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 wireless noise cancelling earbuds that we’ve tested so far are the Bose QuietControl 30. 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. 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 these headphones 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 comfort is the most important thing to you, choose the Bose, but if the build quality concerns you, the Sony are definitely worth a try.
If you like the Bose QuietComfort 30/QC30 Wireless but prefer the simplicity of wired headphones, go for the Bose QuietComfort 20/QC20. Their sound profile isn't as well-balanced and neutral-sounding as the QC30, but they're just as comfortable and feel more durable. While their sound profile is more bass-heavy, they should still be versatile enough for most genres. Their noise isolation actually works better than the QC30, and they're the best headphones we've tested so far at blocking out low frequency sounds, like the rumble of bus or plane engines. While the headphones are wired, they still need to be charged to use their ANC, but have a very good 19 hour battery life that should easily last most travel days, and you can still use them while they're charging, which is nice.
If you prefer the freedom of wireless headphones, go for the QuietComfort 30, but if you want the benefits of those headphones, but with even better ANC, and the ability to use the headphones without the need for battery, get the QuietComfort 20.
The best noise cancelling truly wireless earbuds that we've tested so far are the Apple AirPods Pro. They're quite comfortable for in-ear headphones, with a lightweight design that can be worn for hours without causing fatigue. Their ANC works extremely well, doing an impressive job at blocking out the low engine rumbles of planes or buses, and an even better job at blocking out speech. They have an extremely premium look and feel, with a small case that can easily be slipped into a pocket but still manages to hold close to 32 hours of total battery life, which is outstanding.
Their sound profile is quite well-balanced and suitable for a wide variety of genres, though fans of thumping bass may want to look elsewhere. They're even a great option for the gym since as they feel very stable in the ear, and are rated IPX4 for sweat resistance, though this isn't something that we currently test. If you use Apple Devices, they're extremely easy to pair and switch between multiple devices, thanks to Apple's H1 chip.
Unfortunately, they don't have an app for Android, and only have a settings window within iOS. Their customization options on iOS are limited and only allow you to make some changes to their control scheme, and ANC, with no EQ or preset options available. Overall, they're an impressively versatile pair of truly wireless in-ears with excellent ANC, well-balanced sound, and a surprisingly comfortable fit.
If you want a pair of truly wireless earbuds with ANC but want to be able to better customize your listening experience, get the Sony WF-1000XM3. Their ANC isn't quite as good as the Apple AirPods Pro Truly Wireless, and they aren't as comfortable, but they're compatible with Sony's excellent Sony | Headphones Connect app on both Android and iOS for a plethora of customization options, including a fully graphic EQ. Their impressive 7-hour battery life means you'll get about 2 hours longer off a single charge than the Apple, and they feature an auto-off timer to help conserve battery even more. Unfortunately, they aren't the most stable and their rather large design means it may be tough to get a good, comfortable fit for some people.
If you want a no-fuss pair of versatile truly wireless in-ears with fantastic ANC, get the Apple, but if you prefer to be able to customize your sound profile to better suit your needs, go for the Sony.
If you need more sports-oriented noise cancelling in-ears, the best noise cancelling earbuds for working out are the Sony WI-SP600N. 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 to spend a ton of money and don't need the extra noise cancelling boost that ANC gives you, the best passively isolating budget earbuds that we've tested so far are the AUKEY Latitude. Unlike the other options on this list, they don't have Active Noise Cancellation and rely on a tight seal to passively block out background sounds, but this means that they're substantially cheaper. They're wireless headphones with the left and right earbuds connected by a cable, and they come with stability fins to help them stay in your ear even during light workouts.
Despite not having ANC, they still block out background noise almost as well as some other options mentioned so far. They don't do as good a job with the low engine rumbles of planes or buses, but they do an absolutely outstanding job in the mid-range, where background speech sits. This makes them a good option to help keep you concentrated at work by blocking out chatty coworkers. Their sound profile is also surprisingly well-balanced for the price, and they should be versatile enough for a wide range of genres, though some S and T sounds may sound a bit sharp or piercing to some people.
Unfortunately, they aren't the most comfortable as they enter your ear canal quite deeply, though thankfully they come with 3 different tip and stability fin sizes to help get the best fit for you. They also can be a bit difficult to find as AUKEY doesn't list model names in their Amazon listings, which can be confusing. Overall, if you don't want to spend too much money, but want something that can still help block out background noises, these headphones are a great choice.
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.
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.