This article is a top 15 list and buyers guide for the best noise-canceling headphones on the market in 2021. We provide a number of options different useful features and options for every budget.
One of the most common questions we get asked is what are the best noise-canceling headphones? Just like with any of our other buyer guides the answer is never straightforward. A lot of what will be the best headphone comes down to your budget, the styling, and the features. It makes it very hard to recommend just one.
I have updated this list for Winter 2021 to incorporate more great-sounding ANC headphones that have been released over the past year. A lot of the models here were also included in last year’s buyer guide because they are still very good options and have come down significantly in price. We only refresh them if a model has been updated or another significantly worthy headphone has entered the marketplace and replaced them.
If you came here wanting to know what the best headphones and earbuds are this year we really hope this list helps. However, if you want more of our in-depth thoughts on a particular set, or you want to know how they compare to each other in real-life situations please don’t hesitate to drop us a comment. We will get back to you with a personalized recommendation as soon as possible.
If you are looking for noise-canceling earphones then you can check out our list of the best noise-canceling earbuds which cover the topic in more depth.
Best Noise-Canceling Headphones Compared
LIST OF THE CURRENT 15 BEST NOISE-CANCElLING HEADPHONES OF 2020
Sony WH-1000XM4 – Best Sony ANC Headphone
- Best Noise Cancelling performance you can buy
- Outstanding App support with many custom options
- Best sound quality in an ANC headphone
- They look incredible
Review of the Sony WH-1000XM4
The XM4 is the new flagship and Sony has yet again proved why they are the kings of this category. The noise-canceling performance has been increased and is stronger than ever while still allowing users a huge amount of flexibility in tuning it to their own tastes from within the app.
The sound quality was already great since the XM2 but things have been improved again with less distorted lows and a very detailed midrange. As always with a Sony, you do not get the sucked-out hollow feeling you find on many cheaper brands.
Build quality is a step up with a new metal piece adding rigidity to the headband section. Finally, Sony managed to make the XM4 slimmer and more low profile than ever before and they look as good as they sound.
The only downside is that they are expensive but if you are someone who uses ANC headphones a lot then there are no better on the market right now.
Click here to read our full review of the Sony WH-1000XM4
Bose 700 ANC Headphones – The Best Bose headphones
- The most comfortable headphones on our list
- Amazing noise cancelling
- Top notch aesthetics
- Typically more expensive than Sony
Review Of the Bose 700
Bose controlled the market for a long time and was by far the most popular noise-canceling headphones of all time. Their QC35 was seen in every airport around the world and was revolutionary when released. The problem was that Bose created such good headphones that they kind of sat back and let other companies start to catch up and surpass them while sales of the QC were still strong. By 2019 things had started to turn and Sony started to take a significant chunk of their market share. It was time, Bose released a new flagship simply called the 700.
The 700 series is a complete redesign of the Bose headphones. A thorough and complete overhaul to a headphone line that was becoming dated and boring. The stark new rounded headband and futuristic lines took people by surprise but the more I see them the more handsome I think they are.
Along with the revisions to the styling, Bose produced their best noise-canceling tech to date with a strong performance in all our tests. They upped the amount of noise reduction along with making the headphones better at isolating the wearer thanks to a superior fit system.
Really it’s the fit and comfort that makes the Bose stand out. These are some of the most comfortable headphones I have ever worn. They are light, perfectly padded, and have just the right amount of clamping force.
It really is hard to choose between the Bose 700 and Sony WH-1000XM3. Both headphones are the best in the category and if you are choosing between the two it really comes down to a combination of price and styling. Both will reduce unwanted noise as well as anything else on this list and both are recommended options in the premium categories.
Sony WH-1000XM3 – Premium noise-cancelling headphones
- Class leading noise-cancelation
- Excellent sound quality
- Lots of features and functionality
- Succeeded by the WH-1000XM4
Review of the Sony WH-1000XM3:
After months of testing, we finally released our lengthy and in-depth review of the Sony WH-1000XM3 noise canceling headphones. To say I was impressed is an understatement and the Sony WH-1000XM3 has quickly become my favorite noise-cancelling headphone ever.
This is the headphone that I use more than any other and it is just so competent in every area that it’s extremely hard to criticize especially when it can usually be found much cheaper than its closest competition the Bose 700.
It has excellent battery life that will provide days of listening with the ANC turned on and the ability to quick charge in just 10 mins for an on-the-go top-up is incredibly useful for people who travel a lot and have limited time between flights.
The Sound is very good and completely devoid of that sucked-out feeling you get when listening to other noise-cancelling headphones. You get some really detailed and smooth mids coupled with tight punchy bass. They just don’t sound like a set of ANC cans and to date are the best sounding of all the options.
The build has been refined and there doesn’t seem to be a failure issue with the headband that plagued the original model. They are foldable and come with a carry case that allows them to be safely stored when not in use.
The refinements to the aesthetic design are also a much-appreciated improvement and now the XM3 are instantly recognizable with a classy yet understated design. Previous generations looked and felt a little cheap but now we can happily put these in the “premium consumer” category.
Finally, the XM3 is so crammed full of tech you get more useful functionality than any other headphone on the market in 2020. There is an app to adjust sound quality, noise-cancellation strength, and much more.
These are no-brainers if you can afford them and were our number one rated headphone of 2020 in the overall categories.
Bose QC35 II – Comfort and Silence
- Still very good headphones despite being passed by the 700 series
- Extremely Comfortable
- Siri and Google Voice compatible
- Still available yet no longer Bose flagship
- Sony XM3 will offer better performance for less money
Review of Bose QC35 ii
Until the Sony WH-1000M2 came out the Bose QC35II was the best noise canceling headphones on the market. Even though I think Sony slightly edges them out on the performance side of things Bose still reigns supreme in terms of comfort slightly behind the new 700 flagships.
These are a massive step up for the old Bose QC25 the 35’s have some vastly improved sound quality and are one of the best ANC systems on the market. The new II version is essentially the same as the original 35s but has an integrated google/Siri assistant button built-in.
Again this is a similar case as with the WH-1000XM2 that they were so good for so long the 2nd tier competition is only just catching up to the performance of the QC35ii. For that reason and the fact the price is currently so low, these are well worth recommending to our readers as a solid mid-priced option in 2021.
The battery life is solid, the warranty and after-sales support are great and they are one of the lightest and comfiest headphones on this list.
Read our full review of the Bose QC35ii.
Bower & Wilkins PX7 Headphones – Style and Class
- Gorgeous Design
- Excellent Build Quality
- Class matching sound quality
- ANC performance very good but Sony and Bose still clearly ahead
Review of Bower & Wilkins PX
Bower and Wilkins are known best for their high-end speaker line but their entry into the noise canceling headphone market in 2018 really challenged the big names of Sony and Bose.
If I had to give any headphones on this list the best-looking headphone award this would be the one. The way they sit flush to the head and the sweep of the headband means that even though they are full-size headphones they look far better on the head than you might expect. They are also available to buy in two color options
Outstanding styling and build quality are matched with top-of-the-range class and noise canceling prowess to try to match the big 2. A great headphone even if the price takes it out of most people’s consideration. I would categorize the PX as a luxury headphone as the quality and finish is a step above the Bose and Sony even if they don’t quite match them in performance.
Sennheiser PCX 550 – Solid all rounders
Review Of Sennheiser PCX 550
Sennheiser needs no introduction in the headphone world so it’s no surprise they have a few offerings at various price points in the noise canceling headphone segment. The PCX 550 are the companies flagship travel ANC headphones and whilst not able to compete with the big three listed above they do represent great value for money.
Just like with most other Sennheiser headphones the PCX 550 has a good build quality that is matched up with lots of comfort. In fact, these were some of the comfiest headphones we tested and whilst the ANC is just a shade behind the Bose and Sony headphones they do an excellent job of removing background noise.
If I am being honest you should buy one of the other three models if you have the funds but if the price is your concern these are the leaders in the second tier.
POLY Backbeat Pro 2 – Best Bang for Buck
- Surprisingly strong ANC performance
- Cheaper than Bose and Sony
- Look Good
- Not Quite flagship level
- Not available in many high street electronics stores
Plantronics (POLY) has gained a solid reputation in the audio world for offering a lot of value for money throughout their headphone lines. They are a company well versed in audio equipment and cater to professionals and industries in the headset market. By all accounts, their recent ventures into the consumer headphone market have also been a success.
The Backbeat Pro is no exception. If you are looking for all the top-end features but don’t want to pay through the teeth for them then these are well worth checking out. They have a host of options like inbuilt assistant functionality for Siri and Google, a customizable control app, and touch control functionality.
Noise canceling is great but not class-leading. Able to drown out most unwanted noise but struggling with more infrequent sounds. The Comfort level from the earpads is right up there with the best but we found them to be heavier than other companies’ flagship headphones.
For the price, they represent amazing value for money as well as excellent sound and build quality.
Jabra 85h – Best of the rest
Im placing the Jabra 85has the 3rd best current consumer-grade flagship headphone for noise-canceling. If you want all the features of the Sony XM3 and Bose 700, are happy for a touch less refinement, and want to pay about half the price on retail the Jabra is a phenomenal headphone.
The thoroughly modern design caught my eye right away and despite being slightly bulky on the head the 85h have the amazing build quality and modern sleek lines that make them feel like they belong in the premium category. However, they are priced the same way as the mid-priced headphones on this list. Make no mistake they are definitely premium.
Noise-canceling strength was excellent especially on flights and I liked that they also have the adaptive function that matches your surroundings and makes them great to use on public transport or in the city.
Battery life is mind-blowing. I flew from the UK to Vietnam onwards to hong kong and back to the UK again on a single charge. Had I not made it I was happy to know they have a fast charge function that gives 5 hours use from just 15 minutes of charge.
Something not to be overlooked was that the 85h won out Bluetooth range test with about 1.4m extra distance between it and the next best headphone. You really don’t need to stay close to your smartphone with these headphones for a good signal.
Finally, the Jabra’s also won out the microphone test with the quality of the calls being notably higher on these headphones. However, that is something we expected from the start given Jabra’s pedigree as an earpiece manufacturer.
Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless – A Classy Option
My vote for the best-looking set of noise-canceling headphones goes to the Sennheiser Momentum ANC Wireless.
If I didn’t already own a set of QC35 then I would be picking these up right away. They are built like tanks and have a real premium feel to them thanks to the companies use of metal and leather.
Sound as you would expect from a set of premium Sennheiser headphones is excellent.
AKG N60 NC – One for the travellers
If you are after a set of on ear headphones and the Fiil Diva aren’t quite your cup of tea then I suggest the AKG N60.
AKG are like the Sennheiser of Asia and one of the most trusted and respected headphone brands in the world.
One of the best bang for buck headphones on this list they not only isolate well but they sound great with punchy deep bass and detailed mids.
These headphones won us over with their excellent built quality and the fact that they fold flat to make for easier transit when not in use. A solid option if space is at a premium.
SHure Aonic 50
Shure Aonic 50 Review
Shure is one of the most renowned audio companies with years of experience in the professional side of the business. While they’re in-ear monitors have found a lot of relevance in consumer markets their full-size headphones have long been overlooked.
The Aonic 50 is the first attempt by Shure to crack the market so heavily dominated by Bose and Sony. While it falls short it is still a great effort for a newcomer in the segment. Our main issue was with the size of the headphones and the fact that they cannot fold up as small as a Sony. However, the noise cancelation ability is good and the sound is great.
In my honest opinion, I would only consider the Aonic 50 if they were discounted from the RRP price and below that of the Sony and Bose flagships. One thing is for certain that if Shure can refines this model in future models I think they will have a lot of success.
Sony WH-1000XM2 – Still great headphone and can be found on discount
- Strong ANC with no hollow sound effect
- Performed great in battery tests
- Foldable design makes them compact and easy to carry when not in use
- Uses micro-usb to charge
- Not as refined as Bose 700 or WH-1000XM3
Sony WH-1000XM2 Review
While the Bose QC35 were the kings of comfort Sony have murdered them with everything else and ultimately it was this headphone that finally pushed Bose to release a new flagship. The WH-1000XM2 is Sony’s feature-packed Noise-Cancelling flagship that has now been super-ceded by the aforementioned WH-1000XM3. Don’t rule them out though because these headphones were so far ahead of their time that other manufacturers are still playing catchup. The good news here is that if you are looking for a bargain you can still find lots of XM2’s for sale for around 1/2 to 2/3 of what they originally sold for.
The performance of the noise canceling is simply incredible and I have to admit a step ahead of the Bose QC35II. They also have insanely good sound quality for a set of ANC headphones. Then there are the touch controls, ambient adaptive noise, and a custom app. Battery life is around 24 hours from a charge and of course, they have a quick charge feature.
On the negative side they do lose out to the latest generation Sony and Bose headphones in terms of performance but then again they do 90% of the job while costing way less. Although not current flagships the XM2 might just be the smartest buy in this space right now.
A very unusual design for a headphone but one that works very well and sounds fantastic. The principle of the Nuraphone is that we all hear things differently so we should be able to tune our headphones to perform for our individual needs.
They include an app that allows users to modify the performance of the sound resulting in a very cool effect on the presentation with an unmatched sense of space.
The build quality was very good although I don’t like that they cant be folded when traveling. However, they are very lightweight and comfortable on the head.
An unusual choice but one company that has excited me with its entry into this market.
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H8
Whilst we were left feeling massively underwhelmed when we reviewed the B&O H9 earlier this year the same cant be said for the brilliant H8.
The premium feel shines throughout these headphones with outstanding build quality and materials and the sound is very good. The only thing holding them back from top marks is a poorly integrated touch control system.
The H8 falls into the line of fashion and luxury product headphones so you are paying a bit more for the name and build quality than you would with the Sony or Bose.
The SonicSolace are the best budget noise canceling headphones by a long way. I just can’t understand how such a good headphone with so many features can be priced so low.
The design is excellent in that it mimics the style of the Master and Dynamic range or luxury headphones and the build quality was far higher than expected. You get touch controls, Bluetooth, and ANC that actually works. The surprising thing is that it sounds just a few generations behind current flagships and while not adaptive it manages to block out significant amounts of external sound.
If you are someone who doesn’t want to spend too much money for the benefits os ANC or someone who only needs it when traveling this is the perfect set that won’t break the bank without compromising on features.
What are noise-canceling headphones?
Noise-canceling headphones are different from noise-isolating headphones in that they use technology to actively try and cancel unwanted external noise. They use a series of chips, algorithms, and microphones to capture the unwanted noise and play an opposing sound wave in real-time to effectively cancel out the noise.
Isolating headphones are different. They try and reduce the external volume by blocking that sound via insulation. They use a combination of padding, enclosed design, and a pressurized seal against the head to reduce noise but not actively cancel it.
Both styles of headphones can be very effective at reducing the number of decibels that reach your ears from intrusive sources. Noise-canceling headphones are better than regular headphones when you are dealing with prolonged and consistent noises like airplane engines and crowd noise. For that reason, they are one of the most common headphones sought by commuters and travelers.
For more information about the technology you definitely want to read this article about how noise canceling headphones work but if you are just here for a list of the best headphones this year then keep reading below.
Where do ANC headphones work best?
Headphones with ANC, contrary to popular belief, do not cancel out all external noise. They work to reduce consistent and predictable noise. This makes them perfect for flying as the algorithm can latch on to that consistent hum of the engines and block it out almost entirely. However, if someone is to suddenly shout or drop something you are probably going to hear it because the cancelation algorithm cant catches up in time to implement a canceled sound wave.
Without a doubt, the best use case for ANC headphones is when you are traveling. As mentioned above flying is one place where this type of headphones truly excels. In truth, these headphones will be a great addition if you decide to take a train or a bus and they are also great at reducing city hum.
Another use case where people find ANC to be extremely beneficial is in the office where noisy co-workers can be distracting but easily drowned out.
Frequently Asked Questions About Noise Cancelling Headphones
Do Noise-canceling Headphones Work Without Music?
Some of them do but it depends on the manufacturer. Many brands take the lack of music input signal as a queue to turn the headphones off to conserve battery life. We recommend you check before purchasing if it’s possible to use the headphones with noise-canceling only.
Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Damage hearing?
No, they do not and in practice, they could actually be safer to use than regular headphones. The biggest factor to if headphones or speakers damage your hearing will be down to how loud you play your music.
Many people already listen to music that is far beyond safe levels. This is something that gets exacerbated when there is a lot of external noise. If you are hearing a lot of noise in your environment the natural reaction may be to raise the volume to compensate. ANC headphones remove that external noise so you are less likely to increase the volume as a response.
Do ANC headphones block out voices?
If someone is next to you and speaking one on one then you will most likely still be able to hear what they are saying. It may sound a little muted or distorted but for the most part, you should be able to follow a conversation.
If you are talking about the collective voices of groups of people in a large room, hall, or office then yes this should be blocked out or at least reduced.
The reason for this is noise canceling headphones more successfully cancel consistent noise in set frequency bands that with more erratic direct speech. If someone is speaking to you the sounds are less predictable and therefore harder to tune out for the algorithm.
This does have advantages in cases where someone is trying to get your attention. Similarly in a busy city, you might not hear the rumble of traffic but you would hear a horn blast.
Do I need Noise Canceling Headphones?
By far the most common question we get asked in regards to this technology. The answer is totally dependent on how and where you listen to music. If you are going to be in any place with a lot of external noise. In cities, offices, airplanes, airports, cafes and even libraries you will get a great benefit from using noise-canceling headphones. You will find yourself less fatigued and more relaxed at the end of the day.
If you are someone who works or lives in an environment with little ambient sound around I would suggest you get a set of audiophile headphones and enjoy the music.