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Finest noise-cancelling headphones 2023: ANC decisions rated

Stumped by the sheer amount of choice when it comes to the very best noise-cancelling headphones? Don’t worry – we’ve done all the leg work, by testing out all the big brand headphones on sale, plus plenty of lesser-known models, 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. 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.

Looking for something a little more compact? Check out Stuff’s guide to the best wireless earbuds.

What are the best noise-cancelling headphones?

We think the Sony WH-1000XM5 (check price) are the best noise-cancelling headphones you can buy. Sony has found a way to make the best cans even better, with new 30mm carbon fibre composite drivers that offer even greater clarity, with beautifully precise sound reproduction. And Sony has further refined the noise-cancelling performance, particularly at higher frequencies.

Other noise-cancelling recommendations

The best noise-cancelling headphones you can buy today:

1. Sony WH-1000XM5

Sony WH-1000XM5 specs
Battery 30 hours (ANC)
Driver size 30mm
Weight 250g
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.2

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.

2. Sony WF-1000XM5

Sony WF-1000XM5 specs
Battery 8 hours (earphones), 16 hours (case)
Driver size 8.4mm
Weight 5g (earbuds), 36g (case)
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-1000XM5.

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.

3. Sennheiser Momentum 4

Sennheiser Momentum 4 specs
Battery 60 hours (ANC)
Driver size 42mm
Weight 293g
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.2

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. The audio itself is bold, detailed and thoroughly enjoyable, while battery life is simply epic at 60 hours.

4. Bose QuietComfort 45

Bose QuietComfort 45 specs
Battery 24 hours (ANC)
Driver size Not disclosed
Weight 241g
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.1

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 offer 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.

5. Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3

Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 specs
Battery 7 hours (earphones), 28 hours (case)
Driver size 7mm
Weight 5.8g (earbuds), 66.4g (case)
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.2

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.

6. Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation)

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) specs
Battery 5 hours (earphones), 19 hours (case)
Driver size 11mm
Weight 5.4g (earbuds), 45.6g (case)
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.0

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.

7. Sony WH-1000XM4

Sony WH-1000XM4 specs
Battery 30 hours (ANC)
Driver size 40mm
Weight 254g
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.

8. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds specs
Battery 6 hours (earphones), 12 hours (case)
Driver size 10mm
Weight 8.5g (earbuds), 76g (case)
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.1

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.

9. Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2

Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 specs
Battery 30 hours (ANC)
Driver size 40mm
Weight 307g
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.2

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 takes pride of place in the B&W stable.

10. Apple AirPods Max

Apple AirPods Max specs
Battery 20 hours (ANC)
Driver size 40mm
Weight 135g
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.0

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.

11. Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 specs
Battery 20 hours
Driver size Not disclosed
Weight 250g
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.0

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 with 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. If you make and receive a lot of calls, this should immediately make it a top-tier choice in your books. Paired with the ability to pair to two devices simultaneously and superb voice assistant support, there’s plenty to love here.

12. Technics EAH-AZ80

Technics EAH-AZ80 specs
Battery 4.5/16 hours (ANC)
Driver size 10mm
Weight 7g/50g
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.3

If you’re after a pair of earphones that can do just about everything, the AZ80 is an excellent choice. They’re designed for all-day comfort and duly deliver, with a shape that stays locked in your ears even while you’re working out. Voice calls are crystal clear thanks to effective wind noise reduction, and LDAC Bluetooth connectivity provides high-quality music playback.

Technics has also put some real effort into improving its ANC game, which has made the AZ80 a fantastic performer. It might not be quite up to the same lofty standards as Sony or Bose, but it gets very close indeed. Add in multipoint connectivity and very respectable battery life, and they’re a wonderful alternative to the long-established WF-1000XM4.

13. 1More Sonoflow

1More Sonoflow specs
Battery 50 hours (ANC)
Driver size 40mm
Weight 250g
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.0

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.

14. Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro

Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro specs
Battery 5 hours (ANC)
Driver size 10mm
Weight 5.5g
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.3

At first glance, you might think that there’s little to the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro beyond a matte finish and new shades of colour – but the changes are more than just cosmetic. Beyond being shrunken down (which results in a more comfortable fit and better passive isolation), the newer buds also pack the power of improved active noise cancellation as well.

Other benefits include smarter spacial audio, faster-acting ANC and the energetic sound signature we expect from AKG’s tuning. The catch, as before, is that you’ll need a Samsung phone in your pocket to max out the full potential on offer. If you’re rocking a non-Samsung handset then be aware that you’ll miss out on the best Bluetooth bitrate, and will have to go through the process of pairing devices manually. Still, they sound good for the money, and chances are you’re rocking a Samsung smartphone regardless.

How to choose the best noise-cancelling headphones

When buying the best noise-cancelling headphones, there are quite a few important things you’ll need to take into consideration before parting with your cash.

The most important of course, is sound quality, which is why we’ve picked wireless earbuds that deliver excellent sound quality with a balanced range of highs, mids, and lows.

The next thing you’ll want to think about is the form factor and fit. Do you want a pair of over-ears, or a much smaller set of wireless in-ears for blocking out the grunts and sounds of smashing plates at the gym? Both options will provide very different experiences, so you’ll want to make sure you pick the one that’s best for your needs.

Beyond the simple form factor, there are other pros and cons that both over-ear and in-ears offer. Noise-cancelling wireless earbuds, for example, will offer you greater ability to block the outside world, thanks to their in-ear nature. The tradeoff though, is a much shorter battery life, and less precise sound. Over-ears fix both of these issues but are obviously bulkier and not suited for exercise. Often, wireless buds also have better water/sweat-resistance too.

If you do opt for wireless earbuds, you should definitely make a note of how much their battery life can be increased by the capacity of the included wireless charging case, as that can often be the difference between a relaxing commute, or a stressful trek being forced to listen to the sound of screeching tube breaks and general chatter.

Finally, you should also consider extra features like touch controls, EQ customisation, virtual assistants, and transparency mode — all of which are useful in their own way.

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