The best noise-cancelling headphones can really upgrade your listening experience, whether you want to feel fully immersed in your favorite music or you're looking to block out the world to focus on a great podcast instead.
Noise-cancelling headphones have become incredibly advanced over the years so they often feature amongst the best headphones and best over-ear headphones out there. They can now block out loud noises along with any ambient sounds. It's all in a bid to ensure you can pay full attention to whatever you're listening to.
Such technology is ideal for anyone who is easily distracted while working, or who simply wants to block out chatter and rumbling from their daily commute. Even the best running headphones and workout headphones can benefit from such functionality. Noise cancellation is also fantastic for anyone who is sensitive to sound and needs a buffer between their ears and the world around them.
Another advantage to noise-cancelling headphones is that you generally get a far superior listening experience when you can take in the audio quality on offer without distraction.
We've tested hundreds of noise-cancelling headphones, looking at their sound quality, noise cancellation ability, and features like battery life and other extras. If you simply want the best noise-cancelling headphones out there, you need the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones. However, it’s also worth considering cheaper options in our best budget headphones guide first if the Sony headphones are out of your budget.
Alternatively, if you’re a fan of Apple products, you may also want to try the AirPods Max. They might be eye-wateringly expensive, but they’re Apple’s first pair of over-ear wireless headphones. There are true wireless earbuds that will fill the role too if you prefer something more lightweight.
Whatever your budget, preferred style or desired features may be, we've picked out the best noise-cancelling headphones you can buy right now. Our choices are based on value for money, design, and sound quality, so there's something for everyone.
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Our favorite noise-cancelling headphones
The downsize from a 40mm driver in the WH-1000XM4 headphones (below) to the new 30mm driver in the latest WH-1000XM5 headphones (plus the fact that the earcups no longer fold up into the headband) had us initially raising our eyebrows – would the signature dynamism and space be lost with the smaller driver? And would we like a design that no longer folds up entirely? Those fears were unfounded – they sound pretty much just as good as the exemplary XM4s, though we must admit they don’t sound dramatically better, either.
Sony’s again leaning on a one-two punch of both LDAC codec and DSEE Extreme support here to offer the best possible sound quality from your connected devices. LDAC is your hi-resolution audio option, and it's good: when Sinead O’Connor sings Nothing Compares 2 U she might as well be in the room with you, from forceful chorus to trembling bridge, these Sony cans pick up each inflection and sibilant cry with wondrous effect.
If it has to be the best, Sony is still sitting pretty at the very top of the pile – and the noise cancellation here is without a doubt the best in the business.
Read more: Sony WH-1000XM5 wireless headphones review
The Sony WH-1000XM4 deliver excellent noise-cancellation and surprising sound quality all in a lightweight, comfortable design.
While they don't look significantly different from their predecessors, the Sony WH-1000XM3, a number of new features including multipoint pairing, DSEE Extreme upscaling, conversational awareness and auto-play/pause using a built-in sensor all help the WH-1000XM4 claim the title of best headphones in 2021.
By every possible metric, the Sony WH-1000XM4 is a wonderful pair of wireless noise-cancelling headphones. They deliver exactly what they promise and then some thanks to their exceptional noise cancellation and cutting-edge codec support.
On top of the adjustments listed above, the Sony WH-1000XM4 support Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format that enables spatial audio on stereo headphones plus the LDAC codec that can send a bitrate of up to 990 kbps. The unfortunate bit there, though, is that it no longer supports aptX or aptX HD, so your Hi-Res Audio support mileage may vary.
Read more: Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Headphones review
They don't quite beat the Sony WH-1000XM4 in terms of battery life and price, but the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are still a brilliant pair of over-ear cans – and the best Bose headphones we've reviewed.
Traditionally, noise-cancelling headphones have been designed to block out the environmental sounds around you, so that you can hear your music more clearly (or catch some shut-eye on a noisy flight).
This can be really effective if you’re listening to music. If you’re making a phone call however, the person you’re speaking to can still hear everything that’s happening around you.
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 seek to remedy this, by applying noise-cancellation to phone calls as well as music, which is fantastic feature – that's why these are the best noise-cancelling headphones for making calls.
The sound quality is undeniably good, with a vibrant, lively character and well-balanced soundstage.
If you’re trying to decide between buying the Sony WH-1000XM4s and the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, we’d recommend going for the former because of that lower price and better battery life. That being said, you wouldn’t be making a mistake if you opted for the Bose cans instead – they sound great, look stunning, and the noise-cancellation is out of this world.
Read more: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review
The Shure AONIC 50 sports a wireless, active noise-cancelling over-ear design, selling at a premium price to compete with the likes of the Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bose NC 700 Headphones.
Ultimately, while you won't find every feature under the sun here, the Shure AONIC 50 are laser-focused on delivering the best sound-quality of almost any noise-cancelling headphone – making them the best noise-cancelling headphones for audiophiles.
Read more: Shure AONIC 50 review
The Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H95 are beautifully made noise-cancelling headphones. They offer a level of luxury that we’ve come to expect from the Danish audio brand.
These headphones offer expansive sound and comes with an excellent control app. Noise cancellation is also very good, and we found it blocked out nearly all ambient sound - and like the audio, that’s fully adjustable to your liking, too.
As you might expect with a high-end pair of headphones from B&O, they’re extremely expensive. They won't amuse vegans either given their use of genuine leather, but they're gorgeous looking and feel great. If you want excellent quality and have the budget to match, then it's worth considering this excellent pair of headphones. Just be aware of the strange omission of an auto-pause function when you take them off.
Read more: Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H95 review
Coming in at number seven are the Bose QuietComfort 35 II – a nearly identical product to the already-excellent Bose QuietComfort 35 but updated with Google Assistant. This means you still get the class-leading noise cancellation Bose is known for, good sound quality and incredible comfort, plus a convenient assistant to answer any inquiries you might have while traveling.
Taken as a whole, the Bose QC35 II NC are an excellent pair of headphones for travelers and commuters. Bose has found a good balance of features that will satisfy most mainstream listeners.
Read more: Bose QuietComfort 35 II review
Offering class-leading battery life, terrific style and plenty of personalization when it comes to sound profiles, the Elite 85h is easy to recommend. That said, purists will bemoan the lack of high-end codec support and there are punchier headphones on the market at this price point.
When you consider that Jabra’s Elite 85h headphones are the company’s first attempt at premium wireless ANC headphones, the result is quite commendable. We can’t wait to see what the company’s next premium ANC headphones will accomplish.
If you want an alternative to Sony's WH-1000XM4, these are a great pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
Read more: Jabra Elite 85H review
- Apple AirPods Pro vs AirPods: which buds are best?
If you’re looking for really stylish noise-cancelling headphones and you're not put off by AED 1,700 price tag, the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 are well worth considering.
With sophisticated noise cancellation, brilliant sound quality, and a honed aesthetic, the PX7 could give any of the headphones on this list a run for their money.
Plus, they're packing aptX Adaptive for improved stability and latency between the headphones and your device, as well as high-quality (24-bit) streaming aptX HD brought to the table.
The Apple AirPods Max were the most hotly-anticipated headphones for quite some time, having been the subject of rumor and speculation for two years, and come with active noise cancellation, superb audio quality, and a design that sets them apart from most noise-cancelling headphones on the market.
While their exceptional audio performance and class-leading ANC impresses, they're let down by their eye-watering price, baffling carrying case, and lack of support for Hi-Res Audio codecs.
Despite their high price, the AirPods Max aren’t exactly aimed at the audiophile crowd, owing to their lack of 3.5mm audio port; instead, these cans are squarely targeted at card-carrying members of the Apple ecosystem, with nifty features for iOS users and an unmistakably ‘Apple’ design.
For Android users, the AirPods Max are simply a high-performance pair of noise-cancelling headphones with an unusual design, as fantastic as they may sound – and for these users, we can't see how the high price is justified.
But, if you've already bought into the Apple ecosystem, you have a lot of money to burn, and you don't care about Hi-Res Audio, you won't find headphones that sound better or are easier to use than the AirPods Max.
Read more: Apple AirPods Max review
In terms of sheer sound quality, the Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless headphones sound brilliant, with high levels of detail, warm bass, and natural-sounding highs.
The customizable noise cancellation on offer here is also good, but it doesn’t quite reach the class-leading standards set by the Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless headphones.
They have nowhere near the battery life of Sony’s headphones, and are more expensive – which begs the question, why buy the Sennheisers when you could have the WH-1000XM4?
Well, if built-in Tile tracking appeals to you, and you like the industrial design and premium materials of the Momentum 3 Wireless, that could be reason enough – and if you do opt for them over the Sony model, you won’t be missing out on any audio quality. In that respect, they’re truly matched.
Read more: Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless review
If you haven't found something quite to your liking so far, we have one last option for you to look at – the all-new Nura Nuraphone over-ear/in-ear hybrid. Their form factor means you’ve not only got an earbud sitting at the entrance of your ear canal, but also an over-ear cushion sitting over your entire ear. This effectively means you’ve got two physical barriers meaning that the noise from the outside world can’t get to your ears. While more traditional over-ear headphones do a better job offering useful features at a reasonable price, the Nuraphone will appeal to the more experimental audio crowd looking to be on the bleeding-edge of the next big thing.
Read more: Nuraphone Headphones review
Noise cancellation explained
How to choose the best noise-cancelling headphones for you
Design is hugely important, as a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones need to be comfortable for long listening sessions – look out for padded earcups and headbands in materials like memory foam for ultimate comfort.
Padded earcups also help with passive noise cancellation – in other words, they physically block sound from entering your ears. This works in tandem with active noise cancellation, with the best noise-cancelling headphones using a combination of the two methods to get rid of outside noise.
Not a fan of over-ear headphones? Nowadays, you can even find true wireless earbuds with effective noise cancellation built-in, so there really is an option for everyone as you've seen above.
As with any pair of headphones, the sound quality needs to be good, even if your focus is blocking out the world around you. How you define good sound quality depends on your personal taste. Do you like a warm, well-rounded sound, or do you prefer ultra high-fidelity that allows you to hear every single detail of your music? Are you a dedicated bass head or a classical music junkie?
Think about what works best for you so you know what to look for. With so many different noise-cancelling headphones out there, the choice can feel overwhelming if you don't know what's most important to you.
What to look for
What is noise cancellation?
Noise-cancelling headphones use analogue and electronic methods to block out the environmental sound around you, allowing you to listen to your music in peace without distraction. Most noise-cancelling headphones make use of the following two approaches:
Passive noise cancellation: this is when the headphones physically block outside sound from reaching your ears, and this can be achieved in a number of ways. Noise-cancelling over-ear headphones typically have heavily padded earcups to achieve this, while in-ear headphones need to fit snugly in your ear to create a tight seal, stopping environmental sounds from entering.
Active noise cancellation: this method uses inbuilt microphones to analyze environmental noise and create 'anti-noise' frequencies that are mixed in with your music playback. This effectively cancels out the sound of your surroundings using analogue or digital filters.
Is it worth buying noise-cancelling headphones?
Much like with any purchase, it depends on how important noise-cancellation is for you. For most people, when wearing headphones, you want to be able to hear what you're listening to and not be distracted by environmental sounds.
While turning up the volume may help a little, a true pair of noise-cancelling headphones are able to filter out unwanted sounds more effectively without reducing the quality of the music or podcast you're listening to.
You'll be surprised how soon you become accustomed to noise-cancellation headphones and enjoying the relative silence away from the world.
How we test the best noise-cancelling headphones
We've tested every pair of the best noise-cancelling headphones on this list and to include them here, we were looking for each device to excel at a number of things.
The first, of course, is effective noise-cancellation. We tested for headphones that were able to block out sound effectively, no matter whether you're on a daily commute or simply taking a walk. We also looked at additional features like multiple noise cancellation modes or how well their transparency mode worked.
Audio performance was a key consideration too. Good noise cancellation doesn't mean poor sound quality and we made sure to check for that. Each pair of headphones here offer clear and powerful sound.
From there, we looked at Bluetooth connectivity. We tested for stable and reliable connections. After all, there's nothing worse than losing a track just as it reaches the good bit.
Next up, we wanted to ensure the headphones were designed with comfort and style in mind. We tested how comfortable they were for long periods of time and assessed their looks, too, from minimal to suitably stylish, while appreciating everyone has different taste.
We also considered additional features, such as voice assistant integration and app support. Not all of the headphones in this list have extras like these, but it's nice to know what extras you can pick up, regardless of your budget.
Talking of budget, we also considered whether the noise-cancelling headphones in this list were good value for money. That doesn't mean we only looked at budget headphones - far from it in some cases - but we wanted to make sure that each pair offered something that made their price worthwhile.
Best noise-cancelling headphones, at a glance:
- Sony WH-1000XM5
- Sony WH-1000XM4
- Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
- Shure AONIC 50
- Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H95
- Bose QuietComfort 35 II
- Jabra Elite 85H
- Bowers and Wilkins PX7 Wireless
- Apple AirPods Max
- Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless