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The best noise-canceling earbuds for 2021

If you’re searching for a set of earbuds with true active noise-canceling (ANC), there’s a seemingly unending search ahead of you. With a number of recognizable (and not so recognizable) audio brands offering ANC buds, many at competitive price points, searching for the right set can be beyond daunting. How do you ensure that you’re getting a great pair of buds with excellent sound, great battery, plenty of customizable features, and, of course, stellar ANC? That’s where we come in. As experts on all things audio and audio-adjacent, we’ve compiled this roundup of the best noise-canceling earbuds you can buy right now.

The best noise-canceling earbuds at a glance:

Jabra Elite 85t

Jabra Elite 85t
Jabra

Why you should buy them: They’re comfortable, compact, and offer excellent noise cancellation and sound quality at a reasonable price.

Who they’re for: Those looking for a no-compromises set of true wireless ANC earbuds.

Why we picked the Jabra Elite 85t:

The Sony WF-1000XM3 dominated this list for more than a year, and they’re still great — especially if you can score them on sale. But time waits for no one, and Jabra’s Elite 85t are better than the 1000XM3 in almost every meaningful way.

To create the Elite 85t, Jabra started with its superb Elite 75t, and reworked the design to integrate a hybrid ANC system — with microphones situated inside and outside of the ear. At the same time, Jabra moved to a semi-open architecture that increased the size of the earbuds but also helped to alleviate the plugged-ear feeling that some people get when wearing fully closed earbuds. Though not as water-resistant as the Elite 75t, the 85t are still IPX4-rated, so workouts shouldn’t be an issue.

Finally, it switched to an oval ear-tip shape, which some folks will find considerably more comfortable than the traditional round design.

The result is a set of true wireless earbuds that offer a level of noise cancellation that rivals both the WF-1000XM3 and Apple AirPods Pro, yet are arguably more comfortable than both of these models.

The semiopen design was a risk: It could have compromised audio quality because it actually lets some sound from the outside world in, but the opposite appears to have happened — the Elite 85t actually sound better than the Elite 75t, with a better balance of frequencies and an airier, wider soundstage.

Jabra maintained the 75t’s excellent set of control and EQ customizations that are accessible via the Jabra Sound+ app. The physical buttons on each earbud are very responsive, and we love that you can move from total silence to full awareness of the outside world instantly, with just one click.

Battery life is unchanged from the Elite 75t (5.5 hours with ANC on, seven hours when it’s off). That’s not stellar by today’s standards, but it’s more than enough to get you through a day when you add in the charging case’s capacity.

Throw in wireless charging, a hearing test for sound optimization, multipoint Bluetooth connections, a lost earbud finder, and a $230 price tag, and the Elite 85t are a nearly perfect set of ANC buds.

Read our in-depth Jabra Elite 85t review

Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro

Why you should buy them: You want crisp, clear detail for every video and audio call thrown your way.

Who they’re for: Active listeners and speakers that do everything from working out to hosting meetings.

Why we picked the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro: 

There’s nothing worse than poor audio quality during your phone calls, especially those crucial work meetings. Thanks to the four onboard mics, uplink noise reduction, and voice isolation, your voice and the person you’re speaking with will cut through cleanly. While we can think of a few earbud options that may offer clearer call quality (the Apple AirPods Pro), none of them will come close to the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro’s price.

Outside of great-quality calls, the Soundcore’s mighty sound-staging is perfect for music and podcast listening. Incredibly balanced, featuring punchy bass and crisp highs, the Liberty Air 2 Pro can stand toe-to-toe with many flagship earbud brands. Plus, with the Soundcore app, you can customize your listening experience with a quick tap or swipe on your phone.

With seven hours of battery on a single charge and up to 26 hours with the carry case, the Anker SoundCore Liberty Air 2 Pro is a more than worthy addition to this roundup.

Read our in-depth Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro review 

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

bose quiet comfort earbuds
Riley Young/Digital Trends

Why you should buy them: They pack the best combination of sound quality and noise cancellation we’ve ever found.

Who they’re for: Those who want the best noise cancellation money can buy.

Why we picked the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds:

We think the Jabra Elite 85t offer the best set of features for the best price, which is why they grabbed our top spot. But if money is no object, and you crave best-in-class noise-canceling and fantastic sound quality, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds will delight you — we promise.

Our reviewer was simply blown away by just how effective Bose’s ANC is on these earbuds. Apple’s AirPods Pro, which surprised us with their amazing cone-of-silence effect, have finally met their match. “The Bose block far more high-frequency noise,” our senior editor, Caleb Denison, writes, “meaning street sounds like cars passing by on pavement, the hum of an air conditioner, and, yes, even screeching children, are more effectively blocked out.”

Sound quality is also a highlight — Denison describes them as having all of the sonic hallmarks, like tight transient response “that audiophiles trip over,” which is the kind of high praise we tend to reserve for the very best headphones and speakers. The next buds on our list — the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 — perform a little better, but it’s by a very narrow margin.

If you intend on taking a lot of calls with your wireless earbuds, this is another standout strength of these earbuds. Bose has consistently been the best brand we’ve ever tested for call quality, and the QuietComfort Earbuds affirm that reputation.

Battery life is good, at between six and seven hours even with ANC maxed out, but the wireless charging case only holds another 12 hours, which means that the QuietComfort Earbuds are some of the lowest performers on this list.

The one area that prospective buyers should be aware of is comfort and fit. Though very comfortable once seated, there’s no getting around the fact that these are large earbuds. Because of this, Bose has fitted them with nonremovable earfins that help to anchor the buds in your ears. When combined with the relatively large, oval eartips, it creates a very strong sense of bulk. Those with small ears may find it impossible to achieve a good fit.

Still, this one important caveat aside, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are a truly impressive set of wireless ANC earbuds.

Read our in-depth Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review

Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2

Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2
Nick Woodard/Digital Trends

Why you should buy them: They represent some of the best true wireless sound we’ve heard to date.

Who they’re for: Those who refuse to compromise on audio quality, regardless of the price.

Why we picked the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2:

The first-generation Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless were the best wireless earbuds we’ve ever heard, so the next edition had large shoes to fill. The $300 Momentum True Wireless 2, fortunately, live up to expectations.

The Momentum True Wireless 2 bring back the incredible clarity, impressive low end, and masterful stereo imagery from the first generation, making you notice parts of tracks that are completely missing when listened to through other earbuds. The major difference here is the introduction of active noise cancellation, which is nearly as remarkable as the sound itself. It’s the perfect complement to this kind of audio quality since it doesn’t let anything get in between you and your music.

The features of the True Wireless 2 are a bit of an afterthought, but they are still decent parts of these buds. The Momentum boast about seven hours of playback per charge and 28 hours total, plus an IPX4 weather-resistance rating to help these earbuds withstand harsh weather.

Read our in-depth Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 review

Apple AirPods Pro

Why you should buy them: Apple built a pair of premium noise-canceling earbuds that are tailor-made for its own community.

Who they’re for: Apple users in the market for immensely effective active noise cancellation.

Why we picked the Apple AirPods Pro:

As popular as the cheaper Apple AirPods are, the AirPods Pro eclipse them in every way. According to our experienced reviewers, the active noise cancellation in these high-end earbuds is best-in-class. They create a cone-of-silence effect that has to be experienced to be appreciated.

The AirPods Pro feature super-simple pairing and hands-free Siri access when connected to an iPhone, as well as an IPX4 water-resistance rating that protects against sweat and splashes during workouts. Apple also added an adaptive EQ technology that adjusts the frequency response to your listening conditions, something that few other companies offer.

Battery life for the AirPods Pro is enough for a full day at around five hours per charge and 24 hours of total life with the earbuds’ included case, though this is on the low end when you look at other models in this roundup. There’s no doubt that these buds are pricey at $249, but for Apple users, in particular, they represent the best combination of noise cancellation and operating system integration available today.

Read our in-depth Apple AirPods Pro review

Sony WF-SP800N

Sony WF-SP800N
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Why you should buy them: They’ve got many of Sony’s signature features in an athletic package.

Who they’re for: Athletes who don’t want to compromise when it comes to active noise cancellation.

Why we picked the Sony WF-SP800N:

Sony accomplished quite a lot with the WF-SP800N. It implemented class-leading battery life, an athlete-friendly design, and great active noise cancellation for $30 less than the Sony WF-1000XM3.

The SP800N has a larger footprint than the 1000XM3, both in terms of the earbuds and the accompanying charging case. But silicone earfins on the SP800N help them stay comfortably secure in your ears when you work our out. With the benefit of an IP55 weather-resistance rating, these buds are truly designed to withstand whatever an athlete can throw at them.

Then there’s the massive battery built into these buds. The SP800N can play for up to nine hours with active noise cancellation on, and 13 hours with the feature turned off. That’s better than nearly any other set of true wireless earbuds we’ve tried, especially when we’re talking about listening without noise-canceling turned on. As far as the athlete is concerned, you’ll be able to get a full day’s worth of activities in without these buds missing a step.

While the SP800N doesn’t get the top-of-the-line ANC tech found in the 1000XM3, it still employs very effective active cancellation, as well as superb passive cancellation thanks to the tight seal of the eartips. It makes for an amazing combo when paired with the sound of the SP800N, with warm, rich tones and a well-defined frequency range highlighted by an immersive low end.

Read our in-depth Sony WF-SP800N review

EarFun Air Pro

Earfun Air Pro
Earfun

Why you should buy them: They offer affordable and effective active noise cancellation.

Who they’re for: Any budget-minded listener who still wants to be in the active-noise-canceling conversation.

Why we picked the Earfun Air Pro:

The Earfun Air Pro aren’t just less than $200 — they’re less than $100, which makes them an incredible value even if they don’t quite perform as well as some of the other ANC earbuds on this list.

They use an identical design to the Edifier TWS NB2 — in fact, Edifier worked on these earbuds with Earfun, and the result is a fantastic combination of sound quality, noise cancellation, and features that are unmatched at this price.

Our expectations for an $80 set of ANC earbuds weren’t that high, but Earfun has shown that you really don’t have to pay top dollar for quality noise-cancellation. The Air Pros are more than capable of blocking out external sounds and do a particularly good job with low-frequency noise like droning fans or traffic. Their ambient mode for letting sounds in isn’t quite as convenient as the single-click of the Jabra Elite 85t but it works very well once engaged.

Sound quality is also better than expected, with very clear and distinct highs and midranges. Bass is strong, but not overpowering — just the way it should be to complement a wide variety of music genres. The ability to adjust EQ would have been a nice touch, but Earfun does not provide a way to do so.

The comfortable design mimics the elongated stem of the AirPods, and these buds have a very good IPX5 water resistance rating for handling sweat or even the occasional shower. Just like the AirPods, if you remove the Air Pro from your ears, the music will automatically pause.

Battery life is especially impressive, with seven hours of ANC play time and nine hours without using ANC. The USB-C connected charging case extends this to 25 hours or 32 hours, respectively.

Our only criticisms of this excellent set of earbuds are touch controls that don’t always recognize taps, and no volume or track skip backward functions. Otherwise, the Earfun Air Pro are a worth every penny, and then some.

Other noise-canceling earbuds we really like

We organize our best products lists into subcategories like “the best noise-canceling earbuds for working out,” and there can only be one “best” pick per category. But sometimes, the decision over which model should be chosen can get heated — even our own editors and contributors don’t always agree. That means you might prefer one of these models, too. Here are the runners-up for our best noise-canceling earbuds.

Sony WF-1000XM3Sony WF-1000XM3 true wireless earbuds

We mentioned this model above, but it bears repeating: These Sony true wireless earbuds topped this list for more than a year thanks to their superb sound quality and ANC. They’re a bit bulky, with a relatively huge (non-wireless) charging case, and they’re technically not IP-rated for any water or dust protection, but they’re still one of the best sets you can buy. And if you can find them on sale, we think you should grab them. Read our in-depth Sony WF-1000XM3 review.

Tronsmart Apollo BoldTronsmart Apollo Bold true wireless ANC earbuds

Ignore the weird name: These ANC true wireless buds deliver impressive sound quality and noise cancellation for their $100 price. Their 10-hour battery is one of the longest-lasting we’ve tested, and they can stand up to heavy sweat and some dust with an IP45 rating. Despite their largish shape, they’re very comfortable and secure.

Earfun Free Pro Earfun Free Pro ANC True Wireless earbuds

These are easily the smallest noise-canceling earbuds we’ve ever tried, not to mention the most affordable at just $60. We like that they charge wirelessly and get seven hours of playing time per charge. Sound quality and ANC are good, but not quite as good as the Earfun Air Pro (see above), and they aren’t as comfortable. Still, if you want to save money, the Free Pro are worth a look.

Amazon Echo BudsAmazon Echo Buds

The Echo Buds use Bose’s active noise reduction (ANR) technology, which isn’t as effective as true ANC at blocking unwanted sounds, but it’s still way better than passive noise isolation. The sound quality is excellent for the price, and while we found some of the touch controls limiting in what they can do, their unique ability to let you command Alexa hands-free makes them a great companion for those who love to multitask while out and about. Read our in-depth Amazon Echo Buds review.

Jabra Elite 75t and Elite Active 75tJabra elite 75t true wireless headphones

Until November 2020, we couldn’t even consider these excellent true wireless earbuds for this list because they didn’t have ANC. But then Jabra issued a free firmware update and now both models feature feedforward ANC — meaning the outer microphones are used to judge how sounds should be canceled. It’s not as effective as our overall winner, the Elite 85t, which use a hybrid feedforward/feedback system, but you can definitely hear the difference the new ANC function makes. When they’re on sale, these models are some of the best ANC values on the market. Read our in-depth Jabra Elite 75t and Elite Active 75t reviews.

Research and buying tips

What are noise-canceling earbuds and how do they work?

Noise-canceling earbuds are in-ear audio products that utilize a number of internal microphones and inverted noise waves to pick up ambient sound and cancel out the most externally distracting frequencies, leaving you with crystal-clear audio without the background noise of bustling cities, airplane engines, and more.

Which is best — headphones or earbuds?

That depends on your preferred listening experience. Headphones typically provide a cushioned barrier between your ears and the music/content streaming into your canals. Additionally, if you spend your days predominately in one space, headphones may be more ideal for all-day comfort. If you find yourself constantly on-the-go, or can’t stand the bulk of a set of headphones, earbuds are certainly a more minimalist alternative. While a bit more intrusive to your ear canals, earbuds are easy to travel with, simpler to recharge, and provide equal listening experiences to some of the best-quality headphones available today.

Is it bad to sleep with noise-canceling headphones?

While the best earbuds are designed for comfort in most body and ear positions (standing, sitting, lying, etc.), it’s especially important to regulate the volume level of your buds while you’re asleep. Loud music through earbuds can cause damage to several parts of the ear, especially when buds are in place over several hours. That being said, earbuds are routinely used to help restless sleepers with white noise applications, relaxing music, and other calming audio sources.

Can earbuds damage your ears?

Yes, because of their isolation and because the drivers are closer to your eardrums, it is not recommended to listen at higher volumes for extended periods of time.

Are earbuds waterproof?

Many are water-resistant; few can be fully submerged. We recommend checking for an IP rating if you want to make sure you are treating them properly.

Can earbuds sound as good as over-ear headphones?

Yes, at the high end, in-ear monitors can sound as good as virtually any headphones on the market. That said, you’ll have to pay a hefty premium to get top-tier sound.

How should earbuds fit?

Comfortably and securely. A good fit is essential to getting the best sound quality from any set of earbuds. If the ear tips that come with your earbuds don’t provide a good fit, Amazon carries plenty of third-party ear tips that can help. You may want to find a pair with earfins or earclips if you are planning on working out.

Should I use earbuds when driving?

No. It is dangerous and illegal in many places.

Glossary

  • Driver: The unit that produces sound in a headphone, made up of magnets, voice coils, and other materials. Typically, the larger the driver, the more power a headphone has, and generally bigger drivers in in-ear headphones indicate a better range of frequencies can be reproduced.
  • Dynamic driver: A single driver capable of covering the entire frequency range. The diaphragm is connected directly to a voice coil in the headphone, with the voice coil moving between magnets to produce sound.
  • Balance armature driver: In a balanced armature driver, the headphone’s diaphragm is connected to the armature, with micro-vibrations producing the sound. Most balanced armature drivers are best within a specific frequency range, which is why many headphones contain multiple balanced drivers, with certain frequencies divided between drivers for full-spectrum sound. If you see a model advertised as a “triple-driver” or “quad-driver,” it’s likely referring to multiple balance armatures.
  • Soundstage: The perceived size and depth of the sound coming through the headphones.
  • Passive noise isolation: Noise that is blocked out by the headphone based on its physical shape and size in your ear.
  • Active noise cancellation (ANC): A technology that blocks outside sounds by producing sound waves that are the exact opposite in terms of frequency and amplitude, thereby “canceling” the unwanted sound before it reaches your eardrum.
  • Frequency response: The spectrum of frequencies that a headphone can reliably reproduce.

How we test

We test headphones and earbuds the way normal people live.

We run every pair of earbuds through a rigorous process over several days. That includes playing them in all sorts of scenarios — be it on a bus, in the listening room, or at the office — and playing back from a wide array of sources. We know most people use their headphones with a smartphone, often with lower-quality MP3 resolution tracks, so we test that, too.

However, we also move up to high-resolution audio files, as well as a wide variety of sources, including plugging in directly to a PC or Mac, using USB DACs (digital-to-analog converters), and employing high-quality dedicated portable players and amplifiers. Finally, we compare the earbuds to some of our go-to models, both in their class and price point, as well as a level or two above to find out if they can punch above their weight.

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