The new generation of noise-cancelling headphones are a lot more than glorified earplugs. There are options for serious audiophiles, podcast-loving commuters and everyone in-between. So how are noise-cancelling headphones different from your standard pair of cans?

Well, physically blocking out the noise is only part of the equation. The real wizardry comes from the ANC, or active noise cancelling. Some extremely clever technology captures ambient noise and passes the data to a noise-cancelling processor, which then uses an algorithm to cancel the noise in real time by adjusting the in-ear audio. Phew. If you’re in the market for a pair, we're here to help you decide on the best noise-cancelling headphones for you.

Best for the Multitasker

Sony WH1000XM4 are one of the best noise-cancelling headphones on the market.

You can go about your day wearing these headphones without ever needing to take them off. Sony's new wireless bluetooth WH1000XM4 Noise Cancelling Headphones are some of the best on the market, with class-leading technology as well as 30 hours of playback. 

There are lots of other clever features, too. Let’s start with the cushioned cups that encompass the whole ear. And if you’re deeply invested in your podcast when someone asks you a question? The headphones will pause playback when you start talking and resume after a set period of time. 

If you want to keep listening but you’re worried you’ll miss an important announcement, adjust the ambient noise with the Sony I Headphones Connect app to let through essential sounds.

For the Bass-head

Are Beats Studio3 Wireless the best noise-cancelling headphones for you?

Beats headphones have always been heavy on the bass – it’s kind of their thing. And this set is no different. You'll hear deep, resonant tones, but they’re refined, too. With 22 hours of play on one charge – 40 if you turn off noise cancelling – Beats Studio3 Wireless Over-Ear Headphones won’t conk out when you need them most. 

No time for a full charge? Just do 10 minutes, which will buy you three hours of playback. They feature active noise-cancelling (it detects and adjusts up to 50,000 times per second), and the padded over-ear cushions encapsulate the whole ear comfortably, physically blocking noise. 

SEE ALSO: Which Speaker Is Right for You?

For the Audiophile On a Budget

Sennheiser HD 450BT noise-cancelling headphones offer well-balanced audio.

A lot of technological trickery goes into a pair of active noise-cancelling headphones, which is why they often cost more than their traditional counterparts. At roughly half the price of some of their peers, these Sennheiser HD 450BT headphones do a mighty fine job. 

They offer excellent, well-balanced audio quality, comfortable over-ear cups, on-ear volume, track and ANC controls, and battery life of about 30 hours. There’s also a dedicated button so you can invoke your digital assistant of choice. They’re sleek and foldable, too, so they’re easily stowed in your bag, and unlike some more expensive models, they include a cable for the option of a wired connection. 

For the Regular Commuter

The JBL Tune 660NC wireless noise-cancelling headphones are good for commuters.

If what you want is to “read” audiobooks, listen to music or catch up on podcasts on the daily commute, the JBL Tune 660BTNC wireless on-ear noise-cancelling headphones are the best for you. 

Here’s what you’ll get: great sound with booming bass and tinkly top notes, good-quality active noise-cancelling, up to 55 hours of playback so you’ll have plenty of charge even if your train is delayed, a comfy set of padded on-ear cans, a mic for hands-free calls and the option to use an audio cable. Oh, and a recharge in just two hours. Not bad. Not bad at all.

For the Fitness Buff

Stylish noise-cancelling headphones: Beats Fit Pro earbuds with wireless charging case

If a pair of large headphones is a little too obtrusive for your aesthetic or they’re just not practical for workouts, you can still have wireless noise-cancelling technology in your ears. The Beats Fit Pro earbuds boast active noise-cancelling and comfortably lock in place for on-the-move and all-day wear, thanks to their secure-fit wingtips. They even come with three different-sized silicone ear tips to ensure the perfect fit. 

With on-device controls, you can take calls, pause and skip your music and activate the voice assistant on your phone with a mere swipe or series of taps on the device. 

For such a small earbud, they have a great battery life – up to six hours of listening time, plus an extra 18 hours provided by their pocket-sized charging case. Speaking of juice, the 5-minute Fast Fuel charging function provides roughly an hour of playback when you’re caught short. 

As for the sound itself? Rich and vivid thanks to the Spatial Audio, which adjusts the sound with every move of your head.  

SEE ALSO: Best Tech Products for Your Home Workout

For the Music Buff

These LinkBuds S noise-cancelling wireless earbuds from Sony and full of smart features and functionality. ‍

If you want the effect of a pair of over-ear headphones in the form of an earbud, these are just the ticket. Sony’s LinkBuds S Truly Wireless Earbuds are chock-full of features. They fit snugly thanks to a range of earbud tips included in the box, have tap controls on each earphone to navigate your music library and toggle functionality on and off, plus the Adaptive Sound Control adjusts the ambient sound settings depending on what environment you’re in.

And that’s not all. Proximity sensors can detect if you’re wearing one or both earbuds – should anything interrupt your jam session and you remove an earbud, your music will automatically pause. What’s more, the clever technology in these earbuds can also tell if you start talking, and will halt your tunes while you enjoy your conversation. All that cool tech, and a decent battery life to boot: you’ll enjoy an impressive 20 hours of playback.

For the Constant Caller

For earbud-style noise-cancelling headphones, try the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live 

Samsung has gone with a completely different design for its wireless Samsung Galaxy Buds Live earbud-style earphone in its quest to create the best noise-cancelling headphones. These stylish buds feature a speaker on one end and a little plug that helps keep them in your ear on the other. There are tap controls on each earbud to control play/pause and skip track functions, and a long-press option for volume control, Spotify, and Samsung’s voice assistant Bixby.

For calls, Samsung has really gone all out: there are three microphones along with a Voice Pick-up Unit that senses the movement of your jaw as you’re speaking, then converts the kinetic energy into voice signals via “bone conduction”. This makes the caller’s voice loud and clear and helps reduce outside noise. According to Samsung, the Galaxy Buds Live ANC technology can reduce background noise under 700Hz (everyday noises like trains and murmured conversation) while still enabling some sounds, such as announcements, to get through. 

What to Try

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This article was originally published in 2020 and has been updated.