What are the best noise-canceling earbuds overall?

What are the best noise-canceling earbuds overall?

Introduction

Noise cancellation has become a standard feature in wireless earbuds today. I’ve tested hundreds of wired and wireless earbuds over the years, and it’s difficult to name one pair as the best overall noise-canceling earbuds. A few models do perform better than a lot of the others. These include the Apple AirPods Pro 2, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds and the Sony WF-1000XM5 buds. The AirPods Pro 2 has been recently updated with USB-C charging and other small enhancements, while the Bose and Sony launched in 2023. I’ve also recently added the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 4 earbuds to the list, which have improved noise canceling, and excellent sound.

Although these earbuds all feature excellent sound and noise-muffling capabilities, they also have a comfortable fit and mostly strong voice-calling performance. (I’ve tested all the earbuds on the list and fully reviewed the most popular models.) Those are the key factors I consider when picking the right products for this list, in addition to pricing and value.

The best noise canceling (or “noise cancelling,” as companies like Bose and Google spell it) can mask a wider range of frequencies and do it on the fly (“adaptive” noise canceling) with sophisticated software algorithms and more-powerful but energy-efficient processors embedded in the buds. Apple, Sony and Bose remain among the leaders in the category, but they have plenty of competition.

This list is just made up of the best noise-canceling earbuds, not full-size headphones. If you’re looking for the best noise-canceling headphones, we’ve got a list that includes a mix of earbuds and over-ear headphones.

How we test noise-canceling earbuds

 

We test noise-cancelling headphones and earbuds based on six key criteria, comparing similarly styled and priced models. These criteria include designsound qualitynoise-canceling performancevoice-calling performance, features and value.

  • Design: Evaluating design, we assess not only how comfortable the headphones and earbuds fit (their ergonomics) but also their build quality and how well the controls are implemented. When it comes to earbuds, we also look at water- and dust-resistance ratings.
  • Sound quality: We evaluate sound quality by listening to a set playlist of music tracks and comparing the earbuds to top competing products in their price range. Sonic traits such as bass definition, clarity, dynamic range and how natural the headphones sound are key factors in our assessment.
  • Noise-canceling performance: We evaluate noise-canceling performance by wearing headphones in the same spot indoors near a noisy HVAC unit to see how well they do at muffling lower frequencies. Then we head out to the streets of New York to test the headphones in a real-world environment where we see how they muffle not only street noise but people’s voices.
  • Extra features: Some great-sounding workout headphones and earbuds aren’t loaded with features, but we do take into account what extra features are on board. These include everything from quick-access awareness to transparency modes (your music pauses and the headphones open up to the outside world so you can have a conversation) to special sound modes to ear-detection sensors that automatically pause your music when you take the headphones off your ears. We also take a look at the companion app for the headphones if there is one and how user-friendly it is.
  • Voice-calling: When we test voice-calling performance, we make calls in the noisy streets of New York and evaluate how well the headphones or earbuds reduce background noise and how clearly callers can hear our voices.
  • Value: We determine value after evaluating the strength of the headphones and earbuds against all these criteria and what they’re able to deliver compared to other models in their price class.

Noise-canceling earbuds FAQs

 

Does noise canceling drain the earbuds’ battery?

When noise canceling is engaged, it does tend to have an impact on battery life. This is more of a factor with earbuds, which tend to offer anywhere from five to eight hours of battery life with noise canceling on and seven to 12 hours with it off. Full-size headphones can offer 25 to 30 hours of battery life with noise canceling on and up to 40 to 50 hours with it off.

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Does noise canceling impact sound quality?

Active noise canceling can have a small adverse effect on sound quality, especially if the noise canceling isn’t all that good (noise canceling can create a faint background hiss). It can mess with the purity of the sound quality so it’s tricky to create a noise-canceling headphone that sounds really good. As a result, often high-end noise-canceling headphones that tout fantastic sound quality don’t have as powerful noise canceling (the noise canceling feels lighter).

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Does noise canceling block all noise?

Noise-canceling headphones and earbuds have traditionally been good at blocking out lower-frequency sounds such as the rumbling you hear while traveling on a plane. They haven’t been so good at muffling higher frequencies (a baby screaming, for example) and even people talking around you. Companies like Bose, Sony and Apple have improved the technology in the last year or two so their noise canceling works across a wider range of frequencies. It still can’t muffle all noise but top noise canceling is now doing a better job tamping down more noises that live in midrange and higher frequencies.

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Is it noise-canceling or noise-cancelling?

Short answer: both. Either spelling is correct, as “canceling” is more common in American English while “cancelling” is more common in British English. CNET uses “noise canceling” since the company is based in the US, but the noise is canceled just the same, regardless of spelling.

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Can noise canceling cause pressure in your ears?

Some people are very sensitive to noise canceling and end up feeling some pressure in their ears. As a result, some people can’t use noise-canceling headphones or ear buds. That said, earbuds and headphones manufacturers have done a better job venting earbuds in recent years, relieving that pressure sensation.

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