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. Whether it's along a busy street, on a noisy plane or in a chatty office earbuds that can block out distracting sounds are nigh-on essential if you want to be able to concentrate on whatever you’re listening to.
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 soundwaves to cancel out extraneous noise. Clever right?
When describing it, ANC sounds like expensive and futuristic technology 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.
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Best ANC earbuds 2023: The top 3
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The best noise-cancelling earbuds for most people is the Sony WF-1000XM4. The all-important sound quality is exceptional, which is what makes these the winner.
The best noise-cancelling earbuds are the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds. Bose's 2023 flagship in-ears better the Sony's ANC capability for sheer noise-blocking brilliance, but they're pricier than most is the downside.
The best affordable noise-cancelling earbuds goes to the Nothing Ear (2). The British-based brand has quickly become iconic for its style, but also substance – and these in-ears sound and work superbly.
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.
Yes, the WF-1000XM5s are now out and offer a very strong package, but for us they aren't enough of an upgrade to trump the previous model when you consider the price difference.
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds are, as their name suggests, the 'ultimate' noise-cancelling earbuds. They're pricier than many of their competitors, but if blocking out extraneous noise to the extreme is your goal then these are the market leaders.
As we say in our Bose QC Ultra Earbuds review: "if you're in the market for one of the best-sounding pairs of earbuds, these sit in scarce company. Complete with a top-notch app you'll even find exceptional noise cancelling properties and a listening experience which doesn't fatigue on long sessions."
So why aren't these 'buds in the number one slot? Well, it's down to the overall package proposition. While stupendous in many ways, for us the Sony edge it when it comes to balance of sound quality to price. But if ANC is your everything then look no further than the Bose...
The second-gen of Nothing's earbuds, the Ear (2), knocked the T3 team's socks off (well, ears off really). Described in our review as "everything you need and nothing you don't", these affordable in-ears "build on the brand's position as a fashionable start-up offer[ing] a genuine knockout product. ANC earbuds don't come more complete than this, with excellent sound quality, a top-notch app interface and great battery life."
Indeed it's hard to find fault with these affordable ANC-ers, unless you don't particularly enjoy the transparent design and motifs. But come on, they're much more fun to look at than pretty much everything else out there – and for all the right reasons. They're a big upgrade over their predecessors, which were already stellar in-ears as it was. Check out our Nothing Ear (2) full review for more info.
Best ANC earbuds 2023: Best of the rest
AirPods Pro 2 feature noise cancellation and a whole raft of audio-enhancing features to give a much more immersive musical experience than regular AirPods. The ANC is really effective, plus there's also a Transparency mode, so you can talk to people without removing the earbuds.
As we said in our AirPods Pro 2 review: "Apple learned from the mistakes of the past and improved their top-performing true wireless earbuds to not only match the competition but, on occasion, surpass it. The sound is brilliant as is the fit, without a price increase generation on generation".
Contrary to what some people think, all AirPods work perfectly well with Android phones and other equipment. But you get lots of extra features when you use them within Apple's ecosystem, including fast-pairing, auto-switching between your Apple products, 3D Spatial Audio support (which is very cool), and Find My support for locating them when they seem lost. Very nice.
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.
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…
Note: the second-gen follow-up, the PI7 S2, are now available. Great as these newer headphones are, we feel the better price and altogether similar features of the originals make them the stronger purchase suggestion.
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.
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 under $/£100 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.
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.
As we noted in the Nothing Ear (1) review, these earbuds 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, which now the sequel Nothing Ear (2) is available is even lower than before, so get shopping for a bargain.
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. Everyone's ears are slightly different so don't feel embarrassed if something doesn't work for you.
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 that offer a quality range of features without an eye-watering price tag.