The best wireless noise-cancelling headphones

Tune out the world and create your own private audio oasis with these discrete earbuds and bold over-the-ear statements.

By Staff Writers, June 6 2023
The best wireless noise-cancelling headphones

Wireless noise-cancelling headphones are an essential bit of kit for all frequent travellers. After all, who doesn’t want to replace the drone of plane engines – or dull daily train commute – with crisp, clear and undisturbed music?

Cordless noise-cancelling headphones and earbuds have taken great leaps in recent years too. Companion apps allow you to customise your listening experience beyond factory defaults, while boosted battery life now delivers more hours on a single charge.

Enjoy up to 30 hours on a single charge with the Sony WH-1000XM5.
Enjoy up to 30 hours on a single charge with the Sony WH-1000XM5.

So who makes the best noise-cancelling headphones? In the past, we’ve often looked to Apple, Bose, Sennhesier and Sony – a premium quartet delivering exceptional sound in in-ear and over-ear models.

However, there are fresh contenders worth adding to the list.

Generally speaking, and as much as marketing teams would likely disagree, most have the same core features, albeit with different names or approaches. This includes: 

  • voice activation and control, whether it’s through Google, Alexa or Siri
  • adaptive or ‘active’ audio to automatically adjust the volume and EQ to fit your surroundings
  • transparency mode, which briefly lets the outside noise in, such as when ordering a meal or drink from the cabin crew
Bowers & Wilkins' Pi7 S2 earbuds would be a stylish addition to any travel kit.
Bowers & Wilkins' Pi7 S2 earbuds would be a stylish addition to any travel kit.

Where they do differ, quite dramatically, is battery life – which can range from 4 to 10 hours for earbuds, and between 20 and 60 hours for over-the-ear models. Charging time, comfort and, of course, price vary wildly too.

Ready to upgrade an existing set of cans or go cord-free for the first time? Here are some of the best wireless noise-cancelling headphones and earbuds on the market.

 

Apple Airpods Pro (second generation) earbuds

Following in the well-trodden design footsteps of the Apple Airpods earbud family, now in its third iteration, Airpods Pro is the only one to feature noise cancellation. This results in the best overall sound, with internal sensors and microphones continually adjusting output. 

Unlike regular Airpods, the Pro model features the addition of soft silicone tips.
Unlike regular Airpods, the Pro model features the addition of soft silicone tips.

Aesthetically, the most notable difference to other Airpods is the addition of silicone tips, which form a seal around your ear cavity to block out external sound, with vents to equalise pressure. 

Enjoy up to 30 hours with multiple charges via the Magsafe charging case.
Enjoy up to 30 hours with multiple charges via the Magsafe charging case.

Pairing is a breeze – a pop-up on your phone or Apple Watch asks if you’d like to connect once you open the charger lid. They also auto-switch between your laptop and iPhone when a call comes in, if the same Apple ID is signed in on both devices. 

  • Battery Life: Up to 6 hours on a charge, or up to 30 hours with multiple recharges in the MagSafe charging case. A five minute top-up can give you an extra hour
  • Weight: 5.3 grams per earbud, 50.8 grams for the battery case
  • RRP: $399

Apple Airpods Max headphones

For those who enjoy cocooning over-the-ear comfort when listening to music or watching television, Apple’s Airpods Max is the model for you. 

While more expensive than its rivals, Airpods Max delivers the sound quality to back it up.
While more expensive than its rivals, Airpods Max delivers the sound quality to back it up.

Available in five colours, they feature a breathable mesh strap and stainless steel earcups, which are easily removable or replaceable. While slightly heavier than rivals, they’re not uncomfortable for extended listening.

Choose from five stylish colours: Silver, Space Gray, Sky Blue, Pink and Green.
Choose from five stylish colours: Silver, Space Gray, Sky Blue, Pink and Green.

Sound quality is among the best in class, however it comes at a premium, sitting around $300 above most of the competition. As with the Pro, pairing is quick and easy.  

  • Battery Life: Up to 20 hours of listening time on a single charge, with a quick five minute charge giving you 1.5 hours
  • Weight: 386 grams
  • RRP: $899

Beats Studio Buds +

Available in black, silver, ivory, pink or transparent, Beats Studio Buds + is among the newest additions to the Beats by Dre family. And it’s a rather impressive addition at that, with excellent noise reduction for the price, deep bass and crisp highs.

Beats Studios Buds + is compatible with both Apple and Android.
Beats Studios Buds + is compatible with both Apple and Android.

Push button controls sit comfortably alongside Siri voice commands (an essential feature given Beats is part of the Apple family): a single press answers calls or plays music, double to skip, or triple press to go back a track.

One-touch pairing connects to every device on your Apple iCloud account.
One-touch pairing connects to every device on your Apple iCloud account.

On the downside, there’s no adjustable EQ – meaning a handful of presets are your only options for customising to your taste, and only if you use the iOS app. The Android version curiously lacks this feature.

  • Battery Life: up to 36 hours listening time with the case
  • Weight: 5 grams per earbud
  • RRP: $269.95

Beats Studio Pro

Beats by Dre’s over ear headphones are the kind you see once and then spot absolutely everywhere you go: on the train, at the airport, or on someone strolling past you in the supermarket. The latest ubiquitous model? Studio Pro.

The Studio Pro features fully-adaptive ANC, transparency mode and cinematic spatial audio.
The Studio Pro features fully-adaptive ANC, transparency mode and cinematic spatial audio.

Among the notable differences from the Studio 3 Wireless are improved sound quality, a more durable design thanks to upgraded memory foam and stitch-free faux leather cups, plus the addition of USB-C charging.

Lightweight and portable, with an included carrying case.
Lightweight and portable, with an included carrying case.

Controls admittedly aren’t as refined as on some of its contemporaries, but they still deliver where it counts: quality noise cancellation and calling, with easy one-touch pairing for both Apple and Android. Apple users also benefit from spatial audio with head tracking.

  • Battery Life: up to 40 hours listening time
  • Weight: 260g
  • RRP: $529.95

Bose Quiet Comfort II earbuds

Well known for its premium home audio systems and speakers, Bose brings that same quality to its line of headphones. The oval-shaped Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II are stylish and well-made, while also being 30% smaller than their predecessor.

Change the volume, answer calls, and flip between listening modes with simple touch gestures.
Change the volume, answer calls, and flip between listening modes with simple touch gestures.

Capacitive control makes using the lightweight earbuds a breeze, with top-notch sound, voice calls and noise cancellation in most situations. That said, while they do what they’re designed for, they don’t really have any real knockout features either.

The case delivers up to three additional charges.
The case delivers up to three additional charges.

They’re also more expensive than both Apple and Sony, with not much to show for it. Battery life remains the same as Gen 1, though the case provides an extra charge cycle for six hours more listening time. Unlike many rivals, wireless charging is not yet supported.

  • Battery Life: 6 hours, up to 24 hours with case 
  • Weight: 6.24 grams per earbud 
  • RRP: $399.95 

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

Bose has a long history with noise-cancelling headphones – the company claims to have invented the category in 1979, when Dr Amar Bose created the first noise-cancelling headsets for pilots (they weren’t available to the public until 2000).

The right earcup features touch sensors for managing volume, calls and music.
The right earcup features touch sensors for managing volume, calls and music.

Price-wise, Bose Noise-cancelling Headphones 700 sit in the middle of the pack, delivering a premium experience that more than holds its own. Capacitive touch controls on the right earcup also inch it just ahead of its rivals, in terms of responsiveness. 

A quick 15 minute recharge can give you an additional 2 hours of listening time.
A quick 15 minute recharge can give you an additional 2 hours of listening time.

Thick padding and a rubberised steel headband make it a comfortable choice for all day listening, while an optional cable allows you to continue listening even if the battery’s depleted. 

  • Battery Life: Up to 20 hours
  • Weight: 254 grams 
  • RRP: $495 

Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2 earbuds

Released in January, Bowers & Wilkins’ new Pi7 S2 earbuds sit at the higher end of the pricing spectrum. For your coin, you get a premium design and exceptional audio for music, with improved battery life and bluetooth range on the previous model.

The fit takes some getting used to, but you soon barely notice they're in.
The fit takes some getting used to, but you soon barely notice they're in.

Its big-ticket feature is wireless audio retransmission, allowing you to plug the case into external sources – think inflight entertainment or a gaming console – and listen via your earbuds. Two cables are provided for this: a type C cable, and USB-C to 3.5mm.

The Pi7 S2 comes in satin black, canvas white and midnight blue.
The Pi7 S2 comes in satin black, canvas white and midnight blue.

Much like the Px8, sound is exceptional when listening to your tunes: crisp and clear in all the right places, with the quality really shining when it’s turned up a little. In fact, we’d say it’s one of the best sounding earbuds on the market.

Battery Life: 5 hours in normal mode, and up to 21 using the charging case
Weight: 7 grams per earbud
RRP: $649

Bowers & Wilkins Px8 headphones

British brand Bowers & Wilkins’ flagship Px8 headphones are a thing of beauty adorned in bright metal detailing and supple leather trims on the headband and cups. Far from style over substance, they match this aesthetic appeal with serious audio chops.

Everything about the Px8 feels supremely well thought out.
Everything about the Px8 feels supremely well thought out.

Tested on a recent Emirates A380 flight to Christchurch, we found sound quality and ANC among the best we’ve tried, delivering a feast for the ears. And they should too, given the brand’s reputation (and price tag). But, you do get a lot of bang for your buck.

Easy to set up via the B&W Music app, the 30-hour battery life is ideal for long distance travels, while phone calls are clear with no almost background noise. The quality and finish are amazing too. On the flip side, the app lags behind other brands with quite limited customisation. 

The Px8 has cast aluminium arms and a soft, Nappa leather trim.
The Px8 has cast aluminium arms and a soft, Nappa leather trim.

The Px8 comes in either black or tan as standard, plus a special midnight blue 007 Edition, and McLaren Racing version in grey and papaya orange.

  • Battery Life: 30 hours one one charge, with an additional seven hours listening from a 15 minute recharge
  • Weight: 320 grams
  • RRP: $1149

Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 earbuds

German brand Sennheiser is winning a lot of fans with its Momentum True Wireless 3, which improves on the best features of its predecessor, while giving it a sleek new look too. They’re also $100 more affordable than the previous model Momentum True Wireless 2.

IPX4 splash resistance means you could use the earbuds in light rain, or in the gym.
IPX4 splash resistance means you could use the earbuds in light rain, or in the gym.

As you’d expect, the sound is crisp and precise out of the box. If you prefer to customise your listening though, the app allows extensive EQ adjustments, along with the ability to define zones where pre-set audio profiles kick in, such as at the office or gym.

Choose from three attractive colours: black, white, or graphite.
Choose from three attractive colours: black, white, or graphite.

One other practical improvement on the Wireless 2 is the ability to listen to a single earbud at a time, which means you can potentially listen beyond the standard battery length. Read our full review here.

  • Battery Life: 7 hours, up to 28 hours with case
  • Weight: 6 grams per earbud
  • RRP: $400 

Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless headphones

While similarly named to the earbuds, the newly-released Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless headphones are a very different beast. Fully redesigned from the retro Momentum 3, they now sport a more contemporary look, yet still with that distinct Sennheiser feel.

Personalise your sound with the Sennheiser Smart Control app.
Personalise your sound with the Sennheiser Smart Control app.

Battery life has seen a huge improvement on the previous model too, jumping from a respectable 17 hours up to a phenomenal 60 hours listening time. When you eventually do run out of juice, fast-charging can deliver an extra 6 hours in 10 minutes.

The new fold-flat design and slim carry case make travelling easy too.
The new fold-flat design and slim carry case make travelling easy too.

Controls are also simple and intuitive, with the addition of a touchpad – doing away with the three-button interface of old – on the right cup allowing you to make calls and control your music. 

  • Battery Life: Up to 60 hours listening time, 2 hours to full charge
  • Weight: 293 grams
  • RRP: $549.95

Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds

Sony knows a thing or two about music on the go. In 1979, its original Walkman portable cassette player reinvented how we consume music. The WF-1000XM4 noise-cancelling earbuds expand on that legacy, even if the name isn’t quite as catchy.

Sony's excellent WF-1000XM4 earbuds are available in black or silver.
Sony's excellent WF-1000XM4 earbuds are available in black or silver.

The WF-1000XM4s deliver almost 8 hours with noise-cancelling switched on or up to 12 hours without it. If you pop the buds back into the case for a couple of quick recharges, you can enjoy up to 24 hours.

Keep the groove going with up to 8 hours wireless cancellation on a single charge.
Keep the groove going with up to 8 hours wireless cancellation on a single charge.

Available in black or silver, the XM4s are smaller and more ergonomic than the previous generation XM3s, with further improvements under the hood, such as slightly better microphones.

  • Battery Life: 7 hours 45 mins with noise-cancelling on one charge, 24 hours with the case.
  • Weight: 7.3 grams per earbud
  • RRP: $349

Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones

A successor to the brilliant WH-1000XM4, the WH-1000XM5 boasts a fresh design with markedly improved noise cancellation, additional microphones (eight, instead of the previous four) for clearer calls, and one of the best battery lifes in the market.

Enjoy up to 30 hours on a single charge with the Sony WH-1000XM5.
Enjoy up to 30 hours on a single charge with the Sony WH-1000XM5.

Although no longer top of the battery class, listeners can still enjoy up to 30 hours on a single charge. If you don’t have time for a full top-up, just three minutes of USB fast-charging can provide an additional 3 hours of listening time.

Out of the box you'll find a carrying case, headphone cable (approx. 1.2m) and USB cable.
Out of the box you'll find a carrying case, headphone cable (approx. 1.2m) and USB cable.

The design has seen a complete overhaul from the XM4, with a streamlined head strap giving them a somewhat retro flair. While audio has seen a marked improvement on the previous version, build quality does feel slightly less-premium this time around.

  • Battery Life: Up to 30 hours on a single charge
  • Weight: 250 grans
  • RRP: $549

Soundcore Space A40 earbuds

Not everyone is an audiophile. But even so, you still want headphones that deliver on their noise cancelling promise. Soundcore’s Space A40 earbuds do just that – and the sound quality is actually a lot better than the lean price tag might suggest. 

Customise listening to your taste, or choose from 22 present audio modes in the app.
Customise listening to your taste, or choose from 22 present audio modes in the app.

As with most earbuds these days, the A40 has three modes: noise cancelling, normal and transparent. By default, volume is adjusted with a single tap (left for up, right for down), or double tap to pause, though these controls are customisable in the app.

Multiple silicone cups are supplied to help find the right fit.
Multiple silicone cups are supplied to help find the right fit.

On a recent Virgin Australia flight, the noise cancellation was top-notch. The case supports both Qi wireless charging and USB-C cable, and earbuds can be paired to two devices simultaneously, with the transition between the two relatively smooth.

  • Battery Life: 10 hours on a single charge, up to 50 using the charging case. Just 10 minutes on charge can give you 4 hours of listening time
  • Weight: 4.9 grams per earbud
  • RRP: $129.99

Soundcore Space Q45 headphones

As with its earbuds, Soundcore’s sharply-priced Space Q45 over-ear headphones are aimed at those who aren’t necessarily looking for the best sound quality on the market, but still want to drown out background noise. And on that, they nail the brief.

Multipoint connection lets you switch between music, calls and more on two devices.
Multipoint connection lets you switch between music, calls and more on two devices.

Adaptive audio adjusts levels to suit your surroundings, while the app allows you to adjust to five levels of noise cancellation. Based on our experience, background can seep in when you’re in a particularly noisy area, but it's rather minimal.

A quick 5 minute charge can deliver a further 4 hours playtime.
A quick 5 minute charge can deliver a further 4 hours playtime.

However, arguably the biggest talking point is the battery life: 50 hours with noise cancellation switched on (already considerably higher than many of its rivals) or a whopping 65 hours with normal listening. Given their affordability, that’s no small feat.

  • Battery Life: 50 hours in noise cancelling mode, and up to 65 in normal. 
  • Weight: 292 grams
  • RRP: $219.99

TOZO Golden X1

Another quality model worth seeking out at the lower end of the price spectrum is the Golden X1 – the flagship from manufacturer TOZO, based out of Seattle. It offers impressive depth and clarity of sound, with a 45-degree angled fit that’s quite comfortable.

Manufacturers claim it blocks out up to 80% background noise.
Manufacturers claim it blocks out up to 80% background noise.

The X1 comes with 16 pre-set EQ modes out of the box via its intuitive companion app, together with six noise reduction modes, including Wind Reduction and Transparency. You can also easily reconfigure the touch controls to your liking.

The case supports wireless and USB-C fast charging.
The case supports wireless and USB-C fast charging.

Range and battery life are two areas where there’s room for improvement though. The latter provides just five hours in ANC mode, though this can be stretched to eight in normal mode. Popping them back into the pill-shaped charging case a couple of times extends this up to 32 hours.

  • Battery Life: 5 hours in noise cancelling mode or 8 hours with normal listening, 32 hours with multiple recharges.
  • Weight: 5.8 grams per earbud
  • RRP: USD$149.99 (AUD$225)

21 Jul 2018

Total posts 2

It’s too bad nobody does a wired noise cancelling earbud these days. I find over ear headphones to be uncomfortable and current wireless earbuds don’t have the battery life for a long haul flight. Long live the Bose QuietComfort 20, I’ll never understand why they discontinued them. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

08 Mar 2017

Total posts 14

I couldn't agree more. I have been carefully looking after my QC 20's for the last year or two, hoping they survive.

Strangely Bose's Australian website shows the earbuds as just being temporarily out of stock:

https://www.bose.com.au/en_au/products/headphones/earbuds/quietcomfort-20-acoustic-noise-cancelling-headphones.html#v=qc20_samsung

... but its been like that for quite a while.

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 953

I carry one or two pairs of AirPod Pros (1/2) on a long flight and Bose 20 for the wife.

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 953

I should have added I have a cord that connects to the airpods so when they fall out of my ear, they don't go too far. I once saw a guy pull the whole business seat apart trying to recover his wife's airpod that fell out of her ear.

Qatar Privilage Club

31 Mar 2023

Total posts 8

So what's the verdict? Which are the best? I have the Bose over ear headphones and the Sony over ear headphones mentioned in this review.

In my opinion the Bose have better noise cancelling and are easier to connect and use, the Sony are more comfortable to wear. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 Aug 2015

Total posts 43

Umm, heard of Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro 1 & 2 ? Both have active noise cancelling when it detects your voice so apple isn't the only one that does this.. Maybe include the 2nd biggest buds maker next time ?

My buds Pro 1 were great on my business flights SYD - LAX and lasted the flight. Bonus is the case can charge them in-between wearing.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jul 2014

Total posts 29

I have been using a set of the over the ear Korg NC-Q1  headphones for the last two years and on several long distance flights and – remembering that these things are subjective – they are the best headphones I have had on a flight ever, certainly better than the Sony's I had used previously. Korg is a music instrument manufacturer who designed these headphones for DJs and so the noise cancelling is extraordinarily good and which can be activated and deactivated simply by tapping the right ear piece so that I can hear the menu options when they are offered. They have every Bluetooth codec you need, they have a variety of EQ settings  which can be tailored (but there are several presetsto choose from) and the sound quality is predictably excellent. https://www.korg.com/au/products/dj/nc_q1/index.php

09 Jun 2017

Total posts 31

Sony XM5s are in a class above all the others hands down

29 Mar 2017

Total posts 34

Beats Fit Pro is missing from the list. All the same Apple technology, with Siri, noise cancelling and spatial sound. Half the price of the AirPods Pro and much better looking, available in lots of cover. Not as good as some of the Sony over ear options of course but it my experience they’re fantastic, very comfortable and far easier to lug around. Highly recommend. 


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