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The 5 best noise-canceling earbuds: Shut out the world

What are the best noise-canceling earbuds? The Bose QuietComfort noise-canceling Earbuds are ZDNET's top choice. We narrowed down our list; we looked at the best sound quality, active noise cancellation, and price.
josh-slate
Written by Josh Slate on
Reviewed by Elyse Betters Picaro

Have you ever tried to listen to music on your phone and your earbuds wouldn't connect properly? Yep, that has happened to me, and the whole office got to hear what I was listening to that day. Finding earbuds that easily connect to your devices, stay connected with advanced Bluetooth technologies, and most importantly, produce quality sound is tough.

The market for noise-canceling earbuds is unique because compatibility is just as important as sound quality. To find the best noise-canceling earbuds on the market, ZDNET looked at various brands, prices, sound quality and obviously active noise cancellation capabilities.

I rounded up five of the best pairs you can buy. 

bose-quietcomfort-noise-canceling-earbuds
Amazon

Specs:

  • Battery life: 6 hours
  • Waterproof rating: IPX4
  • Earbud weight: 8.5g each
  • Wireless charging: Yes

When it comes to listening to music or podcasts, quality matters. These Bose QuietComfort noise-canceling earbuds provide incredible sound quality doubled with a comfortable fit.

Bose offers users a "high-fidelity experience," with automatic changes in EQ based on what you're listening to. Thanks to a built-in button on the left, you can go from noise-canceling to transparency with just two taps to the left earbud. Speaking of the design, the design of these earbuds are… interesting. But it's not about what they look like, it's about the sound they produce, and you won't be disappointed with how they perform.

You know the saying, "all good things come with a price?" Well, that couldn't be more evident here. These earbuds are currently running on sale for $199 on Amazon, Best Buy and Walmart, but its normal retail price is $279. Though this product has a hefty price tag, these earbuds often go on sale, so keep an eye out for the great deals online.

Pros:

  • Bluetooth 5.1 capabilities
  • Best active noise-canceling
  • Secure fit in the ear with a winged design

Cons:

  • Battery life isn't the best
  • I need the Bose Music app to mess with a majority of settings
  • Very strange design
sony-wf-1000xm4
Amazon

Specs:

  • Battery life: 8 hours
  • Waterproof rating: IPX4
  • Earbud weight: 7.3g each
  • Wireless charging: Yes

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

Personally, I use my wireless earbuds most at work and school. That being said, there are plenty of times I need to take my headphones out to have conversations throughout the day. With these earbuds, they can detect when you are talking to enable clarity on the earbuds, eliminating the noise-canceling so you can talk with others without removing them from your ears.

Lastly, sound quality is just as important as comfortability in the ear when it comes to earbuds. This product has an ergonomic surface design that was created by Sony, so listeners don't have to deal with uncomfortable listening.

Pros:

  • It goes on sale often
  • Sound quality is unmatched across competition
  • Excellent bass

Cons:

  • The earbud is a little large
  • No multipoint Bluetooth pairing
airpod-pros
Amazon

Specs:

  • Battery life: 4.5 hours
  • Waterproof rating: IPX4
  • Earbud weight: 5.4g each
  • Wireless charging: Yes

When Apple developed its famous AirPods, big audio companies knew there was going to be a new market with major competition. When the first pair of AirPods dropped, they were essentially just the normal pair of wired earbuds in a wireless form. But Apple's design of the AirPod Pros ushered in an impressive combination of excellent sound quality, comfortability, and noise-canceling capabilities.

As someone who uses these everyday, I love them. I have owned many Apple products -- iPhone, iPad, Mac; you name it. But these AirPods are my favorite Apple purchase I have ever made.

With an iPhone, it is so easy to make adjustments to the settings, see the battery levels, and adjust spatial audio settings. These earbuds see discounts quite frequently, and right now, you can get a pair for $180 on Amazon, Target, or Best Buy.

Pros:

  • Not overly expensive
  • The ear tip test in Settings helps you find the silicone tip that fits best in-ear
  • Connect two pairs of AirPods to one iPhone to share your good music with others

Cons:

  • Not the greatest for non-iPhone users
  • Battery life is the worst of those included in the list
1296x729-11
Amazon

Specs:

  • Battery life: 6 hours
  • Waterproof rating: IPX4
  • Earbud weight: 5.6g
  • Wireless charging: No

Many people, including myself, love to listen to music while they get their daily exercise in. With the unique design of these Beats Fit Pro earbuds, you no longer have to worry about you having to halt your workout to pick up a fallen earbud. With wingtips, the product is comfortably secured in your ear.

But you aren't sacrificing comfortability with performance; these noise-canceling earbuds have spatial audio capabilities with dynamic head tracking to make music, movies, and TV shows even more epic. A dual-element diaphragm driver sits inside the housing in the earbud to produce a clear sound. 

With an Apple H1 chip, iOS users are able to use most of the same features available on AirPods, but with Beats, including: "Hey Siri" and Audio Sharing. 

Pros:

  • Many color options
  • Apple H1 chips
  • Wingtips for added support in the ear

Cons:

  • The case is a little large
  • Pricy when not on sale
  • Android users don't get some features iOS users get
1296x729-12
Amazon

Specs:

  • Battery life: 8 hours
  • Waterproof rating: IPX4
  • Earbud weight: 5.5g
  • Wireless charging: No

You can't go wrong with JBL earbuds, especially when you can get a pair of noise-canceling earbuds for just $80. Although these headphones are the cheapest option, this product has most of the features that the other headphones have, including Active noise-canceling, ambient awareness, and IPX4 capabilities.

With the JBL Headphones app, you are able to customize your listening experience through fit, sound settings and silence bubble. Speaking of sound quality, with JBL Pure Bass sounds, 6mm drivers allow listeners to feel the beat in their ears. The quality of the sound isn't only great going into your ear but going out as well. These earbuds feature four microphones, so you will be able to take a call no matter where you are and be heard with clarity.

These earbuds see this $80 retail price quite frequently, but the price fluctuates. But if you need a pair of noise-canceling earbuds, these are for you.

Pros:

  • Cheap price
  • Very light
  • Incredible battery life

Cons:

  • No wireless charging
  • Hard to find the most comfortable way to wear

What are the best noise-canceling earbuds?

\The best noise-canceling earbuds are the Bose QuietComfort headphones. Although their battery life and weight are behind the competition, their incredible sound quality and active noise cancellation make them the best pair on the market. 

Noise-canceling earbuds

Price

Battery life

Combined Earbuds Weight

Bose QuietComfort

$279

6 hours

17g

Sony WF-1000XM4

$278

8 hours

14.6g

Apple AirPods Pros

$170

4.5 hours

10.8g

Beats Fit Pro

$160

6 hours

11.2g

JBL Tune 230NC TWS

$80

8 hours

11g

Which are the right noise-canceling earbuds for you?

With workplaces and schools becoming so embedded with technology, the uses of earbuds have evolved as well. What used to be the primary way to listen to music has become a tool to take phone calls, use in work meetings or cancel out external noise with music or podcasts.

Consider this table before making your decision on which noise-canceling earbuds are the right ones for you.

Choose these noise-canceling earbuds...

If you want…

Bose QuietComfort

The best overall pair of noise-canceling earbuds

Sony WF-1000XM4

Earbuds with the best sound quality

Apple AirPods Pros

The best Apple-compatible earbuds 

Beats Fit Pro

The best pair to wear while you workout

JBL Tune 230NC TWS

A cheap, but impressive pair of wireless earbuds

How did we choose these noise-canceling headphones?

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

Along with looking at the specs of each pair of earbuds, I also considered my personal experience with the Apple AirPods Pro. I love music, so I know how important it is to have a pair of earbuds that can play your favorite music the best. By diving into their noise-cancellation and sound quality, you can get incredible results from the small speakers in your ears.

Is it worth buying noise-canceling headphones?

Yes. In a packed workplace or a busy street while working out, sometimes the outside noise can drown out the earbud noise. With noise-canceling headphones, you can focus less on what's outside and more on what you are working on.

How do noise-canceling earbuds work?

Noise-canceling works by using microphones located on the outside of the product to pick up low-frequency noise and counteracts it by producing an exact opposite sound on the inside speaker.

Is noise-canceling bad for your ears?

Noise-canceling is not bad for your ears. Although, some people have noticed it results in dizziness while the noise-canceling is in action.

Are there alternative noise-canceling earbuds worth considering?

There are over 4,000 pairs of earbuds that appear when you type in, "noise-canceling earbuds" into your Amazon search bar. But, 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, but are still great alternatives if those didn't sound like the best fit for you.

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