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Sometimes you just want to shut out the world around you. But if you can’t find a quiet space away from people, you can at least throw on a pair of headphones to drown out the noise. Pair the headphones to your streaming service and device (I.e. the Amazon Music app on your phone) and find your zen as you get lost to your favorite artists and tracks.
While dozens of companies are making decent headphones these days, if you want a truly immersive listening experience (think rich highs and deep, body-shaking bass), you’ll want to look for a pair of cups with noise cancellation technology. Active noise cancellation (ANC for short) works by zeroing out unwanted noise with the addition of other, almost imperceptible sounds. Microphones in your headset draw in outside noise, and then invert the sounds internally. The inverted soundwaves are then used to counteract the original waveforms, effectively “cancelling” them out.
Keep in mind that no headphones will ever block out 100% of your surrounding noise (and many companies prefer the term “Active Noise Reduction” over “Cancellation” for this reason). Not only would that dampen your listening experience, it would also pose a safety threat, say, if you were walking around outside and couldn’t hear a car or pedestrian approaching.
Still, we’ve found six solid options that significantly reduce noise and keep distractions to a bare minimum, so you can tune into the music — and tune out that annoying chatter around you.
1. Marshall Mid A.N.C. Wireless Headphones
You know Marshall for its amps and speakers, but the audio brand makes some pretty solid headphones as well. The Mid A.N.C. is the first active noise-cancelling headphone introduced by the company, with four internal microphones continuously measuring and pinpointing ambient noise. What that means: your music will come through loud and clear, and any interference will be filtered out and kept at bay.
These headphones offer lean, robust sound and up to 30 hours of playtime (it goes down to 20 hours when the Bluetooth and noise cancelling technology are both engaged). Marshall says its Bluetooth aptX technology cuts down on any wireless audio or video syncing issues, allowing music to come through with almost zero lag time, and movies to play in perfect lip sync.
This set includes a guitar-inspired travel case, with a protective red velvet lining and durable vinyl shell, along with a charging cable and a removable 3.5mm cable with built-in microphone and remote. Purchase: $279.99 on MarshallHeadphones.com.
2. Samsung AKG N700NC Wireless Noise-Cancelling Headphones
There’s a lot to like about the AKG headphones from Samsung, which are a favorite for music producers and composers who need to tune out distractions in the studio. Reviewers say the plush cups seal out noise as soon as you put them on, letting just enough ambient sound pass through. Power up the headphones and Samsung’s “Adaptive Noise Cancelling” technology begins to filter out even more surrounding noise, tuning your ears to the music – and nothing else. The noise-cancelling is so effective, users say they were able to focus their listening and easily pick out individual instruments, vocal parts and layered harmonies in a song. Need to listen for directions or talk to a friend? A simple touch of a button lets you control how much outside noise you want to let it.
Samsung has really stepped up its game in terms of audio quality in recent years, and reviewers say the N700NC delivers a top-of-the-line aural experience too, with rich timbres and deep bass. Get up to 20 hours of playtime when both Bluetooth and Active Noise Cancellation are turned on (it goes up to 36 hours when the headphones are plugged in). The cups fold flat for easy packing. Purchase: $294.99 on Amazon.com.
3. Sony WH-1000XM3 Wireless Noise-Cancelling Headphones
Sony has invested a lot of money lately into developing their noise cancellation technology, and the results are seen — and heard — all over these WH-1000XM3 headphones. The advancements include an HD noise-cancelling processor that stands separate from the music processor in the cups, and improved noise-cancellation even at high altitudes. Sony’s Adaptive Sound Control, meantime, detects where you’re at and what you’re doing (say, on the subway or at the office) then automatically adjusts ambient sound settings to an optimal level for your environment. Sony says the headphones are also tuned to recognize more subtle background noises, like voices or weather patterns, to block them out as well.
What we like: the “Quick Attention” feature, which lets you turn the volume down simply by holding your hand over the cups. Connect it to your preferred voice assistant, meantime, and ask Alexa or Google to play your music, check the temperature and more.
The WH-1000XM3 headphones deliver a whopping 30 hours of battery life, even on Bluetooth. Need to power up quickly? Just ten minutes of charging (with an AC adapter) gets you up to five hours of playtime. Purchase: $348.00 on Amazon.com.
4. Bose QuietComfort 35 Wireless Headphones
One of the best-reviewed models online, the Bose QuietComfort 35 Headphones boast a 4.4-star review from more than 2600 reviewers on Amazon alone. Beloved by both audiophiles and casual listeners alike, these headphones give you three different noise cancellation settings that you can control with a single button, or through the Bose Connect app.
Unique to models on this list, the QuietComfort 35 Headphones are enabled with Bose AR (augmented reality) technology. An embedded, multi-directional sensor detects where you are and what you are doing (in terms of movement) to adjust your audio settings for cleaner, clearer sound.
Great for calls on-the-go, the headphones have a noise-rejecting dual-microphone system for accurate sound and voice pick-up, while filtering out excess background noise. Use Alexa to control your music and settings with just your voice.
The headphones get up to 20 hours of battery life on a single charge. This set includes a carrying case, charging cable and audio cable, for when you need to be plugged in. Purchase: $349.99 on Amazon.com.
5. Denon AH-GC30 Premium Wireless Noise-Cancelling Headphones
Denon boasts more than a century of research and development in the audio space, and more than 50 years working on headphones, so you know they’ve got some solid products. We like these AH-GC30 Wireless Headphones, which feature a “Triple Mode” active noise cancellation (basically a setting for flights, one for commuting and one for work). Each mode reduces or eliminates ambient noise, depending on your environment and how much of the outside world you actually need to hear. Double tap on the cups to turn off noise cancellation and tune into an important conversation or call. Double tap again to turn it back on.
Denon says its team of engineers have designed a truly noise-suppressing headset, with a unit that reduces hissing from wind and echoes, while also cutting down on any distortion that can often be transmitted through a Bluetooth connection. Dual microphones on each earcup deliver a truly immersive listening experience.
Denon’s exclusive “FreeEdge” drivers are known for their crystal clear, uncomplicated sound, and fans of the brand say the drivers actually help enhance the music coming through the headphones. The lithium-ion battery gets up to 20 hours of wireless playback and recharges in just two hours.
What we like: the headphones fold into a palm-sized package that’s great for traveling, and come with a chic, protective carrying case. Purchase: $399.00 on Amazon.com.
6. Bowers & Wilkins PX Active Noise-Cancelling Wireless Headphones
Over 50 years of experience have made Bowers & Wilkins the go-to audio brand for everyone from performers to producers to engineers. As proof: Bowers & Wilkins’ headphones and speakers are used almost exclusively at the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London, while the team that worked on the recent soundtrack to Mary Poppins Returns actually had Bowers speakers shipped to their recording studio in New York.
What we like: the super ergonomic design of the earcups seals out any surrounding noise almost immediately (imagine a vacuum-seal effect) while three noise cancellation modes let you optimize your isolation preferences for air travel, the city and the office. Set it to flight mode and the headphones will block out engine noise and minimize cabin sounds; the “office mode” will filter out unwanted noise, while still letting you hear if someone starts up a conversation next to you. The vented earpads mold comfortably to your ears, while still letting air in (no more sweaty listening here).
Reviewers love the premium sound quality of these headphones, and praise the rich, detailed audio. Bowers & Wilkins’ angled drivers offer a more natural stereo experience, resulting in bold, dynamic, more accurate sound. You’ll hear the song the way the artist intended.
The included Lithium Polymer battery gets up to 22 hours with Bluetooth and noise cancellation on, and up to 50 hours when plugged in (with no ANC). Purchase: $399.99 on Amazon.com.