The best noise-earbuds squeeze big sound-silencing potential into headphones that can fit in your pocket. Functionally, of course, active noise cancellation (ANC) works no different on these buds to how it does on the best noise-cancelling headphones of an over-ear variety: onboard mics pick up ambient sounds, and the speakers play reverse frequencies to “cancel” them out.
Yes, some of the best over-ear headphones benefit from forming a complete seal around your ear, passively blocking out even more interference. But ANC earbuds can do the same within your ear canal, minimizing distractions and allowing you to focus on your music and podcasts. Over the course of our testing we’ve found many impressive models, so here are the very best noise-cancelling earbuds to have launched so far.
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Editor's Note: The Tom's Guide Awards 2021 for audio have been announced, and the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro has won the Most innovative headphones award! Head to the audio awards page to see all the winners and recommended runners-up.
What are the best noise-cancelling earbuds?
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds takes the top spot as the best noise-cancelling earbuds you can buy today. There are alternatives with better battery life or more futuristic features, but when it comes to simply silencing sound, nothing beats Bose. We’ve seen it on the over-ear Bose 700 and the QuietComfort Earbuds continues the tradition of delivering the most effective ANC around.
The fact that the Jabra Elite Active 75t takes second place is a major achievement, considering it didn’t even launch with ANC — this was added via an over-the-air update. Even so, it made a fantastic set of true wireless buds even better.
Spend more and you can alternatively pick up our third pick, the Sony WF-1000XM4. Its noise-cancelling isn't as effective as the Bose buds, but still works brilliantly — as do its audio drivers for a full-bodied, intensely immersive sound.
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds has a few faults that prevent it from being our pick for best wireless earbuds overall, but none of them are related to its ANC. As far as its noise-cancelling goes, it's the best in the ANC earbuds business, and by some margin, managing a level of sound-silencing that even approaches that of the Bose 700.
Sound quality in general is very good, and Bose gets another microphone win with the QuietComfort Earbuds’ excellent voice call performance. The buds are a bit big and don’t have the longest battery life, but with the charging case you should easily be able to snuff out the engine sounds on a lengthy flight.
Read our full Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review.
The Elite Active 75t was already a stellar set of buds before Jabra updated it with active noise cancellation; it sounds warm and detail-rich, and features one of the most comfortable and secure fits of its type. Battery life is pretty good too: we got 7 hours of playback from a single charge.
The ANC itself isn’t on Bose’s level, but it works well enough to be a very welcome upgrade. It can quieten both consistent droning sounds and speech, the latter of which lesser ANC earbuds can struggle with. And, if you want to save battery, you can turn off ANC and use the surprisingly effective passive noise cancellation feature instead.
Read our full Jabra Elite Active 75t review.
The old Sony WF-1000XM3 was a longtime member of the best ANC earbuds club, and the heavily upgraded WF-1000XM4 sounds even better. With the aid of a new Sony V1 chip, the noise cancellation on these buds is worthy of the high price tag, and a generally immersive sound helps you ignore distractions even more.
Battery life is up on the old model, too. The WF-1000XM3 could last for 6 hours at most with ANC on, while the WF-1000XM4 can comfortably manage between 7 and 8. The case also gets wireless charging capabilities, alongside a host of other tweaks and improvements to the buds themselves.
Read our full Sony WF-1000XM4 review.
As the top model in Apple’s wireless earbuds range, the AirPods Pro offers ANC where the standard Apple AirPods doesn’t. And that’s not the only benefit to this premium set of ANC earbuds, especially if you pair it with a recent iPhone or iPad.
Doing so gives you access to a range of features you wouldn’t get when used with an Android phone, such as fast pairing and spatial audio. The latter is particularly impressive: when watching videos with surround-sound support, the origin points of different sounds will stay consistent with the position of the screen, even as you move your head, creating a 3D effect.
Read our full Apple AirPods Pro review.
The Master & Dynamic MW08 actually beats a few of this list's higher-ranked ANC earbuds on metrics like design, overall sound quality and battery life; it's in this position because the effectiveness of its noise cancellation isn't quite on the same tier as the likes of the QuietComfort Earbuds.
Even so, there's plenty to recommend it. Crafted from polished ceramic and water-resistant to the IPX5 standard, it's one of the best-designed pairs of earbuds in any category, and the powerful, bass-rich (but balanced) sound makes listening to any genre a joy. If you've got the cash to burn, the MW08 is a superb higher-end option.
Read our full Master & Dynamic MW08 review.
The Galaxy Buds Pro has its own version of spatial audio, called 360 Audio, though you’ll need a relatively new Samsung Galaxy phone for it to work. Still, even if you don’t have one you can take advantage of its ANC, which massively improves on that of the old Samsung Galaxy Buds Live.
This is a much better pair of buds in general, with a more stylish, better waterproofed design and upgraded sound output to complement that enhanced ANC. And it’s worth installing the Galaxy Wearable companion app for lots more features and personalization options.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro review.
Another high-end option, the Jabra Elite 85t is one of the few pairs of noise-cancelling earbuds that can come near Bose on ANC effectiveness. Three microphones on each earbud do some serious heavy lifting, resulting in anything from passing traffic to barking dogs sounding blissfully muted.
Battery life is middling, voice call quality is on the low side and there are some software bugs, but none of these can spoil the Elite 85t entirely. If you want top-quality ANC without the slightly bulky size of the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, this could serve as a fine alternative.
Read our full Jabra Elite 85t review.
Sennheiser is known more for its audio quality than its ANC tech, but the Momentum True Wireless 2 is a successful marriage of both. The comfortable buds do a good job of quietening down most outside noises, while delivering some impeccably detailed, high-balanced sound into your ears.
This is one of the most expensive pairs of ANC earbuds on the list, and truth be told if it were cheaper, it would rank even higher. But you’d be paying for genuine quality, extending from the design of the buds to its performance. The mobile companion app is also superb, giving you an extremely fine degree of control over the EQ, should you wish to customize it.
Read our full Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 review.
When rumors first started swirling around the Beats Studio Buds, we weren't sure if it would feature active noise cancellation at all. Against the odds, though, this pair of buds combines affordable pricing with full ANC — complete with am ambient sound mode. Who knew Apple would come out with such a bargain?
The Studio Buds also surprises by being much more platform-agnostic than previous Beats headphones. That means that while there are some exclusive goodies for iOS users, Android owners can also take advantage of fast pairing and Google Assistant support. Whatever mobile platform you're on, this is another good way to get ANC without premium pricing.
Read our full Beats Studio Buds review.
A cheaper (but still premium-priced) alternative to the PI7, the Bowers & Wilkins PI5 rivals even the AirPods Pro in noise-cancelling effectiveness. The ANC on these buds, which can switch to an equally impressive pass-through ambient mode, does a fantastic job of blocking out sound regardless of your immediate surroundings.
There are a few reasons why it’s not further up this list, like the underwhelming 4.5-hour battery life, the occasionally iffy controls and a fit that stops being comfortable as the hours tick by. Still, it lasts no shorter than the AirPods Pro, and most in-ear headphones can be relief to take off anyway. If you just want top-notch ANC and are willing to pay for it, there are much worse options.
Read our full Bowers & Wilkins PI5 review.
The idea that noise-cancelling earbuds would ever be this cheap would have been unthinkable not long ago. But the Epic Air Sport ANC manages it, and you might be relieved to know that this isn’t a cheap and nasty pair of buds underneath a sound-silencing sheen. On the contrary, it’s actually very practical on the whole, with great battery life and respectable sound output.
Unlike similar, ear hook-equipped earbuds, the Epic Air Sport ANC rarely feels uncomfortable, and you get a few different tip sizes to find the perfect fit. Special mention goes to the buds’ longevity: around 11 hours per charge with ANC enabled, comfortably more than twice that of the AirPods Pro.
Read our full JLab Epic Air Sport ANC review.
There are a few good-value pairs of noise-cancelling earbuds on this list, but what if you want or need something truly cheap? The Soundcore Life P3 is almost half the price of the Beats Studio Buds, yet does an admirable job of blocking out sound when called upon. Its ANC is also backed up by an adjustable Transparency Mode, and you can expect better battery life than on the AirPods Pro to boot.
Another highlight is the wealth of extras available through the Soundcore app. With the EQ, for instance, you can fine-tune it yourself or select one of 22 (!) presets. There’s aren’t just focused on music, either — there are sound profiles dedicated to movies, podcasts and even eBooks, this this is a versatile set of ANC earbuds as well as an affordable one.
Read our full Anker Soundcore Life P3 review.
How to choose the best noise-cancelling earbuds for you
We’ve ranked these earbuds partly with respect to how effective their ANC tech is — but this doesn’t need to be the absolute most important thing to everybody. You may be willing to have slightly less effective ANC if it means getting a pair with the best general sound quality, or you may be a keen runner who needs extra stability and waterproofing as well as noise cancellation.
In any case you should think about which qualities are most vital to your own needs. Do you want headphones that sound a certain way, or to have perfectly neutral balance between the bass, mids and treble? Do you want the most comfortable buds possible so you can wear them for hours without discomfort? Do you have a particular phone that would pair well with specific earbuds, like the AirPods Pro and Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro do?
Only you can decide what your priorities are, though be sure to read the full reviews linked above if you want more detail on a particular quality.
That said, it’s worth going over a few earbud quirks here. Battery life can be a tricky one: some buds can last much longer than others, but with included charging cases, the total possible uptime might be much more competitive. Think about how long and how often you’d want to wear your headphones: for lengthy trips, a longer “per charge” battery life is better, but if you only want some entertainment on short commutes then this matters less, as you’ll probably be storing the buds in their case more often.
Pricing also varies quite drastically. You simply can’t find ANC earbuds at true bargain-basement prices — the tech is costly to implement — but a “cheap” pair will usually run you $100 to $150. Much more premium buds are likely to cost anywhere between $200 and $300.
Fortunately, if you’re on a tight budget, the ANC on cheaper buds can be perfectly serviceable. The price difference is usually made up for with additional features or higher build quality, rather than just how well the ANC blocks sound.
How we test noise-cancelling earbuds
Take a look at our comprehensive guides for the best headphones and earbuds you can buy, across every major category and price point.
When testing noise-cancelling earbuds, we test for comfort, ease of setup and use, sound quality and — yes — how well the ANC works in different situations. This might mean taking them into a busy store, or alongside a traffic-heavy road, or just wearing them while sitting near other people having conversations.
We always aim to test headphones over the course of a week, including sessions where we wear them for at least a couple of hours at a time. This lets us know how comfortable they are in extended use, and whether the manufacturer’s battery life claims stand up to real-life usage.
We also listen to a range of musical genres, plus podcasts, to see how each pair performs on audio quality. That goes for anything from hip-hop to rock, jazz, classical, pop and R&B. Different models may be better suited to different genres, so we’ll let you know how each pair handles different frequencies and musical styles.
Finally, we’ll rate noise-cancelling earbuds on our five-point system, with 1 being the worst and 5 the best. If a pair is particularly excellent, with a robust range of qualities, we may award it an Editors' Choice badge.