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 October 5, 2021, to include the Sennheiser CX Plus True Wireless, and to include the Jaybird Vista 2 and Anker Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro to the Notable mentions section.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro is the best noise cancelling true wireless earbuds for most listeners
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro drops the bean-shaped build of the Galaxy Buds Live, and returns to a more traditional earphone design. These earbuds actually seal to the ear, with the help of silicone ear tips. These are Samsung’s most durable Galaxy Buds yet: they feature an IPX7 rating, which means they withstand a drop in the pool. While the Galaxy Buds Pro is cheaper than much of the competition, the Galaxy Buds Pro compares favorably to the Sony WF-1000XM4.
Samsung Galaxy Buds ProFull Review
Battery life is fine, but it’s nowhere near the best, which is disappointing considering how the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus supply some of the best standalone battery life of any true wireless headsets. The earphones last 4 hours, 48 minutes on a single charge with ANC enabled, and the USB-C wireless case provides an additional 13 hours of battery reserve.
Learn more: What makes a good set of in-ears?
Samsung lets you toggle between two ANC modes, low and high. The high setting effectively blocks out upper-bass and low-midrange frequencies, which is where you’ll hear sounds like a refrigerator whirr or the hum of an old A/C unit.
Sound quality is very good when you listen from a Samsung Galaxy device, thanks to support for the Samsung Scalable Codec. Sub-bass notes are amplified and sound almost twice as loud as midrange frequencies, which is par for the course when it comes to consumer headsets. Treble notes are amplified, too, which makes it easier to perceive detail from your favorite tunes, though it may be unpleasant during certain tracks like Modulogeek’s song One Day We’ll be Okay.
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.
Thankfully, battery life tends to last more than the average four 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 isn’t an investment in the future, just so long as you recycle them when they die.
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.
Related: What is isolation?
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 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.
iPhone users, the Apple AirPods Pro is the best noise cancelling true wireless earphones for you
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 doesn’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 ProFull Review
But now that this tiny little issue is taken care of, Apple’s flagship earphones are actually quite good, albeit expensive. The AirPods Pro offers 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 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 half or one-quarter as loud, but not really much beyond that.
Unlike the Samsung model mentioned above, the batteries also last 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.
See also: Apple AirPods Pro vs Sony WF-1000XM4
iOS 14 added new features to the AirPods and AirPods Pro headsets: Spatial Audio was a highlight, which is Apple’s approach to the in-ear surround sound experience. Spatial Audio on the AirPods Pro makes it feel as if you’re at a live concert or in the middle of a war zone, depending on the content you’re playing. Another new feature is automatic device switching, which lets you effortlessly move from one Apple device to another.
With all the new features coming to the AirPods Pro, it seems that Apple is going to great lengths in securing its title as the king of convenience when it comes to earbuds.
The Sony WF-1000XM4 has the best noise cancellation
All else being equal, if you want a solid pair of do-it-all true wireless earbuds, you want to buy the Sony WF-1000XM4. Sony made huge improvements to its noise cancelling technology, and these earphones reign king when it comes to raw ANC performance.
Sony WF-1000XM4Full Review
Sony supplies a handful of memory foam ear tips, so you can get the best, most comfortable fit. When you download the Sony Headphones Connect app, you can take the ear tip fit test to make sure everything fits properly. This is a must-have for noise cancelling earphones as passive isolation is key to optimal noise cancellation.
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, but Bluetooth 5.2 improves power efficiency. You get the best of both worlds here: a near 8-hour battery life and effective ANC. The USB-C case provides an additional two charge cycles and can fast charge the earphones. You can also place it atop a Qi wireless charging mat.
The sound quality is fine though there are a few quirks: bass and midrange notes are significantly louder than treble notes. If you want a more accurate frequency response, you may want to equalize the bass and midrange response down a bit to make it easier to hear higher notes. You can do this, again, from the OS-agnostic Sony Headphones Connect app.
These earbuds may be expensive, but they do everything very well. The buds earned an IPX4 rating, so you can bring them to the gym or on your next run. You also get a more compact, attractive design than the previous generation. If you have the money, we highly recommend these luxurious earphones.
The Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) is the best value
Amazon unveils its noise cancelling technology with the Echo Buds (2nd Gen). You get a USB-C charging case and, like Apple’s pricing strategy, can pay an extra fee ($20) for a wireless charging case. If you’re a smart home fanatic with an array of smart products, these seem like a promising pair of affordable earbuds.
Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen)Full Review
Alexa integration is the backbone of the new Echo Buds, and when you download the Alexa app, you get immediate access to a host of features like a custom EQ module, voice assistant preference, and Amazon’s Ear Tip Fit Test. This test tells you if the ear tips create a proper seal to your ear, and instruct you to swap them out for another size if not. Apple offers this feature too but it’s limited to its AirPods Pro and only works with an iOS or iPadOS device, while the Amazon Alexa app is available on Android and iOS.
Active noise cancelling is quite good and outperforms that of the AirPods Pro and Sony WF-1000XM3 and AirPods Pro, for nearly half the price. If you want a solid set of true wireless earphones with an IPX4 rating and a slew of software features, the Echo Buds are an affordable pick.
The Sennheiser CX Plus True Wireless has the best sound quality
Sennheiser headphones typically occupy the audiophile space, but lately the company has brought its wireless earbuds down to earth and with great success. The Sennheiser CX Plus True Wireless earbuds build upon the success of the previous CX True Wireless, and this time around, Sennheiser includes noise cancelling, which handily outperforms the Sennheiser MOMENTUM True Wireless 2.
Sennheiser CX Plus True WirelessFull Review
There’s nothing too fancy about these earbuds, though they do sport an IPX4 rating which makes them a fine pair of buds for the gym. Commuters will also enjoy this pair of earphones, again for its excellent noise cancellation and passive isolation performance. Busybee audiophiles will appreciate the aptX and AAC support.
Sennheiser’s touch controls are pretty straightforward and let you toggle through listening modes, adjust the volume, control playback, and more. You can even access your preferred smart assistant with a triple-tap on the right earbud.
Listeners who want to tweak the already great frequency response can play around in the Sennheiser Smart Control app which features a minimal three-band EQ module. The app also lets you adjust the sidetone intensity; this feature lets you hear your own voice during phone calls.
Best noise cancelling true wireless earbuds: notable mentions
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 at if your needs aren’t met by what we’ve discussed.
- Anker Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro: Anker packs plenty of high-end features into this compact package. With the very good noise cancelling for less than $100 USD and a USB-C/wireless charging case, you’ll have a hard time finding a better value than this.
- Beats Studio Buds: If you have an Android smartphone (or iPhone), and want a pair of Beats that works just as well on your handset as it does on iPhones, get these compact buds.
- Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: If you want stellar noise cancelling, a comfortable fit, and great sound quality, look no further than Bose’s earphones. Unfortunately, the QuietComfort Earbuds costs much more than the competition, and you can’t equalize the sound in the Bose Music app.
- HONOR Earbuds 2 Lite: While the touch controls could be better and there’s a wonky app situation for North Americans, these buds offer a lot for under $100. You get decent ANC and a good frequency response, with that AirPods Pro-inspired aesthetic available to Android users.
- Huawei Freebuds 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.
- Jabra Elite 85t: The sequel to the fan-favorite Elite 75t adds active noise cancellation that can turn down the volume on your surroundings, and just as quickly amplify background noise to keep you safe.
- Jaybird Vista 2: Jaybird adds noise cancelling to its beloved Vista true wireless earbuds and manages to make the whole package even more durable, from the earbuds to the case.
- Master & Dynamic MW08: These earbuds prioritize function over form, offering excellent sound quality, impressive battery life, good noise cancelling, and an IPX5 water-resistant build. If money is no object to you, these earbuds are worth considering.
- Panasonic RZ-S500W: Panasonic uses hybrid ANC in its mid-tier noise cancelling earphones, and it works very well. If you want a great pair of affordable earbuds, that are durable too, get these.
- Razer True Wireless Hammerhead Pro: For under $199, Razer’s new true wireless earbuds offer decent active noise cancellation and good sound quality—all wrapped in an IPX4 water-resistant build. It also features a low latency game mode, which may entice mobile gamers and video streamers.
- Sennheiser MOMENTUM True Wireless 2: Sound and build quality take precedence with these expensive earphones.
- 1MORE True Wireless ANC: If you’re trying to stick to a budget below $200 and want a great feature set with very good noise cancellation, look no further than what 1More has to offer.
This is a pretty thin category as of publishing, 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.
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Frequently Asked Questions
As of August 7, 2021, the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 is just a leaked pair of earbuds. The rumors posit that it will have active noise cancelling, IPX2 rating, and a more affordable price tag than the Galaxy Buds Pro.
Sadly, no. In order to update the firmware of your AirPods Pro, you'll need to connect it to a compatible iOS device—an important limitation to consider when buying these earbuds. If you're looking for earbuds outside of Apple's ecosystem, check out our list of the best AirPods Pro alternatives.