The 5 best noise-cancelling headphones in 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Great noise-cancelling headphones don’t just block noise – they also sound good and are comfortable.
  • Sony’s WH-1000XM4 are our top pick thanks to their excellent performance and features.
  • For more headphone recommendations, read our roundup of the best headphone deals.

Headphones with active noise cancellation are a little different from normal headphones that physically block out noise with padding. Instead, they have a microphone that picks up noise around you, and the headphones play a sound opposite to that noise to block it out. It’s a pretty neat concept that has given rise to tons of noise-cancelling headphones that are great for travel or simply getting a bit of peace and quiet.

There are a number of things to keep in mind when buying a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. For starters, you’ll want to consider whether you want over-ear, on-ear, or in-ear headphones. You’ll also want to decide on a budget. After all, adding noise cancellation to a pair of headphones also generally adds to the price tag. We’d also suggest you consider whether you want a wireless or wired pair, but the trend in noise-cancelling headphones is almost entirely based on wireless Bluetooth technology.

There’s also the fact that not all noise cancellation is created equal. With that in mind, we’ve researched and tested several noise-cancelling headphones in order to pick the very best models.

Here are the best noise-cancelling headphones you can buy:

The best noise-cancelling headphones overall

sony wh1000xm4

Sony’s WH-1000XM4 headphones offer the best balance of sound quality, noise cancellation, and comfort for the money.

Pros: Comfortable, long battery life, excellent noise cancellation, great audio quality, incredibly effective sound customization

Cons: Default sound is muffled and lacks highs and clarity, app is utilitarian and not super intuitive

The Sony WH-1000XM4 are meant to be a high-quality pair of headphones for “most people” to enjoy their music rather than audiophiles. With that in mind, they handily produce clear and detailed sound. Out of the box, the XM4s favor powerful sound with strong bass at the cost of brightness. However, the sound can be customized via the app, and the XM4s are highly adaptable to your tastes. 

Sony touts an impressive 30 hours of battery life and five hours of listening time from a quick 10-minute charge. Battery life in real life is great — it never feels as if I constantly need to charge the XM4. Comfort isn’t an issue, either, but that’s still a crown that’s held by the Bose 700, albeit by a thin margin.

Noise-cancelling performance is among the best you can find. The XM4s easily quiet home and office environments with mild background noises, and they make travel and commuting significantly more tolerable. They’re especially effective at cancelling out lower frequencies, and they do a better job than most headphones of this type with higher frequencies. 

The XM4s have a few advantages over the other biggest name in the noise-cancelling headphones space — the Bose 700. For one, the XM4s can fold up for better portability. Additionally, the XM4s have longer battery life, and Sony doesn’t use an uncommon cable for wired mode like Bose does. The XM4s are also cheaper at full price, and can often be found with additional deals. 

The best noise-cancelling headphones for calls

Bose 700 headphones in use

The Bose 700 headphones offer impressive phone call quality and upgraded noise cancellation. 

Pros: Unrivalled noise cancellation for phone and video calls, solid audio performance, simple setup, comfortable fit, customizable sound

Cons: Expensive, can’t fold up for more compact storage, uncommon 2.5mm jack for wired mode

For years, the Bose QC 35 II headphones have been widely regarded as one of the best pairs of noise-cancelling headphones you can buy, and while they’re still strong performers, Bose has an even better model on the market. The Bose 700 headphones carry over much of what made their predecessor great, while offering an updated design and improved noise cancellation.

When it comes to noise cancellation, the headphones have 11 levels to choose from. At the max level, the effect is among the best the industry has to offer. During commutes in NYC, the Bose 700s effectively block out all of the subway’s unwanted clatter. The upgraded tech even improves call quality, allowing the headphones to isolate your voice when you speak while blocking unwanted ambient noise. The Bose 700 outperform any other wireless noise-cancelling headphones we’ve tried in this area. 

The Bose 700s offer pleasing performance when listening to music. Bass is a bit subdued and the extreme highs can sound just a little harsh, but for a pair of Bluetooth headphones, the Bose 700s do a great job right out of the box. Bose also offers a customizable EQ option in the Bose Music app that lets you tweak the sound to your desired taste. 

The Bose 700 do have a few weaknesses here and there. The headphones can’t fold up for more compact storage. Additionally, the included cable for wired mode uses the uncommon 2.5mm plug. If you lose the included cable, replacements are more expensive than cables with 3.5mm plugs on both ends.

The best on-ear noise-cancelling headphones

Beats Solo Pro headphones

The Beats Solo Pro headphones look great, have a comfortable fit, and they offer excellent noise cancellation.

Pros: Nice design, more balanced sound compared to previous models, H1 chip for Siri support and easy connectivity with Apple devices

Cons: No USB-C connector

Beats has long built great on-ear headphones in the Solo line, and the Beats Solo Pro are no exception to that rule. They’re well-designed, look stylish, and they offer excellent noise cancellation to help cut down on outside noise.

The Solo Pro headphones provide a slightly different design than previous generations, and it’s a good look. They offer nice rounded lines and a strong build, so with the carry case, they should be more than capable of lasting at least a few years. They work intelligently too — the headphones turn on automatically when you unfold them, and they feature Apple’s H1 chip to work with Siri and connect to all your Apple devices.

The Beats Solo Pro headphones sound pretty great as well. While Beats headphones of years ago largely catered to bass fans, the Solo Pro headphones offer a more refined sound with balanced mids and a decent amount of clarity in the higher frequencies.

The headphones aren’t perfect. Notably, they’re a bit pricey, and they have a Lightning connector instead of a USB-C connector. Still, they’ve gotten great reviews — Tom’s Guide gave them 4.5/5, while MacWorld gave them a still impressive 4/5.

The best in-ear noise-cancelling headphones

Bose Original Photo

The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are among the best true wireless earbuds you can buy with near-unrivalled noise cancellation and a comfortable fit.

Pros: Comfortable fit, amazing noise cancellation, great sound, discreet design, long battery life, case supports wireless charging

Cons: Sound isn’t as good as the cheaper WF-1000XM3, bulky charging case, expensive, poor phone call performance in noisy environments

If noise-cancelling is your priority, then the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds should be at the top of your true wireless earbuds shopping list. 

The QC earbuds come with the reliably excellent sound quality that Bose is known for, but they don’t quite carry the full richness and clarity you’d find on the company’s larger headphones. Still, you get a good balance of bass, mids, and highs. 

As for noise cancellation, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are hard to beat in the wireless earbud world. The QC Earbuds did extremely well in our noise-cancelling test under a noisy highway overpass with a drone that measured 75 decibels. They almost removed the sound entirely, but they’re still susceptible to letting in some higher frequencies. 

The fit is incredibly lightweight and soft, as the rubber tips lay in your ear canal’s opening rather than fitting inside your ear like an earplug. Be warned, however, that they’re not especially secure and not the best for sporty activities. 

Battery life for the QC Earbuds is rated at six hours for the buds themselves. Including two full charges with the case, you can get a total of 18 hours. That’s not the best battery life we’ve seen, but it’s not bad, either. Fifteen minutes of charging in the case adds two hours of listening time. I have no reason to think that Bose is off with its statement.

The best-sounding noise-cancelling headphones

Sennheiser Momentum 3 headphones

The Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless headphones are well-designed and have noise cancellation – plus they’re some of the best-sounding wireless headphones around.  

Pros: Great design, high-end sound quality, comfortable fit

Cons: Expensive, noise cancellation isn’t on par with Bose and Sony

The original Sennheiser Momentum Wireless headphones were some of the best on the market, and now Sennheiser is back with another follow-up. The Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless headphones offer a stunning design with premium materials, and they sound fantastic.

The Momentum 3 Wireless feature leather over the headband and plenty of padding in the ear cups. They’re black-and-silver, which helps make them look nice and professional, and they’re easy to use thanks to the on-ear controls.

Perhaps the best thing about these headphones is how awesome they sound. The headphones offer plenty of bass, a well-tuned mid range, and a ton of clarity and detail in the high end. These are consistently rated as some of the best-sounding wireless headphones, period. The fact that they also have noise cancellation makes them even better. Battery life is rated for about 17 hours, and the headphones use Bluetooth 5.0.

So what are the downsides? Well, namely the headphones are pretty expensive. On top of that, while the noise cancellation tech is good, Sony and Bose headphones are better in that department.

Check out our other headphone buying guides

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How to shop for headphones

Apple Airpods

Headphones come in all shapes and sizes with different types designed to fit different needs. A big pair of over-ear headphones, for example, can provide high-end audio quality for listening at home, but they’re not great for exercise.

Below, we’ve explained some common headphone styles, detailing the key advantages and disadvantages of each type. Wired and wireless options are available for all of the headphone styles we’ve listed.

Over-ear headphones: This kind of headphone has large ear cups that are meant to cover your ears to create a seal around them. Over-ear headphones are known for offering better sound performance and noise cancellation than other headphone styles. On the downside, they’re bigger and less suited for on-the-go listening. 

On-ear headphones:  This type of headphone also features ear cups, but instead of covering your ear with a seal, they simply rest on top of your ears. Though they can still provide good audio, this design makes them less ideal for isolating noise. However, on-ear models can be more compact than over-ear headphones.

Earbuds:  These are compact headphones with individual left and right buds that can either rest just outside your ear canal or be inserted inside. In-ear buds can feature different size tips to better fit different ear shapes, enabling them to create a tight in-ear seal for better sound and isolation. Some earbuds have a wire to connect the left and right buds together, while true wireless models are completely free of cables. 

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The 5 best Bluetooth speakers of 2021 for listening to music outside and around the house

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Bluetooth speakers come in all shapes, sizes, and price ranges.
  • The Sonos Move is our top pick thanks to great sound, reliable voice control, and solid battery life.
  • For more speaker recommendations, check out our roundup of the best speaker deals.

A great listening experience for all your favorite music services shouldn’t be limited by pesky wires. While the days of carrying around a boom box on your shoulder are by and large over, you can still get quality wireless music in the form of a Bluetooth speaker.

Thanks to Bluetooth support, these speakers are able to play music from other Bluetooth-enabled sources, like a smartphone or laptop, without any cables. Whether you’re getting a speaker for use around the house or a day at the park, there’s almost certainly a Bluetooth speaker for you. But there are a number of things to consider before you buy, including size, battery, durability and, of course, sound quality.

With all of those factors in mind, we’ve selected the best Bluetooth speakers you can buy for a variety of needs. Since most people purchase Bluetooth speakers for their portability, all of our picks feature built-in batteries for listening on the go.

Here are the best Bluetooth speakers:

The best Bluetooth speaker overall

Sonos Move

The Sonos Move looks good, sounds great, and offers multi-room audio as well as voice control with Alexa and the Google Assistant.

Pros: Attractive design, integrates with other Sonos speakers, excellent audio quality, Alexa and Google Assistant with Wi-Fi

Cons: A little expensive, a bit heavy

Sonos has long been a leader in the wireless speaker market, and the company now has a Bluetooth-enabled model called the Move. With an excellent design, awesome sound quality, and support for two digital assistants, the Move is one of the most fully featured Bluetooth speakers you can buy.

The speaker offers a ton of bass, coupled with crisp clarity and detail in the high end. That makes it excellent for listening to music. The Move can even be calibrated using Trueplay tuning technology to suit different environments and locations.

The speaker has a charging station where you can keep it most of the time, but it’s designed to be portable too, so you can take it outside or move it around the house. It’s a bit heavy compared to most portable speakers, but it’s nice to have the option. It’s rated for around 11 hours of battery life, so it should easily get you through a day of listening.

Like other Sonos speakers, the Sonos Move is also smart. You can choose to use either Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, plus it integrates perfectly with Sonos’ other speakers, allowing for multi-room audio. 

But what about the downsides? The speaker is a little pricey, and you won’t get access to all of its smart features unless you’re connected to Wi-Fi.

The best Bluetooth speaker for portability

Bose

The Bose SoundLink Revolve+ II is easy-to-use, offers 17 hours of battery, features a convenient handle for travel, and it sounds good, too.

Pros: Good sound, versatile design for portable use outdoors and around the house, long battery life

Cons: A bit pricey, lacks Wi-Fi support

There are a number of things that make the Bose SoundLink Revolve+ II such an ideal portable option, from its great sound to its nice design.

The design is reminiscent of smart speakers, so it’ll look right at home in any tech-savvy person’s house. On top of that, it offers extremely easy-to-use controls, with six buttons located on the top for things like volume and Bluetooth control. Bose also added a handle to make it easy to bring the speaker with you outside or around the house.

We tested the previous-generation model and were impressed by its great sound quality and how easy it is to move from room to room. It delivers ample volume and deep bass without distorting. 

This newer version is nearly identical to the one we tested, but features an upgrade from IPX4 water resistance to an IP55 rating. It also supports an extra hour of battery life for up to 17 hours of play time — the longest of any speaker on our guide. 

The speaker even has some smart features, including Bluetooth pairing with voice prompts, the ability to take calls, and access to Siri or Google Assistant from your phone. That said, the speaker doesn’t have Wi-Fi so it doesn’t support a built-in digital assistant.

The best waterproof Bluetooth speaker

Ultimate Ears Boom 3

The UE Boom 3 is well designed and sounds pretty good, but it’s also water resistant, making it great for use by the pool or at the beach.

Pros: Good sound quality, nice design, waterproof, can float

Cons: High frequencies aren’t as detailed as other speakers

Looking for something that you can take to the beach or use by the pool without fear of it breaking due to water damage? The UE Boom 3 is the way to go. 

The speaker may not sound as robust as the Sonos Move, but it still sounds good, especially considering how small it is. The UE Boom 3 offers decent bass response, along with a well-tuned mid-range, and a solid amount of clarity in the high frequencies. One of the best things about it is that it can also get super loud, which is great for use outside.

It’s relatively small and portable, and it’s available in a range of different colors. On the side, you get buttons for controlling volume, while on the top there are controls for things like Bluetooth pairing and power. 

The UE Boom 3 is built for use near water. The speaker is not only waterproof, but it’s also designed to float, so you won’t have to worry about losing it at the bottom of the pool. The Boom 3 is capable of being submerged in up to 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes, so it shouldn’t break due to water damage.

The best cheap Bluetooth speaker

Anker bluetooth speaker

The Anker Soundcore Flare Mini may be super-affordable, but it still looks and sounds solid for the price.

Pros: Inexpensive, water-resistant, solid battery life

Cons: Sound quality is only decent

Looking for an inexpensive speaker that still looks and sounds pretty good? The Anker Soundcore Flare Mini may well be the way to go. This speaker may carry a budget price, but it still sounds decent and won’t break the bank.

The speaker is designed to look a lot better than other speakers in its price range. It’s a cylindrical design with a fabric covering around the side and controls on the top. Those controls include power, volume, and Bluetooth pairing. There are even LED lights on the bottom, and you can control those lights through five different lighting modes.

The design of the speaker plays into how it sounds too. The speaker can deliver 360-degree audio, so no matter where you are around it, it should sound pretty good. It definitely won’t sound as powerful as some of the more expensive speakers on our list, but it can still get pretty loud and offers a decent amount of bass.

You’ll get 12 hours of battery life out of the speaker, which isn’t bad at all, and it’s water-resistant with an IPX7 rating. 

Considering the price range, perhaps the only real downside to the speaker is that it can’t really match more expensive offerings in the audio department.

The best small Bluetooth speaker

bo beplay p2

The B&O Beoplay P2 doesn’t just sound good and feature a slick design, it’s ultra-compact, too.

Pros: Great sound, very portable, intuitive touch-controls, compact size

Cons: A little pricey for its size, could use more high-end clarity

The B&O Beoplay P2 is the perfect fit for buyers who want an ultra-compact speaker that can easily fit in a backpack or purse.

Now, generally speaking, smaller Bluetooth speakers can be a little hit and miss, but the BeoPlay P2 is a hit. That’s largely thanks to its sleek and stylish design, coupled with hidden and intuitive controls.

For example, you can double tap the speaker grill to play and pause your music, or you can program the speaker through the accompanying app to activate your digital assistant of choice, whether it be Google Assistant or Siri. That happens through your phone because the speaker doesn’t have those assistants built-in.

So how does the speaker sound? You can’t expect studio-quality sound, but it’s not bad. The speaker features mono audio and an impressive bass response for a device its size. The high-end isn’t as responsive, but it’s still not bad. 

What else we considered

JBL Flip 4

Here are other speakers we considered for our guide, and why they didn’t make our top picks.

Other Bluetooth speakers we recommend:

JBL Flip 4: The JBL Flip 4 speaker was recently one of our picks, and it’s still a fantastic Bluetooth speaker for the money. With that said, the less expensive Soundcore Flare Mini includes similar features for a more affordable price, making that model a better overall budget pick. If you’re willing to spend a little more, however, the JBL Flip 4 features a bit more power and better sound quality.

What you should look for in a Bluetooth speaker

bose portable home speaker lifestyle

When shopping for a Bluetooth speaker, there are some key factors you should keep in mind. For instance, a compact model might not be a good fit for someone who wants the best audio quality, while a heavy speaker won’t be ideal for someone who wants to take their audio on the go.

Below, we’ve broken down some main features and design elements you should look into when selecting the best Bluetooth speaker for your needs.

  • Size matters: Generally speaking, larger speakers will be louder, so they tend to be a better fit for parties and gatherings. Larger speakers also tend to have more refined audio quality with better clarity and bass. Of course, size also affects portability. If you’re looking for something you can slip in your bag and carry around easily, then a smaller speaker will be a better choice.
  • Battery life: You’ll obviously want longer battery life if you’re looking for a speaker that can last all day, but sometimes a speaker with shorter battery life will do the job — especially if you plan on being able to charge it often or even while in use. Though all of our picks include batteries, some Bluetooth speakers don’t have charging at all. If you only plan to use your speaker in one room, this isn’t a problem, but if you want portability, a speaker with a battery is a must.
  • Durability and water resistance: Durability is another important factor if you plan on carrying the speaker around a lot. Not only will your speaker last longer if it’s more durable, but it might be a little more versatile, too. For example, you probably won’t want to take a non-waterproof speaker to the pool or the beach.
  • Sound quality: Some may not care too much about how a Bluetooth speaker sounds, but others will want to ensure that they’re getting the best audio performance they can for their money. A single Bluetooth speaker is never going to offer the same quality as a true stereo speaker pair, but high-end Bluetooth speakers from brands like Sonos and Bose offer impressive performance. Again, larger models tend to have better sound, so if audio quality is a priority, you’ll likely want to avoid ultra-compact speakers. 

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