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Published Oct. 4, 2021

Noise-cancelling headphones have forever altered the way that we work, consume media, and enjoy music while sharing space with others. Unlike traditional headphones, which function as basic wearable drivers that deliver sound privately to users’ ears, noise-cancelling headphones employ built-in microphones and a little bit of physics to capture environmental sound and replay it to the wearer with the phase of the audio reversed. This phase-cancelling is performed almost instantaneously, and to the user, the end result is a great reduction in perceived environmental noise and an overall clearer listening experience. This makes noise-cancelling headphones an incredibly robust tool for maintaining focus in loud environments or enjoying undisturbed sleep during a long commute. In this article, I’ll detail some of the best noise-cancelling headphones currently available and cover a few key considerations to keep in mind when shopping for any lifestyle.

How We Picked the Best Noise Cancelling Headphones

Methodology

When compiling this list of the best noise-cancelling headphones, I considered some of the most common uses for sound isolation, from studying and working to more niche uses like gaming and working out. Apart from looking at the usage scenarios themselves, I picked out products based upon several design traits, which I’ll outline below.

  • Comfort: Headphones cover a large portion of users’ heads, and their noise-cancelling capabilities are usually required over long periods of time. For this reason, I zeroed in on designs that are comfortable to wear and feature soft padding material like memory foam on the headbands or earpads.
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth is one of the best innovations to ever meet traditional headphone design, as it offers users the ability to connect to multiple remote media devices without being encumbered by cables. Most of the noise-cancelling headphones on this list are capable of wireless connections, but some are limited to wired connections only, and others offer both options.
  • Battery Life: Active noise cancellation is a complex electronic process that requires a hefty supply of power to execute. For this reason, the best noise-cancelling headphones carry an onboard battery life of at least 20 hours to avoid running out of power when they’re most needed.

Best Overall: Jabra Elite 85h Wireless Noise-Canceling Headphones

Comfortable and Stylish

The Jabra Elite 85h offers 36 hours of nonstop, noise-cancelling operation on a full charge. Jabra

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Why It Made The Cut: These headphones boast a total of eight onboard microphones to deliver super-clear phone call audio in even the noisiest environments, making them a great everyday noise-cancelling option for busy people.

Specs: 

  • Connectivity: Wireless, wired
  • App Control: Yes
  • Microphone: Yes

Pros:

  • Fast charge offers five hours of operation in 15 minutes
  • Multiple microphones deliver very clear audio for phone calls
  • HearThrough technology allows users to keep tabs on their environment

Cons:

  • App control can be cumbersome
  • Unable to pair wirelessly with computers

The Jabra 85h is a lightweight and comfortable pair of noise-cancelling headphones that offers a well-rounded feature set suited for a variety of environments from home and work to long-distance travel. They come with a stylish zip case and a short USB-C charging cable as well as a thin 1/8-inch TRS cable for use with wired devices like computers. The Jabra 85h requires that users download an app to take advantage of its EQ and white-noise settings, which is a useful design detail that allows the headphones themselves to retain a minimalist design.

These headphones sport a water-resistant finish that allows them to be used in light rain and other wet conditions, making them useful for workouts and outdoor walking commutes. Phone calls remain crystal clear when using the 85h, which uses an array of eight microphones to separate users’ voices from their environment. A useful, switchable “HearThrough” mode also harnesses these same microphones and allows the wearer to participate in conversations and remain aware of their surroundings without the need to remove the headphones or press pause on their media.

The Jabra 85h uses Bluetooth wireless technology and offers wired compatibility, but it’s not natively compatible with non-smartphone devices via wireless technology. This makes them difficult to use with hard-to-access devices like desktop computers, and impossible to use with other Bluetooth-enabled devices that aren’t phones. The inclusion of an 1/8-inch wire mitigates this reality somewhat, but this is something to keep in mind if you’ll be working on a computer.

Best for Sleeping: Bose QuietComfort 35 II

Streamlined design

Compatible with Alexa out of the box for easy, hands-free operation. Bose

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Why It Made The Cut: The QuietComfort 35 II from Bose is a comfortable and lightweight pair of headphones that’s perfect for traveling, studying, and resting.

Specs:

  • Connectivity: Wireless, wired
  • App Control: Yes
  • Microphone: Yes

Pros:

  • Long 20-hour battery life
  • Comfortable to wear for long periods
  • Easy to use; one-touch controls and Alexa-compatible

Cons:

  • Uncomfortable shape for side sleepers
  • Limited app features

Noise-cancelling tech is particularly useful for users looking to enjoy uninterrupted rest, and the Bose Quiet Comfort 35 II hosts a few design features that make it one of the best noise-cancelling headphones for this purpose. These headphones are light and compact, and they feature comfortable padding which makes them less cumbersome to wear than bulkier models. They’re also compatible with Alexa, allowing users to control their smart devices, adjust volume, and switch playback sources without lifting a finger or looking at a phone. If users want more control over their level of noise-cancelling, an onboard button allows one-touch toggling between three settings.

When it’s time to make granular adjustments or update the headphones’ firmware, the Bose Connect app grants users access to extra features. Unfortunately, the app lacks EQ options, as well as the white noise, presets available in Jabra’s companion app. Also, like other headphones, the QuietComfort 35 II features an over-ear shape that’s not comfortable for side sleepers. If you fall into that category, a pair of noise-cancelling earbuds like the Bose QuietComfort Noise Cancelling Earbuds may be a better choice.

Best for Working Out: Beats Studio3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Over-Ear Headphones

Fashionable and Functional

The Beats Studio3 offers extended Bluetooth range thanks to an integrated Apple W1 chip. Beats

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Why It Made The Cut: The Beats Studio3 is a portable and snug-fitting pair of headphones with an extended range of operation, making it a great choice for people on the go.

Specs:

  • Connectivity: Wireless, wired
  • App Control: Yes
  • Microphone: Yes

Pros:

  • Above-average distance of operation
  • Snug and secure fit
  • 10-minute charge for 3 hours of operation

Cons:

  • Hyped frequency response isn’t ideal for audio production applications
  • Button controls are difficult to use

The Studio3 from Beats is one of the best noise-cancelling headphones for working out thanks to its light fit, snug-fitting ear cups, and convenient collapsible design. It features a maximum single-charge life of 22 hours and a fast-charge function that offers three hours of play with only a ten-minute charge, making it ideal for last-minute use and those with busy lifestyles. Its built-in Apple W1 chip delivers next-generation Bluetooth connectivity, which results in an above-average range of more than 33 feet and fewer connection dropouts.

Beats headphones are typically known for their custom-shaped and altered frequency response that enhances music and other listening material. The Studio3 includes built-in automatic calibration and improves incoming audio on-the-fly, making it a generally good choice for listening to a variety of programming in every genre, especially in noisy environments. However, this trait makes the headphones  less desirable for critical applications such as audio mixing and editing. The Studio3 also offers a unique and streamlined single-button design which keeps the headphones looking sleek but requires users to acclimate to its ins and outs.

Best for Gaming: JBL Quantum ONE

Play and Chat

A detachable boom mic, custom LED lighting, and a built-in gyroscope make the Quantum ONE a solid choice for enhancing your gaming experience while masking out noise. JBL

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Why It Made The Cut: JBL’s Quantum One noise-cancelling headphones deliver a reliable and customizable user experience with crystal-clear sound and a solid fit.

Specs:

  • Connectivity: Wired
  • App Control: No
  • Microphone: Yes

Pros:

  • Wide soundstage
  • Built-in gyroscope offers real-time sound directionality
  • Bright, customizable LED lights built in

Cons:

  • Lacks wireless functionality
  • Control software limited to PC

When it comes to gaming, headphones are one of the best choices for sound monitoring thanks to the sound isolation and high level of directional awareness that they provide. The JBL Quantum One gaming headset takes this principle and kicks it up a notch with the addition of active, noise-cancelling technology to offer a convenient, comfortable, and easy-to-use listening experience aimed at giving gamers an extra edge. The soft memory foam earpads make it easy to wear these headphones over long periods of time, and the equipped, detachable, boom microphone sits in close proximity to users’ mouths for improved clarity over chat channels. Among the Quantum ONE’s standout features is its built-in gyroscope, which detects the wearer’s head position and adjusts the apparent location of on-screen sound sources as you move, enhancing the user’s experience of immersion. This makes them a particularly good choice for VR gaming.

The Quantum ONE also features a host of wild and dazzling RGB lighting effects, which are fully customizable via JBL’s downloadable software. Unfortunately, this software is compatible with PCs only, so users of other operating systems will be limited to the headphones’ default lighting settings. The headphones also use a wired connection exclusively, which enhances connection reliability but somewhat limits users’ freedom of movement.

Best Budget: Sony MDRZX110NC Noise Cancelling Headphones

Simple and Practical

These noise-cancelling headphones have a basic and unassuming design that can deliver great noise-cancelling results with a little work. Sony

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Why It Made The Cut: A lightweight, foldable frame and up to 80 hours of battery life make these noise-cancelling headphones from Sony a great value for the price.

Specs:

  • Connectivity: Wired
  • App Control: No
  • Microphone: No

Pros:

  • Affordable price
  • 80 hours of battery life
  • Lightweight, easy-to-transport construction

Cons:

  • Noise reduction less effective in high frequencies
  • Requires one AAA battery for operation

Though noise-cancelling features usually come at a premium, these stripped-down headphones from Sony deliver admirable sound isolation without breaking the bank. They’re not quite as decked out or stylish as their top-shelf counterparts—they operate using one-time-use AAA batteries, for example—but they cost nearly ten times less than many of their more comfortable Bluetooth-enabled competitors, and for that reason alone they’re worth a look.

On a single AAA battery, these noise-cancelling headphones can offer up to 80 hours of continuous use. Much of this is thanks to the capacity of a single AAA battery, but these headphones only operate using wired connections, which also saves on battery life compared to Bluetooth designs. Because the headphones are lightweight and foldable, they’re very easy to stow in a backpack or bookbag for quick access. Compared to more expensive noise-cancelling headphones, this model is less effective at eliminating high-frequency material, but their low-frequency elimination performs well, making them a good choice for cancelling droning ambient noise such as that from airplanes or street activity.

Things to Consider Before Buying Noise Cancelling Headphones

Does your equipment need a wired connection?

Wireless headphone designs are more common than ever before, but not all equipment is compatible with Bluetooth technology. If you’re planning on using noise-cancelling headphones with equipment that lacks wireless support, it’s essential to choose a model that includes an optional 3.5-millimeter cable or that comes with a wired connection out of the box. If you’re unsure which variety to buy, wired headphones are generally guaranteed to work with most non-smartphone audio equipment like computers, gaming consoles, and soundbars, as 3.5-millimeter audio outputs have been a standard for decades.

Do you need a built-in microphone?

Many noise-cancelling headphones include built-in microphones designated to capture users’ voices for phone call use and gaming. This feature is essential if you’ll be pairing your noise-cancelling headphones to a smartphone, as it allows you to enjoy seamless and unencumbered use of your phone without requiring that you remove your headphones. Gamers who are looking to use voice chat functionality can also benefit from a headset with a built-in microphone to streamline their setup without the need for extra equipment.

What type of fit do you require?

The best noise-cancelling headphones are available in many shapes and sizes, with each best suited to a specific task. For example, users looking to use noise-cancelling tech for sleeping will benefit from a lightweight and padded design, while active people who use headphones for working out will prefer a more snug around-the-ear design.

FAQs

Q: Is it worth buying noise-cancelling headphones?

Noise-cancelling headphones perform at a high level and are absolutely worth the investment if you’re looking to block out external noise. While earplugs and actual over-ear hearing protectors can be just as effective or perform even better, they lack noise-cancelling headphones’ novel ability to play sound. This means that noise-cancelling headphones are the only option for listeners who want to enjoy the audio of their choice while simultaneously rejecting environmental sound.

Q: Are noise-cancelling headphones safe?

Active noise-cancellation itself is not a dangerous process and it doesn’t require headphones to do anything unsafe or unconventional, so noise-cancelling headphones are safe in that regard. However, all users of these headphones should take care to limit volume and duration of use, as the headphones are capable of producing sound pressure levels that can damage hearing, especially over time.

Q: Do noise-cancelling headphones protect hearing?

While noise-cancelling headphones can greatly diminish a user’s perception of environmental noise, they’re not appropriate to use as hearing protection devices. Headphones are generally capable of producing volumes that can damage users’ hearing, and noise-cancelling headphones are no exception. If you require hearing protection, there’s no substitute for a certified safety product with a decibel-reduction rating.

Final Thoughts

For users seeking the best noise cancelling headphones experience overall, the Jabra Elite 85h offers long battery life, easy-to-use controls, and a stylish water-resistant finish in a foldable package. The Bose QuietComfort 35 II is a better choice for people who mainly want to use headphones for sleeping, thanks to its soft feel and lightweight band that sit comfortably on users’ ears. Active people looking for a companion set of noise-cancelling headphones for working out should consider the snug and sturdy construction of the Beats Studio3, and gamers looking for good imaging and immersive sound should check out the JBL Quantum ONE gaming headset.

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