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 Chris Ashton, July 4 2022
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 airplane engines – or even the dull daily bus or train commute – with crisp, clear and undisturbed music?

Cordless noise-cancelling headphones and earbuds have seen some fantastic leaps in recent years too. Companion apps allow you to customise your listening experience beyond the factory defaults, while extended battery life delivers more hours of listening 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? Look to Apple Bose, Sennhesier and Sony – a premium quartet that delivers exceptional sound in both in-ear and over-the-ear models.

Generally speaking though, and as much as their in-house marketing teams may disagree, most noise-cancelling headphones share all 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

Where they do differ, and often quite substantially, is battery life – which can range from four to eight hours for earbuds, and 20-30 hours for over-the-ear models – charging time, comfort and of course price.

Sennheiser's Momentum True Wireless 3 Earbuds would be a stylish addition to any travel kit.
Sennheiser's Momentum True Wireless 3 Earbuds would be a stylish addition to any travel kit.

Ready to upgrade your existing pair of cans or maybe dive into the wireless space for the first time? Here are some of the best wireless noise-cancelling headphones and earbuds on the market.

 

Apple Airpods Pro 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 24 hours with multiple charges via the Magsafe charging case.
Enjoy up to 24 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 automatically switch between your laptop and iPhone when a call comes in, if you’re signed in with the same Apple ID on both devices. 

  • Battery Life: Up to 4.5 hours on a charge, or up to 24 hours with multiple recharges in the MagSafe charging case. A five minute top-up can give you an extra hour 
  • Weight: 5.4 grams per earbud, 45.6 gram 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 include memory foam cushions and are easily removable or replaceable. While slightly heavier than rival headphones, they’re not uncomfortable for extended listening sessions.

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 does come with a premium price tag to match, sitting around $300 above 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

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 company’s WF-1000XM4 noise-cancelling earbuds continue to 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 the best battery life in their class, at almost 8 hours with noise-cancelling turned on or up to 12 hours without it. If you pop the buds back into the battery case for a couple of quick recharges, you can enjoy up to 24 hours on the go.

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 Sony’s already-brilliant WH-1000XM4, the WH-1000XM5 boasts a fresh design with markedly improved noise cancellation, additional microphones (eight, instead of the previous four) for better voice calls, and the best battery life 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.

Listeners can enjoy up to 30 hours on a single charge – a whole 10 hours on its nearest rivals. When they do eventually run out, just three minutes of USB fast-charging can provide an extra 3 hours of listening time. 

Noise cancelling is automatically optimised based on your wearing conditions and environment.
Noise cancelling is automatically optimised based on your wearing conditions and environment.

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 

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

Well known for its premium home audio systems and speakers, Bose brings that same quality and aesthetic appeal to the company’s line of headphones. The oval-shaped Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are a stylish, well-made product, with a comparable price to Apple and Sony. 

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

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

Recharge the case via the included USB-C, or use any Qi-certified wireless charging mat.
Recharge the case via the included USB-C, or use any Qi-certified wireless charging mat.

Another small downside is switching devices, with a manual change required via the Bose app, instead of automatically like its competitors. If you’re a passionate Bose fan though, they are still a very good choice, with a better battery life than the Airpods Pro. 

  • Battery Life: Up to 6 hours on a single charge, two additional full charges via the case 
  • Weight: 8.5 grams per earbud 
  • RRP: $399 

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

Bose has a long history with noise-cancelling headphones – the company claims to 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 capacitive touch sensors, so you can manage volume, calls and music.
The right earcup features capacitive touch sensors, so you can manage 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 

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.

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

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.

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.

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 3 Wireless headphones

Although bearing a similar name to the earbuds, Sennheiser’s Momentum 3 Wireless headphones are a very different beast. While a few years old now, the over-the-ear model still delivers a brilliant listening experience. 

Stand out from the crowd with the Sennheiser Momentum 3's vintage aviation-style design.
Stand out from the crowd with the Sennheiser Momentum 3's vintage aviation-style design.

Easy to use, with a three-button interface on the underside of the ear cup (something many of the other brands have done away with, yet a nice addition for those who prefer physical controls) the Momentum 3 makes for comfortable all-day listening. 

Activate Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant with the touch of a button.
Activate Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant with the touch of a button.

The retro aviation-style design, with its oval-shaped cups, leather headband and stainless steel sliders, also stands out amid the current sea of black and silver, elevating the headphones from an accessory to more of a statement piece. 

  • Battery Life: Up to 17 hours listening time, 3 hours to fully charge
  • Weight: 305 grams
  • RRP: $599

If you can hold out though, the Momentum 4 Wireless will be debuting in August 2022. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer P1

23 Aug 2014

Total posts 98

Thanks for the article - many  FFs would have a drawer full of these that we keep replacing when we are lured by the next one!

Did you come across  Bowers & Wilkins?

Glad you liked it. We didn't come across them, but will take a look now. Thanks for the recommendation. 

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 383

B&W are lovely pieces of kit but super-expensive, I think the four brands profiled here are fine for 99% of people and their budgets!

18 Sep 2015

Total posts 126

Putting aside all the other features, which one of these is best at actual noise cancelling? 

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 383

Noise cancellation is actually very 'subjective'. And it's hard to compare them unless you can recreate the exact same listening environment and then compare each brand of headphones. I know some people will say Bose is best at noise cancellation, others like Sennheiser, but another factor is the quality of the audio reproduction, some might seem better at bass vs a broad mid-range or high-end treble for example. I tried my own Sennheisers against a mate's Bose headphones once, standing in the laundry with the washing machine running to simulate the steady sound of a plane, and I thought the Bose ones had a slight edge, for whatever that's worth.

That is a hard one. Would argue either Bose or Sony. But I think Sony has taken top position in the latest few models. But Sony tends to be more bass heavy. And the sound stage sounds like I'm in a concert hall listening through speakers. I find Bose tends to be a bit more balanced and less heavy on bass. The music tends to sound more like your listening to something live and less through speakers IMO.

18 Sep 2015

Total posts 126

Thank you all for your considered responses. Appreciated.

30 May 2018

Total posts 31

Bang and Olufsen iH8


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