What are the best noise-canceling headphones right now?
There’s a lot of debate around this question, and it’s hard to name one single model as the best overall noise-canceling headphones. But a few models do stand out a bit from the rest of the pack, which is why we’ve given them our prestigious CNET Editors’ Choice Award. From 2022, these included the Sony WH-1000XM5, Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 and Apple AirPods Pro 2. Sony’s new WF-1000XM5 earbuds are also excellent. These headphones and true-wireless earbuds (aka in-ear headphones) offer not only offer excellent ambient noise-muffling capabilities but a comfortable fit, very good sound and strong voice-calling performance. Those are the key factors I evaluate when determining what products end up on this list. Pricing is also a consideration for value picks.
I’ve fully reviewed or had hands-on listening time with all the devices on this best noise-canceling headphones list. If you’re just looking for a list with only budget noise-canceling headphone picks, check out our best noise-canceling headphones under $100 list. And we also have a list of best noise-canceling true wireless earbuds for those just looking for top noise-canceling earbuds.
Best noise-canceling headphones of 2023
‘Noise canceling’ vs. ‘noise cancelling’: Different spelling, same technology
Either spelling is correct, as “canceling” is more common in American English while “cancelling” is more common in British English. CNET uses “noise canceling” since the company is based in the US, but the noise is canceled just the same, regardless of spelling. If you’re looking to see what different noise-impacting technology is out there for headphones, check out our article on noise-canceling versus noise-isolating headphones, which highlights differences in function (and not just a difference in spelling).
Honorable mentions for noise-canceling headphones
Mark Levinson No. 5909: The No. 5909 are premium audio brand Mark Levinson’s first headphones and, yes, they’re really expensive at $999. But they’re also really good. They have a sturdy design without managing to feel hefty on your head (read: they’re substantial but not too heavy) and they’re comfortable to wear over long periods thanks to their nicely padded (and replaceable) leather-covered earcups and headband. Read our Mark Levinson No. 5909 hands-on.
Technics EAH-A800: There’s a bit of an old-school vibe to the Technics EAH-A800 — and it’s not just the Technics brand, which Panasonic resurrected in the last few years. Their design is something of a throwback but the headphones are comfortable and both fold up and fold flat. They feature a big, energetic sound with powerful bass and good detail (however, they take a day or two to break in).
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3: Featuring excellent sound, improved noise canceling and voice-calling performance as well a smaller, more refined design that includes stabilizing fins (so the earbuds stay in your ears more securely), the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 are among the best true-wireless earbuds, giving the Sony WF-1000XM4 a run for the money. Read our Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 review.
Sennheiser 450BT: Sennheiser updated its well-regarded 4.50BTNC noise-canceling headphones in 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 usually cost around $150 although they have dipped to as low as $100 in flash sales (they’re a good value at that price).
Google Pixel Buds Pro: The Pixel Buds Pro are Google’s first earbuds to feature active noise canceling. While it’s nice that they finally have a feature that a lot of true-wireless earbuds have had for a while, what ultimately sets the Pixel Buds Pro apart and makes them worth considering — particularly for Android users — is their distinct design and winning fit. That helps enhance their performance on both the sound quality and noise-canceling fronts. While not quite elite for voice-calling, they also performed well as a headset for making calls. Read our Google Pixel Buds Pro review.
How we test noise-canceling headphones
We test noise-canceling headphones and earbuds based on six key criteria. These criteria include design, sound quality, noise-canceling performance, voice-calling performance, features and value.
- Design: Evaluating design, we assess not only how comfortable the headphones and earbuds fit (their ergonomics) but their build quality and how well the controls are implemented. When it comes to earbuds, we also look at water- and dust-resistance ratings.
- Sound quality: We evaluate sound quality by listening to a set playlist of music tracks and comparing the earbuds to top competing products in their price range. Sonic traits such as bass definition, clarity, dynamic range and how natural the headphones sound are key factors in our assessment.
- Noise-canceling performance: We evaluate noise-canceling performance by wearing the headphones in the same spot indoors near a noisy HVAC unit to see how well they do at muffling lower frequencies. Then we head out to the streets of New York to test the headphones in a real-world environment where we see how they do muffling not only street noise but people’s voices.
- Extra features: Some great-sounding noise-canceling headphones and earbuds aren’t loaded with features, but we do take into account what extra features are on board. These include everything from quick-access awareness to transparency modes (your music pauses and the headphones open up to the outside world so you can have a conversation) to special sound modes to ear-detection sensors that automatically pause your music when you take the headphones off your ears. We also take a look at the companion app for the headphones if there is one and how user friendly it is.
- Voice-calling: When we test voice-calling performance, we make calls in the noisy streets of New York and evaluate how well the headphones or earbuds reduce background noise and how clearly callers can hear our voice.
- Value: We determine value after evaluating the strength of the headphones and earbuds against all these criteria and what they’re able to deliver compared to other models in their price class.
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