Derived from turn-of-the-century telephone receivers, the invention of what we know today as headphones have come an enormous way since the first model was patented in the US in 1910. Since that time, drivers and components have shrunk in size and grown in quality and clarity, and the advent of Bluetooth connectivity has allowed for an increasingly untethered product space. Fast-forward to today, and 110-years after the first model was released — which was consequently purchased by the US Navy — and this segment has culminated in the ultra-compact and high-tech, noise-canceling wireless earbuds.
There’s nothing quite like throwing on a pair of headphones, tuning out the world, and enjoying your own personal soundtrack, however wireless earbuds bestowed with active noise cancelation take this experience to the next level, offering total autonomy and freedom of movement, and affording you an auditory respite, regardless as to what sounds are occurring in the background of wherever you happen to find yourself. And while there’s no shortage of admittedly solid offerings on the market, there are an elite few pairs that rise above the rest, so to help shine a light on these products, we’ve engineered this list to the best noise-canceling wireless earbuds.
Deciphering The Spec Sheets
What To Look For When Purchasing Noise-Canceling Wireless Earbuds
With every item on this list being of the noise-canceling, wireless earbud variety, it might look like there isn’t all that much distinguishing the different available models beyond their outward appearance, and battery life. Scratch beneath the surface, however, and you’ll find that today’s best models sometimes hugely vary in features and overall user experience. So, in order to help give a clear understanding of what should be considered, we’ve written out this guide on the factors to keep in mind before pulling the trigger on your purchase.
Earphone Type: When we hear “noise-canceling wireless earbuds,” true wireless items are typically what come to mind, however, the reality is there are several styles of Bluetooth-enabled ANC-equipped earbud models. There are short-loop pairs, where wireless earbuds are tethered together, as well as the similar necklace-style of wireless earbuds. These both afford the same freedom of movement as their true wireless counterparts, but are often more durable, boast easier-to-use physical control buttons, and are usually slightly less expensive.
Sound Quality: While we tend to focus on the advancements made in bells and whistles like ANC and Bluetooth connectivity, equally tremendous strides have been made in the realm of audio quality. As quite possibly the biggest determining factor in a headphone’s overall quality, you should pay a lot of attention to this area — namely the driver and component types, transmission hardware, frequency range, and decibel output. Going with a brand with a proven history of great-sounding products is also a fairly surefire means of ensuring you wind up with a pair with fantastic sound.
Battery Life: One obvious downside to all wirelessly-connected Bluetooth headphones compared to traditional cabled items is that they require a charge to operate. Luckily, advancements in Lithium-ion tech have allowed for increasingly potent power banks that can now provide up to several days of playback time on a single charge. True wireless headphones offer even greater battery endurance, with the ability to draw extra juice from the wireless charging case itself. When investigating a particular model’s battery, it’s also important to note the set of earbud’s music playback time, versus talk time or standby hours.
Durability & Waterproofing: It’s a lot easier to justify dropping a few bills on a high-end set of earbuds if you can be confident that they’ll provide years of use, and one way you can help to ensure this is to opt for a more rugged model. An earbud’s durability typically comes from its construction and materials, though water and sweat-resistance is also a major factor in an earbud’s overall longevity. IP (or “Ingress Protection”) ratings are denoted on the vast majority of earbud models and give a clear understanding of how well a given model to stand up to the elements.
Raw Materials & Construction: Gone are the days of plastic’s ubiquitous use in the wireless earbuds sector. Today’s market encompasses a wide range of different materials used in the housings of earbuds, from machined aluminum alloy items to advanced composites to carbon fiber. These type of constructions not only look markedly cooler, but also make for substantially stronger earbuds, and can often afford additional qualities that can benefit an earbud’s acoustics.
Fitment: Most of today’s wireless earbuds are what we’d call “in-ear” headphones, and while these typically offer a fit that’s plenty sufficient for general daily use, it’s not always adequate for standing up to the physical rigors of working out or running. Knowing this, several companies have designed alternatives to the traditional in-ear design that are made specifically for exercise duties with items that hook around the back of the ear or provide additional support via a wing running along the crura of the ear’s antihelix (the top of the inside of the ear). And, because people come in all shapes and sizes, manufacturers almost always sell their earbuds with a variety of different sized ear-tips and wings, to allow for a more precise fit.
A.N.C. Technology: Unlike passive noise canceling which uses the earbuds themselves to create a physical barrier to block out sound, active noise cancelation, on the other hand, relies on microphones to constantly scan the environment for low-frequency ambient noise. When detected, the technology emits a sound that’s phase-inverted by 180-degrees (think of it as the “opposite” sound, if you will) that neutralizes and destroys this external noise to the listener. And while all ANC tech works in the same basic way, different companies employ their different versions of this cutting-edge feature, all with varying degrees of efficiency. Spec sheets will usually cite to what dB a particular ANC is effective up to.
Additional Features: If you’re the type of person that’s constantly losing your keys, memory cards, jewelry, or other small day-to-day items, investing in a high-end set of small, seemingly easy-to-misplace wireless earbuds may seem like asking for trouble. Fortunately, today’s market includes more than a few models equipped with built-in GPS tracking devices, for easy recovery should you lose an earbud or two. And this is just one of the slew of supplementary amenities that can be found on modern wireless earbuds, other includes AI-driven personally custom-tuned audio, smartphone apps with adjustable equalizers, integrated noise-canceling microphones, and even wireless charging cases that can double as a portable Bluetooth speaker.
Industrial Design: Now that noise-canceling wireless headphones and true wireless headphones have been around for a few years, we’re starting to see more and more novel takes on the outward appearance of the wireless charging cases and the earbuds themselves. So long as it isn’t the primary guiding factor in your purchase, there’s nothing wrong with letting your aesthetic tastes play a role in your ultimate decision.
Just like with our sight, everyone’s hearing has minor variations that affect the way we register sound. So, while pretty much every other headphone or earbud model on the market offers the same audio experience across the board, the Nuraloop earbuds deliver audio that’s custom-tuned to each user’s specific hearing. This is accomplished via an advanced sound test that’s conducted via a smartphone app before AI takes over to further optimize and tune the EQ overtime. They also offer ANC with “Social Mode,” tap-and-swipe style controls on the outside of the earbuds, aptX HD-backed Bluetooth 5 connectivity, and 16-hour battery life. The nuraloop is also sold with a cable that allows the model to be plugged into a standard 1/8” headphone jack for an analog connection.
Utilizing an LDS antenna, the latest Bluetooth connectivity, and Qualcomm’s aptX and AAC audio codecs, 1MORE’s EHD9001TA is a cutting-edge set of true wireless earbuds boasting dual dynamic drivers with balanced armatures and 10mm diaphragms composed of a composite made from titanium that has been specially-tuned by a Grammy-award-winning sound engineer. An approximately 14-hour battery life when using active noise cancelation, or an additional four hours without it. Outfitted with a pass-through noise cancelation mode that allows vital sounds to sing through, this model’s ANC can drown out up to 35dB of background noise. Other highlights include a 32.8’ range and infrared detectors that pause music playback when an earbud is removed, carbon-style housing, a Qi-compatible aluminum wireless charging case, and stainless steel mesh covers.
While Sony was a tiny bit late to the true wireless party with its WF-1000XM3, once the model was released, it quickly became abundantly clear that the earbuds were well worth the wait. When using the wireless charging case, the WF-1000XM3 offers a collective 24 hours of music playback time, though a 10-minute charge also yields another 1.5 hours of battery life. Even better is the gadget’s 24-bit QN1e HD noise-canceling processor, which offers industry-leading noise-canceling performance. The outside of the earbuds sport tap-and-swipe controls that include this model’s “Quick Attention Mode” which deactivates ANC so conversation or other vital sounds can be heard. Built-in microphones also allow for handsfree calling and compatibility with smart assistants — which can also be summoned via the press of an external button.
Audio-Technica’s high-performance studio and DJ-style headphones have always maintained a distinctive appearance and a rich signature sound that’s made the Japanese brand a force to be reckoned with within the industry. And while the Tokyo firm’s ATH-ANC300TW earbuds are a decided departure from Audio-Technica’s signature fare, the wireless earbuds retain the company’s aforementioned top-notch audio performance. This is largely owed to the model’s 5.8mm drivers, and their DLC-coated diaphragms, which are made all the more enjoyable via the ANC300 true wireless’s stellar active noise cancelation tech and Qualcomm codec transmission. The ANC300TW also packs a collective 13.5 hours of battery life and is IPX2-rated for water and sweat resistance.
Apple Airpods Pro
The latest iteration of Apple’s true wireless earbud model that’s widely credited for kicking off the now immensely popular segment, the Airpods Pro maintains the Northern California technology powerhouse’s knack for groundbreaking innovation. Despite the fact they were released over a year ago, the Airpods Pro’s specs and performance still hold up quite well today, boasting a total 24 hours of battery life, infrared earbud removal detection and automatic playback pausing, IPX4 sweat and water-resistance rating, and as always, seamless integration into the rest of Apple’s leading range of products. And, in addition to active noise cancelation, the Airpods Pro’s ANC processor also uses external noise to actively tweak and optimize the earbuds’ EQ.
While countless audio hardware and equipment operations have come and gone over the last century, Technics has managed to remain at the forefront of the industry, consistently deliver professional-grade pro audio and sound gear. Recently having celebrated its 55th anniversary, Technics has recently decided to toss its hat into the true wireless ring, and with stellar results. Sold in silver or black color options, the brand’s EAH-AZ70W features an aluminum wireless charging case with engraved Technics branding, and custom-engineered and tuned 10mm drivers and graphene-coated diaphragms. IPX4-rated, the EAH-AZ70W offers a total of almost 20 hours of music playback time, though should you run out of juice, a 15-minute charge will have you back up in action for another 70 minutes.
Bowers & Wilkins P14
Bowers & Wilkins’ latest and most high-end wireless earbud model, the P14 is ultimately the result of the British brand setting out to deliver the world-famous and world-class high-fidelity sound afforded by its ultra-premium tower speakers, in a super-compact, highly-mobile package. And considering the physical size limitations, the outfit is working with, we’d say they more than succeeded in their mission, with an aptX codec sending a signal to custom-engineered and highly-developed 14mm drivers. The P14 offers 12 hours of music playback time, plus for every five minutes these B&W earbuds are plugged in, they gain an additional hour of battery life. Rugged metal housing has also been paired with plush ear-tips that are made from a combination of silicone and rubber.
Master & Dynamic x Leica MW07 PLUS Earphones for 0.95
With a number of class-leading specs, a striking aesthetic design, and some truly audiophile-grade sound, Master & Dynamic’s MW07 Plus has already been one of our favorite true wireless headphone models on the market since its release. Boasting an IPX5-rating for water resistance and outfitted with dual beamforming microphones, the earbuds sport 10mm beryllium drivers that transmit crystal clear, ultra-crisp audio across a generous frequency range. A 50% recharge — which offers five hours of music playback through the earbuds alone — can happen in only 15 minutes, while the battery can be fully replenished in 40 minute’s time. In total, the internal power bank allows for a collective 40 hours. Made from black acetate and stainless steel, this particular limited edition version of the MW07 Plus was born out of a collaboration between M&D and legendary German camera manufacturer, Leica.
Sennheiser Momentum 2
Another company enormously benefitting from decades of experience in the audio business — in this case, some seven-plus decades — Sennheiser frequently takes an above-and-beyond approach to its audio design and engineering, and the German brand’s Momentum 2 true wireless earbuds are certainly no exception. Aiming to outdo the industry standard, the Momentum 2 packs a collective 28 hours of battery life, and sound quality and clarity that blows much of the competition out of the water. Boasting metal housing, a technical knit fabric-wrapped case, and an IPX4-rating, the Momentum 2 manages to capitalize on what would already be impressive active noise-cancellation by supplementing the ambient-sound-mitigating tech with specially-crafted earbuds that were designed to maximize the model’s passive noise canceling.
The 15 Best Noise-Canceling Headphones
Interested in exploring some additional options on the market? Then be sure to check out our guide to the best noise-canceling headphones for a look at some of the latest and greatest ANC-equipped wireless headphones that aren’t limited to the in-ear variety.
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