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Best noise cancelling earbuds
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 stuff this tech into earbuds. These are the best noise cancelling earbuds you can get right now.
Editor’s note: this list of the best noise cancelling earbuds was updated on June 14, 2022, to include the Sony WF-1000XM4 in the Best list, microphone demos, and updated charts, as well as add sections on the Sennheiser MOMENTUM 3 True Wireless. We added the Sennheiser CX Plus True Wireless to the Notable mentions section.
Why is the Bose QuietComfort 20 the best set of noise cancelling earbuds?
Bose is one of the leaders in active noise cancelling (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 it 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, you may need a dongle.
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 it’s specific to Android or iOS.
Enjoy a host of features with the Sony WI-1000XM2 neckband headset
Sony has the noise cancelling market cornered with its flagship over-ear and true wireless models. The little-discussed WI-1000XM2 neckband earphones is a great buy for frequent flyers not yet ready to jump ship to totally wireless earbuds.
Each earbud has one inward and one outward-facing microphone to record and cancel out unwanted sounds. The proprietary QN1 chip powers the noise canceling and is energy efficient; this chip also features a 32-bit DAC and headphone amp for clear, loud sound. You get your pick of Bluetooth codecs to stream (SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD, and LDAC) and you can even listen by wire with the included cable.
The earbuds support fast charging: 10 minutes of charge provides 80 minutes of playback, and you get 10 hours of listening from a full charge. The Sony WI-1000XM2 supports Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant. There are only two drawbacks to this headset: price and microphone quality. User reviews indicate the headset has disappointing microphone quality for the price. If you can overlook these shortcomings, you’ll enjoy these wireless noise cancelling earphones.
iPhone owners should just go with the Apple AirPods Pro
Apple has finally made the AirPods good with the AirPods Pro, and that’s mainly due to the better-fitting ear tips. Not only does it mean more people can actually wear it, but the AirPods Pro blocks out background sound just because it seals your ear canals from the outside world. Throw on the new active noise cancelling that Apple put in the AirPods Pro, and it does a pretty great job at blocking outside noise. It isn’t as strong as something like the Sony WF-1000XM4 true wireless earbuds, but it’s way better than the original AirPods.
Besides the active noise cancelling, the AirPods Pro also has a transparency mode that uses microphones to pipe in external sounds 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.
Take a listen to our demos below.
AirPods Pro microphone demo (Ideal):
AirPods Pro microphone demo (Office):
AirPods Pro microphone demo (Street):
How does the microphone sample sound to you?
Cut the cord with the Sony WF-1000XM4
To fully free yourself of wires, check out the true wireless, Sony WF-1000XM4. This flagship set of buds supplies a comfortable, sleek fit with the latest ANC technology. The noise cancelling greatly improves on the previous WF-1000XM3 by reducing low-end noise by 25dB more attenuation at 100Hz. With an IPX4 rating the WF-1000XM4 withstands light splashes and sweat. Battery life with ANC on is a healthy, 7 hours and 43 minutes, with an additional two charges in the case.
With the earbuds, you get the OS-agnostic Sony Headphones app where you can tweak the already pretty nice sounding frequency response, which somewhat under-emphasizes treble. Onboard the WF-1000XM4 are AAC, LDAC, and SBC codecs, accommodating Apple and Android users alike. In addition, the WF-1000XM4 has DSEE Extreme, an algorithm that basically fills out data gaps in your lossy music using artificial intelligence.
While the mic is not the main strength of the Sony WF-1000XM4, it still does a reasonably good job. Take a listen and tell us what you think.
Sony WF-1000XM4 microphone demo (Ideal):
Sony WF-1000XM4 microphone demo (Office):
Sony WF-1000XM4 microphone demo (Wind):
How does the microphone sound to you?
The 1MORE Dual Driver ANC Pro is a versatile headset
1MORE’s noise cancelling earbuds include plenty of premium features for a reasonable price. The earbuds have an IPX5 rating, support LDAC and AAC, and can be used as a wired headset in a pinch. That’s right, you can connect a cable to the neckband and then into your phone.
The magnetic earbud housings perfectly manage the cables when you’re not actively using the headset. The microphone quality, while not the best, is very good and can certainly get you by on a personal or professional phone call. If you’re a commuter who wants a solid pair of ANC earbuds, but isn’t ready to jump ship to noise cancelling true wireless products, the 1MORE Dual Driver ANC Pro is a fine option for you.
Is the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds worth buying?
Bose was one of the earliest manufacturers to really pin down ANC, so it’s no surprise the QuietComfort Earbuds does the job well. It’s effective at using ANC to block out noise across the spectrum. The default frequency response should please most listeners, but the companion app now has some EQ options to add some flexibility.
It shares the same IPX4 rating as the Bose Sport Earbuds, which gives it some versatility alongside with a sidetone for your phone calls. The codec suite is minimal at AAC and SBC, but for iPhone users AAC is about the best you can use anyhow. The downsides include the large case and the buds are pretty big too. It also goes for about $100 USD more than the Sennheiser CX Plus True Wireless, which isn’t chump change.
Does the Sennheiser MOMENTUM 3 True Wireless have good noise cancelling?
Yes, the Sennheiser MOMENTUM 3 True Wireless has excellent ANC capabilities. The combined ANC and isolation competes favorably with the Sony WF-1000XM4, reducing 30dB of external noise at 100Hz. That’s more than the WF-1000XM4. The Sennheiser MOMENTUM 3 True Wireless demands a high price, but lacks surround sound found on the AirPods Pro and WF-1000XM4. Battery life lasts 5 hours and 33 minutes, which is decent. To the credit of Sennheiser, the MOMENTUM 3 True Wireless uses aptX Adaptive, aptX, AAC, and SBC so you can watch videos without losing sync.
The MOMENTUM 3 True Wireless under-emphasizes high frequencies, but otherwise pleasantly follows our target curve through the mids and bass. Included in the app is an equalizer too. Fit is subjective, but the added wings help secure your in-ear fit, though Sennheiser could have included a few more ear tips. Overall, it’s a very competent set of ANC earbuds.
Can you use the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro with any phone?
The current flagship Samsung earphones rank as some of the best noise cancelling true wireless earbuds currently available. Noise cancelling is very good, especially when it comes to midrange frequency reduction, which is important for commuting. The buds expertly cut through droning sounds like the vibrations from a subway car, but can’t quite combat incidental noise like clanging pots and pans.
AKG tuned the earbuds to sound superb: the frequency response closely follows our house curve with slightly amplified bass and low-midrange notes. If you don’t like how it sounds, you can always cycle through the handful of EQ profiles within the Galaxy Wearable app, so long as you have an Android device. It has some of the best waterproofing of any earbuds with a IPX7 rating.
The best ANC earbuds: Notable mentions
- Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen): Amazon debuted its proprietary noise cancelling with these earbuds, and it does a great job of blocking out droning sounds. In fact, the ANC here is better than the Sony WF-1000XM3 and Apple AirPods Pro. Of course, there are some concessions like microphone and sound quality, but if ANC and Alexa support are your top priorities, the Echo Buds will serve you well.
- Denon AH-C830NCW: The Denon AH-C830NCW technically has better active noise cancelling than the Sennheiser CX Plus True Wireless, and you get the same IPX4 rating. However, it isn’t listed as a top five pick because you don’t get volume controls and there’s a noticeable degree of lag on Android since it only supports SBC and AAC.
- Jabra Elite 4 Active: At $120 USD Jabra stuffs the buds with ANC, Bluetooth 5.2, Google Fast Pair, and a solid IP57 rating. You lose some premium surround sound features found in pricier options, but not everyone needs that.
- Jabra Elite 85t: These earphones feature very good noise cancelling, and microphone quality. You can create a custom EQ profile within the mobile app if you aren’t happy with the bassy default sound. With the debut of Jabra’s other Elite series earphones like the Elite 7 Active and Elite 7 Pro, the Elite 85t has dropped in price.
- Sennheiser CX Plus True Wireless: At the midpoint between budget and premium, Sennheiser strikes a balance of good sound, effective ANC, and aptX, AAC, and SBC codecs.
- Shure AONIC Free: Here’s a novel option, noise cancelling without active noise cancelling. The AONIC Free features such good isolation you don’t even need to fuss with ANC settings. It helps that the buds sound great and have a useful companion app with a comprehensive equalizer. If you’re looking for a wired option the Shure SE215 uses the same buds to isolate your ears.
- Razer Hammerhead USB-C ANC: Razer’s USB-C headset is at the top of its very small class. If your smartphone is without a headphone jack, and you want wired earbuds without the dongle, get these. If you’re open to checking out true wireless options, the Razer Hammerhead True Wireless Pro may be more up your alley.
- Samsung Galaxy Buds 2: Though missing some of the more premium features of the Galaxy Buds Pro, this set features basically the same ANC as the flagship for a few bucks less.
Hold up! Something’s different:
Some of our picks’ frequency response and isolation charts were measured with our old testing system. We have since purchased a Bruel & Kjaer 5128 test fixture (and the appropriate support equipment) to update our testing and data collection. It will take a while to update our backlog of old test results, but we will update this review (and many others!) once we’re able with improved sound quality measurements and ANC performance plots. These will be made obvious with our new chart aesthetic (black background instead of white).
Thank you for bearing with us, and we hope to see you again once we’ve sorted everything out.
What you should know about the best noise cancelling earbuds
Hearing loss is a pervasive issue, and noise cancelling technology can help prevent it: 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 prehistoric 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 one. 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.
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 as 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: Apple, Bose, and Sony have impeccable performers.
This technology is complicated, and to get an effective pair of headphones or earbuds with ANC, you should expect to pay around $150. This is pricy but has proven well worth the investment for daily commuters and readers with loud neighbors.
How do you wear earbuds?
Each set of earbuds has a slightly different way you should wear them, but for the most part, you just need to make sure the ear tips fit well into your ear canal entrances. This means you should take the time to experiment with each ear tip size, and mix and match if you have to. 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.
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 affect your ability to hear your music.
How we choose 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, you’re bound to enjoy any of the above.
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Frequently asked questions about noise cancelling earbuds
It is unlikely that they will block out dog barking. It depends on two things mainly: how sporadic the barking is, and what frequency range the barking is in that you’re hearing is. If it’s sporadic, like one bark every now and then, it probably won’t work. Because dogs bark in a fairly wide frequency range, it’s hard to know how effective any ANC is with the specific dog(s) you’re hoping to block out.
You’re better off looking for very good passive sound isolation, like a good fitting closed-back headphone or really snug earbuds without vents. Look into something like the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 or Shure AONIC Free.
We recommend the Bose Sleepbuds: these aren’t designed to play music, and are only compatible with the Bose Sleep app. You can use said app to select a number of ambient recordings to help you catch some Z’s. It’s a miniature white noise machine that won’t keep your partner awake.
For the most optimized experience, get the Apple AirPods Pro; these earbuds use Apple’s H1 chip which allows for hands-free access to Siri, improves power efficiency, and enables seamless device switching with iOS and macOS products. The H1 chip is compatible with macOS 10.14.4 or later and iOS 12.2 or later. The Sennheiser MOMENTUM True Wireless 2 has okay ANC with very good sound. It’s just harder to justify for the price, especially when you can just get the CX Plus True Wireless instead.
Both Bose and Sony make great noise cancelling earbuds. If you’re already invested in the Bose ecosystem, you may find yourself more at home with Bose’s ANC earbuds. Bose has made a name for itself when it comes to noise cancellation and comfort, be it with its earbud or headphone audio solutions. Sony’s noise cancelling earbuds are no slouch, and it has a tight grip on the noise cancelling true wireless market.