12 of the best noise cancelling headphones and earbuds
The Mixmag guide to the best noise cancelling headphones and earbuds in 2021
Don't know your spatial audio from your noise attenuation? your "active" from your "passive"? your Bose from your Sennheiser? no qualms, we've got you covered. The headphones and earbuds market has become a highly competitive space in the last few years — with the runaway success of Beats setting the bar for professional quality headphones available for everyone. Since then, other major electronic brands have amped up their audio specs to get a piece of the action, meaning there's a huge amount of choice out there if you're looking for a good quality product.
Whether you're gaming, sleeping, making tracks, DJing or simply wanting to get lost in the music — immersive sound is probably something you'll be from your 'phones. Noise cancellation used to be something reserved for the most expensive of products, but now it's become somewhat affordable. So much so, that it has become a huge selling point for many brands, but it's surprising how many headphones on the market lack the technology to back up their claims, have issues with audio quality or trade comfort for sound isolation.
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We've compiled a list of both wireless/Bluetooth and wired headphones and earbuds that will leave you alone with your listening choice — without comprising on your experience.
Building upon the success of the standard Airpods, the Airpods Pro take the wireless experience to a whole new level. With active noise cancellation that you can switch on/off with the same mechanism used for changing tracks — great for a commuting iPhone user, sure, but not exactly anything to particularly unique compared to some of the more advanced models on this list. What really kicks them up a notch is their compatibility with spatial audio, turning two tiny earpods into a complete surround sound experience. The only catch? the music/film/media you're consuming also has to be compatible with the technology, but with more and more music being remastered to incorporate spatial audio, it won't be long before you'll have a whole library.
As far as bang for your buck goes, the Urbanista Miami's are a pretty safe bet. Over-ear headphones with a huge comfortable cushioning, completely wireless with 50 hours of battery life, active noise cancellation and on-ear detection — all rounded off with Urbanista's Ambient Sound Mode, which filters through alerts on your phone to ensure you are only disturbed if you really need to be. Also, they are so good looking, aren't they? inspired by the city of Miami they come in four sleek colours "inspired by the city's vibrant pulse." And at around half the price of many of their competitors? estupendo!
Sennheiser HD 450BT
The Sennheiser HD 450BT model is a sleeker, more agile version of its predecessors — being completely foldable but still incorporating chunky ear cushions to ensure a comfortable fit. They have active noise cancellation incorporated by a switch on the side of your earpieces, that can also be used to toggle equalizer settings, to personalize how you want to listen to your music.
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JBL Tune 750BTNC
With JBL's patented Pure Bass Sound built-in the JBL Tune 750BTNC's are a sure bet if bass is your thing. Incorporating active noise cancellation that is controlled both on the headphones themselves and via an app — the button functions on the headphones are spread out to ensure you don't accidentally call your mum when trying to turn up the volume for the drop in 'Born Slippy'. The headphones feature a 15-hour battery life with a 2 hour recharge time, a great option if you want noise cancellation technology while keeping in budget.
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2
For in-ear headphones, the noise cancellation on the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2's is in a different ballpark to the rest. Sure Apple may have the up-and-coming advantage of spatial audio, sure and Sony can produce intense, high-quality sound — but the True Wireless range's ability to completely remove all background ambience to the tiniest breeze has a lot of people excited, particularly for their price point and size. The only disadvantage is that the controls are a little fiddly, with some users reporting that it's easier to control noise cancellation (and other manual functions such as track skipping, volume control) through an app, rather than on the earbuds themselves.
Bowers and Wilkins PX7 Wireless
While the bigger brands are scrapping to get their hands on the best noise-cancelling technology, Bowers and Wilkins are quietly flying under the radar, focusing on experience and user compatibility. The Bowers and Wilkins PX7 Wireless features 3 levels of noise cancellation (low, medium... and you guessed it, high) as well as an "ambient switch" that will allow you to dip in and out of sound isolation so you can hear things like train announcements or some cheeky so and so in the booth stealing your rider. A great all-rounder with unique features that separate it from the rest.
Apple AirPods Max
Yes, these are expensive headphones. Yes, they are around the same price as a holiday to Mallorca — but trust us, they justify it, and then some. Forget your standard active noise cancellation, The Apple Airpods Max have H1 chips installed into each ear cup — analysing information coming from the 8 (!) microphones hidden throughout the product that register your surroundings, your voice, your breathing, to tailor the noise cancellation (making 200 adjustments per second) and also perfect the sound levels so you can hear every decibel.
Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro
Many brands have that little bit of tech that pushes them in front of everyone else - for Anker it's their PureNote drivers that claim to increase the bass by 45% and 30% wider bandwidth on other frequencies. On a noise cancellation front, they have an app that allows you to completely customize the level of sound isolation, allowing you to remove high-pitches or low-pitches (or both). With 26 hours of battery life and a neat price tag of £80, they are worth the investment for a cut-price noise cancellation experience.
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Sony has a reputation for being on top when it comes to noise cancellation. Their WH-1000XM4's similarly to Apple have an AI that is monitoring things like your head size, your hair, if you're wearing glasses — the position of your ears to optimise your listening experience and concentrate audio isolation. There's a host of other cool related features — the built-in mic recognises that you've started talking and stops the noise cancellation, they will also pick up when you've arrived at a destination and set off a little "ping" to bring you out of whatever universe you've found yourself completely lost in, due to the ridiculous capabilities of their noise-cancelling technology. They've been called the best headphones ever made, seriously.
Samsung Galaxy Buds pro
They might not be the most extraordinary on this list, but for Samsung phone/tablet users the interactivity is a massive plus. The Galaxy Buds pro have a function similar to spatial audio but is customisable using an app — creating a real, immersive experience. Active noise cancellation is included, which again can be customised using the app interface.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
Bose pretty much invented the modern noise canceller, with their Quiet Comfort range turning 19 in 2021 — audio isolation is basically their whole deal. For their 700's, they use their self-developed NC chip to monitor It's 11 noise cancelling settings, from a dramatic, complete silence to the very opposite letting in sound from your surroundings so you can barely tell you're wearing headphones at all. One click on the side of the earpiece which takes you into "conversation mode" which pauses all music and noise-cancelling settings.
Beats Solo Pro
If the glitzy ads featuring Billie Eilish, Pharrel Williams or Kendall Jenner have anything to go on, Beats Solo Pro's are pretty hot property. Beats not only offer immersive noise cancelling but also the option to control cancellation levels to ensure you can hear the important stuff. They also feature real-time audio calibration and a surprisingly tough seal for an on-ear product. Meaning you'll be pretty shocked at their efficiency when you ramp up the isolation to its highest level.
Megan Townsend is Mixmag's Deputy Digital Editor, follow her on Twitter