The best headphones and earbuds with noise canceling

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With the elimination of headphone jacks from phones, wireless headphones are surging in popularity, and noise-canceling is a highly requested feature. Though once a premium feature found only in extremely expensive headphones, these days noise-canceling is available in Bluetooth headphones of all price ranges and form factors. If you’re looking for the best of the best ANC headphone, look no further than the Sony WH-1000XM3.

Best Overall: Sony WH-1000XM3

Without a doubt, the WH-1000XM3 is the best active noise canceling (ANC) headphone on the market, period. If you need ANC, the WH-1000XM3 will undoubtedly come up in your conversation or Google search. In fact, the ANC is so good that the second-best ANC headphone on the market is a distant second. On a flight? Commuting on a bus or train? Walking down the block? The WH-10000XM3 has your back.

In addition to the stellar ANC, the WH-1000XM3 are really just a great headphone. The battery lasts up to 30 hours on a single charge with fast charging capabilities when your headphone is dead. Unfortunately, when charging you won’t be able to listen to the WH-1000XM3, whether wired or wireless. When listening via Bluetooth, you’ll also get a best-in-class sound experience as well with support for most of the major Bluetooth codecs. The WH-1000XM3 include SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX-HD, and Sony’s own LDAC. The only major codec missing is aptX-LL, but most ANC headphones don’t include aptX-LL.

The sound signature out of the box is warm and dark. The bass, while smooth and even, is boosted quite a bit giving it its warm sound signature. The lower mid-range is neutral and flat while the mid-mids, upper-mids, and entire treble region is recessed giving the WH-1000XM3 its dark sound signature. Fortunately, you can customize the sound with Sony’s smartphone companion app. Unfortunately, you’ll need to enter SBC mode in order to properly use the EQ as it gets disabled with higher quality Bluetooth codecs. SBC in terms of sound quality is fine but the latency can be quite bad especially when watching video or playing games.

Comfort-wise, the WH-1000XM3 is above-average. For most people, they’ll be excellent. But, if you have a big head beware that they can get uncomfortable after a few hours of usage.

Pros:

  • Long battery life
  • Customizable sound
  • Fast charging
  • Class-leading ANC

Cons:

  • No simultaneous charging & listening
  • Higher quality Bluetooth codecs disable EQ

Best Overall

Sony WH-1000XM3

Best in class

The WH-1000XM3 is an overall great headphone with great sound, battery life, and comfort.

Best Runner Up: Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700

It’s taken them a few years but Bose has finally updated its flagship ANC headphone line. Being the successor to its super popular QC35 IIs, the Bose NCH 700s are equal to or better in almost every way. First, let’s talk about sound quality. The NCH 700s takes a small leap in this regard. The NCH 700s reduce the treble ever so slightly so they’re no longer piercing and sharp while maintaining a relatively flat and neutral sound signature.

Battery life is above-average with up to 20 hours of usage on a single charge. Fortunately, when your battery is dead you can simply plug in the USB-C charging cable and continue to listen to your NCH 700s, whether that’s over Bluetooth or wired.

In terms of comfort, the NCH 700s are really good. Some may argue the NCH 700s have the best comfort when it comes to an ANC headphone and I’d have to agree. The clamping force isn’t too strong, and the ear cups and headband are super soft. While comfort is excellent, the portability got notably worse with the NCH 700s over the QC35 IIs. The NCH 700s no longer fold which is a big deal for a travel headphone. This means when not in use and stowed away, the headphone and included charging case will take up more space in your carry on.

But when you take them out and actually use them, the ANC from the NCH 700s are fantastic. They’re not as good as the Sony WH-1000XM3 but they’re easily the second best ANC headphone on the market. They block out most bass-heavy engine noise, and some mid-range sounds such as people talking. It struggles ever so slightly on higher-pitched wines that come from smaller plane engines or electric cars. However, you do get up to 11 steps of ANC, giving you one of the most versatile ANC headphones on the market.

Pros:

  • Battery life
  • Sound quality
  • Comfort
  • ANC

Cons:

  • Non-foldable design

Best Runner Up

Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700

Comfortable as heck

If you’re looking for awesome comfort and sound, and good battery life, the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700 are right up your alley.

Best Sound Quality: Bowers & Wilkins PX

If you want slightly worse comfort and ANC but some of the best sound quality of any ANC headphone, look no further than the Bowers & Wilkins PX. The soundstage of the PX is one of the best we’ve ever heard on a closed-back headphone, let alone an ANC set. The sound quality is decent with an overall V-shaped sound signature that many will enjoy. The bass is boosted which will give you some thump and rumble, while the treble is also boosted but not enough to make it piercing or sharp.

But all this great sound quality comes at a sacrifice. The ANC is mediocre at best on the PX and you basically should avoid enabling it at all costs because enabling it has a negative effect on the sound quality. However, the passive isolation does pretty well. Comfort is only decent here, too: the clamping force is super strong so you’ll sometimes feel like its squeezing your head. Fortunately, the PX are super stylish and if you’re looking for some style points, the PX definitely is one of the best-looking headphones around.

Battery life is great here with up to 20 hours of usage. The headphone supports USB-C for charging, charging and listening at the same time, and even being able to use the USB-C port for USB audio.

Pros:

  • Sound quality
  • USB-C for charging and listening
  • Battery life
  • Stylish

Cons:

  • Comfort
  • ANC

Best Sound Quality

Bowers & Wilkins PX

Stellar sound

Excellent sound quality with exceptional soundstage, but sacrifices comfort and ANC.

Best battery life: Jabra Elite 85h

Wireless headphones can be annoying, especially when it comes to charging. It’s yet another device in your life that needs to be charged. However, the Elite 85h tries to break that barrier by having ridiculously long battery life. The Elite 85h gets you up to 35 hours of battery life on a single charge. Yep, you read that right, 35 hours. On top of that, the Elite 85h are very comfortable. Which is a perfect combination with the ridiculously long battery life. And yes, you can charge and listen to them at the same time.

Sound quality is good. The default sound signature is a bit dull and boring but fortunately, you’ll be able to customize that through Jabra’s companion smartphone app. In there, you’ll also find options to customize how much ANC you want as well. The ANC is pretty good. Not bad, but not terrible either. Just good. You’ll hear a sizable hum while on flights and some engine noise while taking the bus or train.

The Elite 85h does come with some nifty tricks up its sleeve though. To turn on/off the headphone, simply swivel the right ear cup. Your audio automagically plays and pause when you either remove or put the Elite 85h on your head.

Pros:

  • Battery life
  • Customizable sound
  • Excellent comfort
  • Smart features

Cons:

  • ANC is average

Best Battery Life

Jabra Elite 85h

Great battery life

With the Jabra Elite 85h, you get incredible battery life and comfort with a customizable sound.

Best Budget Over-Ear Headphones: COWIN E7

Most will argue that good ANC on headphones is expensive, however, the COWN E7 proves that wrong. Starting with battery life, the E7 gets a whopping 30 hours of battery life on a single charge, which is better than some of the more expensive ANC headphones. This will easily last you at least a week with standard usage and will easily be enough for any flights you take.

The ANC on the E7 isn’t too bad, either. Surprisingly, it’s really good and compares favorably to the Bose NCH 700s. It gets most consistent noises like engine noise blocked out while struggling with more inconsistent sounds like conversations.

Sound quality is average. It has a boosted bass which is often overpowering and gives a bit too much thump and rumble. Same can be said about the mid-range where the overall presence is a bit boosted. The treble is super recessed and mostly not present, giving the E7 an overall super dark sound signature. Fortunately, you won’t get any fatigue from the treble.

Comfort is relatively good albeit the headphone is on the heavier side overall. Aside from weight, the E7 will comfortably sit on your head and we didn’t notice any fatiguing or comfort issues when using the E7 for several hours at a time.

Pros:

  • Battery life
  • ANC
  • Comfort

Cons:

  • Sound quality
  • Heavier than most over-ears

Best Budget Over-Ear Cans

COWIN E7

Excellent battery life at a low price

If battery life and cost savings is your concern, the E7 from COWIN is your best bet.

Best Noise-Canceling Earbuds: Sony WF-1000XM3

When it comes to earbuds, there aren’t many noise-canceling ones out there, let alone ones that include ANC and are true wireless. Yet, here we are with the Sony WF-1000XM3. If you’re looking for great ANC and ultra-portability, look no further.

The WF-1000XM3 brings the same great ANC tech it uses in its over-ear equivalent, the WH-1000XM3. While it’s not the same, the WF-1000XM3 is easily the best wireless (and truly wireless) ANC earbud on the market. The ANC will surprise you, being able to block out a ton of noise including engine noise and some more inconsistent sounds like walking.

Sound quality is a departure from the classic Sony sound. It’s flat and neutral for the most part with only minor bumps that most people won’t be able to hear. Dynamic range is great and obviously soundstage is nearly non-existent due to its earbud design.

Comfort-wise, the WF-1000XM3 are good. They’re comfortable and won’t have an issue staying in your ear, but the design itself is rather large and bulky. Some other truly wireless earbuds can blend in, but people will know you’re wearing earbuds with the WF-1000XM3.

Battery life is excellent with up to 26 hours with the included charging case, and up to 6 hours of battery life with the earbuds on its own. The charging case charges over USB-C, and, as most truly wireless earbuds do, the WF-1000XM3 has a fast charging mechanism that gives you several hours of listening within a 15-minute charge. Unfortunately, the case isn’t wireless charging so you’ll need to plug in to charge.

Pros:

  • Long battery life
  • USB-C for charging
  • Class-leading ANC
  • Sound quality

Cons:

  • Large size
  • No wireless charging case

Best Earbuds

Sony WF-1000XM3

Truly wireless ANC

ANC that you can carry in your pocket. The WF-1000XM3 are the best ANC earbud on the market, period.

Best Neckbuds: Bose QC30

Unsurprisingly, the best neckbuds around come from Bose. The noise-canceling capabilities mimics those of the older generation QC35 IIs. This means that the QC30 performs really well, only getting beat by the more recent high-end headphones such as the Sony WH-1000XM3 and Bose’s own NCH 700. This means that the ANC is pretty good but newer headphones will out-class it easily.

Similar to the WF-1000XM3, there aren’t many neckbuds that also support ANC so the QC30 was an easy pick. Obviously, being a neckbud the headphone will wrap around your neck with a cable connected to each earbud. The QC30 comes with multiple ear tips in the box so you should be able to find and ear tip that works for you. When they’re in your ear, they work like a charm. No issues with comfort or ear fatigue, even over long periods of time. And obviously, when you’re not using the QC30, you can simply let them dangle around your neck.

The sound quality is pretty good as expected with most Bose headphones. There’s a small boost in the bass to give it a slightly warmer sound signature but otherwise it’s rather neutral and flat. Fortunately, you won’t hear any reduction in sound quality when it comes to having the ANC on.

When it comes to battery life, the QC30 perform well for its class. They last up to 10 hours on a single charge which means you’ll be able to get through a full workday and then some without worrying about having to recharge the bud.

Our biggest gripe with the QC30 comes with the Bose companion app. It’s not the greatest. You can control the amount of ANC you want with the app, but that only applies to how much isolation you want when the built-in microphone is active. And that’s pretty much all you can control.

Pros:

  • Battery life
  • Sound quality
  • ANC

Cons:

  • Smartphone app could be better

Best Neckbuds

Bose QC30

Neckbuds with ANC

There really aren’t many neckbuds with ANC out there so the QC30 from Bose was an easy choice.

Best Budget Neckbuds: Phiaton BT 100 NC

Despite saying that the QC30s are one of the few neckbuds out there with ANC, the BT 100 NC from Phiaton is a solid choice if you’re on a budget.

The ANC is pretty good for the price. They won’t blow you away but they’re great if you’re planning to use them on your commute. You’ll still hear some environmental noise but most of it will get blocked out. With ANC enabled, you should expect around 7 to 7 and a half hours of audio playback on a single charge. When not in use, you’ll get around 15 hours of standby time with ANC enabled. Not the best in terms of battery life, but again great for the price.

Sound quality is good. It has a V-shaped sound signature with emphasized bass and treble, but not overly emphasized where the bass is overpowering and where the treble is just incredibly piercing or sharp. The mid-range does suffer a little bit as that remains neutral and flat but sounds recessed. Fortunately, you do get aptX (non-HD or LL) which nets you slightly better sound quality and lower latency.

The BT 100 NC also feature vibrations for notifications which is neat if you don’t own a smartwatch or don’t always have your phone on you. It lightly buzzes to let you know when a phone call is coming through.

In terms of comfort, they’re pretty much as expected when it comes to a neckbud. They do, however, get uncomfortable after several hours of usage with the included ear tips though. Fortunately, you can use third-party ear tips as the BT 100 NC use standard ear tip sizes.

Pros:

  • V-shaped sound signature
  • Battery Life
  • ANC

Cons:

  • Comfort

Best Budget Neckbud

Phiaton BT 100 NC

Budget neckbud tunes

For the price, you can’t complain. The Phiaton BT 100 NC perform great or better in all categories.

Bottom line

If you can afford them, Sony’s WH1000XM3s are the best noise-canceling headphones on the market, with handy gesture controls, great sound, deafening noise-canceling, and long battery life. You’ll also love the slightly more comfortable Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, though they are a bit more expensive.

If they’re too rich for your blood, though, you won’t go wrong with any of the alternatives such as the Phiaton BT 100 NCs which are ultra-portable and convenient.

You may not need active noise cancelation in your headphones, but if you do, you can’t go wrong with any of the above picks.

How to choose the best noise-canceling headphones

Contrary to popular belief, active noise cancelation isn’t just for commuting and flying. They’re also great in office environments and even as daily purpose headphones if you simply need to ignore everyone around you.

Choosing the right set of noise-canceling headphones can be hard as it’s more than just ANC you’re looking at. For example, comfort, whether or not the ANC negatively effects the sound quality, and battery life are huge factors when choosing the right noise-canceling headphone.

Sound Quality

When it comes to audio equipment, sound quality should be in your list of top three most important things. If you don’t like the way it sounds, it won’t matter if it’s super comfortable or if the battery lasts forever.

In terms of sound quality, the Sony WF-1000XM3 takes the cake, easily. They’re truly wireless, and the ANC performance is exceptional. They’re a bit big, but the sound quality destroys with a sound signature that sticks to being relatively neutral and flat. Not only that, but the companion smartphone app lets you customize the sound even further if you’d like more bass, mids, or treble.

The Bose NCH 700s are a runner up but they’re an over-ear headphone. In a similar fashion, they offer a relatively flat and neutral sound signature. However, the NCH 700s have no way of customizing the sound. So, if you don’t like them you’re out of luck here.

Bowers & Wilkins’ PX make the list purely because of its incredible soundstage and dynamic range for a closed-back headphone.

Best active noise-canceling headphones, ranked by sound quality

  1. Sony WF-1000XM3
  2. Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700
  3. Bowers & Wilkins PX
  4. Sony WH-1000XM3
  5. Jabra Elite 85h

Comfort

Comfort is also equally as important because if your headphones sound great but hurt your ears or your head after 20 minutes, what’s the point in having them?

Unsurprisingly, the Bose NCH 700s take the top spot. Bose is notoriously known for having really great comfort in its noise-canceling headphones and the latest addition is no exception. With the Bose NCH 700s you can easily wear them for 10 hours or more without any discomfort.

Despite being earbuds, the Sony WF-1000XM3 are equally as great. The earbuds come with multiple tip sizes, which will help tremendously with finding a level of comfort. Combine that with the compact size of a truly wireless earbud and Sony has hit a home run here

Sony had a lot to do when making the WH-1000XM3 and that includes comfort. Its previous ANC headphone, the WH-1000XM2, wasn’t all that great when it came to comfort. Fortunately, Sony put in the R&D and the WH-1000XM3 are surprisingly comfortable now. The ear cups and headband are super soft and there’s not much exposed plastic that touches your head. These are other headphones that you can easily wear for 10 hours or more at any given time.

Best noise canceling headphones, ranked by comfort

  1. Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700
  2. Sony WF-1000XM3
  3. Sony WH-1000XM3
  4. COWIN E7
  5. Bose QC30

Noise isolation

It sounds kind of silly to rank noise isolation on a post about noise-isolating headphones so we’ll keep this short and sweet.

The top three on this list are all really solid. The WH-1000XM3 remains king with its class-leading ANC and if you want the best ANC, you go WH-1000XM3, period. Runner up is the Bose NCH 700s. While not as good as the WH-1000XM3, they’re pretty close. Whichever you decide to go with is totally up to you and depends on which sound signature you like better.

The WF-1000XM3 are the truly wireless option from Sony and have the same great ANC you get from their over-ear brother the WH-1000XM3. Obviously, there are differences as the WF-1000XM3 have slightly less ANC then the WH-1000XM3. This is mostly due to it being a truly wireless earbud versus an over-ear option.

Best noise-canceling headphones, ranked by noise isolation

  1. Sony WH-1000XM3
  2. Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700
  3. Sony WF-1000XM3
  4. Bowers & Wilkins PX
  5. Jabra Elite 85h

Smart Features

There’s not much you can do when it comes to over-ear headphones and smart features. The most over-ear headphones typically do is bundle in a digital assistant of sorts whether it be Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, or both.

However, the three that stick out are the Bowers & Wilkins PX, Jabra Elite 85h, and Sony WF-1000XM3. These headphones feature an auto-play/pause feature, which is rare among noise canceling headphones, let alone over-ear ones. The Sony WF-1000XM3 are basically required to have this feature as they are a set of truly wireless earbuds.

The Bose QC30 are awesome as well. They’re neckbuds, but the ANC adapts to the environment around you. Combine that with the versatility thanks to being a neckbud and the QC30 actually become one of the most portable ANC earbuds on the market.

Lastly, if you’re looking for an ANC headphone that does the bare minimum when it comes to smart features, the COWIN E7 are it. They don’t have any auto-play/pause features, digital assistant support, or adaptive ANC, but they do feature NFC pairing. If you have an Android smartphone, this makes pairing the headphone to your smartphone super easy.

Best noise canceling headphones, ranked by smart features

  1. Bowers & Wilkins PX
  2. Jabra Elite 85h
  3. Sony WF-1000XM3
  4. Bose QC30
  5. COWIN E7

Battery Life

Battery life is something that gets wired headphone lovers heated. That’s because with a set of wired headphones you don’t have to worry about "another thing to charge." However, if you have long battery life you basically forget that you even have to charge the thing in the first place. on a single charge, the best we’ve seen on noise-canceling headphones.

The top three on our list all get the same roughly 30 hours of battery life on the single charge. If you’re looking at battery life specifically, the Jabra Elite 85h, Sony WH-1000XM3 and COWIN E7 all perform excellent in this regard. You’ll probably want to look at other potential features between these three headphones.

The Bowers & Wilkins PX barely takes number four with up to 22 hours of battery life on a single charge while the Bose NCH 700s are our fifth pick for having 20 hours of battery life.

Best noise-canceling headphones, ranked by battery life

  1. Jabra Elite 85h
  2. Sony WH-1000XM3
  3. COWIN E7
  4. Bowers & Wilkins PX
  5. Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700

Microphone Quality

If we’re being honest here, microphone quality when it comes to noise canceling headphones kind of suck. Most companies focus on having great microphone quality for the ANC itself or an ambient sound mode, but when it comes to the actual microphone you use to make calls, ANC headphones are decent at best.

That being said, the Bose NCH 700s and the Bose QC30 top this list. Again, the bar is relatively low here but they top our list when it comes to microphone quality. They’re okay when it comes to blocking out environmental noise and isolating your voice, but the person on the other end might have some issues hearing you in louder environments.

The Jabra Elite 85h make this list because they’re not half bad when it comes to isolating your voice and reducing the environmental noise. They perform similarly to all of the Bose headphones but maybe one notch worse.

All other noise canceling headphones on this list struggle quite a bit when it comes to microphone quality, unfortunately. You’re probably better off taking off your headphones and using your phone’s built-in microphone and speakers to take calls with everything else on this list.

Best true wireless earbuds, ranked by microphone quality

  1. Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700
  2. Bose QC30
  3. Jabra Elite 85h
  4. Bowers & Wilkins PX
  5. COWIN E7
  6. Sony WF-1000XM3

Credits — The team that worked on this guide

Peter Cao likes to spend most of his days enjoying music and playing video games. While at work, he focuses on analyzing, testing, and reviewing all types of headphones and audio gear.

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September 15, 2019 at 06:07PM