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Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones 2021: Block out the world

Jean-Paul Sartre once observed that “Hell is other people”. We imagine Jean-Paul didn’t have access to the best noise-cancelling headphones.

Noise-cancelling headphones are hugely popular, with listeners using them to enjoy some peace and quiet on a noisy journey on a plane or train, or even a loud office. While there hasn’t been much travelling for the past year, for those working at home this type of headphones are a great fit for keeping the distractions and commotion of home life to a minimum.

These are Trusted Reviews’ best noise-cancelling headphones, from premium options to more affordable efforts. We’ve tested these headphones in a range of situations and environments to get a sense of just how well they effectively suppress noise; whether that’s in a home environment, cities and places such as shopping centres and public transport stations.

If you’re not looking for noise cancelling headphones, we also have lists for the best wireless headphones, best running headphones, best wireless earbuds and best headphones overall.

How we test noise cancelling headphones

Any set of noise-cancelling headphones sent in for review will be rigorously tested by one of our audio experts. The expert will use them for a minimum of a week as their primary pair of headphones.

This means the headphones will be tested in a variety of environments to gauge the effectiveness of their ANC and general audio quality, as well as directly comparing them against similarly priced rivals and a reference pair. We also understand that not everyone enjoys the same type of music, so we test units using by playing all genres from classical to rock and hip-hop.

The best got better
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Pros

  • Superb audio
  • Impressive noise cancellation
  • Comfortable fit
  • Smart features are useful

Cons

  • Drops aptX/aptX-HD from the specification
  • No IP resistance

Sony continues to excel with its WH-1000X headphone range, and the latest version is the best yet.

Somehow the XM4 have managed to make the WH-1000XM3 sound ungainly, and they’ve done this by making small improvements in every area. Though the headphones only weigh a gram less, they’re more comfortable to wear and improvements made to noise-cancellation serve to make for an even more impressive performance.

Audio has taken steps forward with a refined performance that can handle any genre, and it removes plenty of noise for a cleaner audio quality. These aren’t just great headphones, they’re sublime.

Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Sony WH-1000XM4

Outstanding noise-cancellation
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Pros

  • Tremendous noise cancelling
  • Neutral sound quality
  • Comfortable fit
  • Excellent transparency mode

Cons

  • Rather average battery life
  • No higher quality Bluetooth codecs

One aspect of the Bose earbuds that’s not so perfect is its endurance. 18 hours is a disappointment considering the price is well north of £200. They do support Qi-wireless charging, which may alleviate concerns for anyone who needs to top up regularly, but we’d have liked if the earbuds could have matched the likes of Apple and Sony in this regard.

But on to much better aspects about these earbuds. The Transparency Mode is excellent: clear and adjustable so you can block as much or as little of the world around you. The noise-cancelling is tremendous for a pair of wireless earbuds, and in our estimation they’re class-leading. Sound is another area of excellence, its reproduction of vocals sounds natural, bass is confident, treble is sharp and detail levels are excellent. It’s not as refined as the Sony WF-1000XM3 with regards to the midrange, but they do sound bigger and more powerful.

Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

One of the finest-sounding noise-cancellers
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Pros

  • Big, textured sound
  • 30 hour battery
  • Effective wear sensor technology
  • Impressive Ambient pass-through mode

Cons

  • ANC ought to be stronger
  • Wireless connectivity gets choppy in busy areas

B&W’s flagship PX7 headphones are filled to the brim with features. Their noise-cancelling performance is solid, though others are stronger, and they’re not the most portable either with a big profile and lack of foldability.

Its audio quality that’s the highlight as you’d expect from Bowers & Wilkins. They sound fabulous, extracting plenty of emotion from a recording, with a smooth, mellow character and a performance that’s also quite spacious for a closed-back pair.

Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Bowers & Wilkins PX7

No longer the king, but still great
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Pros

  • Excellent sound quality
  • Fast charge feature is great
  • Comfortable fit
  • Responsive controls

Cons

  • Could do with a touch more detail in the treble

The WH-1000XM3 improved the formula established by the WH-1000XM2 with a more elegant profile and ergonomic shape, as well as being more comfortable to wear. The noise-cancelling chip used by the headphones brought with it better performance, and the useful “Quick Attention” turns your music down so you can hear what’s around you.

And, of course, there’s the sound: cleaner and fuller, with a more defined performance. They’ve now been usurped by the WH-1000XM4, but they’re still available as a cheaper alternative before they reach their end-of-life.

Reviewer: Ced Yuen
Full Review: Sony WH-1000XM3

Fantastic noise-cancellation
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Pros

  • Very comfortable to wear
  • Smooth, textured mid-range
  • Excellent noise cancellation
  • Rotary dial controls
  • aptX Bluetooth support

Cons

  • Could be more exciting
  • Soft bass performance
  • Battery life could still use improvements

The original Surface Headphones were pretty good, and the Surface Headphones 2 represent a leap forward with a number of improvements.

The padding on the earcups makes them easy to wear: the rotary dials for volume and noise-cancellation continue to be wonderfully intuitive and thanks to the inclusion of aptX they sound better, with a textured, smooth performance. The noise-cancellation is some of the best we’ve sampled, offering impressive levels of suppression to keep the world at bay.

Microsoft has also made a smart choice in bringing the headphones down in price. At £240, they’re one of the best headphones at that price.

Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Microsoft Surface Headphones 2

Shure’s first ANC headphone
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Pros

  • Sensational sound
  • Good comfort levels
  • Effective ANC
  • Custom EQ settings
  • Stylish looks

Cons

  • Pricey
  • Not particularly portable

For a brand as old as Shure, you’d have thought they’d have a presence in the noise-cancelling market already. But no, the Aonic 50 are Shure’s first step into uncharted waters.

Shure has a proud reputation for delivering uncompromising sound and they’re at it again with the Aonic 50. While they’ll politely accept low-quality streams, the amount of detail and transparency they conjure means if the track isn’t up to standard the Aonic 50 will quickly reveal its limitations. Nevertheless, they have a fizzing sense of energy to go along with the expressive bass and rhythmic ability. We like their sound very much.

And for a first attempt at noise-cancelling they’re effective. The added volume bump helps to suppress everyday sounds and voices, and music has more energy with ANC on and a little less vigorous with it off. There is a transparency mode, but audio takes a backseat when activated. If what you seek is audiophile sound wrapped in an ANC bow, the Shures are just the ticket.

Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Shure Aonic 50

Stylish noise-cancellers
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Pros

  • Comfortable to wear
  • Very good noise cancellation
  • App is easy to use
  • Great looks
  • Neutral sounding character

Cons

  • Not particularly portable
  • Mid-range lacks a little finesse
  • 20-hour battery on the low side

Bose is considered one of the go-to brands for noise cancellation, and it’s a reputation further solidified by the flagship NC 700 Headphones.

The ANC performance is very good, its six microphones tasked to suppress noise and does so rather successfully as vehicles are diminished and conversations are harder to pick up. While there’s not a huge amount of difference in the ANC performance between Bose and the Sony WH-1000XM4, we feel the Sonys clear out more noise.

There’s no Transparency Mode as such, but there’s controls to dial down noise cancelling levels to let more sound either on the headphones themselves or through the Bose Music app. And how do they sound? It’s what we’ve come to expect from Bose, the NC 700 showcases an energetic and natural delivery that’s big and spacious. The midrange could use more finesse, and that’s another reason where we side more with Sony’s XM4.

Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

Stylish cans with strong ANC
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Pros

  • Clean, neutral performance
  • Terrific noise cancellation
  • Lots of style
  • Good comfort levels

Cons

  • Lacking some midrange fidelity
  • Ambient Sound Enhancer is inconsistent

The EAH-F70N represents esteemed audio brand Technics’ foray into the ANC market, and despite the tough competition, they stand out.

Visually they look incredibly stylish, the outer earcup using an aluminium treatment for a distinctive look. They’re comfortable to wear too, and the noise-cancelling performance is up there with the best, wiping out a significant amount of noise.

They’re older than several pairs on this list (released in 2019), and their feature set does feel slightly lacking, although LDAC means they support Hi-res playback. And while the sound isn’t quite as exciting or as powerful as some others; it’s a presentation that’s controlled, expansive and refined. If you see them for around £199 or less, they’ll be hard to resist.

Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Technics EAH-F70N

For the trendy set
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Pros

  • Stylish appearance
  • Entertaining delivery
  • Collapsible design
  • Impressive noise cancellation

Cons

  • Treble could be sweeter
  • Can sound lean

Marshall’s newest pair of headphones are its most advanced yet, and fare well when placed next to existing noise-cancellers.

They shut out the surrounding world leaving you to focus on your audio and are ready-made for travel, thanks to a collapsible design and they look pretty svelte for the daily commute. 

With a fairly well-balanced sound and entertaining delivery, but others offer better sound. If you like a good-looking pair of cans with excellent noise-cancellation, these Marshalls are well worth considering.

Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Marshall Monitor II A.N.C

A “smart” pair of noise-cancellers
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Pros

  • Superb noise cancelling
  • Excellent mic for calls
  • Light and comfortable
  • Long battery life

Cons

  • No aptX
  • Rivals sound better

The Bose QuietComfort 35 II’s are light and comfortable and perfect for travelling.

Significant changes are harder to come by compared to previous generations. It lacks aptX support and aptX HD, but they still sound very good, although recent efforts have bettered them. The level of noise-cancelling is adjustable and there’s room for Alexa and Google Assistant.

Other than that, these are still capable cans, with a battery life that’s respectable at 20 hours wireless or 40 hours wired.

Reviewer: Ced Yuen
Full Review: Bose QuietComfort 35 II

Superb transparency mode
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Pros

  • Superb transparency mode
  • Good active noise cancellation
  • Balanced tone, particularly for Beats

Cons

  • Go over-ear and you get bigger sound, same price
  • Tight grip may be a turn-off
  • Fold to turn off? It’s not for everyone

Excessive bass was always the problem with Beats headphones, and in the Solo Pro, Beats has chosen the path of less bass for a clearer, balanced sound. There’s still that signature bass, though the Solo Pro avoid the warmth and muddiness associated with the brand.

And the noise-cancellation proves to be very effective, if not as robust a solution as Sony or Bose but the Transparency Mode for listening to what’s around you is excellent. The high price means they’re not quite a slam dunk, but they are nonetheless an accomplished pair of on-ears.

Reviewer: Andrew Williams
Full Review: Beats Solo Pro

Good for travel
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Pros

  • Clean and clear sound
  • Large, comfortable pads
  • Effective noise cancellation

Cons

  • Bose and Sony ANC is better
  • Power slider clicks during runs
  • Slight BT lag
  • Mild treble sibilance, and less rich mids than some

If you’re after a cheaper ANC headphone, the Sennheiser PXC 550 II are a very good choice. While their noise cancellation is not as good as Bose or Sony, it’s effective.

The audio is clean and clear, with bass deep and assured and good mid-range detail. If your budget can’t take you to the more premium options on this list, and you’re after a pair of headphones to use when travelling, the Sennheisers are worth picking up.

Reviewer: Andrew Williams
Full Review: Sennheiser PXC 550 II

FAQs

What are the best noise cancelling earbuds?

Our vote goes to the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. No other earbud we’ve tested offers quite as much suppression as they do, though it comes at the cost of reduced battery life compared to rivals.

What are the best noise cancelling over-ears?

Sony’s WH-1000XM4 still tops out list of the best over-ears. with a superb noise cancelling performance that suppresses most sounds very effectively.

What are the bets noise cancelling headphones for the office?

The Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 are a good shout for office use with their Swift Pair functionality for Windows 10 PCs.

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