The best noise-cancelling headphones 2023on January 20, 2023 at 15:41 Tech Advisor

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A lot of headphones come with active noise cancelling (or cancellation) but with transparency modes, hybrid ANC and other complex terms, buying a pair can be difficult – especially when it appears that you can either spend under $50/£50 or over $500/£500. Our chart and buying guide will help you choose the right pair.

Headphones come in all manner of shapes, sizes and types and although noise cancelling used to be fairly rare, it’s now widely available with lots of choices. While many fetch a high price, there are some cheaper options too.

Bose and Sony are well-known for the tech but there are various alternatives out there. We also have round-ups for overall best headphones, true wireless earbuds if you’re looking for something else. Scroll to beyond the list for our advice on noise-cancelling headphones.

Best noise cancelling headphones 2023

1. Sony WH-1000XM5 – Best Overall

Pros

Phenomenal audio quality

Great noise cancellation

Serious smarts

Cons

No longer fold

Expensive

Sony remains the one to beat when it comes to premium headphones and the WH-1000XM5 retain the crown after the excellent XM4s.

Class-leading active noise cancelling is yet again a highlight with things like Adaptive Sound Control and plenty of user tweaking available in the Sony Headphones app. There’s so much more to enjoy though, including incredible sound quality despite smaller drives this time and lots of smart features.

The new design might not suit everyone and has advantages like smooth headband adjustment but no longer fold down. The other thing to factor is the new higher price, when previous models, including the WH-1000XM4 are available for almost half the price.

Read our full
Review Sony WH-1000XM5

2. Sony WF-1000XM4 – Best Wireless Earbuds

Pros

Class leading ANC

Incredible sound

Smart features

Cons

More expensive than some

Bulky for small ears

If you want noise cancelling earbuds then Sony has nailed the formula, as long as you can afford them and don’t mind them being a little bigger than some rivals.

Otherwise, there’s nothing to dislike here with the best ANC we’ve tested on any pair of earbuds so far along with the top-notch sound quality you’d expect from a flagship Sony product.

There’s also strong battery life and the earbuds come with the same smart features as the over-ear model such as Adaptive Sound Control and Speak to Chat.

Read our full
Review Sony WF-1000XM4

3. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II – Best Raw ANC Performance

Pros

Superb sound quality

Astonishing noise cancellation

Clever ‘Aware’ mode

Secure fit

Cons

No Hi-Res audio support

No Bluetooth Multipoint

No wireless charging

RRP:



£279

Best Prices Today:



£249.00 at Amazon£279 at Bose

Bose has really stepped up its game with the QC Earbuds 2 with a more compact and modern design that still have wingtips for extra security, excellent touch controls and a better case design.

The already excellent ANC is even better with unbelievable pure performance as well as a clever aware mode. Paired with top-notch sound quality and you’ve got yourself a very decent pair of wireless earbuds.

As previously, Sony is the thorn in Bose’s side here with – if it bothers you – better battery life, a better range of smart features and Hi-Res Audio.

Read our full
Review Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II

4. Razer Opus – Best for THX Certification

Pros

Impressive ANC

Auto-pause technology

Well-balanced audio

Cons

Only one main ANC mode

A bit too quiet for some

The Opus represents a new direction for Razer, a company solely focused on gaming peripherals up until this point, and the company has done very well indeed.

While some ANC headphones in our chart come with an expensive price tag, the Razer Opus offer impressive noise cancelling technology at an affordable price – albeit simply on or off.

Combine that with the stylish monochromatic finish, complete with silver detailing, and handy features like auto-pause tech and THX certification and you’ve got a phenomenal pair of cans that can handle music, TV, film and more.

They’re also super comfortable.

Read our full
Review Razer Opus

5. Bose QuietComfort 45 – Best Comfort

Pros

Super comfortable

Great ANC performance

Decent battery life

Cons

No ANC adjustment

Lacking smart features

Plasticky build

Considering the five-year wait for these headphones, a startling amount of things here are still the same.

Still, Bose fans will likely be pleased to see the iconic design remain largely the same and these are still one of the most comfortable pairs of headphones you’ll ever wear.

They sound good and ANC performance is solid. However,  you can only swap between Quiet and Aware modes with no further adjustment and they lack smart features like wear detection.

This makes the price a little hard to justify if you’re not a die-hard Bose fan, although you could look to the older
QC35 II as a cheaper option.

Read our full
Review Bose QC45

6. Apple AirPods Pro 2 – Best for iPhone

Pros

Comfortable & compact

Industry-leading transparency mode

Impressive ANC performance

Enhanced Find My functionality

Cons

Many smart features are exclusive to Apple devices

No lossless audio support

Only IPX4

The AirPods Pro 2 represent the pinnacle of true wireless earbud performance for iPhone users, with not only impressive audio performance with improved ANC and transparency mode capabilities, but a swathe of smart features that push the AirPods Pro 2 above other third-party options.

It’s not so clear-cut if you’re an Android user, losing out on many of the smarts that make the AirPods Pro 2 what they are, but if you’ve got an iPhone, iPad, Apple TV or Mac, the AirPods Pro are the ideal high-end performers.

While there’s still a basic splash-resistant rating, there’s still one glaring thing missing from Apple’s earbuds and that’s a lossless codec.

7. NuraLoop – Best Custom Sound

Pros

Superb personalised sound

Excellent ANC

Great value

Cons

Proprietary eartips and adapter

No digital assistant support

Bulky case

RRP:



£149

Best Prices Today:



£112.68 at Amazon£149 at Nura

NuraLoop manages to condense the custom tuning audio wizardry found in the company’s first product and deliver an in-ear alternative that’s hard to beat in terms of sound quality.

They’re also very comfortable, have decent noise cancellation and long battery life to boot.

Better yet, they undercut Apple’s AirPods Pro while delivering a better audio experience overall. Just be aware that it lacks virtual assistant support and relies on some proprietary components that might cost a little extra to replace.

If you prefer true wireless earbuds you can go for the NuraTrue.

Read our full
Review NuraLoop

8. Anker Soundcore Life A2 NC – Best Budget Earbuds

Pros

Hybrid Active Noise Cancellation

Powerful bass

Great battery life

Cons

No auto-pause tech

Case feels a little cheap

No auto-switching of ANC profiles

RRP:



£79.99

Best Prices Today:



£59.99 at Amazon

If you don’t have much to spend on noise cancelling earbuds then look no further than this pair from Anker. They’re already available for a lot less than the RRP.

Hybrid ANC does a great job of keep noise out, with three different modes available as well as a transparency option, too. Far more than you would expect for a pair this cheap and they also offer great bass and battery performance.

The price does mean you’re missing out on some features though, like auto-pause and the build quality is understandably on the basic side.

Read our full
Review Anker Soundcore Life A2 NC

9. Apple AirPods Max – Luxury for iPhone users

Pros

Incredible sound quality

Premium build

Great ANC

Impressive smarts

Cons

Limited Android support

No power button

An ill-designed Smart Case

No Lossless support

RRP:



£549

They are expensive, but the AirPods Max are a great option for those wanting luxurious over-ear headphones – although you’ll probably want to look elsewhere if you have an Android phone.

Apple offers amazing sound quality here along with stunning build quality and brilliant noise cancelling. There are also various handy smart features making them a great pair of headphones.

It’s odd there’s no power button but early battery life issues have been fixed. You just might want to get a third-party case to avoid Apple’s ridiculous Smart Case.

Read our full
Review Apple AirPods Max

10. Sennheiser HD450BT – Best Value Over Ear

Pros

Comfortable design

Great audio range

Good ANC

Cons

Plastic build

Mic muffles if worn reversed

RRP:



£159.99

The Sennheiser HD 450BT offer a rich sound. The accompanying app allows you to equalize the bass and trebles so you can get the sound that’s just right – whether you prefer bass heavy tones or clear mids and trebles for vocals and podcasts.

They might not technically be budget, but they are one of the cheapest pairs of noise cancelling headphones we’ve tested and are around half the price of many rivals. The ANC is pretty decent, too.

The headband and ear pads don’t clasp onto your head so you can expect a comfortable fit – useful if you want to wear them for a few hours at a time. The combination of features make them a particularly good choice for students.

Read our full
Review Sennheiser HD 450BT

How to choose noise cancelling headphones

Noise cancelling shouldn’t be confused with noise isolation. The latter is simply the way of putting some headphones on – no matter the type – creates a physical barrier and blocks out some of the sounds around you.

Using earplugs to sleep is an example of noise isolation. You may see it described as ‘passive noise cancelling’ on headphones.

In contrast, noise cancelling headphones are doing something more than just physical. They are digitally playing sound into your ears – other than the music or audiobook you’re listening to – to negate the sound around you.

This is called ‘active noise cancelling’ (often shortened to ANC) and is what you need to look out for when buying proper noise cancelling headphones.

The headphones listen to the world around you with microphones and play an inverted waveform of whatever they hear. So if the ambient sound is a number, say 5, the headphones play -5 to you equalling 0.

This is all done and processed in real-time so you get the effect of not hearing the things around you.

Find out
how we test audio.

In practice, you’ll never fully get 0 and some headphones offer better noise cancelling than others. Regardless, it makes listening to audio or speech a lot easier as you don’t need to pump the volume to counteract the sound around you.

These days many noise cancelling headphones are more advanced than simply switching the feature on or off. Some will allow you to control how much noise cancelling there is so you can adjust it depending on where you are. This helps with battery life as you can save power when somewhere less demanding like an office.

Some also have modes that help you hear announcements so you don’t miss something important like a call to the gate at the airport or having a conversation with someone without removing your headphones. This feature goes by many names such as ‘aware’ and ‘social’ mode.

Headphones, Home Audio

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