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The best noise-canceling earbuds for 2024

If ANC is your biggest concern, here's want to look for in a pair of wireless noise-canceling earbuds.

Photo by Billy Steele / Engadget

Whether it’s blocking the noises of your daily train ride, trying to be productive at a coffee shop or just needing to tune out the world for a while, noise-canceling earbuds can provide solace. But, as is the case with all audio gear, the effectiveness of active noise cancellation (ANC) can vary greatly from model to model, even with products from the same company. We test dozens of sets of wireless earbuds every year, and I’ve shortlisted a selection of the absolute best in terms of pure ANC performance. You might find better sound quality or all-around choices elsewhere, but if blocking out unwanted sounds is your primary concern, this list has everything from high-end to budget options, in addition to those with the best battery life.

Quick Overview

Looking for new ANC headphones but don't like the feeling or style of earbuds? Check out our picks for best noise-canceling headphones, which focuses on full-size models.

Most true wireless earbuds these days have a “traditional” design that’s a round bud that fits in your ear. However, there are some variations on the formula in terms of shape, size and additional fitting elements. Some companies include fins or fit wings to help hold their earbuds in place while others opt for an over-the-ear hook on more sporty models. You’ll want to pay attention to these things to make sure they align with how you plan to use them. Also consider overall size and weight since those two factors can impact the fit. A less-than-ideal seal due to a weird fit will affect the performance of active noise cancellation.

Next, you’ll want to look at the type of ANC a set of earbuds offer. You’ll see terms like “hybrid active noise cancellation” or “hybrid adaptive active noise cancellation,” and there are key differences between the two. A hybrid ANC setup uses microphones on the inside and the outside of the device to detect ambient noise. By analyzing input from both mics, a hybrid system can combat more sounds than “regular” ANC, but it’s at a constant level that doesn’t change.

Adaptive ANC takes the hybrid configuration a step further by continuously adjusting the noise cancellation for changes in your environment and any leakage around the padding of the ear cups. Adaptive ANC is also better at combating wind noise, which can really kill your vibe while using earbuds outdoors. For this best wireless earbuds list, I’m only considering products with hybrid ANC or adaptive ANC setups because those are the most effective at blocking noise.

You’ll also want to check to see if the ANC system on a prospective set of earbuds offers presets or adjustable levels of noise cancellation. These can help you dial in the amount of ANC you need for various environments, but it can also help save battery life. Master & Dynamic, for example, has ANC presets that either provide maximum noise-blocking or prioritize energy efficiency. Other companies may include a slider in their companion apps that let you adjust the ANC level.

The primary way we test earbuds is to wear them as much as possible. I prefer to do this over a one-to-two-week period, but sometimes deadlines don’t allow it. During this time, I listen to a mix of music and podcasts, while also using the earbuds to take both voice and video calls.

Since battery life for ANC earbuds is typically 6-10 hours, I drain the battery with looping music and the volume set at a comfortable level (usually around 75 percent). When necessary, I’ll power the headphones off during a review without putting them back in the case. This simulates real-world use and keeps me from having to wear them for an entire day.

To test ANC performance specifically, I use the earbuds in a variety of environments, from noisy coffee shops to quiet home offices. When my schedule allows, I also use them during air travel, since plane noise is a massive distraction to both work and relaxation. Even if I’m not slated to hop on a flight, I simulate a constant roar with white noise machines, bathroom fans, vacuums and more. I also make note of how well earbuds block human voices, which are a key stumbling block for a lot of ANC setups.

I also do a thorough review of companion apps, testing each feature as I work through the software. Any holdovers from previous models are double-checked for improvements or regression. If the earbuds I’m testing are an updated version of a previous model, I’ll spend time getting reacquainted with the older set, and revisit the closest competition as well.

ANC type: Hybrid Adaptive | Customizable ANC: Yes | Max battery life with ANC: 6 hours | Transparency mode: Yes

Read our full review of the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds

Bose’s Immersive Audio feature may be the headline grabber on its QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, but these also come with the company’s stellar noise-canceling abilities. This model is especially adept at battling airplane noise during a flight, a task I typically rely on over-ear headphones for. The QC Ultra Earbuds are slightly less effective on human voices, but that’s true of many noise-canceling earbuds. But with any kind of constant hum, and many irregular sounds, these earbuds will serve you well. Plus, Bose’s CustomTune tool analyzes the shape of your ears and personalizes both sound and ANC.

While the QC Ultra Earbuds offer the best pure noise-blocking performance on this list, the extra audio features mean they have less battery life than the rest of our picks. It lasts six hours with ANC on and Immersive Audio off, but turn on the latter and that number dips to four hours. And although Bose’s take on spatial audio yields mixed results at times, the stock tuning is an improvement over the company’s last model.

Pros
  • Stellar ANC
  • Spatial audio doesn’t require special content
  • Upgrades with no price increase
Cons
  • Earbuds are still big
  • Immersive Audio significantly impacts battery life
  • Wireless charging costs extra
$299 at Adorama
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$299 at Amazon$299 at Macy's

ANC type: Hybrid Adaptive | Customizable ANC: Yes | Max battery life with ANC: 8 hours | Transparency mode: Yes

Read our full review of the Sony WF-1000XM5

If I could pick two best options, Sony’s WF-1000XM5 would be the co-champion. Since its introduction, the company has improved the 1000X line of earbuds from model to model – especially in ANC performance. The gap between Sony and Bose in this respect is so slim, you’ll be happy with either set if noise-cancellation is your top priority. You’ll also get Sony’s DSEE Extreme upscaling to recover sound detail lost to compression and handy features like onboard volume controls and automatic pausing when you speak.

Like it does on its 1000X over-ear headphones, Sony uses two separate chips for audio and ANC processing on the M5 earbuds, which leads to more robust noise-blocking than on previous models. Six dual-feedback mics are better than the M4 at combating the low-frequency roar of airplanes, vehicles and transit scenarios and the ANC is adjustable in Sony’s app. What’s more, the company’s Adaptive Sound Control allows you to configure presets that can automatically change based on your activity or location. Even if you don’t want to give the software permission to track your whereabouts, there are plenty of options, including the ability to dial-in transparency mode when you need to hear more (or less) of your environment.

Pros
  • Excellent sound quality
  • Improved design
  • More comfortable fit
  • Loads of handy features
Cons
  • More expensive
  • No battery life improvement
  • Head tracking is Android only
  • Some features still need fine-tuning
$236 at Walmart
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$248 at Macy's$298 at Adorama

ANC type: Hybrid Adaptive | Customizable ANC: Yes | Max battery life with ANC: 8 hours | Transparency mode: Yes

For years, Anker’s Soundcore line has consistently offered some of the best true wireless models at a more affordable price than a lot of the competition. The company typically doesn’t cut too many corners to achieve this, either. The best current Soundcore model in terms of pure ANC performance is the Space A40. During my tests, these earbuds were particularly adept at fighting low-to-mid-range noise during flights and other transit scenarios. There’s an adaptive ANC system at work here to automatically adjust based on your environmental sound, but you can also set it to strong, moderate or weak levels of intensity.

While Anker rates the Space A40 at 10 hours on a charge, I got closer to eight during my tests with ANC on. Sound quality is also above average for this price, with a warm tone and noticeable bump to the bass. A solid but less-than-stellar transparency mode lends a hand and the companion app will let you assign up to six different gestures for various playback and call controls.

Pros
  • Excellent ANC for the money
  • Pleasant, warm sound
  • Multi-device connectivity and wireless charging support
  • Comfortable
  • Good battery life
Cons
  • No automatic wear detection
  • Call quality isn't great
  • Audio performance isn't as detailed as higher-end options (as expected)
$49 at Amazon
Photo by Billy Steele / Engadget

ANC type: Hybrid Adaptive | Customizable ANC: Yes | Max battery life with ANC: 12 hours | Transparency mode: Yes

Read our full review of the Master & Dynamic MW09

We’re well aware there are ANC earbuds that last much longer than 12 hours. But out of all of the models we’ve tested in the last two years, the MW09 offers the longest play time while still offering solid active noise cancellation. The ANC performance here isn’t as robust as the QC Ultra Earbuds’ or the WF-1000XM5’s, but Master & Dynamic offers three presets to help you adjust the noise blocking to your situation and to make your battery consumption more efficient.

The MW09 does, however, give both Bose and Sony a run for their money in the audio department. M&D’s trademark sound profile is on display, matching balanced, natural tuning with great clarity and detail. For example, you can hear every bit of texture in Chris Stapleton’s bluesy rock riffs, as well as things like the subtle decay in the snare drum rattle on Higher that are easily lost on other earbuds. ANC modes and volume will impact battery life, but even at their worst, the MW09 still consistently lasted 10 hours during my tests. That’s longer than both Bose and Sony manage with their flagship ANC buds.

Pros
  • Great clarity and detail
  • Lots of fit options
  • Solid ambient sound mode
  • In-app customization
Cons
  • Pricey
  • Average ANC performance
  • Overstated battery life
$349 at Master & Dynamic

ANC type: Hybrid Adaptive | Customizable ANC: Yes | Max battery life with ANC: 6 hours | Transparency mode: Yes

Read our full review of the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd-gen)

The latest AirPods Pro aren’t higher on this list primarily because you need an iPhone to unlock their maximum potential. However, the combo of hardware and software tricks that they offer for ANC performance makes them a worthy consideration. Out of the box, the H2 chip powers noise-canceling processing that wasn’t previously possible on such a small device. When used with the drivers, vents and microphones, the AirPods Pro can block twice as much noise as the previous model.

Apple also includes a handy tool that automates noise-canceling and transparency mode so you’re not making adjustments on your phone throughout the day. Adaptive Audio blends ANC and ambient sound, using cues changes in environmental noise to gradually change device volume as background noise increases or decreases. The setup takes into account whether you're stationary or in motion as well as if you’re listening to music or on a call when making the tweaks. Plus, the AirPods Pro offer the best, most natural-sounding transparency mode of any wireless earbuds – a feat that shouldn’t be overlooked during your decision-making process.

Pros
  • Improved sound
  • Stellar transparency mode
  • Solid ANC
  • Seamless switching between Apple devices
Cons
  • Same design
  • New touch gesture takes practice
  • Average battery life
  • Personalized Spatial Audio results vary
$129 at Amazon
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$190 at Walmart$249 at Adorama