This is the list of best active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones I’ve personally tested & compared. None of these headphones are sponsored, nor have they ever sponsored on my blog before. So this article of best ANC headphones 2021 is written to help you make a better purchase decision.
For the most updated prices in real time, make sure to click ‘check price’ button next to your favorite headphones listed below after reading the full review. You never know when these headphones might go on sale.
Table of Contents
5. Sennheiser 4.50BTNC
This is the best deal. The ANC headphones with the most value. These are Sennheiser 4.50 BTNC. It’s hard to find a very light pair of ANC headphones. Anything from the low to mid 200-gram range will be the lightest while the 290 grams and upstarts to get a little bit heavy on the head. These weigh in at 238 grams.
Now the sound signature is neutral balance and leans toward accurate around the big bass boosted or bass heavy. The only thing I really critiqued was, needing to play these at 80-90% volume for these to become loud while most other headphones are usually around 80-70% volume.
The active noise-canceling performance is impressive. They’re near, if not identical to their flagship the Sennheiser PXC550. Even though they don’t black out as much as the number one spot, you get very good active noise cancellation for the price. The reason why these are priced so low, Sennheiser gives up on these special high-tech features like ambient wear and the automatic noise canceling adjustments. Those are decent features but if I’m on a budget, I also don’t care for it.
Also, battery life is not bad, I can surely live on this. It’s 19 hours with ANC on and 25 hours with ANC off. The more expensive top-of-the-line are claiming up to 30 hours of use. As I mentioned, the prices justify it, 19 hours is perfectly fine.
4. Sennheiser PXC 550
This might sound a little bit weird, even redundant here but remember this is 100% based on my test. It’s another Sennheiser brand on the list, that is PXC 550. These take number four and when you read the rest on this list, it’ll make sense to you.
The PXC 550s are flagship ANC headphones and includes all the premium features; that’s ambient to wear, automatic pause when you lift up your headphones, thirty hours of battery performance, touch controls, and not to mention, a very decent app so you can tune the audio to your liking. The app alone surpasses what both in sony offers.
Now not to mention, these are extremely light at 227 grams, making these lighter than the Bose QC35 II. And I will admit although lighter, they are not as comfortable but considering its price, it’s somewhat justified. Plus you get all the fancy Tony Stark tech that I’ve mentioned earlier.
Now as for the active noise-canceling performance, this is why it’s not in the top three. The ANC performance does very good though and reducing environmental noises but the next three to cut out the air and your surroundings a bit better. If you want the quality sound that you can adjust with its app, great battery life, super lightweight ANC headphones, these are the ones to get.
3. Sony Hear On 2
Sony Hear On 2 or some of you guys know them as the WH-H900N. These had better ANC performance and blocking out noises than the previous Sennheiser’s. This does muffle down voices and especially the ambient air around you.
Is it better than number one or number two on this list? Of course not! But when I tested the Hear On 2, they perform very similar to these Sony WH-1000XM2 which were Sony’s flagship ANC headphones at that time.
Now you also get practically every feature on the flagships like transparency mode, touch-sensitive controls, amazing battery life at up to 28 hours and now we get LDAC Bluetooth transmission. This is the best wireless transmission right now.
I know most might not be able to tell the audio quality that is, but for the same price as the others if not cheaper why not future-proof yourself, right? The audio is a bit more colorful than a Sennheiser 450 BTNCs and better than these Sennheiser PXC 550s right out the box.
Granted as I mentioned earlier, you can tune those two other previous headphones to your taste. Now with the H900Ns, they’re slightly above neutral, being slightly more bass boosted and also using these at 60 to 70% for surely loud enough for me.
Now several things to keep in mind. These do sound leaked quite a bit. And although the microphone is good for phone calls, these do pick up background noises when you’re chatting with someone on the phone. Now, these are heavier at 290 grams. The weight is distributed evenly though and doesn’t feel too bad but they sure don’t feel light either, it’s to be perfect in between.
The reason why they beat the PXC 550s is that of all the flagship features I’ve mentioned earlier, the ANC performance is better. And right out the box, I personally preferred the more colorful, slightly more bass boosted audio signature.
2. Bose QC35 II
So number two, I really can’t shake these. The Bose QuietComfort II hits almost everything on the head if you’re looking for no BS pair of headphones. Straight to the point, in comfort and audio, Bose still kills it in the industry.
Going briefly over the high-tech features, you do get Google assistance and Amazon Alexa built-in. And they’re great! I love the feature. And that’s really about it. You forego all the bells and whistles or ambient to where you forego those touch controls. Even their app is quite sparse.
But here’s my experience…although there are no touch controls, the buttons work perfectly fun and there’s something about it, ‘confirmation click’, something about physical feedback that feels like it’s guaranteed success.
Now although we have readers that might think well the Bose QC35 II don’t have LDAC, aptX HD or even aptX wireless technology that we’re missing out on the best audio experience. But there’s something special with the engineering at Bose. These QC35 IIs have an audio signature, that’s very pleasing, spacial and providing a lot of audio separation and depth compared to the competitors.
Compared to the previous headphones on this list, bose still provides a better audio listening experience. Much more detail, letting you hear nuances, instruments, and vocals. As for active noise-canceling, I know most of the readers know, Bose has been dethroned for ANC performance. But Bose still blocks out more of your environment than number five and number four on the list above. And either equal to or maybe slightly better than Sony Hear On 2s.
As for comfort though, these are the BEST! Space-age feeling lightness and I’m not exaggerating. The ear cups themselves are very much recessed and giving the most room for big ears. Those earphones give me the least amount of heat buildup or ear sweat on those hot summer days. But these are the most comfortable ANC headphones that I ever used.
Another feature these headphones has is an accident phone call capabilities for my voice, it sounded very clear but like most other headsets these do pick up a lot of background noise. QC35 better life is rated at 20 hours, which again is surely enough in my opinion but the competition is offering around 30 hours.
1. Sony 1000XM3
So let’s give it up folks, to the Sony 1000XM3. These are currently the best ANC headphones that you can buy. With all the bells and whistles at this price point, these are ambient to wear, touch sensitive controls. We have LDAC, which is the best in quality wireless transmission. We have USB-C, which is future proofing your headphone connection, in which all the previous headphones mentioned earlier doesn’t have.
You also get 30 hours of battery life, 39 hours if you don’t use ANC. Let’s not forget class-leading fast charging. No one else is doing this. 10 minutes on the charger and you get not two but five hours worth of performance.
Sony set the bar so high that other companies, I would assume next year coming around the corner, it’s gonna be tough for them.
In other areas, they might not be the leaders in but Sony still beats most of the competition. For example, regarding weight, Sony finally slimmed down to 254 grams. Not the lightest in the world here and not as comfortable as the Bose but 254 grams beat the majority of competition.
The only nuances that I do wish were better, the automatic ANC, which is when you sit down and see performance turns up to maximum and then when you get up, the headphones automatically lowers down the ANC performance, so you can hear your surroundings for safety. That was somewhat finicky. I just left it at max ANC everywhere I went. And second, not sure why Sony did not address this, that is you can’t pair more than one device at a time. Some can let that slide, some can’t. I understand, but for me, the following overrides all the shortcomings.
Sony’s active noise-canceling performance is hands-down, the best on the market currently. I thought Bose did an amazing job and that was it. Sony came around and holy freak!! It makes the Bose sound like ANC is only half way working and that is also no exaggeration.
The 1000XM3 blocks out much more ambient noise around you from fans, wind noise, voices around you, even the background music at your favorite coffee shop there.
Now the audio signature on the 1000XM3 is impressive. It’s different but very much favorable for most.
I will admit though Sony doesn’t focus on being detailed high-resolution in its audio signature. That’s why I suggest Bose but Sony does provide a very punchy, base experience that makes pop EDM, hip-hop music sound much more impactful, alive in your face kind of audio that is. Even watching movies with this it sounds just so much more immersive.
If you’re on the fence these 1000XM3s are hands-down worth a try. Put them on, give them a go to experience, how well their ANC works and how immersive the audio signature can be.
Last but not least here, kind of a bonus section. You guys have read this far, I wanted to give you two runner-ups, that I have experience with and worth a mention among the best ANC headphones 2021.
First up, the Surface Headphones had great ANC performance. Beating Bose at times and not as good as Sony though, but because of all the plastic that they used on the headband and also the ear cups, the limitation on Cortana, the low battery life and the fact it wasn’t as comfortable, Microsoft didn’t make it on a list. If I were to rank these, it would possibly be the 7th place to be fair.
The Bowers and Wilkins PX are one sexy pair of headphones which has such a unique look. This did have some techie features but compared to others, not so much. The audio sounded similar to the Bose QC35 II which was great. The ANC performance was similar to Bose as well. It wasn’t the best but still pretty reasonably good. Also, the PXs were not as comfortable for long-term wearing. The battery life was good, rated at 22 hours but again still not up to at 28 or 30 like the competitors. If they were to be mentioned in the list, I probably place that on six.
I haven’t reviewed everything in this list of best ANC headphones 2021 and if there’s one that you think deserves to be here, please comment down below so others can check them out.