Best Noise Canceling Headphones of 2021: Reviews and Buying Tips

Noise-canceling headphones are one of the most popular types of cans, and for good reason. They block out ambient noise that can distract you while you enjoy your favorite songs. While they are particularly useful for air travel and commutes, especially via public transportation, they are also great at insulating you from noise pollution in the home, be it the hum of your HVAC system, the hum of your cooling fans. computer, or your neighbor’s lawn mower.

Updated November 1, 2021 with our review of the BuddyPhones Cosmos + ANC kids headphones. You may think pink headphones with a sparkly anime princess on the headphones would be found in the bargain bin and sound like garbage, but they actually sound just as good, or better, than some “serious” headphones that cost considerably more.

Noise cancellation can be achieved in two ways: by active or passive measures. Our focus here is on the former. The latter is not a technology in itself; rather, it refers to the amount of ambient noise that a headset will physically block. Closed in-ear headphones and in-ear headphones with memory foam tips offer the best passive noise cancellation. You will find our reviews of everybody types of headphones here.

Active Noise Canceling (ANC) headphones identify sound waves associated with noise and electronically generate a reverse sound wave that cancels it. This is what we mean: a sound wave is similar to ripples in a pond. Throw a pebble into the pond, then introduce ripples of the opposite pattern and you will smooth the surface of the pond. Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) works in a similar way. Headphone-mounted microphones analyze ambient sound waves and then produce reverse sound waves that will cancel them out.

Sony WH-1000XM4 Adam Patrick Murray / IDG

Most ANC headphone manufacturers, including Sony, offer a mobile app that allows you to tailor the noise cancellation of your headphones to your preferences.

Unsurprisingly, some manufacturers’ ANC technologies are incredibly effective; others less. We have tested models from AKG, Bose, Bowers & Wilkins, JBL, Libratone and Sony and found them to be very good.

Adapted noise cancellation is the most sophisticated type of ANC. It works on the same principles, but adapts to its environment to apply more or less the effect and even bring on sounds from the outside world.

1 main triple plus 1 more

There is more than one way to block out ambient noise, closed in-ear headphones and in-ear headphones, like the iMore Triple Driver shown here, can do the job without introducing reverse sound waves. And in many cases without batteries.

Some adaptive noise cancellation solutions even take into account how fast you are moving, the air pressure around you, and whether you are likely on a plane, taking a walk, or having a conversation. Many work in conjunction with a mobile app on your smartphone.

Some people find that ANC hearing aids put pressure on their ears, creating a sensation similar to being underwater. If you find ANC headphones uncomfortable, you will prefer a model with good passive Noise Cancellation. Those kinds of headphones offer other benefits too: they’re less likely to color the music you’re listening to, and they don’t need batteries. On the other hand, not all passive noise canceling headphones are wireless.

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