The best noise-cancelling earbuds in 2021
The best noise-cancelling earbuds prove that effective sound-silencing isn’t the sole preserve of over-ear headphones. Active noise cancellation (ANC) works just the same on a pair of more portable wireless earbuds: microphones pick up ambient noise, and the drivers play noise that literally cancels out the sound waves those distractions produce.
If, then, you need a set of headphones that will let you listen to music (or just read or study) in peace, don’t just check out the best over-ear headphones. All of the buds on this list, which we’ve chosen based on hands-on testing, will deliver the potent ANC effect you need. Just keep reading to find out the best noise-cancelling earbuds for any budget.
What are the best noise-cancelling earbuds?
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds takes the top spot as the best noise-cancelling earbuds you can buy today. There are alternatives with better battery life or more futuristic features, but when it comes to simply silencing sound, nothing beats Bose. We’ve seen it on the over-ear Bose 700 and the QuietComfort Earbuds continues the tradition of delivering the most effective ANC around.
The fact that the Jabra Elite Active 75t takes second place is a major achievement, considering it didn’t even launch with ANC — this was added via an over-the-air update. Even so, it made a fantastic set of true wireless buds even better.
Spend a little more and you can alternatively pick up our third pick, the Apple AirPods Pro. Its noise-cancelling isn’t as effective as the Bose buds, but it may be an even better all-rounder when connected to an iOS device specifically — this will unlock various impressive features, such as spatial audio surround sound and Adaptive EQ.
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds has a few faults that prevent it from being our pick for best wireless earbuds overall, but none of them are related to its ANC. As far as its noise-cancelling goes, it’s the best in the ANC earbuds business, and by some margin, managing a level of sound-silencing that even approaches that of the Bose 700.
Sound quality in general is very good, and Bose gets another microphone win with the QuietComfort Earbuds’ excellent voice call performance. The buds are a bit big and don’t have the longest battery life, but with the charging case you should easily be able to snuff out the engine sounds on a lengthy flight.
Read our full Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review.
The Elite Active 75t was already a stellar set of buds before Jabra updated it with active noise cancellation; it sounds warm and detail-rich, and features one of the most comfortable and secure fits of its type. Battery life is pretty good too: we got 7 hours of playback from a single charge.
The ANC itself isn’t on Bose’s level, but it works well enough to be a very welcome upgrade. It can quieten both consistent droning sounds and speech, the latter of which lesser ANC earbuds can struggle with. And, if you want to save battery, you can turn off ANC and use the surprisingly effective passive noise cancellation feature instead.
Read our full Jabra Elite Active 75t review.
As the top model in Apple’s wireless earbuds range, the AirPods Pro offers ANC where the standard Apple AirPods doesn’t. And that’s not the only benefit to this premium set of ANC earbuds, especially if you pair it with a recent iPhone or iPad.
Doing so gives you access to a range of features you wouldn’t get when used with an Android phone, such as fast pairing and spatial audio. The latter is particularly impressive: when watching videos with surround-sound support, the origin points of different sounds will stay consistent with the position of the screen, even as you move your head, creating a 3D effect.
Read our full Apple AirPods Pro review.
The Master & Dynamic MW08 actually beats a few of this list’s higher-ranked ANC earbuds on metrics like design, overall sound quality and battery life; it’s in this position because the effectiveness of its noise cancellation isn’t quite on the same tier as the likes of the QuietComfort Earbuds.
Even so, there’s plenty to recommend it. Crafted from polished ceramic and water-resistant to the IPX5 standard, it’s one of the best-designed pairs of earbuds in any category, and the powerful, bass-rich (but balanced) sound makes listening to any genre a joy. If you’ve got the cash to burn, the MW08 is a superb higher-end option.
Read our full Master & Dynamic MW08 review.
The Galaxy Buds Pro has its own version of spatial audio, called 360 Audio, though you’ll need a relatively new Samsung Galaxy phone for it to work. Still, even if you don’t have one you can take advantage of its ANC, which massively improves on that of the old Samsung Galaxy Buds Live.
This is a much better pair of buds in general, with a more stylish, better waterproofed design and upgraded sound output to complement that enhanced ANC. And it’s worth installing the Galaxy Wearable companion app for lots more features and personalization options.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro review.
Sennheiser is known more for its audio quality than its ANC tech, but the Momentum True Wireless 2 is a successful marriage of both. The comfortable buds do a good job of quietening down most outside noises, while delivering some impeccably detailed, high-balanced sound into your ears.
This is one of the most expensive pairs of ANC earbuds on the list, and truth be told if it were cheaper, it would rank even higher. But you’d be paying for genuine quality, extending from the design of the buds to its performance. The mobile companion app is also superb, giving you an extremely fine degree of control over the EQ, should you wish to customize it.
Read our full Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 review.
What if you’re looking for cheap noise-cancelling earbuds? Then you have two good options: the JLab Epic Air Sport (below), and the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro. The latter is a little pricier, but still excellent value by ANC earbud standards — and it even comes with various modes so you can tweak the noise cancellation depending on whether you’re indoors or outside.
Like the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, this (much more affordable) pair also offers extensive EQ customization through the app, though its best sound-based feature is HearID. This analyses how you hear different frequencies to create a personalized sound signature, which in our case sounded much better than the default settings.
Read our full Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro review.
Another high-end option, the Jabra Elite 85t is one of the few pairs of noise-cancelling earbuds that can come near Bose on ANC effectiveness. Three microphones on each earbud do some serious heavy lifting, resulting in anything from passing traffic to barking dogs sounding blissfully muted.
Battery life is middling, voice call quality is on the low side and there are some software bugs, but none of these can spoil the Elite 85t entirely. If you want top-quality ANC without the slightly bulky size of the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, this could serve as a fine alternative.
Read our full Jabra Elite 85t review.
While we wait for the Sony WF-1000XM4, the current model remains a great pair of noise-cancelling earbuds. Battery life is decent, at 6 hours per charge, and if you wear the right tips the buds are very comfortable in the ear for long periods; even if that is partly thanks to a loose fit.
Sony has built the WF-1000XM3 for a bassy, exciting sound profile, and it’s one that quickly grows on you. The ANC works well, too. Some louder sounds can bleed through, but otherwise it’s easy to focus on music without interruptions. It’s also worth noting that with price drops, the WF-1000XM3 can easily be found for less than other high-end models such as the AirPods Pro and Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro.
Read our full Sony WF-1000XM3 review.
A cheaper (but still premium-priced alternative to the PI7, the Bowers & Wilkins PI5 rivals even the AirPods Pro in noise-cancelling effectiveness. The ANC on these buds, which can switch to an equally impressive pass-through ambient mode, does a fantastic job of blocking out sound regardless of your immediate surroundings.
There are a few reasons why it’s not further up this list, like the underwhelming 4.5-hour battery life, the occasionally iffy controls and a fit that stops being comfortable as the hours tick by. Still, it lasts no shorter than the AirPods Pro, and most in-ear headphones can be relief to take off anyway. If you just want top-notch ANC and am willing to pay for it, there are much worse options.
Read our full Bowers & Wilkins PI5 review.
The idea that noise-cancelling earbuds would ever be this cheap would have been unthinkable not long ago. But the Epic Air Sport ANC manages it, and you might be relieved to know that this isn’t a cheap and nasty pair of buds underneath a sound-silencing sheen. On the contrary, it’s actually very practical on the whole, with great battery life and respectable sound output.
Unlike similar, ear hook-equipped earbuds, the Epic Air Sport ANC rarely feels uncomfortable, and you get a few different tip sizes to find the perfect fit. Special mention goes to the buds’ longevity: around 11 hours per charge with ANC enabled, comfortably more than twice that of the AirPods Pro.
Read our full JLab Epic Air Sport ANC review.
As a sporty alternative to the Sony WF-1000XM3, the WF-SP800N ups the fitness focus while still offering active noise cancellation. IP55 water resistance makes each bud essentially sweatproof, and battery life is even better: 9 hours with ANC on. That means you’ll seldom need to worry about having workouts interrupted by a flat pair of buds.
However, sound quality and ANC effectiveness are both higher on the WF-1000XM3, so the newer WF-SP800N isn’t a direct upgrade. It is, however, cheaper. Almost as cheap as the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro, in fact, giving you another option if you want to keep your ANC earbuds budget below $150.
Read our full Sony WF-SP800N review.
How to choose the best noise-cancelling earbuds for you
We’ve ranked these earbuds partly with respect to how effective their ANC tech is — but this doesn’t need to be the absolute most important thing to everybody. You may be willing to have slightly less effective ANC if it means getting a pair with the best general sound quality, or you may be a keen runner who needs extra stability and waterproofing as well as noise cancellation.
In any case you should think about which qualities are most vital to your own needs. Do you want headphones that sound a certain way, or to have perfectly neutral balance between the bass, mids and treble? Do you want the most comfortable buds possible so you can wear them for hours without discomfort? Do you have a particular phone that would pair well with specific earbuds, like the AirPods Pro and Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro do?
Only you can decide what your priorities are, though be sure to read the full reviews linked above if you want more detail on a particular quality.
That said, it’s worth going over a few earbud quirks here. Battery life can be a tricky one: some buds can last much longer than others, but with included charging cases, the total possible uptime might be much more competitive. Think about how long and how often you’d want to wear your headphones: for lengthy trips, a longer “per charge” battery life is better, but if you only want some entertainment on short commutes then this matters less, as you’ll probably be storing the buds in their case more often.
Pricing also varies quite drastically. You simply can’t find ANC earbuds at true bargain-basement prices — the tech is costly to implement — but a “cheap” pair will usually run you $100 to $150. Much more premium buds are likely to cost anywhere between $200 and $300.
Fortunately, if you’re on a tight budget, the ANC on cheaper buds can be perfectly serviceable. The price difference is usually made up for with additional features or higher build quality, rather than just how well the ANC blocks sound.
How we test noise-cancelling earbuds
THE BEST HEADPHONES AND EARBUDS
When testing noise-cancelling earbuds, we test for comfort, ease of setup and use, sound quality and — yes — how well the ANC works in different situations. This might mean taking them into a busy store, or alongside a traffic-heavy road, or just wearing them while sitting near other people having conversations.
We always aim to test headphones over the course of a week, including sessions where we wear them for at least a couple of hours at a time. This lets us know how comfortable they are in extended use, and whether the manufacturer’s battery life claims stand up to real-life usage.
We also listen to a range of musical genres, plus podcasts, to see how each pair performs on audio quality. That goes for anything from hip-hop to rock, jazz, classical, pop and R&B. Different models may be better suited to different genres, so we’ll let you know how each pair handles different frequencies and musical styles.
Finally, we’ll rate noise-cancelling earbuds on our five-point system, with 1 being the worst and 5 the best. If a pair is particularly excellent, with a robust range of qualities, we may award it an Editors’ Choice badge.
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