Sometimes we all need a bit of peace and quiet. If you use your headphones every day for commuting, or while in the office, you may want something that will do an effective job at blocking out background noises. While in the past you needed large over-ears to get good active noise cancelling (ANC), you can now get impressive noise cancelling even in small and portable in-ears or earbuds. With some in-ear headphones, you can still achieve great isolation without an ANC feature, due to them physically blocking your ear canals.
We've tested over 150 earbuds and in-ears and below are our recommendations for the best noise cancelling earbuds to buy. See also our recommendations for the best earbuds and in-ears, the best Bluetooth earbuds, or the best noise cancelling headphones overall.
The best in-ear noise cancelling headphones with a truly wireless design we've tested so far are the Apple AirPods Pro. These portable in-ears are quite comfortable, and have a very premium and well-built look and feel. Their touch-sensitive controls are easy to use, and they don't go as deep in the ear canal as some other in-ear options. They're even a good choice for the gym as they feel quite stable, and are rated IPX4 for basic water and sweat resistance, though this isn't something we currently test for.
Their ANC feature is superb, and they do a great job of blocking out engine noises on a plane or bus. If you use your headphones in the office to keep you concentrated, they also do a great job of blocking out chatty coworkers, as well as the noise coming from an AC unit. As far as their sound profile goes, it's quite neutral and well-balanced, and they should be well-suited for a wide range of genres and content.
Unfortunately, their overall battery performance is only decent, with just under 5.5 hours from a single charge. On the bright side, 20 minutes in their charging case will get you close to four hours of playback, so you can easily top them up on your lunch break and keep listening. Overall, these are a good pair of in-ears that pack an impressive ANC feature and are among the best truly wireless headphones we've tested so far.
If the price tag of the Apple AirPods Pro Truly Wireless gives you pause, then consider the Amazon Echo Buds. They aren't as comfortable as the Apple headphones, and they don't look and feel quite as premium, but they're considerably cheaper. Their ANC is a bit weaker, but they still isolate a lot of noise, and their similarly well-balanced sound profile is also well-suited for a fairly wide range of genres. Their battery performance is also on par with that of the Apple headphones, but you need Alexa on your phone to get them to work.
If you generally find in-ears uncomfortable, or wear them for extended periods and want something that feels more comfortable and premium, get the Apple headphones, but if you're something that still performs well at a lower price, go for the Amazon.
The best wireless noise cancelling earbuds we've tested so far with a neckband design are the Bose QuietControl 30. They have a comfortable earbud design that fits securely in the ear without putting much pressure, which makes them very well-suited for long days of travel. They're easy-to-use, their noise cancelling is great, and they sound very well-balanced.
These wireless earbuds do a very impressive job at cancelling noise in the bass range, like the low rumbling hum of bus or plane engines. They also leak very little sound, so if you need to raise your listening volume to block out even more noise, you can do so without having to worry too much about bothering those around you. They have an impressively neutral, versatile, sound profile that lends itself well to all different kinds of music, and their 11-hour battery life ensures they'll last all day.
While they feel fairly well-built overall, unfortunately, the rubber sleeve that protects the neckband module tends to detach with time. Not all units are affected by this issue, but it seems to be a rather common problem. It's more of an aesthetic concern than a functional one but is still disappointing for such a premium product. That said, they still provide a solid overall listening experience, so they remain among the best noise cancelling earbuds we've tested.
If you want something that feels built to last and you don't mind the fit of an in-ear design, then get the Sony WI-1000X. They're less comfortable to wear for longer periods than the Bose QuietControl 30/QC30 Wireless since their earbuds go further deep into the ear canal, but they feel quite a bit more durable. Their cables are still quite thin, but the neckband has cable management slots to help keep them tidy when not in use, which is nice. Their noise cancelling is excellent and they block out even more noise than the Bose thanks to their in-ear fit. They sound well-balanced, have a good 10-hour battery life, and can even be used passively with their included audio cable - a feature that's very rare on wireless earbuds, but that can be a lifesaver while traveling.
Get the Bose if comfort is your biggest priority, but if you're concerned about durability, you'll want to consider the Sony.
The best noise cancelling earbuds for wired use we've tested so far are the Bose QuietComfort 20/QC20. Their earbud design doesn't enter the ear canal too deeply, making them quite comfortable, and their controls are very easy to use. They come in a variant for iOS and another for Android, so make sure to get the one that's compatible with your devices.
Their noise cancelling is exceptional, and is among the best we've tested to date. It does a great job with all kinds of background noises but is especially outstanding at cancelling out the low engine rumble from a bus or plane. Their sound profile isn't quite as well-balanced as that of the Bose QuietControl 30/QC30 Wireless, but they're still fairly well-suited for most genres, just with a bit of extra boominess.
Though these are wired earbuds, they still require a battery for their ANC. Fortunately, it lasts 19 hours, so you should easily be able to wear them for an entire flight. If the battery does run out on you, you can also use them passively without ANC, which is great. Overall, if you're looking for a wired pair of earbuds to give you peace during long travel days, they're a solid choice.
If you're looking for the best noise cancelling earbuds in the budget range, but don't actually care whether they use ANC or not, as long as they isolate a lot of noise, then get the AUKEY Latitude. Despite not having noise cancelling, they do a surprisingly remarkable job at blocking out background noises.
While they isolate most in the higher frequencies, they still do a surprisingly good job of blocking out the low rumble of bus and plane engines thanks to their in-ear fit. Their sound profile is a bit on the boomy side, but will likely please fans of bass-heavy genres like EDM and hip-hop.
Unfortunately, their 7-hour battery life is only okay, and you'll likely have to take a break to charge them to get through an entire work day or a long flight. On the bright side, they can easily be paired to two devices at once, and they support aptX-LL for lower Bluetooth latency with compatible devices, making them a decent option for watching videos on your laptop if you have the right adapter.
05/01/2020: Verification for accuracy and slight changes to the text.
03/03/2020: "Best Wired" added.
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.
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.