Best Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones 2021: How Does ANC Work?

Active noise cancellation (ANC) used to be a feature reserved for a couple of really high-end headphones, but it’s become more and more common over the past five years. The ability to block out unwanted noise so you can focus on your music during your commute or muffle the sound of an aeroplane’s engines while you travel is a significant improvement over cranking up your volume, which can impact your hearing over time.


Welcome to the Best Active noise-cancelling headphones reviews and tips. A top quality set of active noise-cancelling headphones are an excellent investment with very few faults to make. It will help you block out the distracting background noise during your travels and ensure that you hear only the sounds that you need to hear. The best ones come with very intuitive controls that allow you to change the level of the music or disable the auto-play feature. They are also very compact and light so you won’t have trouble holding them when you are travelling.

If you are thinking of buying a pair of active noise-cancelling headphones but are unsure which ones to buy or which model to choose, there are a few things you should consider first. Many people believe that the best noise-cancelling headphones have the highest THD. This means they are less efficient than the next-best models. People base their opinions on how loud they produce bass and how much noise it blocks. The truth is that your use of a model’s audio can significantly impact its effectiveness.

The best noise-cancelling headphones can block out external noise and still produce a high-quality sound. In other words, they will cancel out outside noise while allowing your audio to carry over while you travel. This is done via a unique crossover that works with your MP3 player or regular speakers. These headphones will allow you to listen to your audio while on the go. This is the main benefit of the most active noise-cancelling headphones, not to mention why so many people looking to buy a good set of these headphones have trouble finding the right set to suit their needs. It’s because they don’t know enough to distinguish the best from the rest.

Another essential feature to look for inactive noise-cancelling headphones is the ability to connect wirelessly with your companion app. There is a lot of airports pro and noise-cancelling headphones that only allow for connection to an airpod. Not all of them, though, can streamline connectivity with the companion app. Therefore, you may want to focus on finding a set with the necessary features if you want to enjoy your music and still block out the outside noises around you. Several airports pro headphones can with your phone if it has a Bluetooth feature.

A pair of headphones with a high-frequency response is a must. These headphones are often used with mobile devices that are constantly moving. For this reason, the midrange to the high-frequency range is the best type of frequency response that will work for your mobile devices.

The above information will help you narrow down your choices when choosing the right type of headphones. For example, in Airpods max, we’ve found that it performs well, has a wide frequency range, and friendly high-frequency response. It also has the best overall value for the money. For those who are interested in mobile devices, noise cancellation is significant. You can enjoy effective noise cancellation while on the move with a pair of the top brands of AirPods max or any other brand.

How Do Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones Work?

It all comes down to microphones and physics. All sound can be broken down into sine waves, which have peaks and valleys based on their volume and frequencies; the sine wave of loud, low sounds will look different than one created by a soft, high pitched noise. Before active noise cancellation, headphones would attempt to block all sounds from the outside world by putting a physical barrier inside of your ear. For earbuds, that meant using gummy tips that created a “seal” inside your ear canal. The best choice for on- and over-ear headphones was to make larger ear pads out of foam material that would muffle sound. This is known as passive noise cancellation.

Best Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones 2021
Best Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones 2021

Active noise cancellation works differently. Instead of muffling outside noises, microphones on the outside of your headphones “hear” them, and create a sound wave that neutralizes the one coming from the outside world. The sound you hear when active noise cancellation is on, but you’re not playing music, is the sound of these two competing sine waves cancelling each other out. When you listen to music at a normal volume, this sound isn’t audible.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones?

It’s hard to deny the upside of listening to music without interruption from unwanted sounds, but active noise cancellation does have a couple of drawbacks. First, both the microphones that listen to the outside world, and the technology that filters it out require power. That means the battery in your headphones has to be larger, or you have to settle for a shorter playback time per charge. Considering noise-cancelling headphones are typically wireless (Bluetooth chips need electricity, too), you’ve got two big draws on a limited power supply. The result is having another gadget to charge daily (or every few days).

Second, adding an active noise-cancelling hardware and a wireless chipset on top of drivers, padding, and other pieces necessary to make a good sounding pair of headphones increases their weight. This is one of the reasons active noise cancellation has traditionally been found in over-ear headphones, which are heavier to begin with. Heavy headphones may become uncomfortable to wear for long stretches of time, especially if you’re used to wearing a really light pair.

What Are the Best Features of Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones?

The popularity of smartphones and tablets has led big tech companies to invest heavily into making smaller, longer-lasting batteries and more power-efficient wireless technology. Recent versions of Bluetooth have better range and lower energy demands. The introduction of custom DSPs (digital signal processors), and the miniaturization of battery technology has enabled active noise cancellation to make its way to on-ear and in-ear headphones, although over-ear models will typically have the best audio quality and battery life.

What Are the Best Active Noise Cancelling Headphones to Buy?

Active noise cancellation is becoming a common feature, but not all headphones that have it sound good or feel comfortable. We’re recommending one pair of headphones in each major style (earbuds, on-ear, and over ear) that are actually worth your time.

1. Sony WH-1000XM4 Headphones

The WH-1000XM4s are the latest entry in Sony’s premium active noise cancelling headphone line, which has long been one of the top-rated units for ANC. The headphones are reliable, they sound excellent, and you can customize their EQ to your tastes by using the Sony Connect app (iOS and Android).

The headphones have microphones in each ear cup, which neutralize an impressive amount noise before it hits your ears. This makes it easier to commute, travel, or work from home without distractions. The microphones can also be used to take hands-free phone calls, or activate the smart assistant on your phone without reaching into your pocket.

One of the reasons Sony’s headphones stood out to us is that their “smart” features are useful and actually work. The WH-1000XM4s will automatically adjust their noise cancellation settings and EQ based on what’s happening around you. It’ll even factor in your current atmospheric pressure, which changes when you enter a subway or airplane, when making these decisions.

Get up to 30 hours of music playback per charge if you leave active noise cancellation on, or 38 if you switch it off. The headphones run for up to five hours on a 10-minute charge.

Sony WH-1000XM4

2. Marshall MID ANC Headphones

Marshall is best known for supplying amps used by bands like AC/DC, but the company’s line of Bluetooth headphones is a sleeper hit. I’ve tested several pairs, including the MID ANCs, and I love the way they sound.

The on-ear headphones have two microphones for noise cancellation and offer 20 hours of continuous music playback with the setting enabled. The headphones weigh 7.3 ounces, which puts them between our earbud and over-ear headphone picks.

Marshall used a pair of custom 40mm drivers in its headphones, and the difference is easy to hear. I initially believed the MID ANCs would be tuned for rock music, but I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of depth I heard when listening to jazz, pop, and Motown. Instruments and vocals in the midrange sound particularly good.

The MID ANC’s active noise cancellation is very good, but on-ear headphones will always struggle with the feature more than earbuds or over-ear cans. Earbuds create a seal around your ears, which offers excellent passive and active noise cancellation, and over-ear headphones have thick pads that fit over your entire ear. The MID ANC’s earpads are extremely plush, but they don’t create the same type of barrier between you and the outside world. Suppose you prefer on-ear headphones for their balance between lightness and audio quality. In that case, the Marshall MID ANCs are the noise cancelling headphones you should get — just make sure you understand the drawbacks inherent in this style of headphone before you do.

Marshall MID ANC

3. Bose 700 ANC Headphones

Bose 700


Bose’s QC25s were the first pair of active noise-cancelling headphones most people heard about, and they ran unopposed for several years. Competition has heated up, and Bose recently responded with its 700 series over-ear headphones.

The Bose 700s have six microphones dedicated to active noise cancellation and lets you switch between 11 different levels by pressing a button on the right ear cup. They weigh 8.6 ounces, which is not much more than the Marshall on-ear headphones we recommend, and they get 20 hours of battery life per charge. Bose says the headphones can offer 3.5 hours of music playback being plugged in for 15 minutes.

Bose has a proven track record for producing great-sounding audio hardware, from speakers to soundbars to headphones. The company says the 700s feature a custom EQ (equaliser) designed to make your music sound good at any volume. It also supports Bose AR, a custom audio technology designed to work with augmented reality glasses.

We’re recommending the Bose 700s over other over-ear headphones because of their impressive active noise cancellation hardware, but they also have some nice design flourishes. The headphones have Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant built into them, which you can use to play songs from different streaming services, get answers to questions, and control innovative home accessories. The right earpad is also touched sensitive, so you can adjust volume and play or pause songs with a swipe or tap.

If active noise cancellation is the number one feature you’re considering when looking for your next pair of over-ear headphones, the Bose 700 deliver.

Bose 700 ANC


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