The Best Noise-Cancelling Earbuds [August 2020]
Noise-cancelling earbuds don’t tend to enjoy a very favorable reputation among true audiophiles. Although doubtlessly more convenient than traditional over-ear headphones when it comes to access and portability, earbuds are often thought to lack the low-end definition and upper-range clarity that most series listeners require.
This need not be the case, however. Noise-cancelling earbuds have come a long way since their admittedly subpar inception, and it’s now possible to grab a pair of wireless buds that rivals some of the leading over-ear headphones on the market when it comes to sonic quality and comfort.
And you don’t have to break the bank in order to land a pair of truly great sounding earbuds either. Each pair of earbuds on this list offers supreme sound quality and comfort along with noise-cancelling technology that will allow you to listen to your favorite tunes distraction-free in virtually any environment—all for a reasonable price.
Regardless of whether you’re looking for a new pair of go-to headphones or you simply want to pick up a pair that you can toss in your backpack and take to the gym, you’re bound to find your ideal pair of earbuds on our new list of the best noise-cancelling earbuds on the market.
If money is absolutely no object, you don’t have anywhere else to look than Sony. The company’s legendary WH1000XM3s have been called some of the best over-the-ear wireless headphones you can buy today, and that same class-leading audio quality and noise cancellation can be found in their earbuds. The similarly-named WF-1000XM3s—note the F replacing the M—are a bit large and bulky, but for the sacrifice in size and portability, you get some incredible earbuds.
There are three major benefits to picking the XM3s over anything else on this list: sound quality, noise cancellation, and battery life. First, the sound quality is absolutely incredible, much better than what you’d find from Apple’s AirPods. They offer a decent amount of bass without crushing the mids and highs of your music, making for a nice, even mix.
However, it’s once you look at noise cancellation that it becomes clear the XM3s are the best on the market. Apple’s AirPods Pro—which we’ll cover more on our list below—are truly excellent earbuds, often outshining the XM3s in specific conditions, but when it comes to blocking out the outside world, you cannot beat Sony’s offering. They’re fantastic at blocking out low-range sounds, even without ANC turned on, and once you activate noise cancellation, blocking out loud hums and lowering the volume of surrounding voices.
The large size of the XM3s allow for some great battery life, with up to six hours on a single charge outside the case while running noise cancellation. Anyone who has used ANC headphones before knows how much they can drain battery, so six hours—and up to eight with ANC turned off—is a major success here. And while the case size may be a bit too large, it also helps to keep the headphones charged for another 24 hours.
Unfortunately, there is one major downside to the XM3s: no water resistance. That makes it tough to recommend the XM3s for exercise, a real bummer when the headphones could’ve been considered truly fantastic for running or weightlifting. Still, thanks to working on any operating system, the XM3s squeak out a victory over our runner-up below. They’re pricey, but if you can afford them, they’re well worth the cost and should last for years to come.
- Heavy and bulky
Sony’s XM3s are perfect for anyone who doesn’t want their headphones tied to a specific operating system, but if you’re an Apple die-hard, you should stop reading here and go buy Apple’s AirPods Pro. Clunky name aside, they’re some of the best earbuds you’ll find on the market today, and that’s before you even account for the active noise cancellation. From solid battery life and audio quality to water resistance and a surprisingly great fit in the ear, Apple’s pro-level AirPods are perfect for iOS or macOS users who don’t mind being tied to an ecosystem.
From sound quality to fit and finish, the AirPods Pro are able to compete at the same level as Sony’s XM3s, but with a couple of major differences. For one, the AirPods are far lighter than Sony’s earbuds, making them easier to wear over longer periods of time. The decrease in size also makes it easier to fit in your pocket, while the extended stems—as tacky as they may seem—make for some great microphone placement. The headphones also support water resistance, so if you’re exercising with them, these are the best candidate by far.
Like the XM3s, the AirPods Pro are expensive, but from solid battery life to great audio quality and noise cancellation, it’s hard to compete with them if you’re an Apple user.
- Great sound and ANC
- Best-in-class mic quality
- Works best with Apple products
If you aren’t a Sony or an Apple fan, or you’re looking for wired earbuds, you might want to check out these Bose QuietComfort 20 earbuds, which offer all of the sonic quality that one would expect from a brand that’s earned a reputation for building some of the world’s most respected and renowned audio systems.
Ideal for iPad and iPhone connectivity but equally well-suited for any player with a standard output, these buds dramatically reduce outside noise through active noise-cancellation technology that doesn’t interfere with the overall quality of your music.
The low-end is rich but clearly defined, and the high-end is incredibly detailed without being shrill. We were also impressed with the overall midrange quality of these earbuds, especially because most competing buds tend to skimp when it comes to this region of the frequency spectrum.
There’s an inline microphone that can be used to make or take calls with a one-touch button, and you’ll be able to seamlessly switch between calls and music thanks to intuitive and well-engineered fade ins and outs.
These buds are also incredibly comfortable thanks to their award-winning StayHear+ tips that provoke a soft and secure fit, and you’ll be able to listen to your tunes for up to sixteen hours on a single charge.
- Great fit
- No worries about battery life
- Wired headphones are so 2016
- Still expensive
Bringing things back down to a more reasonable price point, we have these immensely popular and well-reviewed MINDBEAST headphones, which pack a surprising amount of punch and functionality into an incredibly compact and affordable package.
These buds deliver a tight bass alongside clear highs and a solid midrange, all within a well-engineered design that boasts impressive noise-isolation in a variety of high-noise environments.
Your order comes with three pairs of small, medium, and large-sized replacement earbuds to ensure that you get the perfect fit regardless of your ear size, and these buds are fully sweat-proof—making them ideal for exercise fanatics who want to drown out distractions at the gym without having to worry about wrecking their headphones during a demanding workout session.
You’ll be able to connect these phones to an endless number of players thanks to universal compatibility, and they come with a specialized leather zipper case that’s both waterproof and dirt-proof.
- No charge required
- No active noise cancellation
- Wired in 2020
These noise-cancelling Bluetooth earbuds sound as great as they look, thanks to powerful audio drivers that don’t skimp on the more extreme ends of the frequency spectrum.
You get CVC 6.0 noise-cancellation technology that effectively and dramatically reduces ambient noise in a variety of environments, and upgraded bass diaphragm technology ensures that the low-end frequencies are never muddy.
Unlike many wireless earbuds that offer convenience at the expense of signal clarity, these buds are equipped with a Bluetooth V5.0 chipset that provides a stable connection and signal transmission at all times, and you’ll be able to choose from three differences sizes of ear tips in order to obtain the perfect fit.
These buds are also ideal for extended listening sessions, thanks to their comfortable design and the fact that they come with a charging storage case that sports a 500 mAh battery that can be used to charge both buds four times over from the ground up.
You have the option to using both buds simultaneously in order to experience 3D sound, or you can opt to use a single bud as both a listening device and a Bluetooth headset for making and taking calls.
- Much more affordable
- Nice color choices
- Poor ANC compared to top picks
- Terrible battery life
Rounding out our list is another set of MINDBEAST headphones that deliver top-notch sonics and noise-cancelling technology in a compact and comfortable package.
Although not as bass-heavy as the other MINDBEAST buds at our number-four spot, these earbuds deliver accurate audio at all points of the frequency spectrum and feature a simple on/off magnetic system that makes it easy to preserve battery life when they’re not being used.
You’ll be able to quickly and easily pair these buds with all of your Bluetooth-enabled devices, and an eight-hour battery life means that you won’t need to worry about your tunes cutting out during extended listening sessions.
Given the low price point and compact size of these earbuds we were also impressed with their noise-cancelling capabilities, which allows them to drown out even loud and high-pitched sounds in crowded environments like airports and subway stations.
- Wireless headphones
- Magnets in earbuds
- No active noise cancellation
- Poor bass