Best Noise-Canceling Headphones 2020 | Android Central


Sony WH-1000XM4Source: Sony

Best
Noise-Canceling Headphones
Android Central
2020

If you’re a commuter or work in a busy environment, you’re likely in the market for some for some of the best noise-canceling headphones. Drowning out all that background noise comes in the form of active noise-canceling (ANC) technology, and it’s become a highly sought-after feature now that it’s no longer exclusive to expensive headphones. The Sony WH-1000XM4’s ANC head up a group of class-leading headphones through their excellent performance and battery life.

Best Overall: Sony WH-1000XM4

Sony WH-1000XM4Source: Sony

Sony has been in the top spot before with its WH-1000XM3, which were the best ANC headphones on the market before they were replaced by the WH-1000XM4. Sony’s flagship cans have become the benchmark for the industry as a whole, forcing others to catch up. What makes them so good is the unique QN1 processor and a dual noise sensor that work together to block out ambient sound. For a daily commute on a bus or train, walking on a busy street, or sitting on a flight, the WH-10000XM4 are up to the task.

If you’re confused why they look like their predecessors, don’t be. It’s just Sony not bothering to change anything about the overall design. These headphones are almost carbon copies of their predecessors, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

What is different is that you get improved ANC performance plus the ability to pair with two devices simulatenously. This way, you can listen to music on one device and take calls on another, for example. Phone calls also sound better because of Sony’s Precise Voice Pickup and Speak to Chat features that optimize sound and volume during conversations.

Otherwise, much of what made the WH-1000XM3 so good remains in good standing for this pair. They will last up to 32 hours per charge, with fast charging always an option when they’re dead. You still can’t listen to the WH-1000XM4 when they’re charging, however, whether wired or wireless.

Sony chose not to tweak or alter the sound signature, so the same bass-heavy sound comes through. It can sometimes drown out the mids and highs, but Sony’s Connect app has a trusty equalizer you can use to offset that. It also has a “clear bass” slider to affect the overall thump of the bass itself. With those tools, you can make these headphones sound more to your preference.

Now that the WH-1000XM4 are Sony’s flagship, look for the WH-1000XM3 to eventually drop in price and become a more value option. Sony’s noise-canceling tech has been so good that you can even find it crammed into wireless earbuds.

Pros:

  • Class-leading ANC performance
  • Long battery life
  • Customizable sound
  • Fast charging capable
  • Great phone call quality
  • Pair with two devices at once

Cons:

  • No simultaneous charging & listening
  • No difference in design
  • No improvement in overall audio quality

Best Overall



Sony WH-1000XM4

Best in class

The WH-1000XM4 take ANC up a notch and maintain the same great sound, battery life, and comfort from their predecessors.

Best Runner Up: Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700

Demonstration of touch gestures on Bose NCH 700sSource: Bose

Bose has positioned itself into the conversation amongst the best in the business in this category, which is where the NCH 700 belong. Taking over from the highly-acclaimed QC35 II, these cans are equal or better in almost every way. First, sound quality gets a boost with Bose dialing back sibilance from the treble to make them sound less piercing, without changing anything else about the rest of the sound signature. Needless to say, the NCH 700 aren’t lacking for sound.

It doesn’t hurt that the ANC performance is so good, too. They don’t quite hit Sony’s level, but they’re a solid alternative that do a solid job of blocking out most persistent noises, like engines, and some mid-range sounds like people talking. Higher-pitched sounds are a challenge for any pair of ANC headphones, and that’s where the NCH 700 are a bit shaky. However, you do get up to 11 steps of ANC, making this one of the most versatile ANC experiences available.

The NCH 700 are also one of the most comfortable pairs to wear. A softer headband and ear cups don’t feel too constricting, so you may not even notice how long you’re wearing them. The trade-off in doing that was Bose had to actually make these headphones bigger than the QC35 II. They also don’t fold, which may be an issue when traveling or commuting, taking up more space in your bag.

At up to 20 hours per charge, battery life is above-average. A quick 15-minute fast charge through USB-C will deliver up to two hours of playback, ensuring you can listen to some tunes in a pinch.

Pros:

  • Superb ANC performance
  • Excellent sound quality
  • Very comfortable
  • Great battery life
  • Fast charging

Cons:

  • Non-foldable, bulky design
  • Competitors beat battery life
  • More expensive than top pick

Best Runner Up



Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700

Feeling comfortable

Bose covers a lot of good ground with the NCH 700, including excellent ANC performance, sound quality, and comfort.

Best Sound Quality: Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless

Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless ReviewSource: Daniel Bader / Android Central

Sennheiser’s pedigree in sound quality is well-known, and the Momentum 3 Wireless carry that same torch. A rich soundstage helps deliver the kind of definition associated with the brand. Bass is slightly boosted, with clear midrange and smooth treble to balance it all out. It’s wide enough to suit almost every musical genre — instruments, vocals and electronic elements never sound out of place.

The company’s audio fidelity isn’t always matched by the most advanced ANC performance, and that contrast is evident here, to some degree. That’s not to say that the ANC here is bad. They block out a decent amount of low-end noise, but struggle to fully block every sound around you. You can mitigate that a bit by playing music a little louder, though within reason so you don’t damage your ears.

The Momentum 3 Wireless are really comfortable to wear, even after long periods. You feel much of a squeeze with these, thanks to a well-made headband and ear cups that feel soft enough to enjoy whenever you listen to audio.

Sennheiser also isn’t an industry leader in battery life, which is an obvious limitation for the Momentum 3 Wireless on this list. You can expect up to 17 hours on a single charge, which is on the lower end for ANC headphones in this price range. One saving grace, is that you can use the USB-C port for simultaneous listening and charging when connected to an Android phone or tablet.

Pros:

  • Great, slightly bass-boosted sound
  • USB-C for charging
  • Simultaneous listening & charging
  • Excellent comfort
  • Decent ANC performance

Cons:

  • ANC isn’t the best
  • Battery life should be better

Best Budget Over-Ear Headphones: COWIN E7

COWIN E7Source: COWIN

Good ANC headphones don’t have to be expensive to sound good, and that’s a point the COWIN E7 make because of great battery life and solid ANC at a very low price.

It seems almost criminal for the E7 to manage a whopping 30 hours on a single charge when far more expensive pairs sometimes don’t even come close. With that kind of time to play with, you’ll be playing music for days without juice becoming an issue. ANC performance isn’t too bad, either. They compare favorably to expensive models that are good at blocking out consistent noises, but struggle with more inconsistent ones.

Sound quality is average, which is probably to be expected. Bass gets a boost, but it’s sometimes overdone with a little too much thump and rumble. COWIN did the same with the mid-range to compensate, which is one reason why these feel loud out of the box. That won’t do much for the treble — muted and subdued, as it is.

The E7 are a bit on the heavier side, but won’t suffer too much in comfort. They’ll sit comfortably on your head, so fatigue or comfort issues shouldn’t be a problem.

Pros:

  • Good ANC performance for the price
  • Long battery life
  • Great comfort
  • Affordable price

Cons:

  • Treble is subdued
  • Heavier than most over-ears

Best Budget Over-Ear Headphones



COWIN E7

Excellent battery life at a low price

If battery life and cost savings are your primary concern, the E7 from COWIN are your best bet.

Best Sound Quality



Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless

Sounds just about right

The Momentum 3 Wireless make up for gaps in ANC and battery life with excellent sound quality and comfort.

Best Battery Life: Jabra Elite 85h

Jabra Elite 85hSource: Daniel Bader / Android Central

Jabra is good at making headphones, and the Elite 85h are a solid pair that do a lot of things right. The long battery life certainly stands out among those features, getting you up to 35 hours on a single charge. They also feel comfortable for longer stretches, complementing the outstanding battery performance. It’s also a nice touch that they can play and charge all at once through the USB-C connection.

Sound quality is also good, but you’ll get the best results when you tinker with the profile. The default sound signature plays it safe by keeping the entire spectrum at a dull level. Jabra’s Sound+ app has an equalizer that can change that, helping bring out more of the sound these cans are capable of. The app also has options to access the ANC, which isn’t amazing but not terrible either. What hurts them is the audible hum that works to cancel consistent sounds, like what you would hear on a plane, train or bus.

The Elite 85h are pretty crafty in other useful ways. They will automatically pause when taking them off. Swiveling the right ear cup turns the headphones off. The onboard controls are pretty easy to manage, and they can still work with a wired connection if Bluetooth isn’t an option.

Pros:

  • Ridiculously long battery life
  • Customizable sound
  • Excellent comfort
  • Smart features
  • Play and charge simultaneously

Cons:

  • ANC is average at best
  • Default sound needs tweaking

Best Battery Life



Jabra Elite 85h

Good sound that lasts

The Jabra Elite 85h do a good job sounding the right notes with incredible battery life and comfort, despite so-so ANC.

Great Battery Life on a Budget: Anker Soundcore Life Q20

Anker Soundcore Q20Source: Anker

Budgert headphones sometimes punch way above their weight, or carry a particular feature or performance aspect that stands out. For the Anker Soundcore Life Q20, it’s battery life. Lots of it. These can play for up to 40 hours on a single charge — and that’s with ANC enabled. Disable it and they can play for an outlandish 60 hours.

ANC on the Life Q20 is somewhat strange for how it excels. Unlike most other noise-canceling headphones, the Q20 do a great job blocking out higher-pitched noises, especially voices, yet are mediocre when it comes to more consistent noises, like the rumble of a plane. It’s often the opposite for other options, which makes this contrast so unique.

Not surprisingly, bass is abundant in how they sound. It’s boosted to a point where it may be an acquired taste, but anyone seeking an extra boom won’t be disappointed with how low these go. At least the midrange is balanced enough to add some depth and help carry the treble, which is only slightly boosted.

You should be comfortable wearing these over longer periods, including for larger heads. The headband is pretty flexible, and the ear cups are tall and deep, in case your ears need a little extra room.

Pros:

  • Ridiculously long battery life
  • Great comfort with lightweight design
  • Made for bass-lovers
  • Solid ANC performance for the price
  • Affordable price

Cons:

  • Micro-USB for charging
  • Too much bass for some
  • ANC could be better

Great Battery Life on a Budget



Anker Soundcore Life Q20

Battery for days

The Soundcore Life Q20 excels at battery life, playing for up to 40 hours with ANC enabled, and 60 hours without.

Most Stylish: Bowers & Wilkins PX7

Bower & Wilkins PX7Source: Bowers & Wilkins

Bowers & Wilkins is a luxury brand, and its products come with an expectation of looking good. The PX7 are easy to look at, even if you don’t consider yourself the type to put design over all else.

On top of the slick aesthetic, they also come with a pretty unique feature set. One standout is the ability to use the headphone’s USB-C port for audio. Just plug then into your phone’s USB-C port, and not only will you get audio, but power as well. That’s right, a single cable lets you listen and charge simultaneously.

The PX7 have a decidedly balanced sound signature that plays well with every genre, making these ideal for most listeners. The sound is spacious and pronounced while instruments and vocals feel warm, resonant, and full. There’s a lot to like about how these headphones perform in the audio arena.

Unfortunately, that’s not really the case with the ANC. It’s decent, but not at the level it should be for noise-canceling headphones at this price range. It impacts the sound signature too much when it’s on, and struggles with higher-pitched background noise. Ironically, passive isolation is excellent, meaning you won’t always have to turn ANC on to immerse yourself in the music. Be mindful that comfort is likely going to be more subjective here because of how much tighter they generally feel.

Battery life is excellent, with up to 30 hours per charge. The USB-C port is always convenient, as is the fast charging support. If the PX7 are dead, a 15-minute charge will get you a good six hours of listening time.

Pros:

  • Superb sound quality
  • Great passive noise isolation
  • USB-C for charging and listening
  • Great battery life
  • Premium build / stylish design

Cons:

  • Can get uncomfortable after longer periods
  • ANC performance could be better
  • Expensive

Most Stylish



Bowers & Wilkins PX7

Sounding off in style

The Bowers & Wilkins PX7 will give you an exceptional soundstage but at the cost of similar comfort and ANC performance.

Best Earbuds: Sony WF-1000XM3

Sony WF-1000XM3Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central

More true wireless earbuds are coming with ANC on board, including at different price points, but the Sony WF-1000XM3 are the pair to beat. They benefit from the same ANC tech found in Sony’s over-ear WH-1000XM3, which is a big reason why they’re so effective. Despite their size, they prove to be more than capable of blocking out a good amount of noise, including consistent sounds you would come across while commuting.

Sony also preferred to go with a more neutral soundstage, leaving plenty of room to customize it through the equalizer settings in the Headphones Connect app. The mids come through with greater detail, while the highs feel warm, standing out on their own. The bass is less pronounced out of the box, and that’s why the EQ may be necessary to deepen and balance the sound further.

The fit may not be for everyone because of the bulkier form factor, while the Adaptive Sound Control mode isn’t as effective as Sony claims it is. Plus, with no official water or sweat resistance, it’s not worth using them when water is too close. For the reverse of ANC, the WF-1000XM3 do have an ambient sound mode that uses the onboard mics to filter ambient sound in and hear your surroundings without taking them off.

Battery life is excellent. You’ll get up to six hours alone and an additional 18 hours with their charging case. The USB-C port is convenient, as is the fast charging ability. A quick 15-minute charge can provide a few hours of playback in a pinch.

Pros:

  • Class-leading ANC
  • Solid sound reproduction
  • EQ in companion app
  • Long battery life
  • USB-C for charging

Cons:

  • Buds are a bit large
  • Lacks wireless charging case
  • Adaptive Sound Control is just OK
  • No official water resistance rating

Best Earbuds



Sony WF-1000XM3

True wireless ANC

The WF-1000XM3 are the best ANC earbuds on the market, period.

Best for Apple Users: AirPods Pro

AirPods ProSource: Daniel Bader / Android Central

The AirPods Pro join the Sony WF-1000XM3 as among the best noise-canceling true wireless earbuds available. They’re not as good Sony’s pair, but do a solid job of blocking out most low and mid-range ambient noise. They will struggle with higher-pitched tones. but that’s typical of ANC headphones and earbuds.

Sound quality is solid, with noticeably better bass and mids than the regular AirPods 2 can ever manage. The soundstage focuses more on the mids to create the illusion the sound is moving closer to you. Consequently, the highs suffer, thus creating an uneven profile that may be more pronounced with certain genres. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t offer an EQ to tweak the sound further, but you could try third-party ones.

Comfort is nice, due in large part to the unique design at play here. The proprietary ear tips attach directly to the bud’s speaker through a special locking mechanism. That makes the tip more malleable to mold itself into the shape of your ear for a proper fit.

Battery life is pretty pedestrian for something at this price. They can go up to 4.5 hours of playback with ANC on — five hours with ANC off — though that’s at the default volume level. Thankfully, the charging case can offer another 20 hours of additional listening time. Apple users won’t mind that it charges over the company’s proprietary Lightning connector, whereas Android users certainly might. You could get around that, to some degree, by making use of the wireless charging support.

Pros:

  • Superb comfort
  • Great sound
  • Excellent ANC performance
  • Wireless charging case

Cons:

  • Lack of convenience features on non-Apple devices
  • Bud battery life could be better
  • Proprietary ear tips

Best for Apple Users



AirPods Pro

By Apple, for Apple users

Apple outfitted the AirPods Pro with superb ANC, sound quality, and comfort, but sacrificed battery life to get there.

Best Neckbuds: Bose QC30

Bose QC30Source: Bose

That Bose makes the best neckbuds with ANC is hardly a shock. The QC30 borrow heavily from the feature set of the QC35 II, which speaks to their ability but also indicates they aren’t exactly among the newest models on the market. Both the Bose NCH 700 and Sony WF-1000XM3 outperform these neckbuds, but that’s more a compliment than a fault. Not too many neckbuds support ANC, meaning the QC30 aren’t facing a ton of niche competition.

They’re also comfortable because the neck portion rests on the neck and takes much of the weight off of cables going to the earbuds. They’re easy to wear for longer periods because of that, and when you’re done listening, they can just dangle around your neck with little fuss.

Sound quality is very much what you would want in a Bose pair. The bass gets a small boost for a slightly warmer sound signature, but they’re otherwise very balanced. ANC performance is solid, and while you have some control over it through Bose’s companion app, it only applies to the level of isolation you want while the built-in microphone is active. The good news is the ANC isn’t overbearing, taking away from the sound quality. It works well without making itself too conspicuous.

Battery life isn’t bad for what you get. The QC30 will last up to 10 hours on a single charge, though you’ll have to make due without fast charging. It’s not available here, nor is a USB-C port because these use Micro-USB.

Pros:

  • Solid ANC performance
  • Superb sound quality
  • Comfortable design
  • Good battery life

Cons:

  • Micro-USB charging
  • Smartphone app could be better
  • Pricey

Best Neckbuds



Bose QC30

ANC around the neck

There aren’t many neckbuds with ANC out there, so the QC30 from Bose are an easy choice if you like that look.

Best Budget Neckbuds: Phiaton BT 100 NC

Phiaton BT 100 NCSource: Phiaton

If the Bose QC30 are too rich for your blood, Phiaton’s BT 100 NC from Phiaton are a reliable choice if you’re on the lookout for a pair of ANC neckbuds on a budget.

For the price, the ANC is pretty good. They won’t blow you away, but they’re great at getting the job mostly done on a typical commute. It blocks out most background noise, but can’t avoid letting some snippets sneak in, much of which we’d attribute to its weaknesses on frequencies.

They do sound good, courtesy of a boosted bass-and-treble combination that is par for the course at this price. You won’t get overpowering bass or piercing treble, but you will get a pretty neutral sound that skews a bit toward the low-end to add some jump. The tightness of the seal with the earbuds makes a difference in how much of the bass you hear, too. Phiaton made them responsive to notifications by vibrating whenever incoming calls, messages and other notifications arrive.

They’re quite comfortable to wear, but not after longer periods. And it’s not the neckbud that’s the issue, but rather the ear tips themselves. There are multiple sizes out of the box, though if you prefer to use something else, third-party replacements will work with the BT 100 NC.

Expect around 7-7.5 hours of playback per charge while ANC is on. Turn if off, and you might get another hour or two.

Pros:

  • Great sound
  • Good ANC performance
  • Vibrates for notifications
  • Decent battery life
  • Affordable price

Cons:

  • Ear tips comfort could be better
  • Micro-USB charging

Best Budget Neckbud



Phiaton BT 100 NC

Budget neckbud tunes

It’s hard to nitpick too much over an affordable pair of neckbuds, and the Phiaton BT 100 NC do just fine.

Bottom line

The headphone jack has been pulling a disappearing act for the last couple of years, putting the onus on wireless Bluetooth headphones to keep the audio flowing to your ears.

If you’re willing pay the price, Sony’s WH-1000XM4 are the best noise-canceling headphones you can get right now. They’re fully-loaded with fantastic noise-canceling technology, great sound, long battery life, handy controls and a comfortable fit. Finding great wireless headphones or wireless earbuds with equally good ANC performance isn’t as easy as it may seem, in spite of how ubiquitous the feature is now becoming.

What makes Sony’s pair so good is that the ANC supports everything else that’s good about the WH-1000XM4. They don’t look or sound all that different from their predecessors, but phone calls are better. As is any average commute once you can drown out all that background chatter and boring noise.

Credits — The team that worked on this guide

Ted Kritsonis loves taking photos when the opportunity arises, be it on a camera or smartphone. Beyond sports and world history, you can find him tinkering with gadgets or enjoying a cigar.

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