Whether you’re taking a cross-country flight or spending your day working out of a cubicle, being able to block unwanted noise has a massive benefit on how your music sounds. Earbuds that fit your ears well can work wonders, but sometimes you need a little extra isolation which is where active noise cancelling (ANC) comes into play.
The problem is all of the best noise cancelling headphones aren’t only expensive, they’re also not the most portable or discreet. If you want to be able to stow your headphones away when you don’t need them, then earbuds are the way to go. Surprisingly, there aren’t many ANC earbuds available as they’re fairly hard to make (and even harder to get right).
So with that said, what are the best noise cancelling earbuds? Most people should just play it safe and go with the Bose QC20 earbuds.
For a more in-depth look at each product listed here as well as some other useful information, make sure to check out the full article over on our sister site SoundGuys.
The Bose QuietComfort 20 are a tried-and-true classic
Reasons to consider the Bose QC20:
- Bose has been the standard in active noise cancelling earbuds for years, and while Sony has their number in the over-ear department, the QC20s are still the leader when it comes to earbuds.
- The Bose wingtips do a great job at staying in your ears and are solid isolators.
- Sound quality isn’t amazing, but it’s more than good enough assuming you don’t plan to mix and master your next single with them.
- You’ll get roughly 16 hours of constant playback and ANC before needing to juice them back up.
For a pair of ‘buds that cancel noise and look good doing it, check out the B&O Beoplay H3 ANC
Reasons to consider the Beoplay H3 ANC:
- While other earbuds have difficulty making a discreet control module to handle the ANC processing, B&O nicely implements it into a small puck that won’t get in the way.
- These are also fairly lightweight at roughly 40 grams and come with Comply memory foam tips for better isolation.
- You’ll get about 20 hours of constant playback, which you can make longer if you need to by turning off the noise cancelling.
If you don’t mind neckbuds, the Plantronics Backbeat Go 410 are a solid choice
Reasons to consider the Plantronics Backbeat Go 410:
- To keep them from flying all over the place while you move around, the earbuds magnetically snap together to stay in place.
- They feature variable active noise cancelling, meaning that the strength changes depending on your surroundings.
- They have a solid sweat-resistant build so you can exercise with them if you want, plus they have Bluetooth 5.0 built-in.
Looking to ditch the wires? Then go with the Sony WF-SP700N
Reasons to consider the Sony WF-SP700N:
- These have an IPX4 sweat-resistant certification which means you can wear them while exercising as long as they’re not submerged.
- They are compatible with the AAC codec, which is good even if it doesn’t play as well with Android as it does with iOS.
- Thanks to the winged eartips, these do a great job at staying in your ears unlike some other true wireless earbuds.
If you don’t want to break the bank, the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC33iS is a worthy choice
Reasons to consider the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC33iS:
- The ATH-ANC33iS keeps a lot of money in your pocket while still offering some noise cancelling.
- The ANC isn’t great, but when paired with some isolating ear tips it does a solid job at blocking outside noise.
- If you’re not a fan of having another device to plug in at night, the ATH-ANC33iS earbuds run off of a single AAA battery instead.
What you should know
How does active noise cancelling work?
Noise cancelling is one of those things that when you try a good pair of headphones for the first time might seem like magic. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with spells and fancy wandwork. Like all things having to do with audio, it all comes down to physics. We have a full explainer on the topic so you can read all about it if you’re interested, but the gist of it is that it all comes down to waves. When you add two waves that are lined up perfectly, the amplitude of the wave doubles. This is called “in-phase”, and wouldn’t really be too helpful in trying to cancel noise. Instead, ANC headphones rely on something called destructive interference. This means that instead of the soundwaves being lined up perfectly so that the amplitude doubles, they are misaligned so that the peak of one wave lines up with the bottom of another. When this happens the two waves cancel each other out and you’re left with something like in the picture below.
Of course, this is a simplified 2D way of looking at it and sound waves are more complicated, but this is the general principle. What makes active noise cancelling earbuds so cool is that the good ones are able to use this method to cancel noise before they even reach your eardrum. They do this with tiny microphones that pick up outside sounds and then creating the opposite soundwave to cancel it out. As you can imagine, this is a difficult thing to do and even the best noise cancelling earbuds don’t completely cancel everything. Still, some are good enough that we have no problem recommending them.
When it comes to earbuds the most important thing you should worry about it how well they fit your ears. You could have the best active noise cancelling earbuds in the world, but if you have crappy eartips then it doesn’t matter as sound will still get in around the earbud. If the sound gets around the earbud and into your ear, then you have to deal with a phenomenon called auditory masking. This occurs when you hear two different sounds at similar frequencies. The human brain has evolved to focus on whichever noise is louder, as it is most likely to be a bigger threat. So instead of hearing that jazzy bassline in your favorite piece, you’re going to hear the roaring bus pass you buy.
This is why plenty of earbuds give a bit of extra emphasis to the lower notes in your music, making the bass seem louder than it should be. It isn’t because manufacturer’s don’t care about the sound quality of your music, it’s because they’re trying to offset the fact that it might get drowned out by the noises around you. So how do you solve this? With a good pair of ear tips.
Why you should trust SoundGuys
SoundGuys is the sibling site to Android Authority, and the team there have made it their goal to bring objective reviews and information to help educate people ebfore they make a purchase they may end up regretting. How you listen to music and enjoy sound is subjective, but the technical aspects of a pair of headphones or a Bluetooth speaker can be measured objectively. That’s where we come in. Make sure to check it out if you have any interest in all things audio!
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