Best Noise-Canceling Headphones of 2021
These models deliver when you're ready to cut out the world and lock into your music
The story goes that Amar Bose, founder of the audio company that bears his name, got the idea for noise-canceling headphones one day in 1978 when he couldn’t hear his music over the roar of a plane engine. Whether or not you believe the company lore, in the 40-odd years since then, noise-canceling headphones have gone from niche luxuries to must-have equipment for many consumers.
In the past few years, noise-canceling performance and sound quality have improved, and the prices of noise-canceling headphones have come down. Today, several competitors rival Bose for the top spot in the category.
The Sennheiser PXC 550-II is one of the highest-scoring headphones in our ratings, with superb sound quality and noise canceling. At $250 or less, the PXC 550-II is as much as $100 cheaper than many competitors. But in our tests, it outperforms flagship models from manufacturers such as Sony and Beats, and gets the exact same score as the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, one of our other top picks.
The PXC 550-II has appealing features, such as adjustable levels of noise cancellation and an ambient sound monitoring mode that let noise from your environment back in so you can hear your surroundings when necessary. It has touch-sensitive controls and an automatic pause feature that stops your audio when you take the headphones off.
Consumer Reports doesn’t test battery life in headphones, but Sennheiser says this model will run for up to 20 hours with Bluetooth and noise canceling turned on. It can be used over Bluetooth or with detachable USB or audio cables.
The WF-1000XM4 is the latest in Sony’s line of noise-canceling true wireless earbuds, and our tests show it has outstanding sound quality and sound-blocking performance. Apple’s AirPods Pro may be more popular, but we think Sony has a better product—though it’s a bit more expensive. (If you’re looking for a bargain, the previous model, the XM3, is cheaper than the AirPods and still outperforms them.)
Sony’s latest comes packed with additional features, including variable noise cancellation, which you can adjust to let in more or less sound, a “monitor” mode to actively pipe in audio from your surroundings, and “Speak-to-Chat,” which can automatically pause the music when you start talking.
According to Sony, the XM4 has a 5.5-hour battery life and comes with a portable charging case that holds 16 hours’ worth of power before it needs to be plugged in again. But our testers note that some users, particularly people with larger ears, may feel this model doesn’t fit securely.
Over-Ear, Bluetooth, and Budget-Friendly
Shopping for noise-cancelling headphones on a budget doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice performance. Case in point is the Anker SoundCore Life Q20. You can pick up this model for just $60, and our tests show it beats models that cost hundreds more.
The SoundCore Life Q20 has great sound quality and outstanding noise cancellation. It doesn’t sound quite as a good as top-rated models like the Sennheiser PXC 550-II, and you won’t get sought-after features like adjustable levels of noise canceling. But at this price, those may be sacrifices worth making.
Anker does include some appealing perks, though, such as the ability to work over either Bluetooth or an audio cable, and a free app that adds features including a bass boost EQ setting. According to Anker, the headphones have a generous 40-hour battery life when Bluetooth and noise canceling are both turned on.
Portability for Bargain Hunters
1MORE has a reputation for top-of-the-line performance at midrange prices, and the ComfoBuds Pro shows why. You get the convenience of true wireless headphones, great sound quality, and superb noise cancellation, all for around $100.
These headphones also deliver modern noise-canceling features, including adjustable levels of sound blocking and a monitor mode that pipes in outside sound when you want to hear it.
With noise canceling turned on, 1MORE advertises a 6-hour battery life backed by a charging case that will power up the headphones twice before it needs to be plugged in again. To sweeten the deal, the ComfoBuds feature a quick-charging function for an extra 2 hours after just 15 minutes of charging.
Looking for a deal? You can’t do much better than the price of the Monoprice BT-300ANC. These headphones don’t have the latest features—like a monitor mode or adjustable noise cancellation—but they deliver where it matters most: above-average sound quality and fantastic sound-blocking abilities.
The BT-300ANC features integrated controls for calls, volume, and playback, and the ear cups fold in and swivel flat for easy storage and transport. According to Monoprice, the battery will run for 8 hours between charges with both Bluetooth and noise cancellation turned on. You can keep the music going even longer by switching off Bluetooth and using the detachable audio cable, which is included.
How to Choose Headphones
With so many types of headphones, how do you know which pair is right for you? On the “Consumer 101” TV show, Consumer Reports expert Elias Arias explains everything you need to know.