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 right now.
Editor’s note: this list was updated on December 20, 2019, to account for market changes.
The best noise cancelling earbuds are the Bose QuietComfort 20
Bose is one of the leaders in ANC technology. After years on top of the game, its larger noise cancelling headphones have just begun to be challenged by other manufacturers. When it comes to earbuds, though, Bose is still one of the best. 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. That said, if your phone doesn’t have a headphone jack, the QuietComfort 30 is a good alternative.
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.
Why you should get ANC earbuds
Noise cancelling technology can prevent noise-induced hearing loss, because it combats the permeation of external noise by way of destructive interference. Anyone who’s been on a subway platform while listening to music knows that as the train comes to a halt to pick up riders, it becomes nearly impossible to hear your music. That’s because our brains only have so much bandwidth to process simultaneous stimuli; our prehistoric brains are programmed for survival. Back in the pre-historic days, it was important to register loud noises over all else because they were likely threats (e.g. a prowling leopard). Now, this prioritization of loud sounds is less needed since we don’t typically have run-ins with wild creatures ready to pounce on us. Instead, it impedes music playback in the form of auditory masking: a loud sound makes it difficult to perceive a quieter on. We often reach for the volume rocker to increase music loudness as a way of combating loud external noises, but active noise cancelling earbuds do much of the heavy lifting, making us less compelled to put our hearing at risk.
For the best design, grab the B&O Beoplay H3 ANC
Bang and Olufsen is known for its premium audio products. In fact, compared to some of its other products, the Beoplay H3 ANC earbuds seem tame. As far as minimal earbuds go, these are gorgeous. 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.
B&O Beoplay H3 ANC
They also come with Comply memory foam ear tips, which provide a great seal for a stronger low end, but numerous holes (29 to be precise) in each 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.
Related: Expensive headphones are worth it
iOS users should just go with the Apple AirPods Pro
Apple has finally made the AirPods good with the AirPods Pro, and that’s in no small part due to the better fitting ear tips. Not only does it mean more people can actually wear them, but it also passively isolates outside sound just by the nature of closing off your ear canals to the outside. Throw on the new active noise cancelling that apple put in the AirPods Pro, and these do a pretty great job at blocking outside noise. It isn’t as strong as something like the Sony WF-1000XM3 true wireless earbuds, but it’s more than good enough for most situations.
Apple AirPods ProFull Review
Besides the active noise cancelling, the AirPods Pro also has a transparency mode that uses the microphones to enhance the sounds around you so you can hear what’s going on. It’s super helpful when you’re trying to hear what the pilot or conductor is saying but don’t want to remove your earbud. The new shorter stem is where you’ll find the pressure-sensitive playback controls that let you skip between tracks and toggle ANC on or off.
Cut the cord with the Sony WF-1000XM3
Sony’s flagship earbuds, the WF-1000XM3, are the best noise cancelling true wireless earbuds currently available. While the company’s over-ear model has better overall ANC performance, these Google Assistant-integrated earbuds do a fantastic job at attenuating low-frequencies sounds.
Sony WF-1000XM3Full Review
An ergonomic design positions the earbuds so they evenly distribute pressure along three contact points. Lily found this design unique and comfortable and was able to wear these for 4.76 hours, the entire duration alotted from a single charge. Popping the earbuds into the case for 10 minutes affords 1.5 hours of playback, and the charging case provides an additional three charges to the earbuds.
Related: Best AirPods Pro alternatives
One of the biggest drawbacks of the Sony WF-1000XM3 is their lack of aptX or LDAC support. They do offer AAC support but performance is dubious across Android devices. The QN1e processor supports 24-bit audio signal processing, which is great for Tidal HiFi subscribers. This paired with DSEE HX technology makes for clear audio reproduction despite the lacking codec support. 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.
If you’re a one-bag flyer, these ‘buds make the most sense: they’re compact, comfortable, have great noise cancelling, and support quick charging. While $230 is a lot of spend on a pair of earbuds, it’s worth it for frequent commuters.
The highest value when it comes to noise cancelling earbuds is 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 2. For ~$100 listeners get impressive noise cancelling capabilities, a comfortable fit, and sweat-resistant build.
Plantronics BackBeat Go 410Full Review
Noise cancelling automatically enters Low Noise 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.
What you should know about the best noise cancelling earbuds
How does noise cancellation work?
We have a full breakdown of how noise cancelling technology works, but the shortened version is that it uses destructive interference. Each sound has its own waveform, and the microphones in ANC headsets record your surroundings and emit an inverted waveform to combat ambient noise. In a perfect world, it would be as simple and neat and 1-1=0. However, the technology isn’t there yet and may never be. Environmental noise still permeates the barrier created by noise cancelling headphones. Generally speaking, though, the technology has advanced quite a bit: AKG and Sony have impeccable performers while Bose is promising all new AR tech in its upcoming ANC headphones.
Just like standard earbuds, noise cancelling earbuds greatly benefit from a proper seal. No matter how good the ANC tech inside the earbud is, if the nozzles aren’t physically blocking external noise out, auditory masking will occur. It’s worth the effort to take a moment and test out the included ear tips. Shake your head around a bit and take note of your comfort level. Usually one of the sizes works but on the off chance that they don’t, you may want to invest in third-party ear tips.
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.
Why you should trust us
SoundGuys strives to inform readers about audio. Whether that includes knowing what’s relevant via one of our many best lists, or if that means improving your understanding behind audio science. Individually, the team has accrued years of audio endeavors bringing a unique perspective to their writings
While this site does operate on referral links, no one benefits from championing one product over another. In fact, the writers don’t know if a link was ever clicked. Ultimately, we want you to be happy with your pick, and if you don’t get anything, we want you to close out of this tab feeling more informed about audio.
Disclosure: We may receive affiliate compensation in connection with your purchase of products via links on this page. Even though we may receive compensation, we always give our honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experiences on each product. See our ethics policy for more details.