Published: Tuesday, 17 August 2021 10:52
Looking for a set of true-wireless earbuds with active noise cancellation? There are more options than just Apple's AirPods Pro. David Carnoy Aug. 16, 2021 2:00 p.m. PT
- As good as it gets Sony WF-1000XM4 Jump to details $278 at Amazon
- Top-notch noise canceling Bose QuietComfort Earbuds Jump to details $279 at Lenovo
- Best designed noise-canceling earbuds Apple AirPods Pro Jump to details $190 at Amazon
- Excellent sound quality Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 Jump to details $230 at Amazon
- Best sound Bowers & Wilkins PI7 Jump to details $400 at Best Buy
- $50 standout Edifier TWS 330NB Jump to details $60 at Amazon
- Apple alternative for half the price 1More ComfoBuds Pro Jump to details $80 at Amazon
- Anker's AirPods Pro alternative Anker Soundcore Liberty Air Pro 2 Jump to details $100 at Amazon
- Lightweight and compact Beats Studio Buds Jump to details $130 at Amazon
- Premium noise canceling with unique look Master & Dynamic MW08 Jump to details $299 at Master & Dynamic
- Impressive for $100 TCL Moveaudio S600 Jump to details $100 at Amazon
- Impressive for around $60 EarFun Free Pro Jump to details $48 at Amazon
- Best Samsung-centric noise-canceling earbuds Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro Jump to details $170 at Amazon
- Budget Anker Anker Soundcore Life P3 Jump to details $80 at Amazon
- Solid for less than $50 TaoTronics SoundLiberty P10 Jump to details $65 at Walmart
- Jabra's flagship earbuds Jabra Elite 85t Jump to details $227 at Amazon
- Earbuds newly upgraded with noise canceling Jabra Elite 75t Jump to details $150 at Lenovo
- Blast from the past Technics EAH-AZ70W Jump to details $190 at Amazon
- Decent value EarFun Air Pro Jump to details $80 at Amazon
Active noise cancellation headphones, also known as ANC headphones, produce a mirror image sound wave in your ear to electronically counteract or "cancel out" external noise. The technology works best in environments where there's a sustained din, like the droning of a jet engine -- which is why Bose ANC wireless earphones became a status symbol at airports.
The technology used to be restricted to full-size over-ear headphones. But in just the past few years, it's been shrunk down to earbud size. Sony's 2018 models, the WF-SP700N and WF-1000X, were the trailblazers, but Apple's AirPods Pro have taken noise-canceling earbuds mainstream. To that end, we've rounded up the best true wireless earbuds with active noise cancellation, all of which I've personally used. As more competitors keep coming after Apple, we'll see many more models hit the market, and we'll update this list accordingly.
Looking for ANC headphones in all styles, including on-ear headphones or over-ear headphones? Check out the best noise-canceling headphones of 2021. Keep reading here to find out which models I consider to be the best noise-canceling wireless earbuds.
As good as it gets
Sony WF-1000XM4David Carnoy/CNET
No earbuds are perfect, of course, and not everybody will love the fit of the Sony WF-1000XM4 buds or be able to afford their high price ($280). But if you're looking for great-sounding earbuds with great noise canceling, solid voice-calling capabilities and good battery life, these buds check all the boxes.
Bose's QuietComfort Earbuds also have top-notch noise canceling and sound quality, but the Sony is right there with the Bose for noise canceling (and some might say it's a touch better in that department), but the Sony offers slightly better sound quality and also has a more compact design, particularly for the case (though the Sony buds certainly aren't small). Read our Sony WF-1000XM4 review.
Read our Sony WF-1000XM4 review.
$278 at Amazon $279 at Target $278 at Crutchfield
Top-notch noise canceling
Bose QuietComfort EarbudsDavid Carnoy/CNET ED I T O R S ’ C H O I C E Dec 2020
In many ways, Bose's QuietComfort Earbuds are excellent true wireless earbuds, particularly when it comes to their sound and noise canceling, which was the best out there right now in a set of earbuds until the Sony WF-1000XM4 came along (some have declared the Sony the winner but it's very close). Performance-wise, they clearly have a leg up on Apple's best-selling AirPods Pro true wireless noise-canceling buds and a lot of people like how Bose's StayHear tips lock the buds in their ears.
The AirPods Pro's smaller design, somewhat more comfortable fit and superior voice-calling capabilities make it hard to declare the Bose the straight-up champ in that battle. Ultimately, it depends on what your priorities are.
Read our Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review.
$279 at Lenovo $279 at Bose $279 at Amazon
Best designed noise-canceling earbuds
Apple AirPods ProSarah Tew/CNET ED I T O R S ’ C H O I C E Nov 2019
Even if they don't sound quite as magical as you'd hope a $249 model would, the Apple AirPods Pro still manages to be a great pair of true wireless earphones with noise cancellation. That's largely due to their winning design and fit, improved bass performance and effective noise canceling -- and now these true wireless headphones have been updated with spatial audio, a new virtual-sound mode for watching movies and TV shows (only works with iPhones and iPads running iOS 14).
They're an excellent choice when you want to make a call or listen to music during your workout. Yeah, they're expensive at $250, but the good news is they tend to sell in the $200 to $220 range.
Read our Apple AirPods Pro review.
$190 at Amazon $249 at Apple $190 at Best Buy
Excellent sound quality
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2David Carnoy/CNET ED I T O R S ’ C H O I C E Mar 2020
The second-gen Momentum True Wireless 2 pair of headphones, available now, aren't cheap at $300, but they're better all around than the originals. These wireless headphones come with a slightly smaller, more comfortable design, active noise cancellation rivaling that of the AirPods Pro, improved battery life (up to seven hours versus the originals' four) and better noise reduction and ambient noise blocking during calls. And if you don't like them in black, a white version is available as well. Most importantly, though, the Momentum True Wireless 2 have the same stellar sound -- for true wireless earbuds, anyway -- clearly superior in sound quality to the AirPods Pro. That makes them arguably the best true wireless earbuds on the market today and earns them a CNET Editors' Choice Award.
These use Bluetooth 5.1 with support for the codecs AAC and aptX, for devices that support the latter, like Samsung's Galaxy phones.
Read our Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 review.
$230 at Amazon
Bowers & Wilkins PI7David Carnoy/CNET
After a long wait, Bowers & Wilkins has finally released a couple of sets of true wireless earbuds -- the PI7 ($400) and PI5 ($250) -- both of which are excellent and feature active noise canceling along with a transparency mode. The flagship PI7 has a different driver design and sounds slightly more detailed and refined with a little more bass energy. They both sound excellent, but if you're looking for the absolute best sounding set of earbuds, the PI7 buds are arguably just that, besting the Sony WF-1000XM4 by a small margin (they also sound slightly better than the excellent Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless II and Master & Dynamic MW08).
While the PI7's noise canceling is quite decent, the Sony's noise canceling is superior. I also thought the Sony did better with voice calling (it has better noise reduction so people can hear you better in a noisier environments) and it has better battery life.
The PI7's case does transform into a Bluetooth transceiver, so you can plug it into your laptop for aptX streaming or an in-flight entertainment system. That's a nice bonus feature (the PI5 doesn't have it), but the Sony is the overall better value. However, if sound quality is your priority, the PI7 are worth considering if you can afford them. Hopefully they come down in price over time.
The PI5 buds also sound excellent and are a touch lighter than the PI7. At $250, the PI5 competes directly with the $280 Sony 1000XM4. As with all in-ear headphones, you have to try them to see how they fit your ears. Bowers & Wilkins' buds may fit your ears better than Sony's and vice versa. Read our Bowers & Wilkins PI7 first take.
Note that despite their high price there's limited stock on the PI7 and the black version is sold out at a lot of retailers.$400 at Best Buy
Edifier TWS 330NBDavid Carnoy/CNET
Edifier has a few different new true-wireless earbuds and most, including the TWS 330NB, are very good values. While the TWS 330NB buds are missing a sensor that automatically pauses your music when you take them out of your ears, they feature excellent sound quality for the money, decent active noise canceling with a transparency mode, and solid voice calling (they have three microphones in each bud for noise canceling and noise reduction during calls).
They fit my ears well -- they're essentially AirPods Pro clones -- and while the touch controls are a little limited, they are programmable using the Edifier Connect app for iOS and Android; you can also set the level of touch sensitivity. They have an IP54 rating, which means they're splash- and dust-proof, and battery life is rated at four hours with noise canceling on and five hours with it off (at moderate volume levels). That's only OK, but you do get an additional two charges in the charging case.
Available in black or white, the TWS 330NB buds currently cost $46, but we've seen instant discount coupons on Amazon that bring their price closer to $40.$60 at Amazon
Apple alternative for half the price
1More ComfoBuds ProDavid Carnoy/CNET
If you get a tight seal (three different sized ear tips are included), 1More's ComfoBuds Pro not only sounds good but also performs well as a headset for making calls, with three microphones in each earbud. There's a touch of presence boost in the treble and the bass packs good punch, which gives these a dynamic sound profile (they're not laid-back) and they play loud for those looking for that.
You can toggle between two levels of noise cancellation (as well as "off") using the touch controls -- and there's a pass-through transparency mode and a wind noise-reduction mode. You can also toggle through all of those modes using the companion app for iOS and Android. Battery life is rated at six hours with noise canceling on and eight with it off. The earbuds are IPX4 rated for water-resistance, which means they're splash-proof, the same as the AirPods Pro.
In short, if you don't want to spend $200 or so on the AirPods Pro, the 1More ComfoBuds Pro is a good budget alternative. Note that 1More also makes an open version of the ComfoBuds, which is similar to the standard AirPods and costs around $50. This Pro version is better.$80 at Amazon
Anker's AirPods Pro alternative
Anker Soundcore Liberty Air Pro 2David Carnoy/CNET
Anker's Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro ($130), the company's first earbuds to feature active noise canceling, are a mostly excellent set of true-wireless earbuds that measure up pretty well against Apple's AirPods Pro for significantly less money. Like the AirPods Pro, they have an IPX4 water-resistance rating, meaning they're splash-proof.
While I had an issue with the included ear tips and had to use some other tips (it's crucial to get a tight seal or both noise canceling and sound quality will suffer), they should fit most people comfortably. Sound quality is better than Anker's earlier Liberty Air 2 and the noise canceling is effective. These also work well as a headset for making calls and are available in multiple color options. Read our Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro review.$100 at Amazon
Lightweight and compact
Beats Studio BudsDavid Carnoy/CNET
The Beats Studio Buds look a lot like the rumored stemless AirPods we've been waiting for. Geared toward both iOS and Android users, they are missing a few key features on the Apple side of things (there's no H1 or W1 chip), but they're small, lightweight buds that are comfortable to wear and offer very good sound. While their noise canceling isn't as good as the AirPods Pro's they do have a transparency mode and they're decent for making calls. Ultimately, their fit and sound quality are their strongest selling points -- and they are about $50 cheaper than the AirPods Pro. Read our Beats Studio Buds review.$130 at Amazon
Premium noise canceling with unique look
Master & Dynamic MW08David Carnoy/CNET
Master & Dynamic's earlier MW07 and MW07 Plus delivered top-notch sound for true wireless, but they were a little lacking in the features department and weren't so great for making calls. The new-for-2021 MW08 offers some significant improvements, including the addition of solid noise cancellation and call quality, that makes it one of the top models for 2021. Alas, it's expensive at $299.
Battery life has improved a bit (up to around 12 hours of battery life at 50% volume versus 10 hours for the MW07 Plus), and the earbuds are equipped with Bluetooth 5.2, active noise cancellation with three microphones on each earbud (noise reduction during calls isn't up to the level of the AirPods Pro but overall call quality has improved). The noise-canceling on the MW07 Plus was pretty weak; the MW08's is much more effective.
You can opt for two levels of noise cancellation in the new M&D Connect app for iOS and Android, as well as two levels of transparency that lets you hear the outside world. The app currently has no way to tweak the sound profile ('m OK with that because the sound profile is just fine for my tastes) and the earbuds have a physical button on each bud to control playback, not touch controls.
The buds may not fit everyone's ear equally well, but they certainly have a distinct look, as well as excellent sound and a great listening experience if you can get a tight seal (I was able to get a secure fit with the largest tip). They deliver more of an audiophile sound profile, with smooth, well-balanced sound and well-defined bass. This model has new 11mm drivers, which add a bit of punch to the bass and a touch better clarity. The MW08 works well with all genres of music.
Available in a variety of color options for $300, like their predecessors, the MW08 includes a swanky stainless-steel charging case (it charges via USB-C) that's compact but carries more weight than your typical buds cases. I prefer the matte finishes of the cases that come with the black and blue versions, and you also get a secondary pouch for safekeeping (yes, the charging case can get scratched up if you leave it in a bag).
These truly wireless earbuds now support both the aptX and AAC audio codecs and have an extended range of more than 20 meters, according to Master & Dynamic.$299 at Master & Dynamic
Impressive for $100
TCL Moveaudio S600David Carnoy/CNET
TCL is best known for its high-quality, high-value Roku-powered TVs, but it's moved into the headphones arena in the last few years. I wasn't too impressed with its earlier models, but its latest Moveaudio S600 delivers excellent sound and good active noise canceling along with decent battery life (up to 6.2 hours with noise canceling on and eight hours with it off, with three extra charges from the charging case). I found that headset performance for voice calls is decent, but not quite up to the level of the AirPods Pro. The charging case does offer wireless charging.
These are slightly more geared toward Android users -- TCL makes budget Android phones, after all -- and feature Google Fast Pair. That said, they work fine with iPhones and TCL's companion app is available for iOS and Android (you can customize the sound and touch controls in the app). The earbuds support the AAC audio codec, but not aptX.
These automatically pause your music when you pull the earbuds out of your ears and they're IP54 splash- and dust-proof. The stems are a little long, but the earbuds fit me comfortably and I got a tight seal using the largest ear tips. The S600 is available in three color options.$100 at Amazon
Impressive for around $60
EarFun Free ProDavid Carnoy/CNET
The EarFun Free Pro buds offer strong features and sound for a modest price. They have active noise cancellation with a transparency mode, wireless charging and Bluetooth 5.2. Rated for seven hours of battery life without the noise-canceling function or about six with it activated, they're IPX5 water-resistant, which means they can withstand a sustained spray of water.
They sound very good for the money, with relatively clean, balanced sound and bass that has some kick to it -- they're pretty open-sounding. Lightweight and comfortable to wear, they have little fins that help keep them securely in your ears, and they're fairly discreet-looking.
Don't expect them to cancel noise as well as the AirPods Pro, but they do provide some decent muffling. It's worth noting that you can use either the left or right earbud independently and there's a low-latency mode for video watching (and presumably gaming). Call quality was decent, too: Callers said they heard some background noise but it wasn't intrusive and they could hear my voice well. The touch controls were responsive.
If you're choosing between the EarFun Free Pro and the Mpow X3 (below), it comes down to the style of the earbuds. The X3 earbuds have a stick-style design, while these don't.$48 at Amazon
Best Samsung-centric noise-canceling earbuds
Samsung Galaxy Buds ProSamsung
The Galaxy Buds Pro -- Samsung's long-awaited active noise-canceling earbuds -- have arrived with upgraded sound and high expectations to live up to for $200. (Yes, the Buds Live also have noise canceling, but it's pretty modest.) I've been mostly impressed, particularly with the sound quality and call quality, and there are some nice bonus features, including an improved ambient noise mode with voice detection. There's also a virtual surround feature that currently only works with the new Galaxy S21 models but will slowly trickle out to other Galaxy devices. The noise canceling is also effective if you get a tight seal from the included ear tips. That said, just how good you think they are will ultimately depend on how well they fit your ears. Read our Galaxy Buds Pro review.$170 at Amazon
Anker Soundcore Life P3David Carnoy/CNET
Anker's Soundcore Life P2 buds have been popular budget earphones. The new-for-2021 Life P3 has been upgraded with active noise canceling and is essentially a more affordable version of the Liberty Air 2 Pro ($130 list). The Life P3 is missing wireless charging and a wear-detection sensor that automatically pauses your music when you take the earbuds out of your ears. That said, these earbuds sound quite decent (they have a bass-boost mode) and are also good for making calls. A companion app allows you to tweak the sound a bit, but I mainly stuck with the default sound profile.
Battery life is rated at up to seven hours at moderate volume levels. These offer IPX5 water-resistance, which means they can withstand a sustained spray of water and are splash-proof.
Like with the Liberty Air 2 Pro, I had a little trouble getting a tight seal with the included tips (it should only affect a small percentage of users), so I used my own. To get optimal sound and noise-canceling performance, it's crucial to get a good seal. There's also a transparency mode that lets ambient sound in, which works fine but isn't on par with the AirPods Pro's excellent transparency mode.
Available in multiple color options, the Life P3 carries a list price of $80, but I do expect to see some discounts that bring them closer to $60, which would put it in bargain territory. The Liberty Air 2 Pro sporadically sells for $100, or $30 off its list price, by comparison.$80 at Amazon
Solid for less than $50
TaoTronics SoundLiberty P10David Carnoy/CNET
TaoTronics' SoundLiberty P10 is another AirPods Pro knock-off, but it's one of the better ones out there for the money, with good sound and decent headset performance for making calls. The noise canceling isn't up to the level of the AIrPods Pro, but it's reasonably effective and there's also an ambient mode that lets sound in (the equivalent of the AirPods Pro's transparency mode, just not quite as natural sounding) and an anti-wind mode.
I've tried many TaoTronics headphones over the years and these may be the company's best earbuds yet. While they're not fancy, they fit my ears well, their case is compact and the instructions clearly spell out how to use the touch controls. They're equipped with Bluetooth 5.2 and are fully waterproof with an IPX8 rating. Battery life is rated at six and a half hours with noise canceling on and volume at 50%.$65 at Walmart
Jabra's flagship earbuds
Jabra Elite 85tDavid Carnoy/CNET
Jabra describes the Elite 85t as "semiopen" earbuds, meaning you don't have to jam the tips all the way into your ear canal. Rather, the new, more oval-shaped tips nestle in your ear for a more comfortable fit -- according to Jabra, anyway. A touch of sound will leak in, however, because you're not creating a supertight seal. Engineered with Qualcomm technology, Jabra calls the Elite 85t's noise-canceling Advanced ANC, which is designed for earbuds that don't have true noise-isolating designs.
Personally, I didn't find the 85t earbuds any more comfortable than the 75t. They didn't stay in my ears quite as securely, though they did stay in. While the 85t buds are bigger -- and so is their charging case -- they definitely seem like siblings in terms of design. They do sound richer than the 75t, with more bass, and their voice-calling capabilities are also very good. They do feature multipoint Bluetooth pairing so you can take a call on your smartphone while being connected to your computer.
Available in multiple color options, they're splash-proof like the AirPods Pro (with an IPX4 water resistance rating) and list for $230, but we've seen them sporadically discounted to $180.
Read our Jabra Elite 85t review.
$227 at Amazon $230 at Best Buy $270 at Walmart
Earbuds newly upgraded with noise canceling
Jabra Elite 75tED I T O R S ’ C H O I C E Dec 2020
While the Elite 75t earbuds have been out for a while, they're still one of the best pairs of true wireless earbuds out there, and Jabra recently added noise canceling via a firmware upgrade. Earlier firmware updates improved voice-calling performance.
The Elite 75t isn't quite as comfortable to wear as the AirPods Pro, but they do sound better, with clearer overall sound and better bass audio quality definition, so long as you get a tight seal.
The slightly more rugged Elite Active 75t model is also available for about $20 more, but with the new Elite 85t earbuds' arrival we are seeing some sales on the Elite 75t.
Read our Jabra Elite 75t review.
$150 at Lenovo $129 at Amazon $150 at Best Buy
Blast from the past
Technics EAH-AZ70WDavid Carnoy/CNET
I can't remember the last time I reviewed a Technics product -- it's been that many years -- but the venerable audio brand, which Panasonic brought out of retirement in 2014, appears on the company's line-topping noise-canceling earbuds. The Technics EAH-AZ70W earbuds' list price of $250 puts them squarely up against Apple's AirPods Pro, Sony's WF-1000XM4 and Sennheiser's Momentum True Wireless 2, but they're now down to less than $175, which makes them more attractive. While they're a little large, they stack up well against that stiff competition, with impressive sound and noise cancellation.
Read our Technics EAH-AZ70W review.
$190 at Amazon $149 at Adorama
EarFun Air ProDavid Carnoy/CNET
I had Edifier's TWS NB2 ($100) on this list and then the very similar-looking EarFun Air Pro earbuds came along. No, they're not exactly the same as the TWS NB2 earbuds, which have a companion app, a "low-latency" gaming mode and a nicer textured finish on its case. But they're very close and the EarFun Air Pro model costs a good deal less when you factor in extra discounts.
As I had previously said about the Edifier, the EarFun Air earbuds distinguish themselves with a comfortable fit, decent noise cancellation (though not great) and nicely balanced sound with good clarity and well-defined bass. They're smooth-sounding earbuds.
Voice calling is also above average -- noise reduction outdoors was decent and callers said they had no trouble hearing me (there's a light sidetone feature that allows you to hear your voice in the buds as you talk). Battery life is rated at up to seven hours with noise canceling on and these have a IPX5 rating, which means they're splash-proof and are fine for working out (I ran with them). For comparison, the Edifier buds are listed as having an IPX54 rating.$80 at Amazon CNET Mobile
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