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The 5 Best Headphones with Noise Cancelling in 2020

best headphones with noise cancelling

We tested dozens of headphones with active noise canceling. The best is the Sony WH-1000XM4. In terms of noise suppression, the Sony is in no way inferior to Bose’s former market leader. In contrast, it adapts itself to the acoustic framework conditions – and sounds significantly better. This makes the Sony WH-1000X M4 the best headphones with active noise cancellation at the moment.

Headphones with noise canceling (NC), i.e. active noise cancellation, work by recording ambient noise with a microphone and playing them out of phase through the speakers. This simply eliminates the disturbing sound waves. The result is wonderful silence even in noisy surroundings – a blessing, especially when you’re on the plane or train.

In our experience, noise-canceling technology is not only divided into chaff and wheat, but also into, let’s call it sand, to stick with agricultural terms: the listeners from Sony, Bose and Sennheiser clearly define the wheat. In-house developments are largely used here, and they are expensive. The other manufacturers use what the market has to offer, and there are also significant differences in price and, above all, quality.

Headphones with noise canceling now mostly work with Bluetooth transmission. When the battery is empty, most of them still have an emergency operation via cable. Then the active noise cancellation does not work, but you can at least hear something.

We have detailed the strengths and weaknesses of noise canceling for each listener so that you are always clear as to whether and how many compromises you have to accept in terms of external noise suppression.

Nevertheless, one would like to hear the announcements on the train or be able to briefly communicate with the person sitting next to them. Our new favorite has a particularly practical function in store for this.

Compared to the in-ear models, headphone headphones with circumaural capsules have a decisive advantage: they seal the ears well against outside noise by their design. In addition, the larger capsules offer a lot more possibilities to accommodate the battery and electronics. You don’t need the additional box that is required for in-ear headphones with noise canceling.

Here are our recommendations in the brief overview. As always, you will find the detailed test report below.

What are the best Headphones with Noise Cancelling?

1. Sony WH-1000XM4

Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Industry Leading Noise Canceling
  • Industry-leading noise canceling with Dual Noise Sensor…
  • Next-level music with Edge-AI, co-developed with Sony Music…
  • Up to 30-hour battery life with quick charging (10 min…
  • Touch Sensor controls to pause/play/skip tracks, control…
  • Speak-to-chat technology automatically reduces volume during…

With the Sony WH-1000X M4, our current favorite is entering the fourth evolutionary round. Outwardly, it is similar to its predecessor WH-1000X M3, and there is hardly any difference in sound between the two. However, it has got some new sensors and has become even more intelligent in conjunction with the associated app. The great sound and the efficient noise canceling are on the same high level.

2. Bose NC 700

Sale
Bose Noise Cancelling Wireless Bluetooth Headphones 700
  • Keep your phone in your pocket and your head up to the world…
  • Turn any space into a workplace — with powerful noise…
  • Personalize your environment with 11 levels of noise…
  • Access Alexa with the push of a button, or use the wake up…
  • Optimized for the Google Assistant; Access your voice…

The Bose NC 700 is not a continuation of the successful QuietComfort series, but a completely newly developed handset. Nevertheless, it has adopted the most important genes, such as the excellent noise canceling. The operating concept, the sound and, last but not least, the manufacturing quality have been revised – with success, because with the NC 700, Bose has again achieved a great success. However, it also has its price.

3. Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9i

Sale
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9i Wireless Bluetooth Over-Ear Headphones with Active Noise Cancellation
  • Keep your phone in your pocket and your head up to the world…
  • Turn any space into a workplace — with powerful noise…
  • Personalize your environment with 11 levels of noise…
  • Access Alexa with the push of a button, or use the wake up…
  • Optimized for the Google Assistant; Access your voice…

With the Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9i, the Danes have developed very special headphones. The design and operating concept are unique, workmanship and materials are of the best quality and the sound leaves nothing to be desired. The downside is the price – the H9i is not cheap, but it also delivers the equivalent value.

4. Sennheiser PXC 550-II

Sale
Sennheiser PXC 550-II Wireless – NoiseGard Adaptive Noise Cancelling
  • Superior sound quality and active noise cancellation: the…
  • Exceptional battery performance up to 30 hours: The PXC…
  • One touch access to voice assistant: with the touch of a…
  • Touch pad control: a touch pad on the right ear cup provides…
  • Smart pause (activated via the app)/ auto on/off: swivel the…

The Sennheiser PXC 550 II is not quite as adaptable as our new favorite: The three-stage adjustment of the noise canceling, which Sennheiser calls Noise Guard, is simply carried out using a three-stage switch. In this context, the suppression of the outside world works almost as well as with the Bose QC 35. The Sennheiser is also well equipped, the listener and all accessories find space in the beautiful hard case. In terms of sound, the PXC 550 II is on the same level as the favorite from Sony and also offers a slightly finer detail resolution in the mids.

5. Sennheiser HD 450BT

Sale
Sennheiser HD 450BT Bluetooth 5.0 Wireless Headphone with Active Noise Cancellation
  • Bluetooth 5. 0 technology for effortlessly reliable…
  • Active noise cancellation for uninterrupted listening…
  • 30-hour battery life with USB-C fast charging
  • Intuitive controls including Virtual Assistant button for…
  • Sennheiser App support providing an equalizer, Podcast Mode…

The Sennheiser HD-450BT leaves a significantly cheaper impression than the PXC 550 II, but costs only half as much. Of course, you can’t expect miracles for that, but in the case of the HD-450BT, you can expect good sound and adequate noise canceling. The handset can also be operated with the Sennheiser Smart Connect app.

Test Review: Headphones with Noise Cancelling

We have now tested a total of more than 40 headphones with active noise cancellation in more than ten test rounds. All headphones had to hold their own against a vacuum cleaner, traffic noise, the background murmur in a large crowd and in the household. 

Although our main focus is on external noise suppression, we also attach great importance to the best possible sound properties – both in NC mode and as normal Bluetooth or cable headphones. It is clear that most manufacturers make more or less deep interventions in the sound process in NC operation, which of course also has an impact on the sound quality.

Test Winner: Sony WH-1000XM4

With the WH-1000X M4, Sony is now on the throne in this category with the fourth generation of the long-running favorite. It all started with the MDR-1000X, which is also the technical basis for the WH-1000X M4. The WH-1000X M4 has learned even more smart functions and can be customized even more than the WH-1000X M3.

Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Industry Leading Noise Canceling
  • Industry-leading noise canceling with Dual Noise Sensor…
  • Next-level music with Edge-AI, co-developed with Sony Music…
  • Up to 30-hour battery life with quick charging (10 min…
  • Touch Sensor controls to pause/play/skip tracks, control…
  • Speak-to-chat technology automatically reduces volume during…

Except for a few details, the outward appearance of the new WH-1000X M4 is similar to its predecessor WH-1000X M3. One of them is the NFC logo on the left capsule. This is no longer imprinted, but embossed almost invisibly. Nevertheless, pairing is still fast, and even faster with NFC.

Inside the left capsule there is now a new sensor that detects whether the headphones are on the ears or have been removed. In the second case, the headphones switch to energy-saving standby mode and then switch on again when they are put on.

The differences in the control buttons are just as subtle. The former NC / Ambient button has now become the Custom button. It can be used to switch between noise canceling, talkthrough and normal by default. These and almost all other control buttons can also be individually adjusted in the Sony Headphones app.

Speaking of customization: You can now take pictures of your ear cups with your smartphone so that the Sony can adapt acoustically to the individual shape of your ear. The effect, however, depends on how far the shape of your auricle deviates from the norm. However, the so-called 360 Reality Sound benefits particularly from this individualization, since the shape and texture of the auricle are decisive for the spatial impression.

The wearing comfort is still excellent thanks to the adaptable, soft padding. The ears are well enclosed but not “locked in” so that the Sony ensures first-class, comfortable music enjoyment even on long journeys.

The connection to the smartphone and the activation of noise canceling or ambient sound are controlled via buttons on the left earpiece of the WH-1000X M4. The right capsule is also a touch control surface: With swiping gestures from top to bottom and vice versa you can regulate the volume, from front to back or vice versa, you can skip songs, double tapping stops or starts the music.

The WH-1000X M4 also has the talk-through function, which Sony calls “Quick Attention Mode”: If you place the palm of your hand on the capsule, the music is turned down and ambient noise is amplified. So you can hear the previously well-sealed outside world again, which is not only very practical for announcements, but also when you are spoken to. If you remove the palm of the hand from the right capsule, the outside world fades out again and the music fades in.

The speak-to-chat mode has been added. If this is activated, you can just start talking and the headphones let the outside noise through, primarily the voices of the other person, so they no longer have to be removed. This may seem a bit strange at first, especially with the other person, but it is very comfortable in the long run.

The battery capacity and energy management have remained unchanged apart from the aforementioned automatic shutdown. In continuous operation with Bluetooth and activated noise canceling, the WH-1000X M4 can easily last 30 hours. If the receiver is picked up in between, this extends the service life even further. With it you can travel around the world in the best soundproofed plane – what more could you want?

If the battery runs out of power when you’re out and about, Bluetooth and noise canceling are over, but there’s still music on your ears. All you have to do is unpack the connection cable supplied, which is ideally housed in the secure hard case together with the travel adapter and the USB-C charging cable.

Together with the folded headphones, everything can be stored in the relatively small case, which has a cover made of hard-wearing fabric instead of smooth synthetic leather – Sony has also made this a travel-friendly solution.

You only have to do without an inline microphone and control buttons. The WH-1000X M4 does not work as a hands-free system in cable mode, but you do not have to rely on the original cable – if you did not pack it before the trip, any commercially available audio cable with 3.5 mm jack plugs will do. The same also applies to the USB-C charging cable.

Intelligent noise canceling

The active suppression of possible, disruptive outside noises, i.e. the so-called Active Noise Canceling, is no longer rocket science. The differences are more in the details and in how intelligently the electronics in the headphones can differentiate between undesired ambient noise and necessary communication.

The WH-1000X M4 is currently even more differentiated than its predecessor – and better than the competition anyway. Sony has increased this again and given the current M4 slightly refined noise-canceling capabilities.

The WH-1000X M4 also allows you to measure the individual acoustics under the cushions and in the auricles. With a series of test tones, the noise canceling is adapted to the acoustic conditions under the ear pads and it becomes even quieter.

Apart from that, little has changed in terms of adaptive noise canceling: Thanks to the evaluation of the built-in microphones, GPS receiver and motion detector, the WH-1000X M4 can fairly accurately identify the general conditions in which you are currently and adjust the noise canceling accordingly. Fine-tuning via the app is of course always possible.

This means that outside noises are not completely suppressed in traffic, but on the train or in a noisy open-plan office they are. Announcements on the plane or train or supposedly direct speeches in the office are passed through.

A sound difference between active and inactive noise canceling is also not audible with the WH-1000X M4. When transmitting music via cable, it plays a little more openly and freely. Nothing audible changes in the depth and width of the stage image.

Honest, voluminous sound

Sony means business, although the WH-1000X M4 no longer supports aptX codec for Bluetooth transmission, it automatically activates the LDAC codec when pairing, provided the smartphone is compatible with it. Compared to aptX, LDAC allows an even higher data rate and thus goes far beyond the CD quality of the aptX codec.

In addition, the Sony now supports the so-called 360 Reality Sound, which some steaming services now offer for a few selected pieces. This is a kind of virtual surround sound for headphones, but it has not yet been widely used.

The sound of the WH-1000X M4 has changed only slightly, if at all, from its predecessor. It delivers a phenomenal bandwidth across the entire audible frequency range and a finely differentiated mid-range that seamlessly connects to the present fundamental tone, which gives the music a pleasant touch of warmth. The direct comparison with the Sennheiser PXC 550 gives it a tick more resolution.

A solid bass foundation with perfect timing is rightly expected from closed headphones, and that is exactly what the Sony offers. Voices are finely nuanced and always have the right timbre and the crisp bass ensures real fun.

Any disadvantages?

Unfortunately, the Sony does not support the aptX codec for low-loss Bluetooth transmission. LDAC is still supported, but not all smartphones understand it. Some users will probably perceive the overfeaturing of the new Sony as another weakness of the WH-1000X M4. Some users just want to put on the headphones, set the noise canceling as required and just listen to music.

If you are irritated by the functionality of the WH-1000X M4, you can opt for one of the predecessors, provided they are still available at an acceptable price, or check out our alternatives.

Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Industry Leading Noise Canceling
  • Industry-leading noise canceling with Dual Noise Sensor…
  • Next-level music with Edge-AI, co-developed with Sony Music…
  • Up to 30-hour battery life with quick charging (10 min…
  • Touch Sensor controls to pause/play/skip tracks, control…
  • Speak-to-chat technology automatically reduces volume during…

Alternative Headphones with Noise Cancelling

If you are looking for wireless headphones with good noise canceling, you will not get away cheaply. But if you are willing to cut back on noise canceling, you can save a lot of money. However, the combination of efficient noise canceling in connection with very good sound properties has its price, even with manufacturers that are neither Sony nor Bose.

Bose NC 700

Sale
Bose Noise Cancelling Wireless Bluetooth Headphones 700
  • Keep your phone in your pocket and your head up to the world…
  • Turn any space into a workplace — with powerful noise…
  • Personalize your environment with 11 levels of noise…
  • Access Alexa with the push of a button, or use the wake up…
  • Optimized for the Google Assistant; Access your voice…

With the Bose NC 700, the Americans have thrown completely new headphones with active noise canceling into the ring after a long period of abstinence. It was about time, because in the meantime Sony was able to expand its development lead almost undisturbed. The NC 700 now also works with adaptable noise canceling, and the sound characteristics have also been adapted: Bose is back, but the new one currently costs more than the competitor from Sony.

The NC 700 is obviously supposed to open a new chapter, because apart from the name nothing else reminds of the successful QuietComfort series. So we have a completely new development on our ears. Brackets and capsules now look more expensive and better processed, and the developers have come up with something special for the connection between them: There is no longer a hinge, the capsules are virtually clamped to the bracket. The undoubtedly existing cable connection between the two capsules is completely invisible and well protected, but the capsules can be moved on the bracket and rotated 180 degrees for individual adjustment.

The NC 700 can also be completely accommodated in the supplied hard case, which is even slimmer than the QuietComfort. Charging now takes place via the USB Type-C interface. It has no fixed direction of insertion and saves a lot of fiddling, and the Bose charges faster with the appropriate power supply. The charging cable and the obligatory audio cable for emergencies are included with the Bose and can also be found in the case under a flap.

When the Bose NC 700 is switched on, there are no doubts: the headphones play an intro that would do justice to any Hollywood blockbuster. In addition, a friendly voice advised several times that the Bose Music app should be installed, which I did not do for the time being, so the nice lady continued to speak to me in English.

To anticipate: the NC 700 works perfectly even without the app. The advantage is that in addition to the language selection, the noise canceling can also be graded more finely than without. Without the app, three coarser levels of noise canceling can be selected at the push of a button, namely zero (or off) 5 (about half the force) and 10 (then it gets really quiet). If you then hear an announcement, a long press on the noise-canceling button stops the music and temporarily switches the noise-canceling off. With another long press on the button, the Bose returns to the previous operating state. In addition to the button for noise canceling on the left capsule, there is only one on the right side for switching on and off, including Bluetooth coupling, and one for the various voice assistants such as the Google Assistant or Siri.

Bose did a particularly clever job of setting the volume: Here you just stroke the handle on the right-hand capsule and it gets louder or quieter. This offers a lot more operational safety than the occasionally somewhat undefined stroking around the entire outer surface of the capsule, as the others do.

After installing the app, a few things change: First you have to register, by name and with an email address. This is reminiscent of Bose’s multiroom solution and there are again considerable doubts about the usefulness of the collecting passion of some corporations. The only possible background: After installing the app and connecting to the headphones, our test sample was first updated, but this could also be solved anonymously.

The NC 700 has also improved its sound. There is not much left of the rather pleasant to unspectacular sound of the QuietComfort series. A slight American tendency in the form of a slight increase can be heard in the bass, but the mid-high range does not suffer from it – it comes with a much more concise and finer resolution than was the case with the QC 35 II. The difference to the direct competition from Sony is now much smaller and falls into the category of “question of taste”. In a direct comparison, the Bose NC700 is a bit more sonorous in the fundamental range, while the WH-1000X M4 provides a touch more fine definition in the middle and high registers – as we said: purely a matter of taste and only noticeable in a direct A-B comparison.

Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9i

Sale
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9i Wireless Bluetooth Over-Ear Headphones with Active Noise Cancellation
  • Keep your phone in your pocket and your head up to the world…
  • Turn any space into a workplace — with powerful noise…
  • Personalize your environment with 11 levels of noise…
  • Access Alexa with the push of a button, or use the wake up…
  • Optimized for the Google Assistant; Access your voice…

Bang & Olufsen is a long way from packing standardized technology into a beautifully designed dress. Not only with the BeoPlay H9i is the know-how of its own development department very easy to see. The H9i is no less beautiful, it can also be operated intuitively and sounds extremely good.

Obviously, it is important to the Danes to only use high-quality materials and then to use them with the best workmanship. The plastic content of the BeoPlay H9i is quite low, the bracket construction and the capsules are mostly made of metal. The ear cushions are made of the finest, soft synthetic leather and distribute the comparatively high weight so perfectly that the listener is not a nuisance even when worn for a long time.

The right capsule is designed as a touch surface for the usual settings such as skipping, start and stop. A rotary actuator is also integrated in each capsule; The volume is set on the right, the intensity and balance between Noice Canceling and Talkthrough on the left. When noise canceling is activated, the sound is not influenced, at least not audibly. The noise canceling works very well, even if not as independent and smart as with Sony or Bose.

These settings can also be made in the Bang & Olufsen app. In addition, you can select one of the five stored listening modes or use the extraordinary equalizer to create your own taste. Of course, firmware updates for the headphones are also implemented via the app, which the H9i demonstrated during the test phase.

The sound is not affected by the noise canceling, and that’s a good thing, because the BeoPlay sounds very open and airy. The slight tendency towards loudness is certainly intentional and gives the listener a pleasant volume in the lows and corresponding fine definition in the highs, even at low volume.

We heard the BeoPlay H9i in the balanced listening mode “Clear”. The fact that he works rather discreetly in the other listening modes also speaks in favor of the settings; for experiments with the sound settings, the individual setting remains.

The BeoPlay H9i is one of the most expensive Bluetooth headphones with active noise canceling, but it also looks great. Design, processing quality, even the app and of course the sound go together perfectly.

Sennheiser PXC 550-II

Sale
Sennheiser PXC 550-II Wireless – NoiseGard Adaptive Noise Cancelling
  • Superior sound quality and active noise cancellation: the…
  • Exceptional battery performance up to 30 hours: The PXC…
  • One touch access to voice assistant: with the touch of a…
  • Touch pad control: a touch pad on the right ear cup provides…
  • Smart pause (activated via the app)/ auto on/off: swivel the…

The Sennheiser PXC 550 II looks almost exactly like its predecessor. Only the formerly chrome-colored applications are now kept discreetly dark, but are still made of metal. Inside, the differences are bigger, for example the PXC 550 II now has Bluetooth 5.0. NFC, however, is no longer supported.

Alexa, Siri and the Google Assistant are now fully integrated – as well as AAC and aptX Long. Thanks to the soft cushions on the capsules and around the Sennheiser PXC 550 II bracket, it sits extremely comfortably and seals so well that outside noises hardly have a chance of reaching your ear.

Although it does not react as flexibly to the surrounding situation as the Sony, it does have some detailed solutions that definitely deserve the title “smart”. It switches on automatically as soon as the right capsule is folded from the transport position into the listening position. Logically, it is then ensured that the Sennheiser switches itself off after losing weight and thus saves energy.

The right capsule is designed as a touchpad. This allows you to adjust the volume and skip through the pieces. A fine knocking signal interrupts the music to take a phone call, which, by the way, works in excellent quality for both parties.

With the slide switch at the top at the back of the right capsule, two different noise guard levels are activated or deactivated. Level II is the highest level, everything is hidden there if possible. There is another step between this and the off position: Here the PXC 550 II automatically adapts to the ambient noise, in the Smart Control app you can determine whether the noise canceling reacts adaptively or in the so-called anti-wind mode for outdoor activities Takes action against wind noise. Overall, the noise canceling is almost on the same high level as the Sony.

The touch panel integrated in the right capsule of the PXC 550 II reacts more directly, which makes operation even easier. However, you are more dependent on knocking than with both Sonys: One light knock ensures the start and pause of the music, double knock activates the talk-through function, which is not quite as elegant as the laying on of hands on the Sonys.

Sennheiser’s Smart Control App has also been significantly expanded in terms of functions. In addition to a differentiated sound control, it now also allows the adaptive ANC mode to be switched between adaptive and anti-wind. An update of the headphones firmware is of course also possible.

In terms of sound, the Sennheiser plays, as expected, in the same league as the Sony headphones, only the tuning is slightly different. In the A-B comparison, there is a very slight dip in the mid-range with the Sony listeners, where the Sennheiser has a slightly finer resolution. The slight sharpness that the PXC 550 sometimes let shine through has evidently gotten used to the PXC 550 II. The great mid-high range has been retained and it plays like a single piece.

Sennheiser HD 450BT

Sale
Sennheiser HD 450BT Bluetooth 5.0 Wireless Headphone with Active Noise Cancellation
  • Bluetooth 5. 0 technology for effortlessly reliable…
  • Active noise cancellation for uninterrupted listening…
  • 30-hour battery life with USB-C fast charging
  • Intuitive controls including Virtual Assistant button for…
  • Sennheiser App support providing an equalizer, Podcast Mode…

At first glance, the HD 450BT from Sennheiser bears little resemblance to the PXC 550 II. The quality of workmanship is nowhere near that of its more expensive brother, but in terms of sound, the HD 450BT is quite similar, and the scope of delivery can also vary let see.

In addition to the usual charging and audio cables, the Sennheiser HD 450BT even comes with a suitable transport bag. It also naturally supports the aptX codec for low-loss Bluetooth transmission.

The operation with the keys takes getting used to: Too many keys, badly or not at all marked, are distributed quite randomly on the right earpiece. During the familiarization phase, the listener has to be taken off his head quite often in order to find the right key. Fortunately, it is compatible with the Sennheiser Smart Connect app, so that many settings can also be made conveniently via smartphone.

Unfortunately, of all things, the on / off button has also been activated for noise canceling, which can lead to incorrect operation, especially at the beginning. The noise canceling itself is not as high-quality as the PXC 550 II, but that was not to be expected. It is important that it does what it should to a reasonable extent and that it does so without significantly affecting the sound.

The HD 450BT sounds fresh, open and, above all, more neutral than most of the others in this price range. The proper noise canceling, the integration into the app and above all the great sound experience that the HD 450BT gives us make it a new secret tip.

Last update on 2020-10-20 | Source: Amazon Affiliate