Whether you travel for work, commute to work, or just like listening to music while you drink your morning coffee, noise cancelling headphones are great, but they can still be bulky. Fortunately, there are quite a few manufacturers that have stuffed this tech into earbuds. These are the best noise cancelling earbuds you can get.
Editor’s note: this list was updated on December 10, 2018, to include the Plantronics BackBeat Go 410, pertinent research information, and price changes.
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The best noise cancelling earbuds are the Bose QuietComfort 20
Bose is one of the leaders in ANC technology, and after years on top of the game its larger noise cancelling headphones have just begun to be challenged by other manufacturers. But when it comes to their earbuds, Bose remains king. Although the QC20 has been updated with a newer wireless version, we’re keeping these at the top spot because you don’t have to worry about battery life.
Bose QuietComfort 20
The cable ends in a 90-degree connector and a few inches above that you’ll find a slim block of components. Inside is a battery that will give you about 16 hours of noise cancelling and music playback. It houses an Aware Mode button, so you can hear what’s going on around you when you need to. Of course, you’ll also be able to control volume and playback thanks to a small control module on the wire, but make sure to pay attention to which model you get as they’re specific to Android or iOS.
If you’ve used Bose products before, you know what to expect in terms of sound quality. They have good mids and strong lows but are far from accurate.
What you should know about the best noise cancelling earbuds
- While it seems magical, noise cancellation operates on the principle of destructive and constructive interference. In most cases, the more expensive products tend to have more effective noise cancellation.
- In order for noise cancelling earbuds to be most effective, a cogent seal must form between the ear tip and the ear canal. Otherwise, a pair of earbuds can use the best noise cancelling technology in the world, but if it can’t get passive isolation right, it may as well be a wash.
- Working out with noise cancelling earbuds is fine indoors, but if you’re planning to take take a run through town, stick to earbuds with built-in safety features instead.
For the best design, grab the B&O Beoplay H3 ANC
B&O is known for it premium audio products. In fact, compared to some of its other products, the Beoplay H3 ANC earbuds seem tame. But as far as minimal earbuds go, these are gorgeous.
B&O Beoplay H3 ANC
The housings are made of a lightweight metal that protects against scratches and drops while weighing only about 40 grams. Where you would usually find a bulky control module, B&O puts a tiny puck-like module on the audio cable. In it, you’ll get a battery that should last you about 20 hours of constant playback with noise cancelling turned on.
They also come with Comply memory foam tips, which provide a great seal for a stronger low end, but numerous holes (29 to be precise) in the earbud housing allow for a more natural sound. Nothing compared to the soundstage of open-back headphones, but not bad for a pair of earbuds.
For the best wireless option, go with the Plantronics BackBeat Go 410
The Plantronics BackBeat Go 410 is the company’s answer to consumer-friendly noise cancelling earbuds. The neckband design is reminiscent of the BeatsX or elusive OnePlus Bullets Wireless. For ~$120 listeners get impressive noise cancelling capabilities, a comfortable fit, and sweat-resistant build.
Plantronics BackBeat Go 410Full Review
Noise cancelling automatically enters Low Noise Mode or High Noise Mode, depending on the context of your current environment. This works so well that I wouldn’t recommend them when walking down the street or running outdoors. They do, however, hold their own in a crowded coffee shop or on the subway.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the earbuds, though, is that they give listeners the option for wired listening via an included dual-purpose micro-USB cable, which sheathes a 3.5mm plug. Of course, in order to reap the benefits of this design, your smartphone needs to feature a headphone jack.
Cut the cord with the Sony WF-SP700N
These true wireless earbuds include proprietary wing tips that keep the fit stable while running to catch a cab or running to stay in shape. Although battery life leaves a lot to be desired at 2.58 hours of playback, that seems the nature of truly wireless earbuds. Fortunately, there are more pros than cons to these ‘buds.
Sony WF-SP700NFull Review
Like the Sony WH-1000XM3, these earbuds are compatible with Sony’s Headphones | Connect app, which allows for eight preset EQ options and if you want to get really fancy, you can even create your own. What’s more, users can choose to prioritize connectivity or audio quality when streaming. Although we should be able to have our cake and eat it too, true wireless technology isn’t quite there yet, so the option is appreciated.
As far as audio quality is concerned, the earbuds cater to the general consumer by emulating the equal loudness contour. The bass emphasis is clearly exaggerated but it makes for a fun listening experience. Meanwhile, the boosted treble frequency response feigns clarity. On the whole, if you want true wireless earbuds with effective noise cancellation, this remains one of few viable options.
The highest value when it comes to noise cancelling earbuds is the Autio-Technica ATH-ANC23
If you’re not sure if you want to spend massive amounts of money on in-ears, then the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23 ‘buds might be more up your alley. These have 13mm drivers and have a frequency response of 20Hz – 20kHz which covers pretty much anything us humans are physically able to hear.
You’ll find the microphone and everything needed for the ANC to be effectively packed into the small control module that resides on the audio cable. It also maxes out at 105dB and can actively reduce noise up to 20dB. The ATH-ANC23 doesn’t have a built-in rechargeable battery, instead opting for standard AAA batteries, which provide 60 hours of constant playback.
How we chose the best noise cancelling earbuds
When it comes to noise cancelling earbuds, we performed our due diligence by researching the ones we’ve yet to get our hands on. Bose, recognized as the brand to get when looking for noise cancelling headphones, is awarded as our top contender. However, we made sure to include other, less ubiquitous options that will still suit a wide array of listener profiles. While the Bose QuietComfort 20 still reigns as our pick for the best noise cancelling earbuds due to the audio quality delivered by wire, you’re bound to enjoy any of the above.
- Bose QuietControl 30: If you’re looking to ditch the wires while retaining good audio quality, this Bose option is a great but pricey pick.
- Plantronics Voyager 6200 UC: Listeners who want to rule the office and roam freely should check these earbuds out. Class 1 Bluetooth and multipoint connectivity make using these a breeze.
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