When it comes to wireless headphones, the over-ear noise-cancelling models typically offer the most comprehensive set of features we want. The best options combine stellar audio with powerful active noise cancellation (ANC) and other handy tools to create as complete a package as possible. Of course, some companies do this better than others. For this guide, we’ll focus primarily on the over-ear style and offer a range of prices so you can decide how much you’re comfortable spending.
Best overall: Sony WH-1000XM5
Sony’s 1000X line has been our top pick for a long time now. Until another company can manage to pack in as many features as Sony, and do so with a stellar mix of sound and effective ANC, the crown is safe. With the WH-1000XM5, Sony redesigned its flagship headphones, making them way more comfortable to wear for long periods of time. The company also made noticeable improvements to the active noise cancellation, adding a separate V1 chip in addition to the QN1 that was inside the M4. There are now eight total ANC mics as well – the previous model only had four. This all combines to better block high frequencies, including human voices.
The 1000XM5 still has all of the features that typically make Sony’s top-of-the-line headphones showstoppers. That includes 30-hour battery life and crisp, clear sound with balanced tuning and punchy bass. A combo of touch controls and physical buttons give you on-board access to music, calls and noise modes without reaching for your phone. Speak-to-Chat automatically pauses audio when you begin talking, and like previous Sony headphones, the M5 can change noise modes based on your activity or location. Plus, this model offers better call quality than most of the competition. The only real downside is that they’re $50 more than the WH-1000XM4.
Runner up: Bose QuietComfort 45
The Bose 700 was one of our top picks last time around, but the company recently revived a workhorse with the QuietComfort 45. The design is mostly unchanged from the previous QC models, which could be a deal breaker for some. Once you get past that though, the QC45 combines Bose’s excellent active noise cancellation with clear and balanced audio. You can expect up to 24 hours of battery life on a charge and a comfortable fit that doesn’t get tiresome during long listening sessions. We’ve already seen them on sale for $50 less than full price, which makes the QuietComfort 45 even more compelling.
Best budget: Sony WH-CH710N
If you want capable noise cancellation that won’t break the bank, Sony’s WH-CH710N is a solid bet. These headphones are much less than a flagship model at $150 — and they’re often on sale for even less — but you will sacrifice a few things. The biggest place these fall short is overall sound quality. There’s decent range and good clarity, but they lack deep, punchy bass that would help create a fuller sound. For casual listeners who want a decent set of headphones that still have ANC, these will likely offer enough in the sonic department.
In terms of noise cancellation, the WH-CH710N exhibits enough sound-blocking power to minimize distractions. Thanks to Sony’s dual noise sensor technology, these headphones pick up a lot of that unwanted noise and automatically select the best noise cancellation for your environment. There’s also an ambient-sound option should you need to keep tabs on what’s going on around you. With 35 hours of battery life, a quick-charge feature and handy onboard controls, the WH-CH710N offer a glimpse of flagship headphone luxury for less than $200.
After months of rumors, we finally discovered that Apple successfully built a set of premium over-ear headphones. The AirPods Max combine the best features of AirPods earbuds with noise-cancelling, including spatial audio and easy access to Siri. Right now, spatial audio is limited and there’s no high-res music streaming. However, even with work to be done, the overall audio quality, stellar ambient sound mode and the all-Apple aesthetics are enough to recommend the AirPods Max. That is, if you’re willing to splurge.
Back at CES, Panasonic announced the EAH-A800: a new set of ANC headphones under the iconic Technics brand. While most of the features are what you see on any number of headphones, one figure stood out. The company says you can expect up to 50 hours of battery life on the A800, and that’s with active noise cancellation enabled. These are currently in my stable of review units for detailed analysis, but I have already tested them on a long flight. The ANC is impressive and they’re comfortable enoughto avoid becoming a burden after several hours. Sound quality is also quite good (there’s LDAC support, too) and there are enough features here to justify the premium price tag.
The wireless version of Audio-Technica’s M50 headphones may not have ANC, but that’s okay. The ATH-M50xBT quickly became one of my favorite sets when it debuted in 2018 thanks to the warm, natural sound profile and a very comfy fit. The company revamped the wireless model in 2021, adding multipoint connectivity, quick access to Alexa and a low latency mode in the M50xBT2. Everything else from the previous model is still here and that’s excellent news. If you spend most of your time listening to music in a spot where you don’t need active noise cancellation to block out the world, the M50xBT2 is an excellent choice at $199.