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The ability to block sounds like a nearby furnace, dogs barking or loud keyboards isn't new, but with so many of us working from home alongside our partners or kids, it's time for almost everyone to get a pair of active noise cancelation, or ANC, headphones for themselves.

Not only do ANC headphones block out unwanted noise, but most of them have a dedicated mode that allows ambient noise through when needed, while also offering long battery life.

Which ones do you get, though? There are a lot of options. Too many, if I'm being honest. To help you narrow down your choices, I tested five of the top ANC headphones available right now: Apple  (AAPL)  Sony undefined, Bose undefined, Beats, and Anker. All of them are worthwhile choices, but each one can be labeled for a specific user or use case.

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Best headphones for Apple fans: Apple AirPods Max ($479, originally $549; amazon.com)

Apple AirPods Max

Features:

  • Battery life: 20 hours
  • Smart Assistant: Siri
  • Transparency mode: Yes
  • On-ear detection: Yes
  • Companion app: No, but controls are available in the Settings app
  • Controls: Two buttons on top of the right ear cup.
  • Charging port: Apple Lightning port

Apple's AirPods Max are by far the most expensive ANC headphones on the list of those we tested, but that's expected when it comes to Apple products.

The AirPods Max have a unique design with metal ear cups and a mesh headband. The headphones don't fold down, but instead, the cups rotate to lay flat on your desk or slide into the included cover. Let's be clear, what's included with the AirPods Max is a cover, not a case. In addition to minor protection, the cover also puts the AirPods Max into a deep sleep mode — effectively turning them off — when not in use. Which is a good thing, because there isn't a power button to turn them off yourself.

If you forget to put them in the cover, our experience is that it's hit or miss whether or not the headphones will stay powered on and drain your battery or automatically go to sleep and preserve as much power as possible.

Sound Quality: The AirPods Max sounds downright fantastic to my ears. In fact, I'd argue they offer the best sound quality and active noise cancelation to drown out environmental sounds when compared to the rest of the lot I tested. Add in special features like Spatial Audio that makes it sound as if you're surrounded by musical instruments and as you move your head around, the sound adjusts. It's like listening to music in 3D, and it even works with compatible TV shows or movies.

Drawback: All of the "magic" that makes the AirPods so appealing is more or less limited to using them with an Apple device. You can still use the AirPods Max with an Android phone or Windows computer, but there are some core features you'll lose out on, like spatial audio.

Final verdict: The AirPods Max are arguably the best ANC-capable headphones for those who love all things Apple. They sound great, battery life consistently hits close to the 20-hour mark, and they directly integrate with all things Apple with minimal effort on your part. The biggest downside is the overall cost. Ouch. 

Best headphones for frequent travelers: Sony WH-1000XM5 ($398; amazon.com)

Features:

  • Battery life: 30 hours
  • Smart Assistant: Google Assistant, Alexa
  • Transparency mode: Yes
  • On-ear detection: Yes
  • Companion app: Android and iOS
  • Controls: Touch controls
  • Charging port: USB-C

In early 2022, Sony released the Sony WH-1000XM5, an updated version of their over-the-ear headphones with improved noise cancelation and a new look.

The new design features slightly larger ear cups, and a new folding method that makes the headphones easier to put into the collapsible travel case. The collapsibility of the case is important to note for frequent travelers, as it won’t take up a bunch of space in your backpack while you’re using the headphones.

The padded ear cups are comfortable enough to wear for long periods of time. Speaking of long periods of time, Sony estimates 30 hours of battery life on a single charge, a claim that’s been backed up by my testing.

The exterior of the right ear cup acts as a large touch panel that you can use to pause or play music, skip to the next track or control the volume. For instance, a swipe up on the panel will increase the volume. Swipe up and leave your finger in place and the volume will continue to increase until you remove it. On the bottom of the ear cup is a USB-C port for charging.

On the left ear cup is a 3.5mm headphone jack for wired use, and two physical buttons. There’s also the power/pairing button, and another button that switches between active noise cancelation mode and ambient sound mode. The former blocks out unwanted sound in noisy environments, such as on a plane or in a loud office. The latter allows environmental noise so you can hear what’s going on around you while not missing out on your favorite songs or podcasts.

The revamped headphones have a sensor for on-ear detection that automatically pauses whatever you’re listening to when you take them off, and then resumes playing again when you put them back on.

Sony has a companion app for Android and iOS users. The app allows you to control various settings, such as enabling multipoint connection so you can connect the headphones to two devices at the same time — such as your phone and a computer. You can then listen to music on your computer and answer phone calls on your phone without having to tell the headphones which device you want it connected to. Pretty cool.

The app also gives you the option to enable automatic adaptive sound control. When in use, the headphones and app will detect what you’re doing and switch between noise cancelation and ambient sound. For instance, once the app detects that you’re walking, it’ll switch the headphones to ambient sound. Or if it detects you’re in a moving vehicle, it’ll switch back to noise cancelation mode. The app is also where you can enable Google Assistant (for Android users) or Amazon Alexa.

Sound quality: The Sony WH-1000XM5 sounds just slightly better to my untrained ear than its predecessor. Where the Sony WH-1000XM5 really shines, however, is with how aggressive ANC is. When it’s turned on, either manually or automatically by the companion app, all environmental noise in my office — such as my air conditioner or the lawn mower outside — all but disappears.

Drawback: I wasn’t a huge fan of how the Sony WH-1000XM4’s folded down. They constantly gave me fits. That said, the Sony WH-1000XM5’s no longer fold into a smaller footprint, and for frequent travelers, the extra space will surely be an issue.

Final verdict: Sony didn’t go out and reinvent headphones with the Sony WH-1000XM5. Instead, the company made small but meaningful upgrades. The new design is something I’m a big fan of, along with better sound quality, active noise cancelation and improved battery life. At $400 they aren’t cheap, but if you’re someone who frequently travels and you want the best Sony has to offer, the Sony WH-1000XM5’s are the way to go. And if you’re someone who wants to spend a little less, the XM4s are still around for $TK. 

Most comfortable: Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700 ($299, originally $379; amazon.com)

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

Features:

  • Battery life: 20 hours
  • Smart Assistant: Alexa, Google Assistant (Android only)
  • Transparency mode: Adjustable Noise Cancelation
  • On-ear detection: No
  • Companion app: Yes
  • Controls: Touch and physical buttons
  • Charging port: USB

The Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700 offer everything you'd want in a pair of ANC-equipped headphones. They're lightweight, with a minimal design that lays flat and shrinks down to fit into the included protective case. The ear cups are big enough to completely fit over my ears and are soft enough to be comfortable to wear for extended listening sessions.

On the right ear cup, you'll find two physical buttons. One is the power/pairing button, the other will trigger the connected device's personal assistant. For example, as I sit here writing this very section using these headphones connected to my Mac, I can press the button to trigger Siri. The outside panel of the right ear cup doubles as a touch surface that you can use to turn the volume up, down or control music playback. The left cup has a single button that will adjust between three different levels of active noise cancelation. You can change what those specific levels are in the Bose Music app.

Within the app, you can also view the battery level, connect other personal assistants like Alexa or your Spotify account to the headphones.

Sound Quality: When it comes to sound quality, I enjoyed using the 700s. The ANC wasn't as aggressive as I would've liked. Even at a setting of 10, I was still able to hear the clickity-clack of my mechanical keyboard, and the steady hum of my office heater running. These were noises the other headphones I tested easily blocked out.

Drawback: One frustration point I have with the 700s is that they don't automatically pause when you take them off. On more than one occasion I took off the headphones, placed them on my desk, and walked away only to come back sometime later and realize they were still streaming music from my iPad or Mac.

Final verdict: I wish all headphones I tested were as comfortable as the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700. In addition to comfort level, I rather enjoy the fact that every time you power on the headphones a voice tells you how many hours worth of charge you have left. It's a solid touch to the overall experience.

Best headphones to bring the bass: Beats Studio3 Wireless (starting at $199; amazon.com)

Beats Studio3 Wireless

Features:

  • Battery life: 22
  • Smart Assistant: Siri, Google Assistant
  • Transparency mode: No
  • On-ear detection: No
  • Companion app: Android
  • Controls: Physical buttons
  • Charging port: microUSB

Beats by Dr. Dre's Beats Studio3 Wireless headphones bring the bass, but that's to be expected by any Beats product. Even though Apple owns the Beats brand, and at first glance, the specifications of the Studio3 would lead you to believe these headphones are designed for Apple lovers — that's not entirely the case.

The Studio3 headphones use the same type of chip as Apple's AirPods for easy pairing and device switching between Apple devices, but Beats has also integrated Android's Fast Pair feature that makes connecting the headphones to an Android phone just as quick and painless as it is with an iPhone.

The Beats logo on the left ear cup is how you control playback or trigger your device's personal assistant. There's a power button with indicator lights on the right cup, just above a series of small LED lights that make it easy to check the battery life. The headphones collapse down into themselves to fit into the included carrying case.

Controlling noise cancelation can be done by double-pressing the power button, or by using the Beats Android app. There isn't an app for iPhone users.

Drawback: One complaint I have about the Beats Studio3's is the ear cups themselves. They aren't big enough to cover my ears, so instead, they put a fair amount of pressure on my ears and after a while, I experience some soreness.

Sound quality: Noise cancelation and sound quality are both really good with the Studio3, although as I said earlier, they're a little bass-heavy — which has always been a common critique of Beats products.

Final verdict: If you're the type who is drawn to Beats products and want something that will drown out a noisy roommate or colleague, the Beats Studio3 Wireless will certainly do just that. 

Best affordable option: Anker SoundCore Life Q35 ($109, originally $129; amazon.com)

Anker SoundCore Life35

Features:

  • Battery life: 40 hours
  • Smart Assistant: Siri, Google Assistant
  • Transparency mode: Yes
  • On-ear detection: Yes
  • Companion app: Android, iOS
  • Controls: Buttons and touch controls
  • Charging port: USB-C

Anker's SoundCore Life Q35s are not only impressively affordable, but they're impressively capable, too. They offer a lot of the same features found in the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones for half the cost. 

For example, you can place your palm on the side of the right ear cup to automatically enable transparency mode so you can have a conversation with someone. You will need to use the same gesture to go back to noise cancelation, however, something you don't have to do on Sony's offering. The Life Q35s also have on-ear detection that can be enabled by using the SoundCore app, but in my testing, it's not as accurate or quick to pause music as the AirPods Max or Sony headphones.

The design of the headphones is mostly made of plastic, and it feels like a less expensive product than the others I tested. There are buttons on both ear cups that also lend themselves to a cheap, but functional, feeling.

The right ear cup has a few physical buttons for controlling playback, while the left cup is where you can find the power button as well as a toggle for transparency mode and noise cancelation.

The included case will do a good job protecting your headphones while traveling or when in a backpack, and it's easy enough to figure out how to collapse the headphones down to fit inside it.

Sound quality: One feature the Life Q35's offer that none of the other headphones have is the ability to play ambient sounds — like a rainstorm — to help you fall asleep through the SoundCore app.

Drawback: Active noise cancelation isn't as strong as the rest of the headphones we tested, letting in the sounds of my keyboard or my dog barking outside my door begging to be let in. That said, they'll work well enough to block out a noisy kid or coworker.

Final verdict: For someone who wants ANC headphones on a budget, the Life Q35's will more than fit the bill.

Bottom line

There's a pair of ANC headphones out there for nearly everyone. Whether you want to save some cash (Life Q35), you're looking for an Apple-first approach (AirPods Max), or you want something that offers the best experience all around (Sony WH-1000XM5) — you don't have to look very far.