Despite well-established anatomical differences between primary and non-primary auditory cortex, the associated representational transformations have remained elusive. Here we show that primary and non-primary auditory cortex are differentiated by their invariance to real-world background noise. We measured fMRI responses to natural sounds presented in isolation and in real-world noise, quantifying invariance as the correlation between the two responses for individual voxels. Non-primary areas were substantially more noise-invariant than primary areas. This primary-nonprimary difference occurred both for speech and non-speech sounds and was unaffected by a concurrent demanding visual task, suggesting that the observed invariance is not specific to speech processing and is robust to inattention. The difference was most pronounced for real-world background noise—both primary and non-primary areas were relatively robust to simple types of synthetic noise. Our results suggest a general representational transformation between auditory cortical stages, illustrating a representational consequence of hierarchical organization in the auditory system.