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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 Bowers & Wilkins and Cleer.

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

(Image credit: Laptop Magazine)

1. Bose 700

The best overall noise-cancelling headphones

Specifications
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

Specifications
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

Specifications
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

Specifications
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

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 it 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.

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

Specifications
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

The Sony WF-1000XM4 is about as perfect as a pair of wireless earbuds come. Overall performance is dynamic, courtesy of Sony’s new V1 processor, which keeps the buds operating at a fast pace and simultaneously reduces distortion, while enhancing the audio quality. Music and movies sound excellent, thanks to Sony’s well-defined sound profile and 360 Reality Audio support for spatial audio. Noise cancellation is powerful. Features are practical and in abundance; you will feel overwhelmed when entering the Sony Headphones Connect app. Battery life is sufficient with 6 hours of ANC playback. The design has also been revamped for better durability, enhanced noise neutralization, and a more ergonomic fit.

The only real complaint that we have is the lack of a Find My Earbuds function (this is a must for any pair of $300 buds). Besides that, the WF-1000XM4 crushes nearly every mark.

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

Specifications
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

Specifications
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

B&W’s flagship wireless earbuds are the brand’s most ambitious creation yet. Sound is impeccable, highlighted by 24-bit sound, aptX Adaptive codec support, and dual hybrid driver units with individual amps. Lows are robust, mids are crisp, and highs are detailed, resulting in a full-bodied listening experience that can be experienced in wireless or wired mode, thanks to B&W’s innovative charging case that plugs into any audio jack and retransmits audio to the buds. The PI7 also comes with strong noise neutralization to enjoy music peacefully in all settings. Build quality is another hallmark that is beautifully exhibited, from the sleek, durable aesthetics to niche details like the protruding metal cylinder touch panels.

Don’t get us wrong now, $400 is a lot to ask for any pair of wireless earbuds, especially ones that require a recharge every 4 hours. However, if you value audio that much and don’t mind the 20 hours of playtime provided by the charging case, you’ll be extremely satisfied with this purchase.

Read our full Bowers & Wilkins PI7 review.

Bose QuietComfort 35 II

8. Bose QuietComfort 35 II

The former king of ANC

Specifications
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

Specifications
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

Specifications
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: Samsung Galaxy Buds 2

(Image credit: Future)

11. Samsung Galaxy Buds 2

Powerful ANC and sound in a smaller, more affordable package

Specifications
Size and Weight: 0.7 x 0.8 x 0.8 inches, 0.2 ounces (per bud)
Battery Life (Rated): 5 hours with ANC on (20 hours with charging case), 7.5 hours with ANC off (29 hours with charging case)
Bluetooth Range: 40 feet (12 meters)
Special features : Active noise cancellation, adjustable ambient listening mode, Wireless Power Share charging
Reasons to buy
+Strong ANC and ambient modes+Great audio performance+Extremely comfortable+Competitively priced
Reasons to avoid
-Not as water resistant as competitors-Middling battery life

Samsung managed to downscale the Galaxy Buds 2 in size without compromising much on the performance end. These noise-cancelling buds come with some of the most effective ANC technology that we’ve tested, rivaling several other sub-luxury models. Sound remains the series greatest strength with the buds boasting a dynamic two-way speaker consisting of a tweeter and a woofer that produces crisp highs and deep lows. You get several well-engineered presets to play within the Galaxy Wearable app. There’s also a low-latency gaming mode that synchronizes sound better when gaming and the ability to control the buds from your Galaxy Watch 4.

The 5-hour battery life puts it on par with its premium cousin, the Galaxy Buds Pro, along with the Google Pixel Buds A-Series. At the same time, this is also lower than what category leaders like the Sony WF-1000XM4 offer. 

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review.

best noise-cancelling headphones: Master & Dynamic MW08 Sport

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

12. Master & Dynamic MW08 Sport

Premium wireless sport earbuds with fantastic ANC

Specifications
Size and Weight: 0.83 x 0.79 x 0.98 inches, 0.3 ounces
Battery Life (Rated): 10 hours (ANC on), 12 hours (ANC off), 42 hours (with charging case)
Bluetooth Range: 30 feet (10 meters)
Special Features: : Active noise cancellation, ambient listening mode, Bluetooth 5.2
Reasons to buy
+Wide, natural sound+Solid ANC+Excellent battery life+A sleeker, lighter, and more durable design
Reasons to avoid
-Higher price than the original-Needs more features

Master & Dynamic gave its flagship wireless earbuds the sporty treatment. The MW08 Sport comes with aesthetic upgrades such as shatterproof materials and water resistance, along with a Kevlar-wrapped charging case. Two-level ANC ensures less-noisy environments when exercising or lounging at home. Battery life is remarkable with 10 hours of ANC playback on a single charge, which can be extended to 12 hours when disabling the feature. Most fitness buffs want energetic and vibrant sound to get their motor running and the MW08 Sport delivers it, pumping out balanced frequencies with deep, impactful bass.

The feature set is extremely limited and doesn’t match what other sports headphones bring to the table; two models that come to mind are the Jaybird Vista 2 and JBL Reflect Mini NC. Also, the MW08 Sport is more expensive than the original MW08, which doesn’t come cheap either at $299.

Read our full Master & Dynamic MW08 Sport 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.