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The best noise-canceling headphones for 2021

Sony’s WH-1000XM4 are the best noise-canceling headphones. They’re also the best wireless headphones, which in turn led us to crown them the best headphones, period. Yes, they’re that good. With supreme comfort, sparkling sound, fantastic noise cancellation, a unique pressure equalization feature, and a host of options, we’d pick these headphones even if they were more expensive. For most people, the Sony WH-1000XM4 are an unbeatable choice for a set of noise-canceling headphones.

Our team has more than 50 years of combined audio experience, and we’ve tested more than 300 headphones — many of which offer noise cancellation. If the WH-1000XM4 aren’t right for you, we’ve assembled a list of excellent alternatives. They all cancel noise, but each has its own specific strengths.

The best noise-canceling headphones at a glance:

The best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4

Sony WH-1000XM4
Riley Young / Digital Trends

Our score: 4.5/5

Why you should buy them: Superb sound, great comfort, and impressive noise-canceling make Sony’s WH-1000XM4 our pick of the list.

Who they’re for: Those who want to block out distracting ambient noises, but without sacrificing terrific sound quality.

Why we picked the Sony WH-1000XM4:

Let’s get right to it. The previous leader of this list was Sony’s WH-1000XM3, and the WH-1000XM4 have everything that made those headphones amazing, plus a bit more for the same price. That by itself should be all you need to know to be sold on the XM4.

For the sake of thoroughness, we’ll break down these new headphones from Sony anyway. The design of the 1000XM4 remains largely the same, making for the same comfort and stability as the previous model. The battery life of these new cans is unchanged, providing 30 hours with active noise cancellation on and 38 hours without. And while Sony says it has improved its software algorithms and hardware when it comes to active noise cancellation, the 1000XM4 are basically the same as the XM3 – excellent. Bose’s Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are also a standout choice, but the WH-1000XM4 get the edge because of all the other features they offer.

The few significant changes that were made with the WH-1000XM4 include the introduction of Bluetooth multipoint connection, allowing them to be connected to two different devices at the same time. Essentially, you could be watching Netflix on your laptop, field a phone call on your mobile device, then effortlessly return to your streaming enjoyment.

The XM4 also got a wear sensor to automatically pause content when you remove the headphones, as well as Sony’s latest music upscaling tech, DSEE Extreme. None of these changes are major, but they don’t have to be. Sony’s headphones were already the best, and this new model only cements that position.

If you’re looking for a way to silence the outside world so you can be left alone to enjoy your favorite music, there’s simply no better way to do it than with the Sony WH-1000XM4.

Read our full Sony WH-1000XM4 review

The best noise-canceling earbuds: Jabra Elite 85t

Jabra Elite 85t
Jabra

Why you should buy them: You want top-notch audio quality and wonderfully quiet noise cancellation in a set of comfortable true wireless earbuds.

Who they’re for: Travelers and business people in loud offices, or anyone who needs excellent noise cancellation in a set of earbuds.

Why we picked the Jabra Elite 85t:

Yes, this is a headphone round-up, but we just couldn’t resist pointing out that you can get stellar noise canceling in a set of true wireless earbuds, too, and we think the Jabra Elite 85t are the best.

The Elite 85t are compact and comfortable — perhaps the most comfortable in-ear-canal earbuds we’ve ever tried. That’s partially because Jabra used a semi-open design for the 85t, which helps to reduce the “I’ve got a small bug lodged in my ear” effect that other in-ear-canal models can create.

Sound quality and ANC are both equally impressive. You get a warm, rich rendering of tunes right out of the box, but the excellent Jabra Headphones app lets you tweak EQ in an endless number of ways if you prefer a different sound.

One of their best features is the ability to snap between full ANC mode and full transparency mode with just one click of the earbud’s physical buttons. In fact, the Elite 85t’s control customization is so good, you can assign any function to any series of clicks, on either earbud until you’ve got things dialed in exactly the way you want them.

Their charging case is one of the smallest you can get and it can be charged wirelessly or via USB-C. Battery life in the earbuds is good if not extraordinary at 5.5 hours of operation with ANC on and seven hours with ANC on. The charging case extends that life to 19.5 hours or 24 hours respectively. A 15-minute fast charge gets you an extra hour of play time.

Jabra constantly updates the firmware for its products. Recently, it even added ANC to its Elite 75t and Elite Active 75t — a move we’ve never seen from any other company. The 85t has already been given new features, like a fit-test that checks to see if you’re using the right silicone ear-tips for your ears.

Finally, if you like to work out with your tunes, the Elite 85t have IPX4 water-resistance, which is more than sufficient to deal with sweat — just don’t submerge them in water.

Read our full Jabra Elite 85t review

The best noise-canceling headphones for Apple users: Apple AirPods Max

Apple AirPods Max
Riley Young/Digital Trends

Why you should buy them: If you’re an Apple fan, the AirPods Max deliver excellent audio quality and top-notch noise-cancellation, and they work seamlessly with all of Apple’s products.

Who they’re for: Apple users who don’t mind spending top-dollar for a top-shelf audio experience.

Why we picked the Apple AirPods Max:

Apple is on a roll when it comes to personal audio. The AirPods Pro were the surprise hit of the true wireless earbuds world when they debuted, and Apple has taken that successful formula to the next level with the AirPods Max, a stunningly beautiful — and expensive — set of over-ear ANC headphones.

Their design, with aluminum-covered earcups, a weight-distributing mesh headband, and some of the most intuitive controls we’ve ever used, is truly exceptional. We can’t say enough about the build quality, which puts most other high-end wireless cans to shame.

Sound quality is on-par with the Sony WH-1000XM3, but what really blew us away was the AirPods Max’s noise-cancellation, transparency mode, and call quality — each of which is better than the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, and that’s saying something given how good the Bose are.

You could use the AirPods Max with non-Apple devices, but just like the AirPods Pro, to do so would be an unfortunate waste of the AirPods Max’s talents. They pair instantly with iPhones and Macs and can switch between these devices in a snap. The spatial audio feature is iPhone-only for now, and you can only tweak their EQ if you’re using an iOS device.

They’re not perfect — we think their heavy weight will prevent people from wanting to wear them for long listening sessions, and their included protective case has rightfully become the object of ridicule for its non-existent protection, and then of course, there’s the price.

Still, if you’re an Apple fan with money to invest in personal audio, you likely won’t find a better set of ANC cans than the AirPods Max.

Read our full Apple AirPods Max review

The best noise-canceling headphones for kids: Puro PuroQuiet

Why you should buy them: The PuroQuiet do more than cancel unwanted noise, they also protect your kids from dangerously loud sound levels.

Who they’re for: Parents who want to provide their kids with high-quality, noise-canceling headphones.

Why we picked the Puro PuroQuiet:

It can be tough to find decent quality headphones for kids even before you start looking for a feature like noise cancellation. Fortunately, the Puro PuroQuiet are both a great set of wireless kids headphones and as a bonus, they’ve got noise-canceling too. But the best part for parents is that they come equipped with a software limiter that keeps the volume at or below 85dB, which is considered the maximum volume that children should be exposed to for prolonged periods.

With 16 hours of battery life, it’s unlikely your kid will outlast these headphones, but if they do, there’s always the option of using an analog cable instead. We’re frankly surprised more kids’ headphones don’t offer noise canceling. If the goal is to keep the volume at a safe level, eliminating unwanted outside noise means you can get the same sound quality at lower volumes than without this feature. It feels like a match made in child-parent heaven, something that doesn’t come along very often!

You’ll also appreciate that while not exactly cheap, given that the PuroQuiets have a very solid construction that will withstand at least some of the abuse kids can inflict, the Puro PuroQuiet are very reasonably priced for what they offer. We think your kids’ ears are worth it.

Read our full impressions of the Puro PuroQuiet headphones.

The best noise-canceling headphones for work and travel: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Why you should buy these: This is the best noise-canceling tech you can get, at any price.

Who they’re for: People who frequently listen to music in noisy locations, and who want crystal-clear call quality.

Why we picked the Bose Noise-canceling Headphones 700:

The new flagship of the Bose noise-canceling headphone lineup, the somewhat awkwardly named Bose Noise-canceling Headphones 700 (which we shall simply call the Bose 700) are a significant departure from the older QC35 II, which were our previous pick for this category.

Though still excellent for noise-cancellation for travel on planes, or anywhere you’ll find higher frequency noise to be a problem, the Bose 700 do let through middle frequencies a bit more than their predecessors. However, their improved microphone noise-canceling makes for some of the quietest, truest voice calls your callers will ever hear.

The new design is sleeker, with earcups mounted directly to the headband instead of the older yolk-based setup. Though not quite as adjustable, this new configuration lets the Bose 700 fold nearly flat in their storage case, making it easier to stow them in seat-backs and carry-on luggage.

Sound quality is just as good as the QC 35 II, and perhaps even better for movies and TV shows, though some audiophiles may notice a slight tendency to overemphasize the high frequencies. We think the Sony WH-1000xM3 sound better for music. The Bose companion app gives you more granular control over the headphones’ features like noise-canceling levels, but virtually everything you need can be controlled through a combination of touches and buttons on the earcups. This includes volume, play/pause, track skipping, voice-assistant activation (Alexa and Google Assistant are supported), and noise-canceling on/off and level.

We really like the Bose Noise-canceling Headphones 700, but if you prefer the acoustics of the QC 35 II, Bose still sells them, and they’re $50 less than the 700s.

Read our full Bose Noise-canceling Headphones 700 review

The best cheap noise-canceling headphones: Wyze Headphones

Wyze Headphones
Wyze

Why you should buy them: You want comfort and great sound without breaking the bank.

Who’s it for: Those looking for a great-sounding, feature-packed, pair of noise-canceling headphones, and don’t mind a non-premium brand.

Why we picked the Wyze Headphones:

In every category, there’s a product that manages to deliver 90% of the best features at a significantly cheaper price than everyone else. With 20 hours of battery life, active noise cancellation, and a premium design and build quality, the Wyze Headphones are that product.

The feature list alone is deeply impressive for a set of $50 headphones: Variable ANC with transparency mode, built-in access to Amazon Alexa, instant power-on/off, auto-pause/play when you slide them off your head, Bluetooth multipoint for pairing two sources simultaneously, analog input with a 3.5mm cable for non-wireless listening, and an app for iOS/Android to control many of these features including customizable EQ.

While their battery life may not be as long as other low-cost competitors, with a quick charge feature that gets you an extra four hours of life for just 10 minutes of plugged-in time, we don’t think this is a problem.

The Wyze Headphones sound great, but they certainly don’t reproduce audio with the same level of detail as the Sony WH-1000XM4. If you’re looking for a step-up in sound quality, we recommend looking at the Soundcore Life Q30. They’re more expensive than the Wyze Headphones but they have a huge battery life and excellent sound.

If you want a great pair of noise-canceling over-ear headphones, but you’re not interested in paying the premium prices that Sony, Apple, and Bose command, the Wyze Headphones are probably just what you’re looking for.

Research and buying tips

How do noise-canceling headphones work?

They use exterior microphones to capture the sound around you. They then reproduce matching frequencies with the phase inverted to cancel ambient noise.

Are noise-canceling headphones bad for your ears?

No. They were invented for pilots to preserve their hearing.

Are noise-canceling headphones worth it?

If you plan on listening in noisy environments, absolutely.

Are noise-canceling headphones better than earplugs?

Not usually. Earplugs can typically do a better job of blocking out noise, but they don’t have the benefit of being able to play audio.

Can noise-canceling headphones work without music?

Yes, noise-canceling headphones will reduce outside noise without music playing, but things will almost always seem quieter when music is playing over the top

How we test

We test headphones the way normal people live.

We run every pair of headphones through a rigorous process over several days. That includes playing them in all sorts of scenarios — be it on a bus, in the listening room, or at the office — and playing back from a wide array of sources. We know most people use their headphones with a smartphone, often with lower-quality MP3 resolution tracks, so we do too.

However, we also move up to high-resolution audio files, as well as a wide variety of sources, including plugging in directly to a PC or Mac, using USB DACs (digital-to-analog converters), and employing high-quality dedicated portable players and amplifiers. Finally, we compare the headphones to some of our go-to models, both in their class and price point, as well as a level or two above to find out if they can punch above their weight.

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