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The best noise-cancelling headphones in 2021

best noise-cancelling headphones
(Image credit: Sony)

In this guide, we run through the best noise-cancelling headphones on the market right now. Finding the best noise-cancelling headphones for you will depend upon a range of factors, including sound quality, design, comfort, price, and exactly how effective they are at cutting out the background noise. We've thought about all of that to chose our top six picks. 

Not sure you need noise-cancelling? Take a look at our guide to the best wireless headphones around, or our best running headphones if you want to work out while listening to music or your favourite podcast. Or if you're looking for the best headphones for video editing, we've got you covered too. 

The best noise-cancelling headphones

Sony WH-1000XM4

(Image credit: Sony)

01. Sony WH-1000XM4

The very best noise cancelling headphones you can buy

Type: Over-ear, wireless | Battery life: 30 hours (ANC on), 38 hours (ANC off) | Weight: 254g

Great noise cancellation
Good battery life
Top sound quality and editable
Extremely comfortable
No aptX support

The best noise-cancelling headphones available right now are the Sony WH-1000XM4s. Basically, if you know anything about the previous award-winning Sony WH-1000XM3s, then you can add a little bit more of everything, and you've got the M3s... add a bit more range, a bit more comfort, a slightly improved noise-cancellation, plus more functions like they pause when you take them off your head, or you can now connect to two Bluetooth-connected devices. This may not sound like a revolution, because it's not. It's just fantastic quality, and a great user experience. 

When it comes to sound, it's exceptional. We listened to a range of music, from heavily produced tracks like The System's You Are in My System, to test the M4's sense of space, bass, middle and treble; and then orchestra pieces like Arvo Pärt's Tabula Rasa, which tested dynamic range and detail; and a bit of Pantera to make sure our ears didn't melt after a couple hours. The Sony M4s excelled in all categories, and though we felt that the bass was a bit forthright straight out of the box, a quick play with the accompanying app and its equaliser controls, soon had a sound range that did the music justice. 

And with all of this to offer, the M4's are still competitive in price compared to the other top picks in this list. These are world-class noise-cancelling headphones that sound fantastic and are totally affordable. Winner!

The best noise-cancelling headphonesCB endorsed

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

02. Sennheiser Momentum 3

Stunning sound, super comfort, and great noise-cancelling

Type: Over-ear, wireless | Battery life: 17 hours | Weight:

Effective noise-cancelling
Bluetooth aptX
Effective app support
Rich, energetic sound
Not the longest battery on the list

There are a lot of reasons to love the Sennheiser Momentum 3s. First off is the exceptional noise-cancelling. With bigger ear cups than previous iterations (more on that later), these cans block out a fair bit of distracting sounds without the NC turned on; then there are three other options. The  ‘max’ setting is great at blocking a range of noises (all air conditioning hum disappears and train journeys are a tranquil joy), then there's the 'anti-wind' setting, which allows some surrounding noise in, and finally and then 'anti-pressure’, in case you want to conduct a conversation with clarity, with your headphones still on. 

The bigger ear cups, and the plush leather material used for the cups and the headband, are super comfortable for prolonged use. The AC toggle, and volume buttons are on the right can, and are intuitive to use, but really where the Momentum 3s really shine, are the sound when enjoyed at max noise-cancelling. 

There's a subtlety and power to these headphones – listening to the delicate-starting Má vlast by Smetana showcases their ability to pick out the smallest detail, and represent the individual elements in an orchestra. A switch to Smells Like Teen Spirit, is full-bodied and rich, and a quick play with the app allows some extra treble and big bass (because, well, I felt like it!) All together, the Momentum 3s are a joy to use, and well worth their high rank in our list. 

Best noise-cancelling headphones

(Image credit: Bose)

03. Bose QuietComfort 35 II

Bose gives Sony a run for its money when it comes to noise-cancelling credentials

Type: Over-ear, wireless | Battery life: 20+ hours | Weight: 232g

Unbeatable ANC
Incredible sound
Integrated voice assistant
Uninspiring design
No instant mute
No autoplay/pause

Coming in up at the top of the list are the Bose QuietComfort 35 IIs. Bose still rules the roost when it comes to flat-out noise-cancelling chops – the ANC on these is amazing. There's also incredible, soft, balanced, clear sound. 

In terms of features, these were the first headphones in the world to incorporate Google's Voice Assistant. You don't need to yell 'Okay Google'; you can just press a button to interact with the assistant. The QC35 IIs will also read back notifications to you to save you from having to hunt out your smartphone. This will be exciting for some but irrelevant for others – if you fall into the latter camp, perhaps take a look at the previous QuietComfort 35s, which offer similar incredible sound and ANC.

Design-wise, the QC35 IIs are uninspiring, and we're not huge fans of the plastic build. There are better-looking cans out there if that matters to you – although they are very, very comfortable. They're also let down slightly by the fact that they don't currently support aptX, for streaming hi-res audio via Bluetooth.

The best noise-cancelling headphones

(Image credit: Sony)

04. Sony WH-1000XM3

Very good top three noise-cancelling headphones

Type: Over-ear, wireless | Battery life: 30 + hours | Weight: 255g

Great sound quality
Award-winning for a reason!
30-hour battery life
Only paired with one device

These were the out-and-out best noise-cancelling headphones available for a while, and it's really only because of slight changes to recent competing cans (including the new Sony M4s) that they've shifted down in our list – they're still highly recommended.

A combination of top-quality sound and unbeatable outside noise cancellation mean these over-ear headphones have picked up multiple awards. These are very similar to the previous model; the WH-1000XM2. However, the tweaks that have been made – a USB-C input rather than microUSB, and improved comfort thanks to more padding along the bridge – are both welcome.

These cans feature aptX HD and Sony LDAC, both of which are great ways to listen to hi-res music wirelessly. Like Sony's other flagship headphones, these also include Google Assistant and Alexa support. 

The best noise-cancelling headphones

(Image credit: Master & Dynamic)

05. Master & Dynamic MW65s

The best luxurious noise-cancelling headphones

Type: Over-ear, wireless | Battery life: 24 (and a bit) hours | Weight: 245g

Rich, warm sound
Two active noise-cancelling modes
Great aesthetics
Massive battery life
Big cost

You may or may not think (as we do), that the Master & Dynamic MW65s look the business – with their playful aviator/steampunk aesthetic, and premium leather and aluminium trimmings (first shown in M&D's arguably even more stylish MH40s). But we're sure you'll agree that these high end noise-cancelling headphones are amongst the best sounding.

Master & Dynamic is known for creating headphones with a real depth of sound, not fixating on bass, but rather the full range of frequencies – this was evident in its previous Bluetooth over-ear (though not ANC) MW60 headphones. With the MW65s, M&D has added active noise cancelling to that sound profile, and the results are fantastic.

As far as headphones on the go, they're ideal. They charge 12 hours-worth of play time in 15 minutes, and a full charge will give you a massive 24 hours listening. They're also lightweight, at around 245g, and fit comfortably on this reviewer's (fat) head. There's Google Assistant built in, and phone calls come through nice and crisp. 

But does all this justify the rather large asking price? Well, that comes down to the sound and the active noise cancelling. The sound, as mentioned, is rich and warm, picking up detail that most other headphones don't. The MW65s do not come with earth-shattering bass, but rather a well-rounded sound profile. 

The ANC has two levels, high and low. Low utilises mics in the headphone cup to cancel out noise that penetrates through, and the high uses the more aggressive approach of mics around the outside of the ear cup, picking up ambient noise, which the headphones then cancels by generating a negating sound wave. The end result? Two ANC settings that are genuinely effective depending on your listening environment, and an exquisite sound that always shines through. One of our top noise-cancelling headphones, and definitely one to grab if you see a discount on them.

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06. Plantronics Backbeat PRO 2 headphones

The best noise-cancelling headphones for commuters

Type: Over-ear, wireless | Battery life: Up to 24hrs | Weight: 290g

Fantastic price
Punchy sound
ANC isn’t great
Quirky design touches

What do you look for in a good set of commuter headphones? Top of the list for some people is noise-cancellation, to block out the constant thrum of rush hour. For others, long battery life might be the most important thing. And then there are the people who need headphones to remain comfortable over prolonged use. The Plantronics Backbeat PRO 2 headphones tick all these boxes, and then some.

Weighing just 290g, the Backbeat PRO 2s can be worn for hours at a time without becoming uncomfortable. And with a Class 1 Bluetooth transmitter enabling extended connectivity, you should get up to 330 feet of range (and it also comes with support for the aptX codec). 

The Pro 2s are packed with features. With the flick of a switch, you can allow outside audio through, which is a useful feature if you need to interact with other people whilst commuting. And the PRO 2s also have pressure-sensitive earpads that detect when you don and remove your headphones, playing and stopping your audio accordingly.

You can pick up a pair of Backbeat PRO 2s for around the $200/£200 mark, which – though not what many would call budget – is less than most of its peers in this category. And for that you get a set of headphones that sounds great (particularly in the mid-range) and also boasts a build quality that puts some of its more expensive competitors to shame.

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07. Sennheiser Momentum 2

The most stylish noise-cancelling headphones

Type: Over-ear, wireless | Battery life: Up to 22hrs | Weight: 263g

Head-turning design
Good noise-cancellation
Lack of features
Could be more comfortable

If you’re looking for a set of noise-cancelling headphones to turn heads, the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless headphones are – hands-down – the best-looking headphones in this category.

From the metallic headband with its leather padding and colour-matched screws, to the curved lines of the earcups, all the way down to the violet charge light, every small detail has been considered. And the best thing of all is that Sennheiser has made sure that they sound great, too.

Outside of Sony and Bose, Sennheiser’s proprietary NoiseGard system offers up some of the best noise-cancelling we’ve come across. NoiseGard uses four mics to detect and dampen sound, and it effectively removes most steady background noise. (Other notable features include support for aptX and a soundstage that manages to avoid being as claustrophobic as some other over-ear headphones.)

For the price, we feel that Sennheiser could have added more features, but the few it does have work well. The power button doubles up for Bluetooth pairing duties, and there’s also a multi-function button that slides for volume and depresses for pause, play, skipping and calls.

Beyond the lack of features, there’s little to dislike about the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 headphones, and if you can bring yourself to part with the cash, you won’t be disappointed. 

Choosing the best noise-cancelling headphones

The key thing to look for when selecting the best noise-cancelling headphones is active noise control (ANC) technology. ANC isolates external noise – whether it’s coming from an engine, chatty workmates, or a busy train carriage – and neutralises it using hi-tech circuitry, leaving you with an audio feed free from ambient intrusion. Put simply, it actively removes all background noise. Or at least that’s the hope. 

You can then either fill the empty soundstage with your own music, or simply use your noise-cancelling headphones to block out your surroundings and help you focus. 

Active noise-cancelling was first developed in the 1950s to enable pilots to communicate in noisy cockpits. It wasn’t until the mid-'80s Bose created the first commercially available headsets to feature ANC, making it the go-to brand for noise-cancelling headphones for quite some time. However, more recently, the likes of Sony, Plantronics, and Sennheiser have all produced ANC headphones that compete with Bose in almost every respect.

Beyond ANC, you will also need to think about fit and comfort, weight, codec support, durability and general sound quality. The best noise-cancelling headphones do typically come with a hefty pricetag, but it's worth noting that there are often  great Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals on headphones, so that can be a good time to bag a bargain.

What are the best noise-cancelling headphones?

The best noise-cancelling headphones right now are the Sony WH-1000XM4s, with the earlier Sony WH-1000XM3s also ranking highly, along with Bose QuietComfort 35 II.

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