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The best noise-canceling earbuds for deep work and quiet studying

The best noise-canceling earbuds use active noise cancellation (ANC) to eliminate unnecessary background noise, making them the perfect work or studying companion.
Written by Christina Darby, Associate Editor on
Reviewed by Nina Raemont

We could all use a more quiet and concentrated work or studying environment. If you struggle to stay focused in noisier spaces, a pair of active noise cancellation earbuds could be your back-to-school season best friend. 

Active noise cancellation (ANC) is a highly coveted feature in the earbud market right now. With the help of tiny microphones on the earbuds' exterior, ANC earbuds actively listen to cancel out incoming sound waves, preserving quiet and amplifying in-ear sound. But, no matter how strong a pair's noise-canceling powers are, it's important they don't have connectivity problems or major sound leakage issues. I can't be the only person who has accidentally DJed for the whole office... right? 

Also: The top noise-canceling headphones

If you're looking for earbuds that prioritize both connectivity and noise cancellation, I've rounded up a list of my favorites below with my top pick being the Bose QuietComfort Noise Canceling Earbuds II. I've put these earbuds to the test in some of the most hectic environments, and these top-notch buds are a great place to start.

The best noise-canceling earbuds of 2023

Pros & Cons
  • Bluetooth 5.1 capabilities
  • Best ANC
  • Secure fit in the ear with a winged design
  • Battery life isn't the best
  • Need the Bose Music app to change settings
  • Bulky case and earbud design
More Details

Bose QuietComfort Noise-Canceling Earbuds II specs: Battery life: Six hours | Waterproof rating: IPX4 | Earbud weight: 9 g each | Wireless charging: No

When it comes to listening to music and podcasts, quality matters. These Bose QuietComfort noise-canceling earbuds create a customized experience for each listener, optimizing their audio experience with advanced features.

Bose took an already impressive QuietComfort pair of earbuds and made them even better. These noise-canceling earbuds offer three modes -- quiet mode, aware mode, and no noise cancellation -- that can be switched between with the touch of a button on the earpiece. The noise-canceling capabilities are assisted by CustomTune technology, which tailors noise-cancellation performance to your ear.

When I tested the buds back in October, I went so far to say that the buds "married comfort and quality while establishing a new benchmark for active noise cancellation." And even after testing newer ANC buds on the market, I'm sticking to my statement. These remain the ANC buds to beat. 

My only qualms with the Bose QuietComfort II is the bulky form factor from both the buds and charging case, and of course, the $299 price tag. But these earbuds do embody the saying "all good things come with a price," as you're getting ANC so good it's borderline disorienting. It's also not unusual to see these earbuds frequently on sale, so keep an eye out at Best Buy, Amazon, and Walmart to snag these at a lower price. 

Review: Step aside, AirPods. There's a new ANC champion in town

Pros & Cons
  • On sale often
  • Sound quality is unmatched across competition
  • Excellent bass
  • Earbud size is slightly large
  • No multipoint Bluetooth pairing
More Details

Sony WF-1000XM4 features: Battery life: Eight hours | Waterproof rating: IPX4 | Earbud weight: 7.3 g each | Wireless charging: Yes

Sound quality was Sony's top priority when designing these wireless earbuds, and it knocked it out of the park. With newly designed 6mm drivers, these earbuds reproduce dynamic sound. Additionally, the Integrated Processor V1 enhances sound quality and reduces background noise with the "industry's highest level of noise-canceling" tech. Sony didn't stop with a new processor and advanced drivers; its LDAC technology also allows high-resolution audio to play through the speakers.

ZDNET contributor Josh Slate, who contributed to this article, used the wireless earbuds mostly at work and school, which means there were plenty of times he needed to take them out to converse and stay tuned throughout the day. Naturally, he took advantage of the earbuds' talking detection ability, which automatically turn off noise cancellation so you can interact without awkwardly pausing to take out a bud. 

Speaking of talking with earbuds, even ZDNET's Matt Miller noticed that the buds enhanced call-quality and clarity when he reviewed the buds back in 2021. Callers even "said [he] sounded crystal clear, and could not tell" he was using a headset as his microphone. 

Review: Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds: Superb noise cancellation, clear calls, and long battery life

Pros & Cons
  • Adaptive transparency mode
  • Personalized spatial audio settings
  • Four sizes
  • Long battery life
  • Not ideal for non-iPhone users
  • Expensive
More Details

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) features: Battery life: Six hours | Waterproof rating: IPX4 | Earbud weight: 5.3 g each | Wireless charging: Yes

AirPods, now iconic, have come a long way from skeptics just thinking of them as a cordless version of Apple's classic wired headphones. But Apple's design of the AirPods Pro ushered in an impressive combination of excellent sound quality, comfort, and noise-canceling capabilities -- especially with the 2nd generation.

Thanks to Apple's new H2 chip, these AirPods significantly upgrade performance via high-band connectivity and a low-distortion audio driver with a custom amplifier. These combined technologies ensure clearer audio across a wider range of sound frequencies.

And for those that find constant noise cancellation a tad disorienting, these 2nd-generation AirPods Pro have a transparency mode that ZDNET contributor Jason Cipriani says he is "legitimately in love with," based on high-quality audio and surrounding sound listening. 

These new AirPods feature two times more noise cancellation with a 33% longer battery life. Plus, a new feature allows you to personalize spatial audio settings to create your ideal sound experience (using iOS 16). To top it all off (literally), you can quickly charge the 2nd-generation AirPods Pro case wirelessly via an Apple Watch charger.

Pros & Cons
  • Many color options
  • Apple H1 chips
  • Wingtips for added support in the ear
  • Case is a little large
  • Pricey when not on sale
  • Android users don't get some features iOS users get
More Details

Beats Fit Pro features: Battery life: Six hours | Waterproof rating: IPX4 | Earbud weight: 5.6 g | Wireless charging: No

For many, including myself, a solid pair of earbuds is needed for exercise. However, sweat and high intensity aren't the best formula for keeping earbuds in place. The Beats Fit Pro combat that conundrum with a unique winged-tip design. The buds also come with different sizes of silicone eartips to better fit varying ear sizes. 

TikTok user, @ellyawesometech had a good first impression of the buds, only calling out the case's abnormally large size, especially when compared to that of the AirPods Pro charging case. This is especially surprising because Beats are actually owned by Apple, and aside from aesthetic, actually integrate some of AirPods' staple features. 

Not only are they automatically recognized by your phone, but they also include Apple's Find My tracking feature, and enable easy switching from your iPhone to your Mac and other Apple devices. And with a dual-element diaphragm driver sitting in each earbud, you don't have to sacrifice performance for comfort. These noise-canceling earbuds also have spatial audio with dynamic head tracking, which elevate make music, movies, and TV shows along with your next workout. 

Also: Apple AirPods Pro vs Beats Studio Buds: Which is better?

In addition, these Beats have an Apple H1 chip, so iOS users can get most of the same features available on AirPods, including Siri voice assistance and audio sharing.

What are the best noise-canceling earbuds?

The best noise-canceling earbuds are the Bose QuietComfort wireless earbuds. Although the battery life and weight are nothing to gawk at, their incredible sound quality and active noise cancellation make them the best pair of wireless earbuds on the market. 

Noise-canceling earbudsPriceBattery lifeCombined earbud weightWireless charging
Bose QuietComfort II$249Six hours18 gNo
Sony WF-1000XM4$278Eight hours14.6 gYes
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation)$200Six hours10.6 gYes
Beats Fit Pro$159Six hours11.2 gNo

Which are the right noise-canceling earbuds for you?

With workplaces and schools becoming so embedded with technology, the use of wireless earbuds has evolved as well. What used to be the primary way to listen to music has become a tool for taking phone calls and canceling out external noise.

There's been an evolution of wireless earbuds, with noise cancellation becoming a key feature. If you're looking for the best noise-canceling earbuds, look at this table to figure out which pair is right for your lifestyle and budget needs. 

Choose these noise-canceling earbuds...If you want…
Bose QuietComfort IIThe best pair of noise-canceling earbuds overall. Despite their chunky case and old-school Bluetooth in-ear design, Bose takes noise cancellation to the next level. If you want to truly block out the world and feel like a DJ has taken over your eardrums, these buds are your best bet.
Sony WF-1000XM4The best noise-canceling earbuds with the best sound quality. Sony carries out its best-in-class surround sound even in a compact pair of earbuds. Plus, these pebble-like buds are comfortable and convenient for hands-free phone calls.
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation)The best noise-canceling earbuds for Apple devices. A pioneer in the wireless earbud market, the 2nd-generation AirPods Pro are a fantastic encore of the original with even more powerful ANC and a transparency mode that's actually... transparent.
Beats Fit ProThe best pair of noise-canceling earbuds for working out. The winged tips on these buds provide sweat-proof security from your first to last burpee or sprint. Equipped with an Apple H1 chip, you can also leverage "Hey Siri" and Audio Sharing features.

How did I choose these noise-canceling earbuds?

Narrowing the top noise-canceling wireless earbuds down to just five pairs is extremely tough. When deciding which earbuds are the best, I considered noise cancellation, sound quality, weight, and battery life.

Along with looking at the specs of each pair of wireless earbuds, I also considered my personal experience with the Apple AirPods Pro and the experience of other ZDNET team members when testing different earbuds. I love music, so I know how important it is to have a reliable pair of earbuds that deliver top-tier sound while drowning out intruding noises.  

Moreover, by diving into noise cancellation and sound quality, you can get incredible audio from the small speakers in your ears.

What are noise-canceling earbuds and how do they work?

Noise-canceling earbuds use active noise cancellation to reduce background noise and improve the overall sound quality of audio. ANC works by using mics to pick up external sounds, and then it generates sound waves that are the exact opposite wavelengths (or "negative" of the external sounds) to create a "cancellation" effect that reduces background noise. 

Some noise-canceling earbuds also use passive noise-cancellation, which is achieved through earbud design, such as using noise-isolating materials. These are particularly useful in environments with high levels of ambient noise, like airplanes or busy streets. They can also provide a better listening experience in general, reducing the need to use max volume to overcome background noise.

For more on how noise-canceling earbuds work, check out Christina Darby's ZDNET explainer

Do noise canceling earbuds protect your hearing?

No, ANC earbuds should not be confused with a hearing protection device, and experts agree.

"Nobody should ever think of them as, in my opinion, pure hearing protection. They're not," says ENT Dr. Joe Donzelli. And while noise-canceling earbuds can offer some passive protection like any sound wave boundary, Dr. Donzelli assures that they don't deter the culprit of hearing loss: Inner ear trauma.

"Everything is all about the sound you're delivering through the headphones, so you can get the greatest noise cancellation ever, but if you just turn up the volume and expose yourself to high decibels for long periods of time, you'll then create inner ear trauma," Donzelli explains.

However, since listening to music at high volume for long periods of time can damage hearing, a good pair of ANC headphones may have some secondary hearing protection benefits.

"If someone is using ANC earbuds to get rid of ambient noise, they may not have to turn the volume up as loud to hear the in-ear sound," Donzelli says.

Essentially, here's how ANC earbuds may help: You find your ANC earbuds effectively cancel out distracting noises. Before, you had to blast the volume just to hear accurately, but thanks to the magic of ANC, the sound is clear at half the volume. Now, you're listening at a lower volume for longer, and therefore likely have less exposure to damaging decibel levels, which means less inner ear trauma. 

But Donzelli reiterates that the "tighter you put something in your ear and the louder you make it, the more damage. So if somebody runs around with their [earbuds] turned up all the way with or without noise cancellation, it doesn't make a difference." 

Can noise-canceling earbuds damage your hearing?

According to ENT Dr. Joe Donzelli, noise-canceling earbuds alone don't damage your hearing. Long exposure to unhealthy decibel levels is what causes trauma to the tympanic membrane, and therefore can damage hearing. 

For reference, the hearing health foundation says that sounds at or below 70dB are considered safe for our hearing and sounds at or above 80-85 dB will damage hearing over time. If you're worried your listening levels are higher than this, you can easily monitor your earbuds' projected decibel levels via your smartphone settings

Are noise-canceling earbuds good for sleeping?

Noise-canceling headphones can be great for sleeping or falling asleep, especially for stomach and back sleepers. However, I'll warn that while the Bose QuietComfort II earbuds are sure to cancel any sleep-inhibiting sound, they're a bit chunky -- especially for side sleepers. Also, keep in mind that they're not the best option in the case of an emergency, since you're essentially tuned out to the world. 

For earbuds especially tailored for sleeping, check out our list of the top headphones for sleeping.  

Is noise-canceling bad for your ears?

In short, no. Noise cancellation is not bad for your ears. However, some people have experienced dizziness while using noise-canceling modes.

Are there alternative noise-canceling earbuds worth considering?

There are over 4,000 search results when you type in, "noise-canceling earbuds" into your Amazon search bar. However, Amazon isn't the only place to secure a new pair of earbuds. You can find them at Walmart, Best Buy, Target, and so many other places! 

Here are a few that didn't make the cut, including some true wireless earbuds, that are great alternatives if the options above don't sound like the best fit for you.

The beats studio buds in pink with purple lining.


Beats Studio Buds - A good noise-canceling alternative to Airpods

The Beats Studio Buds are a great pair of noise-canceling earbuds that come with three different sizes of soft tips to customize your listening experience. Although they come with Apple's chip, these earbuds are compatible with Samsung devices, too. 

View at Amazon
Sony Link Buds S


Sony LinkBuds S - A good noise-canceling alternative that can adjust to your environment

I haven't tried these earbuds yet, but I am dying to. They have an ergonomic, lightweight fit, and they're smart earbuds, so you can adjust settings for an optimal listening experience. 

View at Amazon

For more on earbuds and headphones, make sure to check out our list on the best earbuds you can buy right now, the best cheap wireless earbuds, starting at $36, and the best headphones you can buy right now.

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