5 best noise-cancelling headphones 2024: Reviewed and ranked

When you’re alone in public, listening to music is so much more than a distraction. It can have a profound effect on your state of mind, and it’s the reason we’re willing to spend iPad-level cash on the best wireless headphones. Listening to music (or podcasts, or audiobooks) can be an integral part of getting through that daily commute or a long flight.

But if the incessant sound of jet engines, the distracting chatter of a coworker, or the deafening bass of partying neighbors prevents you from actually enjoying your music — or just getting your work done — then true noise-cancelling headphones will be one of your greatest investments.

To help you pick the right set, Mashable editors and reviewers have tested dozens of headphones and earbuds, and we’ve picked out the very best noise-cancelling headphones for 2024.

Do noise-cancelling headphones actually work?

Premium noise-cancelling earbuds and headphones don’t just work, they work so well that it feels like magic. However, not every product that promises to cancel noise actually delivers.

There’s a big difference between outside noise being blocked and music simply being loud enough to drown it out. Just like not every pair of expensive glasses will protect your eyes from blue light, a pair of pricey headphones won’t guarantee true noise cancellation.


Should you sign up for Peacock?

Active noise-cancelling headphones electronically cover up the sounds coming from your surroundings. They use internal microphones that listen to what’s happening in the world around you, then invert the noise and send it to the speakers. The idea is that both the output and the input will cancel out, leaving you with near-silence — and the perfect soundscape for listening to your favorite music. Over-ear headphones can also create a tight seal around your ears that adds another layer of sound blocking.

In the past, not many earbuds featured active noise cancellation, but now there are plenty of noise-cancelling earbuds if you don’t like the bulkiness of headphones. However, earbuds can’t get the same seal that headphones can, so if you’re a noise cancellation snob, stick with headphones.

What are the best noise-cancelling headphones to buy?

Bose and Sony are both top names when it comes to any type of audio, but especially when it comes to noise cancellation. Both brands feature industry-leading ANC on top of superb sound quality. There are also some other brands and models worth checking out, so if you want to tune out ambient sound, we’ve laid everything out for you below.

Best for adjustable ANC: Bose 700

Read our full review of the Bose 700 headphones.

Who it’s for:

For some people, active noise cancellation might be too intense. Sometimes, you need a little ambient noise. Maybe you’re not a fan of this lack of awareness, or maybe it actually causes physical discomfort. That doesn’t mean you have to forego ANC altogether — the Bose 700 headphones offer 10 different levels of active noise cancellation (as well as a transparent mode), so you can adjust based on what feels right for you.

Why we picked this:

One of the biggest cons of the Bose 700s is the cost, as Mashable tech reporter Alex Perry noted in his review. However, these headphones came out in 2019, and they’re being phased out in place of Bose’s new QuietComfort Ultra (another pick on this list). That means while they’re still around, you can get top-notch adjustable ANC for $379, and often for less — they’ve been on sale for a flat $300 regularly since Black Friday.

They won’t be as comfortable for all-day wear as Bose’s QuietComfort headphones, but if the best ANC is your priority above all else, these headphones are likely worth the trade off for you.

Battery life: Up to 20 hours | Bluetooth range: 33 feet | App-connected: Yes

Most comfortable headphones: Bose QuietComfort Ultra

Who it’s for:

Over-ear headphones can be great for blocking out noise, but less great for comfort. If you’re someone who wants to wear your headphones all day, the Bose QuietComfort line was made for you. We’ve previously tested the QuietComfort 35 IIs and the QuietComfort 45s, and the QuietComfort Ultra was easily the most comfortable of the three. They’re also the most expensive at $429, so be ready to pay for that comfort.

Why we picked this:

The Bose QuietComfort Ultras up the ante on the long-popular line from the brand, giving you all day wear with spatial audio. They’re also supremely comfortable.

We wore these headphones for hours — on flights, with glasses on, all day — and they wore comfortably through it all. Even more importantly, they sound incredible, complete with Bose’s new immersive spatial audio, which gives you a concert-like experience when listening to music, all the while blocking out the world around you.

We occasionally need to turn the headphones on a couple times for them to connect, but their multipoint pairing works better than past QuietComfort headphones (with the QC 45s, we needed to disconnect one of the two connected devices from the app to avoid annoying skips in the audio — other users online have reported similar issues). We were also surprised these headphones don’t support passive playback, especially for their price point.

Still, if you’re willing to live with those minor annoyances, you will be rewarded with excellent ANC on the most comfortable noise-cancelling headphones we’ve tested yet.

Battery life: 24 hours | Bluetooth range: 30 feet | App-connected: Yes

Best for music lovers or audiophiles: Sony WH-1000XM5

Check out our full review of the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones.

Who it’s for:

If you want good ANC, but especially value clear and well-rounded sound, these are your headphones. Whether you really like to blast your music, or just want to hear the lows, highs, and mids of a song, the WH-1000XM5s are the headphones on our list most likely to deliver.

Why we picked this:

Sony’s flagship noise-cancelling headphones produce a balanced sound that let your music shine, while giving you enough ANC to block ambient noise.

Here’s what Mashable Deputy Reviews Editor Miller Kern had to say about listening to Brandi Carlile’s “Right on Time” on the XM5 headphones: “The vocals and instruments all got to shine, and the headphones made it feel like I was there in the studio. These are probably the best-sounding headphones I’ve ever tried.” That audio quality, combined with their comfort and effective noise cancelling, are what earned them a Mashable Choice Award.

Their portability factor could be a little better — the ear cups don’t fold in — but chances are, you’ll want to be listening to them most of the time, anyway. When you are on the go, the microphone is another standout feature. Kern relayed that even on a walk home in New York City, she could hear who she was calling perfectly, and be heard herself without any background noise getting in the way. As an added bonus, they have a battery life that beats the Bose QC Ultras by a good six hours.

Battery life: 30 hours | Bluetooth range: 32 feet | App-connected: Yes

Best noise-cancelling earbuds: Apple AirPods Pro

Read our full review of the AirPods Pro (Generation 2).

Who it’s for:

If you want ANC without all the bulk, the new AirPods Pro are small, discreet, and (thanks to the their long-awaited USB-C charging port) easier to charge. Though headphones typically provide superior ANC, these AirPods have impressive noise cancellation for a pair of buds. You’ll probably enjoy them a little extra if you have other devices within the Apple ecosystem.

Why we picked this:

Are they pricey? Absolutely. Is their ANC worth it? Here’s what Mashable Senior Editor Stan Schroeder had to say: “These are the first pair of earbuds I’d actually consider taking on an airplane (instead of my much larger and clunkier over-ear headphones).” Other than that killer ANC, AirPods are great for travel because they take up minimal space in your carry on, they sound great, and they have a Conversation Awareness mode which automatically lowers the volume when you’re talking, so placing a drink order is easy as can be. And with their new USB-C port, you can charge them directly from an iPhone 15.

Mashable Deals

To get a perfectly snug fit to maximize your listening experience, you’ll have your choice between four ear tips. Apple claims these buds support lossless audio, but as of right now, only with the Apple Vision Pro, so you’d have to shell out an additional $3,500 for that experience.

Battery life: 6 hours (up to 30 hours with charging case) | Bluetooth range: 30 to 60 feet | App-connected: No

Best more affordable earbuds: Beats Studio Buds+

Who it’s for:

We don’t think these earbuds perform quite as well as the newest AirPods Pro, but they also cost $80 less. If you’re trying to get quality ANC earbuds for under $175, then the Beats Studio Buds+ are the way to go. Plus, with Google Fast Pair support, they’re better suited for Android users than the AirPods Pro.

Why we picked this:

We love a good dupe, what can we say? While these Beats aren’t a one-to-one match for the AirPods Pro, they give a lot of the same basic functionality at a much more affordable price. And at six hours per charge with ANC, they match the Pro’s battery life exactly.

As for how they sound, these are Beats headphones, so expect the bass to come through nice and clear. They’re not too bass heavy though, and they give plenty of balance on higher frequencies. Their ANC definitely isn’t at the same level as the Pros, so having a well-rounded sound is nice, as playing music in tandem with ANC will give you your best shot at blocking out the world around you.

You’ll have your choice between four colorways, including black, silver, ivory, and transparent. During our testing, we also found these earbuds fit more comfortably than the AirPods Pro, so if you tend to have trouble getting AirPods to stay in your ears, these are a better option for you.

Battery life: 6 hours with ANC, 9 without (27 hours hours with charging case) | Bluetooth range: 30 feet | App-connected: No

How we tested for the best noise-cancelling headphones

Every single pair of headphones we included on this list was hands-on tested by a Mashable reporter or editor. When evaluating whether or not they belonged on this list, we considered the effectiveness their active noise cancellation in relation to their price, their comfort, battery life, audio quality, and any special features they may have.

We pulled these recommendations from our existing pool of headphone reviews, and from hands-on testing performed specifically for this guide. A couple of options that didn’t make our updated list include the AirPods Max, which do have good ANC, but a less impressive feature to price ratio. We also tested the JBL Tour One M2 headphones, and while we appreciated their excellent multipoint pairing, battery life, and balanced sound, we didn’t find that their noise cancellation matched up with similarly priced headphones.

As of Jan. 2024, we removed the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 headphones from this list not because they’re not excellent headphones (they are), but because they’re an older model that’s harder to find in-stores and online these days. We’re looking to test out the newer Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2e headphones soon.

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