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12 Best Noise-Canceling Headphones of 2021

Enjoy peace and quiet while flying, traveling, studying and more.

Best Noise Canceling Headphones of 2020, According to Technology Experts
amazon, walmart

This story was updated in November 2021 to add several top picks from Bose, Apple and Sony based on testing led by Chief Technologist & Director of Engineering Rachel Rothman at the Good Housekeeping Institute's Media & Tech Lab.


Headphones have progressed way beyond the fuzzy black contraptions you once wore with your Walkman. Today's noise-canceling headphones efficiently block ambient sound and background noise like loud engines, crying babies or the rattling of a subway car to make you feel like you're listening to music in the middle of a quiet concert hall.

All of this is made possible thanks to miniature microphones that "listen to the outside noise frequencies and emit the exact opposite signal to effectively 'cancel out' both sets of sounds when the soundwaves collide," according to Bose, Certain sounds and frequencies will be canceled out more effectively than others: For the most part, noise-canceling headphones do a better job blocking out the drone of an airplane (a low-frequency sound) versus someone loudly speaking on the phone next to you (a medium-frequency sound).

Though noise-canceling headphones are a great tool to help you focus, they're not all made equal. That's why the Good Housekeeping Institute Media & Tech Lab evaluates headphones, logging hundreds of hours of listening to determine the best picks for you. Our last test logged nearly 300 hours and we’ve since tacked on hundreds of more hours as we’ve road-tested the best headphones while working from home (where we all need some extra help blocking out distractions). When testing, we analyze everything from the battery life, portability in terms of both weight and size and ease of using controls. We also assess perceived sound quality, comfort and design with consumer feedback.

The best noise-canceling headphones of 2021 include a range of styles, such as wireless headphones, over-ear headphones and noise-canceling earbuds. This list contains the top-performing headphones vetted by our tech experts, along with best-selling and highly-rated options that we reviewed specs for. No matter if you're a student looking for cheap noise-canceling headphones under $100, want to invest in a quality set for your next trip or could use wireless earbuds for the gym or office, there's a pair out there for you:

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Best Overall Noise-Canceling Headphones
QuietComfort 45
Bose amazon.com
$329.00
$279.00 (15% off)

• Claimed battery life: 24 hours
• Quiet Mark noise-canceling rating: 3 stars 
• Adaptive active noise cancellation: Yes 

Bose has a reputation when it comes to producing crystal clear sound that consumers absolutely love, and these wireless headphones aced our tests in the over-ear category. Though this pair doesn’t have touch controls, you can easily adjust the volume as well as switch between Quiet and Aware mode via on-ear controls. And if you want to alter your noise-canceling preferences further, you can do so in Bose app. 

Testers found these headphones to be super comfortable, so you shouldn’t have any issues using them for hours at a time while in meetings or when traveling on an airplane. The battery life of this headset has notably improved from that of its predecessor, Bose QuietComfort 35 II, so you’ll get up to 24 hours of use before having to recharge. And when it is time to recharge, this time has been cut down thanks to the introduction of USB-C. 

These headphones also are able to be paired with two devices at once, making switching between a Zoom meeting on your laptop to a call on your phone easier than ever. If you want Alexa built-in you’ll have to look elsewhere as this headset doesn't offer this feature, though you can access your phone’s native assistant. 

    • Excellent sound quality
    • Comfortable
    • Multi-pairing
    • Quick charging
    • Great Bluetooth connectivity (Bluetooth 5.1)

    • Not compatible with Google Assistant or Alexa
    • Battery life could be longer
    • No touch controls
    Best Noise-Canceling Headphones Under $100
    Life Q30
    Anker
    Soundcore by Anker amazon.com
    $79.99

    • Claimed battery life: 40 hours
    • 
    Adaptive active noise cancellation: Yes

    These noise-canceling headphones are under $100 and come with three convenient modes (transport, outdoor and indoor) to ensure sounds such as engines, wind, and chatter are blocked out as best as possible. Though our experts haven’t tested this set yet, these headphones beat all others out of the park with 40 hours of battery life in noise-canceling mode and 60 hours in standard mode. According to the brand, just five minutes of charging will get you four hours of playtime.

      • Impressive battery life
      • Affordable price
      • Quick charging
      • Multi-pairing
      Most Comfortable Over-Ear Noise-Canceling Headphones
      WH-1000XM4
      Sony
      Sony amazon.com
      $349.99
      $248.00 (29% off)

       Claimed battery life: 30 hours
       Quiet Mark noise-canceling rating: 3 stars
       Adaptive active noise cancellation: Yes

      Ultimate comfort and noise cancellation come together with this pair of Sony over-ear headphones. This pair was one of the top tested for comfort, meaning they’re perfect for frequent fliers and avid music listeners. While they are on the pricier side, you’re making up for it with top-notch noise cancellation and sound quality as well as touch sensor controls that let you skip songs, pause your music, or answer the phone. Battery life is excellent, and Alexa is built-in. You can further adjust advanced features in Sony's app, with cool settings like making it sound like you're on an outdoor stage.  

        • Quick charging
        • Touch sensor controls
        • Alexa built-in
        • Long battery life
        • Multi-pairing

        • Expensive
        Best Noise-Canceling Earbuds
        AirPods Pro
        Apple
        Apple amazon.com
        $249.00
        $197.00 (21% off)

         Claimed battery life: 24 hours with case or 4.5 hours without 
         
        Adaptive active noise cancellation: Yes

        Whether you’re an Apple user or not, AirPods Pro are great earbuds to throw in your backpack or use at the gym. AirPods Pro come with high-quality active noise canceling as well as a transparency mode for when you want to hear what’s going on outside. To pause, skip or adjust the volume all you have to do is press the force sensor on the AirPod or ask Siri. 

        Our experts found that call quality was excellent both ways and enjoyed the bass,though they did note that the design, albeit timeless and compact, may not suit everyone and the fit could be uncomfortable even with several tip options. Keep in mind that to charge your AirPods Pro you’ll need a lightning cable, which can be inconvenient to carry around unless of course you own an iPhone.

          • Quick charging and Qi compatible
          • Easy-to-use force sensor
          • Sweat and water resistant (IPX4 rating)
          • Great integration with Apple devices

          • Design and fit are not suitable for everyone
          • Charging requires lightning cable
          • Expensive
          Best Noise-Canceling Headphones for Work
          Noise Cancelling 700
          Bose
          Bose amazon.com
          $379.00

           Claimed battery life: 20 hours
           Adaptive active noise cancellation: Yes

          These headphones offer Bose’s best noise-canceling experience with 11 different levels of active noise canceling to work with every environment you’re in. You can adjust noise cancellation to your liking, and there’s a handy Conversation Mode so you can speak to someone without having to take your headphones off. 

          Unlike Bose QuietComfort 45, this headset is voice assistant capable so you can ask Alexa or Google Assistant a quick question or you can use built-in touch sensors to activate features like playing music or increasing the volume. There’s even a useful trick to open up your most recent Spotify playlist by just holding the right earcup.  

            • Great sound quality and active noise cancelling capabilities
            • Comfortable earpads
            • Voice assistant capable
            • Nice build quality
            • Multi-pairing

            • Expensive
            • Touch sensors take some acclimation
            • Cannot be folded into a more compact form
            • Battery life could be better
            Best Colorful Noise-Canceling Headphones
            AirPods Max
            Apple
            Apple amazon.com
            $549.00
            $478.33 (13% off)

            • Claimed battery life: 20 hours
            • Adaptive active noise cancellation: Yes

            These headphones don’t come cheap, but they’ll make you feel like you’re recording a soundtrack in a music studio. AirPods Max come in five beautiful colors and are as stylish as they are efficient at canceling outside noise. They fold up nicely into a carrying case that makes it easy to transport and showcase your over-ear headphones around, even though it isn’t the most robust and we wouldn’t recommend tossing these into a messy backpack. 

            As expected, you’ll be paying a premium for these headphones and battery life could be better but these will work flawlessly with your Apple gear. Our experts were impressed with the sound quality and build as well as powerful Bluetooth connectivity and intuitive controls. They did warn that these headphones don’t have a headphone jack, meaning that you won’t be able to use them on an in-flight entertainment system without purchasing an additional cable.  

              • Trendy design with multiple color options
              • Great sound quality
              • Good Bluetooth connectivity (Bluetooth 5.0)
              • Intuitive controls

              • Battery life could be better
              • Expensive
              • Lacks headphone jack
              • Mic could be improved
              Best Noise-Canceling Earbuds for Phone Calls
              QuietComfort Earbuds
              Bose
              Bose amazon.com
              $279.00
              $199.00 (29% off)

              • Claimed battery life: 12 hours with case or 6 hours without 
              • Adaptive active noise cancellation: Yes

              If you’ve ever had a hard time getting your AirPods to stay in your ears, you might just have better luck with Bose’s noise-canceling earbuds. Three eartips are included to ensure a secure fit and an IPX4 rating means you can get away with wearing these during a snowstorm. Use touch controls such as tapping, swiping or pressing to answer a phone call or activate features such as Transparency Mode. You can even make further adjustments to your audio in the Bose app. 

              The Lab loved these earbuds’ noise-canceling capabilities and fantastic sound quality. Tiny mics in the right earbud help reduce outside noise and zero in on your voice to ensure your phone calls are super clear even when you're out walking the dog. Our experts did point out, however, that these earbuds felt a bit bulky and like other earbuds, battery life could be longer. But wireless charging is a bonus, as is being able to listen to music with just one earbud.  

                • Sweat- and water-resistant
                • Touch controls
                • Quick charging (Qi compatible)
                • Available in four colors

                • Expensive
                • Bulky
                • Battery life could be improved
                Most Comfortable Wireless Noise-Canceling Earbuds
                WF-1000XM4
                Sony
                Sony amazon.com
                $279.99
                $248.00 (11% off)

                • Claimed battery life: 16 with the case or 8 without
                • Adaptive active noise cancellation: Yes

                Creators of the world’s first in-ear headphones, Sony has a reputation for making high-quality headphones and our tech expert couldn’t get enough of the rich sound these earbuds produced as well as the effective noise-cancellation. Alexa comes built-in along with touch controls and eight hours of battery life.

                There’s a convenient Speak-to-Chat feature that will pause your music and let in ambient sound so you can order your coffee or speak to your colleague with ease, and Adaptive Sound Control adjusts noise cancellation to best suit your environment. Our Lab found that these weren’t as bulky as other competitors, though the mic has room for improvement.  

                  • Alexa built-in
                  • Touch controls
                  • Quick charging and Qi compatible
                  • IPX4 water-resistant

                  • Expensive
                  • Mic could be improved
                  Best Noise-Canceling Headphones for Daily Use
                  WHCH710N Noise Cancelling Headphones
                  Sony
                  Sony amazon.com
                  $179.99
                  $78.00 (57% off)

                  • Claimed battery life: 35 hours or up to 50 hours with wired cable
                  • Adaptive active noise cancellation: Yes

                  Though these headphones are wireless, they come with a wired cable so you can keep listening with active noise cancellation or Ambient Sound Mode for an extended time. The brand claims battery life can be up to 50 hours, although our experts haven't tried these headphones themselves. 

                  Otherwise, these mid-range headphones are designed to be hands-free with touch control that lets you answer calls with a tap or connect to your phone’s voice assistant. You won’t get all the features of a premium pair of Sony headphones such as Speak-to-Chat or a sturdy case, but the price point hits that sweet spot. 

                    • Long battery life
                    • Quick charging
                    • Mid-range price
                    • Touch control

                    • Doesn't offer multi-pairing
                    • Case isn't included
                    Best Noise-Canceling Headphones for Flying
                    N60 Over-Ear Headphones
                    AKG
                    AKG amazon.com
                    $119.99

                    • Claimed battery life: 15 hours (Bluetooth) or 30 hours (wired)
                    • Quiet Mark noise-canceling rating: 3 stars 
                     Adaptive active noise cancellationNo

                    This pair comes with a headphone jack (perfect for tuning into the movie on a flight!) and a convenient carrying case. As these headphones support AptX technology, which enhances the quality and performance of sound streamed wirelessly through Bluetooth, it's no surprise that testers thought this pair had above-average sound quality. 

                    And since these are on-ear headphones rather than over-ear, they're a little more lightweight. Just keep in mind that these headphones don't come with a transparency mode, so noise cancellation will always be on when you're listening to music via Bluetooth.  

                      • Stylish design
                      • Affordable price
                      • Supports AptX technology
                      • Great sound quality

                      • Bluetooth battery life could be improved
                      • Doesn't have active listening
                      Best Noise-Canceling Headphones for Commuting
                      HD 450BT
                      sennheiser
                      Sennheiser amazon.com
                      $99.95

                      • Claimed battery life: 30 hours
                      • Adaptive active noise cancellation: No

                      Active noise cancellation and a closed-back design are what give these headphones top-quality sound. They feature wireless codec support for aptX low latency to keep audio perfectly in sync when watching videos. These headphones boast one of the longest battery lives among the rest, with a total of 30 hours, according to the brand. 

                      This extensive battery life paired with an advanced folding design makes these headphones a great value option for traveling. While we haven't tested these headphones in the Lab, a few Amazon reviewers say that the headphones fit a little tight and aren't the most comfortable to wear. 

                        • Long battery life
                        • Built-in voice assistants
                        • Supports AptX technology
                        • Multi-pairing

                        • Not as comfortable as competitors
                        Best Value Noise-Canceling Earbuds
                        Ink'd+ Earbuds
                        Skullcandy
                        Skullcandy amazon.com
                        $39.99
                        $21.99 (45% off)

                        • Claimed battery life: 8 hours
                        • Quiet Mark noise-canceling rating: 1 star
                         Adaptive active noise cancellationNo

                        If you're looking for a cheaper option, try these earbuds from Skullcandy. The noise cancellation won't stand up to pricier options, but they're an easy-to-pack pick for travel and feature a built-in mic for calls. 

                          • Variety of colors
                          • Inexpensive
                          • Quick charging

                          • Polarizing design
                          How we test noise-cancelling headphones
                          ghi line
                          good housekeeping

                          To test how well noise-canceling headphones cancel out background noise, our Lab experts partnered with Quiet Mark, a U.K. award program that works with brands to prioritize noise reduction and specializes in assessing the noise levels of home appliances.

                          In this case, Quiet Mark helped us to analyze how noise-canceling headphones could block out external noise. The scale runs from one to three stars, with three stars being the best rating for noise cancellation, and one star meaning the headphones didn't excel at blocking out outside sound. As we continue testing with our partners we’ll add additional ratings for newer models.

                          What headphones cancel out background noise?
                          ghi line
                          good housekeeping

                          ✔️ Active noise canceling (ANC) headphones feature built-in microphones that actively pick up and listen to the sounds around you and produce a counter soundwave to neutralize background noise. That way, you can clearly hear the movie or music you’re streaming. But although ANC headphones do a fantastic job at blocking out unwanted low frequency sounds (like the sound of a baby crying or constant drilling going on outside of your apartment), they they won’t cancel out everything going on in the outside world, especially high-frequency sounds. They're often pricey, but if you have some wiggle room in your budget and noise-canceling is a priority to you, the experts at the Good Housekeeping Institute agree that it’s best to invest in a quality pair of ANC headphones.

                          ✔️ Adaptive active noise cancellation is a more sophisticated variant of ANC in which the level of noise cancellation is digitally adapted based upon your environment. It is able to actively adapt to important outside sounds like traffic, humans speaking, or announcements, which is extremely useful when you want to order a coffee or speak to someone without having to take off your noise-canceling headphones. Some brands also have a “transparency mode” so you can toggle adaptive ANC on and off.

                          ✔️ Noise-isolating headphones cost much less than ANC headphones, but they generally aren’t as effective as headphones with ANC since they do not actively create opposite soundwaves to counter the noise. Passive noise isolation works by using well-fitting ear cups or buds which help block out unwanted noise and can be found in both over-ear or in-ear headphones.

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