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The best noise-cancelling wireless headphones for 2024, tested and reviewed

Headphones or earbuds? If you can’t decide how best to pipe audio into your ear holes, allow me to make the case for cans: The best wireless headphones from Bose, Sony, Sonos and more crush earbuds when it comes to battery life, and for many users there’s a comfort advantage as well with cushy cups (aka “cans”) that cover your ears rather than silicone ‘buds that sort of screw into them. And let’s not overlook sound quality: Headphones have much larger drivers (the actual speakers inside) than earbuds, meaning they produce a larger soundstage with greater range. If you like your music more concert-hall than club, jam with cans.

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There’s a downside, though, and that’s physical size: Headphones don’t exactly fit in your pocket. I’d also argue that modern wireless earbuds are a bit better when it comes to ANC (active noise cancelling). Even so, headphones make a great choice for listening to music, podcasts and audiobooks and watching movies, TV shows and YouTube videos.

Drawing on years of consumer-tech expertise and a few gazillion hours testing these things, I’ve rounded up some of the best wireless headphones you can buy right now. Whether you’re looking for a great budget pick or world-class audio fidelity, you’ll find it below.

Still think you’d prefer earbuds? Here are some related options:

Rick Broida/Yahoo News

Driver size: 40mm | Spatial Audio: Yes | Foldable: No | Controls: Buttons/switch | Colors: Black, White | Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.4, wired | Weight: 11 ounces | Carrying case: Zippered clamshell | Max battery life: 30 hours

I tend to get a little jaded when it comes to audio gear, because it’s rare that I have a “wow” moment. It all sounds pretty good to me, or at least good enough. But, wow, the Sonos Ace: The company’s debut headphones bring a richness and fullness to music that my ears haven’t experienced elsewhere. Yes, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra and Sony WH-1000XM5 come very close, but if you want to hear every detail, every nuance, of your favorite playlists, these are the ones to get.

It probably means breaking open the piggy bank, though. At $449, the Aces are priced $100 below Apple’s AirPods Max, but $20 higher than the aforementioned Bose and $110 over Sony’s XM5 (both of which are often discounted). That’s not surprising — Sonos is a premium audio brand — but if you’re not in a rush, consider waiting for a sale.

Sonos supplies a nicely illustrated quick-start guide, though curiously there’s no mention of charging the headphones. Although you don’t strictly need the Sonos app to use the Aces, you’ll definitely want it for things like equalizer settings and firmware updates. The app is fairly easy to use overall, with nearly all headphone status info and settings listed on a single page. 

It’s hard to make headphones stand out, but I like the matte finish and overall look of the Ace. The earcups hinges are hidden inside the earcups themselves, meaning those with long hair are less likely to get tangled in them. Although there’s very little “play” in those hinges, I found that the Aces fit snugly and comfortably. Maybe a little too snugly, though? After about 30 minutes, my ears wanted some air. (For the record, this is true with nearly all over-the-ear headphones — for me, at least.)

Instead of touch controls, Sonos opted for physical ones: The right earcup is home to a noise-control toggle button (press to switch between ANC and transparency modes) and the “Content Key.” The latter is small slide-switch used to raise and lower volume, but it’s also a button: press once to play/pause, twice to skip to the next track and three times for the previous track. I like the Content Key overall; it’s a little more intuitive than Apple’s digital crown.

I do wish Sonos gave the option of a voice prompt to indicate which noise mode is selected, instead of the largely indistinguishable tones that play when you toggle them.

As noted above, I’ve rarely been so enamored with the warmth and fullness of headphone audio. I found myself noticing vocal and instrumental details I’d never heard before, or at least never heard so clearly. The Ace also crushes spatial audio, with flawless head-tracking that creates an amazing sense of “there-ness.” 

Meanwhile, if you’re already part of the Sonos ecosystem (meaning you have one of the company’s soundbars), you may appreciate the TV Audio Swap option: With the press of a button, you can switch from soundbar to headphones, the better to listen in private (while also enjoying a much more pronounced spatial audio than you get from the soundbar alone). At this writing, the feature works only with the Sonos Arc; support for the Beam and Ray models is coming. Because the Aces don’t use Wi-Fi, however, you can’t “hand off” audio from Sonos speakers like the Era, Roam and Move.

If your budget won’t accommodate the Sonos Aces, I suspect you’d be just as happy with the Bose QuietComfort Ultra or Sony XM5 (though the latter is far more limited when it comes to spatial audio). But I’m calling it: These are currently my favorite wireless headphones.

Pros

  • Useful printed quick-start guide
  • Cleverly designed volume/play-control switch
  • Immaculate sound quality and spatial audio
  • Works with Sonos soundbars to provide private listening and spatial audio
  • USB-C-to-stereo cord included for wired listening
Cons

  • Sky-high price
  • Some might find it a little tight for comfort
  • Can be difficult to determine which noise mode is selected
  • TV Audio Swap currently works with Sonos Arc only

$449 at Adorama

Rick Broida/Yahoo News

Driver size: 40mm | Spatial Audio: No | Foldable: Yes | Controls: Buttons | Colors: Jet Black, Latte Cream, Sky Blue | Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3, wired | Weight: 9 ounces | Carrying case: Drawstring | Max battery life: 55 hours

If you’re wondering whether $100 headphones can possibly rival ones costing three or four times as much, get ready for a surprise: It can. Soundcore’s Space One offers sweet sound and robust ANC. On those merits alone, I’d have no qualms about recommending it. But to quote the old commercial: Wait, there’s more.

Soundcore supplies a detailed quick-start guide that covers basic setup and operation. It’s a little “busy” because it crams multiple languages into each panel, but it’s still far more complete than the print instructions included with most headphones. Similarly, the Soundcore companion app is a model of simplicity: Everything is clearly labeled and logically organized.

Space Ones look stylish and feature comfortable padding throughout, though the build feels just a touch plasticky overall. The volume and play/pause buttons on the right earcup are a good size and well-placed, but good luck remembering which of the two left-earcup buttons is for power and which is for toggling ANC modes. (At least you get a vocal notification of which mode is active, which is preferable to the indecipherable tones produced by some other headphones.)

These ‘phones can play for a whopping 55 hours on a charge, or 40 if you use ANC. Just five minutes of USB-C quick-charging nets you up to four additional hours. (That’s for wireless play, by the way; Soundcore also supplies a stereo cord for wired listening, which requires no battery at all.) Apple’s $549 AirPods Max need to recharge after just 20 hours.

Space Ones also support LDAC, a lossless, high-resolution audio codec that promises even better sound from sources that support it. (That generally means Android phones; iPhones don’t do LDAC.) Is this a big deal for most listeners? No. Is it notable considering that some headphones costing significantly more don’t support it? I’d say yes.

One of my favorite features is Easy Chat: Cup your hand over the left earcup and the headphones quickly switch into transparency mode so you can converse more comfortably. Soundcore also borrowed from Sony by including a speak-to-chat option (which at press time was in beta): No cupping needed, just start talking and transparency mode kicks in. Although it works as advertised, I don’t love it because sometimes I sing or talk to myself and don’t want the music cutting out every time. That said, the option is there for those who want it.

Also there: preprogrammed and custom equalizer modes, plus Soundcore’s HearID hearing test that will create a customized equalizer profile. It’s a fun little test to take, though I can’t say I noticed a huge difference between the before and after. Your mileage may vary depending on your age and hearing.

I’m no audiophile; I just like listening to music and going about my business. Space Ones don’t match the depth and richness offered by higher-end headphones like the Sonos Aces, but they sound perfectly good to my ears. And noise-cancelling exceeded my expectations given the price point (though this is one area where the app is a little confusing). 

Bottom line: If you want comfy, capable headphones for below $100, look no further.

Pros

  • Useful printed instruction guide
  • Very good sound and noise-cancelling
  • Excellent companion app
  • Stellar battery life
  • Priced well below many competitors
  • Supports high-resolution LDAC codec
Cons

  • Slightly cheap feel
  • Drawstring carrying case
  • Button layout could be better

$80 at Amazon

Bose

Driver size: 35mm | Spatial Audio: Yes | Foldable: Yes | Controls: Touch | Colors: Black, Sandstone, White Smoke | Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3, wired | Weight: 9 ounces | Carrying case: Zippered clamshell | Max battery life: 24 hours

If blocking the outside world is your top priority, look no further than Bose’s QuietComfort Ultra headphones. Like the company’s QuietComfort Ultra earbuds, they take the prize for best ANC. As for fit, features and sound quality, they’re top-notch there as well.

Just don’t expect any help with setup, at least until you install and run the Bose app. The box includes no printed instructions, only a QR code to scan and a rudimentary diagram explaining the controls. Thankfully, once you use the app to pair the headphones with your phone, you’re immediately offered helpful tutorials on using various features.

For example: media controls. There’s a lone multi-function button that’s use to play/pause and skip tracks — easy enough. But to raise or lower volume, you run your finger along a skinny touch-sensitive strip embedded on the back of the right earcup. (You can also touch and hold the strip to activate a shortcut, like accessing your phone’s voice assistant.)

Both the button and touch-strip can be difficult to find without a little groping, at least until you get used to reaching for them. But because the touch control isn’t relegated to the entire outside edge of the earcup, as on some other headphones, you’re less likely to graze it by accident.

I do find a few aspects of the app confusing, like the Modes page where you choose between Quiet (aka ANC), Aware (transparency) and Immersion (spatial audio). But then there’s an entirely different screen devoted to Immersive Audio. Huh? Read my aforementioned QC Ultra earbuds review for more thoughts on the app and how Bose needs to improve usability there.

With these headphones, Bose continues its tradition of beautifully balanced and richly detailed audio. I can think of no other superlatives; the QC Ultras sound great, end of story. They also deliver terrific spatial audio, with a nifty option to toggle between Still and Motion modes depending on whether you’re sitting or moving.

The real standout feature, however, is ANC: In my tests, the Ultras were better at blocking noise than any other headphones. Consequently, these are probably my second-favorite cans behind the Sonos Aces. There’s a similarly premium price tag attached, though, and sale prices to date have been pretty modest (discounts typically bring them down to $379).

Pros

  • Useful in-app tutorials and feature explanations
  • Rich, detailed sound and wonderful spatial audio
  • Top-notch noise cancellation
  • Folding design
Cons

  • Expensive
  • No printed setup instructions
  • So-so battery life
  • Awkwardly placed volume control

$379 at Adorama

Rick Broida/Yahoo News

Driver size: 30mm | Spatial Audio: No | Foldable: No | Controls: Touch | Colors: Black, Midnight Blue, Silver | Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2, wired | Weight: 8.8 ounces | Carrying case: Zippered clamshell | Max battery life: 30 hours

If you’ve asked around (by which I mean looked at other websites), you know that Sony’s XM5s are widely regarded as one of the best ANC headphones you can get, if not the best. But they’re two years old now, with smaller drivers than some competitors, limited spatial audio and an older version of Bluetooth. Is it time to look elsewhere?

If you’re not a tech-savvy user, then I’d say yes. Sony supplies no useful printed setup or operation instructions, just a QR code to scan. That takes you to the Sony Headphones Connect app, which shows up on your phone as just “Headphones” (confusing if you’re looking for something labeled Sony).

As with the Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds I tested earlier this year, I ran into trouble pairing them with my iPhone. After a fair bit of hair-pulling, I rebooted the phone; only then would it detect the XM5. I had no such issues with any other headphones I tested.

Next, the Sony app asks you to perform various setup activities, including 360 Reality Audio (which works only with select few apps). You can skip all these, but it’s just a lot for a novice user to take in. Same goes for Sony’s commendable but complex Adaptive Sound Control system, which “detects your actions and the places you frequent” to automatically adjusts ANC accordingly.

Put simply, I find Sony’s app to be unnecessarily confusing; you can read more about why in the aforementioned earbuds review. All my same complaints apply here.

So let’s overlook that and focus on the headphones themselves. They’re superb, bringing music to life with full-bodied detail and sumptuous bass. If you’re an Android user, you’ll also enjoy Sony’s LDAC Bluetooth codec, which supports Hi-Res Audio content (from compatible sources). iPhone users like me still enjoy premium sound, just without that optimization.

As for noise cancelling, it’s also excellent, on par with the best you’ll find anywhere. (That said, I must note that the XM5 earbuds are better still.)

I have mixed feelings about Sony’s speak-to-chat feature: If you start talking to someone, the music cuts out while the microphones cut in — the better to allow clear conversation. Very cool on paper, but if you routinely talk to yourself or sing along to the music, you’ll want to toggle this off.

The only real downside here is the lack of ubiquitous spatial audio, a feature available in headphones from Apple, Bose, Sonos and others. Some people love it; others can take it or leave it. I’m in the former camp, but if you’re in the latter, the only remaining issue is sticker shock: The XM5 has a list price of $400. Fortunately, stores like Amazon routinely discount it to $328 (don’t ask me to explain that number) around the holidays and other events. Even then they’re a splurge, but worth it for anyone who prizes a premium audio experience.

(Looking for less-expensive alternatives? The previous-generation WH-1000XM4s are excellent as well, and often discounted to $248. There’s also the budget-minded WH-CH720Ns, which offer similar ANC acumen at a much lower price. See “Other headphones we tested,” below.)

Pros

  • Eco-friendly packaging
  • Premium sound
  • Versatile noise-cancelling automatically adapts to your environment
  • Lots of useful tools in Sony’s companion app
  • High-resolution LDAC codec for Android users
Cons

  • Expensive (but often discounted)
  • Non-folding design
  • Spatial audio available only with a select few apps
  • App can be confusing in places

$328 at Adorama

Rick Broida/Yahoo News

Driver size: 40mm | Spatial Audio: Yes | Foldable: No | Controls: Analog | Colors: Green, Pink, Silver, Space Gray, Sky Blue | Connectivity: Bluetooth | Weight: 14 ounces | Carrying case: Sort of | Max battery life: 20 hours

The Apple AirPods Max are not the best wireless headphones you can buy, not by a longshot. They sound great, sure, but they’re very expensive, with mediocre battery life and some notable usability quirks. Plus, they’re not a good choice for Android users; I’d recommend them only to die-hard Apple fans, and even then with some caveats. (Note: Given that this is nearly a 4-year-old product, a refresh is likely coming very soon. I’ll update this review accordingly when it does.)

Like other AirPods, Maxes are easy to pair with your iPhone or iPad; you just turn them on and bring them close: a screen pops up to get you connected. Of course, you need to charge the battery first, something not mentioned in Apple’s terse, incomplete printed instructions. (Neither is how to actually turn them on — which you can’t do if they’re not charged!)

Speaking of which, they still rely on a Lightning port; Apple has yet to transition them to USB-C, as it has done with AirPods Pro. That’s annoying, but this is even worse: Like the latter, the AirPods Maxes incorporate an inexplicably dumb, super-tiny charging LED. When you plug in the Lightning cable, it lights up orange — but only for a few seconds. Then it goes dark and stays that way; there’s no way to know at a glance if they’re actively charging, no way to know if they’re done charging. Instead, you have to press a button to see if it’s still orange or has made it to green (which indicates at least 95% full).

Sure, you can pull out your phone to check charging status, but that’s a hassle. Nearly every other electronic product on the planet keeps the LED illuminated, especially during charging. That’s how you know the status. Oh, and if the headphones aren’t connected to power and you push the button, the LED lights up green — which indicates at least 15% charge remaining. Only if it’s below 15% does it glow orange. 

Meanwhile, if you’re using Maxes for the first time, you could easily overlook that LED and those few seconds of orange. Then you might think the headphones weren’t charging and come to the conclusion they’re defective. I wonder how many of these have been returned due to this.

Another user-hostile design decision: The big “L” and “R” inside the earcups (to indicate left and right ear) are the same non-contrasting color as the rest of the material, so it’s difficult to see them unless you catch the light just so. Consequently, I have to spend an extra few seconds figuring out proper orientation.

AirPods Maxes have the same controls as an Apple Watch: a button and a “digital crown.” The button quick-switches you between ANC and transparency modes. To adjust volume, you rotate the crown, which is great; I like this better than the button or touch controls employed by most other headphones. It’s super-precise and easy to find by feel.

However, the crown is also a multi-function button: press once to play/pause music or accept/end a phone call; twice to skip to the next track or reject a call; or three times to go to the previous track. That’s already a fair bit to remember, but when calls are involved, lotsa luck: you press and hold to reject a second incoming call, or twice to switch the current call from the headphones back to your phone, and so on and so on. I’ll never remember all this.

Because the AirPods Max don’t fold, they make for an extra-bulky addition to your backpack or carry-on bag. Much has already been said about the Maxes’ carrying case, which offers no protection for the headband and makes the whole thing look like a purse. Stylish? Sure, I guess. But also annoying: To put the headphones into ultra-low-power mode (which consumes less battery), you have to park them inside the case. They’ll also go into that mode if they spend 72 hours outside the case (and don’t get touched). Ooookay. 

To cap off all this power/charging nonsense, AirPods Maxes can last a maximum of 20 hours on a charge — well below most of the other headphones in this roundup. 

If it seems I’m spending an inordinate amount of time on usability issues versus, say, sound quality, it’s because I expect better from Apple — and from my $549 investment. Make no mistake, AirPods Maxes sound great; ANC quality: also great. Spatial audio: superb. I also like the build quality, shiny metallic coloring and overall comfort. (These are some seriously cushy and breathable earcups.)

But that’s what I expect from a premium headphone with a premium price. And while on that subject, AirPods Maxes are among the most expensive headphones on the market. Like Apple’s AirPods Pro earbuds, they’re frequently discounted, but even at their recent all-time low of $449, they’re costlier than premium competitors from Bose and Sony.

Therefore: If you love Apple gear and you’re willing to overlook numerous irritating flaws, I suspect you’ll love the AirPods Maxes. Everyone else: You can do better.

Pros

  • Solid build quality
  • Very comfortable earcups that are easy to replace
  • Easy to pair with Apple devices and automatically switches between them
  • Superb spatial audio
Cons

  • Very expensive (even when discounted)
  • Confusing setup instructions
  • Poorly designed charging LED
  • Still uses Lightning connector instead of USB-C
  • Below-average battery life
  • Digital crown is great for controlling volume but bad for everything else
  • No headphone jack for wired listening
  • ‘Smart’ case is anything but

$500 at B&H Photo

An

Not a lot of frills, here… just the headphones and a charging cord. If you want a carry case, you’ll need to bring your own. (Rick Broida/Yahoo News)

Sony WH-CH720N: Want the noise-cancelling acumen of Sony’s XM5 headphones without the sky-high price? You can have it: Sony’s WH-CH720N offer the same core tech for a very reasonable $128. So what exactly do you sacrifice by choosing the cheaper product? Not that much. Read my complete Sony WH-CH720N review to learn more!

Sennheiser Momentum 4: A solid headphone with exceptional battery life (up to 60 hours), the Momentum 4 is an all-around good choice. I liked the smooth, full-bodied sound quality, though ANC was only so-so and it lacks the spatial-audio capabilities offered by others in this price range. Plus, the touch controls are a little overwrought (there’s a lot to remember, including a pinch gesture).

With dozens (and dozens) of over-ear headphone models to choose from, how did I decide which made the cut? Audio is a highly subjective thing; the best sound to one set of ears might sound less so to another. For example, if you’re not a fan of heavy bass, you might dislike ‘phones designed to boost that thump. And if you’re older, maybe you care more about dialogue enhancement (for movies, podcasts and such) than anything else.

There’s also the question of fit: Not every headphone sits comfortably atop every head. A tight headband or mushy earpads can make for an uncomfortable experience.

Finally, when evaluating headphone sound, there’s always the source to consider: If you use a music streaming service like Apple Music or Spotify, data compression can result in a slight loss of fidelity. Will the average listener care about that, or even notice it? Probably not, but it’s still a piece of the puzzle.

All this is to say that different people have different ears, heads, needs and preferences. Budgets too. Therefore, my picks for this roundup are based on a combination of personal experience, product reputation, professional reviews, specs, user ratings and, finally, price tag. You won’t find only high-end, super-expensive headphones here, nor will you find cheap off-brand junk. Every product I’ve selected deserves its “best” designation for one reason or another.

The hot headphone feature of the 21st century is active noise cancelling, otherwise known as ANC. Flip a switch (or press a button) and the earpieces magically reduce a certain range of ambient sounds. Jet engines, for example, or backyard lawnmowers. The result is that you’re able to fly, work or exercise in relative peace.

Some headphones perform this trick better than others, but the good news is it’s now a staple feature: Even the most affordable ones have it. Take note, however, that activating ANC will cost you a bit of battery life and possibly some audio fidelity as well. But it’s optional, so you can always turn it off if it’s not necessary or if you decide you don’t like it.

An extra letter “L,” that’s it. They’re exactly the same technology, but for whatever reason, both spellings are used. (Go home, English language, you’re drunk.)

In simple terms, “driver” is just audio-speak for “speaker.” And bigger is always better, right? Yes, but… there’s a bit more to it than that. As with actual speakers, there’s more to sound quality than just size. The materials used, the electronics behind those materials, the overall fit of the headphones, etc. Don’t let driver size alone determine which headphones you buy.

In most cases, no! Many modern TVs and streaming devices (Roku, Fire TV, etc.) support Bluetooth, meaning you could pair any of these headphones for private listening. The only potential issue is audio that’s slightly out of sync with video, which can happen with older TVs/streamers. And if you have gear that doesn’t support Bluetooth, you might need to invest in something like the Sennheiser RS 175 wireless headphone system for TVs, which relies on RF (radio frequency) technology for wireless listening.

This will sound strange, but these headphones fight noise with … noise. External microphones listen to the ambient sounds, then reproduce those frequencies in your ears, effectively cancelling them out. Talk about sufficiently advanced technology that’s indistinguishable from magic! (Paging sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke.)

After a fashion. By reducing outside sound, ANC headphones save you from having to crank the volume just so you can hear your music — and that itself is a form of hearing protection. There’s a related benefit as well: If you’re on a long flight or stuck in a noisy terminal, ANC helps to drown out engine and crowd noise, the better to keep your stress level low.

There are no known safety hazards to using noise-cancelling headphones. The only risk, as with any headphones, is playing music too loudly and damaging your hearing.

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