True wireless earphones as a category have come a long way from the original AirPods, but in terms of features they tend to lag far behind on or over-ears. However, we’re happy to report that enough companies have brought their A-game to true wireless earphones—and by “A” game I mean active noise cancelling (ANC).

As we have several talented testers digging into the best noise cancelling true wireless earbuds, we’re constantly updating this list to make sure that the best ANC true wireless options on the market appear here.

Editor’s note: this list was updated on December 1, 2019, to address the release of the Amazon Echo Buds with Alexa.

The Sony WF-1000XM3 are the best noise cancelling true wireless earbuds for most people

All else being equal, if you want the best noise cancelling true wireless earbuds, you want to buy the Sony WF-1000XM3. While the Apple AirPods Pro are a very close second, Sony’s buds block out a greater volume of noise, as well as offering better sound performance. The only real downside is the battery life, which the AirPods Pro defeat the Sony WF-1000XM3 handily at.

Sony WF-1000XM3

Full Review

True wireless earbuds tend not to do such a great job at attenuating outside noise, because they simply can’t devote a lot of power to the task. Those batteries are tiny, and they struggle to power each earbud on a good day. Throwing ANC into the mix is downright cruel to those.

Noise cancellation is pretty good with the Sony WF-1000XM3, but it weirdly doesn’t attenuate much noise at the 1kHz mark. That’s really okay, though, as the more important part of the audible range of sounds comes below that, from 100-900Hz. This range has most of the music notes you know and love, as well as most basic speech sounds. You can see that it all but mutes high-frequency noise, as well as offer some low-end attenuation. While it’s not as good as their bigger, over-ear brother the WH-1000XM3: it’s still respectable for a set of true wireless earbuds.

Sony WF-1000XM3 noise cancelling isolation chart.

The Sony WF-1000XM3 noise cancelling is highly effective at attenuating low-frequency background noise.

Additionally, the Sony WF-1000XM3 offers a lot of features like voice assistant integration, custom equalization through Sony’s headphone app, and USB-C charging. Currently it’s the best true wireless option on the market, but there’s a bunch out there hot on its heels.

What you should know about noise cancelling true wireless earbuds

If you’re in the market for noise cancelling true wireless earbuds, you need to know a few things about what you’re getting into. True wireless fans probably already know what to expect from their new sets, but if you’re taking the plunge for the first time there are a few things to go over. We don’t want you running into something unexpected, after all.

Battery life isn’t great, so get used to it

Because true wireless earphones can only fit so much battery into a teeny-tiny housing, they’re unsurprisingly terrible at the whole “not needing to recharge” thing. That’s why most true wireless earphones stash a bigger battery in their carrying case to recharge the individual buds when you’re not using them. This way, they appear to have much better battery life than they actually do. If you’re on a long commute however, you’ll notice that your buds drain faster than they ought to.

Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 charging case microUSB input - one of the Best noise cancelling true wireless earbuds

True wireless earphones rely on their carrying case to charge when you’re not using them.

Thankfully, battery life tends to last more than the average 4 hours required by most people to get to and from work without a recharge. Well, that would be true if the nature of true wireless earphones didn’t put immense wear on the tiny cells they have.

True wireless earbuds aren’t built for the long haul

Because of the fact that you’re going to be charging and depleting true wireless earphones so many times more than you would a normal set of Bluetooth headphones, you’ll find that they hold their charge less and less over time. Some owners of the original AirPods find that after two years, the buds only seem to hold their juice for about 15 minutes at a time. Obviously, that’s a huge bummer, but don’t let that dissuade you: just be aware that buying true wireless earphones aren’t an investment in the future.

Noise cancelling is all over the place

One constant we’ve found among true wireless earphones with noise cancelling is that the performance of the noise cancelling units in true wireless earbuds probably don’t perform as you’d expect. Active noise cancelling works best against loud, droning sounds that don’t have a lot of changes to them over time. You’ll find that people talking near you still come through, but computer fans, office noise, and engine sounds get muted out.

The difference between having ANC on and off isn't really all that big

Because true wireless earbuds generally don’t have the space to cram in the hardware necessary to cancel out a ton of noise, it’s a miracle they’re able to work at all. Major props to any company that can get an ANC unit working reasonably well in this form factor!

Active noise cancelling is extremely important to listeners because it not only allows you to listen at a lower volume, but it also improves the perceived quality of your music. That said, you may find that the difference between having ANC on and off isn’t really all that big, and in fact you may want to turn the feature off sometimes to squeak out some extra battery life. While you only get on average 20-40 minutes more, it could help out in a pinch.

If you’re an iPhone user, you’ll want the Apple AirPods Pro

Finally, Apple listened to the cries of the audiophile crowd and created a version of the AirPods that seal the ear canal. Not only is this important for sound quality, but it also enables the feature you’re all here for: noise cancellation. The older AirPods don’t seal the ear canal, which lets in a bunch of outside noise—and also makes active noise cancellation a monumentally difficult task.

Apple AirPods Pro

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But now that this tiny little issue is taken care of, Apple’s flagship earphones are actually quite good, albeit expensive as hell. The AirPods Pro offer the latest suite of features supported by Apple’s H1 chip, and they’re a rock-solid set of earphones.

On the whole, the noise cancellation of the AirPods Pro is really good, save for the fact that it doesn’t attenuate any one note to a crazy degree. You’ll notice outside noise being reduced in loudness to about 1/2 or 1/4th as loud, but not really much beyond that. The Sony WF-1000XM3 on the other hand, will reduce high-pitched sounds to 1/8th or 1/16th their original intensity, so that’s something to consider.

AirPods Pro isolation graph showing solid active noise cancelling across entire range

Apple has significantly improved the fit of the AirPods Pro over the originals, and when you pair that isolation with the built-in ANC you get pretty good noise cancelling throughout the range.

Unlike the Sony model mentioned above, the AirPods Pro’s battery also lasts north of 5 hours, and the Apple earphones also offer a few hidden perks like a constantly-running DSP engine that alters the performance of the units to best match your ear. Additionally, you can take a break from blocking out the world to listen in to conversations by pinching one of the stems to activate transparency mode.

The upgrade pick for audiophiles is the Master & Dynamic MW07 Plus

Of course, you may not really care about all the bells and whistles, and just want raw sound quality. If that’s the case, the Master & Dynamic offer something very special in their MW07 Plus. Of the models listed here, it has the most audiophile-friendly performance, with a very gentle hand in guiding which notes are emphasized over others.

Master & Dynamic MW07 Plus

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The only reason we didn’t afford this model the top spot is because its noise cancelling performance is slightly behind the AirPods and WF-1000XM3, and they cost about $50 more. However, they’re no slouch when it comes to the ANC—they’re just competing with a couple other models that also perform very well.

The Master & Dynamic MW07 Plus also has a number of lighter perks, like offering the best IP rating of this group (IPX5), and it also has by far the best battery life of any noise cancelling true wireless earphones. Will you notice the 9 hour battery life over the Sony’s just-shy-of 5 hour life? Probably not, if you’re a commuter or gym rat. You’d really only notice the difference if you plan on listening for more than 5 hours in a single go—which can happen, just not that often. Most people stuff their true wireless earbuds into the charging case after a couple hours, and that recharges them pretty quickly anyway.

You may want to consider the Mobvoi TicPods if you’re on a budget

Obviously, true wireless earbuds aren’t exactly the cheapest products out there, but you can get some good ones for less than $100. Unfortunately, the only model of noise cancelling true wireless earphones under $100 is the Mobvoi Ticpods Free. While they’re a rock solid set of true wireless earphones: they’re not the greatest at noise attenuation.

Mobvoi Ticpods Free

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Just be aware that you may have some difficulties with the sleeve fitting, as they tend to come off in your ear more easily than other in-ears. Beyond that though, this is a solid bet for under $100.

These models didn’t quite take the top spot, but are worthy of your time and money

A picture of the Sony WF-SP700N noise cancelling true wireless earbuds on a glass surface.

The Sony WF-SP700N precede the Sony WF-1000XM3 and have dropped in price.

Of course, this list doesn’t have all the ANC true wireless earphones represented. While we don’t recommend all of them, there are a few that might be worth a look if your needs aren’t met by what we’ve discussed.

  • Amazon Echo Buds: Bose noise reduction works effectively to reduce external noise, and you also get hands-free access to Alexa. If you’ree a smart home fanatic with an array of Internet of Things products, these are a great and affordable pair of ‘buds.
  • Huawei Freepods 3: These were a notable debut at this year’s IFA Berlin, but the uncertainty surrounding the US market and Huawei means Americans may not be able to buy this one.
  • Sony WF-SP700N: This is an older ANC option, but no less worthy of your attention. It falls behind the pack in battery life, but it also offers a good middle-ground in terms of price.

This is a pretty thin category as of publish, but we imagine this will be different once the end of the year rolls around. True wireless is still maturing as a category, even though it’s been around for a couple of years now. Check back, as we keep this article updated as new models get tested in our labs.

Why you should trust us

Not only is this our day job, but we’ve tested the best of the best out there for as long as “true wireless” has been a thing. But we’re a little different at SoundGuys: we show our work as well. Our singular mission is to lay the facts bare as they are, and we have the expertise, drive, and ethics to do it. We only make money when you find what you’re looking for, and enjoy it enough to keep. We take our integrity very seriously.

We don’t do paid reviews, on-site ads, or recommend products that our editorial staff don’t feel are worthy of your time. We go out of our way to make sure that our recommendations are backed up by objective testing wherever possible so that you don’t have to take our word for anything—you can examine the facts for yourself if you want.

 

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Sony WF-1000XM3