out there, but as an all-rounder the 700s are hard to beat
Tech spec:Battery: 20 hours • Driver size: Not disclosed • Weight: 250g • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
Jabra Elite 5
The Jabra Elite 5 sits between the company’s entry-level Elite 4 and excellent premium Elite 7 Active. Standout features include superb call quality, physical controls, and all sorts of codecs to keep Apple and Android users happy, including AAC, SBC and aptX.
Sound is suitably punchy with plenty of tweaking options available via Jabra’s app. Noise cancellation is decent too, though not the absolute best around. Battery life at seven hours with ANC on isn’t too shabby either, though you’ll want to look elsewhere for super long-haul flights. Given its price and solid performance overall though, this is an ideal choice for those looking for decent specs and performance (particularly if you value call quality), at a price that won’t destroy your bank balance.
Fitness-friendly true wireless in-ears with decent (if not class-leading) ANC and solid sound, but the Elite 5 feels a little lost in Jabra’s extensive line-up
Tech spec:Battery: 7 hours (ANC) • Driver size: 6mm • Weight: 5g (earbuds) 40g (case) • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2
The 1More Sonoflow headphones are probably some of the best bang-for-buck over-ear ANC cans around, at least at the time of writing. For comfortably less than £100, they serve up punchy, well-balanced audio, solid noise-cancelling that will help block out the hustle and bustle of your commute, and their crowning achievement — up to a whopping 70 hours of battery life per charge (with ANC off).
Even with ANC on, they can eke out a very impressive 50 hours before you need to reach for the cable. If you can look past the sometimes-fiddly buttons, plastic build, and the fact that you can get superior performance elsewhere (for significantly more cash), then it’s clear to see that 1More have achieved something rather special here, especially considering the price to performance ratio on offer.
Capable and comfortable noise-cancelling headphones that don’t break the bank. The Sonoflow works best for flights, with ANC that doesn’t work quite as well in other scenarios, but delivers audio that punches above its price wherever you listen to them
Tech spec:Battery: 50 hours (ANC) • Driver size: 40mm • Weight: 250g • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0