Looking for a solid set of earbuds that offer great active noise cancellation (ANC) as well as brilliant audio, but not sure which to get?
You’re far from alone. Having tested earbuds since the form factor first became a thing our team of experts can safely confirm there are still many sets on the market that struggle to deliver reliable ANC, especially compared to over-ear designs.
All too often we’ve used sets that sound great in a quiet room, but fail to block out even the smallest of background noise, let alone the rumbling engines of your train ride home from work. Even if they do, ANC can also impact the audio delivered by the earbuds, making some sets a poor choice for buyers that care about audio quality as much as noise cancellation.
Here to help you find the best set of noise-cancelling earbuds for your specific tastes and budget is our guide that details all the best options we’ve personally tried and tested.
Every set on this list has been through our stringent testing process. Our reviewers play multiple tracks from different genres to gauge sound quality and then put their ANC powers to the test by running them in various scenarios with different types of background noise.
How to choose the best noise-cancelling earbuds
Why you can trust What Hi-Fi? Our expert team reviews products in dedicated test rooms, to help you make the best choice for your budget. Find out more about how we test.
Obviously, the quality of noise-cancelling is key when it comes to choosing the right pair of ANC earbuds. Thankfully, you can be confident that we've tested the noise cancelling in all of the pairs on our list and that the five-star models do the best job cutting out noise. Yes, there can even be differences between the noise-cancelling of five-star products, but they are usually very subtle.
It does need to be pointed out, though, that a great pair of noise-cancelling wireless earbuds still won't be as effective as the best noise-cancelling headphones that sit on or over your ears. Earbuds are small, so while they're great for portability there's only so much tech you can squeeze in.
Active noise cancelling puts extra demands on battery life, so you'll want to make sure the buds you want will have enough juice for your travels. Charging cases can help here so you just need to think about how, where and when the wireless earbuds are going to be used. All can be charged via USB while some pairs offer wireless charging too.
As is the case with any pair of wireless earbuds, fit and comfort are vital. We can give you our experience of testing a pair, but it's no substitute for trying them out for yourself. Try the different sizes of silicone tips and maybe even combinations of different sizes to find the best fit for you. If you can't hear any bass, chances are you don't have a good enough seal.
You'll find that noise-cancelling earbuds tend to cost a bit more than wireless earbuds without the feature, so you'll have to budget accordingly. The good news is we've tested some exceptionally talented and affordable options which you'll find in this list and thanks to the way the market works, even previously pricey pairs have now been discounted so there are definitely bargains lurking below.
Our list of the best noise-cancelling earbuds spans a range of prices, so take a look and see which pair is right for you and your budget. Speaking of which, if you want your budget to stretch even further be sure to check out the best wireless earbuds deals.
Smaller and lighter than the original QC Earbuds (which you can find a few places below), the Earbuds II provide a comfortable fit, lots of features and the best noise-cancelling we've heard in a pair of in-ears. Bluetooth 5.3 is a big bonus, and the fact Bose app allows you to alter the amount of noise-cancelling on offer via a number of customisable presets is something that really elevates these earbuds above a lot of the competition.
Speaking of noise-cancelling, the Bose are at the top of their game. They can automatically adjust the amount of ANC on offer so your music isn’t drowned out by particularly loud noises and the effect is deeply impressive. As for sound, it's refined, balanced and overflowing with fine detail and nuance.
It's a shame there's no support for high-quality wireless audio codecs such as LDAC or aptX HD, nor is there wireless charging or multipoint Bluetooth. But we don't think this is the end of the world when you consider that these classy buds ooze such sophistication.
Read the full Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II review
The WF-C700N are fantastic-sounding five-star earbuds. Sure, the Bose above are the current kings, but the Sonys offer a chunk of the performance and good ANC for a fraction of the price.
The buds are impressively small, and their lightweight design helps make them even more comfortable than Sony WF-1000XM4 (below). Battery life is competitive at seven and a half hours.
They lack aptX HD and LDAC but this isn't the end of the world. Adaptive Sound Control automatically switches listening modes depending on your location, and Sony's DSEE (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) upscales low-res digital audio files to higher quality. They also
The sound quality is superbly balanced too, with deep, detailed bass, expressive mids and engaging highs. They're a very musical listen for the money.
Downsides? It's disappointing we'll have to wait until summer 2023 for Multipoint Bluetooth to be added (this tech lets you connect and switch seamlessly between two different sources). And, the charging case only provides one extra charge which seems a little mean. But the superb sound, extensive feature set and great noise-cancelling make these easy to recommend.
Read the full Sony WF-C700N review
Panasonic isn't a brand that immediately springs to mind when you think of noise-cancelling wireless earbuds. But perhaps it should be. The RZ-S500W are the company's first foray into the category and they're sensational performers for the money.
Specs are thorough, with noise-cancelling tech, an Ambient Mode, twin mics for voice calls, and battery life that totals 19.5 hours (6.5hrs from the buds and 13hrs from the charging case). A 15-minute USB-C quick-charge can deliver 70 minutes of playback. The touch controls on each bud are responsive and intuitive, allowing you to control your music and switch between noise-cancelling modes with zero fuss.
You also get five sizes of ear tips to help with fit. We found this a little hit and miss, so we'd definitely experiment and consider mixing the sizes if it means getting a more secure fit.
Both noise-cancelling and sound quality are excellent. There's plenty of agility through the low end and loads of texture across the frequencies. Music sounds clear and there's a great deal of refinement on show, which is to be welcomed at this price level. To sum up, these Panasonic earbuds are superb for the money.
Read the full review: Panasonic RZ-S500W
Look higher up this list and you'd be forgiven for thinking that you need to spend quite a bit of cash to get a decent pair of noise-cancelling earbuds. But, the Earfun Air Pro prove that isn't the case. Despite coming in at an ultra-low price point, they manage to pack in plenty of useful features and produce an entertaining sound that demands you take them seriously.
The Earfun Air Pro fit securely, connect easily, have reliable controls and feature basic but effective noise-cancelling profiles. Battery life comes in at seven hours per charge, with the charging case providing a further 18 hours. There’s also USB-C charging and wearer detection, plus the sound is good for the money – well-balanced, relatively transparent, taut and full through the bass, and musically pleasing. We haven't come across any noise-cancelling earbuds at this level that does everything these Earfuns do, as well as they do it.
Read the full review: Earfun Air Pro
The WF-1000XM4 are powered by Sony's new Integrated Processor V1 which takes care of noise-cancelling, DAC and amplifier duties. They also feature a new driver design which is made from a new material and uses a bigger magnet to give the headphones greater control when cancelling low frequencies. And the results are superb. The Sonys effortlessly keep outside distractions to a minimum which allows you to immerse yourself in the music.
And the WF-1000XM4 produce one of the most dynamic, detailed, balanced and musical performances we've heard from a pair of noise-cancelling earbuds. Bass notes sound tight and textured, while vocals ooze refinement and sophistication. Their rhythmic delivery keeps you coming back for more, and also makes you thankful for the eight hours of battery life, which is class-leading in this field.
The Sonys are also comfortable to wear, water-resistant and include clever features such as Quick Attention and Speak-To-Chat which both allow you to have a conversation without removing the earbuds. The Bose QuietComfort II Earbuds are better, but the Sonys are cheaper. One to definitely consider.
Read the full review: Sony WF-1000XM4
Apple's original AirPods Pro were good, but the Pro 2 take performance to another level, not just with regards to sound quality, but noise-cancelling ability too.
Not only is noise-cancelling is better, but battery life is longer, and you get new features to take advantage of. They also cost the same as the original AirPods Pro, which helps.
Fit is very good, and the tweaked design feels a lot less intrusive than some in-ears. Apple has finally added on-bud volume controls, which also help elevate that user experience.
The noise-cancelling works a treat, while Adaptive Transparency muffles loud noises when letting in ambient sounds. And the sound quality? With weight, detail and a good dose of dynamic subtlety, they really are accomplished performers and a huge step up from their predecessors.
Read the full Apple AirPods Pro 2 review
The JBL Live Pro 2 TWS are an interesting set of true wireless earbuds that sit just above the sub sub-£100 / $100 cheap wireless earbuds, but well below the most premium options from the likes of Bose, Sony and Sennheiser on this list.
From our testing we found they present brilliant value as a result. Our testers were all able to get a comfortable and solid seal using one of the three tip sizes.
From there, once we were able to get reliable ANC performance, with the buds proving capable of easily blocking out the background noise of our office. We were also impressed by their adaptive noise-cancelling, which removed the need for us to manually adjust the ANC level in the app.
The adaptive mode is activated in the app and makes the JBL Live 2 TWS take into account your environment and alter the strength of the ANC accordingly. This let us enjoy solid ANC performance when needed without having to have the constant “pinched” feeling you get when noise cancelling runs at maximum strength.
As an added perk the eight hours of listening time our testers eked out of the Live Pro 2 TWS with ANC on, puts them on a par with the more expensive Sony WF-1000XM4, which also features in this list.
If that wasn’t enough to tempt you, while many of the more expensive sets on this list sound slightly better, for the money the JBL’s deliver excellent audio. Compared to a rival like the JBL Reflect Flow Pro, we found the Live Pro 2 sound clearer and more insightful.
Our testers were particularly impressed with their enthusiastic performance playing Play Kid Laroi’s Stay, which is a bouncy, lively, poppy tune. This makes them an excellent choice for most buyers. Our only slight quibble is that the buds don’t support the aptX HD or LDAC which makes them a poor choice for people subscribed to higher-quality streaming packages on Tidal, Spotify, and the like.
Read the full JBL Live Pro 2 TWS review
Entering their third generation here, Sennheiser's Momentum True Wireless earbuds prove the brand is still a major contender in the space. The noise-cancelling earbuds remain among the best-in-class with brilliant audio, a long spec sheet that offers great battery life (28 hours), aptX Adaptive Bluetooth codec support and the bonus of extra in-app personalisation features. Oh, and they're cheaper than the Momentum True Wireless 2 (below) when they initially launched.
They're nice and comfortable, deliver one of the most mature, spacious and refined performances on the market, and have impressive noise-cancelling to boot.
Building on an already winning recipe with an improved feature set, decent step up in performance and kinder price tag, the Momentum True Wireless 3 are a great option if you're in the market for premium noise-cancelling earbuds.
Read the full Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 review
Bose's first-ever pair of noise-cancelling earbuds might be a little long in the tooth, but they're still a solid option for the money. The Bose feel lightweight enough for the average commute or exercise session (the QuietComfort are both sweat and weather-resistant) and they're great to live with.
Battery life is a claimed six hours from a single charge, with the charging case supplying an extra two charges, making 18 hours in total – a decent reserve, but by no means class-leading. You can customise some features and controls, and adjust the excellent noise-cancellation, in Bose's handy companion app.
The sense of enthusiasm and excitement conveyed by the Bose buds is highly infectious. There’s power, poise and a fantastic sense of dynamism. Bass notes sound full-bodied, go deep and the QuietComfort Earbuds squeeze out lots of detail.
All in all, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are still good all-rounders, even if they have been surpassed by newer rivals such as the Bose QuietComfort II and the Sony WF-1000XM4. They're a musical listen and still boast competitive noise-cancelling. And you can now find them regularly discounted which makes them a tempting option.
Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
How we test noise-cancelling earbuds
Testing ANC earbuds requires venturing into a number of different environments to see how the headphones handle certain frequencies. We'll use our office, the city streets and public transport to get a feel for just how effective the noise-cancelling is. We'll also compare them to one or two of our favourite pairs at the money to see how they stand up to the competition.
We'll also use rivals to help us peg the audio quality on offer. We have dedicated test rooms in London, Reading and Bath so we can use these while making the final judgement with a selection of our favourite test tracks.
During the testing process, we'll also go over areas like fit and comfort, see whether the battery life claims ring true and also check to see if there are any lip-sync issues when watching video content.
Many noise-cancelling earbuds come with a control app that allows you to tweak their performance and their controls so we'll see how it impacts the user experience too.
All our review verdicts are agreed upon by the team rather than an individual reviewer to eliminate any personal preference and to make sure we're being as thorough as possible, too.
There's no input from PR companies or our sales team when it comes to the verdict, with What Hi-Fi? proud of having delivered honest, unbiased reviews for decades.
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How come that is not "Reasons to Avoid" for the Apple Airpods. Should they have the same listed? Unless they do have them
The only noise cancelling headphones I know of that work, are on or over ear types, which also isolate noise and have superb sound quality that no buds can come close to matching.
I reckon anyone buying any of these buds will be disappointed.
The 3 "budget options included range from $140-$180. I would consider under $100 to be a definite requirement for budget.
Check out the Tozo NC7 and NC9, Soundpeats T3 and the Earfun models that are cheaper than the one mentioned here.