The best noise-cancelling headphones take music listening to the next level by blocking outside noise and allowing you to focus in on your favorite songs. Whether you plan on using them at home or taking them with you on-the-move, ANC (active noise cancelling) headphones are a must-have for music lovers, commuters, intrepid explorers, and office workers alike.
Noise-cancelling headphones can even protect your ears from damage, stopping you from cranking up the volume of your music to block out the sound of the world around you.
The best thing is the high-end tech that makes ANC headphones fantastic isn’t just included in a few of the most expensive models. There are many styles and brands to choose from these days, from the ultra-premium to more budget-friendly cans.
How We Test Noise Cancelling Headphones
In creating our list of best noise-canceling headphones, Tom’s Guide rates each model based on several factors: audio performance, battery life, Bluetooth range, call quality, comfort and fit, and the effectiveness of the noise cancellation. We also weigh special features, such as included apps, and how easy they are to use.
During the testing phase, our reviewers wear each pair of headphones for 2 hours at a time throughout the course of a week. Occasionally, we’ll perform further testing when comparing top-rated and popular models for our Face-Off features.
Active noise cancellation is tested in both indoor and outdoor environments where ambient sounds are produced at high levels.
This includes airplanes, city parks, convenience shops, offices, and public transportation. ANC headphones programmed with transparency modes are also tested thoroughly to determine how well the listener can hear their surroundings.
1. Sony WH-1000XM4Noise Cancelling Headphone
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 device. 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 supports 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.
2. Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
They don’t quite beat the Sony WH-1000XM4s 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 device 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.
3. Bose QuietComfort 35 II
Coming in at number four 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.
Despite the popularity of the QC35s, Bose has shaken things up by releasing a totally new wireless noise-cancelling headphones model, with a focus on sleek design and “breakthrough” audio tech: the Bose
They may not have pipped Sony to the top spot of the best Devices, but they’re still a fantastic pair of over-ear headphones, coming in at number two.
If anything the Urbanista Miami is one of the best-sounding cheap device I’ve used, especially for more upbeat tunes.
The styling is great too: sleek and simple, with the controls and ports tucked away on the bottom of the earcup mounts.
On the right is a set of three buttons (more on these later) and a 3.5mm jack, so you can keep listening with the included aux cable should the battery run flat. On the left is the lone “Feature” button and a USB-C port for chargin
Few pairs of noise-canceling headphones offer so much, for so little money, as the Urbanista Miami. They sound good, they’re stylish, they support Google Assistant and Siri, and they’ll last for days. Urbanista promises 40 hours of ANC playback, which we got in our testing with time to spare.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Noise Cancelling bad for you?
Actually, noise-cancelling headphones can be beneficial, since both loud noises and constant low-level noise can lead to health problems.Acute loud noises can damage hearing, interfere with sleep, raise blood pressure and stress levels and cause headaches.
Do noise Cancelling headphones block all sound?
That’s where active noise-canceling headphones come in. Active noise-canceling headphones can do everything that passive ones can do — their very structure creates a barrier that blocks high-frequency sound waves. They also add an extra level of noise reduction by actively erasing lower-frequency sound waves
Is it bad to sleep with noise Cancelling headphones?
So, is it possible (and safe) to sleep with noise-canceling headphones? Providing you’re comfortable, it’s possible, not bad, and completely safe to choose noise-canceling headphones because they are a good alternative to earplugs, which can be harmful if worn at night.