Best Noise Cancelling Headphones - Audiostance

The 7 Best Noise Canceling Earbuds For All Occasions

In conjunction with smartphones, earbuds have elevated the outdoor listening experience to a point where it’s fairly standard to see people walking the streets listening to music. The Apple AirPods have become somewhat synonymous with music on the move, similar to what we saw with the Sony Walkman in the 1990s. Noise-canceling features have become extremely popular in newer earbuds, but which are worth buying?

Check out our buyer’s guide at the end of this article, where we help narrow down your choice based on your requirements.

Our Pick!

Apple Airpods Pro (2nd gen)

Apple AirPods Pro

The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) remains an excellent choice for an all-around noise-canceling earbud. They excel particularly well when paired with an iPhone and can utilize the H2 chip.

Quick Pick – Our Recommendations!

Apple Airpods Pro (2nd gen)
Our Top Pick
Apple AirPods Pro

The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) remains an excellent choice for an all-around noise-canceling earbud. They excel particularly well when paired with an iPhone and can utilize the H2 chip. Still, even across mobile platforms, it’s hard to fault the AirPods Pro second generation, which offers good comfort, great sound, and a lot of reliability.

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II
Best Sounding & For Exercise
Bose QuietComfort 2

The Bose QuietComfort 2 may not be the most balanced-sounding earbud on this list, but the overall sound presentation is great with lots of width and detail. The slightly accentuated bass adds some thump to the sound that many listeners will appreciate.

Jabra Elite 7 Active earbuds
Best Budget & For Outdoor Use
Jabra Elite 7 Active

The Jabra Elite 7 Active offers IP57 weather protection, making them resistant to dust and even limited submergence in water. This makes them a great choice for an outdoor, active lifestyle that requires protection from the elements.

The 7 Best Noise-Canceling Earbuds

1. Apple AirPods Pro (Gen 2)

Apple Airpods Pro (2nd gen)

In recent years, it’s become hard not to give Apple AirPods their dues. While they aren’t perfect, they have become synonymous with music and life in general in popular culture. But how do they stack up when paired against the competition? Is this a case of marketing hype, or is there something more to the Apple AirPods Pro?

Design & Comfort

There are not many areas where these noise-canceling earbuds fall behind, but the design is still not the most conducive to being seated stably. Even though Apple has provided many additional ear tip sizes, this doesn’t prevent the AirPods from falling out during rigorous movement. If you’re an everyday user, this may not be a problem, but for those looking for an ideal pair of noise-canceling earbuds for working out, this can be a problem.

In terms of actual comfort, the Apple AirPods Pro typically feels good across multiple types of ear shapes and isn’t likely to cause much ear discomfort during use, even for extended periods.

Sound Quality

Here’s where the Apple AirPods Pro really steps up to the plate and justifies their prevalence in modern culture. Gone are the days of metallic-sounding treble and distorted bass, as we used to so often find with earbuds. The AirPods Pro starkly contrasts that historical experience with a balanced sound signature and warm profile that comes across as natural and appealing.

The adaptive sound option also brings value into the mix. It can create a wider sounding experience that will be appreciated by those with enjoyment for a fuller, more bass-inclusive sound. On the topic of bass as a whole, the Apple AirPods 2 Pro performs very well in the low end with tuning that isn’t accentuated but focused on depth and accuracy. For instance, they’re a bit more subtle than the Bose QuietComfort II earbuds.

When it comes to midrange response, the Apple AirPods 2 Pro isn’t bad. They fall slightly behind the Bose with a little less distinction, especially towards the lower end of the frequency, where the clarity could be improved marginally. This type of tuning lends itself to some muddiness in certain songs.

The treble response is fairly accurate, and if anything, perhaps a little recessed, particularly towards the low and mid-treble range. This is where the Apple AirPods 2 Pro and the Bose diverge, with the Apple AirPods 2 sounding less bright but also protecting from the sibilance that the Bose tended to be subject to. If you’re sensitive to sibilance, this tuning may benefit you.

Noise Cancellation

While the Apple AirPods 2 Pro does well overall at noise isolation and can protect from high and low frequencies, they won’t dethrone the Bose. Both earbuds excel at reducing noise from similar frequencies, but the Bose is more efficient.

In its own right, however, the Apple AirPods 2 Pro still does an excellent job, which will still edge out most other noise-canceling earbuds on the market. But if you have incredibly high demands from your earbuds, with a lot of environmental noise to remove, Bose will be your best bet here.

Battery Performance & Charging

The Apple AirPods 2 Pro has excellent battery features that see a whopping four additional charges being provided by the charging case. While these noise-canceling earbuds have a bit less playtime per charge than the Bose, the availability of an additional charge means you actually get a few more hours of use out of the AirPods 2 Pro before you need to recharge the docking station. You can expect just shy of 6 hours of battery life from a single charge of the buds.

Why We Recommend It

The Apple AirPods 2 Pro is a popular pair of earbuds for a good reason. They tick all the boxes but also make particular sense if you own an iPhone, as adding the H2 chip brings additional audio enhancements that Android users won’t see. However, if you have incredibly high demands out of your ANC, the Bose will still offer you a better noise-canceling experience.


  • Overall impressive sound performance
  • Great battery life
  • Good noise isolation
  • H2 chip shows further performance improvement on iPhones


  • Stability isn’t great

2. Bose QuietComfort 2

The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II follows the remarkable success of the original QuietComfort earbud model. This second iteration improves on a number of features from the original earbuds but also slightly falls behind in other areas, depending on how you approach sound. One of the most obvious changes is the design, which moves away from a somewhat generic pill-styled design to a more nuanced shape. This change was made to provide additional comfort, somewhat of a weak point for the original QuietComfort Truly Wireless earbuds.

Design & Comfort

As touched on, the design of the Bose QuietComfort II Earbuds features a few new elements to it. These changes were made to improve some ear shapes’ initial comfort issues. The Bose QuietComfort II Earbuds come with three sizes of ear tips, as well as three variants of stability bands. These added accessories allow you to create the combination that best works with your ears, and they do it well. The nature of these changes also ensures that the Bose QuietComfort II can have more stability in your ear, reducing movement or displacement during exercise.

While we don’t see a mass of new features added to the Bose QuietComfort II, it retains all the original series’s essential features – such as volume control, voice assistant, call, and music control. 

The upgrade from Bluetooth 5.1 to 5.3 sees the overall range performance improve, as well as lower latency on most operating systems. While the 5.1 Bluetooth was still more than viable, we are always happy to see new products being launched with the latest Bluetooth connectivity available.

Sound Quality

When we look at the sound quality of these earbuds, this is where things become a little more subjective. The Bose QuietComfort II has a bass response that is more accentuated than the previous model, which was renowned for its mostly flat sound signature. The change in the sound signature in both the lows and highs may split some fans of this Bose series.

The original QuietComfort Truly Wireless earbuds will be preferential if you’re allergic to bass. However, if you like more accentuated low end and brighter treble, the QuietComfort II provides this with great tact. The bass is far from obnoxious or overtuned and is still well within what I’d consider a good sound signature. If you felt like the original earbuds from this series lacked the ‘oomph’ you were looking for, an upgrade may be on the cards.

The midrange is where these earbuds shine, with a balanced but full sound that leaves everything sounding warm and easy to listen to. This is at least true for most of the midrange, as we hear some dips and peaks in the upper midrange and treble range. While noteworthy, these imbalances are still well within the range of sound signature variance between some of the flagship models we see, and they still sound great. However, it is worth noting that those sensitive to sibilance may not appreciate these peaks, which can be equalized using the Bose Music app.

Noise Cancellation

Even though we see some subjectivity in the sound profile, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II are hard to fault regarding noise isolation. They offer some of the best noise-canceling capabilities we’ve seen.

What separates these noise-canceling earbuds from many others on the market is the ability to deal with noise across almost all frequencies effectively. Further on in this article, we discuss finding a noise-canceling earbud that masks the sounds you’re trying to avoid. Still, with these earbuds, regardless of the noises you’re looking to reduce – they are likely to be effective in blocking them.

Battery Performance & Charging

We’ve also seen improvements in the charging and battery life of the Bose QuietComfort II earbuds, which can now squeeze out three recharges from the case, which initially could only provide two. The charging time has been reduced by more than 30%, and you can now fully charge in around an hour. You’ll find that you typically get around 6 hours of battery life from a single charge or close to 25 hours of total listening time.

It’s hard to fault the battery and charge capabilities of the QuietComfort earbuds II, which are superb, even when compared with other flagship products.

Why We Recommend It

The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II is versatile and well-suited for most needs. They feature great comfort, which can be adapted to your ears, and also perform in a league of their own regarding noise cancelation. The slightly accentuated bass may not be for everyone, but I dare say many people will prefer it.


  • Excellent battery life
  • Extremely versatile
  • Good sound quality
  • Brilliant noise isolation


  • Quite expensive
  • Sound signature may not be everyone’s favorite

3. Samsung Galaxy Buds2 Pro

Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro earbuds

The Samsung Galaxy Buds series hasn’t provided me with the best experiences in the past. Last year, I reviewed the Galaxy Buds Live and found them to be a somewhat disappointing experience when compared to other earbuds on the market. However, the Galaxy Buds2 Pro is a vastly different earbud that performs better across the board when compared to the more affordable Buds Live.

Design & Comfort

The shape of the Galaxy Buds2 Pro design still closely resembles that of the first iteration of the Buds Pro. One area where these earbuds show their dominance over the Buds Live is in their comfort. They feel like they sit better in the ear, with less discomfort over time. In fact, the Buds2 Pro is comfortable not only when compared with cheaper models from the Galaxy range but also able to compete with AirPods Pro (2nd gen).

The controls on the Galaxy Buds2 Pro aren’t my personal favorite, but it’s hard to find faults in how Samsung has laid out its controls. They remain easy to use and quite intuitive.

While the build quality feels good, the waterproofing offered by these noise-canceling earbuds is a big plus for Samsung, as IPX4 is the most commonly found waterproofing for earbuds currently, and while IPX4 is decent in its own right, having the added protection of a full IPX7 rating means the Galaxy Buds2 Pro are better suited for longer periods of water exposure. You could even use these in the shower.

Sound Quality

When it comes to audio performance, the Galaxy Buds2 Pro has one of our favorite response signatures out of the earbuds we’ve come across. It’s very balanced but still breathes life into the listening experience, with a particularly impressive low-end response that is possibly the most natural of all earbuds on this list.

The midrange is somewhat similar, with a rich but accurate sound that lets instruments and vocals shine through, particularly towards the upper end. As frequency response charts show, the treble is a little more volatile, but not without merit. There are some peaked and recessed elements to the treble that, while not appealing to everyone, may be seen as a big positive to those particularly sensitive to piercing sibilance.

Noise Cancellation

Samsung has made marked improvements in the overall noise isolation found on the Buds2 Pro, even when compared with the previous iteration. Samsung has taken the fight to Apple with noise cancellation that spans across low and high frequencies to ensure versatile protection from external noise.

Battery Performance & Charging

Battery performance is where things go a little downhill for the Buds2 Pro. While Apple, Bose, and Google can offer a single charge that lasts for close to 6 hours, the Buds2 Pro falls short of this and typically provides around 5 hours of use on a single charge.

While the recharge time is still competitive at around an hour for a full charge, we are a little disappointed to see that the charging dock offers just over two full additional charges. The result here is that you’ll get around 17 hours of total use, which is substantially lower than the 25-30 hours we see from the aforementioned earbuds.

Why We Recommend It

The Galaxy Buds2 Pro is a bit of a mixed bag, but if you appreciate a flat sound signature, particularly in the lows and mids, and also want a rugged, waterproof solution, the IPX7 rating on the Buds2 Pro is something few flagship competitors can offer.


  • IPX7 water resistance
  • Very balanced sound profile
  • Easy-to-use controls
  • Very good noise isolation


  • Fairly low battery life

4. Jabra Elite 7 Active

Jabra Elite 7 Active earbuds

The Jabra Elite 7 Active is a bit of an enigma. While we are used to expecting big things from big brand names, Jabra isn’t exactly a household name. So how have they managed to become one of the most loved earbuds around? The Elite 7 Active gives us a glimpse into why these noise-canceling earbuds are so popular.

Design & Comfort

The Jabra Elite 7 Active has a fairly standard design & build, which is especially familiar to fans of the other Sony earbuds that have been brought to market over the years. When it comes to how they fit in the ear, the experience is going to somewhat depend on how they align with your own ear shape, but on the whole, they do very well with several ear tip pieces you can swap out for a better fit.

We love that the Elite 7 Active come with an IP57 rating. This is especially cool to see since we barely see dust protection provided to earbuds, but this can go a long way in ensuring the longevity of your earbuds. It is especially useful if you find yourself using them for walks or runs on the beach.

Sound Quality

The sound quality is perhaps the most surprising part of these earbuds. Despite their affordable price tag, they are able to keep up with every earbud on this list in terms of audio performance and, in many cases, are just simply better.

The bass has some slight accentuation, but in a way that is tasteful and very clean in its presentation. When one talks about a punchy bass, the Elite 7 Active has nailed it. The bass remains slightly elevated as one moves into the midrange frequency, but again just slightly so, with the mid and upper midrange sounding particularly balanced yet warm.

The treble presentation is also outstanding, with bright and warm sounds that come across as wide and enjoyable. There is a slight recess in the treble, but this will again serve well for those who tend to be sensitive to sibilance.

Overall, the sound quality on the Jabra Elite 7 Active has no excuse for being this good. This budget pair of earbuds perform like a leading flagship product.

Noise Cancellation

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows for the Jabra Elite 7, and the noise-cancellation is one area where although these earbuds still perform extremely well, they couldn’t keep up with some of the other products on this list.

The biggest challenge here is that the Elite 7 Active struggles to isolate low-end frequencies. This makes them less than ideal for public transportation where the low droning of engines may be present. But they still perform well in dampening nearby conversations.

Battery Performance & Charging

Jabra continues to impress when it comes to battery performance. A single charge can provide around 8 hours of battery life, while the charging station can provide around three additional charges. This brings it neck and neck with the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd gen) regarding total battery life.

The only downside here is a rather extended charging time compared to the AirPods Pro. The AirPods Pro can charge within an hour, while the Jabra typically takes closer to two hours for a full charge.

While the somewhat long charge time is unlikely to impact everyone, it is worth noting for frequent travelers who may be limited on time per location.

Why We Recommend It

We can recommend the Jabra Elite 7 Active to anyone looking for a great-sounding pair of noise-canceling earbuds on a budget. They are excellent value for money, and while the noise-cancelation may not be the best we’ve come across, the overall quality of this product is unbelievable for around $150.


  • Excellent value for money
  • Impressive sound quality
  • IP57 weatherproofing


  • Noise cancellation falls behind flagship competitors

5. Sony WF-1000XM4

Sony WF-1000xm4 noise canceling earbuds

It’s impossible to talk about noise cancellation without mentioning Sony. Their WH series of noise-canceling headphones, along with the WF ANC earbud range, has been adopted as a favorite by many consumers in recent years due to their overall high-quality build and impressive performance. 

The WF-1000XM4 is their flagship noise-canceling earbud, though we do expect to see the XM5 released later this year, given the recent release of the WH-1000XM5.

Design & Comfort

The Sony WF-1000XM4 features a design that doesn’t stray too far from conventional. They’re set fairly shallow in the ear canal, which has merits but can also create a less comfortable fit for particular ear shapes. While we wouldn’t go as far as to say they’re uncomfortable as a whole, it should be noted that if you find particular earbud types uncomfortable, there are more safe options out there. The 1000XM4 has three different sizes of ear tips, which allow you to customize the fit to achieve the best comfort possible. 

The fit, despite not being very deep, tends to lend itself to very reasonable stability, and most people will find that they can perform light exercise with the WF-1000XM4 not falling out. The Bose is still superior in this regard, but these earbuds are far from the worst we’ve seen regarding the looseness of the fit.

Sound Quality

When it comes to sound performance, the Sony WF-1000XM4 does well overall, with a balanced, accurate bass response. The midrange is also pleasant, particularly in the lower mids. However, there is a distinct drop-off from the upper midrange, which also spans the treble range.

This largely recessed upper-range signature means that these earbuds are not the brightest listening experience, with the highs sounding a little compressed and subdued. While this isn’t ideal, for most listeners, it won’t be a deal breaker. Thankfully the Sony Headphones Connect mobile app offers both graphic and preset EQ options that can help you dial in the sound that you are looking for.

Noise Cancellation

The noise cancellation of the Sony WF-1000XM4 is good but not the best out there. Similar to sound quality, it falls a bit behind some of the other models on this list. It does very well in isolated higher-pitched frequencies but doesn’t quite perform as well in the low-range isolation.

This particular type of isolation can still work well in office environments where you’re trying to eliminate chatter, but there are better options out there for those needing a pair of travel-focused earbuds.

Battery Performance & Charging

In terms of battery performance, the Sony WF-1000XM4 shines. You’ll easily get around 10 hours of use from a single charge, significantly more than most other alternatives. The charging dock can only perform an additional two charges, which means a total battery life of around 30 hours. But even with the lower amount of charging cycles from the dock, this number still edges out most other earbuds.

The charging time is a little longer than the Apple AirPods Pro, for example, but at around 75 minutes per charge, they are comparable in this regard to the Google Pixel Buds Pro.

Why We Recommend It

These noise-canceling earbuds are best suited for those who don’t mind spending some time EQing their sound to get it where they like. It performs well in most areas, though it’s hard not to bring attention to the somewhat poor treble response.


  • Excellent battery life
  • Good stability
  • Overall good sound quality


  • Moderate noise cancellation
  • Uneven mid & treble response
  • Controls could be better

6. Google Pixel Buds Pro

Google Pixel Buds Pro earbuds

It’s poetic that the next noise-canceling earbud on our list is the Google Pixel Buds Pro, which is often seen as the antithesis of Apple, with the battle of Android vs. iOS seemingly turning into a multigenerational debate. So, how does the Google Pixel Buds Pro compare?

Design & Comfort

The Google Pixel Buds Pro feels great out the gate for most ear shapes. However, they sit quite far into the ear and can cause some discomfort for certain individuals due to subsequent pressure. Despite the nature of the seating, the earbuds can fall out during even moderate movements, such as jogging or other forms of exercise.

The Galaxy Pixel Buds Pro offers three different ear tip sizes to help cater to different ear sizes, and while these are often enough to provide a stable fit, they still don’t guarantee the same stability as some other models. Again, this is only usually a problem for those who want an active lifestyle-focused earbud.

Sound Quality

These noise-canceling earbuds perform extremely well in the overall sound quality but with what is perhaps a bit of a niche sound signature. A noticeable emphasis on the bass and treble response makes these a good choice for those who like what is often referred to as an EDM/Hip-Hop sound profile, following a somewhat v-shaped sound signature.

The bass is beefy, the midrange is primarily balanced, albeit a little recessed in place, and the treble is bright. Perhaps too bright for some listeners, as a noticeable spike towards the mid-treble causes the emphasis on sibilance that we mentioned earlier.

If you’re looking for a balanced sound for critical listening, this isn’t the best option on the list. However, that’s not to say these don’t hold merit because they still perform very well, as long as you appreciate an elevated bass and don’t struggle with sibilance. It is worth noting, however, that the graphic EQ that the Google Pixel Buds app provides can help you tailor the sound profile to your preference. This can ultimately remove many of the issues of sharp treble.

Noise Cancellation

We weren’t expecting the Google Pixel Buds Pro to be quite as impressive as it was in terms of noise cancellation. They do very well at eliminating both low and high-frequency sounds and do so with similar efficacy as the Apple AirPods 2 Pro.

Because they do so well at a large range of frequencies, these noise-canceling earbuds are a great solution as a general pair of earbuds for those who find themselves looking to block out various noises depending on what they’re doing. We’re glad to see that Google was able to keep up in this regard, as both the Bose and Apple noise-canceling earbuds set quite a high benchmark for flagship noise-canceling earbuds.

Battery Performance & Charging

While the Google Pixel Buds Pro does a very good job of providing an extensive battery life on a single charge, the lack of charging cycles available from the dock means that the overall potential battery life still falls a little short of the AirPods Pro and QuietComfort Earbuds II. You’ll be able to get around seven and a half hours of battery life from a single charge, while the dock will provide you with around another 14 hours. 

While respectable in its own right and still competitive, this total does mean that it offers 20-30% less battery life than the aforementioned earbuds.

Charging time is also something where the Google Pixel Buds Pro is able to keep up but still falls slightly short of the competition, with around 75 to 80 minutes per full charge.

Why We Recommend It

The Google Pixel Buds Pro falls a touch shy of the Apple AirPods Pro 2 and the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 in most regards, but it’s worth keeping in mind that these earbuds are available for $50 and $100 cheaper, respectively. This makes it a very viable alternative for those who may look to save some money.


  • Fairly affordable
  • Good sound quality


  • Could have better stability
  • Somewhat lengthy charging time

7. JBL Club Pro+

JBL finds themselves recommended on a number of our best lists, and this is mostly thanks to the balance between quality and affordability that they bring to the table. It’s rare that we test a JBL product that we dislike, and we’re happy that the Club Pro has not strayed from tradition.

Design & Comfort

The JBL Club Pro+ is somewhat large in that it consists of a deep design that sees the JBL logo in very clear sight. If there’s one thing that JBL may go a bit overboard with, it’s the branding of its products. This doesn’t take much away from these earbuds’ actual build and design. They feature a somewhat angulated design on the control area, but unfortunately, the controls themselves aren’t the easiest we’ve worked with.

There are three pairs of different-sized ear tips, which help ensure comfort and a snug fit. The JBL Club fits well in most ears and should provide enough stability to perform light exercise.

Sound Quality

The JBL Club comes to the party in the sound department. Out the gate with default EQ, these ANC earbuds provide a balanced and accurate sound signature that even critical listeners can appreciate. While they aren’t the most lively-sounding earbuds, the signature is so well-balanced that it makes it a breeze to EQ them to your preferred sound.

The bass response on these earbuds is awe-inspiring if you enjoy a flat sound signature. I prefer a little more thump, but this is easily adjustable with the mobile app’s EQ. The midrange response is also mostly balanced and provides an intelligible instrumental presence that sounds balanced and clean. The treble response is equally impressive, and no strong sibilants are present. Overall, the sound profile of these earbuds is just overall extremely high quality, though it is worth noting that the stereo imaging falls short of things like the QuietComfort 2 and Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen).

Noise Cancellation

While the noise cancellation on the JBL Club is what we’d consider good, they are perhaps the weak point in what could otherwise be a formidable ANC earbud. They still do a relatively good job at isolating noise from most frequencies, but they don’t have the same type of performance as some of our other top picks.

Low and midrange frequencies, while fairly handled, are not as easily suppressed as some of the higher frequencies. The biggest disappointment here is that we have seen better ANC performance from other JBL earbuds that don’t quite match up to the same level of audio performance.

Battery Performance & Charging

JBL has a pretty good reputation regarding battery performance across their devices, and the JBL Club Pro doesn’t stray far from this tradition. You can expect around seven and a half hours of battery life from a single charge, which can be done three additional times with the charging dock.

This brings the overall battery life up to an impressive 30 hours, on par with the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd gen)

Why We Recommend It

The JBL Club Pro+ has some unbelievable sound quality that would appeal to those seeing a balanced and true sound profile. Even outside of the sound profile, the JBL Club Pro does well in battery performance and comfort.


  • Great sound quality
  • Balanced sound profile
  • Excellent battery life


  • Challenging controls

What Noise-Canceling Earbuds Are and How They Work

Noise-canceling earbuds are identical to traditional earbuds in their appearance but have the ability to reduce the amount of environmental noise around the listener. The level of noise reduction differs depending on both the technology used and the efficacy of that technology.

This reduction in ambient noise can negatively influence your listening in several ways.

Ambient noise can degrade the quality of your audio by masking the details. This is particularly true for nuanced elements of production where the subtle presence of an instrument or sound can be more easily obscured. Sound quality is further influenced when one increases the volume to compensate for loud environmental sound. Higher volume levels increase the need for great dynamic range compression within the earbuds or headphones you’re using. 

The way we perceive music and sound is complex. Our brains initially process sound in our auditory cortex, working to identify frequency changes, positioning, etc. This process can be negatively influenced when ambient noise ends up influencing the way your brain perceives the sound. It can struggle to differentiate the environmental noise from the music, which, in conjunction with a generally less enjoyable listening experience, can also create listening fatigue.

While ear damage is avoidable, excessive environmental noise can cause you to dial up the volume of your earbuds to compensate. This increase in volume can have lasting impacts on your hearing, especially if done on a regular basis.

When you listen to music loudly, you should keep your volume below 85dB, and for longer listening sessions, 70-75dB is safer. This is especially true for earbuds and headphones where the drivers are positioned close to the listener’s ear.

Immersion is a core part of the audio experience, but the degree to which it is important will vary between genres. Electronic music and, in particular, genres like psytrance rely on immersive sound design as a core aspect of their audio production. Excessive ambient noise can reduce the amount of immersion experienced by the listener.

A lack of immersion can also be noticed by those who use their earbuds for gaming. 

Noise-canceling technologies exist to reduce these problems and improve the overall audio experience for the listener.

Types of Noise-Cancellation and Their Effectiveness

Noise cancellation is a catch-all term used to describe the process of reducing the amount of ambient noise the listener hears, but not all noise cancellation works the same way. Noise-canceling can be as simple as physical design changes through to modern algorithm-driven reduction methods.

Noise cancellation can be broken down into three distinct types:

Passive Noise Cancellation Effectiveness

Best for fairly quiet offices, libraries, and home settings with minimal background noise.

Low frequencies: 3/10
Midrange frequencies: 5/10
Upper frequencies: 6/10
Noise level response: N/A

Passive noise cancellation, as the name suggests, is a simplistic approach to the problem of noise. It uses design as the key element, utilizing various shapes and materials in order to reduce the amount of noise that seeps through the earbud. Passive noise cancellation is one of the most affordable solutions to the problem, but it lacks performance.

Active Noise Cancellation Effectiveness

Best for Airplanes, trains, buses, engines, air conditioning noise, and office environments with consistent hum.

Low frequencies: 9/10
Midrange frequencies: 7/10

Upper frequencies: 6/10

Noise level response: 5/10

Active noise cancellation is fairly advanced and uses microphones to detect the environment’s audio. It then phase-inverts the soundwaves and plays an inverse frequency. This process cancels out the environmental noise by countering it with another sound. Active noise cancellation performs better than passive noise cancellation in almost all ways. Some high frequencies aren’t as effectively canceled, though this comes down to the performance of each noise-canceling earbud.

While ANC earbuds work well for constant noise levels, they aren’t very responsive to the environment, so while it may help reduce the constant noise of a fan, it won’t do great if suddenly someone were to clap, for instance.

Adaptive Noise Cancellation Effectiveness

Best for urban streets, cafes with varying crowd noise, and environments with intermittent loud noises.

Low frequencies: 8/10
Midrange frequencies: 7/10

Upper frequencies: 6.5/10

Noise level response: 9/10

Adaptive noise cancellation is subjectively the most effective way to reduce surround noise. It uses algorithms to adjust the noise cancellation process dynamically, meaning they are far more responsive than traditional noise-canceling earbuds. The adaptive process is great for those in environments where noise levels frequently fluctuate.

Hybrid Noise Cancellation Effectiveness

Best for everything from public transportation and noisy offices to bustling cafes.

Low frequencies: 8/10
Midrange frequencies: 7/10

Upper frequencies: 6.5/10

Noise level response: 5/10

Hybrid noise cancellation combines both a passive and ANC approach to noise-canceling earbuds. It uses the same process as ANC, where it detects the surrounding noise with a microphone and then cancels it out, but it is also built with passive noise cancellation in mind, using the physical properties of the design to block out noise effectively.

Summary of Noise Cancellation Effectiveness Based On Type

The following table illustrates how effective different noise cancellation types are in reducing environmental noise based on the ambient frequencies.

Noise Cancellation TypeLowsMidsHighs
Passive Noise Cancellation3/105/106/10
Active Noise Cancellation9/107/106/10
Adaptive Noise Cancellation8/107/106.5/10
Hybrid Noise Cancellation8/107/106.5/10

Audio Considerations When Using Wireless Earbuds

Outside of the influence that noise-canceling technology has on the perceived audio clarity and detail, there is also variability in the performance of earbuds based on the quality of the drivers and general design characteristics.

When discussing wireless earbuds, there are three primary influences on audio quality.

Codecs refer to the technology and methodology of compression and, with wireless earbuds, relate to how audio data is compressed and transferred between your source device and your earbuds. There are different types of codecs, each with their own benefits and drawbacks.

Codecs can influence your audio quality in the following ways:


The compression of codecs works in much the same way as other methods of data compression, and while the process gets very technical, the short of it is that the codec takes the audio data, scales it down, and makes it smaller in size. This reduction of size allows for a more efficient transfer rate. A good audio codec is able to compress audio while minimizing the degradation of quality effectively.

Bit Rate

Bit rate relates to the amount of data that is used to move audio between the source device and the earbuds. High bit rates tend to result in higher quality audio, as the audio data has more detail to it. Lower bit rates may lack finer details when listened to. It can be compared with how resolution works with cameras. Cameras with higher megapixels capture the same scene but to a higher degree of accuracy; in the same way, higher bit rates capture more detail than lower bit rates.


Latency is the amount of time that audio data takes to get from the source device to the earbud. Latency is less important for listening to music but becomes vital when gaming or watching movies, where a delay in audio transfer creates syncing issues with your visuals.

The Best Codecs For Wireless Earbuds

Whether or not the codec technology used is something you need to be concerned about when buying a wireless earbuds is something that will depend on how you’re planning to use them. For casual listening of podcasts and music, you don’t need to be too concerned about your wireless audio codecs. Latency and compression are unlikely to leave a noticeable mark to you.

However, if you’re using wireless earbuds for more attentive listening purposes or for gaming, then codecs become an important consideration. For instance, some codecs will provide extremely low latency, which is great for gamers, while others will provide higher bit rates and other more efficient compression methods for a more detailed listening experience.

Here are some of the most popular audio codecs, as well as how they perform for gaming, watching movies, casual listening, or critical listening.

CodecGamingCasual ListeningCritical ListeningMovies
aptX HD9/109/109/109/10
aptX Adaptive8/108/108/108/10
AAC LL9/107/107/109/10
aptX LL10/107/107/1010/10
AAC LL = AAC Low Latency, aptX LL = aptX Low Latency, SSC = Samsung Scalable Codec

It must be noted that the codecs are, in part, determined by the Bluetooth version. As Bluetooth has evolved, it has added additional codec support. Up until Bluetooth 5.0, there was a limited pool of codecs supported, with SBC and AAC being the most common. From Bluetooth 5.0 onward we got support for aptX and LDAC as well as further improvements over bit rates in Bluetooth 5.2

Additionally, you may see the term ‘lossy’ and ‘lossless’ as it relates to audio codecs. Older codecs like the SBC and AAC are deemed ‘lossy’ due to the loss of nuanced audio data through compression, while newer audio codecs like aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive LDAC are examples of lossless codecs.

Outside of the influence of codecs on audio performance, the quality of audio is also influenced by the drivers and design of the earbuds themselves. Drivers are a core part of almost every speaker design and are a core determining factor in the overall audio quality the earbud produces.

Two primary types of drivers are used in wireless earbuds: dynamic drivers and balanced armature drivers. Most commercial earbuds for general listening use dynamic drivers, with balanced armature drivers being more common for professional purposes.

Dynamic Drivers




Casual Listening

Critical Listening

Balanced Armature Drivers




Casual Listening

Critical Listening

The design of the earbud will also impact the audio performance. Earbuds that fit too loose can cause audio to leak out the empty gaps, reducing the overall listening experience. Thankfully, many manufacturers now include multiple sizes of earpieces to help you get the perfect fit.

The Importance of Comfort in Wireless Earbuds

No matter how detailed your sound is, having uncomfortable earbuds is going to ruin your listening experience. When buying wireless earbuds, consider the design of the earbud and how it may affect your comfort level. For example, those with small ears may find larger earbud designs uncomfortable.

While several types of designs are used for wireless earbuds, there remain small variations between each model that can influence the comfort level. Reading customer reviews about the comfort level can help you understand how that specific earbud fits varying ear shapes.

In addition to comfort, you should consider how the earbud fits in the ear and the way you intend to use it. If you plan to use your wireless earbuds for exercising or physical labor, you’ll want to opt for an earbud model that is able to stay in place during those movements.

The Types of Controls Earbuds Use

Earbuds all follow a basic core concept, but the design of each differs in how they fit in the ear and how they are controlled. Some earbuds can be controlled with ease, while others feel unintuitive and challenging to use. These are the primary types of controls you’ll find on wireless earbuds as well as their pros and cons.

Buttons are the classic form of earbud control. The earbud will have physical buttons on them that the user can use to control the earbud, typically, these controls will allow for power on and off, as well as volume control. In some cases, you will also be able to toggle between tracks.

Pros: Easy to use, less prone to accidental presses
Takes away from aesthetics, more prone to breaking

Touch controls do not feature physical buttons and instead rely on the user to swipe, press, or tap on the earbud to control it. Touch controls can be a little more challenging to use in the early stages, but over time, touch controls can become second nature.

Pros: Allows for clean designs, can offer a number of functions
Cons: Often unintuitive, prone to accidental presses

Voice controls allow you to control your earbuds using just your voice. This style of control is best when paired as a feature alongside touch controls or buttons, as some situations don’t allow for voice controls. 

Pros: Hands-free control
Cons: Not suitable in all environments

Mobile app control is offered by some manufacturers for particular models of earbuds. Mobile app control is not typically the default mode of control and, similar to voice prompts, is a secondary control option. Mobile apps tend to offer more control over the audio properties of the earbuds, with graphic equalizers or equalizer preset options. 

Pros: Hands-free control
Cons: Not suitable in all environments


Most earbuds these days offer some form of weather protection, though to less of a degree than most Bluetooth speakers do. To understand how water resistance works on earbuds, we need to understand that water resistance is indicated using an IPX or IP rating. IP/IPX ratings tell us how sealed the product is and ultimately, how far we can push it. IP/IPX ratings for earbuds tend to range from IPX4 to IPX7, with IPX7 offering the most amount of protection. You may also see an IP56 or IP67 rating, which protects from both dust and water (see below).

For wireless earbuds, we typically see IPX4 and IPX5 ratings, which protect the earbuds from light contact with liquids, such as light splashes or sweat. The best wireless earbuds for use around bodies of water or in heavy rain would be an IPX7 or IP65-rated pair. For intense exercise where sweat is a concern, you should opt for at least an IPX4-rated wireless earbud.

weather resistance ratings

Battery Performance

The advances made in wireless earbud battery life over the last five years have been incredible. We used to suggest looking for earbuds that have between 3 and 7 hours of battery life. But with charging docks becoming more common and general improvements in battery technology, we now see battery life extending as much as 40 hours.

Practically, we’d recommend looking for earbuds that provide more than 8 hours of battery life per charge, excluding recharges held within the charging dock. This is typically enough for most uses and can last through a full workday before needing to be recharged.

In order to ensure your earbud batteries last, practice proper care and techniques when charging and storing them. Here are some guidelines to follow to ensure you get the most from your battery over an extended period.

  • Use a charger that’s been made by the manufacturer
  • Once fully charged, remove the charging cable. This helps prevent overcharging.
  • It is better to charge them at 20% than 0%. Try avoiding fully draining your Li-Ion batteries.
  • When storing for an extended period of time, store your earbuds in a cool, dark area at 50% battery life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Listed below are several frequently asked questions relating to noise-canceling earbuds.

How do noise-canceling earbuds work?

While there is more than one type of noise cancellation. Active noise-canceling works by determining external frequencies from your environment and then actively producing a phase-reversed version of those frequencies to cancel them out. For a more detailed version, we recommend reading our guide dedicated to noise cancellation.

Is all noise cancellation the same?

Not at all. While the basic technology used is usually very similar, the efficiency with which the earbud cancels out environmental noise varies between models. The best noise-canceling earbuds will do well at canceling out all frequency ranges. Some earbuds do well at blocking out some frequencies but do worse at others.

Why are my noise-canceling earbuds not reducing noise?

Check to make sure that your ANC settings are set correctly. Most noise cancellation can be toggled on or off and, in some cases, dialed into a specific setting. To confirm that your ANC is working, play music and toggle your ANC on and off in an area of environmental noise and ensure you can notice the switchover.

Are noise-canceling earbuds more effective than noise-canceling headphones?

The choice between earbuds and headphones will be a personal choice rather than an objective fact. The quality of the noise canceling will come down to how each specific model is made. You can get extremely effective noise cancellation from both earbuds and headphones.

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Written by
Bryn De Kocks

Bryn De Kocks is the lead editor for Audiostance, as well as one of our trusted reviewers. He has more than 15 years of experience in online publication and stands firm in being transparent with both the benefits and drawbacks of the products he reviews. Outside of editorial work, Bryn has been an avid online gamer and casual digital music producer since his teenage years, bringing his understanding of audio and especially headphones to the table. His daily driver is a humble pair of Fidelio X2HRs powered by a Fiio E10K. In his spare time he enjoys nature photography.

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