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Best noise cancelling headphones and earbuds 2023: Audiophile tested and reviewed

Noise cancelling has become a must-have feature in any good pair of wireless headphones or earbuds, whether it’s used to isolate listening on a morning commute, to drown out the drone of a jet engine, or chatter at the gym when you’re focused on crushing a workout. And if you’re working from home, it is likely worth investing in a pair to drown out distractions and actually hear your coworkers in virtual meetings. The Pocket-lint reviews team went hands-on to test every model on our list, weighing sound quality, noise cancellation, comfort, and price.



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With so many choices available, finding the best active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones for you is no easy task. Some pairs will have more effective noise cancellation, while others may sound better, cost less, or suit your eye more.

Hitting the perfect balance for your tastes can be tricky, but luckily, our audio experts here at Pocket-lint test the best over-ear cans and in-ear buds currently on the market to help you decide which pair best suits your style and needs. Our top pick headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM5s, have battled head-to-head with our premium pick, the Bose QuietComfort Ultras, all year. Read on to see why we chose Sony for the top slot in this round-up.

Best ANC headphones: Our top picks

Sony WH-1000XM5

Sony WH-1000XM5

1. Best noise cancelling headphones overall

Sony’s simply superb sound

$328 $400 Save $72

Sony knocked it out of the park with the WH-1000XM5, delivering exceptional noise cancelling and sound quality in a feature-packed pair of headphones.


  • Outstanding noise cancellation
  • Superb sound quality
  • Comfortable to wear for long periods

  • No aptX support
  • Don’t fold down like the previous models

The Sony WH-1000XM5s are a masterclass for their competitors to learn from; pairing comfort, a bold new design and superb performance — both in terms of sound and active noise cancellation.


Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Still an ANC masterclass

Sony updated its flagship WH-1000X headphones in 2022, now in its fifth iteration. This time there’s a change in design, on top of other improvements.

That makes for a very strong combination. If you’re traveling regularly and want to cut out droning noise, or if you just want to lose yourself in your music, the WH-1000XM5s are just a very slight cut above the next best options. There are definitely a couple of sore points, such as how the new design doesn’t fold down as small as its predecessors, but anybody who wants the very peak ANC package shouldn’t look past this flagship Sony offering. The value for features offered within these headphones is what edges out the rest of the competition overall.

Bose QuietComfort Ultra

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones

2. Best premium noise cancelling headphones

Outstanding noise cancellation, for a hefty price

$379 $429 Save $50

The Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones are Bose’s tippy top dog in the lineup. They sounds great, cancels noise among the best of them, and it’s surprisingly comfortable.


  • Great, detailed sound
  • Outstanding noise cancelling
  • Easy to use

  • Undoubtedly expensive
  • Immersion Mode is just okay

The Bose QuietComfort Ultra represents the top of the Bose product lineup. They blend the simplicity of the Bose QuietComfort QC45 and the design-focused nature of the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. The mixture is a headphone that is not only comfortable, but sounds great and has tremendous noise cancellation. In addition, the headphones boast up to 24 hours of battery life, a microphone, so you can field phone calls, and a mobile app experience that is well above average.


Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones hands-on: Priced for performance

Bose’s flagship headphones cost a pretty penny, but does their performance make their price tag add up? We took a first listen to find out.

So, what’s the downside? Well, these things go for north of $400 when they’re not on sale, regardless of which color you opt for. That’s the biggest detractor. Most of the headphones on the list are under $300 or just over, so this is undoubtedly the most expensive individual pair of headphones on our list. However, during the holiday sales seasons, it could be a great time to snag a pair of these incredible headphones for the rare, under $400 price point.

The Immersion Mode is just okay, but most people are wearing these to get good sound quality while drowning out the surrounding noise. Because of that, these headphones rank among the best. They landed at the top of our list for our Pocket-lint 2023 technology awards, winning the best headphone of the year category for cutting edge features and quality.

The Sony WH-1000XM5s followed closely behind as our highly commended pick, which is why you see both models at the very top of our best of guide. The Bose QuietComfort Ultras excel with premium features, but that top tier quality comes at the highest price on our list. The value of the Sony pair brought them above the Bose for this list, but if you have the budget, the Bose QuietComfort Ultras are an excellent pick. To see the two put in a head-to-head comparison check out our versus article below.


Bose QuietComfort Ultra vs Sony WH-1000XM5: Which is best?

Should you buy into Bose or are you sold on Sony?

Bose Headphones 700

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

3. Best lightweight noise cancelling headphones

Features Bose’s booming bass

$246 $300 Save $54

Bose’s noise cancelling needs to be heard to be believed, and the rest of the package makes this a very rounded pair.


  • Outstanding noise cancellation
  • Great balanced sound
  • Cool design

Think of noise cancelling headphones and the chances are high that you’ll think of Bose. Despite the unimaginative name, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 deliver a very imaginative sound quality that rivals the best competition out there. And the multi-level noise cancelling is pretty close to being class-leading.

There’s also smart assistant integration for Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and Siri, a solid app for various customizations (but no EQ, sadly), and well-integrated touch-based controls on the right earcup.


Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review: Bose is the ANC boss

The 2019 active noise-cancelling cans from Bose are a step above the QC35 II. Improved comfort, multi-level ANC and beam-form voice isolation feature.

Aside from the Sony XM5s, there’s no better pick to take on your travels. And, even then, we’re sure there are plenty of people that would actually prefer the overall package delivered by Bose here. The margins are very tight at the top.

Bowers and Wilkins PX7

Bowers & Wilkins PX7

4. Best luxury brand noise cancelling headphones

Top of the line headphones from the premium B&W

$330 $399 Save $69

Supreme sound is backed up by solid ANC, making this model one of the very top options to consider in this area.


  • Great design
  • Amazing sound
  • Really solid ANC

The B&W PX7 headphones look great, and they sound even better. B&W’s noise cancellation is at the top of its class, and adding features like aptX Adaptive support makes for smoother listening experiences and better future-proofing. Really impressively, the headphones are even more comfortable than ever before, making for a dreamy user experience.


Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 review: Pitch perfect

We gave the Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 a thorough test to discover why these second-gen headphones are worth considering.

About the only thing we wish they would do is travel a bit better. If you’re looking for headphones that can fold down and be stashed on your carry-on luggage easily, you may want to look elsewhere. However, we think that’s a fairly minor nitpick for what is otherwise an excellent headphone.

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II

5. Best noise cancelling earbuds

A party in your ears

$199 $279 Save $80

If you’re looking for a refined sound and best-in-class noise cancellation, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II are a superb choice.


  • Incredible ANC
  • Refined sound
  • Secure fit

  • No wireless charging
  • No multipoint Bluetooth

The Bose QuietComfort EarBuds II improve on their predecessors in pretty much every way, refining their design, improving their fit and comfort and honing the sound. With an RRP $279, they are undoubtedly expensive, even in the premium wireless market, but retailers have already begun knocking a little off that at the time of writing — so it’s worth looking around.


Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II review: The sound of silence

Bose is back with its second stab at the true wireless market. Does it offer the “world’s best” noise cancellation it promises?

If the price tag doesn’t deter you, you certainly won’t be disappointed with your investment. And while they sound great, the real wow factor here is the noise cancellation they are capable of as in-ear options. If you need, want or crave near silence while you’re listening to your music, these are the best true wireless earbuds for the job — without question.

It’s also worth noting that the newest Bose flagship earbuds, the Bose QuietComfort Ultras, also just made their debut. While they earned a near perfect score in our review and offer great performance, they’re a bit more expensive and don’t offer too much difference from the QuietComfort II, so we recommend the QuietComfort II buds overall if you’re looking for the best bang for your buck.

Sony WF-1000XM5

Sony WF-1000XM5

6. Best lightweight noise cancelling earbuds

Tiny but mighty

$248 $300 Save $52

The Sony WF-1000XM5 is the current generation of a lineup of very competent noise cancelling earbuds. They feature great sound, good comfort, pretty good battery life, and more improvements over the prior model.


  • Great sound
  • Excellent ANC
  • Improved battery life

  • Quite chunky
  • Not cheap at all

Sony has applied its audio expertise to noise cancelling earbuds, not just over-ear headphones. We’ve seen what the company can do with a pair of over-ears, so we had mighty high expectations for the entirely wireless in-ear model — the Sony WF-1000XM5 — now in its fourth generation form.


Sony WF-1000XM5 review: Still great, but the competition looms large

Sony’s popular noise-cancelling buds are back for round number five, but can they still land the knock out blow to the competition?

These wireless in-ears deliver a well-balanced sound that leans neither too heavily on bass, nor higher levels. We found it to be just right. The noise cancellation is just as accomplished, as well, effectively blocking out the general humdrum of everyday life, as well as plane and train noises.

Of course, being small in-ear buds in a portable case makes them very easy to carry around in your coat pocket or purse.

Sennheiser Momentum 3 True Wireless Noise Cancelling earbuds

Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3

7. Best Sennheiser in-ear noise cancelling earbuds

Sophisticated and compact

$190 $280 Save $90

The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 are excellent earbuds from the audio experts. They’re cheaper than the last version, have improved in-ear comfort and offer the same excellent sound with ANC, that does a little bit more than before. There are some very minor foibles, but a solid pick for a reliable set of earbuds.


  • Smooth design
  • Great case
  • Excellent sound
  • Improved ANC

  • Suffer from wind noise
  • Sub-par transparency mode

These Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 are a clear step up on their predecessors with no real downsides and plenty of improvements. They look sharper, are more comfortable and still sound just as great — with better ANC than before and a very solid software experience. That Sennheiser has managed to do so while also cutting the price is even more impressive.

Call quality might not be class-leading, but that’s a common enough issue and one that shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. They’re reliable, beautifully designed and sound great. Well worthy of consideration.


Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 review: A welcome improvement

These excellent earbuds improve on an already solid foundation from Sennheiser. Here’s our full verdict.

airpod pro second gen uscb

Apple AirPods Pro 2nd Generation (USB-C)

8. Best in-ear noise cancelling headphones for Apple users

An upgrade cult classic

$200 $250 Save $50

The beauty of AirPods is their convenience, and the AirPods Pro 2nd Generation (USB-C) are no different. The upgrade to USB-C only adds to this, while the extra features and additional software enhancements make for an overall excellent experience.


  • Excellent performance
  • Added controls for touch sensor
  • Extra features, like Precision Finding
  • Great ANC

  • No lanyard included
  • Not worth it for AirPods Pro 2nd gen lightning owners

For Apple users, the AirPods Pro 2 demand a place on your shortlist if you’re in the market for wireless ANC earbuds. We loved the originals, but these second generation buds bring with them some great new additions, including better noise cancellation, Adaptive Transparency, touch controls and improved battery life.


Apple AirPods Pro 2nd Generation (USB-C) review: Do you need to upgrade?

The AirPods Pro 2nd Generation now have a MagSafe and USB-C case, plus some other improvements, but should you buy them? Here’s my review.

There are great additions elsewhere too, like the speaker and U1 chip in the charging case, and we love that you can now use an Apple Watch charger to charge them as well, reducing the number of cables we need to keep with us.

While the design of the second generation AirPods Pro may have remained very similar to its predecessor, and they don’t come cheap, the improvements they’ve made the AirPods Pro 2 an exceptional pair of wireless headphones and one iPhone users in particular should have on their shortlist.

While this is the updated newer version, the Apple AirPods Pro 2 second generation without USB-C and VisionPro are still an incredible pick that many Pocket-lint editors even prefer to their USB-C counterparts. Read more in our comparison where we put the two head to head.

Sony WH-1000XM4

Sony WH-1000XM4

9. Best noise cancelling headphones for comfort

All day wear

$228 $348 Save $120

The Sony WH-1000XM4 may not be the most recent addition to Sony’s lineup, but it sure is a classic. While the WH-1000XM5 is an improvement in almost every way, the 1000XM4 is still the more comfortable overall headphone. Since the new model is out, this model also goes on sale a lot, making it a good bargain.


  • Superb cancelling
  • Amazing sound
  • Great looks and battery life

They might no longer be the latest headphones, but the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones are excellent at cutting out external noise, with only a slight drop-off compared to the newer XM5s.


Sony WH-1000XM4 review: The best just got better

Sony’s over-ear wireless headphones for 2020 sport improved noise-cancellation and audio performance. Does that result in the very best headphones?

Compared to the XM3s, the design tweaks add quality and refinement, while a more powerful chip provides the grunt to cancel out more noise. The results are sensational, with the 1000XM4 not only sounding great as a set of headphones, but also being some of the most effective at combatting external noise through more selectable levels. It’s an outstanding package — and one that’s naturally available at a cheaper rate than its newer sibling.

The bottom line: What are the best noise cancelling headphones or earbuds?

From our listening and testing in all surround-sound situations, the Sony WH-1000XM5s are Pocket-lint’s top choice for the best noise cancelling headphones money can buy, thanks to the headphones’ superior sound and noise isolation capabilities.

Sony WH-1000XM5 Wireless Headphones

Sony WH-1000XM5

Editor’s Choice

$328 $400 Save $72

With a sleek lightweight form-factor and Bose’s classically great sound, the Bose 700 are a close runner-up. And of course, the newest Bose QuietComfort Ultra over-ear cans are a masterclass noise cancelling option and the best option, if you have the budget for these pricey premium headphones. If you’re in the market for an in-ear bud option rather than over-ear cans, the Bose QuietComfort II buds offer, like the name suggests, extreme comfort with limited pressure build-up, booming bass, and ANC that’s almost too good.

How to choose noise cancelling headphones

While active noise cancellation (ANC) was once rare, there are now countless devices that offer it to choose from — here are some questions to help you narrow things down.

Do you want over or in-ear headphones?

When it comes to ANC, you’ve got a major choice on your hands between over-ear headphones and in-ear earbuds, both of which can be found with the tech and offer different benefits. Earbuds are way smaller and more portable, so they are convenient for everyday use in our experience, while over-ears tend to offer the best isolation but are bulkier, making them more suited to home use or longer journeys.

It’s really up to personal preference, as well — some people simply don’t find earbuds as comfortable, and others can’t stand the pressure of over-ears, so if you have a strong leaning in either direction, that will probably inform your thinking.

Are you on iOS or Android?

While most options on the market now cater pretty equally to both mobile operating systems, there are still some occasions when you’ll find a device works better on one than the other — particularly when it comes to Apple’s own products, which favor iOS. This shouldn’t lock you out of any purchases, but it may make you more likely to go with a product, since tighter integration generally leads to easier user controls and pairing.

What are ANC headphones and earbuds we’d also recommend?

The Sony WH-1000XM5 may be Pocket-lint’s pick for the top-performing ANC headphones, but we also know that they won’t be the right pair for everyone. That’s why we also recommend some other great options, including earbuds and headphones from Bose, Apple and Bowers & Wilkins.

What’s a good budget for noise cancelling headphones?

If you’re going into this sort of purchasing process, we recommend that you work out what you’re happy to spend ahead of time, or you might find that you end up spending more than you intended. After all, ANC is still often the preserve of quite premium options, so a lot of the choices available are fairly pricey.

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