TV and Audio

Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones in 2021

best noise canceling headphones


When you put on a pair of headphones, do you hope for total and complete noise isolation so you can listen to your audio without distraction? Are you looking for the best way to drown out the noises of loud, busy environments while still being able to travel and work with convenience? If you’re looking for headphones that reduce background noise, you’re going to need to find the best noise-cancelling headphones with high-quality performance and a comfortable design.

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Last update on 2021-11-22 // The links above are affiliate // Images from Amazon

How to Choose the Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Why choose noise-cancelling headphones over other types of headphones? A reliable pair of noise-cancelling headphones can be a great investment that will bring you years of enjoyment, no matter what type of lifestyle you have.

  • Work: If you’re someone who frequently travels for work, there’s a good chance that you’ll need a pair of noise-cancelling headphones that can help you focus and be more productive, even in crowded or loud environments.
  • Music: Whether you’re musicians or you just enjoy listening to your favorite tunes undisturbed, a pair of noise-cancelling headphones can bring out the sound of your music while minimizing the annoying noises from the world around you.
  • TV and Movies: Whether you’re on a plane or in the comfort of your own home, having noise cancelling headphones can make your movie and TV watching experiences much more enjoyable and captivating – no more having to rewind to figure out what the characters are whispering about!
  • Gaming: For a truly immersive gaming experience, you’ll need the best noise-cancelling headphones with microphone capabilities and great battery life so you can get the most out of your games without having to turn down the volume.

If you’re wondering how to choose the right noise-cancelling headphones for your needs, you’ll need to consider price, comfort, connectivity and overall quality.

Comfort, Features and Extras

Comfort: Wearing uncomfortable or ill-fitted headphones can lead to listening fatigue, rending you sore after wearing the headphones for too long. When using a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, you want them to be comfortable enough to wear for extended amounts of time. The cups need to be well ventilated with breathable material so that you don’t get sweaty ears. Depending on their form factor (in-ear, over-ear or on-ear), weight and shape may also be an important factor in overall comfort as well as portability.

Features: A popular and very useful feature, particularly for people with busy lifestyles, is quick charging. The best noise-cancelling headphones will only need to be charged for short periods of time, such as 5 to 10 minutes. Other features may include an inbuilt microphone to make or take calls and downloadable smartphone applications that you can use to enhance listening. Finally, the high-end canceling headphones will have practical and easy-to-navigate touch controls to quickly play, pause and skip your listening material.

Extras: Manufacturers always try to add some extras, including a high-quality carrying case to store your headphones while you travel. Not only will a compact carrying case make your headphones more portable, but it can also help extend the overall lifespan of your headphones by helping to reduce wear and tear. While not always necessary, many quality headphones also come with various cables and adapters, such as airplane adapters, for added convenience.

Sound Quality

What exactly makes a pair of headphones “noise-cancelling”? Noise-cancelling headphones are headphones specifically designed to reduce or eliminate ambient or background noises. The sound quality of noise-cancelling headphones can be the same as other types of headphones, with a focus on active noise control (commonly referred to as ANC). As part of this active noise control feature, some noise-cancelling headphones produce a static-like noise while they’re turned on. This will generally be most noticeable when no audio or music is playing, but the impact on overall sound quality can vary. Generally, decent noise-cancelling headphones will have noise isolation features that far outweigh the idle white noise that ANC can produce.

One of the biggest advantages to noise-cancelling headphones is the fact that you don’t have to turn them up to ultra-high volume in order to drown out background noises. This can potentially improve the sound quality of the audio you’re listening to while dueling reducing the possibility of damaging your hearing. Without the need for constantly having your headphones turned up to the highest volume, you can experience health benefits by opting for noise cancelling headphones over other alternatives.

Battery Life and Connectivity

When it comes to buying wireless devices, the battery life is often one of the top features to consider. Without a power running to your wireless headphones, there would be no ANC.

Good headphones will have a battery life of at least 10 to 20 hours. Some high-end devices can even have 30 hours of performance before needing a charge. If you plan on using your noise-cancelling headphones frequently, you’re going to want to look for headphones that are rechargeable or capable of being used while wired.

Most ANC headphones are wireless and connect via either Bluetooth or Near Field Communication (or “NFC” for short). Of the two, Bluetooth is more readily available on the vast majority of devices, such as smartphones, TVs, laptops and tablets. Bluetooth also has a much larger range of connectivity with paired devices compared with NFC.

When it comes to making your headphones run as long as possible, NFC uses up a lot less battery life and may help extend how long you can listen to your audio. Unfortunately, NFC is much slower than Bluetooth; it may also have difficulty playing larger files, such as high-quality music files. Many of noise-cancelling headphones can have both Bluetooth and NFC functionality so you can use your headphones according to what works best for your preferences.

Active and Passive Noise Cancelling

If you’re looking at the world of noise-cancelling headphones, you’ll need to investigate passive and active noise-cancelling. These are the two types of noise cancellations that headphones use to isolate sounds.

Passive noise cancellation works by blocking out noise from the outside world through the actual, physical design and material of the headphones. Most of the time, the “donut” or headphone cup is completely enclosed.

Active noise cancellation uses electronic technology to cancel out the noises around you. The headphones detect the sounds around you using a microphone on the inside of the cup. It then produces its own sound wave which is exactly opposite of the noise that the microphone picks up. This is then sent to the headphone’s speaker where the noise isolation actually takes place.

Active: Active noise cancellation requires power to work. If you turn off or unplug the headphones (essentially removing the battery or power), then the ANC will no longer function. You will only have the passive noise cancellation to help block out the noise.

Passive: Passive headphones will usually cost less than ANC headphones, but their effectiveness depends entirely on the materials that are used in the construction of the headphones as well as the design of the cups.

Which One is Better: While the active noise cancellation feature comes at a premium price point, ANC headphones work much more efficiently at cancelling out noise than passive headphones. Additionally, they do not have to be playing audio to have the ANC. This means you could use your noise-cancelling headphones to block out sounds from the world around you in different scenarios, like a busy workplace or on an aircraft, without listening to actual audio. It all comes down to your needs for noise cancellation and how much you’d like to spend; investing in a quality pair of noise-cancelling headphones is likely the better choice if you consistently use headphones on a day-to-day basis.

Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Bose QuietComfort 35 Series II

Elegance, Comfort, and Silence

bose quietcomfort 35 series ii
The QuietComfort 35 are dubbed as being the most powerful noise-cancelling headphones from Bose yet. With an elegant and comfortable design, Alexa voice command integration, and a battery that offers up to 20 hours of continuous play, the story looks complete. However, Bose brings the icing on the cake with their revolutionary 3-level noise cancellation system.

The sound, noise cancelation, and other settings can be adjusted using the Bose Connect app that can be downloaded, for free, from the App and Play stores. With the app, the headphones are a fantastic audio system that offers the intimacy you want, regardless of location.

The sound quality is just as revolutionary, with a good bass presence and clear, crisp high notes. Furthermore, when paired with an easy to wear design and premium quality materials, the end result can’t be anything else than stellar!

Pros:
  • Padded headband for long-term wear
  • Premium materials
  • Impressive sound quality
  • 3-levels noise cancelation
  • Bose Connect app for increased control
  • Integration with Alexa
  • 20h battery life
Cons:
  • The mic picks up environmental noise during calls
  • Slight pressure due to ANC
  • Sound can be a bit muffled

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Sony WH-1000XM4

Industry Leading Noise Cancelation

Sony WH-1000XM4
The Sony WH-1000XM4 are generally viewed as a Bose killer in terms of noise cancelling technology. And truth be told, for a bit less than $300 you’ll end up with industry leading noise cancelation, as well as long battery life, long-time comfort and the possibility to connect to two devices at once.

Doesn’t sound bad at all, right? Here’s the deal: the WH-1000XM4 are the fourth iteration of the 1000X line, and little has changed in terms of design. The body is made of high-quality plastic, build quality is impeccable, and the headphones weigh a mere 254 grams. It’s true that these babies do not feel as premium as other metal/carbon fiber competitors out there, but we have no complaints.

The ear cups are excellently padded and they offer an even/gentle pressure on the side of your head, while the leatherette headband sits neatly on your dome, making it easy to forget that you are wearing headphones even after hours of listening. Battery life is rated at 30 solid hours with ANC on, and Bluetooth 5.0 takes care of connectivity issues; you also get a multipoint connection feature, which means you can connect 2 devices at the same time, i.e. you can connect your laptop to listen to your favorite tracks, and the smartphone for taking calls.

Speaking of calls, there are no less than 5 microphones to pick up your voice, and the noise-canceling technology is some of the best we tested. Using the Sony app, you can personalize the ANC thing take into account various things, like ambient sound modes, focus on voice and so on, and there’s even an adaptive sound control feature that will automatically adjust the noise-canceling level based on your current environment.

Bottom line, these headphone are rock and roll, as they look good, they’re supremely comfy, they sound fantastic and support multipoint Bluetooth 5 for connecting two devices at once, as well as high-res music with the LDAC format.

Pros:
  • Industry leading ANC
  • Excellent SQ
  • Lightweight comfort
  • Long battery life
  • Ambient modes
  • Foldable/repairable
  • Solid app
Cons:
  • Average call quality

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Shure AONIC 50

Premium Build Quality & Sound

shure aonic 50
From the heavily padded leather headband, cushioned earcups, and stainless steel arms to the adjustable ANC module, the AONIC 50 headphones scream quality. The padding combined with the ANC ensures your privacy even in crowded areas, but there’s also an Environment mode that allows you to hear the outside world with the flip of a switch.

The headphones support BT 5.0, for more reliability and have a range that goes up to 30ft. Furthermore, you can pair them with any compatible wireless device from phones and tablets to TVs and speakers. In addition, the headphones are designed with a premium built-in amplifier that supports multiple codecs such as Qualcomm aptX, aptX HD, aptX Low Latency audio, Sony LDAC, AAC, and SBC.

They are solidly built and can withstand transportation due to the flat-folding design. Also, they’re not just for music. You can use them for voice calls, voice commands, and more via the buttons on the earcup. And you get all of these, without wires, for about 20h on one charge!

Pros:
  • Solid build with premium materials
  • Impressive sound capabilities
  • Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity
  • 20h battery life
Cons:
  • They are a bit heavy for long-term wear
  • There is some bass distortion when the volume is turned up

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Sennheiser PXC 550-II Wireless

Modern ANC Module & Foldable Design

sennheiser pxc 550-ii
Easily foldable and adjustable, the PXC 550-II headphones from Sennheiser are easy to carry around (especially if you have the special case). But that’s not the only reason why so many people love to have them on while on the street, on the commute, or on a plane!

The 550-II headphones come with an intuitive Adaptive Noise Cancellation module that matches the noise around and actively adjusts itself to provide the best listening experience without any disruptive noises.

Of course, they’re also easy to wear due to the padding on the ear cups and headband. And, since they are an over-the-ear design, the cushioning also helps with isolating you from the noise.

The surface of the earcups is touch-sensitive and you can use several gestures to control what’s happening with your audio experience. Also, you can chat with your favorite voice assistant, whether it’s Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri. This is possible due to the built-in triple microphone array.

Now, what about the quality of sound? Well, since it’s a Sennheiser product, it’s already understood that you won’t be disappointed. The sound is clear and rich, hitting all the right notes.

Lastly, you will not experience any drops in the Bluetooth connectivity and the battery is supposed to resist for up to 30h on one charge. Also, you have access to the Sennheiser Smart Control App, which is pretty good for making small adjustments.

Pros:
  • Foldable design with a case for easy transport
  • Reliable BT connectivity with a good range
  • The ANC module is useful in many situations
  • Comfortable to wear for long periods of time
  • Connects with voice assistants
  • Touch-sensitive controls on the earcup
Cons:
  • The low battery warning is annoying
  • The Sennheiser Smart Control App could be better
  • It’s easy to forget they are ON

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AKG N60NC Wireless

Ideal for Travelling

akg n60nc wireless
A compact design, ANC, and wireless build are the best factors for traveling headphones. The AKG N60NC headphones have all these and feature the detail and balance of superior studio-quality sound!

Furthermore, they fit nicely on flat surfaces and have a foldable design that protects the sensitive parts of the design from getting damaged while in your purse or backpack. Not to mention the carrying case, which ads value to the product.

The headphones are equipped with the latest technologies (AptX and AAC technology) that guarantee sound quality, regardless of connection type (wired or wireless). Also, the ANC module is ideal for shutting down the noise of the outside world, whenever you feel like it.

And you don’t have to worry about being left high and dry; the battery is designed to last for up to 15 hours of playtime (with BT and ANCE turned on) and 30 hours with just the ANC on. Of course, they also work in passive mode, and the quality is just as good!

Pros:
  • Comfortable fit
  • Foldable design & carrying case
  • Controls on the earcup
  • Elegant and durable materials
  • Amazing battery life
  • Work in passive mode (wired connection)
  • Solid build
Cons:
  • Controls on earcups are a bit flimsy
  • No auto power off feature

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Apple AirPods Max

The Perfect Headphones for Apple Fanboys

Apple AirPods Max
If you’re into Apple gear, the AirPods Max are the perfect headphones by definition, and you should stop reading now and go buy them. For normal people though, the AirpodsMax can be described as among the best sounding headphones ever tested, and we’re not kidding either.
On top of that, they’re incredibly easy to use, as all Apple products by the way, and the ANC technology employed by the Cupertino based company runs with the best in the business (read Bose 700 and Sony XM4).

There are some downsides about the AirpodsMax, especially for Android users (there are some limitations), and, obviously, the high price may discourage many people on low budgets. However, if you already own an Apple smartphone, and have a lot of money to spare, the AirPods Max are a match made in heaven for you.

So, here’s the deal: for something like $500 give or take, you’ll end up with the brilliant quality of life features, as expected from the Apple ecosystem (provided you also own an iPhone), and extraordinary audio quality from an over-the-ear design.

So, yeah, these headphones score big where it really matters, i.e. in the SQ department. Sound quality is arguably the best thing about the Airpods Max, and they can easily compete with the XM4 due to their crisp trebles, immersive and wide soundstage, powerful bass and smooth mids.

ANC is also superbly implemented, and even the design of these headphones is unique, well thought and ergonomic, with flat/large earcups built from hunks of stainless steel. Everything looks and feels (and is) high quality, in that unmistakable Apple manner, with an emphasis on functionality and simplicity.

Pros:
  • Stellar SQ
  • Impeccable build quality
  • Fantastic design
  • Fabulous user experience
  • Superb extra features for iOS
  • Solid ANC
  • 20 hours autonomy
  • Spatial Audio for movies
Cons:
  • The “magic case” sucks
  • Crazy expensive

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Bowers & Wilkins PX7

Fine-Tuned by Experts for your Comfort & Enjoyment

bowers wilkins px7
The PX7 headphones are quite impressive as they pack big drivers (43 mm) for the best possible sound quality on wireless devices. As expected, the sound is clear and powerful, rich in notes, and with accurate spatial representation.

When combined with the adaptive noise-canceling technology, you get to experience musical or audio bliss right in the middle of a crowded street or train. And, when you want to check in with reality, all you have to do is lift one ear cup and the music will stop. Put it back on and it will resume like nothing happened.

A 30h battery life and the possibility to connect two simultaneous devices at the same time make these some of the most impressive ANC headphones on the market. We should also mention that their structure is made from a carbon fiber compound that makes them lightweight and durable.

Pros:
  • The headphones respond to your moves
  • Lightweight & durable structure
  • Good battery lifetime
  • The ANC module is quite efficient
  • The sound quality is really good
Cons:
  • The fine-tuning app can be a bit difficult to master
  • They are a bit pricey

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Jabra Elite 85h

Ideal for Work & Fun Times

jabra elite 85h
The design of the Jabra Elite 85h speaks about elegance and comfortable fit, and the technology tells you the story of a wide soundstage, with powerful bass and good representation across the spectrum (due to the 40mm speakers).

They fit well in both work and casual settings, and the SmartSound technology takes the guesswork (settings wise) out of your hands. They also connect with the Jabra app, for those users who want to have full control over the sound experience.

ANC is advanced and manages to cut most of the outside world’s disturbing noises, but HearThrough kicks in whenever you need to pay attention. These technologies are backed up by a 36h battery and a fast charging feature (you get 5 more extra hours with just 15 minutes of charging).

If you’re looking for a pair of headphones that also work for calls, you’re in luck! With six out of eight built-in microphones dedicated to enhancing call quality and eliminate background noise, you can join in work conferences, talk to friends and family, and more.
Finally, they are water and rain resistant and all the internal components are nano-coated to reduce interference from dust.

Pros:
  • Comfortable fit
  • Elegant design
  • Impressive sound quality
  • Superior phone call quality
  • Water and rain resistant
  • Can be paired with the Jabra Sound+ app
  • Connects with Voice Assistants
  • Long battery life
Cons:
  • The charging cable is short
  • The price point is a bit high

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Sony WF-1000XM4

Best True Wireless for Android

Sony WF-1000XM4
To make a long story short, the Sony WF-1000XM4 are close to perfection, as they manage to incorporate solid battery life, excellent sound and industry leading ANC technology in an under $300 package, which is nothing short of impressive considering the alternatives.

The ANC thing is so good that it’s almost comparable to over-ear headphones. Audio quality is also impressive, being refined generation after generation, and there are key features included in the XM4 omitted in the XM3 gen, like an IPX4 rating (sweat/water resistance).

So, if you’re looking for the absolute best in terms of noise-canceling technology in truly wireless earbuds, it doesn’t get any better than the XM4s. If you need evidence of how good the XM4s are, Google “best wireless earbuds” and you will find them on most lists.

They aren’t perfect but they are really good. The sound is natural from the single very well-tuned 6mm driver, as the headphones have a nice wide sound stage, rich lows, present mids, and nice crisp highs. Sony is only offering one premium Codec with these and that is their very own LDAC. There is no AptX HD/Adaptive here, but you’ll get LDAC, AAC, and SBC. In order to really get the most out of these, you’ll have to upgrade to a service like Tidal, for example, that will put out LDAC audio.

The Sony app is highly customizable and it allows you to control everything, including ANC levels, ambient sound levels, EQ, and more. You can also manage your personal assistant, and if you are an Alexa fan, she is built in and works really well. Google and Siri also play well here, and after all’s said and done, it just depends what you prefer.

Pros:
  • Excellent sound quality
  • Fantastic ANC
  • Comfortable
  • Robust app
  • 8 hours autonomy
  • Wireless charging case
  • Quick pairing
Cons:
  • Finicky touch controls

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Apple AirPods Pro

Enjoy Your Music in Public (Discreetly)

apple airpods pro
The Apple AirPods Pro assures a good fit in your ear, without any tugging or heaviness. The earbuds are sweat and water resistant, and users have access to several ear tips for a customized fit. Not to mention the easy connection with Siri, who is at a voice command distance.

Even though they’re small, the AirPods Pro is equipped with an advanced Active Noise Cancellation module that works wonders in combination with the natural seal provided by the tip. There’s also a Transparency mode that lets you listen to the world around without having to remove the earbuds. The mode can be easily activated with a press and hold movement on the right earbud.

The sound is rich and clear due to an ingenious combination between the H1 chip, a high dynamic range amplifier, and a custom speaker driver. Also, the adaptive EQ is set to automatically tune audio to the shape of your ear. This means that everyone will have a unique experience.

Lastly, the buds have a good battery life of about 4.5h on one charge, and about 24h with the wireless charging case.

Pros:
  • Sleek & elegant design
  • Impressive sound quality
  • Good ANC with Transparency mode
  • Up to 24h battery life with the charging case
Cons:
  • The battery drains pretty quickly
  • No volume controls on the earbuds

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Sennheiser Momentum 3

The Perfect Headphones for the Modern Adult

sennheiser momentum 3
Momentum 3 from Sennheiser are some of the most impressive noise cancelling over-the-ear headphones on the market.

First, the design is very chic and trendy, which is not easily achievable with this type of headphones. You can wear them on the street, in the bus or plane, or at the office without looking like you’re carrying an extra head (most over-the-ear designs are bulky). Also, we love the stainless steel headband that’s both perfectly designed to provide just the right squeezing force and looks amazing.

Due to the big and padded ear cups, there is a very efficient passive noise filtering. But, for those moments when you want some peace and quiet, they also have a well-designed ANC module that keeps most of the surrounding noise outside (with the possibility to switch to Transparency).

The sound quality is, of course, impressive with accurate and rich bass, mid-range, and treble representations. To control the audio content, volume, and other actions, there are some button controls on the left earcup that are easy to find and use. Lastly, the headphones remember their last connection and automatically pair with the device if they can find it.

Pros:
  • Modern-looking design
  • Auto On/Off and Smart Pause functions
  • Impressive sound quality
  • Fine-tuning with the Sennheiser Smart Control app
  • Good battery life (around 17h)
Cons:
  • You need to be careful during transportation (no flat-folding design)
  • The joint that keeps the folding mechanism working is sharp

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Microsoft Surface Headphones 2

Enjoy the Exquisite Surface Experience

microsoft surface headphones 2
True to their brand, the Surface Headphones 2 are sleek, extremely comfortable, and look so amazing on your head that you’ll see people turning their heads on the street!

But they’re so much more than a pair of gorgeous headphones! The sound is specially designed to make you feel wrapped in a bubble that’s perfectly customized to your needs. The ANC has 13 different levels, and you can crank up the volume or turn it down using the dials on the ear cup, with a smooth gesture.

You also have touch controls for voice calls, music control, and you can easily connect it with your Surface computer or tablet. Lastly, the battery lasts for up to 20h of full-time play on one charge (there’s also quick-charge).

Pros:
  • Amazing design & feel
  • Very comfortable
  • Touch-sensitive controls
  • Adjustable ANC module
  • Good battery life
Cons:
  • The sound needs to be customized out of the box
  • You can’t turn the ANC off

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Purchasing a pair of noise cancelling headphones, earbuds or an MP3 player can be an intimidating investment. Choose wisely and balance your wants for style with your needs for function!

About author

TheTechLounge editorial team consists of versatile tech enthusiasts. Each of us specializes in the specific area (from photography to virtual reality).
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