While most over-the-ear headphones feature some sort of passive noise-cancellation, for proper isolation of background noise, an active noise-cancelation (ANC) headphone is essential. These headphones feature extra microphones for canceling background noise and present clean audio to the listener. Many also offer the ability to control the extent of ANC so that you can listen to the surroundings wherever important such as on the roads.
Headphones have come a long way and now feature integration with voice assistants and offer advanced noise cancellation features via dedicated mobile apps. However, audio quality remains the primary parameter on which headphones are judged.
Audio quality is actually a personal preference and depends a lot on what tracks one listens to. Some prefer their tracks to be bass-heavy while others prefer to focus on the mids. So it is important that your choice of headphone reflects this preference. Do remember that, depending on the implementation, noise cancellation can actually compromise on the audio quality. Battery life is another important aspect if you want to go fully wireless. The quality of wireless audio depends on many factors and is generally not as accurate as wired audio.
Keeping these factors in mind, we have narrowed down the list of noise-canceling headphones that offer a good balance of features and audio quality. So, here we present the 8 best noise-canceling headphones to buy in 2019.
1. Bose QuietComfort 35 II
Bose is known for offering the best noise cancelation headphones in the business and the QuietComfort 35 II is a prime example of that. The QC 35 II offers three levels of noise cancelation and up to 20 hours of battery life. It has Amazon Alexa built-in for voice control or you can summon your smartphone’s assistant via Bluetooth as well. The Bose Connect app offers a one-stop shop for managing all aspects of your headphone including music sharing and future software updates. World-class noise cancellation is only one aspect of the QC 35 II. It is also more comfortable to wear than the Sony XM series and the sound feels full and well-balanced.
It is a tough call between the Sony WH-1000XM3 and the Bose QC 35 II even for us given the fact that both headphones are equally matched both in terms of performance and price. We’ll let you be the judge in this case so try them out and see which of these two offer a sound profile suited to your listening style.
- Pros: Excellent audio quality and noise cancellation; Bose Connect app
- Cons: None as such
2. Bowers & Wilkins PX
The Bowers & Wilkins PX is a great alternative to the Bose QC 35 II or the Sony XM3 if you are looking for a good noise canceling headphone. The PX offers great audio reproduction with deep bass and balanced lows and mids. It features adaptive noise cancellation so you can customize how much ambient noise you want to let in instead of letting the headphone decide it for you. Controlling the PX is very intuitive. You put down the PX to put it to sleep or lift one of the cups to pause the track. The PX also offers incredible battery life of up to 29 hours on Bluetooth with ANC enabled and goes all the way up to 50 hours in a wired mode without ANC. You can also keep the PX up to date via the PX App available for Android and iOS.
The B&W PX is one of the best headphones for the price and the performance won’t disappoint. However, there are a few things to keep in mind, though. They might be uncomfortable for some people so it would be best to try them out physically before buying. Also, the audio quality with noise cancellation ON takes a beating. On top of that, the batteries should always be present whether in the wired or wireless mode so you can’t just connect them to a 3.5 mm jack and enjoy without worrying about the batteries.
- Pros: Excellent audio quality; Long battery life; Multiple levels of noise cancellation
- Cons: ANC reduces audio quality; Battery required in both wired and wireless modes
3. Sony WH-1000XM3
- Features: Quick pairing over NFC; Touch-based controls; Smart listening mode; Can be both wired and wireless; High-resolution audio; LDAC support
- Connection: Stereo 3.5mm (wired); Bluetooth/NFC (wireless)
- Battery Life: Up to 30 hours
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 7.31 x 10.44 x 2.94 in
The Sony WH-1000XM3 is the latest iteration in the popular XM series and features enhanced noise cancellation and premium audio quality thanks to the 40 mm drivers capable of reproducing a full range of frequencies up to 40 KHz. The build quality of the XM3 is excellent and it folds easily into a compact carrying case that is great for carrying on flights or long journeys. The XM3 also features a dedicated voice input microphone that is isolated from the rest of the microphones for clear voice during audio calls. The XM3 is one of the best noise canceling headphones available and it offers a lot of smart features such as the Sense Engine that can tune the audio based on ambient noise.
The Sony WH-1000XM3 supports the superior LDAC codec that offers better quality than aptX Bluetooth audio. The noise cancelation is also the best in the business and we can say that Sony has overtaken Bose in this regard. There have been a few reports of echoing on the other side during voice calls but those are far and few in between. If you are looking for the best headphones that cover multiple use cases and offers excellent noise cancelation, the Sony WH-1000XM3 is what you need.
- Pros: Excellent audio quality; Best-in-class noise cancelation
- Cons: Occasional echo during voice calls
4. Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2
The Plantronics BackBeat Pro offers good active noise-cancellation (ANC) without any background hissing artifacts that are normally found in many other ANC headsets. The audio quality is immersive with just the right amount of bass, highs, and mids. These wireless headphones offer up to 24 hours of streaming and you can simply plug in the headphones once the battery runs out without having to recharge it again. There is also an open-listen mode that lets you hear your surrounding noise whenever you wish to. These headphones are smart enough to pause music when you take them off your head and resume when you put them back on.
The Plantronics BackBeat Pro is one of the best noise-canceling headphones under $200. It isn’t at the level of Bose or Sony but still provide adequate noise cancellation. There are some issues with the onboard sensors being very sensitive to headphone movement and thereby, automatically pausing the sound but this can be disabled in the settings.
- Pros: Good fit; Balanced audio profile; Movement detection
- Cons: Noise-cancellation can be better; Onboard sensors are overly sensitive
5. Sennheiser HD 4.50
The Sennheiser HD 4.50 is a Bluetooth wireless headphone that supports active noise-cancellation via NoiseGard technology. You get cup-mounted controls for easily controlling tracks and you can also take calls using the integrated microphone. The sound quality is very satisfying with well-defined mids and highs and dynamic bass. The long 19 hours battery life ensures that you don’t run out of juice in the middle of a trip and you can use the supplied detachable cable in the event the battery runs out. Thanks to the aptX support, there is no perceivable lag in the audio while watching movies or playing games.
You cannot go wrong with the Sennheiser HD 4.50 but it does come with some niggles. The Bluetooth range is lower than most competing headsets and the headband does not offer much cushioning so it can get uncomfortable after prolonged use. The noise-cancellation, while good, is not very high and you will still manage to make out ambient noise.
- Pros: Good audio reproduction; Long battery life
- Cons: Low Bluetooth range; Noise-cancellation can be better
6. AKG N700NC
AKG is a premium headphone brand and the N70noise-canceling headphone reflects that. The N700NC offers adaptive noise-cancellation that can alter the levels based on ambient noise. The foldable design is very comfortable to wear and fits snugly in the provided case. The cable offers an in-line mic and remote for controlling playback. Battery life at 20 hours is excellent and you can also use the detachable cable for even longer playback. Further features of the N700NC such as function assignment, EQ customization, etc. can be customized via the AKG app available for iOS and Android devices.
The AKG provides a flat sound signature so it requires some tweaking to get a suitable sound profile. While loud noises do pass through, the AKG N700NC does a good job of filtering about 20 – 23 dB of external noise. The Bluetooth range is also good and the overall build quality is satisfactory. It could be priced a tad lower, though.
- Pros: Good audio quality overall; Comfortable to wear to for long
- Cons: Sound output needs tuning; Noise-cancelation can be a bit higher
7. Microsoft Surface Headphones
The Microsoft Surface Headphone is the latest product to feature in the Microsoft Surface family and is designed to complement the Surface range of devices. The Surface Headphones offer good, balanced audio that envelops the listener. They are also extremely comfortable to wear for extended periods without any sense of fatigue and also offer Microsoft Cortana to control the functions of the headphone with just your voice. The Surface Headphones also feature active noise cancellation, which can be adjusted according to your preference by just turning the on-ear dial.
When it comes to audio quality, the Surface Headphones can elicit mixed reactions depending on what your expectations are. If you are coming from the like of Sony XM3 or Bose QC 35 II, then you might find the overall audio to be a bit lacking, especially in the mids and highs. However, they make an excellent choice if you are more into online streaming music or gaming. The battery is only required for wireless audio and you can simply plug in the Surface Headphones to a 3.5 mm jack and enjoy music without having to worry about battery life. Battery life at 12 hours is on the lower side due to the always-on voice assistant but hopefully, this will be fixed in a later firmware update.
- Pros: Good audio quality for streaming music and gaming; Adjustable noise cancellation
- Cons: Low battery life; Audio quality can get better at mids and highs
8. Beats Studio 3
The Studio 3 is the flagship headphone from Beats and it offers great noise-cancelation and audio quality worthy of the price. The Studio 3 offers adaptive active noise-cancelation and can perform real-time audio calibration to ensure consistent audio quality. These headphones are extremely comfortable to wear and the Apple W1 chip ensures excellent Bluetooth connectivity even across distances as much as 100 feet. The audio quality is surprisingly well balanced, considering the facts that Beats headphones have traditionally favored the lows.
That said, it depends on what sort of tracks you listen to. Bass heads will find these headphones extremely great while those into classical music might not find them overly impressive. The noise-cancellation is good but not the very best and we find headphones priced much lower offering great noise-cancellation.
- Pros: Good audio quality; Comfortable fit
- Cons: ANC needs to be better
Dear readers, that sums up our choices for the best noise-canceling headphones available in 2019. Everyone has their own listening preferences so we still recommend that you try one out at a local shop before purchasing. Do note that good noise-cancelation is expensive so the lower priced variants might not afford total isolation of ambient noise. It all depends on what extent of noise-cancelation you prefer.
We hope that this article has addressed your needs for buying a quality noise-canceling headphone. If you have any questions or recommendations, feel free to post them in the comments below and we will get back to you at the earliest.