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Because of size and power constraints, active noise cancellation has traditionally been available on over and on-ear headphones. The feature, which uses microphones to filter out unwanted sound from the outside world before it hits your ears, is now available on earbuds.
Earbuds also offer passive noise cancellation by creating an airtight seal around the inside of your ear. Taken together, the passive and active noise cancellation features of Bluetooth earbuds stack up well against over-ear noise-cancelling headphones.
If you want to tune out the sound of a bus or train on your commute, or enjoy your music while a roommate is playing something through a Bluetooth speaker, active noise cancelling earbuds are the smallest, lightest solution.
What Are the Best Noise-Cancelling Earbuds?
There are many factors to consider when choosing the best noise-cancelling earbuds for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
Bluetooth: All of the active noise cancellation earbuds we’re recommending support at least Bluetooth 5.0, one of the latest versions of the wireless standard that’s a lot more power-efficient.
Battery Life: Active noise cancellation is an energy hungry feature, but our recommendations last at least four hours per charge, and can be recharged using an included battery case.
Style: Earbuds come in a few different styles, but the ones in this guide are totally wireless (no cable at all).
1. Apple AirPods Pro
Apple’s AirPods Pro are among the most popular active noise-cancelling earbuds thanks to a mix of audio quality, ANC performance, and battery life.
The totally wireless earbuds support Bluetooth 5.0, and get about 4.5 hours of playtime per charge. You can recharge the AirPods Pro by returning them to their charging case. You can get up to 24 hours of music playback between the initial charge and a fully charged case. I’ve used the AirPods Pro as my active noise-cancelling earbuds for several months, and they’ve performed really well.
The active noise cancellation is good enough to block out all of the sound on a New York City subway commute when my music is at a reasonable volume. With music off, the earbuds’ ANC greatly reduces the sound of people speaking around me. Similarly, I’ve found Apple’s battery claims to be accurate; I’ve never had the AirPods Pro run out of power suddenly or unexpectedly.
I’ve tried a lot of earbuds, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how good the AirPods Pro sound. The balance of bass, midrange, and treble is very good. I’ve never noticed any unwanted distortion or other audio glitches while listening.
2. Edifier TWS NB2
Edifier’s TWS NB2s are the first pair of budget-friendly active noise cancelling earbuds with no major downsides.
The $75 earbuds (Amazon is offering a $10 coupon right now, bringing them down to $65) offer a whopping seven hours of music playback per charge with active noise cancellation turned on. That figure jumps to around nine hours when noise cancelling is turned off. In our testing, the earbuds live up to this lofty battery claim.
The NB2s sound pretty good overall, with solid bass performance and treble that never gets overpowering. There’s a little less clarity when compared to audiophile earbuds, but nothing comes close in this price range.
Edifier made sure the TWS NB2 had all the latest smart features, like a touch-sensitive surface on each bud, which lets you play and pause your music with just a tap. The earbuds can also detect when you take them out of your ears, and will momentarily pause your music. These little touches add up.
Taken as a whole, Edifier’s TWS NB2s are a great-sounding, long-lasting pair of active noise cancelling headphones.
3. JBL Live Free 2
JBL’s newest earbuds feature some of the best adaptive noise-cancellation we’ve ever tried. I could barely hear the conversations happening around me at the office, and even NYC’s loud traffic noises were practically muted.
JBL’s Live Free 2s offer about 35 hours of playback time — although this will vary depending on if you’re using Ambient Aware or ANC settings. Download the JBL Headphones app to easily customize your noise-cancellation settings or the amount of Ambient Aware you need. You’ll even be able to customize EQ settings on the app to your liking as well as do a fit test to make sure you’re wearing the right ear tips.
That said, the sound out of the box itself is pretty good. The bass was just heavy enough, and the mids and highs shone through equally well. We highly recommend these earbuds if you prefer bass-heavy sound though, as you can easily adjust settings in the JBL app to achieve that booming club-like bass.
These noise-canceling earbuds also have IPX5 water resistance. This means they can handle the occasional splash during your daily run. There is voice assistant compatibility too, with both Alexa and Google, allowing you to control your music hands-free.
If bass-heavy sound and a secure fit matter to you, you can’t do much better than the JBL Live Free 2.
Note: if you prefer a stem design with longer battery life, choose the JBL Live Pro 2 for the same price.
4. Bowers & Wilkins PI7
Bowers & Wilkins PI7s are the first pair of noise-cancelling earbuds we feel comfortable recommending to audiophiles.
The company doesn’t give battery life estimations, but in our experience, the PI7s can last several days thanks to their battery case. We generally plugged the case once or twice a week. You can also rest the case on a wireless charging pad to fill it up.
The PI7s were designed by the same engineers who developed Bowers & Wilkins 800-series loudspeakers, and their expertise shows. The PI7s are pure ear candy. We were able to hear our music in stunning clarity. We’d expect this level of performance from over-ear headphones, but the PI7s have re-calibrated our expectations for earbuds. If you love music, but don’t like the bulky feeling of full-sized headphones, this is a great compromise.
Bowers & Wilkins outfitted the PI7s with six microphones, which do a great job cancelling noise. We were able to walk around outside without cranking the volume up to full blast. The earbuds will adjust their level of noise cancellation based on your environment, so you don’t have to manage settings on your own.
If you want a no-compromise pair of noise-cancelling earbuds, Bowers & Wilkins’ PI7s deliver.