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 28, 2021, to include the Sony WF-1000XM4 in the notable mentions section.
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
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.
See also: What is noise-induced hearing loss
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.
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 are 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.
Related: Best wireless neckband earbuds
These 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.
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 way better than the original AirPods.
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 Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro
Samsung’s earphones are 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 are very good at cutting through droning sounds like the vibrations from a subway car, but can’t quite combat incidental noise like clanging pots and pans.
Samsung Galaxy Buds ProFull Review
AKG tuned these earbuds to sound superb: the frequency response closely follows our house curve with slightly amplified bass and low-midrange notes. Even with these minor deviations, nearly every genre of music is bound to sound good through these earphones. 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. If you’re always on the go and don’t want to fuss around with more than one headset, the Galaxy Buds Pro is a great pair of buds.
Related: Best AirPods Pro alternatives
The 1MORE Dual Driver ANC Pro is a versatile headset
1MORE’s noise cancelling earbuds include plenty of premium features for a reasonable price. These 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.
1MORE Dual Driver ANC ProFull Review
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.
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: Apple, Bose, and Sony have impeccable performers.
Start here: Ultimate headphone buying guide
This technology is complicated, and to get an effective pair of headphones or earbuds with ANC, you should expect to pay at least $150. This is pricy, but has proven well worth the investment for daily commuters and readers with loud neighbors.
Take the time to find a proper fit
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, you’re bound to enjoy any of the above.
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.
- Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: These are Bose’s debut noise cancelling true wireless earbuds, and do a great job of nullifying low and midrange frequency noises. The ear tips keep the IPX4-rated buds in place, despite their somewhat large form factor. The USB-C case fast charges the earbuds and supports wireless charging.
- 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.
- 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.
- Panasonic RZ-S500W: Anyone in search of the most effective, portable noise cancelling solution should stop here with the Panasonic RZ-S500W. Water resistance is also in the cards, as these merit an IPX4 rating. You may use them in mono mode, but they’re less feature-dense than Sony’s earbuds.
- 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.
- Sony WF-1000XM3: 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. Thanks to the release of its successor, you can snag these buds for as low as $100 USD for a refurbished pair.
- Sony WF-1000XM4: For people willing to pay a premium, Sony’s latest flagship true wireless earbuds feature best-in-class active noise cancelling, customizable sound quality, a great fit, and comprehensive software controls.
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Frequently Asked Questions
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-M50xBT.
Hey there! We have an entire list of the best noise cancelling true wireless earbuds where we include other brands like Panasonic, Master & Dynamic, and more.
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. We've yet to review the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 and are unable to speak to its ANC capabilities, but even so, the AirPods Pro will yield a more streamlined experience.
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. We recommend the Sony WI-1000X to anyone who wants a convertible pair of Bluetooth earbuds, since you can quickly switch from wired to wireless audio. Ultimately, though, both brands make great products and it may very well boil down to what headset is on promotion at the time of purchase.