Technology

Best noise-canceling headphones of 2020





For a few years, Bose was the audio gold normal for noise-canceling headphones that block out background noise and ambient sound. However as different firms have steadily chipped away at Bose’s lead, it is now a aggressive headphone class with loads of compelling noise-canceling choices at totally different costs. Whether or not you wish to use your noise-canceling headphones to listen to music or simply block out undesirable noise, there are tons of nice noise-canceling headphone fashions to select from — with much more on the best way. 

Beneath, I’ve rounded up all one of the best noise-canceling headphones yow will discover — all of which I’ve absolutely reviewed or used hands-on over a time period. I will be updating this listing as extra audio choices are launched.


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Sony’s earlier WH-1000XM3 was a great noise-canceling headphone. But if it had a weakness, it was its voice-calling capabilities, particularly in noisier environments. The new WH-1000XM4 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 is arguably a tad more comfortable and also has some other slight improvements to its noise canceling and sound that makes it a great all-around choice.  

Read our Sony WH-1000XM4 review.

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Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, the long-awaited successor to its QuietComfort 35 II models, may not be a quantum leap forward but they offer slightly better sound and noise-canceling abilities 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 slightly more comfortable).

At launch, they cost $400, but they’ve recently come down in price, with the white version costing $299 while the black and silver versions are priced at $339. That gives them pricing parity with the new Sony WH-1000XM4, their closest competitor.

Read our Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review.

Juan Garzon/CNET

Sony’s WH-1000XM3 — the third generation of Sony’s excellent wireless noise-canceling headphones — earned an Editors’ Choice from CNET and was arguably the top noise-canceling headphone until the WH-1000XM4 came along. Its successor is 15%-20% better, with slightly improved performance to its sound, noise-canceling, plus multipoint Bluetooth pairing (you can simultaneously pair two devices, such as a PC and smartphone, to the headphones for easy switching) and upgraded microphones for voice calling. But the WH-1000XM3 is still a great headphones and its price has dropped, making it a better value. 

Read our Sony WH-1000XM3 review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Even if the music or audio doesn’t sound as magical as you’d hope a $249 model would, the AirPods Pro still manage to be a good pair of truly wireless headphones. That’s largely due to their winning design and earbud 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 $250, 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

The Mpow X3 sound shockingly good for their low price of $60, with good clarity and powerful bass (they play loud), and they even have active noise canceling that’s fairly effective.

Mpow seems to be regularly tweaking its earphones, and the X3 was briefly taken off Amazon, before returning with its latest update: “The new version upgraded the volume control, optimized its active noise canceling function and call effect,” the company told me. “It also added the super-soft ear caps which is 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 XL ear tips. They’re fully waterproof (IPX7) and get up to seven 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 buds — but I’ve used other earbud models with better noise reduction during calls. I noticed a touch of audio lag when I streamed a YouTube video but I had no issues 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. (I found the current instructions online, which helped me figure things out.) Aside from a few minor downsides, the X3 is a great value. 

David Carnoy/CNET

Urbanista may be based in Sweden, but it doesn’t have a problem naming its earbuds after other European cities. Its London true-wireless earbuds ($150) look a lot like Apple’s AirPods Pro and have noise-canceling (with an transparency mode) as well as a sensor that detects when you take the earbuds out of your ears and pauses your music. However, 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 a good amount of ambient noise in the background.

Their only downside is that their touch controls are somewhat limited and not quite as user friendly as the AirPods Pro. They also sound distinctly different when you have them in ambient (transparency) mode and 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-canceling. The compact charging case, which charges via USB-C, gives you an additional 4 charges. 

Unlike the AirPods Pro, the Urbanista London is available in not just one color but four. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Anker’s Soundcore Life Q20 is arguably the best value in 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 the headphones are also comfortable to wear thanks to the secure ear cups.

No, the Life Q20 doesn’t sound as good as premium Bluetooth headphones like the Sony WH-1000XM3, but the audio quality is pretty good, which is all you can ask for 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 it’s solid as a headset for making calls. Battery life is good at 40 hours. A simple carrying pouch is included.

Read more.

Sarah Tew/CNET

While they aren’t water-resistant, Sony’s new WF-1000XM3 true wireless headphones feature excellent sound, are good for listening to music or any audio with and have something you won’t find in Apple’s AirPods: active noise cancellation. At $230, these noise-canceling earbuds are not cheap to buy, but with a battery life lasting up to 24 hours (even more battery life!) and high-res audio, they are among the best new true wireless earbuds of 2020.

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 help 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 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.

David Carnoy/CNET

Sony’s WF-1000XM3 is considered one of the best sets of true wireless noise-canceling earbuds. But to the dismay of some people, it lacked any sort of water resistance, making wireless earbuds 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 with a IP55 water-resistant body. It’s missing Sony’s QN1e processor, but there’s still a lot to like about it, including very good sound, solid noise canceling and good call quality. It’s definitely an upgrade over the WF-SP700N, which came out in 2018, and its “arcs” (sports fins) lock the buds in your ears. Just make sure you get a tight seal from one of the included ear tips or else both the sound and 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 and it deserves some attention, particularly from folks who are fans of the Momentum line. It’s available to buy now for $400 (£369) — the same price as Bose’s Noise Cancelling Headphones 700.

Not only does it feature improved noise canceling features and excellent sound and audio, but it also performs well as a headset for making calls. While its noise cancellation and comfort level doesn’t quite measure up to the noise cancellation and comfort of the Sony WH-1000XM3, it has nicely padded ear cups covered with sheep leather and I had no trouble rocking it for a two-hour music listening session, to say nothing of the battery life.

Read our Sennheiser Momentum 3 first take.

Sarah Tew/CNET

When Jabra first announced its new Elite 85h ($300, £280 or about AU$435 converted) over-ear headphones, it touted how it 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 noise canceling headphone product — apparently it affected battery life too much, and battery life is critical — but the Elite 85h is nevertheless an excellent noise canceling headphone that makes music and audio sound good. The Elite 85h offers decent sound quality, it’s comfortable to wear and also works well (important for over-ear headphones) as a headset for making calls.

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 ear pads. The noise-canceling headphones list for $200, but occasionally dip to $150. 

This doesn’t have quite the clarity or bass definition of Sennheiser’s Momentum Wireless 3, but it costs $200 less and delivers very good well-balanced sound that’s easy to listen to for long periods. I thought the 450BT also worked quite well as a headset making calls — it has a sidetone feature that allows you to hear your voice inside the headphones.

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

Amazon

I liked Bowers & Wilkins’ original PX noise-canceling headphones, but they were slightly lacking in both the ear cup 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-canceling settings (Automatic, Low, High and Off) and well padded ear cups 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 this model does sound a little better.

The sound is rich and detailed, with deep bass that remains well defined even at high volumes. This is a pretty dynamic headphone, with a touch of extra energy in the mid-highs. It’s not laid-back like the earlier PX5 Wireless and its most direct competitor is probably the Sennheiser Momentum 3 above. That Sennheiser is arguably superior for making calls, but this B&W probably wins on design. 

It supports AAC and aptX, uses Bluetooth 5.0, charges via USB-C and has up to 30 hours of battery life at moderate volume levels. It’s noise canceling isn’t quite at the level of the Bose or Sony, but it’s not far off — as I said, it’s improved from the original PX’s noise canceling.

Read more.

David Carnoy/CNET

The Solo Pro is the first Beats on-ear headphone to feature active noise cancellation and the first full-size Beats headphone to charge via Lightning. It uses 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, the noise-canceling headphone is equipped with six microphones, two of which are beamforming mics that are designed to hone in on your voice when making calls or talking to your voice assistant (Apple’s H1 chip is on board for 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, its more compact design travels better than some full-size models on this list. While it’s overpriced at $300, we’re seeing discounts that bring its price closer to $200, which is where it needs to get to.

Read our Beats Solo Pro first take.

Amazon

Bang & Olufsen’s Beoplay H9 doesn’t get mentioned much in the discussion of top noise canceling headphones because at $500, it’s a really pricey pair of headphones to buy. The latest third-generation version has been upgraded in a few significant ways that make it better than the earlier H9i. Battery life for this version has improved over the battery life of the previous version 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 line up and it remains a top noise canceling headphone. While I think the 700 performs better overall, there are people who prefer the QuietComfort 35 II. It frequently goes on sale for less than its price so definitely look for it at a discount if you want to buy it.

Read our Bose QuietComfort 35 II review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

While its noise canceling feature and comfort levels aren’t quite on par with competing models from Bose and Sony, JBL’s Live 650BTNC ($160) measures up well in terms of sound. These over-ear headphones are worth considering if you don’t want to spend $300 or more on a noise canceling headphone. We like the sound of that!

Read our JBL Live 650BTNC review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

A lot of people don’t think of the Beats Studio3 Wireless as a noise canceling headphone but it does feature active noise cancellation and impressive sound. It’s a little bit of an underrated headphone, with good battery life, quality sound and comfortable ear pads, plus now that it’s been out for a while it sells for less than its list price and sometimes significantly less.

Read our Beats Studio3 Wireless 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, don’t need a battery (so no worrying about battery life) and are good for watching in-flight movies, whether they’re 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 in-ear headphones have been out for a while. Since it’s a wired model, it’s unclear whether Bose will update it, but look for it on sale.

Read our Bose QuietComfort 20 review.

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Author

David Carnoy