Bose, the noise-canceling headphones pioneer, continues to produce excellent active noise-canceling headphones, but rival headphone manufacturers, particularly Sony, have progressively chipped away at Bose’s dominance. With a plethora of over-ear ANC wireless headphones and numerous new noise-canceling Bluetooth earbuds that feature outstanding ambient noise muffling characteristics as well as impressive music quality, it’s become a very competitive category.
The best noise-canceling headphones often cost more than $200, with some premium models costing twice as much or more, but there are many superb ANC headphones and earbuds available at lower prices. While some of the models on the list are pricey, I’ve also included some budget models that function admirably for a reasonable price. All of the headphones and earbuds on this list have been thoroughly tested or have received hands-on listening experience, and the list is updated periodically as new models enter the market.
When you have a popular product, making a change can be dangerous. Such is the situation with Sony’s WH-1000XM5, the fifth version of the 1000X series headphones, which debuted in 2016 as the MDR-1000X Wireless and have grown in popularity as each generation has improved. Sony has tweaked the design throughout the years, but nothing as striking as what it’s done with the WH-1000XM5. Except for the increased $400 price tag ($50 more than the WH-1000XM4), most of the modifications are positive, and Sony has made significant improvements in voice-calling performance, noise cancellation, and sound refinement.
There are no perfect earphones, and not everyone will enjoy the Sony WF-1000XM4 buds’ fit or be able to afford their hefty price. These buds, on the other hand, check all the boxes if you’re seeking terrific-sounding earbuds with great noise cancellation, solid voice-calling features, and long battery life.
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds have excellent noise cancellation and sound quality, but the Sony has somewhat higher sound quality and a more compact design, especially for the case (albeit the Sony buds aren’t small).
Bose QuietComfort 45
The Bose QuietComfort 45 looks almost identical to its popular predecessor, the QuietComfort 35 II, with the exception of a USB-C port replacing the older Micro-USB port. (At 238 grams, the QC45 is only 3 grams heavier than the QC35, so the difference should be negligible.) While the Bose 700 has its devotees, many individuals, like me, believe that the QuietComfort design is slightly more comfortable and that the headphones fold up and flat. It is, without a doubt, the most comfortable pair of headphones available.
They sound identical to the QC 35 II, with the exception of the drivers. The noise cancellation (there is a transparency setting) has been improved, and it may possibly be the best available right now. According to Bose, the new ANC system is powered by a new electronics package that better muffles “unwanted sounds in the midrange frequencies” (voices) that are “usually found on commuter trains, bustling office settings, and cafes.”
That was my experience, and I award these a tiny advantage over both the Headphones 700 and the Sony WH-1000XM4 in terms of noise cancellation. However, unlike other devices with a more solid feature set, such as Sony, you can’t modify the level of noise cancellation. However, following a firmware upgrade, users may now use equalizer settings in the app to modify the sound.
During calls, the headset’s performance has been enhanced, with better noise suppression. These also support Bluetooth multipoint pairing. That means you may connect the QC45 to two devices at once, such as a smartphone and a computer, and switch audio as needed. They have Bluetooth 5.1 and can play the widely accepted AAC audio codec, but not aptX.
While these headphones sound decent and offer advantages over the Headphones 700 and Sony WH-1000XM4, those models sound somewhat better: The Sony offers more powerful bass, while the 700 is slightly more natural sounding and calibrated more for audiophiles. As a result, deciding between these three models is much more difficult.
The WH-1000XM5 has been released by Sony, however, the WH-1000XM4 is still available. While I prefer the WH-1000XM5 for its superior noise cancellation, more polished sound, and substantially better voice-calling capability, the WH-1000XM4 is still a superb headset, and some people may enjoy its somewhat more energetic sound and smaller case than the WH-1000M5. It’s also less expensive, and we should see some excellent discounts in the future.
Beats Fit Pro
Following the release of the third-generation AirPods, Apple has released another set of earphones, this time from Beats, its music division. Although the new Beats Fit Pro ($200) aren’t technically AirPods, they share the same technology platform as the AirPods Pro. Unlike Beats’ previous, less priced Studio Buds, the Beats Fit Pro has Apple’s H1 chip and the majority of the AirPods Pro’s features, such as active noise cancellation, spatial audio, and adaptive EQ. They’re the sports AirPods you’ve always wanted, in my opinion. They might even be better than the AirPods Pro for some folks.
Sony LinkBuds S
The LinkBuds S are classic noise-isolating earbuds with tips that you jam into your ears, unlike the “open” LinkBuds. They’re smaller and lighter than Sony’s flagship WF-1000M4 and include the V1 CPU. While they don’t quite match the WF-1000XM4’s sound and noise cancellation, they’re close and less expensive. They’re Sony’s buds for folks who can handle larger buds like the WF-1000XM4 but want 80 to 85 percent of the features and performance for $80 less.
Mark Levinson No. 5909
The No. 5909 are the first headphones from luxury audio manufacturer Mark Levinson, and they’re quite pricey at $999. They are, nevertheless, really good. They have a strong construction without feeling too heavy on your head (read: they’re substantial but not too heavy), and their well-padded (and replaceable) leather-covered earcups and headband make them comfortable to wear for long periods of time.
Not only do they have good noise cancellation and sound, but they also have excellent voice-calling capabilities. They also include multipoint Bluetooth pairings, which allows you to pair them with two devices at once, such as a computer and a smartphone.
The No. 5909 are high-resolution certified, featuring Sony’s LDAC and Qualcomm’s aptX Adaptive codecs supporting near-lossless Bluetooth streaming. Those codecs are not supported by Apple’s iPhones and iPads, although they are supported by some Android devices. It sounded a little more natural and refined than the AirPods Max when I used the No. 5909 headphones through Bluetooth on my iPhone 13 Pro (the No. 5909 had a touch more “pure” and accurate sound).
When I linked the No. 5909 with my Google Pixel 4 XL, which supports LDAC, and used the Qobuz audio streaming service, which supports high-res streaming, I noticed a change. The sound had a little more depth and richness overall, as well as a little more sparkle, definition, and openness.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 have been around for a while, but they’re still one of the best over-ear noise-canceling headphones, featuring superb sound, noise cancellation, and top-notch voice call performance. Bose’s newer QuietComfort 45 headphones have a tiny advantage in terms of comfort and noise cancellation, but the Headphones 700 sound somewhat better with a slightly more polished sound.
Apple AirPods Pro
Even if the AirPods Pro doesn’t sound as wonderful as you’d expect for the price, they’re still a fantastic pair of true wireless earphones. That’s because of their award-winning design and fit, increased bass performance, and effective noise cancellation — and now they’ve been updated with spatial audio, a new virtual-sound mode for watching movies and TV shows (only works with iPhones and iPads running iOS 14).
When you need to make a call or listen to music while working out, they’re a great option. While they’re pricey, the good news is that they usually sell for 25% less than their list price.
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3
The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 are among the best new true-wireless earbuds for 2020, with superb sound, enhanced noise cancellation and voice-calling functionality, and a smaller, more streamlined design that includes stabilizing fins (so the earbuds stay in your ears more firmly). They’re also one of the best true-wireless earbuds on the market, rivaling the Sony WF-1000XM4.
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay EQ
Bang & Olufsen’s previous Beoplay E8 earphones were decent but unimpressive for the price. The new Beoplay EQ are also somewhat pricey, but they’re among the best true wireless earbuds on the market right now, with excellent quality, adaptive noise cancellation, and a transparent mode that sounds natural. You can link them to a smartphone and a PC at the same time via multipoint Bluetooth pairing. They have three microphones on each bud and are adequate for speech communication.
The premium design components are, of course, present: The aluminum-shelled box glides open and shut with precision, and the buds themselves have an aluminum accent on the outer surface where the touch controls are located.
The buds are rather huge and protrude from your ears, similar to expensive Sony and Sennheiser buds. With an IP54 splash-proof rating, they suited me comfortably and securely and were suitable for sporting activities. At moderate noise settings, the battery life is rated at roughly 6.5 hours, and the case, which features USB-C and wireless charging, provides an additional two charges.
The sound is powerful and dynamic, with a broad soundstage and deep, well-defined bass. The mids sound natural, and the treble sparkles nicely. They sound great and are among the best true wireless earphones available. Over lengthier listening sessions, I didn’t get tired of listening. For devices that support the aptX audio codec, aptX Adaptive and Bluetooth 5.2 are available.
Are they superior to the Sony WF-1000XM4, which costs less? The answer will be partly determined by how well they fit your ears and how effectively the accompanying ear tips seal. Sennheiser’s big tips, which work best for my ears, ended up being the best match for me. If you can afford them, they are excellent earbuds. Simply purchase them from a store with a decent return policy in case you aren’t satisfied.
Anker SoundCore Life Q30
For the money, you can’t get much better than Anker’s SoundCore Life Q30 in terms of sound, comfort, and build quality. It doesn’t have the same clarity or bass definition as some of the top luxury 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 powerful bottom, and there’s an app to modify the sound). The noise cancellation is adequate for the price, but not as strong as the Sony WH-1000XM4 or the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. With USB-C charging, the battery life is claimed at an astonishing 40 hours.
Only when it comes to voice calls does the Q30 fall short. In calmer areas, it picks up your voice perfectly, but it struggles to decrease background noise.
In comparison to the Q20 (see below), the Q30 has better sound (not a tremendous change, but it’s noticeable) and a more premium look. At Amazon, Anker frequently offers the Q20 at a $10 discount. On the Q30, we should eventually see something similar.
Apple AirPods Max
The AirPods Max is more expensive than competitors from Bose and Sony, but they provide richer, more detailed sound. They also have the finest noise cancellation on the market, superior build quality, and Apple’s virtual surround spatial audio function for watching videos. While they’re heavy, they’re surprisingly comfortable, but I did have to adjust the mesh canopy headband to sit a bit more front on my head when I was out walking with them to get a nice, secure fit. Most heads should fit comfortably, however, there will be some exceptions.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are superb true wireless earphones in many aspects, especially when it comes to sound and noise cancellation, which is among the best available right now in a pair of earbuds. They clearly outperform Apple’s best-selling AirPods Pro truly wireless noise-canceling buds in terms of performance. However, the Bose’s smaller form, slightly more comfortable fit, and superior voice-calling features make it difficult to proclaim the AirPods Pro the clear winner. In the end, it comes down to your priorities.
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2
The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 is available in four colors and is more similar to the newer Galaxy Buds Pro and Galaxy Buds Live, which both have eye-catching glossy curved shapes and the same small charging case as this latest edition. In fact, the Buds 2’s shape and fit (which are 15% smaller and 20% lighter than the Buds Plus) make them a potentially more appealing option than the better-sounding Buds Pro.
The Buds 2 has active noise cancellation, just like the Buds Pro. That means all of the current Galaxy Buds models now offer active noise cancellation, however, the Buds Live, which has an open design without ear tips, has a slight advantage. While the Buds 2 appear to be shrunken Bud’s Pros, I found them to be more like the Buds Live in that they barely stick out of your ears and are relatively unobtrusive. They pick up less wind noise because they fit flush with your ears and have that curved design. They’re sweat-resistant to IPX2.
The Technics EAH-A800 has an old-school feel about it, and it’s not only because of the Technics brand, which Panasonic has revived in recent years. Their style is retro, but the headphones are pleasant and fold up and down. They have a huge, dynamic sound with strong bass and excellent detail (however, they take a day or two to break in).
They have ear-detection sensors that pause your music automatically when you remove the headphones, as well as multipoint Bluetooth pairing (you can connect them to two devices at the same time like a computer and smartphone). They also support Sony’s near-lossless LDAC audio codec, which is accessible on some Android devices for Bluetooth streaming. These headphones were mostly used with an Android handset and the Qobuz music service, which provides high-resolution recordings. This arrangement provides the finest wireless sound quality available.
The headphones come in black and silver, and Panasonic claims they can last up to 50 hours at moderate volume with ANC turned on. That’s fantastic, and the EAH-A800 also works well as a phone headset, thanks to eight integrated microphones for noise reduction and voice pickup.
Shure Aonic 40
Shure’s new Aonic 40 noise-canceling headphones are slightly smaller and less expensive than the company’s well-received Aonic 50 headphones ($299), which were debuted in 2020. My initial impression is that they sound good, with clear, well-balanced sound that you can adjust with the Shure companion app for iOS and Android (you can choose from preset EQ settings as well as a customizable manual EQ setting).
The active noise cancellation is good but not as good as Sony’s or Bose’s, and they work well for making calls (Shure is famed for its microphones), and you can connect them to your computer through USB-C, just like the Aonic 50. The headphones support aptX HD Bluetooth streaming for people with aptX-enabled Android handsets.
Extra features such as ear-detection sensors that automatically pause your music when you take the headphones off your head and resume playback when you put them back on are not included. The headphones, on the other hand, have a dual-hinge construction that allows them to fold up and flat, making them more compact than the Aonic 50’s (its case is pretty huge). To put it another way, they are more travel-friendly. With noise cancellation turned on, the battery life is rated at 25 hours.
They’re decent headphones, and they’re strong, but I didn’t find them as comfy as comparable Bose and Sony models. The top of the headband may put a little strain on the crown of your head for some people (the padding on the headband is adequate but might be better). To make the headband more comfortable, I pushed it forward on my head. They can also be ordered in white.
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay HX
The Beoplay HX from Bang & Olufsen is the successor of the company’s H9 series headphones (the X being a Roman number 10) and, like those previous H9 versions, the HX has a list price of $500. (some colors are discounted at Amazon). With that price, it’s a direct competition to Apple’s AirPods Max, which weigh 384.8 grams vs 285 grams for the HX. I’m not sure if the HX is more comfortable than the AirPods Max, but over extended listening sessions, I found the two versions to be about similar in terms of comfort, and these do include the usual snazzy B&O lambskin wrapped memory foam ear cushions.
When you pair an aptX-enabled Android handset with specific music streaming services like Qobuz, the HX boasts unique 40mm drivers, Bluetooth 5.1, and support for Qualcomm’s aptX Adaptive (that includes aptX HD) for high-resolution wireless streaming.
Their sound is comparable to that of the AirPods Max, with a deep, well-defined bass, natural-sounding mids (where vocals reside), and enticing treble detail (the sound is overall well-balanced). You can adjust the EQ in the Bang & Olufsen app for iOS and Android to boost the treble or bass and make the headphones warmer or brighter.
These are more expensive than the Sony WH-1000XM4, but they provide more accurate sound. Their noise cancellation is also excellent, as are their voice-calling features. They also have multipoint Bluetooth pairing, allowing you to link them to a smartphone and a PC at the same time (Windows machines require Microsoft Swift Pair) so you can effortlessly switch between the two (the Sony WH-1000XM4 also has this feature). With noise cancellation turned on, the battery life can last up to 35 hours and 40 hours. Those are fantastic figures.
Bang & Olufsen’s previous versions came with a flimsy case (actually a bag), but the HX comes with a sturdy case. As I previously stated, the HX is pricey, but the minor upgrades over previous flagship Bang & Olufsen noise-canceling headphones combine to make the HX a viable option to the AirPods Max.
Bowers & Wilkins PI7
Bowers & Wilkins finally debuted a pair of truly wireless earbuds in 2021, the PI7 ($400) and PI5 ($250), both of which are superb and feature active noise cancellation as well as a transparency mode, after a long wait. The flagship PI7 features a new driver design that sounds slightly more detailed and refined, with a little more bass energy. They both sound great, but the PI7 are undoubtedly the best-sounding earbuds on the market, narrowly beating out the Sony WF-1000XM4 by a short margin (they also sound slightly better than the excellent Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless II and Master & Dynamic MW08).
While the noise cancellation on the PI7 is adequate, the Sony’s is greater. I also think the Sony does a better job with voice calls (it has superior noise suppression so others can hear you in noisy places) and has a longer battery life.
The case of the PI7 converts to a Bluetooth transceiver, allowing you to connect it to your laptop for Qualcomm aptX streaming or an in-flight entertainment system. The PI7 accepts aptX Adaptive wireless transmission (which includes the aptX HD codec) from compatible mobile devices, enabling “high-resolution music transmission from acceptable streaming services, such as Qobuz.”
They’re splashproof to IPX54 and have a battery life of 4 hours with noise canceling on (which is disappointing), with an additional 4 charges from the case.
The PI5 buds sound great, and they’re a little lighter than the PI7. The PI5 competes directly with the Sony 1000XM4 at $280. You must try them on to see how they suit your ears, like with all in-ear headphones. Bowers & Wilkins’ buds may be more comfortable in your ears than Sony’s, and vice versa.
The previous Master & Dynamic MW07 and MW07 Plus headphones had excellent sound for true wireless, but they lacked functionality and weren’t ideal for making calls. The newest upgrade, the MW08, includes some substantial enhancements, such as robust noise cancellation and call quality, making it one among the best models for 2022. Unfortunately, it costs $299.
The earbuds are equipped with Bluetooth 5.2, active noise cancellation with three microphones on each earbud (noise reduction during calls isn’t up to the level of the AirPods Pro, but overall call quality has improved), and they have improved battery life (up to around 12 hours of battery life at 50% volume versus 10 hours for the MW07 Plus). The noise canceling on the MW07 Plus was rather ineffective; the MW08’s is considerably better.
In the new M&D Connect app for iOS and Android, you can choose between two levels of noise cancellation and two levels of transparency, which allows you to hear what’s going on outside. The app currently has no means to alter the sound profile (which I’m fine with because the sound profile is perfect for my tastes), and the earbuds feature physical playback controls rather than touch controls.
These buds may not fit everyone’s ear perfectly, but they have a unique design and provide outstanding quality and a fantastic listening experience if you can get a good seal (I was able to get a secure fit with the largest tip). They produce a more audiophile sound, with smooth, well-balanced sound and well-defined bass. This model includes updated 11mm drivers, which provide the bass a little more punch and improve clarity. The MW08 is suitable for all types of music.
The MW08 features a snazzy stainless-steel charging case (it charges through USB-C) that’s compact but carries more weight than conventional buds cases, and it’s available in a range of color combinations, just like their predecessors. You’ll also get a second pouch for storage (yes, the charging case can get scratched up if you leave it in a bag).
According to Master & Dynamic, these truly wireless earbuds now support both the aptX and AAC audio codecs and have a range of more than 20 meters. They feature an IPX5 water resistance certification, indicating that they can tolerate a continuous stream of water.
Earfun Air Pro 2
The Earfun Air Pro 2 not only has good active noise cancellation, but it also has good sound quality for its price, with overall well-balanced sound, fair clarity, and good bass performance. Some of Earfun’s buds have a little too much treble push, which is frequently referred to as “presence boost,” although these generally avoid it. They sound far superior to the original Air Pro.
The earbuds include some unique features, such as an ear-detection sensor (music pauses when you remove the buds out of your ears) and a case with USB-C and wireless charging. They have Bluetooth 5.2, are splash-proof (IPX5), and can last up to seven hours on a single charge at moderate volume levels, though you’ll probably get closer to six hours with noise cancellation on.
Additionally, there is a transparency setting that allows ambient sound to enter. It actually sounds pretty natural, and it’s a lot closer to the AirPods Pro’s amazing transparency mode than I expected. Unfortunately, there isn’t a companion app to modify the sound or upgrade the firmware.
The Air Pro 2’s voice calling capabilities are touted by Earfun (the buds feature three microphones in each earbud), and while call quality was decent, these didn’t eliminate background noise as well as the new Soundpeats T3, which are also good for the money ($40). While the Soundpeats T3 performs better during calls, the Earfun Air Pro 2’s noise-canceling and transparency modes are superior, and the Soundpeats lack an ear-detection sensor. With these earphones, active noise reduction is the name of the game. Furthermore, the Earfun Air Pro 2 buds produce a richer, more dynamic sound.