There’s a good reason that the best noise cancelling earbuds are among the most popular products right now. They offer the magic mix of making it easier to hear your music even in noisy conditions, excellent comfort for wearing over long periods, and the convenience of being totally wireless (in most cases).
The best ANC (active noise cancelling) earbuds are a vital tool in the bag of any creative because closing out the din of the world around can be vital for when you really need to focused to produce something on a deadline, no matter whether that’s a piece of artwork, a functioning program, or your accounts.
As we just alluded to, the best noise cancelling earbuds these days tend to be true wireless models, with no cables at all – just two earbuds with a charging case. The reason is simply popularity and technology: true wireless earbuds are the best-selling type of headphone by a country mile, and the chips that power top-tier noise cancellation are now small and efficient enough to fit right in your ear. There are wired models worth buying, but the market has essentially moved on from cables.
ANC earbuds do tend to be a little bulkier than true wireless earbuds that don’t have noise cancellation, but that too has improved massively, especially in the last 12 months. And battery life has leapt up at the same time – many can now handle a whole workday of listening unbroken. Though of course, when you take them off and pop them in their case, they top up their battery anyway.
Of course, being popular means that there a lot of noise-cancelling earbuds out there, so we’ve selected a list of the very best, for a whole range of budgets. All offer solid noise cancellation, and all offer impressive audio reproduction – those are non-negotiable. Beyond that, there are differences between features, sizes and other elements, so we’ll help you find the perfect fit for your ears. Want more over-ear options? Check out our list of the best noise cancelling headphones.
The best noise cancelling earbuds 2021
As the complete noise-cancelling package, you can’t beat the Sony WF-1000XM4. When it comes to noise-cancelling prowess, they’re right up there with the top models (though the Bose QC Earbuds are slightly better solely at cutting down noise), and it’s the same story for audio quality (with only the B&W PI7 and Master & Dynamic really beating them). But nothing does both sound generation and sound deletion so well all at once.
As an added bonus, they’re great for call quality, thanks to the use of both multiple microphones and bone conduction technology. Battery life is good, and they have an excellent control app that’s packed with features, including fast pairing on Android and Windows.
Now available for under £100, these are the best noise cancelling buds you can get for the price, on balance. The soundstage is far more full than a lot of rivals can manage, offering both impactful bass and natural and clear treble. They really stand out as offering expansive sound too – the sound doesn’t feel stuck right in your ears – which is rare in cheaper earbuds. And the noise cancellation is also much more impressive than the price would suggest, and handles the hard stuff (sudden high-pitched noises) well, while also being great at the easy droning noises.
The one downside? Both the earbuds and case are pretty large. That’s true for several of the options here, but certainly not all of them, and these are definitely on the chunky side. This makes them bulgy in the pocket, but also means they stick out of your ears rather robotically. We think the sound is worth it, and the actual fit has been rock solid for us in general (though we’d be concerned to go running in them).
When it comes to dimming the din, these are unquestionably the best. The difference to the Sony model might not be night and day, but these are just more consistent about keeping things quiet when you need them to – and we love that you can set custom levels for it within the app, and you can then cycle through those easily from the earbuds. As an added bonus, they also sound excellent for music quality. They’re dynamic, they’re detailed, and they don’t let any part of the sound feel lost – bass is bold, treble is tinkly, and the mid-range is masterful.
They are quite bulky on the headphones themselves, and the case is a real monster. It’s a shame, then, that the battery life isn’t too impressive at the same time – you at least want all that volume to go on longevity. The fit is great, though, so if you don’t mind the bulk and want bulletproof noise stopping power, choose these.
AirPods Pro were one of the earliest noise-cancelling earbuds, but remain a tempting option, despite newer tech coming in behind them. For a start, Apple nailed the fit and comfort here: they’re among the very lightest buds, they fit extremely well (and have a tutorial to help make sure you get the right fit), and the case is among the smallest here. The downside is that being small means they have the lowest battery life per charge of the buds of everything here, and also the noise cancellation has been bettered (though remains really strong overall).
The music quality is very good too, and maintains Apple usual approach with its audio products of making sure that every part of the track is represented strongly, from low frequencies up to delicate treble. They also work automatically with Apple’s new Dolby Atmos music and Spatial Audio features on iPhone, which are not to be sniffed at. For big-time Apple users, they also have really useful features such as auto-switching between your devices when play sound on something new, and the ability to share their audio with a second pair of AirPods.
The Galaxy Buds Pro really surprised us. The noise cancellation is better than expected – certainly up there with the likes of the AirPods Pro, even if not at the level of the Sony or Bose – and the sound quality is really enjoyable. They’re not neutral by any means, but they have this smooth approach to bass leading into the mid-range that’s just a damn good time, while also letting high sounds really pop.
They’re also one of the very best here for connection speed, which can often be forgotten here – lots of the headphones here take a second to sync with your phone/device and with each other, but the Samsungs are ON IT. The only one that’s smooth is Apple’s AirPods Pro when used with iPhone… but we tried these with both iPhone and Android, and they were just as rapid on both. No dropouts, no wobbles – 10/10 for reliability.
They’re also one of the most discreet designs here, jutting out of the ear much less than most, which was also welcome. And that means the case is the smallest and easiest to carry here too. Though they’re not perfect: the touch controls are far too easy to trigger accidentally when brushing them, if you switch to transparency mode there’s a slight whine that sometimes creeps in, the noise cancellation is particularly weak with wind, and we’ve generally seen lower battery life than Samsung is claiming. But they’re so comfortable and reliable, they’re a favourite anyway.
These fall behind some of the other models here when it comes to call quality, but for the price, they’re still a seriously tempting buy. The sound is lively and fun, with the excellent warm balance that Beats is known for now (compared to the bass-overloaded reputation it had in the past). They’re really comfortable to wear for long periods, and they’re very small and light for noise cancellers, so they’re very ‘wearable’ overall.
The biggest thing holding them back is that the noise cancellation isn’t up there with the best. Again, that’s not a big sin considering the price, but while they’ll do a good job of cutting out the air con or suppressing a quiet conversation nearby, don’t expect them to stand up to the chaotic rattling of the Tube or the rise and fall of a road very well. Call quality is also an issue when wind or outside noise is involved.
Wired noise-cancelling headphones have largely been left behind, which is why these remain the best option despite being, in technology terms, positively ancient. They’re also not great value, with noise-cancelling technology having moved on a lot recently. However, if you want to go wired, they’ll certainly cut down on the office or commute noise effectively, thanks to the on-board processing as well as the great noise-isolating fit. The sound quality is also decent, though again there are plenty of better-sounding models here.
The 16-hour battery life is absolutely fine, though you do get more juice from pretty much all the wireless models here. There’s also an issue that they come with a 3.5mm jack for connectivity only, but a lot of phones only have a USB-C or Apple Lightning connection, so you may need an adapter.
When it comes to just audio quality for listening to your music, these are on another level. The Master & Dynamic set comes close, but the PI7 takes the gold for us. Bass reaches so deep, but is perfectly poised. Treble has this liveliness and attack that makes it so exciting to listen to. Instruments across the range are picked out so precisely and individually that there’s no doubt you’re hearing every drop of detail available. They’re so much fun.
The noise cancellation is present, but is pretty average – it’s up to beating office humdrum, but not roads and so on. The battery life is a bit low compared to the competition. The buds are very large, both in terms of sticking out from the head far, and in being quite fat. The small of ear should be prepared to give them a trial wear before committing. Having said that, the case is actually impressively slim – it’s just tall and wide. It still means it’s pleasingly pocketable.
But they have one more fantastic trick: the case acts as a wireless adapter for wired sources. Plug the case’s USB-C port into a computer or analogue audio source and it will broadcast any sound to the earbuds in CD-quality aptX. It comes with a USB-C-to-C cable, plus a USB-C-to-3.5mm cable. A very useful addition.
Anker’s whole deal is great accessories for an affordable price, and these are no different. They deliver in all the places where it really matters, from the pretty good battery life for the price, to the strong sound quality that can actually be tailored to your hearing profile within the app, to the noise cancellation that’s pretty great for the price. In just about all key areas, they deliver, and feel like a more expensive model.
The design is something we’re not such fans of, and the long tapered ‘stick’ feels more 2011 than 2021, but it does avoid them sticking as far out of the ears as some of the buds here, so maybe you’d prefer that option. But they can also feel a bit like they’re wearing on the edge of the ear canal after a long period of use, even with a great fit from the generous selection of eartips. If you mostly go for shorter listening periods, it probably won’t be an issue.
Well, the obvious thing here is to say that if you want longevity from your noise-cancelling buds, the MW08 is the top choice by a mile. The buds also charge incredibly quickly, so even when they finally run out, you’re up and running again with a 50% charge in 15 minutes.
But these are no one-trick pony. The sound quality is also right up at the very top of any wireless earbuds. They offer great waves of detail, natural clarity, and a wide soundstage that totally envelops you. The noise cancellation is also strong, though again not a match for the likes of the Bose and Sony, which are definitely at the next level. Call quality is a bit weaker.
They’re also very large, though aim to turn it into a virtue, offering a range of colours for their big, flat ceramic panel. Whether you think they success may be a matter of personal preference. The case is large too, but when we think about how much battery life it contains, we can live with that.