Sometimes you need a bit more isolation for the noisy conditions involved in your daily routine. However, if you're going to be carrying your headphones often to isolate you while commuting or working out, then you may want something a bit more portable. In this case, noise cancelling in-ears or earbuds are the best solution for users who want the most isolation in the smallest format. Some in-ears isolate well enough passively that you may not even need the noise cancellation.
We've tested over 125 earbuds and in-ears and below are our recommendations for the best noise cancelling earbuds to buy in 2020. See also our recommendations for the best earbuds and in-ears and the best Bluetooth earbuds.
The best noise cancelling earbuds we've tested so far are the truly wireless Apple AirPods Pro. These tiny earbuds have a premium design that packs powerful noise cancelling. They come with several sizes of earbud tips to help you achieve the best fit, and there's also a nice charging case to keep them topped up when you're not using them.
These truly wireless in-ears can block out an outstanding amount of noise across the entire frequency range, from the rumbles of bus engines to the high-pitched hums of AC units. Although they only last on average 5.3 hours on a single charge, the case holds a whopping five extra charges, which is great. They're no slouch when it comes to audio reproduction, either - they have a very well-balanced, neutral sound that lends itself well to music of all genres, including audiobooks and podcasts.
Unfortunately, you won't be able to customize them to your taste, as there's no dedicated app for them. On Apple devices, you can change their controls and ANC level, but that's about it. That said, they're still the best in-ear noise cancelling earbuds we've seen to date and are worth considering even if you use Android.
If you like the super-compact, portable design of truly wireless earbuds but are looking for something a bit more reasonably priced, then get the Amazon Echo Buds. Their noise cancelling isn't quite as powerful as that of the Apple AirPods Pro Truly Wireless, but they're a lot more affordable. Their battery performance is nearly identical to that of the Apple and they sound pretty well-balanced too, with a bit of extra bass. They rely heavily on the Amazon Alexa app, though, including for pairing, which can be a bit annoying if you don't want to have Alexa just to make your earbuds work. That said, they still provide very good value for the price.
Get the Apple if money is no object and you're after a more premium noise cancelling experience; however, if you want something cheaper then the Amazon are hard to beat.
The best wireless noise cancelling earbuds with a neckband design we’ve tested so far are the Bose QuietControl 30. Their neckband isn't too heavy and their earbud fit makes them comfortable to wear for long listening sessions. Their controls are easy-to-use and they come with a nice carrying case that helps protect them when they're not around your neck, keeping your music at arm's reach.
These earbuds provide an impressive amount of isolation across all frequencies but perform the best in the bass range where they help tone down the intense rumbles of bus or plane engines. They sound very-well balanced, with a neutral, versatile sound profile that's suitable for nearly all genres of music. Their 11-hour battery life is good too, and they also have an auto-off timer to keep them from running out of power if you forget to turn them off overnight.
Unfortunately, the rubber sleeve covering the neckband is known to peel off after a few months of regular use, which is disappointing considering how good everything else is. Aside from the issue regarding the neckband, though, Bose has managed to put together a good set of features to make these noise cancelling earbuds easy to recommend.
If you're looking for something with a more reliable build quality, then get the Sony WI-1000X. Their in-ear design makes them less comfortable than the Bose QuietControl 30/QC30 Wireless, but they feel more durable. The excellent Sony | Headphones Connect app is miles ahead of its competitors: you can fine-tune your sound with a preset or graphic EQ, apply room effects, adjust the amount of noise cancellation, or even remap the buttons on the neckband. While their in-ear fit helps them isolate even more noise it can be an issue during long listening sessions, so you'll want to keep this mind if you're planning an international flight.
Overall, if comfort is the most important thing to you, get the Bose, but if the build quality concerns you, the Sony are a solid contender.
The best wired noise cancelling earbuds that we’ve tested so far are the Bose QuietComfort 20. They’re fairly portable, even with their ANC control module, and isolate noise outstandingly well. Their comfortable earbud design makes them suitable for long days at the office. They're easy to wear for long periods and they come with a soft fabric case that will help protect them when you're on-the-go.
These headphones have excellent noise cancelling and can effectively reduce the intensity of noises of almost all frequencies. They cancel out sounds in the bass range, like the low rumble of bus or plane engines, to a great degree and are also very good at blocking speech as well as the higher-pitched noises produced by fans or A/C units. Their 19-hour battery life is great, and they can even be used while charging.
On the downside, they sound considerably boomy, especially compared to the Bose QuietControl 30/QC30 Wireless which have a more balanced sound. Their controls also only work on either Apple or Android devices, so you’ll have to choose which variant you prefer when buying them, which can be annoying if you use both types of devices. That said, if you’re looking for wired noise cancelling earbuds, they’re still the best we’ve tested so far.
If you're looking for the best budget noise cancelling earbuds but don't care whether they isolate noise actively or passively, as long as they get the job done, then get the AUKEY Latitude. Their in-ear design creates a tight seal that passively blocks out a truly remarkable amount of noise, but without the added cost of having an active noise cancelling feature.
Despite not having ANC, they manage to block out even more noise than many noise cancelling earbuds we've seen - even in the bass range, which tends to be rather challenging to isolate effectively. They also block out noises in the mid and treble ranges exceptionally well, like background chatter, which makes them a good option to help keep you concentrated at the office. They're surprisingly feature-packed too, with multi-device pairing and even low-latency aptX-LL support, which are great additions at this price point.
Unfortunately, they aren't the most comfortable in-ears we've tested since they enter your ear canal quite deeply. They also can be a bit difficult to find, as AUKEY doesn't seem to consistently include model names in their Amazon listings, which can be confusing. If you can find them, though, they're a great way to help block out background noise without spending too much money.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best noise cancelling in-ear headphones and earbuds for most people to buy. We factor in the price (cheaper headphones win over pricier ones if the difference isn't worth it), feedback from our visitors, and availability (no headphones that are difficult to find or almost out of stock everywhere).
If you would like to choose for yourself, here is the list of all our reviews for earbuds/in-ear headphones. Be careful not to get caught up in the details. There are no perfect headphones. Personal taste, preference and listening habits will matter more in your selection.
03/03/2020: Slight structure changes and text updates. "Best Wired" also added.
01/31/2020: Minor text and structure changes, no change in recommendations.
01/03/2020: Replaced Sony WF-1000XM3 with Apple AirPods Pro as 'Best Noise Cancelling True Wireless Earbuds', made the Sony 'More Customizable Alternative'. Moved Jabra Elite 65E, KZ AS10, and Jabra Elite Active 65T to 'Notable Mentions'. Changed some categories and category names.
11/27/2019: Minor text and structure changes, no change in recommendations.