When you need to concentrate, relax, or otherwise tune out the world around you, a pair of headphones featuring active noise cancellation can be a godsend. Of course, as with any headphones, you’ll want to consider sound quality, comfort and other features like Bluetooth connectivity. But when you’re in the market for an ANC pair specifically, you want headphones that’ll block out distractions.
So we set forth on a distraction-blocking mission, testing headphones that boast ANC as a headlining feature. We ultimately chose 14 pairs, based on reading reviews and our editorial expertise in the market, and tested them all extensively.
In total, we tested across six categories and 23 subcategories. Like our process for determining the best over-ear headphones, we identified two features as most important and weighted them accordingly: sound quality and ANC performance. And although ANC is a primary focus for this hands-on review, we weighted sound quality slightly more than noise canceling abilities. After all, if the headphones play your music poorly, ANC alone isn’t worth all that much. Additionally, we factored in comfort, controls and battery life. (Scroll down for the full scope of our testing process.)
After hundreds of hours rocking out to music, using the headphones in loud environments, and running battery tests that ran into the wee hours of the morning, we’re ready to share our three top picks.
The best noise-canceling headphones
- Best overall noise-canceling headphones: Beats Solo Pro
- Runner-up: Sony WH-1000XM3
- Best value: Anker Soundcore Life Q20
The short of it
The Beats Solo Pros absolutely dominated in ANC quality, and also excelled in most of our other testing categories, like design and sound quality. At $299.99, these on-ear cans have a ton to offer. That said, the Sony WH-1000XM3s were hot on their heels as a close runner-up.
The Sony WH-1000XM3s (our winner for best over-ear headphones) deliver excellent sound that even outdoes the Beats Solo Pros in bass performance. Their ANC functionality is excellent as well, trailing the Solo Pros’ ANC quality only ever so slightly in our testing. At $349.99, they’re a comfortable device with a lot of winning features.
The Soundcore Life Q20s came through as our best value pair. At just $60, these offer surprisingly powerful noise-canceling ability that competes with much pricier devices, plus terrific comfort and sound quality to boot.
The long of it
Beats Solo Pro
Why we love it in a sentence: The Beats Solo Pros put your surroundings on mute with high-performance ANC paired with long-lasting battery life and outstanding sound.
Despite being on-ear headphones, the Beats Solo Pros really tore up the competition on ANC. And while the Sony WH-1000XM3s had better battery with ANC enabled, the Solo Pros topped them on pure ANC quality at a lower price point.
We cannot overstate our satisfaction with the ANC performance of the Beats Solo Pros. In test after test, they managed to cut out a lot of the bassier sounds you’d normally hear in a variety of environments. For example, during a workout on a treadmill with a loud movie on, the droning hum of the machine was all but eliminated. Even the bass of footfall was dampened, as were the mid-range frequency sounds of the treadmill’s belt and a movie blaring loudly on a TV.
To simulate windy conditions, we wore them next to a large fan, and the deep, bassy hum of the fan simply left our audio space. Higher-frequency sounds, like the oscillation of the fan, were also barely noticeable. These are both great signs for those who fly often or have loud AC units in their homes.
The Solo Pros also performed admirably when we tested them against public ambiance and speech. The bassy bustle of a crowded public space (simulated with nearby speakers on high) was barely audible with these headphones on. Speech, both near and far, was significantly dampened as well, with a great overall reduction in environmental volume.
For those occasions when you need to hear the sounds around you, these headphones have a transparency mode that actually amplifies ambient sound, so you can hear, for example, someone calling your name. The Solo Pros did not perform as well as the Sony WH-1000XM3s in this category, but they still amplified nearby sounds well, and improved the volume of distant sounds, too.
While ANC is the primary focus of this review, sound quality was also weighted heavily in our testing, and the Beats Solo Pros did not disappoint. Listening to “Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish gave us the distinct impression that she was whispering in our ears. And during “I’m on Fire” by Bruce Springsteen, we could really distinguish where the instruments were in the soundstage during the performance. This quality was only matched by the Sony WH-1000XM3s in our testing.
The one place where the Solo Pros fell short on sound quality and didn’t perform as well as the Sony WH-1000XM3s was bass. Playback simply wasn’t as deep, and their sound had a notably less impactful kick than some other pairs. This is something to note if you listen to bass-forward music and find a bass-heavy mix most satisfying.
Call quality, on the other hand, was one of the best on the list. Very clear on both ends, and no notable issues like echoes or feeling boxed in.
On battery life, the Solo Pros performed the best of all tested headphones with ANC turned off, reaching a staggering 40 hours. And while they made it to just 21 hours with noise cancellation on, this is a testament to how hard these cans work on ANC.
Controls are streamlined, almost entirely contained on the right ear cup. Similar to other Beats headphones, the controls take the form of a disk, where the center triggers playback and calls, and the top and bottom control volume. (Note that you do have to put up with a plastic clicking sound when you use them, however.) Off-device controls through iOS and iPadOS allow you to control ANC and transparency mode from the Control Center of your device, not to mention music. On Android, you can download the Beats app and find similar control options.
The only other button on this very simple interface is one used to toggle ANC and transparency mode. In Apple fashion, Beats has done away with the audio jack entirely, which we can’t say we love, and instead of an “on” button, all you have to do to activate these cans is unfold them — a cool streamlining feature.
These headphones are built very well, composed of high-quality plastic on the outside and a solid metal skeleton on the inside; this metal runs throughout the design, from the cups through the headband. They fold easily and present very few seams. The cushions also feel durable and high quality, though these cans do seem a bit snug and may not be as comfortable for people with larger heads. Even at their full extension, they did not perfectly fit bigger noggins, which created uncomfortable pressure after some time.
Visually, the headphones are nothing short of stunning, in a variety of colors like light blue, red, dark blue, ivory and black.
Overall, the Beats Solo Pros outmatched the competition in ANC quality, plus they feature crisp and accurate sound packed into a sharp and well-designed device.
Why we love it in a sentence: The Sony WH-1000XM3s excel at ANC and shine in terms of their superior bass, though they also come in at a higher price than our top pick.
The Sony WH-1000XM3s were not far behind the Beats Solo Pros in our testing. They actually outperformed the Beats in several categories, including bass quality and comfort. On ANC, they only fell short when presented with less consistent sources of ambient sound.
The Sony WH-1000XM3s’ ANC eliminated nearly as much static sound as the Beats Solo Pros’ did. On any good ANC pair of headphones, as the frequency of a sound increases, it transitions from being muted to simply being dampened, and the WH-1000XM3s underwent this transition a little sooner than the Beats Solo Pros. On our treadmill test, we could better hear the humming of the machine below with the WH-1000XM3s, and footfall was more audible by a small margin. The WH-1000XM3s kept up better with the Solo Pros on the fan test, however, with both the bassy hum and higher-pitched sound of the fan’s oscillation remaining mostly inaudible.
After we tried out the ANC of the WH-1000XM3s with a restaurant soundtrack (which mimics a cacophony of voices, clanking silverware, doors opening and closing) playing nearby, we began to notice a pattern in performance. In tests that involved a consistent, droning sound, the Sony and Beats headphones nearly tied. The differences were noticeable when comparing their performance under inconsistent environmental conditions: For instance, both did very well muting the bassy hum of a crowd of people. But the Solo Pros were notably better at reacting to random spikes in sound — specific voices, the closing of doors, dropping of silverware — at middle and higher frequencies.
Still, the ANC performance of the WH-1000XM3s was commendable overall against the restaurant sounds. Volume was reduced adequately, and the bassy sounds were eliminated with similar efficacy to the Solo Pros.
We were very pleased with the sound quality as well. (In fact, as a testament to that, the Sony WH-1000XM3s are our pick for best over-ear headphones, in a guide where we focused more heavily on sound quality.) We adored their crisp sound; listening to “I’m on Fire” by Bruce Springsteen and “Jazz Crimes” by Joshua Redman, instruments from sax to guitar to piano were crystal clear. Drums rang through with a punchy, realistic quality, coming at us from all directions and creating a real sense of 3D sound. Voices resonated as if we were in the same room, and instrument positions were clear in a variety of songs. When we pumped out “Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish, it was obvious these were among the best bass performers in our testing pool (tied only by the similarly deep and intense bass of the Bowers & Wilkins PX7s). The equalizer on the Sony Headphones Connect app enables the bass to be boosted further, really maximizing performance. Audio was also decent on both sides for a phone call. Nothing special, but clear enough to get the job done.
Battery life is another strength of the WH-1000XM3s. With noise cancellation on, they lasted about 30 hours, which is actually nine more than the Beats Solo Pros.
We do wish Sony had opted for buttons as control triggers. Instead, the entire right cup is a touch surface for playback and call controls. And while it’s simple to learn them, we also found it a little too easy to accidentally skip a song or inadvertently change the volume. What’s more, longer hair tends to get in the way of the touch controls in a major way. Fortunately, you can opt to control music via the Sony Headphones Connect app (for Android and iOS), which simply lays out the play, pause, track skip and volume buttons. Likewise, you can always pull out your phone for call control. But in terms of on-device controls, the touch interface may not be for everyone.
The WH-1000XM3s have the best transparency mode among everything we tested, both enhancing nearby sounds significantly and making even quiet, distant sounds a good deal more audible.
The design is sleek and traditional; visually, there’s little not to like. Like the Solo Pros, they have a deceptively simple design. However, while the Solo Pros give off a modern vibe, the WH-1000XM3s appear more traditional in design, because of their large, ovular ear cups, compartmentalized headband cushioning and asymmetric ear cup arms. Simply put, they feel more classic, a distinction that doesn’t make them better or worse.
Their only downsides in design are the metal frame and the plastic, which feel somewhat lower in quality than those of the Solo Pros. They are remarkably comfortable, though, thanks in large part to a light 9-ounce frame and generous cushioning. Plus, the headband extends more than that of the Solo Pros, making them better for people with larger heads. Overall, these are very sleek — and come in black or silver, which looks more like a champagne color — but they don’t pop as much as the Solo Pros, with their vibrant color options and large Beats logo on the cups.
Anker Soundcore Life Q20
Why we love it in a sentence: In the ANC category, the Anker Soundcore Life Q20s outdid devices at several times their price, featuring similarly impressive sound quality, comfort and battery life at an incredible value.
The Soundcore Life Q20s performed beyond what we’d expect from such an affordable pair of headphones, at just $60. In fact, they did nearly as well as the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700s in pure ANC at less than one-sixth the price.
The Soundcore Life Q20s delivered solid noise cancellation, significantly muffling the bassy hum produced during our treadmill test. However, the range of deep sound they eliminated was less than that of the Sony WH-1000XM3s. In other words: The Q20s reduced the volume of sounds that were muted by the other two picks. In terms of footfall on the treadmill, we saw similar results: The deep, rhythmic banging sound was dampened, but our winning picks reduced this even further. The volume of higher-pitched sounds like the treadmill belt and TV in the background were also well controlled by the Q20s. And though this reduction wasn’t as dramatic as that of the Sony WH-1000XM3s and Beats Solo Pros, it nearly tied with the more expensive Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700s.
During our fan test, the Soundcore headphones impressed once again. They reduced the volume well, to the point where the fan oscillation was barely audible. (Meanwhile, the Solo Pro and WH-1000XM3s completely muted this particular sound.) The Q20s’ control of the bassy hum of the fan gave the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700s a run for their money, though. During our restaurant ambiance test, the low droning of the crowd was eliminated to a great degree by the Q20s. What sounds remained were reduced in volume very well, actually outdoing more expensive devices like the Bose QuietComfort 35 IIs.
The Soundcore Life Q20s scored a bit below average on sound quality. This was in part due to their call quality, which featured decent clarity, but unfortunate spikes in volume. That being said, this pair tied with the more expensive Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2s, and among a list of high-end devices, a near average score is no small feat. Listening to “Jazz Crimes” by Joshua Redman, which features pitchy saxophone and intense snare drums, we were never hit with an uncomfortably loud note or muddled bass. The vocals were also on point: During Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire,” his voice felt authentic, like we were on stage. Overall, their performance matched that of the Bowers & Wilkins PX7s, which retail for much more. Soundstage did suffer somewhat, however. Songs like “I’m on Fire” simply felt a little less three-dimensional than they did with our top picks. This was a minor problem though — the positions of vocals and instruments on stage were still reproduced pretty well.
These headphones really excelled at handling bass, reproducing the deep and booming tones of “Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish, performing just a hair off from the $500 Beoplay H9s. Unfortunately, these headphones experienced an infrequent bug that affected our listening experience when it arose. During some songs, the bass ended up slightly muting the rest of the track, quickly fading back to normal volume after each beat. This occurrence was rare and minor, which won’t be a problem for most users. Audiophiles, on the other hand, may want to look elsewhere.
One of our favorite features of these headphones was the battery performance. The Soundcore Life Q20s clocked in with an incredible 40 hours of battery life with ANC on. This is simply the best out of every device we tested, the next best being the $250 Jabra Elite 85hs with 36 hours of battery life. They also deliver impressive quick-charge abilities, topping up four hours of juice from just five minutes of charging.
These headphones sport the popular three-button row organization, where a playback and call control button is flanked by two volume buttons, which are raised for some tactile feedback and not nearly as loud as the controls on the Beats Solo Pros. On the opposite cup are the power button and a button that toggles ANC. Unfortunately, these headphones do not feature transparency mode.
These headphones aren’t flimsy by any means, though the plastic quality certainly feels less sturdy than that of the WH-1000XM3s or Beats Solo Pros. They do feel more solid than some pairs we tested, like the Sony WH-CH710Ns, which cost $140 more. Visually, they share similarities with the Sony WH-1000XM3s. Available in black and silver, they have few seams, and little detail to speak of. But overall, they appear less elegant due to the shiny plastic and geometrically generic ear cups.
The Q20s performed outstandingly on comfort. The cushions are soft and airy, resting gently at both the headband and ear cups. There is a generous amount of cushion, which, combined with its similar weight to the WH-1000XM3s, causes little to no pressure buildup. It’s certainly easy to forget you’re wearing them while you’re going about your day.
Our two top picks were neck and neck in this testing process. The vibrant Beats Solo Pro ultimately took the cake with their superior ANC and terrific sound. But if the Sony headphones’ kicking bass and comfier embrace are more enticing (especially if you have a larger noggin), you’ll certainly be getting your money’s worth. Each has qualities that the other lacks, and while we ultimately recommend the Solo Pros for noise canceling, you’ll be set with a great pair of headphones either way.
When it comes to value, the Soundcore Life Q20s outperformed their price, delivering high-quality noise cancellation and impressive sound quality at a fraction of the cost compared with most headphones in our testing pool.
How we tested
Many of these headphones were included in the testing field for our best over-ear headphone review, where we looked at design, comfort and battery life thoroughly. We also learned every control and listened to a variety of music genres on each device. For this roundup, we overhauled our ANC testing. We wanted to formulate several tests that would examine different properties of ANC, as well as common scenarios like air travel and being in crowds. As we did in our other review, we cross-compared devices frequently.
Check out the category breakdowns below.
ANC (Active Noise Cancellation)
- Pure ANC: We devised four noisy conditions under which to test headphones: sitting next to an active washing machine, running on a treadmill with a loud movie playing, sitting next to a large fan, and playing a soundtrack featuring busy restaurant ambiance (chatter and silverware clatter) on high through nearby speakers. These tests aimed to measure several parameters of ANC. We wanted to determine how well a pair of headphones eliminated bassy, humming sounds. We compared headphone performance to find out how deep sound had to be before a pair could effectively mute it. We also looked at how well the headphones lowered overall sound, which came in the form of more mid-range sounds. On that line, we compared how each device’s ANC reacted to more abrupt mid- and high-frequency sounds that accompany busy environments
- Levels of control: We examined how much control a user has over ANC level. Some devices provide the option to change the ANC strength, either with on-device controls or via a companion app. Others only provide the ability to toggle ANC on and off.
- Transparency: Transparency mode amplifies local sound as opposed to the dampening experienced with ANC. We devised two tests for the quality of transparency mode: snapping fingers a foot away and listening to a news radio 8 feet away. The first test gave us a sense of how much the headphones could amplify sounds in our personal space. For each device, we compared the volume of the snap with transparency on versus its volume without the headphones on. The second test was aimed at how well speech could be heard somewhat nearby. We listened to the radio with each pair on and compared the volume with our experience without them on. We noted whether the words of the radio were intelligible as well.
- Levels of control: We looked into how much control we had over transparency level. Some devices may allow the user to adjust the strength of transparency mode, either via controls on the device or a companion app. Others simply provide a way to toggle transparency mode on and off.
- Battery with ANC: We created a playlist composed of jazz, rock, pop, rap, classical, EDM and other genres, to determine battery life. We used a playlist for each pair that was about two hours longer than their projected maximum battery life. We played them with ANC on at 75% volume.
- Bass: To determine how deep a frequency each headphone was capable of, we listened to “Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish and “Royals” by Lorde. Both of these songs feature deep, intense bass. They also helped us find out how much satisfying bassy kick each pair of headphones was capable of.
- Compression: In audio, compression is used to amplify very quiet sounds and reduce the volume of very loud sounds. Too much compression, however, can obscure higher-frequency tones and muffle deeper ones. In this subcategory, we listened for the right amount of compression. If tones were shrill or we heard audio artifacts like crackling, there wasn’t enough compression. If tones in the higher range felt muted and/or tones in the lower range were muddled, there was too much. We listened for these qualities in “Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish and “Jazz Crimes” by Joshua Redman. The former features extremely deep tones, and the latter features quiet, subtle instrumentals as well as blaring saxophone and drums.
- Soundstage: In audio, soundstage is the feeling of three-dimensional space brought forth by high-quality stereo sound. Great soundstage will allow you to really hear the positions of instruments and vocalists during a song. To test this, we listened to “I’m on Fire” by Bruce Springsteen and “Neon Lights” by Molotov Jukebox. Both songs feature instrumentals with distinct 3D positions and vocals that make you feel like you’re on stage with the artists. This is one category where cross-comparison was especially important, as we wanted to find out the extent to which different headphones presented this three-dimensional effect.
- Overall: This subcategory combined bass, compression and soundstage notes. Aside from observing and rating the headphones’ performance in each of those separately, we also noted how well these aspects came together to produce the overall listening experience. We noted call quality here, too, looking for quirks like echoes, voice crispness and background noise. We listened to “Let Me In” by Snowmine and “Might Be Right” by White Reaper, songs that are particularly busy (as in full of different instruments, vocals, subtle beats and bass) to get a broader view of how the above subcategories worked together.
- Build quality: We examined the quality of what each device was made of, as well as how the pieces fit together. On that line, we took a look at overall design and figured out what we liked best visually. To test build quality, we flexed the headband as far as we could safely go and looked into what material held the whole pair together. We also checked whether the ear cups could fold inward and took a look at the button quality, if buttons were present. Finally, we factored in bulkiness and weight.
- Ear cups: We kept the headphones on for at least an hour at a time to determine whether the ear cups created any tightness. We also determined whether they were comfortable enough to forget we were even wearing them after a time.
- Headband: As we wore the headphones, we also determined what kind of pressure, if any, the headband applied. We noted headband flexibility here too, as well as whether the headband would fade from our notice as we wore them.
- Overall comfort: We combined our comfort-related notes and determined whether discomfort arose elsewhere, like in the area where the headband and ear cups meet.
- Controls: We learned and tried out the controls on each device to determine if they were easy to learn. We wanted to know how intuitive it was to control playback, calls, volume, Bluetooth pairing and toggling features like ANC. We noted here whether there was a narrator voicing the controls we selected and providing information like remaining battery life.
- Bluetooth connectivity: We measured the latency of controls between the headphones and device with which they were paired. We also determined how quickly the headphones reconnected to a previously paired device after being turned on. Finally, we tested whether a pair of headphones could be connected to more than one device.
- Companion app: The more control an app provided, the better score it received. Some apps could, for example, display battery life, adjust ANC or even allow you to select and create custom sound profiles. Some were more basic.
- Ports: We determined whether the ports on each device functioned properly.
- Controls off-device: We combined Bluetooth connectivity and companion app notes here, as well as determined which smart assistants could be synced up with each device, if any. We also checked if any included AUX cables had a control box on them. If so, we determined how much control it provided.
- Usage time: We repeated the test under “Battery with ANC” from the ANC category, instead playing each device with ANC off at 75% volume.
- Quick charge: To look at this advertised feature, where headphones receive a large amount of battery in a short amount of time, we first checked whether the device provided this feature at all. Then, among those that did, we compared which headphones gained the most battery in the shortest amount of time.
- Overall: We combined the notes above, looking to find out how good a device’s battery life and quick charge were to give us an overall score.
- Warranty: We looked into what warranty/warranties each device came with. Warranties that lasted longer or were more numerous scored better.
How we rated
We scored each pair of headphones based on its performance under each subcategory. The combined scores of the subcategories add up to a category’s total maximum score. We weighted sound quality a little more than ANC because, as important as ANC is, a pair of headphones should put out good sound first and foremost. See below for a breakdown of this point system.
- Sound quality had a maximum of 40 points: bass (10 points), compression (5 points), soundstage (5 points) and overall (20 points).
- ANC had a maximum of 35 points: pure ANC (10 points), levels of control (ANC, 2 points), transparency mode (10 points), levels of control (transparency, 2 points), battery with ANC (6 points) and overall (5 points).
- Features/usability had a maximum of 30 points: controls on-device (5 points), Bluetooth connectivity (5 points), companion app (5 points), ports (5 points) and controls off-device (10 points).
- Design had a maximum of 25 points: build quality (10 points), ear cups (5 points), headband (5 points) and overall comfort (5 points).
- Battery had a maximum of 20 points: usage time (10 points), quick charge (5 points) and overall (5 points).
- Warranty had a maximum of 5 points: Warranty (5 points).
Notably, most of our non-ANC scoring was compiled during the testing for our over-ear headphone review. This was done price-blind. That way, the cost of a pair of headphones wouldn’t bias our ratings. Once the final scores were tallied during this and the previous review, we laid in price to determine the value each pair provided.
The most important subcategory to determine our best ANC and runner-up categories was pure ANC. We wanted to concentrate on which device put out the absolute best ANC experience. We also kept in mind its quality in other categories. If a device had great ANC, but scored poorly in another category, we would rethink that device for our recommendation. At the end of the day, our top choices need to be good headphones as well.
For best value, we looked into the pricing of each model. We then compared price to pure ANC score, once again factoring in other categories to make sure the recommendation stood well enough on its own outside of ANC capability.
Everything else we tested
Beats Studio 3 Wireless, Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700, Bose QuietComfort 35 II, Jabra Elite 85h
Beats Studio 3 Wireless ($249.95, originally $349.95; bhphotovideo.com)
The Beats Studio 3 Wireless headphones put out ANC that eliminated a decent amount of deep sound and dampened sound volume well in general. Their ANC is comparable to that of the Bose QuietComfort 35 IIs, but still a ways off from the Beats Solo Pro and Sony WH-1000XM3s. At the same time, the Studio 3 cans beat out the Jabra Elite 85hs on sound quality by several points while falling behind on comfort. They also look terrific, both in terms of structure and color options.
Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700 ($299.95, originally $399.95; bose.com)
The Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700s ranked third on pure ANC. Scoring one or two points below the WH-1000XM3s in our tests, these headphones mute a lot of the deeper hums that accompanied our test conditions. They also excel at reducing overall volume, almost as much as the Sony cans. With the Bose Music app, you can customize ANC and select favorites from 10 different levels. A button on the left cup can be used to switch between three selections, as well as toggle transparency mode. You’ll also enjoy these headphones’ crisp and clear playback with stronger bass than that of the Beats Solo Pros, as well as better comfort. In fact, they scored best in comfort in our over-ear headphones review.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II ($299.95, originally $349.95; bose.com)
The Bose QuietComfort 35 IIs tied the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2s on pure ANC, except these headphones differed, reducing deeper sound better but dampening volume to a lesser degree. They also received exactly the same sound quality score as the Beats Solo Pros, producing quality playback while suffering somewhat on bass. Their simple design is balanced by comfortable, lightweight construction.
Jabra Elite 85h ($249.99; amazon.com)
The $249.99 Jabra Elite 85h cans found themselves a hair above the Bose QuietComfort 35 IIs in ANC performance. While the differences were marginal, the Elite 85hs primarily outperformed the QC 35 IIs and BackBeat Pro 2s in volume control. On the sound quality side, the QuietComfort 35 IIs won out with better compression, but similar stats in other fields. The design of the Elite 85hs is rather bulky without many visually distinguishing features. They did, however, win “best for working out” in our over-ear headphone review, in large part thanks to their great control setup.
Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2, Beoplay H9, Bowers & Wilkins PX7, JBL Live 650BTNC
Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 ($142.40, originally $199; amazon.com)
The Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2s scored above average on ANC. Their performance was quite solid, eliminating a decent range of bassy sounds that accompanied our tests. And while they didn’t match our top devices’ volume control, we were still impressed. Their sound quality was closer to the average, featuring crisp playback, but lackluster bass. We did enjoy the build quality overall. These headphones feature a unique volume dial, and they’re pretty comfortable too, albeit less portable than many on our list, seeing as they don’t fold in at the cups.
Beoplay H9 ($500; bhphotovideo.com)
The $500 Beoplay H9s outperformed the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2s by a small margin on most of our ANC tests and would have tied with the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700s had it not been for their single-point lag on our crowd ambiance test. Generally, these performed better at lowering overall volume, and, on certain tests, could eliminate a larger range of bassy sound. In terms of sound quality, they were well above average, with call quality being their only weakness. And like the Beats Studio 3s, these headphones are beautifully constructed and designed, but lose out on comfort.
Bowers & Wilkins PX7 ($398.98; amazon.com)
The $398.98 Bowers & Wilkins PX7s scored above the Bose QuietComfort 35 IIs but below the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700s. Like the 700s, this device took a more balanced approach to ANC by doing well at both bass elimination and overall volume management. And while they didn’t put out as crisp a sound as the winners on this list, they matched the Sony WH-1000XM3s on bass performance. On the design front, they are somewhat comfortable, losing the most traction on the headband. They also sport a seamless, minimalistic design that some will enjoy and others may find unexciting.
JBL Live 650BTNC ($199.95; jbl.com)
The $199.95 JBL Live 650BTNCs took a dive on ANC, eliminating few to no deeper tones in their entirety. They also sported poor volume control, to a point where it appears their performance has worsened with time. On sound quality, these did quite well, with decent bass that beat the Beats Solo Pros. The only issue was compression, which scored below the winner and runner-up. The 650BTNCs have a quality feel to them in addition to giving off a professional vibe. They’re not the best comfort-wise, however, scoring similarly to the Beoplay H9s.
Sony WH-CH710N, Tribit QuietPlus, JLab Studio ANC Wireless
Sony WH-CH710N ($199.99; amazon.com)
The $199.99 WH-CH710Ns were a step up from the JBL Live 650BTNCs in terms of pure ANC. They improved upon both deep sound cancellation and volume reduction. Still, they performed significantly worse than the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2s at the same price point, let alone the ANC winners. Sound quality was decent, almost tying with the Bose QC 35 IIs. Build quality and comfort were some of the lowest on this list. These headphones feel cheap on both hand and head.
Tribit QuietPlus ($79.99; amazon.com)
The $80 Tribit QuietPlus cans generally performed a little worse on ANC than the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2s. They simply did not eliminate as many deeper frequencies or control volume as well. Still, they did better than the more expensive Sony WH-CH710Ns, though they lack a transparency mode. On sound quality, we experienced decent clarity and vocals, but with ANC on, bass was greatly diminished. Call quality also suffered a lot of echo and choppiness. Overall, these headphones were pretty comfortable but felt cheap in their construction.
JLab Studio ANC Wireless ($59.99; bestbuy.com)
The $60 JLab Studio ANC Wireless headphones were just below the Soundcore Life Q20s on ANC quality. They eliminated a nice range of deep, bassy sound, slightly outperforming the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2s on this and volume control alike. However, this device suffered greatly on sound quality, with flat playback and weak bass. In fact, when listening to “Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish, we experienced static-like audio artifacts when the bass got very deep. From a design standpoint, these headphones are very light and pretty comfortable. They feature a unique design, with a metal wire-frame structure connecting the headband and cups.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailers’ listed prices at the time of publication.