Best noise-cancelling headphones can help you glide into the audio world, whether you’re commuting and trying to escape the noise of traffic and sniffing fellow commuters, on a long-distance flight and have to drown out the sound of screaming children, or want to get away from it all and be comfortable with your preferred music at home.
Noise-cancelling headphones are pure wonders of the modern age because they can completely tune out all the unwanted sounds. While at the same time making your music sound even better than any old pair of in-ear earbuds (except the fantastic Sony WF-1000XM3s, of course).
List of the best noise-cancelling headphones of 2021
The best noise-cancelling headphones overall
The Bose 700 may have more powerful active noise cancellation, but the incredible overall performance and lower price of the Sony WH-1000XM4 make it the best noise-cancelling headphone. Everything that made the WH-1000XM3 a darling of critics remains intact, including the phenomenal soundstage and touch controls for seamless playback and call management.
The ability to personalize audio through the Sony Headphones Connect app is great, allowing you to create your own sound profiles or choose from multiple fine-tuned presets that lend themselves well to almost any genre of music. You also get top-notch ANC, which makes competitors run for their money and lets you enjoy longer playback times than any Bose model with the feature enabled.
Apple AirPods Max
The best noise-cancelling headphones for iOS
Although there is only one level of active noise cancellation on the ultra-premium AirPods Max, it works like a charm. The earbuds do an excellent job of blocking out ambient noise, especially at the lower end of the frequency spectrum. It’s almost as good as Bose’s ANC, which is a fine performance for Apple’s first pair of over-ears.
Elsewhere, the AirPods Max sound great, especially with the spatial surround sound feature enabled, and their design standards and build quality are so high that you’d almost forget that these headphones cost $549. That’s a lot more than the Sony and Bose headphones higher on the list, so this is a luxury goal, but could be very much worth it. Overall, this is one of the best noise-cancelling headphones right now.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
The best noise-cancelling headphones on ANC performance
They don’t quite knock the Sony WH-1000XM3s in terms of lifespan and price, but the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 is still a brilliant pair of over-ear headphones – and the best Bose headphones we’ve reviewed. Traditionally, the best noise-cancelling headphones are designed to block out the ambient noise around you so that you can listen to your music more precisely (or catch a bit of it on a noisy flight). This can be effective when listening to music.
However, if you make a phone call, the person you’re talking to can still hear everything that’s going on around you, whether you’re standing on a busy street or trying to talk on a rumbling train. The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 try to remedy this by applying noise canceling to phone calls and music, which is a great feature. The sound quality is excellent, with a lively, vibrant character and a well-balanced sound image.
If you’re trying to pick between the Sony WH-1000XM3s and the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, we recommend you go for first because of that lower price and better battery life. That said, you wouldn’t make a mistake if you chose the Bose cans rather (and we wouldn’t blame you if you did) – they sound great, look great, and the noise-cancellation is out of this world. Read our Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 Review
The Sony WH-1000XM3 is one of the best noise-cancelling headphones in the world. Sure, they may be a small refinement of last year’s excellent WH-1000XM2, but subtle adjustments such as using USB-C instead of micro-USB and adding padding along the bridge help make Sony‘s award-winning looks even better. For music lovers, the Sony WH-1000XM3 highlights aptX HD and Sony LDAC, two of the best methods to listen to Hi-Res music from your smartphone without wires.
Finally, all Sony headphones offer both Google Assistant and Alexa support, making them not only the best noise-canceling headphones on the market but also some of the smartest. We were able to see the Sony WH-1000XM4 wireless headphones shortly; rumors of an imminent release date have been circulating since an FCC file from Sony revealed the model number of the new noise-canceling headphones. For the time being, however, the WH-1000XM3s are still the cream of the crop when it comes to noise cancellation. Read our Sony WH-1000XM3 Review
Bowers & Wilkins PX7
Plush ANC headphones with immaculate audio
Another high-quality ANC option is the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Carbon Edition. These over-ear headphones have the fine craftsmanship to challenge even the AirPods Max, and they sound superb. A beautifully wide soundstage delivers great-sounding songs, but it’s just as well suited to more detailed, intimate-sounding tracks. There’s no adjustable EQ, but it doesn’t feel particularly necessary, and ANC is also very effective. There’s also a very cool Soundscapes feature that adds various nature sounds, for a relaxing touch when you want to chill out. Overall, this is one of the best noise-cancelling headphones right now.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
Noise cancellation in the true wireless market just got serious
The AirPods Pro may be considered the better model between the two, but we’re talking about noise cancellation here, a category now dominated by the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. Think of these earbuds as the wireless in-ear version of the Bose 700, with much of the same functionality to deliver unbeatable ANC performance, and that’s with half the microphones.
They come with 10 levels of ANC that can be adjusted in the Bose Connect app, which is also combined with an ambient listening mode to be fully aware of what’s going on around you. The sound is warm and clean, but the call quality is the most neglected feature of the product, with excellent clarity on both sides.
Aside from the clunky design (both earbuds and charging case), the only thing keeping Bose’s flagship from perfection is the moderate battery life. A single charge is estimated at 6 hours, but that figure quickly drops to 5 hours when listening modes and heavy streaming are included. The charging case also only offers an additional 18 hours, a major setback when you consider how big it is. Overall, this is one of the best noise-cancelling headphones right now.
The best all round true wireless earbuds you can buy today
Sony is largely responsible for the health of the active noise cancelling wireless earbuds market, and with the WF-1000XM4 the company has combined performance, ergonomics and build quality better than ever before. Compared to their predecessors, the Sony WF-1000XM3, the new wireless earbuds offer enough quality to make them worth upgrading to, even if they are more expensive.
Although other true wireless earbuds surpass the Sony WF-1000XM4 in certain areas – noise cancellation, for example – no other model comes close to offering such excellent quality across the board. That’s why the Sony WF-1000XM4 hands-down are the best wireless earbuds you can buy today. Overall, this is one of the best noise-cancelling headphones right now.
Shure AONIC 50
Shure has finally joined the wireless noise-cancelling party
The Shure AONIC 50 is a wireless, active noise-cancelling over-ear headphone. Sold at a higher price, it competes with Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bose NC 700 headphones. While you won’t find all the features under the sun here, the Shure AONIC 50 ultimately aims to deliver the best sound quality of almost any noise-canceling headphone – making these the best noise-canceling headphones for audiophiles.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II
Smart noise-cancelling headphones for voice assistant diehards
Number four is the Bose QuietComfort 35 II – an almost identical product to the previously Bose QuietComfort 35 but updated with Google Assistant. This means you still get the industry-leading noise cancellation for which Bose is renowned, good sound quality and incredible comfort, plus a handy assistant to answer any questions you might have while traveling. Taken as a combination, the Bose QC35 II NC is an excellent pair of headphones for travelers. Bose has found a good balance of features that will satisfy most mainstream listeners.
Although we don’t like them as much as the better-sounding Sony WH-1000XM2, they are still the top of the class for noise cancellation. Despite the demand of the QC35s, Bose has rocked things up by releasing a completely new model of wireless noise-canceling headphones, with a focus on sleek design and “breakthrough” in audio technology: the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. They may not have caught Sony at the top spot of the best noise-cancelling headphones, but they are still a fantastic pair of over-ear headphones, coming in at number two.
Jabra Elite 85H
Jabra’s noise-cancelling headphones give Sony and Bose a run for their money
The Elite 85h offers class-leading battery life, great style and plenty of personalization when it comes to sound profiles, and is easily recommended. That said, purists will complain about the lack of high-end codec support, and there are punchier headphones on the market at this price point. When you consider that Jabra’s Elite 85h headphones are the company’s first attempt at making the best wireless noise cancelling headphones, the result is very commendable. We can’t wait to see what the company’s next premium ANC headphones will achieve. If you want an alternative to Sony’s WH-1000XM3, this is a great option. Read more in our Jabra Elite 85h Review
Apple AirPods Pro
The perfect earbuds… for Apple fans
Apple’s latest wireless earbuds have active noise cancellation and better fit and sound than their predecessors, the Apple AirPods. At $249, however, they are quite pricey, but they are optimized for iPhone users. The new design means they are much less likely to fall out, and the extra microphones offer strong noise cancellation, as well as a handy Transparency mode, which really lets the outside world in.
The sound quality of the AirPods Pro has certainly improved since the previous iteration – there’s a notable emphasis on vocals and bass, meaning these earbuds are better for pop fans than those who enjoy a more natural presentation that lends itself to classical music or more orchestral sounds.
Apparently, a new AirPods model is on the horizon to join the original buds and the newer Pros. The AirPods Pro 2 are rumored to be a new, cheaper version of the company’s popular true wireless earbuds, and they could be released this year. Overall, this is one of the best noise-cancelling headphones right now.
Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless
Headphones that don’t skimp on smart features
In terms of pure sound quality, the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless headphones sound brilliant, with a high level of detail, warm bass, and natural-sounding treble. The adjustable noise cancelation offered here is also good but does not quite reach the leading standards set by the Sony WH-1000XM3 Wireless headphones. They are far from having the battery life of Sony’s headphones, and are more expensive – which begs the question, why buy the Sennheisers if you could have the WH-1000XM3?
Well, if the built-in Tile-tracking appeals to you, and you like the industrial design and high-quality materials of the Momentum Wireless, then that could be reason enough – and if you choose these headphones over the Sony model, you won’t miss out on any sound quality. As far as that’s concerned, they’re attuned to each other. Overall, this is one of the best noise-cancelling headphones that you can buy right now. Read more in our Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless Review
JBL Tune 750BTNC
Quality noise-cancelling headphones for a great price
JBL is a popular name in the world of headphones and Bluetooth speakers, and rightly so. Solidly reliable, consumers know what to expect from the brand – decent sound quality at a decent price. That’s what we found last year with the JBL Live 650BTNC – and now, poised to take their place are the JBL Tune 750BTNC, a superior successor to the 650BTNCs as a high-spec and well-priced set of over-ear headphones.
The JBL Tune 750BTNC sound great, look great and sit well. Reliable and easy to use, you might miss the waterproofing and a few minor features – but at this price, it feels foolish to complain too soon. Overall, this is one of the best noise-cancelling headphones right now.
Microsoft Surface Headphones 2
Impressive bass and great noise cancellation from Microsoft cans
The Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 are the tech giant’s second pair of noise-cancelling headphones, and they offer a ton of major improvements over the original Surface Headphones, while retaining some of their best qualities. Despite these improvements – including longer battery life and a more comfortable design – the Surface Headphones 2 are significantly cheaper than their predecessors, making them the obvious choice if you’re trying to choose between the two.
That lower price also makes it a good alternative to the best headphones of 2021, the Sony WH-1000XM4, especially since it retains the winning design features of the original Surface headphones, with built-in dials on each earcup to control your music and active noise cancellation. Overall, this is one of the best noise-cancelling headphones right now.
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2
A great Sony WF-1000XM4 alternative
The sound quality, battery life, and design of the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 are really brilliant – and they are really a good alternative to the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, especially if you prefer a more flashy design to adorn your ears. We found that those with smaller ears sometimes find them a bit uncomfortable, however, and their high price just stops them from taking the top spot of this round up.
Otherwise? Sennheiser has pretty much knocked it out of the park with these compounds, offering great noise cancellation alongside smart looking and immersive sound. Overall, this is one of the best noise-cancelling headphones right now.