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

Vmoda

The best over-ear headphones


The best true wireless earbuds


The best cheap headphones

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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