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 115 earbuds and in-ears and below are our recommendations for the best noise cancelling earbuds to buy in 2019. See also our recommendations for the best earbuds and in-ears and the best Bluetooth earbuds.
The best wireless noise cancelling earbuds that we’ve tested so far are the Bose QuietControl 30 Wireless. With their distinctive neckband style, they’re light and comfortable to wear for hours, but may not be for everyone. These earbuds sound good, with a deep and punchy bass suitable for hip-hop and EDM. The mids are slightly recessed, pulling back the vocals a bit, and while the treble sounds decent, it can be sharp on certain tracks. But overall, they should be able to handle most genres well.
These earbuds provide an impressive amount of isolation across all frequencies. The Bose Connect mobile app lets you control the desired amount of noise cancellation, adjust the auto-off timer, as well as showing the current battery level of your earphones. Unfortunately, the app doesn’t have an EQ to customize the sound. On the subject of the neckband, the rubber sleeve 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, Bose has managed to put together a good set of features to make the QuietControl 30 easy to recommend.
If you're looking for something better-built than the Bose QuietControl 30/QC30 Wireless, consider the Sony WI-1000X; they're proof that Sony can put up a good fight. They provide better noise isolation than the Bose, though the latter requires the earbuds to be inserted further into the ear canals, which some may find uncomfortable. The excellent Sony 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.
Overall, if you need a comfortable pair, choose the Bose, but if the build quality concerns you, the Sony are definitely worth a try.
If you like the neckband design of the Bose QuietControl 30/QC30 Wireless but want something cheaper, get the Jabra Elite 65e Wireless. They don't cancel out background noise quite as well, but they have a more flexible neckband and have the best microphone of any Bluetooth earbuds we've tested. While their noise cancellation is decent, it's dependent on the quality of the seal you can get with the earbuds and tends to be better for ambient chatter rather than the low rumble of bus engines. Their build quality is good and they have a comfortable earbud design that some may prefer to in-ears, as they don't go as deep into your ear canal. While their out-of-the-box sound profile is a little bass-heavy, this can be customized easily through Jabra's Sound+ app to better suit most genres of music.
If you want something that does a better job of cancelling background noise, get the Bose, but if you want to save some money or make a lot of phone calls through your headphones, go with the Jabra.
The best wired noise cancelling earbuds that we’ve tested so far are the Bose QuietComfort 20. They isolate remarkably well and have a comfortable earbud design which makes them easy to wear for long periods. They’re fairly portable, even with their ANC control module, and come with a soft fabric case that will help protect them in your pockets.
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 wireless 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 often 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 need more sports-oriented noise cancelling in-ears, the best noise cancelling earbuds for working out are the Sony WI-SP600N Wireless. Their active noise cancelling (ANC) feature isn’t as strong as that of the Jabra Elite 65e Wireless, but they’re well-built and are rated IPX4 for light water resistance. They have a simple in-ear design that fits securely yet fairly comfortably, and they're very breathable.
These wireless in-ears have a very good control scheme that feels complete and provides good feedback. Their portable design is easy to stash in a pocket or a bag when you’re on-the-go, and their 5.6-hour battery life is long enough for a full workout. They’re compatible with the Sony | Headphones Connect app which provides a decent amount of customization options, and they have a standby mode to help save power when not in use.
Unfortunately, they sound rather mediocre. Although you can EQ their sound in the app, there are non-ANC in-ears that sound better out-of-the-box and achieve better passive isolation performance, like the Jabra Elite Active 65t Truly Wireless or the JBL Reflect Mini 2 Wireless. That said, these are still well-built and stylish wireless in-ears that are worth considering for athletes who prefer ANC headphones.
If you don’t want the hassle of having to charge your earphones and prefer a simple wired pair with passive isolation, the KZ AS10 are a good choice, especially at such a low price. They have an excellent build with thick, strong cables, which are also replaceable. They’re bulkier than most in-ear headphones, but the bulkiness does help with their outstanding passive isolation, particularly in the treble region, where they can cut out over 47db.
They’re no slouch when it comes to sound, either. They have a typical V-shaped sound, with a powerful bass, a well-balanced mid-range that's slightly recessed, and a bright treble. Of course, being wired earphones, there isn't any companion mobile app for customization. On the upside, you won’t have to worry about compatibility with a specific operating system.
All in all, these are a good choice for a wired pair of in-ears with excellent passive isolation.
If you don't want to break the bank but still want a pair of headphones that can block out background noises on your daily commute, go with the AUKEY Latitude. They aren't quite as comfortable as the KZ AS10, but their wireless design makes them more convenient to use on-the-go. They're decent sounding headphones that are well-suited for bass-heavy genres like EDM and hip-hop, though they aren't as good for more vocal-centric genres. They do a great job at isolating sound passively, though unfortunately this comes at the expense of comfort, as their in-ear design goes quite deep into the ear canal. They are decently well-built for the price, and their stability fins make them well-suited for use during workouts as well.
If you prefer the easy-to-use nature of wired headphones, go for the KZ, but if you want something cheaper or prefer the freedom of wireless earbuds, get the AUKEY.
The best noise cancelling truly wireless earbuds we've tested so far are the Sony WF-1000XM3. They're well-built wireless in-ear headphones that have a premium look and feel. They don't cancel noise as well as some of the neckband-style earphones we've tested, like the Sony WI-1000X Wireless or the Bose QuietControl 30/QC30 Wireless, but still do a lot better than Sony's other attempts at noise cancelling truly wireless earbuds.
These truly wireless earbuds sound balanced enough to be suitable for most music genres right out-of-the-box, and you easily adjust the way they sound with the fully-featured Sony | Headphones Connect app. They also have an auto-off timer that you can toggle in the app, which is useful since their battery only provides about 7 hours of playback. Their charging case is supposed to provide up to 3 extra charges, though, so they can last you all day if you keep them in their case when you're not using them.
Unfortunately, it can be a bit challenging to find a good fit with these earbuds. They come with lots of tip options, but they're all much larger than average, which is frustrating for those with smaller ears. The difficulty in finding a good fit negatively impacts both their bass performance and how well they isolate noise, so if they fit you well, you may find they deliver more bass and isolate more noise than what we measured.
If you want truly wireless earbuds that do an impressive job of blocking out ambient noises without ANC, get the Jabra Elite Active 65t. They aren't quite as comfortable as the Sony WF-1000XM3 Truly Wireless and their bulkier design may too big for some people's ears, but they passively isolate sound even better than the Sonys do with their ANC turned on. Their out-of-the-box sound reproduction is very good, but they're also compatible with Jabra's Sound+ app, which allows you to easily customize the sound to better suit your needs. They have a good build quality and are stable enough for sports, even being rated IP56 for water and dust resistance, though we don't test currently this. Unfortunately, due to their larger design, they aren't the most comfortable for all people and may cause fatigue after a couple of hours of use.
Get the Sony if you prefer having active noise cancellation, but if you don't mind your headphones isolating sound passively, go with the Jabra.
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.
11/27/2019: Minor text and structure changes, no change in recommendations.