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Active noise cancellation (ANC) has long been the pinnacle of headphone technology. ANC headphones electronically counteract –or “cancel” out — external noise by producing a mirror image sound wave in your ear. The technology works best in environments with a sustained din to the ear, such as the droning of a jet engine — which is why having Bose ANC wireless earphones in your ear became a status symbol at airports over the last couple of decades.
The technology used to be restricted to full-size over-ear headphones. But in just the last few years, it’s been shrunken down in your ear — to earbuds size. Sony’s 2018 models, the WF-1000X and WF-SP700N were the trailblazers of noise-canceling headphones, but Apple’s AirPods Pro have taken noise-canceling earbuds mainstream. To that end, we’ve rounded up the best true wireless earbuds with active noise cancellation below, all of which I’ve personally used. As more competitors continue to come after Apple in 2020, we’ll see a ton of additional models hit the market, and we’ll update this list accordingly. Keep reading to find which ones I consider to be the best noise cancelling wireless earbuds.
Looking for ANC headphones in all styles, including on-ear headphones or over-ear headphones? Check out the Best noise-canceling headphones of 2020.
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Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2
ED I T O R S ‘ C H O I C E Mar 2020
The second-gen Momentum True Wireless 2 pair of headphones, available now, aren’t cheap at $300, but they’re better all around than the originals. These wireless headphones come with a slightly smaller, more comfortable design, an active noise-canceling feature rivaling that of the AirPod Pro, improved battery life (up to 7 hours versus the original’s 4) and better noise reduction and ambient noise blocking during calls. And, if you don’t like them in black, a white version is available as well. Most importantly, though, the Momentum True Wireless 2 have the same stellar sound — for true wireless earbuds, anyway — offering clearly superior sound quality to the AirPods Pro. That makes them arguably the best true wireless earbuds on the market today and earns them a CNET Editors’ Choice Award.
These use Bluetooth 5.1 with support for the AAC and AptX codecs (for devices that have AptX like Samsung’s Galaxy phones).
Water-resistant: Yes (IPX4 rating — splashproof). Read our Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 review.
Apple AirPods Pro
ED I T O R S ‘ C H O I C E Nov 2019
Water-resistant: Yes (IPX4 rating — sweat-resistant and splashproof).
Even if they don’t sound as magical as you’d hope a $249 model would, the AirPods Pro still manage to be a great pair of true wireless noise-canceling earphones. That’s largely due to their winning design and ear fit, improved bass performance, effective noise canceling and excellent call quality. Yeah, these high-quality headphones are expensive at $250, but the good news is you’ll use them all the time. It is worth noting that you’ll probably wear the battery down — it does degrade over time and isn’t replaceable — and have to buy a new pair of ear buds in 18 to 24 months if you don’t lose these first. Regardless, man will you look good when listening to your music. Read our Apple AirPods Pro review.
$249 at Apple
$235 at B&H Photo-Video
$235 at Adorama
Best noise canceling
Sarah Tew/CNET Water-resistant: No.
Sony hadn’t been much of a player in the true wireless (AirPod-style) headphone arena, but its WF-1000XM3 model changed that. While this pair of earphones isn’t cheap, as far as audio quality, they’re the best noise-canceling wireless earbuds at this price, matching and perhaps even exceeding the quality and performance of pricier competitors from Sennheiser, Beats, Master & Dynamic and Bang & Olufsen. It also has a feature that those wireless earbuds don’t have: active noise-canceling headphones technology to reduce ambient noise in your ear as you rock out on your devices.
The WF-1000XM3 has a handful of drawbacks (no pair of earbuds wins them all). The case is larger than competitors (like Apple), and it’s not the best headset for making calls, especially in noisier environments. But the biggest red mark is that it’s not rated as sweatproof or waterproof. That said, I’ve used it for light workouts with a bit of an ear sweat at the gym without a problem. It offers Bluetooth 5.0 with support for AAC but not aptX. Read our Sony WF-1000XM3 review.
$228 at Abt Electronics
$198 at Walmart
$228 at Crutchfield
Libratone Track Air+
Best AirPods Pro alternative
Sarah Tew/CNET Water-resistant: Yes (IPX4 rating — sweat-resistant and splashproof).
The Libratone Track Air+ has been out for several months in Europe, but only recently went on sale in the US (it lists for $200 but Amazon currently has a discount coupon for $10 off). It doesn’t sound quite as open to the ear as the AirPods Pro, but the audio is a bit clearer and they have well-defined bass (you can choose between neutral, bass boost and treble settings in the companion app). The active noise cancelation is also decent — maybe not quite on par with the AirPods Pro, but close. I liked the fit of these — the in-earbud stayed in my ear well (I was able to run with them) and the case is only a little bigger than the AirPods Pro’s case.
The Track Air+ works well as a headset for making calls but the noise reduction isn’t as good as the AirPods Pro. People said they could hear me clearly and loudly, so the microphone was working well, but the earphones didn’t muffle background noise as well as the AirPods Pro.
These wireless noise-canceling headphones have touch controls — they’re responsive — and Libratone has been updating the firmware to tweak performance and add new gesture controls. A recent update did improve noise reduction slightly during calls. Battery life is rated at 6 hours and these do charge wirelessly like the AirPods Pro. These have support for AAC and aptX (Samsung Galaxy phones support the aptX codec but not iPhones).
These are a good AirPods Pro alternative for around $50 less, but I think if Libratone would create even a little more price separation — have them cost, say, $175 — it would help their cause. But they should appeal to Android owners who can’t take advantage of the AirPods Pro’s extra features, such as always-on (hands-free) Siri, that only work with Apple products. Read our Libratone Track Plus preview.
Amazon Echo Buds
Best Alexa-enabled buds
Water-resistant: Yes (IPX4 rating — sweat-resistant and splashproof)
Amazon doesn’t call the Bose noise-reduction feature in its Echo Buds “active noise canceling.” However, it does turn on and off and helps muffle ambient sound (there’s also a hear-through or transparency feature). Your ear can definitely tell the difference in audio when the noise cancelation is on and when it’s off.
The other signature feature is always-on (hands-free) Alexa — you just say “Alexa” and Amazon’s voice assistant is activated (it doesn’t always work, but you can read our full review for that info).
While the Echo Buds audio isn’t fantastic, it’s good (again, a tight seal makes a big difference). There’s a presence boost (treble push) at the default setting, but the earphones have decent clarity and Amazon says they’re equipped with Knowles dual balanced armature drivers. It’s not going to be a bass lover’s headphone, but it had enough kick for my tastes. You can tweak the audio with the EQ settings in the Alexa app — I lowered the treble and raised the bass — and most people should find that the Echo Buds offer a pleasant listening experience to the ear. Read Echo Buds review.
$130 at Amazon
1More True Wireless ANC
Good sound quality
Sarah Tew/CNET Water-resistant: No (While a PR rep says they should be fine for light workouts, 1More hasn’t provided a water-resistance rating yet)
1More made a name for itself with its wired earbuds, the Triple Drivers, which sound great and were a good value when wired headphones were still a thing. I gave 1More’s Stylish True Wireless earbuds, which list for $100 but were selling for $20-$30 less during the 2019 holidays, high marks for their sound at their price. This new model is $199, but I suspect it will come down in price in the coming months. The 1More True Wireless ANC fit pretty comfortably and securely in my ears — I was able to get a tight seal, which is crucial for sound quality and noise canceling with these types of earbud-style headphones.
It has a physical control button as well as touch controls. What’s interesting is that using the touch controls you can toggle between four modes: no noise cancelation; a pass-through “transparency” mode that lets ambient noise in; and two levels of active noise cancelation. Each mode changes the sound of the headphones.
The earphones have a little treble boost — sometimes called presence boost — when you have the ANC off, so they sound clearer and brighter. But when you engage the ANC the earphones become a little fuller and warmer sounding. I ended up preferring the ANC modes — the strongest did a decent job muffling noise in a loud Las Vegas casino (1More says a firmware upgrade is coming to make the sound profiles more uniform when changing modes). Battery life is rated at 5 hours with noise canceling on and 6 with it off. There’s a quick charge feature that gives you 2 hours of use from a 15-minute charge.
$199 at 1More
Master & Dynamic MW07 True Wireless
Sarah Tew/CNET Water-resistant: Yes (IPX5 rating — withstands sustained spray).
The Master & Dynamic MW07 Plus is the second generation of the company’s MW07. It features greatly increased battery life (10 versus 3.5 hours), Bluetooth 5.0 and active noise cancellation with two microphones on each bud (the noise isolation is fairly light, not as strong as the Sony WF-1000XM3’s noise isolating feature). It may not fit everyone’s ear equally well, but they certainly have a distinct look, as well as very good audio and a great listening experience if you can get a tight seal. These in-ear headphones are known for more of an audiophile sound profile, with smooth, well-balanced audio and well-defined bass, and the MW07 Plus delivers that kind of high-res audio.
Available in seven color options for $199, these wireless earbuds include a swanky chrome charging case that comes with a secondary pouch for safekeeping (yes, the case can get scratched up if you leave it in a bag). The case, with its built-in chargeable battery, gives you an additional three charges (it charges via USB-C). These have support for AAC and aptX and have an extended range of more than 20 meters, according to Master & Dynamic.
See at Master & Dynamic
Ausounds AU-Stream ANC
Sarah Tew/CNET Water-resistant: Yes (IPX5 rating — withstands sustained spray).
Ausounds, a startup, launched a new set of $150 true wireless active noise-canceling headphones — the AU-Stream ANC — that have the same long “stick” design as the original AirPods and feature active noise canceling. They’re a little hard to find, but these in-ear buds are surprisingly good if you get the right fit for your ear.
They’re similar in style to a lot of the so-called AirPods knockoffs, but have a little more of a premium look and feel. They feature 13mm drivers, Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, 5 hours of battery life with an additional 15 hours from the case and water-resistance (IPX5 certified). They also offer USB-C charging — that’s somewhat rare to find at this price point.
A tight seal is crucial not only for audio quality but the active noise canceling doesn’t work effectively without it. In terms of audio, the AU-Stream ANC isn’t on par with the Sony WF-1000XM3. It doesn’t sound quite as detailed or as open — and the bass isn’t quite as well-defined. But it’s a very decent-sounding true wireless headphone with some good ear kick in the low end. Read CNET first take.
$150 at AuSounds
More headphone buying advice
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