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Best noise-cancelling headphones in 2021

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

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. In addition, the all-new Sony WF-1000XM4 enters our list not too far behind, with refined sound and similar noise-cancelling performance in a smaller package.

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.

Bowers & Wilkins has made its presence felt in the ANC market as well with two noteworthy models that rank highly on our list. The PI7 is the company’s first-ever pair of wireless earbuds and have the audio performance and noise cancellation to match their expensive MSRP ($399), while the PX7 Carbon Edition is a fancier upgrade to the brand’s popular ANC wireless headphones that serves up premium looks and sound.

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)
Reasons to buy
+Slick, attractive design+Excellent noise cancellation on calls and music+Precise, balanced audio+Smart, intuitive buttons and touch controls
Reasons to avoid
-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
Reasons to buy
+Class-leading sonics+Powerful active noise cancelling+Plethora of sound customization options+Longer battery life than Bose models
Reasons to avoid
-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
Reasons to buy
+Best-in-class noise cancellation+Great audio quality+Chic, elegant design+Bluetooth 5.1
Reasons to avoid
-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: Apple AirPods Max

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4. 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
Reasons to buy
+Crisp and balanced sound+High-quality ANC+Luxurious design+Awesome iOS-friendly features
Reasons to avoid
-Incredibly expensive

You may think Apple is crazy for pricing their ANC headphones higher than Bose or Sony, but your attitude will change quickly after experiencing the AirPods Max’s robust noise cancellation and audio performance. Nine mics are stuffed into these cans, eight of which are used to severely reduce ambient noise, while also allowing a vast number of external sounds into the soundscape when enabling Transparency Mode. These over-ear beauties also embody the brand’s design ethos with bold, clean lines and premium materials that complement the sophisticated appearance of other Apple products (e.g., iPhone 12 or MacBook Pro). Special features like audio sharing, “Hey Siri” voice activation, and spatial audio to enjoy 360-degree sound add to their value. 

Besides the extremely high MSRP, our only other complaint about Apple’s headphones is the silly handbag-inspired carrying case that offers zero protection.

See our full Apple AirPods Max review.

the best noise-cancelling headphones: Sony WF-1000XM4

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

5. Sony WF-1000XM4

The best wireless earbuds overall

Size and Weight: 1 x 0.8 x 0.8 inches, 0.2 ounces
Battery Life (Rated): 8 hours (ANC on), 12 hours (ANC off), 24 hours (with charging case), 35 hours (with charging case and ANC off)
Bluetooth Range: 35 feet (10 meters)
Special Features: 360 Reality Audio, Adaptive noise cancellation, adjustable ambient listening
Reasons to buy
+Immersive, full-bodied sound+Remarkable noise cancellation+Striking design+Long playtimes with ANC on+Loads of special features
Reasons to avoid
-Unreliable fit

Bose may have the best buds for ANC, but Sony has the better overall model, and noise cancellation that doesn’t fall too far behind. The new V1 processor enhances performance on all fronts, allowing for more accurate noise neutralization, while clearing up the soundstage for rich and detailed results. 360 Reality Audio gives music an immersive feel and DSEE Extreme upscales lo-fi records for higher fidelity. You’re getting some of the longest playtimes with ANC on at 8 hours, which can be extended to 12 hours when disabling the mode. Features are also plentiful via the Sony Connect Headphones app, which offers numerous ways to customize the buds.

Sony gave the WF-1000XM4 a complete makeover with an oval shape and steampunk-like aesthetic, but its bulkiness and the memory foam tips cause stability issues. For $279, Sony could have included a Find My Buds function as well; a software update should be able to fix that. 

Read our full Sony WF-1000XM4 review.

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

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6. 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
Reasons to buy
+Wide soundstage+Multi-level ANC and ambient listening modes+Lengthy battery life+Prime craftsmanship
Reasons to avoid
-No EQ-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: Bowers & Wilkins PI7

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

7. Bowers & Wilkins PI7

Rich noise cancellation and sound at a rich price

Size and Weight: N/A, 0.24 ounces
Battery Life (Rated): 4 hours (ANC on), 20 hours (with charging case)
Bluetooth Range: 30 feet (10 meters)
Special Features: Adaptive ANC, adjustable ambient listening mode, wireless adapter functionality
Reasons to buy
+Hi-fidelity sound+Exceptional craftmanship+Strong ANC+Charging case doubles as a wireless adapter
Reasons to avoid
-Below average playtime-Very expensive

At $400, B&W’s latest flagship buds are geared towards luxury audiophiles who want the absolute best sound in true wireless form. Not only does this model boast Dual Hybrid Drive units with individual amplifiers for each driver, but they also support 24-bit sound and Qualcomm’s latest aptX Adaptive codec to stream music from hi-res platforms like Qobuz or Tidal. The PI7’s ANC is an admirable runner-up to the QuietComfort Earbuds, like Bose’s earbuds, it also shares the rare distinction of blending both ANC and ambient listening together to make external sounds more distinctive and less harsh. Build quality is up to par and the charging case can also double as a wireless adapter by connecting to an audio jack and retransmitting audio to the buds.

B&W could have given us longer playtimes and more features to play with for the high price tag, though the pros heavily outweigh the cons, especially on the audio front.

Read our full Bowers & Wilkins PI7 review.

Bose QuietComfort 35 II

8. 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
Reasons to buy
+Top-tier noise cancellation+Crisp, full audio+Strong connectivity
Reasons to avoid
-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: Apple AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Laptop Magazine)

9. 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
Reasons to buy
+Extremely comfortable+Seamless pairing+Clear, balanced sound+Decent noise cancellation
Reasons to avoid
-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: Cleer Enduro ANC

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

10. Cleer Enduro ANC

Great mid-range noise-cancellers with unbeatable playtime

Size and Weight: N/A, 10.22 ounces
Battery Life (Rated): 60 hours (ANC on)
Bluetooth Range: 30 feet (10 meters)
Special Features: Active noise cancellation, adjustable ambient listening mode, customizable EQ
Reasons to buy
+Incredible battery life+Bold, customizable sound+Tenable ANC
Reasons to avoid
-Unflattering design-Companion app lacks extra features

The Cleer Enduro ANC offers the most functionality in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones listed under $200. We’re talking a powerful soundstage that can be personalized via built-in EQ, quality active noise cancellation, multiple connectivity options (e.g., Google Fast Pair, NFC), and up to 10 levels of ambient listening. Then there is the Enduro ANC’s biggest hallmark, battery life, which is rated at 60 hours with ANC on. Do the math and that is triple the playtime of the Bose 700 and AirPods Max. Cleer also includes some nifty bonuses like an airline adapter and aux cable to use the headphones in passive mode.

Design-wise, these headphones aren’t the most appealing, especially when compared to the brand’s more premium offerings. The companion app needs more features as well. Even then, these are criticisms you can deal with when factoring in the attainable price point.

See our full Cleer Enduro ANC review.

best noise-cancelling headphones: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2

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11. 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
Reasons to buy
+Sennheiser sound+Long battery life+Strong active noise cancelling
Reasons to avoid
-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: Sony WH-1000XM3

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Laptop Magazine)

12. Sony WH-1000XM3

Productivity headphones with strong sound and ANC

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
Reasons to buy
+Class-leading sonics+Surprisingly good noise cancellation+Responsive touch controls+Extensive battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Mediocre call quality-Poor call quality

The Sony WH-1000XM3 reenters our best noise-cancelling headphones list, thanks to a recent price cut that has taken place across numerous online retailers. Audiophiles who like dynamic noise cancellation and sound quality need these cans on their heads. Sony rebuilt these 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.