It used to be that noise-cancelling was generally reserved for over-ear headphones, but over time, the tech has trickled down to wireless in-ears with more and more users wanting a pair that doesn't only isolated but actively removes the drone of daily life.
But if you're for a solid set of earbuds that offer great active noise cancellation (ANC) as well as brilliant audio, where do you start?
We've 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 buds that sound great in a quiet room, but don't have the ANC power 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 who care about audio quality as much as noise cancellation.
So, our job is to help you find the best set of noise-cancelling earbuds for your specific tastes and budget. And on this page, we cover 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 using them in various scenarios with different types of background noise.
The quick list
Best noise-cancelling earbuds overall
If noise-cancelling performance is your priority, there’s no better option than the QC Ultra Earbuds.
Best value noise-cancelling earbuds
Sony’s affordable earbuds combine comfort, effective ANC and sensational sound quality, making them brilliant all-rounders.
Best cheap noise-cancelling earbuds
At this price, you won’t find a better pair of noise-cancelling buds than the Earfun Air Pro – a genuine bargain.
Best for audiophiles
Best noise-cancelling earbuds for audiophiles
The latest in a long line of excellent wireless buds from Sony, and we think the flagship XM5 sound sensational.
Best battery life
Best noise-cancelling earbuds for battery life
Impressive stamina and punchy sound make these affordable buds a tempting option for anybody.
The best noise-cancelling earbuds overall
We all know Bose how to make a great pair of wireless headphones and the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds have to be considered its finest wireless earbuds to date.
The Ultra provide a comfortable fit and lots of features. Bluetooth 5.3 is a big bonus, while they are also Bose's first in-ears to offer its very own spatial audio tech, Immersive Audio.
The Bose app allows you to alter the amount of noise-cancelling on offer via a number of customisable presets and, speaking of noise-cancelling, the new Bose are still 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 balanced and neutral and overflowing with fine detail. Call quality is good for the money too.
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 Bluetooth multipoint (both of which the Sony WF-1000XM5 cater for). But we don't think this is the end of the world when you consider that these classy buds ooze such sophistication.
The Ultra actually replace the company's 2022 What Hi-Fi? Award winner – the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II, so shop around and you might be able to find a big chunk of cash slashed off the older pair. It's an option worth considering.
Read the full Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds review
Best value earbuds for noise-cancelling
The WF-C700N are fantastic-sounding five-star earbuds, offering impressive performance and good ANC for a fraction of the price of some rivals.
During testing, we noted the buds are impressively small, and their lightweight design helps make them even more comfortable than Sony WF-1000XM5 (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 which we'd definitely recommend using.
We found the Sonys sound superbly balanced, with deep, detailed bass, expressive mids and engaging highs. They're a very musical listen for the money.
Downsides? The charging case only provides one extra charge, which seems a little mean (if you want more charges, consider the JBLs on this list), but the superb sound, extensive feature set and great noise-cancelling make these Sonys extremely easy to recommend.
Read the full Sony WF-C700N review
Best cheap noise-cancelling earbuds
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, we think 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, and testing revealed very good sound quality for the money. The Earfuns deliver well-balanced, and relatively transparent audio, with tight, fulsome bass and decent musicality.
We haven't come across any noise-cancelling earbuds at this level that does everything these Earfuns do, as well as they do it. The next step up would be the Sony WF-C700N which feature above.
Read the full review: Earfun Air Pro
Best noise-cancelling earbuds for audiophiles
If it’s pure noise-cancelling performance that’s top of your wishlist then Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds II (above) are still your best bet, but if you’re willing to sacrifice a little bit of silence in return for sound quality, Sony’s WF-1000XM5 should be your choice.
Sony has fitted them with larger 8.4mm drivers and there’s a newfound level of detail and openness that gives them a different character to previous pairs in the range, but it results in an overall improvement. They don’t sound quite as fun as their predecessors, but they’re still hugely musical and exhibit a fine sense of timing.
We think the noise-cancelling performance is still highly effective, too, with an extra layer of midrange noise filtered out compared to before – it’s just a little more subtle than what you get with the Bose.
They’re crammed with features too, such as Adaptive Sound Control, Speak-to-Chat, multipoint Bluetooth, and support for 360 Reality Audio, which makes Sony’s latest premium buds hugely competitive at the money and are yet another smash hit.
Some users might not find them quite as stable in their ears as the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II, so be sure to experiment with the eartips provided to get the best seal possible.
Read the full review: Sony WF-1000XM5
Best noise-cancelling earbuds for battery life
If you’re the kind of person who is always forgetting to charge their earbuds, the JBL Live Pro 2 TWS should be on your radar.
With ANC turned on they’ll last eight hours, but there’s also up to 30 hours extra in the case, which gives them excellent stamina and should mean you don’t need to remember to charge them so often.
The JBL Live Pro 2 TWS sit just above the sub-£100 / $100 cheap wireless earbuds, but well below the most premium options on this list, and 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, 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.
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
Best noise-cancelling earbuds for Apple users
Apple's original AirPods Pro were good, but we think 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 we think makes them a really attractive option. In our original review, we wished for more flexible and adaptive ANC to rival the likes of Bose and Sony, something Apple amended with its 2023 iOS 17 update. With said update came Adaptive Audio, a feature which reacts to the noise levels in your surroundings and adjusts the level of ANC dynamically.
During testing we found the fit to be 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 (even if the Bose just edge it), while Adaptive Transparency reduces the impact of 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.
Add to this the fact they just work so well with Apple devices and they really are a bit of a no-brainer if you're immersed in their ecosystem.
Read the full Apple AirPods Pro 2 review
How to choose the best noise-cancelling earbuds for you
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 out there.
Our list of the best noise-cancelling earbuds spans a range of prices, so there's sure to be a pair here that's right for you and your budget.
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.
Best noise-cancelling headphones: top ANC headphones for every budget
These are the best cheap wireless earbuds