The best noise cancelling headphones are the ones that grant the gift of peace and quiet. In a world of construction noises, rowdy pedestrians, and screaming children, they silence your surroundings and let you enjoy music the way it was meant to be heard — loud, clear, and most importantly, uninterrupted. But the benefits shouldn’t just stop there. You want to get your money’s worth, so snagging a pair that promises great sound, lengthy battery life, and superior comfort is essential.
The last big noise-cancelling headphone release this year looks to be the LG Tone Free HBS-FN7, an updated version of the company’s self-cleaning wireless earbuds. However, 2021 will have many surprises in store, including the heavily rumored AirPods Pro 2 and AirPods 3, as well as numerous other models set to make their debut at CES 2021.
Elite active noise cancellation often comes at a premium, which is usually provided by the likes of industry titans such as Bose, Sony, Sennheiser, and even Apple/Beats. However, with the ANC market expanding vastly over the past year, newcomers like Jabra and Microsoft have also released superior headphones at affordable prices.
And the category continues to grow, with the highly anticipated Apple AirPods Studio over-ear headphones rumored to arrive this year and take on heavy hitters like the Bose 700 and Sony WH-1000xM4. To help you choose wisely, we’ve reviewed dozens of the best noise-cancelling headphones in various styles, including budget and premium models, to choose the right fit for you.
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The best noise cancelling headphones you can buy
The Bose 700 may have more powerful active noise cancellation, but the Sony WH-1000xM4’s incredible overall performance at $50 cheaper makes it the better value. Everything that made the WH-1000xM3 a critical darling remains intact, including the phenomenal soundstage and touch controls that allow for seamless playback and call management. Having the ability to personalize audio via the Sony Headphones Connect app is awesome, letting you create your own sound profiles or pick from multiple fine-tuned presets that lend themselves well to almost every music genre. You’re also getting top-tier ANC that gives competitors a run for their money and lets you enjoy longer playtimes than any Bose model with the feature enabled.
Sadly, the call quality isn’t great, which has been a reoccurring problem for the Mark series. But to the WH-1000xM4’s credit, this is the only legitimate complaint that can be made about Sony’s flagship headphones.
Read our full Sony WH-1000xM4 review.
Engineered with 11 levels of ANC, 8 individual microphones, and a revamped mobile app that extends functionality, the Bose 700 makes the strongest case for both the best noise cancelling headphones and best wireless headphones. The ability to set and toggle between different ANC settings on the fly is an awesome feature, giving listeners full control of noise neutralization, which is incredible on these cans. Enabling the highest level will quiet most high-frequency noises effectively without disrupting the soundstage.
The call quality is even more impressive with Bose’s mic system pulling double duty to block out rumblings and amplify vocals for clearer calls, as well as voice command recognition. Not to mention these headphones deliver top-tier sound reproduction and don a svelte design that justifies its luxury price. Bose has a software update in the works as well that will introduce several enhancements, including an adjustable EQ, improved connectivity, and better level/voice prompt fixes are on the list.
For those working remotely, Bose has launched an updated version of this model called the 700 UC that is compatible with popular video-conferencing programs like Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams.
See our full Bose 700 Noise Cancelling Headphones review.
The AirPods Pro may be considered the better overall model between the two, but we’re talking noise cancellation here, a category now dominated by the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. Think of these earbuds as the wireless in-ear variant of the Bose 700, offering much of the same functionality to deliver unbeatable ANC performance, and that is with half the mics. They come with 10 levels of ANC that can be adjusted in the Bose Connect app, which also blends with an ambient listening mode to allow full awareness of what’s happening around you. Sound is warm and clean, though call quality is the product’s unsung feature, producing excellent clarity on both ends.
Aside from the bulky design (both earbuds and charging case), the only thing holding Bose’s flagship earbuds from perfection is the middling battery life. A single charge is rated at 6 hours, but that number drops quickly to 5 hours when factoring in the listening modes and heavy streaming. The charging case only offers an additional 18 hours as well, a major letdown when seeing how huge it is.
Read our full Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review.
Advanced noise cancellation combined with intelligible features and a ton of sound-optimization features makes the Sony WH-1000xM3 one of the best noise cancelling headphones money can buy. Sony’s all-new HD Noise Cancelling Processor QN1 is a powerhouse that improves noise reduction, while reproducing high-fidelity sound that is unmatched. Booming bass is still at the forefront of Sony’s signature and plays nicely with mids and highs to achieve natural, full audio. Access to a built-in EQ and several presets that lend themselves well to different music genres via Sony Headphones Connect app opens the lane for personalized sound.
Comfort is another area where these wireless cans excel, taking on a lighter and more slender form than previous versions, for better wearability. Battery life remains a series highlight, and the addition of USB-C charging definitely ups the ante, rewarding listeners with 5 hours of use on a 10-minute charge.
See our full Sony WH-1000xM3 review.
The AirPods Pro land on our list of best noise cancelling headphones because these wireless earbuds blocked noise quite well in our testing, whether we were commuting or walking around New York City. It's also easy to activate the ANC with just a long press on the earbud stem. And for those times when you need to be aware of your surroundings, there's Transparency mode that lets ambient noise in so you can listen to music and listen to the world around you. The latest iOS 14 update brings new features like automatic switching and spatial audio, which creates 3D-like sound for listeners, into the mix.
The AirPods Pro offer a very comfortable and secure fit, which you can personalize thanks to three sets of included silicone tips and even a fit test you can run on your iPhone. And these buds are great for working out, as the AirPods Pro offer sweat- and water-resistance. The battery life with noise cancelling on is only 4.5 hours, but you can 24 hours of juice through the wireless charging case.
See our full Apple AirPods Pro review.
Anker upgraded its popular, low-cost ANC headphones with better sound, noise cancellation, and features. The Life Q30’s 40mm drivers produce impactful lows and mids that make listening to contemporary music genres enjoyable and enabling ANC mode doesn’t diminish audio quality. Highs aren’t the headphones’ greatest strength, but you can select from a variety of presets or tweak the EQ to tailor the sound to your ears, which is a huge feature for any pair of wireless headphones listed under $100. But what’s most satisfying is the amount of music time you get out of these bad boys, with Anker’s massive battery generating up to 40 hours with ANC on and a whopping 60 hours in standard mode.
We do wish the headphones came with more touch controls; they only support a 2-second hold gesture on the right earpad to enable ANC/Transparency mode. Also, while we admire the updated premium construction, the design does apply more force on both the skull and ears, which creates discomfort after an hour of listening. Still, the price point is unbeatable when looking at the amount of functionality these headphones afford you.
Before the 700s hit retail shelves, the QuietComfort 35 II was considered the gold standard in noise cancelling headphones. But just because the QC35 II has been overthrown by a sleeker, more advanced version doesn’t make mean it can’t still silence sound better than 90% of its competition. And with its recent price drop, you can snatch up this critical darling for $100 less (the Black and Silver versions are currently available for $200).
Screaming babies, subway cars and planes are no match for these noise cancelling headphones, which are very light and comfy for enjoying the 20 hours of playtime on a charge. The controls are a cinch to use and the sound quality is top-notch among Bluetooth headphones. And if that wasn’t enough, Bose added a dedicated Google Assistant button, so that you can quickly inquire about the weather, a new restaurant or last night’s game.
See our full Bose QuietComfort 35 II review.
Jabra’s first-ever noise-cancelling wireless earbuds are a fantastic upgrade to the universally acclaimed Elite 75t series. The Elite 85t is loaded with technical firepower, housing its own ANC chip and the versatile Qualcomm QCC5126 processor that elevates audio performance across the board. There are five adjustable ANC levels to control how much ambient sound you want to block out, which the feature does tremendously well at max level, while HearThrough Mode grants the option to let in as much noise as you want to hear. But what you really buy Jabra earbuds for is sound, and it’s bigger and more detailed this time around. The ability to customize it through several presets or by tweaking the frequency levels via built-in EQ on the Sound+ app is also clutch for those with different sonic preferences.
We had really hoped to see some advancement in battery life, which is stuck at 5.5 hours with ANC on. One positive takeaway is that this is an hour more than what the AirPods Pro gives you, plus Jabra did a commendable job with power management to help you get the most juice out of the battery, per charge.
The original Surface Headphones were a pleasant surprise we didn’t see coming and its successor is even better. Now available in sleek matte black, Surface Headphones 2 is an ideal option for audiophiles and work-from-home types who constantly switch from platform to platform, device to device. Digital assistant support works well, and Microsoft 365 integration is a cool feature that lets you use voice dictation to jot down notes and captions hands-free on Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and other Office programs. Being able to connect up to 10 devices simultaneously is pretty sweet too.
But let’s not forget that this is a noise-cancelling headset first and a productivity tool second. That being said, the Surface Headphones 2 delivers quality ANC that can be easily adjusted through the dial controls. Microsoft’s 40mm Free Edge drivers produce lively sound to enjoy music, videos, and games as well. If only the headphones weren’t short on battery life and extended features.
Read our full Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 review.
Kudos to Sony for doing such an outstanding job bringing top-tier ANC technology to truly wireless earbuds. The WF-1000XM3 earbuds are exemplary of this, combining stellar sonics with outstanding noise cancellation. They block out ambient sound better than the AirPods Pro, thanks to the company’s HD Noise Canceling Processor QN1e and adaptive mics that successfully cancel out sounds across different frequencies.
Deep, rich bass and tonal balance give these buds an edge in the audio department over numerous competitors. Better yet, listeners have the option to play with the built-in EQ and create their own sound profile or choose from nine different presets as well as adjust the ambient sound levels. And with an estimated 6 hours of battery life (ANC on), you'll have a generous amount of time to enjoy your music, movies or podcasts. Rumors of the WF-1000xM4 receiving aptX HD support have been hot for the past several months, which, if true, would allow for wireless streaming of Hi-Res Audio codecs and extends the buds shelf life.
See our full Sony WF-1000XM3 earbuds review.
How to choose the best noise cancelling headphones for you
Check out Tom’s Guide’s comprehensive guides for the best headphones and earbuds you can buy, across every major category and price point.
The first item to check off the list when shopping for the best noise cancelling headphones is active noise cancellation, which shouldn’t be confused with passive noise cancellation. What are the differences?
ANC uses advanced circuitry and microphones to pick up noise signals and create inverse waves that cancel out these sonic disruptions, whereas PNC physically isolates high-pitched sounds through the headphone design and materials. Most headphones advertised with noise cancellation are categorized under ANC.
Next up is battery life. Noise cancelling headphones have a reputation for sucking up lots of power, so you’ll want a pair that holds a charge long enough to get you through a long business flight or weekly commutes. ANC wireless headphones offer anywhere between 15 to 40 hours, while noise cancelling wireless earbuds are rated for 4.5 to 8 hours.
ANC technology can compress sound and reduce dynamics, which may affect audio performance when turned on. In some cases, you’ll notice a background hiss when listening to music. However, there are noise cancelling headphones out there that limit these disruptions to deliver full, crisp sound.
Design is just as important when selecting the best noise cancelling headphones. Over-ear headphones tend to give the best noise cancellation, though some of the more recent Bluetooth on-ear and in-ear models are proving to be just as effective.
How we test noise cancelling headphones
In creating our list of best noise cancelling 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.
For sound quality, we listen to many sample tracks that span a number of genres, including hip-hop, rock, jazz, classical and R&B, while evaluating volume, clarity and fullness. And now that more streaming music services are offering high-resolution resolution audio, be sure to read our audio codec FAQ for everything you need to know about FLAC files, MP3s and everything in between.
Once we complete our testing, we rate headphones based on our five-point system (1 = worst, 5 = best). If a product hits nearly every mark, it’s awarded an Editors' Choice badge.