BY CARSEN JOENK
Have you ever been on the subway late on a Saturday night, submerged in a sea of intoxicated partiers? Or on an international flight next to a crying baby? How about in the gym, next to someone who war-cries after every rep? Or at home with a deep desire to just zone out after a long day at work? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, then the best noise-cancelling earbuds might be for you. Whether you’re hoping to feel focused and motivated or relaxed and at ease, active noise-cancelling earbuds can make a huge difference when it comes to your listening experience. If you’re tired of your favorite albums, podcasts, and phone calls getting interrupted by the cacophonous outside world, we’re ready to help you select the best wireless earbuds.
- For Apple enthusiasts: AirPods Pro
- For Android users wanting to test AirPods tech: Beats Studio Buds
- For long-haul travelers and lengthy calls: Sony WF-1000XM4
- For executives in search of full-frequency focus: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
- For fitness fans who need things to stay put: Jaybird Vista 2
- For budget-conscious listeners: Edifier TWS NB2 Pro
Things to consider when searching for the best noise-cancelling earbuds
Active noise cancellation, or ANC, was initially introduced to provide clarity and relief for pilots and passengers to combat thunderous airplane engine noise. In 1989, Bose released the first commercially available active noise reduction headphones, aptly called the Aviation Headset. Ever since that noise-cancelling device, ANC-equipped personal audio gear has swept the market, letting users tune out everything from a roommate’s constant cooking to construction work next door. But how does it work?
Not to be confused with passive noise cancellation, which refers more to the literal barrier between the outside world and your ears, ANC utilizes advanced technology to analyze the incoming noise through a series of built-in microphones. This sonic input is processed, and, essentially, a counter-sound is created and broadcast to cancel it out. While the science of waveforms and phasing can get a little complicated, what you need to know is that headphones with ANC can drown out, or at least tone down, a majority of environmental noises.
ANC initially belonged exclusively to over-the-ear headphones, but as technology progressed, more and more earbuds started incorporating this helpful feature. Lightweight and compact, earbuds are easy to travel with and comfortable to wear in an even wider variety of active environments than headphones, making the addition of ANC a worthy upgrade to an already useful device. We’ll walk you through some helpful questions to consider so that you can find the best pair of wireless earbuds with ANC as one of the many convenient features.
Are you looking for convenient connectivity?
When it comes to noise-cancelling earbuds, wireless is certainly the way to go. While there still are cabled options, there are fewer and fewer phones with a 3.5mm headphone port. Plus, the convenience of stepping away from your phone to take a call, leaving your smartphone in your bag during your commute, never worrying again about accidentally ripping out one bud while trying to tie your shoes or take off your coat is hard to beat. While finding noise-cancelling True Wireless earbuds won’t be difficult, you should also consider options for charging and overall compatibility. Do you want something that uses the same cable as your phone to recharge? Or would you rather go completely cable-free with a Qi-compatible wireless charging case? Do you want noise-cancelling wireless earbuds specifically designed to pair seamlessly with your device, like Apple AirPods Pro and an iPhone? Or do you want to branch out and try something new?
Do you want to control your spatial awareness?
Many wireless headphones are now equipped with active cancellation that you can toggle on and off, depending on your needs. Some, however, come with even more customized settings, such as the ability to set levels and locations. While you may think you don’t want to be exposed to any noise pollution while listening to your favorite tunes, adjustable, adaptable cancellation can be helpful depending on environmental factors. For example, it is not always safe to use industrial-strength noise cancellation when biking, driving, hiking, or walking alone at night. Or when you want to make sure you won’t miss an important call from a client while simultaneously being able to hear your kids if they call for you. This is where an on/off feature—or a selectable transparency mode, which blends in external sound to your music or call—becomes important, so you can customize your listening experience based on your surroundings and scenarios.
Are you big on battery life?
There is nothing worse than settling in for a long flight only to realize your earbuds won’t last the entire trip. Or waking up in the morning only to realize you forgot to charge them and now you’ll have to listen to the hubbub of the subway during your morning commute. If you’re worried about your earbuds dying, look for a model that boasts hours of battery life and a charging case that can last two- to three-times longer. Earbud batteries are significantly smaller than over-the-ear wireless headphones, so they generally can’t last as long, but with the help of a quick-charging case, you shouldn’t have any trouble rocking out all day without any interference. In addition, the best wireless earbuds sense they haven’t been used for a while and put themselves into deep sleep mode to conserve battery life.
Do you need a secure fit for your workouts?
When you’re going hard in the gym, you don’t want to worry about one earbud falling out during jump squats or getting damaged from dripping sweat during a strength training set. There are a few things you can look for to combat these risks. The first thing you can do is go for a pair of earbuds with not only multiple types of eartips, but one with swappable hooks or wings that help assure stability during motion. This will help you find a snug fit that won’t fall out easily.
And, while it doesn’t have anything to do with fit, it’s important for athletes to select a pair with a high IP rating. The “IP” in IP rating stands for “Ingress Protection,” which tells you just how fortified an electronic device is against dirt, dust, and water. For protection from sweat, pay particular attention to the second number, which describes its ability to keep out liquids. IPX5 can likely handle a vigorous workout (or getting caught in a steady rain), while an IPX7 rating means you can submerge them in up to 1 meter of water for 30 minutes before any damage occurs. Over time that sweat could break down the seals and seep into the electronics, however, so the higher the number your noise-cancelling wireless earbuds support, the more protected they will be.
Do you need a budget-friendly pair for on-the-go listening?
Noise-cancelling earbuds can be expensive—many retail for well over $150, and some even top out at close to $400. That being said, if you’re looking for something inexpensive, you won’t be short on options. Whether you want a backup pair to supplement your reference earbuds or you want to wait before investing in a high-end model, grabbing a pair of efficient, inexpensive buds is never a bad idea (we recommend the $25 Skullcandy Dime). Just keep in mind, you may have to sacrifice a bit of audio quality, battery life, or convenience features compared to pricier models.
The best noise-cancelling earbuds:
The best noise-cancelling earbuds will keep you entertained for hours on end without major disruptions from the outside world. Every pair has its quirks, however, so take a moment to think about your intended platform and pastimes as you browse these virtual shelves.
Best noise-cancelling earbuds for Apple enthusiasts: AirPods Pro
An Immersive Upgrade
With the addition of ANC and Transparency Mode, the AirPods Pro remain the most popular true wireless earbuds for a reason. Apple
Let’s be clear: The Apple AirPods Pro are the undeniable best choice for iPhone users searching for ease of use. Charge them, place them near any iPhone made in the last several years, and you’re almost instantly paired—just one of the reasons the little white ‘buds seem ubiquitous. A major upgrade from the original AirPods (see our thoughts here), this new generation is equipped with external and internal microphones to detect and cancel out any ambient sound or noise. The cancellation is adjusted 200 times per second, so you won’t be exposed to outside sounds even with a sudden change in your environment. You can easily switch to Transparency Mode, which allows you to hear your surroundings without removing an earbud, by holding down on one of the stems.
The AirPods Pro features an adaptive EQ, support for Apple Music’s new “immersive” Spatial Audio format, customizable controls, and up to five hours of playtime on a single charge alongside their impressive ANC. Should your AirPods start to die, you can get an additional hour of battery from just five minutes inside the charging case, which can supply a total of 24 hours of charge to your earbuds. These earbuds are sweat-resistant, with an IPX4 rating, and they come with silicone tips in three sizes for maximum security and comfort. The tips conform to your ear shape, creating a seal that adds another layer of isolation, which ultimately aids noise cancellation. And while the AirPods work with any Bluetooth device, the best features, including Siri always ready to respond to commands and easy switching between devices, are for anyone with both the AirPods Pro and an iOS device.
Best noise-cancelling earbuds for Android users wanting to test AirPods tech: Beats Studio Buds
A pair of noise-cancelling wireless earbuds from a design powerhouse that won’t disappoint. Beats
Android users rejoice! Beats Studio Buds promises many of the features found in Apple AirPods without needing an iPhone to access all they have to offer. Yes, it’s true that Apple currently owns Beats and, though some of Cupertino’s top tech has started to creep into Beats’ over-the-ear headphones, Apple earbuds remain at the top of the leaderboard for one specific operating system. Not as much with the Beats Studio Buds (see our full review here).
Available in black, red, or white, these earbuds provide up to eight hours of listening with ANC turned off, five hours with Apple’s proven system turned on, with two additional charges provided by the included case for a total of 24 hours of combined playback. Like the AirPods Pro, the Studio Buds feature Transparency Mode alongside ANC. The built-in microphone boasts wind protection for increased clarity, and Class 1 Bluetooth operates with an extended range. Studio Buds come with small, medium, and large eartips, so you can find the right fit. They have an IPX4 rating, USB-C universal charging, and on-device controls to pause/play music, answer calls, and activate a voice assistant.
Best noise-cancelling earbuds for long-haul travelers and lengthy calls: Sony WF-1000XM4
Big Battery, Full Bodied
With these earbuds, you’ll easily get a workday’s worth of playtime, with noise cancellation ON. Sony
In general, Sony headphones and earbuds are known as industry workhorses, and the Sony WF-1000XM4s are no different (our full review is here). With impressive audio quality, customizable sound, and some of the best battery life on the market, these chunky, but classy ‘buds won’t disappoint. Sony’s earbuds can last up to eight hours, with an additional 16 from a couple of case charges, all with ANC turned on. Without ANC, you’ll get 12 hours with one charge with an extra 24 hours from charging in the case (which can be charged wirelessly on a Qi-compatible pad, by the way). Beamforming microphones pick up the user’s voice with extra clarity for hands-free calls and “Speak-to-Chat” detection. Use the Sony | Headphones Connect app to adjust ambient sound settings and levels, which are automatically saved. With a new integrated noise cancellation processor, upgraded 6mm driver unit, isolation eartips, and a touch-sensitive exterior, the WF-1000XM4 will keep you comfortable and happy during any and all travel adventures.
Best noise-cancelling earbuds for executives in search of full-frequency focus: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
Superb Session Sound
Excellent noise cancellation combined with top-quality audio make these earbuds great for balancing both music and meetings on the go. Bose
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds top the charts regarding noise cancellation and audio quality. You’ll have no trouble keeping engines, traffic, or loud talkers out of your ears, and if you want to remain connected, you’ll be able to adjust. There are three customizable noise-cancelling settings, including a Transparency Mode; toggle through them by simply tapping the left earbud. Volume-optimized active EQ keeps things balanced across the board, delivering powerful bass, clear mids, and active but not aggressive highs. You can listen for up to six hours on a single charge, while the case provides an additional 12 hours (for a total of 18 hours of playback). The case can charge via an included USB-C cable or wirelessly with a Qi mat (sold separately). Each pair of the Bose noise-cancelling earbuds comes with three sizes of silicone eartips for an extra layer of passive noise cancellation. If you’re looking to compare high-end models with a focus on audio, also check out the SENNHEISER Momentum True Wireless 2 earbuds.
Best noise-cancelling earbuds for fitness fans who need things to stay put: Jaybird Vista 2
Sweatproof Accountability Bud-dies
One of the most durable earbuds available, this pair will keep you company for many training sessions to come. Jaybird
The Vista 2 earbuds from Jaybird are the latest and greatest noise-cancelling earbuds for exercise (a full review can be viewed here). With an IP68 rating, they are water, sweat, and dustproof, as well as shock resistant; you won’t have to worry about any damage, no matter how intense your HIIT workout gets. Flexible Sport Fit wings and interchangeable ear gels in three sizes keep things secure during a set of squat jacks or long run. The ANC lets you focus on your routine, while SurroundSense will keep you connected to your environment, great for a bike ride or outdoor jog. With eight hours of music on one charge and an extra 16 ready to go right in the case, you’ll be able to go straight from your workout to a work call without missing a beat. WindDefense fabric and four microphones mean you’re protected from having to repeat yourself every six seconds on the phone, and the Jaybird app will let you customize your listening experience with hearing-tailored (and user-submitted) EQ settings. If you’re looking for something that has a bit more of a C-suite look, but still rocks an IP68 rating, the Jabra Active 75t is a proven performer.
Best for budget-conscious listeners: Edifier TWS NB2 Pro
High Performance, Low Price
A pair of noise-cancelling earbuds that offer fantastic features for under $100. Edifer
The TWS NB2 Pros from Edifier are a budget-friendly pick with premium features. Choose from six sound settings, including ANC, Ambient Sound to let in voices, and Game Mode for low latency. You can listen for up to nine continuous hours, depending on volume and mode, with an additional 23 hours loaded in the charging case. With an IP54 rating, these earbuds are water and dust-resistant, suitable for exercise, but you’ll want to dry them out before charging. Tap Controls let you pause, play, skip, answer, and hang up calls without picking up the phone. You’ll get a real bang for your buck with the TWS NB2 Pros. But if you’re looking to save even more, you can actually get noise-cancelling earbuds under $50 with the Tozo NC2 hybrid active wireless earbuds.
Q: Are noise-cancelling earbuds worth it?
Yes, we believe that noise-cancelling earbuds are undoubtedly worth it. The ability to silence a loud train car, chatty coworkers, next-door construction, and practically any kind of whirring can elevate any listening experience. You’ll be able to focus on the task at hand or calmly zone out at any time. Most noise-cancelling earbuds also let you adjust the level of cancelation or turn it off completely, so you get the best of both worlds.
Q: Are earbuds or headphones better for noise cancelling?
While earbuds are certainly equipped with excellent noise-cancelling technology, headphones add an additional layer of isolation because they cover the ear’s reflective surface, passively blocking out even more noise, plus have larger drivers so they can produce both more music and more noise-cancelling waves. However, if you’re looking for something super portable, comfortable for a workout, or discreet, noise-cancelling earbuds will certainly be better than headphones.
Q: Is it bad to sleep with noise-canceling earbuds?
While we’re not doctors, it’s well-documented that certain noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds can actually aid sleep. If you’re a light sleeper, easily disturbed by sound, noise-cancelling earbuds can help you drift off faster, stay asleep longer, and stave off nighttime anxiety around sleep. You’ll need to choose a model that’s comfortable for you, and you won’t want to introduce long cables into your nightly routine or be exposed to too much loud noise over a long period of time, but, as long as you’re careful, noise-canceling headphones are safe to sleep in.
The final word on the best noise-cancelling earbuds
Jamming to music, watching TV, pondering podcasts, and consuming audiobooks and all activities that shouldn’t be interrupted by noisy neighbors, airplane engines, the din of a city street, or a constant deluge of calls—except the conveniently picked up ones you want. Luckily the best noise-cancelling earbuds will give you the option to tune into or out of your surroundings—a portable, listener-friendly way to enjoy what you love and take care of what you need without worrying about the world around you.>