I’m sure you know that listening to music can help you relax, boost your mood, and positively affect your state of mind in numerous ways.

And if you’re anything like me, you need music like you need air to breathe!

Now, I’m also sure you’re almost painfully aware that the world around us is loud and full of noisy distractions. It seems that no matter how loud you play your music, you just can’t silence the noise.

Noise Canceling Headphones

That’s where noise-cancelling headphones come into play:

A good pair can make you feel alone in a crowded space and help you focus even in super noisy environments!

What are the Best Noise-Canceling Headphones for 2019-2020?

There is no right answer to this question, but you already knew that. Which pair is right for you depends on whether you value sound quality over canceling out background noises or vice versa.

I put together this guide of top-rated headphones to help you pick the ones that suit your needs. I want you to enjoy your favorite music without distractions!

To learn more about picking the right pair, check out our Noise-Canceling Headphones Buying Guide.

Preview
Editor's Choice
Sony Noise Cancelling Headphones WH1000XM3: Wireless Bluetooth Over...
Best Sound!
Bowers & Wilkins PX Active Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphones...
Best Price!
Sennheiser HD 4.50 Bluetooth Wireless Headphones with Active Noise...
Product
SONY WH-1000XM3
BOWERS & WILKINS PX
SENNHEISER HD 4.50
Battery Life
30h with NC on
22h with NC on
20h with NC on
Rating
Editor's Choice
Preview
Sony Noise Cancelling Headphones WH1000XM3: Wireless Bluetooth Over...
Product
SONY WH-1000XM3
Battery Life
30h with NC on
Rating
Best Sound!
Preview
Bowers & Wilkins PX Active Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphones...
Product
BOWERS & WILKINS PX
Battery Life
22h with NC on
Rating
Best Price!
Preview
Sennheiser HD 4.50 Bluetooth Wireless Headphones with Active Noise...
Product
SENNHEISER HD 4.50
Battery Life
20h with NC on
Rating

1. Sony WH-1000XM3 – Best Noise Cancelling Headphones 2019-2020

Sony’s newest headphones came out in August last year and pushed the Bose QuietComfort 35s right off the throne – the 1000XM3 are now THE best noise canceling headphones you can buy in 2019-2020!

With a new design, extended battery life, and extraordinary noise cancellation the pair is a must-have for anyone looking for comfort and supreme quality.

Highlights

  • Superior noise cancellation
  • Improved sound quality compared to previous generations
  • Super comfortable
  • Extra fast charging
  • Long battery life

The Sony WH-1000XM3 are exactly the headphones we’ve come to expect from the new leader in noise-cancelling headphones.

TechRadar.com

Noise Cancellation

Sony’s M2s already did a decent job at silencing most surrounding sounds, and they were the only headset to offer serious competition to Bose in this regard.

The new WH-1000XM3 model beats Bose and any other company for that matter in the NC headphones industry:

Noise cancellation with the M3s is unreal! Seriously! As soon as I put them on, all noise around me either faded completely or somehow blended in with my music. As corny as it sounds, I literally felt the rest of the world fall silent.

Sony’s awesome NC abilities come from their new QN1 processor, which seriously improves noise cancellation. But Sony also stepped up their game in other areas too:

One of the most annoying things about the M2s was that noise cancellation didn’t work without music playback. As soon as you turned Bluetooth off or disconnected the audio jack, the cans switched off automatically after 5 minutes.

With the M3s, you can set a timer for how long you want to keep your set powered up in NC mode or deactivate this feature completely. This is good news to anyone wanting to use these headphones for studying or working only.

Sound Quality

The QN1 chip also improves audio processing, and that has allowed Sony to make serious improvements to sound quality:

Vocals, mids, and highs now sound crisper and clearer, and most genres seem to come to life with the new 1000XM3s. Sony’s signature bass profile is as powerful and voluminous as ever. The only competition here are the Bowers & Wilkins cans.

It’s worth mentioning though that using the M3s in different NC modes also seems to change sound quality. For example, NC boosts bass, and the ‘Ambient’ mode emphasizes vocals. Stick to the ‘Standard’ mode if you’re listening to a lot of different genres on a daily basis – that way you get to enjoy a more even and balanced profile.

Comfort and Fit

Sony’s M3s are super comfortable to wear due to major changes in their design:

  • The new headphones are slenderer, and their shape is more rectangular than before, which makes them fit more discreetly and closer around your head.
  • The adjustable headband comes with thicker padding.
  • The cups are a little deeper than before and fit nicely around the ears.
  • The cups swivel to the side, so you can wear the cans around your neck without feeling smothered.
  • They are even lighter than before.

The frame collapses down into a compact size, so they are a great traveling accessory too!

Controls

You can control your M3s through touch controls, Sony’s mobile app, or with Google Assistant and Alexa.

The app works both with iPhones and smartphones using the Android operating system. You can use the app to control all functionalities such as sound and noise cancellation levels, adjust the sound equalizer, set a timer for noise cancellation, and much more.

The “Quick Attention” mode that wasn’t working very well in their previous model seems to be much better with this set:

When you find yourself in a situation where hearing things like announcements or conversations around you is important, simply place your hand over the right earcup – it activates the built-in mics and brings back ambient sounds.

Charging and battery life

The 1000XM3’s come with extended battery life. At full charge, the pair will last up to 30 hours wireless and with noise canceling on – an industry leading figure. They last up to 38 hours without NC.

Another major upgrade comes with the ‘Quick Charge’ feature:

Sony’s USB-C charger fills up the built-in battery at record speed: with just 10 minutes of charging you can now get up to five hours of music playback instead of 70 minutes. A full charge takes three hours instead of four.

Final verdict

Sony definitely went all out with their upgraded 1000XM3 model. Improved sound quality, excellent noise-canceling abilities, unrivaled 30 hours of battery life with NC switched on, and a new comfortable design all make them worth the premium price tag!

WE DON’T LIKE

  • Earcups can get hot and sweaty
  • Touch controls are a bit uncomfortable

2. Bose QuietComfort 35 II – Second Only to Sony!

Bose’s QuietComfort 35 II noise-canceling headphones were previously our top pick but fell to the second position when Sony released their WH-1000XM3s last year. Despite Sony claiming the throne, the QC II are a close second.

Let’s take a look at how Bose delivers on their promises of high-quality sound and superior comfort.

Highlights

  • Excellent noise cancellation (2nd only to Sony!)
  • Great for bass-heavy genres
  • Super comfortable
  • Google Assistant/Alexa compatible
  • 20 hours of battery life

Noise Cancellation

Bose uses both active and passive noise cancellation technologies to reduce background sounds.

Despite Sony surpassing them with their QN1 processor, the NC abilities of Bose remain truly amazing:

As soon as you put the QC’s on, all surrounding sounds fade away. Put on some tunes, and you’ll be walking around in your own bubble.

Of course, they won’t block all sounds as you’ll still hear loud bangs and unexpected noises such as shouting, but they beat everyone else on the market today.

Sound Quality

Together with active and passive noise canceling technologies the QuietComfort 35s are also advertised as offering a ‘full range of sound.’ Simply put, all music genres should sound equally good with them.

Now,

I’m sure you agree that ‘sound quality’ is a subjective term as we all hear music differently.

On top of trying out the pair myself, I also did a lot of research and read through a lot of customer reviews. Most people agree that:

  • The QuietComfort 35s have excellent bass and treble, so styles like electro, reggae, hip hop, and even modern rock sound great with them.
  • They are not the best for styles with lots of instrumentals, guitar strings, and vocals.

If you listen to a lot of different styles, you might be interested in the Bowers & Wilkins headphones reviewed below. Although not as popular as Bose, they are able to deliver more consistent quality across different styles.

Comfort and Fit

Bose is synonymous with comfort, and it’s undeniable that the QuietComfort series headphones offer a great fit:

The earcups are wide and deep and cover ears in full. The padding of the earcups is very soft and feels very comfortable around the ears.

The frame is also padded, making them good for longer wear. The frame fits nicely around your head, and there isn’t any clamping pressure around the ears. Surprisingly, the adjustable frame is not collapsible.

Now, the term ‘comfort’ is also very subjective:

While some people report feeling too much pressure around their ears, others complain that the cups are too big, etc. The headphones fit me perfectly, but they are too big for my girlfriend, even in the smallest position.

You can’t know in advance how any pair will fit you, so before making a purchase, I suggest you find a brick and mortar store and try different models on first.

Controls

You can control your QC headphones through Bose’s smartphone app or by using the buttons on the unit:

  • You’ll find the buttons on the right earcup, and you can use them to adjust volume levels, turn music on/off, and switch tracks.
  • The smartphone app is easy to use and gives you even more control options like controlling device connections, adjusting sound quality, performing firmware updates, and so on.

The QC II comes with an ‘Action’ button that you’ll find on the left earcup. If you’ve been wondering what’s the difference between QC I and II, then this is it.

The ‘Action’ button lets you connect to Google Assistant or Alexa without having to use your phone. If you activate this function, the assistants can send texts, read out notifications, say who’s calling, and more.

You don’t have to use the button for Google Assistant/Alexa though and can set it up to control noise cancellation levels instead. You can already choose between different NC levels by using the mobile app, but if you’re worried about the pressure NC can cause, you’ll find it useful if you can control the levels straight from the earcup.

Bonus Features

You can use the headphones for making phone calls, but the feature is buggy, to say the least:

When you accept a call, the sound becomes muffled after a few minutes and the dual-microphone somehow amplifies surrounding sounds, making them audible for all participants. I wouldn’t use the QCs for business calls.

Charging and Battery Life

The QuietComfort 35 second-generation headphones come with a built-in battery that you can charge through a micro USB cable.

It takes a little over two hours from flat to full charge, which is faster than most headphones on this list. The battery life is similar to others at up to 20 hours when used wireless and with NC on and up to 40 hours when used wired.

Final Verdict

Bose’s QuietComfort 35 IIs are our second choice for noise-canceling headphones for the 2019/2020 season. They sound great with bass-heavy music styles, efficiently block most background sounds, and are super comfortable to wear. If you’re looking for an alternative to Sony, then these are the headphones to consider.

WE DON’T LIKE

  • The Bluetooth range is shorter than advertised
  • Doesn’t sound good when listening to guitar strings and vocals
  • The built-in mic amplifies background noise when making phone calls

3. Bose QuietComfort 35 I

The original QuietComfort 35 noise-canceling headphones are a great alternative to the upgraded QC II reviewed above: you get supreme comfort and high-quality noise cancellation at a slightly lower price.

Let’s see what you can expect from this first-generation model.

Highlights

  • Excellent noise cancellation
  • Powerful bass
  • Very comfortable
  • Battery life is 20 hours in wireless mode
  • Noise canceling only works in active mode

Noise Cancellation

Like the upgraded QuietComfort 35 II headphones, the first-generation pair also uses active and passive noise cancellation methods to block surrounding sounds and both pairs are equally efficient.

You can choose between three different NC levels: high, low, and off.

The first-generation headphones offer only one way to control NC levels – through the smartphone app. The second-gen pair allows you to switch between different levels directly from the left earcup if set up properly.

You may not see an issue here, but sensitive people can sometimes feel slight pressure from active noise cancellation. If you’re one of them, you will welcome the ability to control NC levels straight from the earcup. Choose the newer model if this could be a concern for you.

Sound Quality

Sound quality is similar to the second-generation headphones so not all music styles sound equally well:

The headphones are best for bass-heavy genres such as rap, hip hop, and electro. High-range frequencies such as vocals and instrumentals sound a bit flat and muddy, especially when compared to the Bowers & Wilkins headphones reviewed just below. If you want ‘a full range of sound,’ go for the B&W instead.

Comfort and Fit

The QuietComfort I headphones fit just as well as the newer model: the large padded ear cups fit nicely around the ears, and the padded headband is not too tight. Because the frame is made out of plastic, the headphones are light and comfortable to wear for hours on end.

Controls

You can control your QC I headphones through Bose’s mobile app: adjust volume, change tracks, switch between different noise cancellation levels, adjust EQ balance, and more.

The right earcup has buttons for directly controlling things like power, connectivity, volume levels, and changing songs.

Some people may find it super annoying that you can only control noise cancellation from the smartphone app. If you’re one of them, the second-generation QuietComfort headphones will be a better choice for you.

Charging and Battery Life

Two hours of charging gives the headphones up to 20 hours of battery life when used wireless and with noise cancellation on. You can extend that to 40 hours when you use them plugged instead.

If the battery runs out, you can still continue to listen to music when you plug it to your phone, but noise cancellation and the sound equalizer will not work.

Final Verdict

Bose’s first generation QuietComfort 35 headphones are just as good as the upgraded model released in 2018. You have fewer control options, but you still get the same level of comfort, sound quality, and noise cancellation.

WE DON’T LIKE

  • Not that great for mid- and high-range sounds
  • No direct control for NC levels
  • Shorter Bluetooth range than advertised

4. Sony WH-1000XM2

Despite Sony releasing an upgrade of this model late summer last year, the WH-1000XM2s are still a great pair if you can get your hands on them: you get excellent noise cancellation, deep voluminous bass plus they are very comfortable to wear.

Below is a comprehensive review of the model’s key features.

Highlights

  • Almost as good as Bose in terms of noise cancellation
  • Powerful bass
  • Sound quality is genre-dependant
  • Very comfortable
  • Google Assistant/Alexa compatible

Noise Cancellation

Already in 2018, the 1000XM2s were the only headphones that could compete with Bose QuietComfort 35’s in terms of noise canceling:

Sony’s digital NC features and ‘Adaptive Sound Control’ technology silence most background sounds. Mind you, they are not perfect – and neither is Bose for that matter – but they do a decent job.

You can choose between different NC modes. A unique feature that you won’t get with Bose is the ‘Ambient Noise Mode’ that activates the built-in mics and lets in certain sounds such as announcements over a loudspeaker, etc.

One of the main issues people have with the WH-1000XM2s is that the headphones switch off after 5 minutes when you disconnect from Bluetooth or remove the audio jack. That is very annoying for people who want to use the cans in wireless mode to block out surrounding sounds while studying or sleeping on a plane, for example.

Now, Sony did fix this issue with the new model, but there’s a workaround with the M2s too: just plug a cut-off audio jack in your headphones, and they won’t shut off until it’s disconnected. Not perfect, I know, but the best option you have.  

Sound Quality

When compared to some of the other models reviewed here (such as Bose QC I and II or Bowers & Wilkins), the second-generation 1000Xs are somewhat lacking when it comes to sound quality.

The problem is that the quality of music playback really depends on the genre you play:

Sony is famous for its powerful bass profile and the M2s lean heavily towards the low-end sounds. Genres like contemporary rock, hip hop, and rap sound fantastic with them. What they can’t handle very well are the mid-range sounds. Instrumentals, classical music, and vocals (especially female vocals) sound muddy and somewhat flat.

Again, Sony has fixed this issue with the WH-1000XM3s reviewed above.

Comfort and Fit

Sony’s M2s are only slightly less comfortable than the new M3s due to the latter coming with a narrower frame and more headband padding. But when compared to other headphones on the list, only Bose QuietComfort 35 IIs fit most people better.

The earcups are a little bit smaller than that of Bose but generously padded and quite comfortable for longer wear. The headband is padded as well and not too tight – it doesn’t apply any uncomfortable pressure on your head.

The frame folds into a compact shape and fits nicely in the provided case. The M2s (and the M3s) are one of the best noise- canceling headphones for traveling because of this feature!

One of the main issues with the original WH-1000X models was that the headband cracked very easily for some people. The design of the 1000XM2 is the same, so many people are left wondering whether this could become an issue with the M2s as well. According to Sony, the problem was with a specific batch of the first-generation headphones, so this shouldn’t be a problem anymore.

Controls

You can control your M2 noise-canceling headphones through a mobile app, touch controls, or voice commands through Alexa and Google Assistant.

The mobile app works with both Android phones as well as iPhones, and you can use it to control many different features such as control your playlists, adjust noise-canceling levels, or choose between different NC modes.

The M2 comes with a built-in ‘Adaptive Sound Control’ feature that should detect whether you’re sitting, walking, or traveling and then adjust the NC levels accordingly. The idea has a lot of potential, but unfortunately, Sony hasn’t been able to quite perfect this yet.

The headphones should also adjust to your altitude when flying and optimize for atmospheric pressure. This feature is useful if you are sensitive to air pressure when flying, but if not, you probably won’t notice any difference.

You might find the controls a little bit uncomfortable to use as they are quite sensitive. The pair sometimes confuses pushing the button for swiping forward and ends up changing the song instead of adjusting the sound.

Bonus Features

One unique feature that sets Sony’s M2s and M3s apart from other noise-canceling headphones is the ‘Quick Attention’ mode. When you need to quickly lower volume levels (like when someone comes up to talk to you), you can just place your hand over the right earcup, and the headphones react accordingly.

Unfortunately, like the ‘Adaptive Sound Control’ feature, this one too is unreliable and doesn’t yet work 100%. The M3s seem to be much better at this task though.

Charging and Battery Life

Charging from flat to full power takes around 4 hours and gives you about 20 hours of listening time in wireless mode. The ‘Quick Charge’ option gives you about one hour of music playback after charging for just 10 minutes.

Final Verdict

Sony’s WH-1000XM2 are a great alternative to the upgraded M3s released last year. You get excellent bass for listening to genres such as hip hop and rap, decent noise cancellation second only to Bose and a pair that’s very comfortable to wear even for longer periods.

WE DON’T LIKE

  • Not that great for mid-range sounds (vocals, instrumentals)
  • Some people find the touch controls too sensitive
  • Not all features work as advertised

5. Bowers & Wilkins PX – Best Sound Quality

The PX noise canceling headphones by Bowers & Wilkins are among the company’s best-selling models. They are a great choice if your music taste varies across different genres and noise cancellation is not your main priority.

Let’s take a look at their key features to see whether they are worth all the hype.

Highlights

  • Decent noise cancellation
  • Best overall sound quality
  • Quite comfortable
  • Bass could be stronger
  • Can’t be used when the battery runs out

Noise Cancellation

The PX headphones use active noise cancellation technology and let you choose between three customized modes:

  • The ‘Office’ mode limits background noises but lets in enough sounds to keep you aware of nearby conversations.
  • The ‘City’ mode reduces city noises but helps you stay aware of your surroundings.
  • The ‘Flight’ mode blocks cabin sounds and engine noise, making them the perfect headphones for traveling.

Noise cancellation with the PX headphones is not as efficient as with Sony WH-1000XM3s or Bose QuietComfort 35s, but they do a decent enough job at blocking most ambient and non-ambient sounds. You’ll still hear things like shouting and loud bangs though.

Although NC with the Bowers & Wilkins PXs is not top quality, you’ll find most complaints about it from people who wear glasses while wearing the headphones. Unfortunately, the frame prevents the earcups from fitting tightly around your ears, and noise cancelation is inevitably reduced. It might be worth considering glasses with a thinner frame.

Sound Quality

If you listen to music from lots of different genres, the Bowers & Wilkins PX headphones are the perfect choice for you:

They sound great when listening to instrumentals, vocals, classical music, and rock as they can handle mid-range notes, highs, and most low-end sounds equally well.

Bass is somewhat lacking though, and many people find it’s not strong enough, especially when compared to Sony’s and Bose’s headphones. If your taste leans more towards bass-heavy genres, these might not be for you.

Comfort and Fit

The PXs look and feel modern and come with wide padded earcups and a padded plastic frame. The earcups fit nicely around the ears, and the soft lining material around the headband makes them quite comfortable to wear.

They are a little bit heavy though so you might find that wearing them for hours could cause some discomfort.

You can adjust the frame to the size of your head, but it is not collapsible, which makes transport and storage a bit annoying.

Controls

You can control basic features using the buttons on the earcups or through a smartphone app. The app lets you control everything from playlists to choosing between different noise cancellation modes to adjusting sound quality.

Bowers & Wilkins, like Sony, has put a lot of effort into developing unique features that you can’t find on other headphones:

For the PX cans, this feature is called ‘Intuitive Control’ that lets you play and pause music automatically:

  • To pause music, lift one earcup over your ear or take the headphones off.
  • To resume music, put the headphones back on.

Like Sony’s ‘Quick Attention’ mode, the ‘Intuitive Control’ feature is glitchy:

It doesn’t always recognize whether the pair is resting around your neck or whether you’re wearing them around your head. That may make music start at random times. They may also sometimes turn themselves off when you move a certain way.

Charging and Battery Life

It takes about three hours to charge them from flat to full, and that will give you up to 22 hours of music playback (wireless, NC on). You can extend the battery life to up to 33 hours by using them wired.

Note that the PX headphones are ‘active headphones’ only, which means you won’t be able to use them when the battery runs out.

Final Verdict

Bowers & Wilkins definitely don’t disappoint with their PX headphones. They feature a beautiful modern design, are very comfortable to wear, and sound great with almost all music styles. They are a great alternative to Bose or Sony if noise cancellation is not your main concern.

WE DON’T LIKE

  • Won’t work when the battery runs out
  • NC is not their best feature
  • Lack of bass enhancement

6. Sennheiser HD 4.50 – Best Budget-Class Noise-Canceling Headphones

Sennheiser’s HD 4.50 noise canceling headphones are an upgrade of the company’s previous models, including the widely popular HD1 cans.

Read our Sennheiser review to learn why the HD 4.50s are the best budget-class NC headphones.

Highlights

  • Budget-class headphones
  • Decent noise cancellation
  • Great sound quality
  • Strong bass
  • Not the most comfortable pair

Noise Cancellation

Sennheiser uses NoiseGard, an active noise canceling technology for the HD 4.50s to block out surrounding sounds.

NC with these Sennheiser cans is pretty impressive considering their price:

The earcups fit tightly around your ears and block out most noise even with NoiseGard deactivated. When you turn it on, you’ll find the silence even more impressive. Of course, they aren’t as good as Sony or Bose, but they aren’t that far behind either.

Activating the noise cancellation function is where you might run into trouble:

To turn NoiseGard on, you need to press on the up and down volume buttons at the same time and hold them for about three seconds. It takes a bit of time to get the hang of this move and turning NC on is definitely trickier than with other similar headphones.

Sound Quality

Now, the sound quality of these Sennheiser HD 4.50 headphones is quite impressive too:

When compared to some of Sennheiser’s older models (including the HD1s), the 4.50s come with wider frequency response. They have powerful bass with good definition, and I can’t complain about the treble either.

Surprisingly, even the mid-range sounds and highs that many other pairs can’t handle at all sound very natural with the 4.50s. Although not quite as good as the top-quality brands reviewed here, the HD 4.50s offer decent sound considering their price.

Comfort and Fit

Comfort and how well the headphones fit seems to be one area where the brand had to compromise to offer budget price:

The headphones do come with padded earcups, a padded headband, and soft leatherette lining, but they just don’t feel as comfortable as Bose’s or Sony’s models.

It could be because the earcups are smaller and don’t fit tightly around bigger ears (they didn’t fit mine). The frame is also smaller and narrower, so it kind of pressed the cups and headband too tightly around my head. It was a better fit for my girlfriend although she still prefers the M3s and QC 35s in terms of overall comfort.

Controls

Controls are located on the right earcup. You can use the power button to switch your headphones on and off, the track button to switch between songs, the slider to adjust volume and to turn NC on.

Sennheiser does have a mobile app called ‘CapTune’ that you can use to optimize sound and manage your playlists, but you can’t use it to control or adjust the features of your headset.

Charging and Battery Life

You get just under 20 hours of music playback with noise cancellation activated on a full charge. The battery life is pretty much equal with most other headphones on this list.

When you keep noise canceling deactivated, you can extend the battery life for another five hours.

Final Verdict

Sennheiser’s HD 4.50 are the best budget-class noise canceling headphones for 2019-2020 – you get surprisingly high-quality sound and decent noise canceling. They don’t come with any fancy features, but if you just want to escape everyday noise without compromising on sound quality, you have found your pair.

WE DON’T LIKE

  • Not as comfortable as other top brands
  • No mobile app to control them
  • Turning NC on is a bit of a hassle

Noise-Canceling Headphones Buying Guide

Noise Canceling Headphones

Noise-canceling headphones can be a good investment. Perhaps you simply want to zone out so you could enjoy your favorite tunes? Or maybe you need help with concentrating at work or studying at your local library?

Whatever the reason, noise-blocking headphones could be exactly what you need.

Unfortunately,

Finding a pair that’s right for you isn’t easy as you can’t just walk into a shop and buy the first pair you see. There are lots of different brands and models available, and they all promise the same thing: excellent sound quality with maximum noise cancellation.

But are there any other specs and characteristics you should look for?

I’ve put together this Noise-Canceling Headphones Buying Guide to share with you everything you need to know and help make a decision so you could get full value for your money.

How to Choose Noise Canceling Headphones?

Before we dive into the buying guide though, we need to talk about your priorities.

Do you care more about the headphones’ noise canceling abilities (meaning – is blocking out background sounds your first priority)?

OR

Is the sound quality they offer more important?

At $300 and more you’d expect to get a pair that does both things equally well, but unless you’re willing to pay more than a thousand bucks, this isn’t possible.

So, before you can even start looking at specific models, make sure to understand your needs first.

But now, here’s a list of all the things you should consider when buying noise-canceling headphones.

Noise Cancellation VS. Noise Isolation

First, you should know that there’s a significant difference between noise cancellation and noise isolation:

What is Active Noise Cancellation?

Active noise cancellation is a process where noise is reduced by using Digital Signal Processing technology. This technology produces counter-waves when receiving sound waves from your surrounding background. These ‘counter-waves’ move in the opposite direction of the noise waves and end up ‘canceling’ each other out.

What is Noise Isolation?

On the other hand, noise isolation is a passive process which instead of canceling soundwaves blocks them altogether. Headphones using this technology reduce outside sounds by creating a vacuum or seal around the ears (usually with thickly padded earcups). This prevents your ears from capturing the sound waves coming from your surroundings.

Now, which technology is more efficient?

It’s safe to say that active noise cancellation is the best when it comes to blocking sounds from the outside. Keep in mind though that neither technology can cancel or block sounds 100%.

Noise-Canceling Capabilities

Not all models offering active noise cancellation are the same:

The main difference is in the types of sounds they can silence.

Most good-quality headphones can efficiently block constant ambient sounds such as people chattering around you, noises from the traffic, or birds chirping on the rooftop.

There aren’t many pairs that can also block non-ambient sounds such as sudden shouting or loud bangs.

Another thing you should consider is whether noise canceling works both ways – can people around you hear sounds from your headset?

Sound Quality

I’m sure you’ve noticed that the term ‘sound quality’ is subjective and that people evaluate ‘quality’ based on their musical preferences.

While it’s true that a good pair should play all music styles equally well, not all headphones can handle different frequencies.

Some brands and models focus more on low-end frequencies such as bass, which sounds great with rap, reggae, hip hop, electronic dance music, etc. Very often, mid- and high-range sounds like instrumentals, guitar strings, and vocals lack clarity with these pairs.

Other brands focus more on mid- and high-end frequencies that have a treble-enhancing effect. With these types of headphones, you’ll hear high pitches a lot better. Such headphones are a great choice for fans of classical, country, and folk music or pop and Rock ‘n Roll.

It’s difficult to say which headphones fit which style though, so make sure to read customer reviews!

Comfort and Fit

Comfort is the third most important thing next to sound quality and noise cancellation:

  • Some headphones are uncomfortable because the frame is too tight and applies too much pressure around the head. Others can be too big even when adjusted to the smallest size.
  • Some pairs put a lot of pressure around the ears to also offer passive noise cancellation, while others feel looser but also let in too much noise from the outside.

Comfort is another feature that’s very subjective so you should always try to find your preferred model in a brick and mortar store and try them on before making a purchase online.

Dimensions, Weight, and Practical Design

These features determine how comfortable the headphones are to wear.

When it comes to weight, most headphones weigh between 100 to 400 grams. Lighter sets are more comfortable to wear for long periods and also easier to carry with you. Keep in mind though that the weight does not determine product quality.

Regarding size and design, consider whether you can adjust the frame to your head’s shape and size or not.

Whether or not the frame is collapsible is also super important, especially if you’re looking for noise-canceling headphones for traveling.

Controls

Availability of controls determines how easy it is to use your headphones. There are two types of headsets:

  • Earphones with controls on the unit. You can use the buttons to perform basic tasks like change volume, switch tracks, receive calls, pause songs, and more.
  • Earphones that you can control via a mobile app. If you go for a pair like this, you need to connect your headphones through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to be able to control different functions.

Charging and Battery Life

There are two questions to ask when looking for your perfect pair:

How long do you have to wait for your headphones to charge fully? And how long can you use them before charging again?

Most headphones take about two to three hours to charge fully although newer models use extra fast charging technologies.

Battery life for different pairs ranges from ten to thirty hours when used wireless and with active noise cancelation on. You can usually increase battery life by 10 or 20 hours when using them wired.

Wired vs. Wireless

Finally, you can choose between wired or wireless designs. These days though, most new models all come wireless with the option to use them plugged if you want.

Using your headphones in the wired mode consumes less power, significantly increasing battery life.

Wireless headphones need to be charged every one or two weeks depending on usage but offer free and a fuller range of movement.

What are the Best Noise-Canceling Headphones for 2019-2020?

Sony’s newest headphones WH-1000XM3 came out in August last year and pushed the Bose QuietComfort 35s right off the throne – they are now THE best noise canceling headphones you can buy in 2019-2020!

With a new design, extended battery life, and extraordinary noise cancellation the pair is a must-have for anyone looking for comfort and supreme quality.

If you want more choice just check out the bestsellers from Amazon.

How Do Noise Canceling Headphones Work?

Noise canceling headphones come in two types – they are either passive or active.

Passive headphones are circumaural and are constructed using thick foam and other high-quality sound-absorbing materials.

Active noise canceling headphones also use sound-absorbing materials. On top of that, they use technology to block ambient sounds from coming in through the headphones. The technology works by actively erasing low-frequency sound waves. To accomplish this, the headphones mimic sounds that reach them from the outside. The mimicked sound waves move in the direction of the incoming sound, thus effectively erasing or canceling it.

Wrapping It Up

Picking the right noise-canceling headphones is NOT an easy job. If you don’t want to pay close to a thousand dollars or more, you’re going to have to either compromise on sound quality or on how well a chosen pair can block out surrounding sounds – you just can’t have both.

I hope my reviews of the six top-rated products made your choice a little bit easier. If you have any questions or suggestions, please let me know in the comments below.

Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones in 2019 - 2020 7

About the author

Fred is a 30-year-old blogger who loves writing about new technologies, spending time outdoors, traveling, and music.He launched this website with Karen after growing tired of looking for reliable information about new products to buy.

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