tech news Sony, Bose, Anker, and more

Sony, Bose, Anker, and more


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Nothing ruins a commute, flight, or quiet evening at home quite like the sounds of trains, jet engines, and noisy roommates. Fortunately, active noise-canceling (ANC) headphones are here to save the day: They use microphones and clever software to silence much of the world around you.

After researching all of the most popular brands, lab-testing the best models, and using the 9 best models extensively, we’ve convinced the best noise-cancelling headphones for most people are the incredible Sony WH-1000XM3 over-ear headphones (available at Amazon)

You’ll pay a premium price for ANC headphones (though some of the best noise cancelling headphones we’ve tested are under $100), but the return for your hard-earned money is nothing short of amazing. While they can’t eliminate everything, they provide a real sense of serenity, letting you focus on and enjoy your favorite music, audiobooks, or podcasts. Wearing a pair, even if it’s only for a few minutes a day, is a great way to carve out a little bit of privacy for yourself in this loud, bustling world.

Here are the best noise-cancelling headphones we tested, in order:

1. Best Overall: Sony WH-1000XM3

Sony’s WH-1000XM3 Wireless Noise-Canceling Headphones are expensive, but you won’t be disappointed with your purchase. The active noise-cancellation technology blocks out a variety of sounds at varying decibel levels. Sony allows the headphones’ users to customize the level of noise-cancellation they experience: This lets you hear as much—or as little—of the world around you as you desire.  

The level of aural tweaking that the WH-1000XM3 allow for is impressive. By playing with the WH-1000XM3’s ambient sound and adaptive sound control features, it’s possible to, for example, block out the wall of sound experienced when riding on public transit, but still be able to pick out enough ambient sound to walk down the street with a modicum of situational awareness or hear an announcement on a train platform.

All of this tweaking is done via Sony’s Headphones Connect app, available from the iTunes App Store or, for Android device users, Google Play. Basic control over the headphones—turning the volume up or down or pausing or playing music—is conducted through touch controls embedded in the WH-1000XM3’s ear cups. Despite being so feature-rich, these headphones are still incredibly user-friendly.

The WH-1000XM3 are a great pair of all-around headphones that meet every need: They sound great, fit well, and provide a number of luxury features that you never knew you wanted until you put a pair of them on for the first time.

Get the Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones on Amazon for $348

2. Bose QuietComfort 35 Series II

Bose has a devoted following, and with a pair of headphones like the QuietComfort 35 Series II, that’s not surprising. The active noise cancellation (ANC), for which Bose is renowned, cuts out a wide range of noises from deep train rumbling to higher-pitched A/C humming.

The headphones are light and comfortable enough that they can be worn for hours at a time, although you may notice some heat or sweat build up from where the cushy leather pads meet the sides of your head.

The 20-hour battery life is also a huge selling point. We tested the Bose QC35 Series I; really the only difference between the Series I and Series II is that with the Series II, you can also activate and command the Google Assistant.

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One tricky point is that, should you decide you don’t want to use the ANC (for safety reasons or otherwise), you’ll have to plug in and use them as wired headphones, since the Bluetooth switch doubles as the ANC on/off switch. Additionally, the price is steep.

Get the Bose QuietComfort 35 II on Amazon for $349

3. Phiaton BT 150NC

Like the Phiaton BT 120NC headphones, the BT 150NCs are a comfortable, clear-sounding option for in-ear headphone aficionados. They’re a bit heavier than the 120NCs, but still offer a minimal, sleek design that doesn’t feel heavy on the neck. That they ship with multiple ear cap options ensures a tight seal inside of the ear and a comfortable fit that didn’t cause discomfort after wearing them for a few hours. The tight seal helps with noise cancellation: Say goodbye to office noise.

However, I found that the battery drains fairly quickly with active noise cancellation turned on. I got about five hours of use out of them with noise cancellation turned on. The good news, If you do lose power during the day, you can plug them into your audio source (provided it has a headphone jack) and continue using them, but without noise cancellation engaged.

Get the Phiaton BT 150NC on Amazon for $94.99

4. Phiaton BT 120NC

Like their heavier sibling, the Phiaton BT150, the BT120 NC are designed as a sports product. While worn, I found that the BT120 were flexible and light enough to easily forget about. Volume and power controls are set on the headset’s neckband, making them easy to access. These in-ear style buds are ship with a number of sizes of ear caps, allowing for a tight seal to aid in noise cancelation and a precise fit.

These are a great option for general music or podcast listening while commuting or working out, but serious audiophiles will likely be a bit disappointed in the highs the BT120 NC produce. Additionally, while their active noise cancelation is an improvement over what might be produced while using them passively, it doesn’t compare to the silence that our main pick offers up.

Get the Phiaton BT 120NC on Amazon for $69.99

5. Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2

We really liked the previous Plantronics Backbeat Pro, so it’s probably not surprising that the next edition gets a big thumbs up as well. Like the QC35 and the Flex ANC, the Backbeat Pro 2 also has ANC, but it’s less robust than the ANC on those headphones. It minimizes lower-pitched train rumbling, but other sounds are still audible. To some extent, this effect is intentional, since the Backbeat Pro 2 boasts an open-back setting that allows you to easily hear ambient noise, in addition to your tunes.

Another unusual feature is sensors that detect when the headphones are being worn, and when they’ve been taken off. In the latter case, the headphones “auto-pause,” and turn back on once the headphones have been returned to your head. I noticed this myself; every time I put the headphones back on, I could hear the ANC turn back on. Some users were unlucky, however, and had defective units that would auto-pause when the headphones were still on their heads.

The sound profile is pretty flat, making it possible to hear your tunes without an extra emphasis on certain tones. I thought the call quality was great, but other users had trouble with the mute button (which would never un-mute).

The Backbeat Pro 2 are ridiculously comfortable; I had no issues with them after hours of use. If you like comfy headphones, a 24-hour battery life, and tech-y features, then these are the cans for you.

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Get the Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2 on Amazon for $144.57

6. Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9

Usually, active noise cancellation (ANC) headphones have difficulty maintaining high audio quality, since, to some extent, your music has to compete with the noise-cancellation algorithm. At this price point, the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9 headphones did a surprisingly good job at that maintaining that balance. The bass notes are definitely boosted, but not at the expense of the higher notes; you should be able to hear both. However, when the ANC is activated, you may notice that all of the tones sound a bit muted.

On the other hand, the active noise cancellation does a really solid job of blocking out the lower frequency tones, which will be really helpful when you don’t want to hear trains rumbling or planes humming while you’re in transit. If you’re curious about ANC, these are a good pair to try out; they’ll give you a taste of active noise cancellation without breaking the bank.

Get the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9 on Amazon for $129

7. Anker Soundcore Space NC

The Anker Soundcore Space headphones are a relatively budget-friendly alternative to the Sony WH-1000XM3. They offer many of the same control features as the Sony pair, but for hundreds less. It’s a big difference in the budget, and it shows. Anker’s touch controls on the headphone cups are intended to allow easy access to the “play,” “pause,” and “skip” functionality. When they work as intended, they’re helpful. But I often found myself making accidental adjustments when my hand grazed the cup.

Sound-wise, these are surprisingly good. Music felt full, though bass was slightly lacking. These are comfortable, too—they didn’t squish my glasses into my head, but the cups didn’t particularly seal around them, which impacted the noise cancellation.

The Anker Soundcore Space NC headphones offer a lot of features that aren’t necessary. The features feel like a cheap version of the Sony’s, but they’re still a decent option for basic noise cancellation.

Get the Anker Soundcore Space NC on Amazon for $99

8. Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 2.0

The Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 2.0 over-ear headphones have a lot of great things going for them: wireless pairing via NFC or Bluetooth, active noise cancellation, a 22-hour battery life, memory foam core earcups wrapped in leather, and two different cases (a hard-backed case and a soft pouch). With all of these premium features, though, expect to pay a premium price. That price may well be worth it to you if you want your next pair of headphones to have both a sleek design and convenient features.

The active noise cancellation (ANC) manages to block out considerable amounts of both higher-pitched and lower-pitched tones, which can really help you to focus when you’re out and about in the world.

We did notice that the sound profile, which mainly emphasizes the middle tones over the highs or the lows, could get a little fuzzy-sounding when it gets down to the bass, but unless you have especially sensitive hearing, it shouldn’t be too noticeable. Even with these minor quibbles, we like the rest of the package enough that we’d definitely recommend the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 2.0 headphones to any friends of ours with disposable income.

Get the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 2.0 on Amazon for $199.95

9. Beats Studio 3 Wireless

Beats is perhaps one of the most (in)famous headphone brands around. The Studio 3 Wireless tries (and largely succeeds) in bridging the gap between a flat, studio-like audio profile (with a slight emphasis on bass) and a portable pair of headphones you can wear around town. The active noise cancellation makes a significant dent in both train rumbling and A/C hums alike. The W1 chip also makes pairing nearly instantaneous with any Apple or iOS device.

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The Studio 3 Wireless headphones are very comfortable in the short term but can squeeze your head and cause immense heat/sweat build-up in the long run.

Between the 22-hour battery life, solid noise cancellation, and sleek aesthetic, it’s understandable why some people are willing to drop a lot of cash on these headphones, which serve a dual purpose as a pair of headphones and a fashion statement.

Get the Beats Studio 3 Wireless from Amazon for $349.95

How We Test

About The Tester

I’m Nicole Carpenter, a freelance reporter, and reviewer who specializes in the tech and gaming industry. Before entering journalism, I worked in an open office, and I came to understand the real importance of noise-canceling headphones. I work from home now, but often find myself in crowded coffee shops, and noise-canceling headphones are still an important work tool. I’ve tried out a lot in my search for a perfect pair, and I’d love to help you find peace and quiet in any setting.

About The Tests

Using our head and torso simulator (HATS), Reviewed’s senior scientist Julia MacDougall put the headphones featured in this guide through a battery of tests: frequency response, distortion, tracking, leakage, and isolation.

Headphone manufacturers are typically aiming for either a flat or a curved sound profile. A curved profile is most common, and most curved profiles are trying to replicate the Equal Loudness Curve (ELC). The human ear hears higher tones more easily than it hears the bass tones, so for a human to perceive highs and lows at a similar volume, the headphones boost the volume of the lows, and moderate the volume of the highs.

A flat profile is usually found in “studio” headphones; the highs, mids, and bass tones have the same volume. However, as I just mentioned, we don’t hear all tones at the same volume, so the bass notes sound softer, and the highs sound louder. Some people prefer studio headphones because of their audio fidelity—they are hearing the music exactly as the producers intended them to hear it. Also, as implied by the name, studio headphones are used in studio recordings to help mixers figure out what, if any frequencies, they should boost or reduce.

In addition to the more scientific testing, we also had our tester for this guide, Nicole Carpenter, wear each pair of headphones around town to get a sense for their features (like extra amps or noise cancellation) as well as short-and long-term comfort.

Active vs. Passive Noise Cancelation

With headphones, Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) is a process that minimizes outside sound by introducing a second sound that’s designed to cancel out unwanted outside noise. Passive Noise Cancellation (PNC), on the other hand, uses materials built into the headphones to muffle outside sound. Typically, PNC doesn’t work as well as ANC.

You should know that because active noise cancellation introduces additional sound into your headphones in order to eliminate outside audio, it can affect the sound quality of what you’re listening to. (When you turn on active noise cancellation without anything else playing, you can definitely hear the second sound.) Most noise cancellation headphones have an option to turn ANC on or off. So, if there’s a situation where you need the highest quality audio, you can have it.

The product experts at Reviewed have all your shopping needs covered. Follow Reviewed on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram for the latest deals, reviews, and more.

Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

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