The 9 best deals on noise-canceling headphones we’re seeing for Black Friday

Noise-cancelling headphones
Enlarge / A handful of the wireless noise-canceling headphones we’ve tested in recent months.
Jeff Dunn

Black Friday has started its attack run, which means it’s a good time to be in the market for a new pair of headphones. More specifically, a good set of noise-canceling headphones always seems to be in high demand during the gift-getting season. But if you’re not sure which to buy, let us help you grab a good deal.

I’ve reviewed many wireless noise-canceling pairs for Ars over the past few years, from in-ears to over-ears, and some of the better options I’ve used happen to be on sale during the Black Friday barrage. Below are a handful of these top discounted recommendations, including picks from Sony, Apple, Bose, and more.

Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

Sony's WH-1000XM4 noise-canceling headphones.
Enlarge / Sony’s WH-1000XM4 noise-canceling headphones.
Jeff Dunn

The Best for Most: Sony WH-1000XM4 for $248 ($330) at Amazon, Target, Best Buy

I’ve recommended them in multiple guides and deal posts since they launched last year, but to my ears, Sony’s WH-1000XM4 are still the most well-rounded pair of wireless headphones for most people. This deal has been active for much of the past month, but it matches the lowest price we’ve tracked.

For noise cancelation (ANC), the XM4 do better than most pairs I’ve tested at blocking out lower- and mid-frequency noises like the hum of an air conditioner or the rumble of a jet engine, and they’re unusually effective at reducing higher-pitched sounds like nearby voices. The latter makes them particularly convenient for the office (or home offices with especially chatty housemates). Note that the ANC turns off whenever you take a call, though.

The headphones themselves are comfortable and well-padded, and they don’t clamp down too hard on larger heads (such as my own). They have a professional, if not particularly showy, aesthetic and a durable design that’s flexible and can fold up for easier storage. A useful carrying case comes in the box.

They have a few genuinely useful perks, too. An optional “speak-to-chat” mode in the app can automatically pause your music whenever you start speaking to someone, and a “quick attention” feature momentarily lets you hear ambient noise when you put your hand over an earcup, which can be useful for catching quick announcements. The ambient sound mode performs well, and the headphones can connect to two devices simultaneously.

They aren’t perfect: their sound profile out of the box goes a bit heavier on the bass than some might prefer (though Sony’s companion app has an EQ tool to customize this to be more neutral); their microphone quality is just OK for calls; and they don’t allow you to adjust the strength of their active noise cancelation (ANC)—a feature found on other high-end pairs like Bose’s Noise Cancelling Headphones 700.

I prefer physical control buttons to touch controls, but swiping and tapping on the XM4’s earcups to adjust volume, accept calls, and skip tracks is more reliable than not. Battery life is excellent at more than 30 hours per charge—the specific length will vary depending on how loud you play your music—and the headphones recharge over USB-C. It’s also possible to use them passively through an included cable, though you won’t be able to take calls in that mode.

Apple's AirPods Max noise-canceling headphones.
Enlarge / Apple’s AirPods Max noise-canceling headphones.
Jeff Dunn

A Pricier Upgrade: Apple AirPods Max for $429 ($490) at Amazon

If money is no object, and you’re an iPhone user, the AirPods Max might be a better buy than the WH-1000XM4. They sound better than any other wireless headphones I’ve used to date, even without a customizable EQ tool. There’s a slight bass boost—a trait I personally enjoy—but the sound signature is exceptionally clear, accurate, and detailed. (To be clear, the audio quality of any wireless headphones still can’t match the best wired pairs.)

To my ears, the AirPods Max also do a better job canceling low- and mid-frequency noise than any other headphones I’ve worn. Voices and high-pitched sounds still come through a bit clearer than they would on the Sony XM4, but most everything else is markedly reduced. The ambient sound (or “transparency”) mode is superb as well, making outside noises sound crisp and relatively natural alongside your music.

The headphones have an attractive design and an aluminum finish that’s cool to the touch. They’re heavier, and thus a little less comfortable, than the Sony or Bose pairs in this roundup, but they feel premium. The multi-function “Digital Crown” dial, similar to what you’d see on an Apple Watch, makes controlling volume and playback a breeze. The included mics work well for phone calls, and battery life is decent at a little more than 20 hours per charge. Apple also offers a battery replacement service for $79.

There are a few strange design choices. Oddly, there’s no power button. Instead, you have to put the headphones into an included “case” to activate a low-power mode. I put “case” in scare quotes because it’s barely protective, acting more as an earcup cover than anything else. Apple doesn’t include a 3.5mm cable in the box, either, and even if you pay for an adapter, you won’t be able to listen to music if your battery dies. The Max also can’t connect to multiple devices at once, nor can they fold up. Like all AirPods, they’re best used with other Apple devices. They aren’t as convenient to pair with Android or Windows, and they lack certain settings controls on those platforms.

The AirPods Max are also really expensive, with an MSRP of $549. This Black Friday deal brings them down to the best price we’ve seen, but even then, they’re not cheap, which is why we think the XM4 are close enough in quality to be a much better value. But if you’re an iPhone user, and want the best audio quality and active noise cancelation possible, the AirPods Max should make for a swanky gift.

Bose's QuietComfort 45 noise-canceling headphones.
Enlarge / Bose’s QuietComfort 45 noise-canceling headphones.
Jeff Dunn

Most Comfortable: Bose QuietComfort 45 for $279 ($329) at Amazon, Target, Best Buy

The Bose QuietComfort 45 are worth considering if you prioritize comfort above all else. This deal matches the best price we’ve tracked.

These headphones distribute their light weight well, with a low clamping force on the head, just the right amount of plush padding, and earcups that give even larger ears ample room to breathe. They are greatly pleasing to wear for hours-long commutes or long workdays.

They have a more neutral sound than the XM4 by default, and they use reliable physical controls instead of touch inputs. The integrated mic is superior for calls, too. Their ambient sound mode is effective, if not world-beating, and they support multi-device pairing. But their noise canceling, while good for most needs, isn’t as capable as our top picks. They’ll last a little over 20 hours until they need a charge, which is a good ways less than the XM4. They also lack a handful of the useful features that set Sony’s pair apart: there’s no customizable EQ, no auto-pausing when you take the headphones off your head, and nothing like the XM4’s “speak-to-chat” function. They also come with a 2.5mm cable for wired listening, which is more of a pain to replace if lost.

None of this makes the QuietComfort 45 a bad headphone by any means, but you have to really want the lightweight design and more balanced default sound.

As an aside, the QuietComfort 45 is one of two premium noise-canceling headphones in Bose’s lineup. The other is the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, which aren’t on sale at the moment. They share most of the same shortcomings when compared to our top pick, the XM4.

Bose's QuietComfort 35 II noise-canceling headphones.
Enlarge / Bose’s QuietComfort 35 II noise-canceling headphones.
Jeff Dunn

Bose QuietComfort 35 II for $179 ($275) at Target, B&H, Amazon

The QuietComfort 45’s predecessor, the QuietComfort 35 II, is still worth considering if you’re looking for something more affordable. The story here is similar to the one above: the QuietComfort 35 II is supremely comfortable and has a more neutral sound profile than Sony’s pair, but it lacks many of the XM4’s more useful features, and its battery doesn’t last as long. Compared to the QuietComfort 45, the older pair’s build quality isn’t as nice, its microphone quality isn’t as clear, and it lacks an ambient sound mode. It also charges over an ancient Micro USB port.

Nevertheless, the QuietComfort 35 II’s noise canceling is still highly effective—though not as much as the XM4—and some of its omissions are more acceptable at this deal price, which matches an all-time low.

Apple's AirPods Pro noise-canceling true wireless earphones.
Enlarge / Apple’s AirPods Pro noise-canceling true wireless earphones.
Jeff Dunn

Apple AirPods Pro for $159 ($205) at Amazon, Walmart

They’re a couple of years old, but if you’re looking for an in-ear pair of noise-canceling headphones, Apple’s AirPods Pro remain a top choice. They sound great for their form factor, with a profile that doesn’t overemphasize any one frequency range and generally sounds accurate. While its active noise cancellation isn’t as strong as the over-ear pairs above, it’s more effective than most wireless earbuds I’ve tried.

An accompanying ambient mode sounds crisp and clean as well. They’re superlight in the ear, with a highly portable wireless charging case and IPX4 water resistance. And like all AirPods, they pair easily and support a range of bonus features (“Find My” tracking, “Hey Siri” voice controls, fast device swapping, et al.) with other Apple devices.

If you don’t own an iPhone, though, many of those extra perks go out the window. The AirPods Pro’s “force sensor” control panels aren’t the most intuitive either, and the earphones’ mic quality isn’t great. Continuous battery life tops out at five hours per charge, which is on the lower end for quality wireless buds, though the case holds about five full recharges.

This deal marks the lowest price we’ve tracked, so if you’re fully living in Apple World and prefer the true wireless design, it’s a good value. That said, I’m currently in the process of testing the new Beats Fit Pro, which promise many of the same benefits of the AirPods Pro, only with a sportier, more compact design and a more bass-forward sound profile. That pair isn’t currently on sale and retails for $200, but it’s worth a look. Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds are discounted at $200, though I haven’t been able to test those yet.

Sony's WF-1000XM4 noise-canceling true wireless earphones.
Enlarge / Sony’s WF-1000XM4 noise-canceling true wireless earphones.

Sony WF-1000XM4 for $248 ($278) at AmazonTargetBest Buy

Sony’s WF-1000XM4 is another compelling in-ear option that’s down to the lowest price we’ve tracked. This pair’s ANC is comparable to that of the AirPods Pro, with even greater effectiveness in the higher-frequency range. Their sound profile is heavier on the bass by default, but they still sound nice for those who enjoy that kind of thing. The earphones have the same IPX4 water resistance rating as Apple’s pair, and they support a number of features from the over-ear WH-1000XM4, including “speak-to-chat” auto-pausing and a customizable EQ. Battery life is excellent for earbuds at roughly 10 hours of continuous playback.

All told, this is a good choice for non-iPhone users willing to pay for a higher-end pair of true wireless earphones. Just note that they might be a tight fit for smaller ears, since the earpieces are somewhat large.

Jabra's Elite 75t noise-canceling true wireless earphones.
Enlarge / Jabra’s Elite 75t noise-canceling true wireless earphones.
Jeff Dunn

Jabra Elite 75t for $80 ($135) at Amazon, Target, Best Buy

While Jabra technically replaced them earlier this year, the Elite 75t is an excellent option for those looking for a more affordable pair of true wireless noise-cancelers at this deal price. Jabra added ANC functionality to these earphones through a post-launch firmware update, so they’re not as capable of muting outside noise as models built with the tech in mind, particularly when it comes to lower-end rumbles. Still, the noise canceling is strong enough to be useful in more casual surroundings.

The real appeal is in its ultralight and compact design, which makes it one of the most comfortable in-ear headphones I’ve tested. The earphones do well to stay in place while on the move, and with an IP55 water-resistance rating, they’re a little better-suited for workouts than the Apple or Sony models above. The one-button control scheme on each earpiece is relatively straightforward, and the whole package comes in a diminutive charging case that’s especially easy to transport. Battery life is sufficient at seven hours of continuous playback, and call quality is solid as well.

Out of the box, the Elite 75t has a “v-shaped” sound signature that emphasizes the bass and treble by default. It’s solid, but not as impressive as what you’d get from the pricier Apple or Sony pairs. Jabra’s app does let you customize the sound to your liking. I would recommend you pony up for one of the models above if you prioritize ANC or audio performance, but the Elite 75t are a good pick for less than $100. This discount matches the best price we’ve tracked.

Beats' Studio Buds noise-canceling true wireless earphones.
Enlarge / Beats’ Studio Buds noise-canceling true wireless earphones.
Jeff Dunn

Beats Studio Buds for $100 ($145) at Amazon, Target, Best Buy

For an alternative near this price range, the Beats Studio Buds are worth a look at this deal price, which marks a new low. As we noted in our review earlier this year, the Studio Buds’ sound profile is more mellow and measured than the Elite 75t’s default signature, and the earphones are even more lightweight and compact in the ear. They also pack many (but not all) of the iPhone-friendly conveniences you’d get from the AirPods Pro.

Their ANC, while fine, isn’t as effective as the Pro, their mic quality is worse, and they lack ear detection for auto-pausing content when they’re removed from your ear. Nevertheless, they’re a good option for iPhone owners looking to spend about $100.

Beats' Solo Pro noise-canceling on-ear headphones.
Enlarge / Beats’ Solo Pro noise-canceling on-ear headphones.
Jeff Dunn

Beats Solo Pro for $99 ($150) at Walmart

If you want noise cancelation in an on-ear design, the Beats Solo Pro are worth considering at this all-time lowest price. Their noise canceling is plenty respectable—though not as good as Sony, Apple, or Bose—and the headphones come with the same set of user-experience conveniences you’d expect from an Apple headphone. Audio quality is up to the mark as well: the profile here definitely bumps the bass, but not to the extent you might expect from a set of Beats cans. Battery life clocks in between 20-25 hours, and the foldable design is both stylish and sturdy.

Most people looking for noise-canceling headphones should still grab one of the over-ear pairs above since the Solo Pro’s on-ear form factor can’t naturally isolate the ear from as much outside noise. The mic quality also isn’t the best, and those with larger heads may find this pair to clamp down somewhat tight over time. But for those who wear glasses and/or just can’t seem to make any pair of over-ears fit, the Solo Pro is a worthy compromise at this price.

Anker's Soundcore Life Q30 noise-canceling headphones.
Enlarge / Anker’s Soundcore Life Q30 noise-canceling headphones.
Jeff Dunn

Always a Good Value: Anker Soundcore Life Q30 for $80 at Amazon

If you’re looking to pay even less for an over-ear pair, the Anker Soundcore Life Q30 is my current recommendation for a wireless noise-canceling headphone under $100. Its sound profile has a massive bass boost by default, though it can be customized through a companion app. While its ANC isn’t as strong as any of the over-ear pairs above, it’s effective enough, which is more than I can say for most other headphones in this price range. It also lasts longer than 40 hours on a charge, which is tremendous. This pair isn’t any cheaper than usual as of this writing, but if you’re on a particularly tight budget, it’s worth a mention.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *