Noise-cancelling headphones are most commonly associated with air travel, and eliminating the persistent ambient noise that comes with that hours-long trek. But there are plenty of scenarios where active noise cancellation is also useful: the office, the train, the cafe, the library, the gym… basically anywhere you might encounter annoying noises. Unfortunately, it’s not always convenient, or possible, to lug around a bulky pair of over-ear headphones just for the benefit of drowning out the world. This is where the best noise-cancelling earbuds come into play.
The first wired noise-cancelling earbuds popped up about a decade ago, but the technology didn’t fully catch on because the noise-canceliing hardware was contained in a bulky box attached to the audio cord. That box required batteries, which seems downright archaic in these wireless times. Along with inferior noise-cancelling performance compared to over-ear headphones, there was no true benefit to buying noise-cancelling earbuds.
But in the last couple of years, true noise-cancellation has found its way into wireless earbuds, which has proven to be a more harmonious pairing. Not only has active noise-cancellation technoly improved since 2010, but there’s no longer any bulky added hardware, and the recharging process is far more convenient than it ever was. While the best noise-cancelling will still come from a bigger pair of wireless headphones, the best noise-cancelling earbuds still offer excellent performance and are flat-out more convenient than their larger counterparts.
For portability, ease of use and workout readiness, many people now prefer wireless earbuds like Apple AirPods to premium noise-cancelling headphones.
How We Chose the Best Noise-Cancelling Earbuds
So what are the best noise-cancelling earbuds for the money in 2020? In addition to considering how well a pair of earbuds reduce ambient noise, we also looked at the following factors when evaluating our top picks. These include:
- Overall audio quality
- Battery life
- Controls/ease of use
- Water-resistance (or lack thereof)
- Microphone/call quality
If you often find yourself wishing for total silence in times and places you might not have expected, we think you’ll find a pair of earbuds here that will serve you well. We’ve got a range of options, from gym-ready earbuds from Sony and Master & Dynamic to more affordable options you may not be familiar with yet. Keep scrolling and check it out.
1.Sony WF-1000XM3 Noise-Cancelling Earbuds
BEST NOISE-CANCELLING EARBUDS OVERALL
Sony have been making some of the best noise-cancelling headphones for the last 15 years, so it should come as no surprise that the Sony WF-1000XM3 the best combination of noise cancelling, audio quality and affordability. With two mics housed in each earbud, Sony is able to offer a level of noise cancellation that few can match. While some may not like the bulkiness or the ‘mini-Bluetooth headset’ look, there are no shortage of useful features. Placing a finger over the left earbud will cut your audio and activate ambient mode, which lets you hear the outside world. You can even set up location-based profiles to have noise cancelling or a certain EQ profile activate when you are present in a specific area.
You can expect to get 6-8 hours of listening out of the WF-1000XM3 earbuds before you have to recharge, and the case has enough juice to provide an extra 24 hours of playback. You can typically find the WF-1000XM3 at a lower price than other top picks on our list, which further cements the WF-1000XM3’s status as the best noise-canceling earbuds.
2. Apple AirPods Pro Noise-Cancelling Earbuds
For many iPhone owners, the AirPods Pro are a no brainer. While these fall just short of the Sony WF-1000XM3 earbuds in terms of pure sound quality and active noise cancellation, it’s close enough that the total package offered by the AirPods Pro — deeper Siri integration, intuitive touch controls and overall ease of use — may tip the scale in Apple’s favor for some. Many Apple customers and iPhone fans will stop reading at this point, and we don’t blame them.
It’s also worth noting that with the arrival of iOS 14, the AirPods Pro are also getting a couple of new tricks: the ability to automatically switch between Apple devices, and the addition of spatial surround sound that can use the gyroscope sensors in the AirPods Pro for head tracking. If the AirPods Pro lack anything it’s for the athletic crowd, as they lack true water-resistance for intense workout sessions. If a true water-resistance rating is important to you, check out the Jabra Elite Active 75t, the Sony WF-SP800N or the Master & Dynamic MW07 earbuds below.
3. Mpow X3 Noise-Cancelling Earbuds
BEST BUDGET OPTION
There are a lot of great wireless earbuds under $100 competing with premium options from Sony, Apple and Jabra, but there aren’t many affordable noise-cancelling earbuds. That’s because it’s tough to get good noise-cancelling tech at a budget price, but the Mpow X3 wireless earbuds are the best bet in this regard.
These wireless earbuds won’t eliminate outside sound completely, especially if it’s particularly loud or nearby, but they can hush out some of the more distracting ambient noises you may be surrounded by at any given moment. But for the money, it’s hard to be too disappointed with a pair of earbuds that provide a satisfactory all-around experience when it comes to sound quality, battery life and fit.
4. Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 Noise-Cancelling Earbuds
BEST FOR AUDIOPHILES
If your priorities are audio quality first and noise cancellation second, but you still want excellent performance in both areas, the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 are the way to go. These Airpod alternatives will give you as close to an audiophile experience as you can get from a pair of noise-cancelling Bluetooth earbuds while still providing a high level of quality in the rest of the experience. The touch controls may be the one exception to the rule, as you might find them a bit fickle, but the sound will be so intoxicating that you might not even notice. Of course, if sound quality is really what matters most to you, then you’re probably better off investing in premium over-ear headphones. However, for audiophiles looking for earbuds specifically, this is the product for you.
5. Panasonic RZ-S500W Noise-Cancelling Earbuds
While the Sony WF-1000XM3 may provide the best overall experience and have some of the best noise cancellation around, it doesn’t have the best noise cancellation. That honor goes to the Panasonic RZ-S500W, which can drown out the outside world more effectively than other earbuds. You can expect solid sound quality, although out of the box, the balance between high and low frequencies might be a little unbalanced. And like so many wireless Bluetooth earbuds, the touch controls aren’t the most refined. But for those who dream of silence, the Panasonic RZ-S500W are the best noise-canceling earbuds for the job.
6. Jabra Elite 75t Noise-Cancelling Earbuds
Jabra has been one of the best makers of wireless earbuds from the start, but it was still a bit of a surprise when the Jabra Elite 75t emerged with sound quality that rivaled that of Sony and Apple to go with an excellent battery life and call quality. An even bigger surprise arrived this summer when Jabra announced that they would be offering active noise-cancellation in the Elite 75t via a firmware update. With this added feature, the already impressive Jabra earbuds became an even more attractive all-in-one solution. If you love listening to podcasts, getting lost in your favorite music and seamlessly switching over to phone calls, this product has everything you need.
While Jabra’s noise-cancellation isn’t the best in the world, it’s still very impressive. And since there’s so much more to love about these popular earbuds, they’re a more than worthy alternative to Sony and Apple’s premium offerings. Jabra is also planning to release the Elite 85t sometime in 2020, which promises to provide even better active noise cancellation than the Elite 75t. (Active noise cancellation is also coming to the Jabra Elite Active 75t earbuds for athletes, which were one of the top products debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show 2020).
7. Sony WF-SP800N Noise-Cancelling Earbuds
BEST FOR WORKING OUT
What happens when you combine some of the best parts of the Sony WF-1000XM3 with added water resistance? You get the Sony WF-SP800N which are the best noise-cancelling earbuds if you’re going to use them to work out. Like the WF-1000XM3 these let you activate ambient mode by placing a finger over the left earbud, and will let you set up location-based profiles with the companion app. They even last longer than their higher-end sibling on a single charge, promising 9-13 hours of listening. While they won’t sound as good as the WF-1000XM3, the added benefit of sweat and water resistance and the longer battery life make these the best noise-cancelling earbuds for the fitness crowd. Best of all, they come in under $200 are often discounted via Amazon.
8. Bose QuietComfort QC20 Noise-Cancelling Earbuds
BEST WIRED OPTION
If you’re uninterested in dealing with an occasionally spotty Bluetooth connection or don’t want to worry about your earbuds dying on you when you need them most, the Bose QuietComfort 20 are the best noise-cancelling earbuds for you. These aren’t totally hassle-free, as you will have to deal with a somewhat bulky box at the end of the cord that handles the noise cancellation, and it will occasionally need to be recharged if you want active noise cancelling (it will last 16 hours on a single charge). But what you get in return is excellent audio quality and some of the best noise cancelling money can buy from one of the industry leaders.
9. Master & Dynamic MW07 Plus Wireless Earbuds
Master & Dynamic makes top-tier audio products for true audiophiles and music lovers. The second generation of the company’s MW07 wireless earbuds offers active noise-cancellation and IPX5 water-resistance for working out. Typically, you have to sacrifice on either audio quality or sweat and water resistance when shopping for the best noise-cancelling earbuds, which is why the MW07 Plus is more expensive than other options on this list. In fact, were it not for the price, Master & Dynamic would have a serious shot at our Best Overall ranking, beating out Sony and Apple for the top spot. However, it’s easy to find these earbuds on sale. (They’re currently discounted 10% on Amazon.)
So if you wouldn’t even consider entry-level earbuds and are looking for the best overall experience, then you’ll want put Master & Dynamic MW07 Plus earbuds on your shortlist. The earbuds themselves are housed in a handsome acetate body, while the charging case is made from high-grade stainless steel. These earbuds provide users with a comfortable fit, extra-long battery life, Bluetooth 5.0 connection and a long range (up to 100 feet) for a truly elite audio experience.
10. Bose QuietComfort Wireless Noise-Cancelling Earbuds
Bose only recently announced its first pair of noise-cancelling wireless earbuds, and while the verdict is still out on their performance, you can probably expect that their noise-cancelling capabilities will be among the best, if not the best, when it comes to wireless earbuds. When it comes to noise-cancellation, Bose has rarely put a foot wrong in the past. When it comes to specs, you can expect 6 hours of battery life, an adaptive eq, Bluetooth 5.1 support and splashproofing, which means that you can workout in them. Bose also says that a 15-minute charge can provide 2 hours of listening time.
11. Mackie MP-320 Audio Monitor Headphones
Coming in at $300, the Mackie MP-320 Headphones are engineered for professional audio monitoring in recording situations. Still, for the music loving consumer looking for the most powerful in-ear units on the market, these Mackie MP units have triple dynamic drivers to provide sharp volume and extreme clarity. And, in keeping with the theme here, they’re lightweight and offer a flexible ear loop to keep the earpieces snugly in business.