The best active noise canceling wireless headphones of 2021: our pick

In 2021, there are many active noise canceling wireless headphones. The product has become essential to make the most of its playlists. You don’t know which model to choose? Our guide, made up of references that we have tested, will guide you as well as possible.

The guide to active noise reduction headphones in a nutshell:

  • Sony WH-1000XM4 (€ 329.99): simply the best
  • Apple AirPods Max (629 €): an exceptional headset under iOS, but a very high price
  • Sennheiser HD 450 BT (€ 149.99): good value for money
  • Beats Solo Pro (€ 229.99): perfect for athletes
  • Marshall Monitor II ANC (€ 249.99): style above all else

Still reserved for the very high end a few years ago, active noise reduction is today a flagship feature of headphones. It allows you to isolate yourself from noises during work sessions or to immerse yourself in a playlist. It is found on more and more references. It is therefore not necessary to pay hundreds of euros to take advantage of it (especially with the promotions that are offered throughout the year)

Active noise reduction has also improved a lot in recent years. To be convinced, just look at the catalog of manufacturers like Bose or Sony, which today offer increasingly sophisticated products – not to mention Apple and its AirPods Max. In 2021, the technology has come of age, offering the opportunity to more novice players to offer already high-performance helmets.

As the offer has diversified a lot, we have made a selection of the best references according to precise criteria. Note that we have only chosen wireless solutions, as this has become the market standard.

Sony WH-1000XM4: the best active noise canceling headphones

The Sony WH-1000XM4 headset in its shell // Source: Maxime Claudel for Numerama

Sony had already set the bar very high with its WH-1000XM3 headphones, the only one capable of competing with Bose products. Its successor, soberly called WH-1000XM4 and sold for 329.99 euros, naturally takes over. The multinational has refined its audio accessory. Its noise reduction is of high quality and ultra customizable. As we noted in our review of the Sony WH-1000XM4, the headphones offer great acoustic performance (there is a full EQ in the companion app).

The Bose Headphones 700 – which however does not lack arguments – must bow to the excellence of the Sony model which we will ultimately blame only one thing: this design a little wise for a headset offered to this rate. Fortunately, the finishes and comfort are there.

Who is the Sony WH-1000XM4 designed for? For those looking for the most versatile headphones with the best noise reduction.

AirPods Max: Apple’s premium audio

Source: Louise Audry for Numerama

Yes, AirPods Max are expensive (€ 629). Yes, AirPods Max are much more comfortable within the Apple ecosystem. Yes, the AirPods Max come with a very strange case. Yes, the AirPods Max could be equipped with a USB-C port for charging. Despite everything, the very first audio headset designed by the Cupertino company is a clear success on many points. To try it is to adopt it – especially since Apple Music offers songs in Dolby Atmos.

This helmet is an exceptional product (and it has the price). In our AirPods Max test, we were able to measure its many qualities: ideal assembly thanks to premium materials, impeccable comfort, exemplary finishes, stunning sound reproduction, incredible noise reduction and unbeatable Transparency mode. Added to this is great ease of use when they are connected to an iPhone, iPad, MacBook or Apple TV.

Who are the Apple AirPods Max for? To those who are not afraid to put several hundred euros in a helmet that will pay them back.

Sennheiser HD 450 BT: the right price / performance ratio

Sennheiser HD 450BT // Source: Sennheiser

Sennheiser’s HD 450 BT proves that you don’t have to break the bank to access active noise reduction. Of course, with this very aggressive price positioning (€ 149.99), this helmet does not offer the services of the more upscale models present in this guide.

Nonetheless, Sennheiser remains a renowned manufacturer in the market. Acquiring one of its products is the assurance of having a reference that ticks a lot of boxes. In terms of sound quality, the HD 450 BT is more than convincing (thanks to the support for high-quality wireless codecs) while the active noise reduction will keep less demanding users happy.

Who is the Sennheiser HD 450 BT designed for? For people who only need active noise reduction occasionally or for those on a tight budget.

Beats Solo Pro: the ideal headphones for athletes

Beats Solo Pro headphones // Source: Maxime Claudel for Numerama

Beats has long been known for its headphones with a striking design but very poor rendering (unless you like bass…). Since its takeover by Apple, the company has been moving in the right direction. With its latest products, in particular this model sold for € 229.99, the manufacturer has established itself as a very solid player in the audio accessories market.

As we noted in our review of the Beats Solo Pro, this model is a great headphone for those who spend time in the gym. In addition to its sober design and durable finishes (the plastic is very sturdy), the device comes in a carrying pouch that fits easily into a bag. As for the noise reduction, which works like that of the AirPods Pro (it is on or off), it will bring you a little calm during your workouts (the dumbbells slamming, it makes noise).

Who is the Beats Solo Pro designed for? To those who are looking for an ideal ally for their sports sessions.

Marshall Monitor II ANC

Marshall Monitor II ANC headphones // Source: Maxime Claudel for Numerama

For his second headset with active noise reduction – but his first with a closed circumaural design – Marshall was right. It must be said that he relies on his know-how to convince: an iconic rock’n’roll look and an emphasis on sound reproduction. On this point, we can praise the qualities of Monitor II ANC (€ 249.99) which is based, by default, on a beautiful signature. You do not like him ? No problem, a full equalizer is available in the companion app.

During our test of the Marshall Monitor II ANC, we found that the active noise reduction was not yet at the level of the tenors. In particular, the model has difficulty covering outside voices correctly. But this flaw is quickly forgotten once you start your favorite playlist, elegantly highlighted by these very attractive headphones.

Who is the Marshall Monitor II ANC designed for? For those looking for an original looking model with good audio quality.

The criteria to take into account to choose the right helmet

What is active noise reduction?

Active noise reduction has become an essential feature. It allows you to gain immersion by isolating yourself as much as possible from the outside world. It reinforces the passive reduction, linked to the structure of the helmet (it is normally good since a helmet encompasses the ear). How does active noise reduction work? Microphones pick up outside noises and the headphones then produce sounds designed to cancel them out as well as possible. Keep in mind that absolute silence does not exist.

Are all helmets comfortable?

Alas no. Some helmets are more suitable for small heads, while others are suitable for a maximum of morphology. We would be tempted to advise you to try a helmet before purchasing it. Remember, however, that discomfort is often not felt until after a long session. In general, light products should be favored with a hoop that is both flexible and adjustable in height. A helmet that appears stiff will tend to hurt more.

Do you have to be demanding with the sound?

Yes. Otherwise, we could be content with simple headphones, the format of which implies more concessions on this criterion (even if some are doing very, very well). In our opinion, acoustic rendering is as important as comfort when buying headphones, the goal being to enjoy your favorite playlists for as long as possible and with the best possible audio quality.

What about autonomy?

Autonomy is a criterion that can be essential if you often go on long journeys. But we can estimate that an autonomy of about 20 hours is largely sufficient for normal use (four to five hours per day). It allows you to only have to recharge the headphones once a week – a real comfort.

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