Interested in getting a pair of wireless Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) headphones, or just wondering what the current standings look like? 2021 has been a great year for wireless ANC’s with the introduction of both the Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds.
With things shaken up by the new arrivals, let’s take a look where everything falls with The Best Sound Cancelling Headphones of 2021!
Our Top Picks for Noise-Cancelling Headphones/Headsets
Best Noise/Sound Cancelling Headphones – The Reviews
The best headphones available, right now. The XM4’s predecessor, WH-1000XM3, held that title for two years, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the XM4’s held that position for the next two.
The Brand New XM4’s offer a superb Active Noise Cancelling, which is only beaten by the Bose 700. When you remember that BOSE is the best in the game at noise cancelling, this becomes very impressive indeed.
Every other aspect is superior. The comfort, the sound quality, the design. The XM4’s also offer an interesting new feature, Speak to Chat. This mode recognises your speech, and automatically turns down the ANC so you can hear and have a conversation with others.
There are two issues I have with these headphones. One is their price. The other is that they offer no IP rating. For those who are unaware, an IP rating is for how dirt and waterproof something is in laboratory testing.
Because they lack an IP rating, these headphones either weren’t tested, or were and completely failed. The former is more likely, but it would be wise to keep these headphones away from dirt, dust and water as much as possible, using cases wherever needed.
These are the best headphones you can get, but the cost definitely reflects that. Despite their hefty price tag though, they are more than worth it and my thorough recommendation.
- Great ANC: With dual-noise sensory technology this Sony XM4 filters out the unwanted noise from your daily commute with ease.
- Easy to control: With touch sensitive controls and an active voice assistant, take control of your music and calls like never before.
- Speak-to-chat feature: Reduces the filtering and turns your music down automatically whenever you enter a conversation.
- No IP rating: An IP rating shows how dirt and waterproof something is, without one it’s unwise to wear these even in slight rain.
- Expensive: One of the most expensive headphones available today, the price of the XM4’s is substantial to say the least.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
If all that matters to you is cutting out the rest of the world, then look no further. These are the headphones you’re looking for. The Bose 700’s offer the best ANC available.
It’s not surprising, since ANC is something Bose does better than any other manufacturer, but the level of quiet you experience with these on is eerie. The 700’s also give you control over a huge range of customisation with the ANC.
Offering varying degrees of sound cancellation, from fully transparent to fully isolating, the Bose 700’s are always able to offer the correct level of sound-cancelling for your situation.
In terms of sound quality and comfort, the XM4’s are better – and cheaper. But in terms of Active Noise Cancelling, there’s nothing better.
- The best ANC available: Bose specialise in providing the best Active Noise Cancelling in market, and have stepped up their game once again.
- Range of ANC settings: With 10 degrees of sound-cancellation, you will always be able to find the right mode to suit your situation.
- Amazing comfort: Made from synthetic protein leather and ultra-soft foam, these headphones are extremely light and comfortable.
- Poorer battery life: With a battery life of only 20 hours, the 700’s don’t last anywhere near as long as cheaper alternatives.
- Highly expensive: More expensive than the XM4’s, the Bose 700’s are the priciest headphones on our list.
The top spot might be taken by the XM4’s but don’t think that means these are done with. The XM3’s still offer one of the best audio experiences you can get with wireless headphones.
With a battery life of 30 hours, plus their quick charging feature, these little beauties will not let you down. They’re lightweight, extremely comfortable, and while their noise-cancelling feature may not be the latest model, it’s still an extremely impressive bit of kit.
Like the XM4’s, they don’t offer any IP rating which is a bit of a let down in an otherwise excellent headphone. Furthermore, they are still relatively expensive. If the XM4’s are just out of your price range though, these are considerably cheaper and are the best alternative.
- Custom EQ and ANC controls: With their companion app, Sony allows you to fully customise both the Equalisation (EQ) and the Active Noise Cancelling of the XM3’s.
- Strong battery life: With up to 30 hours of battery life, you’ll have plenty of playtime between charges.
- Still one of the best: With the XM4’s being the newest model and a slight improvement, there are still very few headphones better than the XM3.
- No IP rating: The same as the XM4’s, the XM3’s lack any sort of IP rating, so be extremely careful around dirt and water.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II
If you’re after headphones with a great ANC that you can comfortably wear all day, then the QuietComfort 35 II’s are probably the best buy for you. They have one of the best ANC systems on the market today, and as an additional bonus, they even come with Google Assistant.
Forget about using your phone to change songs, now you can get your headphones to do it for you! Perfect when you need to keep your hands warm on a cold winter’s day.
With a 20-hour battery life, they will need charging either every day or so – which isn’t great. Though they can offer hours of uninterrupted listening if you are using them from a full charge. Also, they are still relatively pricey when you consider this model is now a couple of years old.
- Sublime comfort: The superior cushioning in the QuietComfort mean you can wear them comfortably for hours.
- Google/Alexa Assistant: Specifically designed to work with your phone assistant, you can control your music with only your voice and a button press.
- Stand-Out ANC: Despite being an older model, the Noise Cancelling on this model is still vastly superior to most other wireless ANC headphones.
- Weak battery life: Just like the 700’s, the QuietComfort suffer from a 20 hour battery life, meaning you’re more likely to be left without music unless you’ve kept them charged
- Not price competitive: Considering these headphones are several years old, you’d expect the price to be a lot lower. Especially with better alternatives available for less.
Marshall Mid ANC
Famous for their top-quality guitar amps, Marshall have proved that they can produce exceptional quality, Active Noise Cancelling headphones with their Mid ANC’s.
The design of the headphones very much fits in with the rockstar look that Marshall have become renowned for, and they are incredibly stylish. The black suede feels great, and the headphones are certainly a statement piece.
These headphones are much cheaper than the others on this list, but don’t let that trick you into thinking they’re subpar. The sound quality on these is sublime, especially if you’re listening to rock and metal.
The noise-cancelling works a treat too, able to tune out a variety of noises with ease. Of course, they won’t be as effective as Sony or Bose, but that was to be expected.
The Mid ANC’s have fantastic build quality, and are very comfortable to wear too. Plus, the travel case that these headphones come with is a delight. Inspired by guitar cases, it has a red velvet lining and a vinyl shell, designed to protect the headphones when not in use.
There’s no doubt that these headphones were designed for rock fans, but when you consider the cost of other wireless headphones with ANC – they’re also a great choice for those on a budget.
- Good mid-range ANC: These on-ear headphones offer a great Active Noise Cancelling when compared to others in this price range.
- Striking appearance: Designed with Rock fans in mind, the Mid ANC’s perfectly encapsulate the appearance of a rock’n’roll aesthetic.
- Unsculpted audio: Purists will disapprove of the amount of sculpting these headphones do
Jabra Elite 85h
The biggest selling point of the Jabra Elite’s is their extensive battery life. Battery life is vitally important with wireless and noise cancelling headphones, because as soon as it runs out the integral features can’t work.
With a whopping 36-hour battery life, one hour of listening a day mean these headphones could last a month on a single charge. When most other headphones offer between 20-25 hours, this is an extraordinary feat by Jabra.
Even if they do need a charge, the Jabra’s have a fantastic quick charge function, allowing you to get another 5 hours of playtime from a single 15-minute charge. They don’t maintain this high-speed rate, but it’s extremely comforting to know that if you do run out of juice, you can be back up and running in a quarter of an hour.
Like the XM4’s, the Elite doesn’t offer any IP rating but they do claim to be rain resistant which is something at least.
They look really good too, with their copper/black colour scheme but there are two other options if these aren’t to your liking.
- Prolonged battery life: With a 36 hour battery life, the Jabra Elite’s will keep you listening all day, night, and day again on a single charge.
- Fast charge feature: Running low on power? Plug in for 15 minutes and you’re ready to listen for another 5 hours.
- No IP rating: Just like the two Sony Headphones on this list, the Jabra Elite’s lack an IP rating, so be careful if using them around water.
The only True Wireless Earbuds on this list, Bose are offering the best sound cancelling earbuds on the market. Due to Bose’s unparalleled advancement into sound cancelling technology, it’s unlikely that competitors will be able to match up soon.
With their comfort fit fins, these earbuds are incredibly comfortable and stable. Combined with their IPX4 rating, they’re also a brilliant choice if you need a pair for the gym. Capable of dealing with sweat and light moisture, they can endure your workout as long as you can.
Their only real failing comes down to their price. They might be small and handy to carry around, but they cost just as much as top range over-ear headphones. The sound they offer is excellent, but I’m sure it justifies such a hefty price tag.
- Best NC earbuds: The QuietComfort Earbuds use Bose’s market-leading sound cancellation technology which means you get the perfect noise cancelling for any situation.
- IPX4 (sweat/water resist): Because of their IP rating, you’re more than able to wear these when you go to the gym, and even rinse them off afterwards.
- 6hr battery without case, 18hr with: These have a relatively longer battery life than most true wireless earbuds, meaning you can listen for longer without interruption of your favourite songs.
- Expensive: These True Wireless earbuds are in the same price range as some of the more expensive headphones on this list.
- Case is bulky: Whereas other True Wireless earbuds have small and slender cases, Bose’s is on the larger side, meaning unless you’ve got big pockets or a bag, it’s going to be harder to carry around.
Best Sound Cancelling Headphones – FAQs
Is it worth purchasing headphones that are Noise Cancelling?
If you’re asking yourself ‘are noise cancelling headphones worth it?’ then using headphones regularly and living in a locality that experiences noise disturbance, you can benefit from noise cancellation headphones. Or, if you regularly travel on planes or trains, these noise cancellation headphones are worth buying as these headphones give a good audio experience by reducing distractions from the surrounding environment.
Is noise cancelling bad for your ears?
No, they do not emit radiation like mobile phones or cause any negative impact to the ears. It is just that you may hear a small hissing sound when you use active noise cancellation. This hissing may irritate some people, but it does not affect the ears. In contrast, noise-canceling headphones are good for the ears as they avoid unwanted disturbances and protect them.
Is all sound blocked out by noise cancelling headphones?
No, the noise-canceling headphones do not block all sound. They stop low-frequency or low pitch sounds. But as the conversations or voices are high pitch and random, these are not blocked. They generally block about 20 decibels.
Is active noise cancelling good?
Some may feel dizziness when they turn on the active noise canceling. This may be because of the constant buzzing sound. This does not affect the hearing and is good as it protects from low-frequency disturbances. If you feel uneasy, turn off the active noise canceling when there is no noise around or stop using it often.
If you are wearing noise cancelling headphones, can you still hear sounds?
Yes, you can still hear with noise-canceling headphones. These headphones note the amplitude and frequencies of the sound and then create anti-sound. The anti-sound mixes with the original sound and goes to the speakers of headphones. So you can listen to the audio as noise is eliminated here.
Is it OK to sleep with noise Cancelling headphones?
If you love listening to music while you sleep, then using noise-canceling headphones is the best. As it is over the ears and not inside, it doesn’t cause discomfort during sleep. Also, these will help in giving a good night’s sleep as ambient noises from outside like snoring are eliminated. You can also pick a noise cancellation earbud if snoring is your issue that disturbs your sleep.
Do I Need Sound Cancelling Headphones?
You’re obviously considering it, otherwise, you wouldn’t be here. I use mine at work and they’re brilliant at helping me maintain my focus. They really do cut everything out and let me just focus on my work.
If you need to create a cone of silence, they are perfect. If shutting everything out isn’t totally necessary for you, then you might be better with standard headphones instead.
Earbud or Headphone?
You might be wondering which is the better option for you, since decent noise cancelling earbuds and headphones are so similar in price.
The answer is, what do you want them to do? If you want music while you work out, or something small and easily portable then the earbuds are for you.
If however, you’re okay to carry something bigger and bulkier, and are going to be wearing them for ours upon hours – then you’re go to is gonna be a pair of headphones.
Do They Block All Sound?
Not completely. They can’t totally eliminate things like voices, since these constantly change pitch and tone, but they still dampen them significantly. Constant sounds (like an electrical hum), are definitely silenced. The difference is both amazing and slightly eerie.
What Do You Think?
Our list is purely based on personal opinion, and we believe everyone is entitled to their own. If you own any of the headphones above, comment below and let us know what you think. Do you think we’re right or wrong, and why?
Bose noise cancelling headphones cutting in and out?
This occurs when the batteries are low, the solution is to replace the batteries which should solve the problem.
Failing that, try updating any software or apps you’re using with the headphones, while resetting them may fix it also.
Best Studio Mics was started by a husband and wife team who love the sound and the technicals behind recording it. Both are professional theatre artists, one with a stage management background and one more on stage. One also has experience in film and television work and the different audio requirements of that arena.