Sony WH-1000XM4
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
Bose 700 Headphones

5 Best Noise-Canceling Headphones in 2021

Listen carefully as we share our top picks
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Alison Barretta

Noise-canceling headphones not only provide a more immersive audio experience, they can also be safer for your ears. They block ambient sounds around you, which means you’ll be less inclined to turn your volume up to dangerous levels. 

Our unsafe listening habits are contributing to a projected one in every four people suffering from hearing problems by 2050, according to the World Health Organization. Picking up a solid pair of noise-canceling headphones will hopefully play a key role in preventing you from becoming part of that statistic. 

Not sure where to begin? We’ve researched the top options, reviewed their pros and cons, and rounded up the five best noise-canceling headphones, taking into consideration overall sound quality, special features, cost, and user reviews.   

5 things to know about noise-canceling headphones before making a purchase:

  1. Type of Noise Cancelation: Passive noise cancelation creates a seal in/around your ear; active noise cancelation uses a technology called digital signal processing (DSP).  
  2. Ambient Sound Control: If you’re outside jogging or commuting to work, this feature will filter in essential sounds like traffic and station announcements.
  3. Design: Do you want your headphones to sit over your ear (circumaural), on your ear (supra-aural), or inside your ear (earbuds)?
  4. Sound Quality: You’re already intent on blocking out most of the world around you so pick up a pair of noise-canceling headphones that produce rich, clear sound.  
  5. Price: Active noise-canceling (ANC) headphones tend to be more expensive than their passive counterparts. Either way, a pair of well-made headphones are worth the cost. 

The Sony XM4 headphones top our list thanks to their best-in-class noise cancelation, remarkable sound quality, and AI-powered smart features. However, their call quality is below average. (If you need headphones for phone calls or Zoom meetings, consider the comparable Bose 700 headphones instead.) Head below for the rest of our top picks.

If you find this helpful, you might also want to check out the Best Wireless Speakers, Best Wireless Earbuds, Best Headphones, and Best Earbuds for Running.

Our Top Picks

See All Top Picks See All
Top Pick
Top Pick
Sony WH-1000XM4
Best Noise-Canceling Headphones Overall

Sony WH-1000XM4

Manufacturer :

  Sony
Noise Cancelling Sony

Where to Buy

Pros

  • Superb noise cancelation 
  • AI-powered audio upscaling 
  • Adapt sound based on surroundings

Cons

  • Not workout-friendly
  • Call quality could be better

Product Snapshot

The Sony XM4 headphones are the closest to perfection you’ll find with superior noise cancelation, excellent sound quality, and a wealth of intelligent features. Somehow, Sony found a way to improve upon its already stellar XM3 headphones. The current generation Sony XM4s edge out their predecessors with AI-powered DSEE Extreme audio upscaling for clearer, more accurate sound. Those smarts also allow the Sony XM4 headphones to automatically adjust the sound based on where you are and what you’re doing. 

There are several features built into the Sony XM4s that help you remain present in the moment. Ambient sound control filters in just enough noise so you’re aware of your surroundings, speak-to-chat pauses your music while you’re speaking, and Quick Attention mode lowers the volume so you can hold a conversation without taking off your headphones.

Like we said, the Sony XM4 headphones are close to perfect. Call quality is lacking—which was a flaw of the XM3s as well. They also lack sweat- and water-resistance so they’re not workout-friendly.

Specs

Noise-Canceling
Yes
Active
Ambient Sound Control
Yes
Design
Over-Ear
Connectivity
NFC
Wired
Wireless (Bluetooth 5)
Battery Life
Up to 30 Hours (ANC on)
Up to 38 Hours (ANC off)
Weight
9 Ounces

Where to Buy

Best Noise-Canceling Earbuds

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

Manufacturer :

  Bose
Bose Noise Cancelling

Where to Buy

Pros

  • IPX4-rated for sweat- and water-resistance
  • Superb sound plus top-class noise cancelation
  • 15-minute charge yields 2 hours of battery life

Cons

  • Charging case is bulky
  • Battery life could be better for the price

Product Snapshot

The Bose QuietComfort wireless earbuds are geared toward listeners who want superb sound quality and top-class noise cancelation in a compact package. In fact, they feature the same active noise-canceling technology as the next entry on our list, the renowned Bose 700 over-ear headphones.

The QuietComforts’ adjustable noise cancelation allows you to hear everything that’s going on around you (full transparency mode), block out 90 percent of external sounds (full noise cancelation), or strike a happy medium so you can enjoy your music while carrying on a conversation. Then there’s the clear, balanced sound quality for which Bose is famousfurther enhanced here by Bose’s volume-optimized Active EQ technology. 

If you’re looking for a new pair of earbuds to bring to the gym or the park, the water- and sweat-resistant Bose QuietComforts are among the most workout-friendly buds you can buy. Battery life is a respectable 18 hours with the charging case, but if you want at least a full 24 hours’ worth of tunes, there are similarly priced earbuds that perform better in that area.

Specs

Noise-Canceling
Yes
Active
Adjustable
Ambient Sound Control
Yes
Design
Earbuds
Connectivity
Wireless (Bluetooth 5.1)
Battery Life
Up to 6 hours
(18 hours with charging case)
Weight
0.018 Pounds
0.3 ounces per earbud

Where to Buy

Splurge
Splurge
Bose 700 Headphones
Best Work-From-Home Headphones

Bose 700 Headphones

Manufacturer :

  Bose

Where to Buy

Pros

  • Amazon Alexa built in
  • Crystal-clear call quality
  • Three-level active noise cancelation

Cons

  • Mediocre battery life for the price
  • Setup via Bose Music app is cumbersome

Product Snapshot

The Bose 700 headphones are the ideal splurge for people who work from home and need to remain aware of their surroundings while fielding one Zoom call after another. (In other words: remote workers with small children and/or rambunctious pets.)

In addition to adjustable world-class noise canceling and high-fidelity sound, the Bose 700s also boast crystal-clear call quality. Four of the eight built-in microphones are dedicated to voice pickup, and two of those microphones pull double duty for blocking noise which means your virtual workmates will have no trouble hearing you. You can control volume and playback through capacitive controls on the right earcup, or go hands-free with built-in Amazon Alexa voice support. (The Bose 700s also work with Google Assistant and Siri.)   

The Bose 700 headphones sound fantastic, look sleek, and are comfortable. The battery life (20 hours) could be more substantial given the price tag, but these premium headphones are sure to get you through a couple of workdays before needing a charge.

Specs

Noise-Canceling
Active
Ambient Sound Control
Yes
Design
Over-Ear
Connectivity
Wired
Wireless (Bluetooth 5)
Battery Life
Up to 20 Hours
Weight
8.8 Ounces

Where to Buy

Best Value
Best Value
Soundcore by Anker Life Q30 Headphones
Best Entry-Level Noise-Canceling Headphones

Soundcore by Anker Life Q30 Headphones

Manufacturer :

  Anker

Where to Buy

Pros

  • Up to 60 hours of playback 
  • Customizable sound profiles via app
  • Very good noise cancelation at under $100

Cons

  • Rather clunky to travel with
  • Unbalanced audio with wired connection

Product Snapshot

The Soundcore by Anker Life Q30 headphones are proof that quality noise-canceling headphones don’t have to cost hundreds of dollars. They can also serve as a reliable pair of backup travel headphones.

These are considered hybrid active noise-canceling headphones since they filter background noise through a digital chipset plus internal and external microphones on the earcups. There are three noise-cancelation modes (Transport, Indoor, and Outdoor) so you can choose the level of audio blocking that’s best for you. The Q30 headphones connect wirelessly via Bluetooth or NFC, the latter of which is used for pairing to Android devices. A 3.5mm auxiliary cable is also included if you’d prefer a wired setup.

The battery life for the Soundcore by Anker Life Q30 headphones is impressive. You’ll get up to 40 hours of playback with active noise canceling and as much as 60 hours without it. Of course, you won’t experience Bose or Sony-level audio here, but the Q30 headphones do allow you to customize your own sound profile with its intuitive Soundcore companion app.

Specs

Noise-Canceling
Hybrid Active
Ambient Sound Control
Yes
Design
Over-Ear
Connectivity
NFC
Wired
Wireless (Bluetooth 5)
Battery Life
Up to 40 hours (ANC on)
Up to 60 hours (ANC off)
Weight
9 Ounces

Where to Buy

Best Passive Noise Isolation

Sennheiser HD25 Headphones

Manufacturer :

  Sennheiser

Where to Buy

Pros

  • Sound quality is very good
  • Lightweight and built to last
  • On-ear design helps isolate noise well

Cons

  • Not wireless
  • Uncomfortable after prolonged use

Product Snapshot

The Sennheiser HD25 headphones are a great option if you’re not keen to totally block out the world around you but still want a way to isolate sound while listening to your favorite songs or podcasts. 

These lack active noise cancelation and instead isolate external sounds through padded cups that sit right on top of your ears. This will enable you to shut out lingering noises in otherwise quiet locations like a library or an empty office. Sound quality is very good, particularly for bass-heavy tracks. Since they’re primarily designed for DJs, the Sennheiser HD25s are built to withstand constant use while remaining super lightweight at 5 ounces.

Comfort is hit-or-miss with these headphones as the on-ear, closed-back design may become bothersome after long periods of use. They’re also not wireless, although the HD25s include a single-sided detachable cable for easier transport. (If you want even more modularity, the upgraded Sennheiser HD25 Plus comes with a spare cable, extra ear pads, and a storage pouch.)

Specs

Noise-Canceling
Passive Noise Isolation
Ambient Sound Control
No
Design
On-Ear
Connectivity
Wired
Battery Life
N/A
Weight
5 Ounces

Where to Buy

Compare

Best Noise-Canceling Headphones Overall
Best Noise-Canceling Earbuds
Best Work-From-Home Headphones
Best Entry-Level Noise-Canceling Headphones
Best Passive Noise Isolation
Pros
Pros
Pros
Pros
Pros
Pros
  • Superb noise cancelation 
  • AI-powered audio upscaling 
  • Adapt sound based on surroundings
  • IPX4-rated for sweat- and water-resistance
  • Superb sound plus top-class noise cancelation
  • 15-minute charge yields 2 hours of battery life
  • Amazon Alexa built in
  • Crystal-clear call quality
  • Three-level active noise cancelation
  • Up to 60 hours of playback 
  • Customizable sound profiles via app
  • Very good noise cancelation at under $100
  • Sound quality is very good
  • Lightweight and built to last
  • On-ear design helps isolate noise well
Cons
Cons
Cons
Cons
Cons
Cons
  • Not workout-friendly
  • Call quality could be better
  • Charging case is bulky
  • Battery life could be better for the price
  • Mediocre battery life for the price
  • Setup via Bose Music app is cumbersome
  • Rather clunky to travel with
  • Unbalanced audio with wired connection
  • Not wireless
  • Uncomfortable after prolonged use
Noise-Canceling
Noise-Canceling
Noise-Canceling
Noise-Canceling
Noise-Canceling
Noise-Canceling
Yes
Active
Yes
Active
Adjustable
Active
Hybrid Active
Passive Noise Isolation
Ambient Sound Control
Ambient Sound Control
Ambient Sound Control
Ambient Sound Control
Ambient Sound Control
Ambient Sound Control
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
Design
Design
Design
Design
Design
Design
Over-Ear
Earbuds
Over-Ear
Over-Ear
On-Ear
Connectivity
Connectivity
Connectivity
Connectivity
Connectivity
Connectivity
NFC
Wired
Wireless (Bluetooth 5)
Wireless (Bluetooth 5.1)
Wired
Wireless (Bluetooth 5)
NFC
Wired
Wireless (Bluetooth 5)
Wired
Battery Life
Battery Life
Battery Life
Battery Life
Battery Life
Battery Life
Up to 30 Hours (ANC on)
Up to 38 Hours (ANC off)
Up to 6 hours
(18 hours with charging case)
Up to 20 Hours
Up to 40 hours (ANC on)
Up to 60 hours (ANC off)
N/A
Weight
Weight
Weight
Weight
Weight
Weight
9 Ounces
0.018 Pounds
0.3 ounces per earbud
8.8 Ounces
9 Ounces
5 Ounces

FAQ 

What do noise-canceling headphones do?

Noise-canceling headphones reduce ambient background sounds, either digitally or by design.

Are noise-canceling headphones safe?

Generally speaking, yes. Since they block external noise, wearers will be less inclined to turn the volume up to ear-damaging levels.

Is active or passive noise canceling better?

That depends on your preference. Active noise-canceling headphones do a great job of blocking constant background noise; passive noise-canceling headphones yield more consistent audio quality.