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The Best Noise-Canceling Headphones of 2023 — Which Is Right For You?
There are a lot of wireless headphones with active noise-cancellation. We've rounded up the best of the best.
Active noise-canceling headphones are some of the most popular on the market, and for good reason: using special built-in microphones, they can electronically generate opposing sound waves — called antiphases — that cancel out ambient sounds. The result is that you just hear the music, not your apartment's TV, your colleagues' lunch conversation or the dull buzz of an airplane.
You can buy noise-canceling headphones in a wireless earbud design, but over-ear designs do a better job at passively blocking out noise. The combination of great active and passive noise-cancellation, plus the fact that over-ear headphones are able to have bigger and more powerful drivers, make over-ear headphones the best type of active noise-canceling headphones bar none.
Best All-Around ChoiceSony WH-1000XM5 Read More
Best Upgrade OptionApple AirPods Max Read More
Best Budget OptionSennheiser HD 450BT Read More
Master & Dynamic MW75 Read More
Bose QuietComfort 45 Read More
And there are a ton to choose from. Bose and Sony have been the industry leaders for numerous years, and each makes a few different models of noise-canceling headphones. Then there's the fact that seemingly every other audio company — including Apple now — has its own take on the perfect noise-canceling headphones with the AirPods Max.
Most of the best noise-canceling headphones hover somewhere near $300 or above; if you don’t want to spend as much you can find older, wired models of the Bose QC25 or Sony 1000XM that are both excellent and significantly more affordable. You can snag an even better deal with manufacturer-refurbished models on eBay, Amazon or the company’s own website; you can get a really good deal and all of those reliable websites have fairly lenient return policies in case the headphones don’t meet your expectations.
Active noise-cancellation: Not every pair of active noise-canceling headphones has the same noise-canceling power. The best ones, typically made by Sony or Bose, have superior processors and built-in microphones so that they can identify unwanted ambient sounds and then create opposing sound waves to effectively cancel them out.
Sound quality: The most important thing with any pair of headphones is how they sound. The best headphones sound alive. They deliver clear vocals, punchy bass and a wide soundstage so you really feel like you're experiencing the music live. The problem is active noise-cancellation isn't good for sound quality — the extra frequencies created to cancel out ambient sounds also work against the frequencies of the music. However, high-quality noise-canceling headphones have the ability to sound great while also creating the perfect calm that you want with noise cancellation.
Call quality: The reality is that people are wearing headphones for more than just music — they're also taking calls. Recently, manufacturers are putting more microphones in their headphones so that your voice sounds crisp (not grainy) on calls. The most recent headphones by Bose and Sony have also been integrated with technologies that cancel out voices around you, so there's no unwanted background chatter while you're on a call.
Premium features: There are a bunch of other features you want to look for in a pair of headphones — and it all comes down to personal preference. Do you want a pair that has buttons or swipe gestures for play/pause and volume control? Do you want a pair that supports fast charging? Or a pair that comes with a companion that allows you to tweak EQ settings?
We're always testing a wide variety of wireless headphones with active noise-cancellation — and there are a lot of options. We test each pair of headphones for sound quality, call clarity, comfort, battery life and features (such as button or swipe controls as well as support for a companion app). And, of course, we test each headphone's noise-canceling abilities in a range of different noisy and quiet environments.
Our recommendations are based on real-world testing. Here's a snapshot of new and unreleased noise-canceling headphones our testers are considering for future updates to this guide.
- KEF Mu7: These are KEF's first pair of wireless headphones with active noise-cancellation. The Mu7 has custom 40mm drivers and support for aptX HD for high-end sound. They get their unique industrial design (made out of aluminum) thanks to a partnership with Ross Lovegrove, who has helped KEF design a number of its super-expensive loudspeakers.
- Focal Bathys: The Focal Bathys are the French hi-fi company's flagship noise-canceling headphones. At $799, they're one of the most expensive options you can buy, but they ooze luxury. They pack the same 40mm M-shaped dome driver as the company's Elear (open-back) and Celestee (closed-back) headphones and thus promise to deliver a wide, rich and accurate sound.
- Mark Levinson No. 5909: At a $1K, the Mark Levinson No. 5909 are the most expensive wireless noise-canceling headphones you can buy. Their design is mostly made out of anodized aluminum and real leather. They have 40mm Beryllium-coated drivers and support for lossless sound (thanks mostly to supporting LDAC audio files), which the company claims allows them to deliver an audio quality that's almost as good as wired hi-fi headphones.
- Dyson Zone: Dyson, the company best known for its vacuums, is jumping into the world of wireless headphones. The Zone are its wireless noise-canceling headphones, but they are completely unique because they can purify the air you breathe via an attachable visor. The Dyson Zone will cost an eye-watering $949 and they'll be released in March 2023.