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Best noise-cancelling headphones in 2021

best noise-cancelling headphones 2021
(Image credit: Regan Coule/Laptop Magazine)

The best noise-cancelling headphones make it possible to hear our favorite songs, movies, and podcasts in peace and quiet. They are designed to block out the unwanted noise of planes, trains, and colleagues, while delivering unmatched audio, great comfort, and stable battery life. Some even come with smart features that enhance the listening experience on all devices.

Living in an obnoxiously loud world that makes it difficult to hear music the way it was meant to be heard – with sonic precision and free of distractions –is where active noise-cancelling headphones come to the rescue.

Since there are a lot of sound silencers out there, it’s easy to pick a pair you’ll regret spending money on because it either looked cool or was available at a super-cheap price on Amazon. Don’t fall for it. We vetted several of the top brands to find the best options for you. This includes big names such as Apple, Bose, Sony, and Sennheiser, along with newcomers to the category like Jabra, Phiaton, and Samsung.

If you’re looking for some of the best noise-cancelling headphones to pair with your all-new iPhone or laptop, look no further. Let’s get into our top picks.

What are the best noise cancelling headphones?

Right now, the Bose 700 Headphones are considered the No. 1 best noise-cancelling headphones. The company’s latest model has set the new standard for noise neutralization on wireless headphones, featuring 10 levels of adjustable ANC and an eight-mic system that produces superior sound and call quality. These are also some of the coolest-looking headphones available with sleek aesthetics and touch controls to easily operate music playback. If you want something similar, but in true wireless form, it doesn’t get any better than Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, which harnesses the same innovative ANC technology and sound quality as the 700.

A close second on our best noise-cancelling headphones list is the Sony WH-1000xM4. Not only is the latest Sony flagship model the best-sounding pair on the list, but also has remarkable ANC that nearly rivals Bose’s technology. The extended battery life and special features via Sony Headphones Connect app make them an ideal Bose 700 alternative, but more so, an excellent option for music lovers who want to block out the ambient chaos around them. Those who want something similar for a lower price may want to also consider its predecessor, the WH-1000xM3. You should also consider the impressive WF-1000xM3 wireless earbuds for amazing noise cancellation and even better sound.

The Apple AirPods Max is one of the finest-sounding models out there that also provides you with strong noise cancellation, steady battery life, and an eye-catching design. You can expect amazing iOS integration, some of the best call quality in the category, and plenty of special features that elevate sound quality. Another Apple inclusion is the AirPods Pro, wireless earbuds that have set the standard for overall performance in the category, as demonstrated by its dynamic sound, surprisingly good noise cancellation, and unique features like the Ear Tip Fit Test for optimal fit.

Laptop Magazine is keeping tabs on upcoming releases scheduled such as the highly anticipated Sony WF-1000xM4. Nonetheless, there is something here for every type of listener. Here is our ranking of the best noise-cancelling headphones based on performance, style, and purpose.

The best noise cancelling headphones you can buy today

best noise-cancelling headphones: Bose 700

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1. Bose 700

The best overall noise-cancelling headphones

Size and Weight: 8 x 6.5 x 2 inches, 8.8 ounces | Battery Life (Rated): 20 hours (NC on);40 hours (NC off) | Bluetooth Range: 30 feet (10 meters) | Special Features: Adjustable active noise cancellation and transparency modes, customizable EQ, charging case (optional)

Slick, attractive design
Excellent noise cancellation on calls and music
Precise, balanced audio
Smart, intuitive buttons and touch controls
Battery life is the same as older Bose headphones

New design? Check. Enhanced noise cancellation? Check. Stronger specs? Check. Special features? Check. Reasonably long battery life? Check. Great audio performance? Check. The Bose 700 makes the strongest argument for best noise-cancelling headphones by offering all of this and so much more. Granted, noise cancellation is where these wireless headphones really stand out. With 10 adjustable levels, these are, by far, the most powerful ANC headphones that Bose has made to date.

The technology not only works when you're listening to music or podcasts; the eight integrated mics ensure that the sound quality when you're making and receiving calls is just as good as when you're using only your smartphone. Bose also added easy-to-use touch controls and a slick companion app to set your default digital assistant (e.g. Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri) and cycle through ANC levels. While battery life is standard at 20 hours, this is shorter than what most competitive models offer, though you can pick up the 700 charging case for $80 to gain an extra 40 hours and store the cans safely.

Also, anyone working remotely who wants to advance their virtual collaborations can pick up the 700 UC edition, a new model designed to work with third-party cloud services like Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and Zoom.

See our full Bose 700 review. 

best noise-cancelling headphones: Sony WH-1000xM4

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Laptop Magazine)

2. Sony WH-1000xM4

Champion sound paired with excellent ANC

Size and Weight: 9.94 x 3.03 x 7.27 inches, 8.95 ounces | Battery Life (Rated): 30 hours (ANC on), 38 hours (ANC off) | Bluetooth Range: 40 feet (12 meters) | Special Features: Adjustable active noise cancellation and transparency modes, customizable EQ, multipoint technology

Class-leading sonics
Powerful active noise cancelling
Plethora of sound customization options
Longer battery life than Bose models
Finicky touch controls

Our recent face-off feature pitted the Sony WH-1000xM4 against the Bose 700 to determine the true king of noise cancellation, and though it came out on the losing end, it was by an incredibly small margin. Sony’s ANC technology is right up there with Bose’s, employing a series of advanced technologies (e.g. Dual Noise Sensor, QN1 processor, feedforward mics) to block out ambient noise at the highest level. Sound is more bountiful on the WH-100xM4 with the 40mm drivers pumping out emphatic and precise sonics to enjoy music selections from all genres. Adding to its sonic capabilities are the several customization options in the Sony Headphones Connect app to tweak the soundstage to one’s liking, from the adjustable EQ to the multiple presets to Sony’s 360 Reality Audio feature.

The only thing holding back the second best noise-cancelling headphones from perfection are the touch controls, which have a tendency to misunderstand touch gestures and executing the wrong commands.

See our full Sony WH-1000xM4 review.

best noise-cancelling headphones: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

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3. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

The best noise-cancelling wireless earbuds

Size and Weight: 1.54 x 1.02 x 1.06 inches, 0.3 ounces (per bud) | Battery Life (Rated): 6 hours, 12 hours (with charging case) | Bluetooth Range: 30 feet (10 meters) | Special Features:: Adjustable ANC, hybrid transparency mode, Self Voice mode

Best-in-class noise cancellation
Great audio quality
Chic, elegant design
Bluetooth 5.1
Bulky, heavy case

Bose has outdone themselves once again by integrating the same category-leading active noise cancellation as the 700 headphones into these tiny buds. What you end up with is the absolute best ANC model in the true wireless space. Like its over-ear counterpart, the QuietComfort Earbuds grant access to 10 levels of adjustable noise cancellation, three of which can be saved on the Bose Music app, so you can easily cycle through them on the left bud. Bose transferred over its Active EQ technology and proprietary drivers to give these buds a warm, pleasant sound as well. And just when you thought the performance perks stopped there, the QuietComfort Earbuds boast a strong mic array that guarantees best-in-class call quality.

All of that functionality surely requires a lot of battery life to operate, which, sadly, is the QuietComfort Earbuds’ greatest compromise. Users are stuck with playtimes that are barely higher than the regular AirPods. On top of that, the charging case is ridiculously huge and doesn’t hold much portable power either.

Read our full Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review.

best noise-cancelling headphones: Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Carbon Edition

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4. Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Carbon Edition

Elite sound in an eye-catching design

Size and Weight: 3.1 x 6.9 x 8.7 inches, 10.9 ounces | Battery Life (Rated): 30 hours (ANC on), 33 hours (ANC off) | Bluetooth Range: 37 feet (12 meters) | Special Features:: Three-level active noise cancellation, adjustable ambient listening mode, Soundscapes mode

Wide soundstage
Multi-level ANC and ambient listening modes
Lengthy battery life
Prime craftsmanship
Finicky connectivity

Bowers & Wilkins knows all about constructing attractive audio hardware. The PX7 Carbon Edition is exemplary, featuring a handsome design that combines carbon fiber, metal housing, and supple black leather to form one fine-looking set of cans. But this update to the brand’s flagship noise-canceller isn’t just eye candy. The PX7 Carbon Edition pumps out rich, balanced audio, and its ANC can silence a large number of external sounds, despite not being as powerful as Bose or Sony’s technology. Having up to 33 hours of playtime with ANC on is clutch as well, especially for travelers who want to stretch out their listening sessions on international flights.

The lack of an EQ might turn some audiophiles off, though B&W’s default sound profile lends itself well to all music genres. Connectivity can also act up on occasion, resulting in some stutter when streaming music or using the Soundscapes feature. 

Read our full Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Carbon Edition review.

best noise-cancelling headphones: Apple AirPods Pro

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5. Apple AirPods Pro

Practically perfect AirPods

Size and Weight: 2.4 x 1.7 x 0.9 inches, 8.8 ounces | Battery Life (Rated): 4.5 hours (NC on) | Bluetooth Range: 30 feet (10 meters) | Special Features: Active noise cancellation, "Hey Siri" voice activation, spatial audio

Extremely comfortable
Seamless pairing
Clear, balanced sound
Decent noise cancellation
Battery life could be better
Not Android-friendly

No one thought Apple was capable of creating a solid pair of noise-cancelling wireless earbuds. Well, they proved the haters wrong, creating the absolute best mobile accessory for iOS/macOS devices: the AirPods Pro. The new sweat-proof design looks better and fits more securely in your ear, sound quality has been slightly improved, and the highlight feature — active noise cancellation — effectively reduces ambient sounds (just don't expect a miracle). We’re also fans of the new force sensors on the stems, which uses pinch gestures to execute commands and is more responsive than the tap control scheme employed on previous AirPods models.

With the release of iOS 14 comes new features like automatic switching and spatial audio, which creates a three-dimensional soundscape that gives movies an extra layer of immersion. Add everything we loved about the original AirPods — excellent call quality, seamless pairing, a strong Bluetooth connection, and supreme comfort — and we have no reservations naming the AirPods Pros the best overall wireless earbuds. 

See our full AirPods Pro review

best noise-cancelling headphones: Apple AirPods Max

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6. Apple AirPods Max

The ultimate AirPods model

Size and Weight: 7.4 x 6.6 x 3.3 inches, 13.6 ounces | Battery Life (Rated): 20 hours | Bluetooth Range: 50 feet (15 meters) | Special Features:: Active noise cancellation, adaptive EQ, spatial audio

Crisp and balanced sound
High-quality ANC
Luxurious design
Awesome iOS-friendly features
Incredibly expensive
Smart case provides very little protection

If you’re fortunate enough to splurge on the AirPods Max, just know you’ll be satisfied with the purchase. Audio is the star of the show, with a bright soundstage that emphasizes mids and highs over lows. Spatial audio takes things up a notch by creating immersive surround sound, which makes a world of difference when binging video content on your iPhone or iPad. The AirPods Max has 9 microphones built into its premium, minimalist design, 8 of which are used to drown out external sounds at a high level; you’ll enjoy peaceful listening at the local coffee shop, on commutes, or in the comfort of your own home. Then there’s the seamless iOS experience that instantly pairs these cans to your iDevices, along with plenty of other software perks like audio sharing and “Hey Siri” voice activation.

As impressive as Apple’s first-ever wireless headphones are, they bear several flaws. The carrying case and price stand out most. Apple’s handbag-like design not only looks silly, but offers very little protection for the headphones. And paying over $500 for noise-cancelling headphones is asking too much, especially when Bose and Sony sell stronger noise-cancelling solutions for less.

best noise-cancelling headphones: Phiaton Legacy 900

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7. Phiaton 900 Legacy

A premium noise-canceller with enticing sound

Size and Weight: 6.3 x 3.15 x 7.48 inches, 9 ounces | Battery Life (Rated): 43 hours (NC on), 52 hours (NC on in wired mode) | Bluetooth Range: 50 feet (15 meters) | Special Features: Active noise cancellation and transparency modes, smart controls, multipoint technology

Powerful ANC and soundstage
Sharp-looking design
Excellent connectivity and smart controls
Lack of companion app and extra features
Big and bulky

Phiaton may not have the brand recognition of Bose or Sony, but their latest flagship release, the 900 Legacy, proves they deserve a seat at the ANC table. These headphones are high end in numerous ways, from the handsome carbon-fiber exterior to the custom 40mm drivers that dish out impactful audio. Lows hit hard and are balanced well to give mids and highs some breathing room on orchestral recordings. Phiaton’s feedforward and feedback mics do a fantastic job of blocking out close to 85 percent of ambient noise, which is higher than what most models in the category produce. We’re also big fans of the Legacy 900’s intuitive control scheme, which supports physical, touch, and motion controls that all work accurately.

Had it not been for the lack of extra features and the huge, heavy frame, these headphones would easily crack our Top 5.

best noise-cancelling headphones: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2

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8. Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2

Next-gen wireless earbuds with Sennheiser sound

Size and Weight: 3.02 x 1.72 x 1.3 inches, 0.2 ounces (per bud) | Battery Life (Rated): 7 hours, 28 hours (with charging case) | Bluetooth Range: 800 feet (243 meters) | Special features : Active noise cancellation, ambient listening mode, customizable EQ

Sennheiser sound
Long battery life
Strong active noise cancelling
More expensive than the AirPods Pro
Protruding shape makes for an unstable fit

If you want an AirPods Pro alternative with much better sound and noise cancellation that’s just as good, then the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 might be for you. The earbuds are kitted with 7mm custom drivers that deliver rich, well-balanced audio; you’ll enjoy deep bass and natural mids no matter the music genre. The increase in the battery life is a bonus, nearly doubling the playtime of the original version. We’re also smitten over the chic gray fabric charging case that holds an extra 21 hours. ANC impresses, minimizing ambient noise well enough to phase out distractions and maintain its superb audio quality. The technology also lends itself well to phone calls, making for loud and clear-sounding conversations.

Now, let’s discuss the elephant in the room: pricing. Yes, $300 is a lot to ask for, especially with the AirPods Pro 2 listed at $50 less. However, keep in mind you’re paying extra for Sennheiser sound and more playtime.

See our full Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 review.

best noise-cancelling headphones: Microsoft Surface Headphones 2

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9. Microsoft Surface Headphones 2

Productivity headphones with strong sound and ANC

Size and Weight: 8 x 7.68 x 1.89 inches, 10.2 ounces | Battery Life (Rated): 15 hours (NC On) | Bluetooth Range: 35 ft. (10.6 meters) | Special Features: : Adjustable active noise cancellation, customizable EQ, multipoint connectivity up to 10 devices

13 levels of active noise cancellation
Spacious sound
Microsoft 365 integration
Battery life could be better
Surface Audio app needs more features

The Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 are amazing work-from-home headphones that don’t skimp on functionality. Using the dials on either earcup makes adjusting ANC and volume levels seamless. Audio is well rounded, giving listeners a nice mix of deep bass and pleasant-sounding mids. Where the headphones really stand out is in their productivity features such as voice dictation for Microsoft 365 to transcribe notes in Office programs (e.g., Word, PowerPoint, Outlook). The Surface Headphones 2 also have the strongest multipoint technology of any model in its class, letting you pair the cans to 10 devices simultaneously, which makes switching between your smartphone and laptop a breeze.

Our only gripes are the low battery life (all that power sucks up a lot of juice) and the lack of extra features in the companion app. Nonetheless, there is plenty of performance afforded to you for $250, a price that’s actually lower than what the original launched for.

See our full Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 review.

Bose QuietComfort 35 II

10. Bose QuietComfort 35 II

The former king of ANC

Size and Weight: 7.1 x 6.7 x 3.2 inches, 8.2 ounces | Battery Life (Rated): 20 hours (NC on), 40 hours (NC off) | Bluetooth Range: 30 feet (10 meters) | Special Features: Active noise cancellation, built-in voice assistance, works in wired mode

Top-tier noise cancellation
Crisp, full audio
Strong connectivity
Subpar digital assistant integration
Unchanged design Read our full

Despite being the oldest model on our list of the best noise-cancelling headphones, the QuietComfort Series II is still a popular choice and one of the top performers in its class. You’re getting the same strong connectivity and digital assistant integration as the Bose 700, along with the same battery life, which isn’t much to brag about, but standard for three-year-old cans. You’ll enjoy emphatic lows with some crisp-sounding mids and highs. But you’ll want to pick up the QC35 II for its superior noise cancellation; it works both in wireless and wired modes, and keeps ambient sound to a minimum across the frequency spectrum.

Bose left the design untouched from the previous version, an area that wasn’t well received the first time around due to its flimsy and plasticky frame. On the plus side, this makes the headphones super light and comfortable to sport for long hours.

See our full Bose QuietComfort 35 II review.

Best noise-cancelling headphones: JBL Club Pro Plus

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11. JBL Club Pro Plus

Dynamic audio meets strong noise cancellation

Size and Weight: 1.3 x 1.5 x 0.24 inches, 0.48 ounces | Battery Life (Rated): 6 hours (ANC on), 8 hours (ANC off), 24 hours (with charging case) | Bluetooth Range: 45 feet (13 meters) | Special Features: Adaptive noise cancellation, customizable EQ, wireless charging

Customizable, striking audio
Very good ANC
Stable battery life
Still has some bugs in the system
Unreliable controls

JBL is riding an ANC hot streak, first with the Reflect Mini NC and now with the Club Pro Plus. This premium true wireless offering ups the ante on performance, as JBL refined the soundstage to produce more detailed and warmer sound, while increasing the ANC levels for optimal noise neutralization. You’ll be able to walk around the neighborhood unbothered by most of the fracas surrounding you. If you are someone who wants to hear what’s going on, JBL included both Ambient Aware and TalkThru modes, the latter perfect for conversing with pedestrians when on the go. Battery life is another highlight, offering up to 6 hours of playtime on a single charge, which beats the AirPods Pro and several other competitors.

Sadly, these buds share the same technical flaw as the Reflect Mini NC: poor touch controls. On top of the tap and hold gestures demonstrating unresponsive input, the digital assistant struggles with commands, and Siri doesn’t work at the moment. The latter could be bug-related, and there are other bugs in the system that affect connectivity and sound customization, which we’re hoping a software update can fix.

best noise-cancelling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM3

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12. Sony WH-1000XM3

Excellent sound paired with great noise cancelling

Size and Weight: 10.4 x 7.3 x 2.9 inches, 9 ounces | Battery Life (Rated): 30 hours (NC on);38 hours (NC off) | Bluetooth Range: 30ft. (10 meters) | Special Features: Active noise cancellation, adjustable transparency mode, customizable EQ

Class-leading sonics
Surprisingly good noise cancellation
Responsive touch controls
Extensive battery life
Mediocre call quality Read our full
Poor call quality

Audiophiles who like dynamic noise cancellation and sound quality need these cans on their heads. Sony rebuilt its Mark 3 headphones from the ground up, incorporating the all-new HD Noise Cancelling Processor QN1, which enhances audio processing and ANC performance. What you get is natural, well-balanced sound with the company's signature bass profile leading the auditory charge. You can expect thunderous lows that will rattle your skull. You can even go into the companion app and tailor sound to your hearing by messing around with the built-in EQ or by selecting one of several presets that work very well for their respective music genres.

The noise cancellation is just as impressive, muffling most high-frequency noises without compromising the overall sound. Steady battery life with quick-charging and adjustable EQ and ANC settings round out the WH-1000xM3's superior hallmarks. 

See our full Sony WH-1000XM3 review.

How to choose the best noise-cancelling headphones for you

The best noise-cancelling headphones often come at a premium, so you’ll want to make sure you’re getting top-notch noise neutralization for your dollar. Seek out models that advertise active noise cancellation (not to be confused with passive noise cancellation). The difference is ANC uses microphones to pick up incoming ambient sounds and creates inverse waves that cancel them out in real-time, while PNC physically isolates these sounds through the headphone design.

Audio should be your second priority. Clearly, you want headphones that sound great when indulging in your music collection and jumping on Zoom calls. See if you can find headphones with powerful drivers, along with special features like adaptive sound (e.g. AirPods Pro) and customization settings to tweak the sound profile to your liking.

Next on the checklist is battery life. The standard playtime for ANC headphones is about 20 to 25 hours, though some manufacturers have launched models that can generate up to 35 hours or more. There are even some headphones that let you use ANC in wired mode (e.g. Bose 700).

Design plays a pivotal role as well, especially if you’re someone who spends a majority of their time on the road. Ideally, you want headphones that are lightweight and portable, and come with some sort of travel case to easily store them. They should also feel comfortable and provide a stable fit.

Connectivity should not be overlooked either. While Bluetooth 5.0 is the best way to go for fast and strong wireless performance, you may find certain models with less powerful Bluetooth protocols (e.g. Bluetooth 4.1/4.2) that can still operate reliably.

How we test the best noise-cancelling headphones

Laptop Magazine takes several factors into consideration when putting together our list of the best noise-cancelling headphones. This includes design, comfort, sound, and overall value. We also compare each model to similar ones in the noise-cancelling category in terms of features, fit, and pricing.

Noise-cancelling headphones are worn over the course of a week for 2 to 3 hours at a time. We assess how accurate and powerful the noise cancellation is by testing these headphones in both indoor and outdoor environments where ambient sounds are produced at high levels. In addition, our reviewers listen to songs across multiple music genres (e.g. classical, hip-hop, jazz) to analyze audio quality, along with clarity, depth, and volume. Furthermore, we test these models on streaming music services that offer hi-res audio.

Lastly, we test battery life, digital assistant support, ease of setup, wireless range, and any app-enabled features compatible with mobile devices, laptops, desktops, and gaming consoles.

After testing is completed, our reviewers rate each model on a five-point system (1 = worst, 5 = best). Any product considered truly exemplary is awarded a Laptop Magazine Editor’s Choice badge.