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Best noise-canceling headphones of 2020

Looking for active noise-canceling headphones? These are CNET's current top picks.

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When it comes to noise-canceling headphones that block out background noise and ambient sound, Bose has been the audio gold standard for years. But other headphone-makers have steadily chipped away at Bose's lead, and now it's a competitive category with a multitude of compelling noise-canceling options at various prices. Whether you want to use your noise-canceling headphones to listen to music or just block out unwanted noise, there are many superb models to choose from -- with even more on the way. 

Below, I've rounded up all the best noise-canceling headphones available to purchase, all of which I've fully reviewed or used hands-on over a period of time. I'll be updating this list regularly as more audio options are released.

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Sony's earlier WH-1000XM3 model was great. But if it had a weakness, that was voice calling, particularly in noisier environments. The WH-1000XM4 model has improved in that area and also adds multipoint Bluetooth pairing so you can connect to two devices -- such as your phone and PC -- at the same time. That means that if a call comes in while you're using the headphones with your computer, the audio will switch to your phone when you answer the call.

The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 probably still have a slight edge for voice calls, but the 1000XM4 headphones are arguably a tad more comfortable and also have some other slight improvements to noise cancellation and sound that make this model a great all-around choice. Read our Sony WH-1000XM4 review.

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The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, the long-awaited successor to Bose's QuietComfort 35 II model, may not be a quantum leap forward, but these headphones offer slightly better sound and noise cancellation along with top-notch headset performance for voice calls. They're a strong all-around audio performer with up to 20 hours of battery life and a more durable design than their predecessor (some find the QuietComfort 35 II headphones slightly more comfortable).

At launch, they cost $400, but they've recently come down in price. We've seen the white version dip as low as $299 while the black and silver versions have hit $340. That said, the new Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones, their closest competitor, has also seen nice discounts. Read our Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review.

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It took Bose quite a while to get them into stores, but the new $279 noise-canceling QuietComfort Earbuds are finally here. In many ways, they're excellent true wireless earbuds, particularly when it comes to their sound and to their noise canceling, which is arguably the best out there right now in a set of earbuds. In performance they clearly have a leg up on Apple's best-selling AirPods Pro true wireless noise-canceling buds. However, the AirPods Pro's smaller design, somewhat more comfortable fit and superior voice-calling capabilities make it hard to declare the Bose the straight-up champ. Ultimately, it depends on what your priorities are. Read our Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Even if the music or audio doesn't sound as magical as you'd hope for from a $249 pair of earbuds, the AirPods Pro still manage to be a good pair of truly wireless earbuds. That's largely due to their winning design and fit, improved bass performance (which helps the audio quality), effective noise cancellation and excellent call quality. Plus, they're a lot less noticeable than over-ear headphones. Yeah, these in-ear buds are expensive to buy at $249, but the good news is you'll use them so much you'll probably wear the battery down -- it does degrade over time and isn't replaceable -- and have to buy a new pair of earbuds in 18 to 24 months if you don't lose them first. Read our Apple AirPods Pro review.

David Carnoy/CNET

As far as sound, comfort level and build quality, you'd be hard-pressed to do better than Anker's SoundCore Life Q30 for the money. It does have quite the clarity or bass definition as some of the top premium models, but it's less than a third of the price and gets you about 75% of the way there in terms of sound (it's well balanced overall with punchy bass and there's an that allows you to tweak the sound). Noise canceling is good for the price, though not up to the level of the Sony WH-1000XM4 or Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. Battery life is rated at an impressive 40 hours with USB-C charging.

The only area where the Q30 falls a little short is for voice calls. It picks up your voice fine in quieter environments but it just doesn't reduce background noise all that well. 

Compared to the Q20 (see below), the Q30 does offer improved sound (it's not a huge difference, but it definitely is a notch up) and a more premium design. Anker often offers the Q20 at a $10 discount at Amazon. Eventually, we should see something like that on the Q30.

David Carnoy/CNET

The Mpow X3 wireless earbuds sound shockingly good for their low price of $50, with good clarity and powerful bass, and they even have active noise cancellation that's fairly effective.

Mpow seems to be regularly tweaking its earphones, and the X3 earbuds were briefly taken off Amazon, before returning with an update. "The new version upgraded the volume control and optimized its active noise-canceling function and call effect," the company told me. "It also added the supersoft ear caps, which [are] more comfortable to wear for a long time."

They did fit me comfortably and securely and I got a tight seal from one of the sets of XL ear tips. They're fully waterproof (IPX7) and get up to 7 hours of battery life at moderate volume levels with USB-C charging. (The charging case looks like a fat version of the standard AirPods case.) Call quality is good -- they have a sidetone feature that lets you hear your voice in the earbuds -- but I've used other earbuds with better noise reduction during calls. I noticed a touch of audio lag when I streamed a YouTube video but no problems when streaming iTunes movies.

The touch controls take some getting used to -- they're a little wonky -- and it didn't help that the instructions in the box seemed to be for the old X3 model. (I found the current instructions online, which helped me figure things out.) Aside from a few minor downsides, Mpow's X3 earbuds are a great value.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Anker's SoundCore Life Q20 headphones are arguably the best value in the category of noise-canceling headphones. Not only do these over-ear headphones sound quite decent for their regular list price of $60 (they often sell for $10 less), but they're also comfortable to wear thanks to the secure earcups.

No, they don't sound as good as premium Bluetooth headphones like the Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones, but the audio quality is pretty good, which is all you can ask of noise-canceling headphones at this price. The sound quality is fairly well balanced with a reasonable amount of clarity and plump bass that's not bloated or muddy (there's a bass boost or BassUp mode if you want an extra helping of bass with your music). Also, the noise cancellation is acceptably effective and they're solid as a headset for making calls. Battery life is good at 40 hours. A simple carrying pouch is included. Read more.

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Urbanista's London true-wireless earbuds ($150) look a lot like Apple's AirPods Pro and have noise canceling with a transparency mode, as well as a sensor that detects when you take the earbuds out of your ears and pauses your music. They sound better than the AirPods Pro, with clean, well-balanced sound and punchy, well-defined bass and nice detail. On top of that, they're very good for making calls, featuring good noise reduction so people hear you well even if there's ambient noise in the background.

Their only downside is that their touch controls are somewhat limited and not quite as easy to use as those of the AirPods Pro. They also sound distinctly different depending on whether you have them in ambient (transparency) mode or noise-canceling mode. Battery life is rated at 5 hours -- the same as the AirPods Pro -- but that's not as good as some of the latest true wireless earbuds with noise cancellation. The compact charging case, which charges via USB-C, gives you an additional four charges.

Unlike the AirPods Pro, the Urbanista London earbuds are available in not just one color but four. Currently on Amazon the white version is discounted to $100.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Sony's WF-1000XM3 earbuds have been out for a while and are probably due for an upgrade in the not-so-distant future. In recent months, we've seen them discounted by $50 off their list price and they remain a solid pick at that price. As far as sound quality goes, they're among the best-sounding wireless earbuds and also feature excellent noise-cancellation technology to reduce ambient noise.

The only drawback is the WF-1000XM3 earbuds aren't rated as sweat-proof or waterproof headphones. That said, I've used them for light workouts with a bit of a sweat at the gym without a problem. They use Bluetooth 5.0 with support for AAC but not aptX. Read our Sony WF-1000XM3 review.

David Carnoy/CNET

Microsoft's over-ear noise-canceling Surface Headphones 2 were released earlier in 2020, and the biggest change from their predecessor is the price: The original Surface Headphones launched at $350, while the Headphones 2 cost $250. Like the original, there's a lot to like about this second-gen model. While they've lost their hands-free Cortana voice control feature (a change no one will lament) and the sound quality hasn't improved (it's quite good but not stellar), the combination of some small design tweaks, better battery life, upgraded Bluetooth and the new lower price helps bump their rating up and make them more recommendable. 

Their multipoint Bluetooth pairing capability allows you to pair them with two devices at the same time, such as a computer and a phone, and quickly switch the audio from each device to the headphones. That's an appealing feature from a work-from-home standpoint, and these also work well for making voice calls. Read our Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 review.

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Sony's WF-1000XM3 earbuds are considered among the best true wireless noise-canceling earbuds. But to the dismay of some people, this model lacked any sort of water resistance, making them unsuitable for sports. It took a while, but now we finally have a new true wireless noise-canceling sports model from Sony: the WF-SP800N.

This isn't quite the WF-1000XM3 earbuds with IP55 water resistance. They're missing Sony's QN1e processor, but there's still a lot to like about them, including very good sound, solid noise cancellation and good call quality. It's definitely an upgrade over the WF-SP700N, which came out in 2018, and the "arcs" (sports fins) lock the buds in your ears well. Just make sure you get a tight seal from one of the included ear tips or else both the sound and the noise canceling will be lackluster. Read our Sony WF-SP800N review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

When it comes to premium noise-canceling headphones, Bose and Sony have been the dominant players over the last few years. But now Sennheiser has turned up with its new Momentum 3 Wireless headphones and they deserve some attention, particularly from fans of the Momentum line. The Momentum 3 headphones are available to buy now for $400 (£369) -- the same price as Bose's Noise Cancelling Headphones 700.

Not only does this model feature improved noise-canceling features and excellent sound and audio, but it also performs well as a headset for making calls. While in noise cancellation and comfort level the Momentum 3 headphones don't quite measure up to the Sony WH-1000XM3, I appreciated the nicely padded earcups covered with sheep leather and had no trouble rocking them for a 2-hour music listening session, to say nothing of the battery life. Read our Sennheiser Momentum 3 first take.

Shure

If you're looking for a very clean-sounding headphone with more of a neutral sound profile, the well-built Shure Aonic 50 is that noise-canceling headphone. The treble is clear and articulate and the bass is well-defined but may be a little underpowered for those who want a little more oomph. The noise canceling is good but not quite up to the level of top noise-canceling models from Bose and Sony that cost a little less.

The headphones fold flat but they're a bit bulky, as is their case. But they work very well as a headset for making calls -- Shure is known for making excellent microphones -- so they're a good work-from-home headphone that's comfortable to wear (but might be a little big for some folks). 

While the Aonic 50 suffers a bit from being a little too expensive, it's an excellent headphone that seems built to last. Battery life is rated at 20 hours -- the headphone charge via USB-C -- and it supports a variety of audio codecs, including aptX, aptX HD, aptX Low Latency audio, Sony LDAC, AAC, and SBC. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

When Jabra first announced its new Elite 85h ($300, £280 or about AU$435 converted) over-ear headphones, it touted how they would be equipped with always-on (hands-free) voice assistant control using Amazon's Alexa or Google Assistant. Alas, that feature didn't make it into the final product -- apparently it affected battery life too much, and battery life is critical -- but the Elite 85h noise-canceling headphones are nevertheless excellent, making music and audio sound good. They're comfortable to wear and also work well as a headset for making calls, important for over-ear headphones. Read our Jabra Elite 85h review.

Amazon

Sennheiser updated its well-regarded 4.50BTNC noise-canceling headphones for 2020. The new headphone model is called the 450BT and it has some notable upgrades, including better battery life (up to 30 hours with noise canceling on), USB-C charging, Bluetooth 5.0 with AptX support for devices like the Samsung Galaxy smartphones that support it and more comfortable earpads. The 450BT noise-canceling headphones list for $200, but occasionally dip to $125 or less. 

The 450BT headphones don't have quite the clarity or bass definition of Sennheiser's Momentum Wireless 3 headphones, but they cost much less and deliver very good well-balanced sound that's easy to listen to for long periods. I thought the 450BT model also worked quite well as a headset making calls, with the sidetone feature that allows you to hear your voice inside the headphones.

The only potential downside is that regular headphones may not be the most comfortable for some people. I have a smaller head, so they worked fine for me, but they do clamp a bit and those with larger heads may find that to be an issue. Also, while the earpads have been upgraded, they're still covered in a faux leather material that doesn't breathe quite as well as some earpad coverings. Still, if you can't afford premium models in the $300 to $400 range, this is a more affordable option that's well built and delivers premium sound. The headphones fold up to fit into an included soft carrying case.

David Carnoy/CNET

The Solo Pro headphones are the first Beats on-ear model to feature active noise cancellation and the first full-size Beats headphones to charge via Lightning. They use the company's Pure Adaptive Noise Canceling (Pure ANC), "derived from the over-ear Studio3 Wireless, with updated tuning to accommodate the on-ear form factor," Beats says. With the tap of a button, you can turn off that noise cancellation to save battery life. Hit the button a second time to enter an audio transparency mode that allows you to hear the outside world, not just the music you're listening to.

Available in multiple color options, these noise-canceling headphones are equipped with six microphones, two of which are beamforming mics that are designed to home in on your voice when making calls or talking to your voice assistant (Apple's H1 chip provides always-on Siri). The sound is smooth and well-balanced with punchy bass that doesn't make music sound boomy. Quite comfortable for an on-ear model, the more compact design travels better than some full-size models on this list. While they're overpriced at $300, we're seeing discounts that bring the price closer to $200, which is where it needs to get to. Read our Beats Solo Pro first take.

Amazon

I liked Bowers & Wilkins' original PX noise-canceling headphones, but they were slightly lacking in both the earcup comfort and noise-canceling departments. The company's new PX7, released in the fall of 2019, improves on both fronts, with excellent sound, four noise cancellation settings (Automatic, Low, High and Off) and well-padded earcups in a sturdy, eye-catching design. There's also an adjustable ambient transparency mode that allows you to hear the outside world. 

The headphones are a tad heavy at 10.7 ounces (304 grams), but the build quality is top-notch -- and it better be considering these are a little pricey at $400. Bowers & Wilkins also makes a more compact on-ear model, the PX5 ($300), which is also quite good. But these do sound a little better.

The sound is rich and detailed, with deep bass that remains well-defined even at high volumes. These are pretty dynamic headphones, with a touch of extra energy in the midhighs. They're not laid-back like the earlier PX5 Wireless and their most direct competitor is probably the Sennheiser Momentum 3 model listed above. That Sennheiser is arguably superior for making calls, but this B&W probably wins on design. 

The PX7 headphones support AAC and aptX, use Bluetooth 5.0, charge via USB-C and have up to 30 hours of battery life at moderate volume levels. The noise canceling isn't quite at the level of the Bose or Sony in this roundup, but it's not far off -- as I said, it's improved from the original PX model's noise cancellation. Read more.

Amazon

Bang & Olufsen's Beoplay H9 headphones don't get mentioned much in the discussion of top noise-canceling headphones because at $500, they're really pricey. The latest third-generation version has been upgraded in a few significant ways that make them better than the earlier H9i model. Battery life has been improved to 25 hours, there's now a dedicated button for your voice assistant, the padding on the ear cushions and headband is cushier and the touch controls have been tweaked. The audio sound is still good. Read more.

Sarah Tew/CNET

When Bose released its new flagship Noise Cancelling 700 Headphones it didn't drop the QuietComfort 35 II from its headphone lineup, and these remain a top noise-canceling model. While I think the 700 performs better overall, there are people who prefer the QuietComfort 35 II. These headphones frequently go on sale for less than the retail price, so definitely look for them at a discount if you want to buy them. Read our Bose QuietComfort 35 II review.

Truth be told, these are the in-ear headphones I usually take with me on plane trips. The noise-canceling earbuds take up very little room in a bag, they don't need a battery (so no worrying about battery life) and they're good for watching in-flight movies, whether on the airline's in-flight entertainment system or your own device. They offer surprisingly good noise cancellation; just don't forget your headphone adapter dongle if you have a phone or tablet that's missing the headphone jack. Note that these earbuds have been out for a while. Since the QuietComfort 20 earbuds are wired rather than wireless, it's unclear whether Bose will update them, but look for them on sale. Read our Bose QuietComfort 20 review.

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