On the hunt for a great pair of earbuds with advanced active noise cancelling (ANC) powers to help drown out the noise during your journey to work or block noisy neighbours?
Even a few years ago we’d have had the sad job of telling you that you may need to invest in a pair of over-ears, like the ones listed in our best ANC headphones guide, rather than a set of earbuds.
But thankfully that’s all changed in recent years. Now, thanks to great efforts by audio giants including Sony, Bose and Apple there are now a number of great wireless earbuds with ANC.
What’s more, having tried pretty much every set we could get our hands on, we can personally attest that there are a number of great sets with actually useful ANC, that’s capable of drowning out a surprising amount of background noise.
The bad news? For every decent set we’ve had the joy of testing there has been an equal number that completely failed to deliver on the ANC front. All too often we’ve had sets of wireless earbuds with outright terrible ANC powers that suffer from wind noise, or just don’t work, even with a decent seal.
Here to help you avoid buying a poor set we’ve created this guide detailing the best ANC earbuds we’ve personally tried and tested. Every set has had its ANC powers thoroughly checked by our team of audio experts to ensure it’ll help you find your zen, even on noisy trains and planes.
How to choose the best noise-cancelling earbuds
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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.
ANC puts extra demands on battery life, so you'll want to make sure the buds you want are going to last long enough from a single charge. Charging cases can come to the rescue 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.
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
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
Sony already boasts a pair of the best noise-cancelling earbuds you can buy – just look at the WF-1000XM3 below. But the Japanese giant has managed to go one better with the WF-1000XM4, taking both noise-cancelling and sound quality up a notch.
They're powered by Sony's brand 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. You'll struggle to find better.
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
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 are a huge success. 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 sensational all-rounders, capable of impressive musicality, and topped off with some of the best noise-cancelling we've heard in a pair of earbuds.
Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
The Sony WF-SP800N earbuds certainly try to please everyone. They want to please those who need accompaniment to their workout and also those who have a commute to endure. They aim to please those who don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on some well-specified, noise-cancelling earbuds, but also those who have spent enough on a Deezer or Tidal subscription to have access to 360 Reality Audio, Sony’s spatial audio format. And in a nutshell, they succeed.
These Sonys may have average battery life (18 hours total) and an arguably daft look (they aren't exactly discreet and do fill your lugholes), but their dynamic sound, good noise-cancelling and indisputable build combine to ensure they're front-runners in their field.
Read the full review: Sony WF-SP800N
For a brand normally associated with flashy colourful plastics and overt branding, the Beats Studio Buds are quite sedate-looking. These noise-cancelling earbuds offer a comfortable, secure fit, and IPX4 splashproof rating plus one-touch pairing for iOS and, for the first time, Android devices.
Battery life is five hours with noise-cancelling activated and can be bumped to around eight if you switch ANC off. The supplied carry case can deliver two additional charges. Multi-function 'b'-branded buttons on each earpiece allow you to carry out basic controls, take calls, and switch between noise-cancelling and Transparency modes. The only thing missing is the ability to control volume.
Their ANC algorithm supposedly monitors and makes corrections at up to 48,000 times per second and they do an effective job at cutting out low-level noise, while the built-in mics do a good job of handling call quality.
Sonically, the Beats put in a very solid shift. Low frequencies are weighty yet controlled and articulate, and you're presented with an open and expansive soundfield. Class-leaders boast better detail and refinement, but the Beats Studio have enough in their locker to make them worth auditioning.
Read the full review: Beats Studio Buds
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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