The best noise-cancelling earbuds are essential if you want to block out the world and fully enjoy your music when you’re out and about. Now that we’re getting back onto planes, trains and automobiles once again, we’re reminded of just how loud travel can be, and earbuds that can block out distracting noises are nigh-on essential if you want to be able to concentrate on whatever you’re listening to. And the best way to do exactly this, whether you’re listening to podcasts or just want to enjoy music, is with noise-cancelling headphones.
The best noise cancelling earbuds don’t just use padding or a good seal to keep the outside world at bay, they use active noise-cancelling tech. We’ll shorten this to 'ANC' for this list to save your eyes the extra three words, but what this means is that a microphone on the outside of the buds “listens” to the outside world and pumps the inverse version of those sound waves into your ears at the same time as your music. This means the outside noise is effectively cancelled on its way through the bud, meaning you end up with engine-free podcasts and music with no added coffee shop noise.
By its very nature, ANC sounds expensive but over the last few years prices for earbuds with ANC have dropped massively. ANC involves quite complicated processing, which meant it was limited to larger headphones or chunkier earbuds in the past – but this is rapidly improving too. The best noise cancelling earbuds give you the pocketable physical form of the best wireless earbuds, but still with the noise-stopping power of the best noise-cancelling headphones – though the big over-ear headphones in the latter list still tend to be the very best for blocking outside noise, if that's your priority.
What are the best noise-cancelling earbuds?
The best noise-cancelling earbuds overall are currently the latest Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds. You can check out our comparison with their also excellent previous generation (also in our list) in our Sony WF-100XM4 vs Sony WF-1000XM3 comparison, but Sony has borderline perfected the ANC earbud with this 2021 offering.
The slick small form factor case is a serious upgrade from the previous generation, there’s an exceptionally impressive 24 hours of battery life for ANC, and that all-important sound quality is exceptional. The touch-sensitive controls also make a great addition, and the accompanying app means you can play with EQ on the fly, as well as customise the controls and even photograph your ears for a better personalised audio experience. The active noise-cancelling isn’t quite the very best out there but, as a package, the Sony WF-1000XM4 just can’t be beaten.
Best noise cancelling earbuds 2021: the list
When it comes to the full noise-cancelling package, the Sony WF-1000XM4’s have it all. As we say in our 5 star T3 Platinum award winning Sony WF-1000MX4 review, these are “profoundly impressive across the board, and are arguably the best true wireless earbuds you can buy.” Where many people are put off by the golf club-style design of Apple’s AirPods, Sony has designed a subtler earbud with no elongated elements and the design extends to the slick rounded case.
There’s no functionality lost with these welcome changes and, as well as excellent call quality, the WF-1000XM4 earbuds have a speak to chat option that means you don’t even have to touch your ears if you want to order a coffee. All you have to do is start your flat white order and your music or podcast will stop automatically. Add in great audio quality, 24hrs of ANC with every USB-C charge, and a not-astronomical price point, and the WF-1000MX4s are the ones to beat.
At around half the price of the Sony buds above, the Beats Studio Buds are an absurdly affordable prospect for active noise-cancelling earbuds. Few wireless earbuds have been able to hit this price point with ANC so the fact that Apple’s Beats brand hits the spot with such an excellent suite of additional features is impressive indeed. With a choice of three colours, the Beats Studio Buds charge via USB-C and have an impressive fit. And, as we say in our Beats Studio Buds review: “they stay in place solidly in the gym through strenuous workouts, as well as long hikes.”
Also very handy is the button for controlling playback that you’ll never accidentally press, unlike touch-based offerings that can be a little bit too sensitive when you’re just adjusting fit. On top of great sound quality and impressive noise-cancelling, there’s also the fact that the Beats Studio Buds offer fast pairing and Find My support for both iPhone and Android.
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are absolutely class leading when it comes to sheer noise-stopping power, as with most of the best Bose headphones. And with these, you can at least fall asleep on a plane without worrying about your over-ear headphones being embedded in the side of your skull when you wake up.
While these buds aren’t exactly small, they have an exceptionally comfortable fit with an additional “wing” that tucks into your ear to keep things secure. There are three different levels of excellent noise cancelling that you can choose between in the Bose Music app, and you can customise your touch controls here too, as well as turn on an option for your music to stop when you take out a bud.
While the battery life isn’t the best for the price, you definitely won’t mind when you crank up the audio. Exceptional ANC means little to no outside noise creeps in and the buds themselves have impressive sound quality, as our full Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review tells you.
If the white iconic aesthetics of the Apple AirPods Pro appeal but you don't fancy the price, these are a lot cheaper. The cheapest we've featured so far, in fact, but a long way. Huawei is making a name for true wireless headphones that balance great audio with impressive prices, and the Freebuds 4i are a perfect example.
As we say in our Huawei Freedbuds 4i review, they deliver a lot of value for the price. Sound quality is strong for pop and rock, and though they're not especially audiophile in quality, it's pleasing sound overall. Similarly, the noise cancellation isn't up to the same level as the more expensive models here, but does help to make sure that outside noise doesn't run roughshod over your music.
But with useful features like a good clear mic and strong battery life, they're a really good buy for those keeping to a low budget.
The competition has upgraded a lot since the release of Apple’s active noise-cancelling earbuds back in 2019, but the Apple AirPods Pro are still an impressive beast. They’re also now even more affordable from retailers other than Apple if you fancy spending around $200/£200 instead of the RRP of $249/£249.
The battery life on each bud is a little short at 4.5hrs of ANC but the impressive audio and quality of noise-cancelling make up for that. Also useful to note is that the AirPos Pro are a significantly more snug fit than their predecessors. This means you can happily take these to the gym and block out the world without fear of them tumbling onto the treadmill.
The big decider here will be whether or not you’re a part of Apple’s ecosystem. These are a no-brainer for those with iPhones and more Apple gear, thanks to fast pairing, Find My support, auto-switching between devices, Spatial Audio 3D sound support, and sound sharing to other AirPods. But if you have an Android phone, you’ll be much better off with something else for the money.
If you always want to make sure you have the latest gadgets, you’ll want Sony’s WF-1000XM4 earbuds instead but if you’re looking for a solid all round offering, don’t miss this previous generation.
They might be bulkier than the 2021 equivalent, but the WF-1000XM3 earbuds still have Sony’s superior sound quality and brilliant noise cancelling. As we say in our Sony WF-1000XM3 review “When it comes to musicality, the WF-1000XM3 don’t disappoint. They’re spatially precise, with a great mid-range for speech and vocals, and an ability to drop low when required, without sounding boomy.
The WF-1000XM3 can also handle trickier sounds such as horns with unapologetic bravado and a minimum of honkiness, while vocals soar gloriously high.” These aren’t IPX rated so they aren’t gym proof but the WF-1000XM3’s are perfect to cancel out your morning commute with brilliant audio, and the fact that they’re an older generation makes them a brilliant price.
Nothing is a brand new company from the founder of OnePlus that impressed us with its first noise-cancelling wireless buds. As we noted in the Nothing Ear (1) review, they are jam-packed with features you'd expect to see in headphones twice the price. So what exactly can they do? Brace yourself, it's a pretty long list of talents.
Using the Ear (1) smartphone app for Android and iOS you can turn on one of the three different ANC modes, switch between four preset equaliser settings and edit the gesture controls. If you lose an earbud, use the app to find them by making them sound a surprisingly loud alarm. Plus, they have ear detection which stops the music when one falls out. Oh, and the case can be charged wirelessly too, which very few cheaper buds offer.
All of that is paired with good sound and a see-through design which showcases the tech powering these tiny music listening devices. The best part though is their price, you can pick up a pair for just $99 / £99 which makes them some of the best value noise-cancelling earbuds on this list.
There's always one that seems to good to be true, isn't there? ANC earbuds have really fallen in price over the last couple of years, especially to take on the Apple AirPods Pro but the price of the Panasonic RZ-S500W is absurdly competitive. Now regularly available for $99/£99 for a pair, something has to give, right?
Well, only kind of. The ANC on offer here is great for the price, there are hours of juice in the case and buds for all of your travel needs, and the audio quality is actually pretty mind-blowing considering how little they cost. They sound better than all but the best earbuds, in fact – they're detailed, natural, and offer a great range.
They're not exactly subtle to look at, and they don't sit as flush to your head as some of the competition – in fact, they really stick out noticeably – but with an IPX4 waterproof rating, a range of five eartips included in the box to find the perfect fit, and that high-quality sound overall, these are the best cheaper option for those who prize music quality over looks.
If money is no object, then the Bowers & Wilkins PI7 are officially one of the best sets of wireless earbuds you can buy. As we said in our five-star Bowers & Wilkins PI7 review, these buds are "a true wireless masterpiece with some fantastic extra features." The only downside here is that the fit might not be suitable for smaller ears.
For this price, you'd expect something special, and the audio alone justifies the initial outlay. Dual custom drivers in each ear are on sound duties, there's support for aptX Adaptive Bluetooth for high-resolution audio, and there are even wires in the box to connect the PI7's case to a computer or analogue audio source, which it then beams in CD quality to the buds, so they work with any sound source, not just Bluetooth ones.
And my, what sound quality. As we said in our review "Bass is big and gripping, but never overwhelming and always precisely controlled, like Lewis Hamilton weaving a lorry through a chicane. It's deep and resonant, with enough nuance to really add to the realism of instrumentation." Bliss…
Master & Dynamic isn't one of the best-known known names in tech, but pop these slick earbuds in your ears and the audio experience you won't forget the name in a hurry. As we said in our five star Platinum Award winning Master & Dynamic MW08 review “The Master & Dynamic MW08 will put a spring in your step – they don’t just deliver on sound or style or battery life, they have it all... and then some.”
They’re a significantly higher price than a pair of AirPods Pro or Beats, but they deliver fully on functionality. Three impressive different kinds of ANC are available here that can be switched on the fly or with the app, and an incredible 12hrs of battery in each bud means you’ll have to go on a serious long haul flight to even make a dent in their juice.
High-end audio comes courtesy of custom 11mm Beryllium drivers and every note here is crystal clear. You’re paying more for the privilege but these are exceptional earbuds in a stylish stainless steel case.
How to buy the best noise-cancelling earbuds
If you want to buy the best noise-cancelling earbuds, it’s time to start looking at the small print. First off, you’ll want to buy something that describes itself as active noise-cancelling to make sure that the tech is actually in place. The next question to ask yourself is where you want to use your earbuds. If you want to primarily wear them in the gym, there are two important things to consider.
The first is a sweat or waterproof rating, called an IPX rating in tech terms. Earbuds like the Apple AirPods Pro are rated IPX4 for sweat and water resistance. The higher the IPX rating, the better the waterproofing. IPX7 and IPX8 actually mean that you can swim with a device, so you always want to check the waterproof rating. Without one, you won’t want to head into the gym but these earbuds will be more suited to a daily train commute.
The second thing to consider here is fit. You don’t want your earbuds falling out mid-workout so earbuds that come with a selection of buds or at least a silicone earbud are always best to make sure you can get as close a fit as possible. The more tech that's packed into earbuds, the larger they have to be, which can make them a less stable fit – or they might be a stable fit, but sticking out further means they're easier to knock out accidentally. So keep that in mind when looking at balancing elaborate noise-cancelling tech with your fit needs.
The big differences you’re going to see in price tend to link with audio and noise-cancelling quality but there are plenty of earbuds out there with a good range of features at not so extravagant prices.