Finding the best noise cancelling earbuds may seem like an impossible task. Not only do you want them to sound great and fit like a glove, but they must also keep outside noise away from your eardrums so that you can enjoy your music uninterrupted by noisy coworkers and the hustle and bustle of the streets outside your window.
Should you then just try your luck by buying the first well-rated pair of noise cancelling earbuds that you see on sale? Of course not! As the old Chinese proverb says, “It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward.”
In this article, we go over everything that determines how good a pair of noise cancelling earbuds is. Yes, it’s a lot of information to digest, but you’ll be rewarded with the ability to decide for yourself which noise cancelling earbuds are worth your money and which you should avoid.
What Are the Best Noise Cancelling Earbuds?
For several years, we’ve been testing noise cancelling earbuds and giving you detailed reviews to help you select the best pair for your needs and budget. We’ve encountered earbuds that performed well above our expectations and earbuds that failed to deliver the promised value. We’ve also learned which features matter the most and which don’t make nearly as much difference as some manufacturers would like you to believe.
It’s never easy to select a small handful of favorites out of many great options. The task is even more difficult when it involves something that can’t be objectively evaluated. Our list of the best noise cancelling earbuds currently available has been written with you, our dear readers, in mind. We’ve selected each pair of earbuds on the list because we sincerely believe that it’s worth your money based on its overall performance as well as the long-term experience of thousands of audio enthusiasts from around the world. These are the best best noise cancelling earbuds on the market today. Enjoy!!!
1. Bose QuietComfort 20
When it comes to high-quality noise-cancelling headphones, no other company is as widely recommended as Bose. Their first pair of noise-cancelling headphones hit the market in the year 2000, and they have since then become synonymous with premium quality and performance for a premium price.
Most design elements are purposely chosen to accommodate company’s TriPort design and proprietary StayHear+ eartips, which securely hold the earbuds in place without causing any discomfort or painful sensation.
Right at the joint of the Y-cable is an in-line remote controller with high-quality microphone for voice calls and voice commands via Siri or Google Now. The remote has four buttons: three for playback control and one that activates the so-called Aware Mode. This special mode temporarily switches off the noise cancellation and uses the built-in microphone to let you hear everything that…
2. Bang & Olufsen B&O PLAY H3
It’s important to be aware of the company’s history and mission if one wants to understand where the B&O Play H3 noise cancelling earbuds come from and what market segment they target. At around $200, the earbuds are far from cheap. However, once you finish reading this review and learn about their features and qualities, the price tag will seem perfectly adequate—we promise you.
The B&O Play H3 noise cancelling earbuds are crafted from a single block of aluminum, giving them both their excellent durability and their premium look and feel. If it wasn’t for the use of aluminum, it wouldn’t be possible to keep the weight at just 40 grams without sacrificing the longevity of the housing.
Such light weight construction makes long-term listening very comfortable. The listening comfort is further increased by B&O’s sound decision to include foam eartips in the box, along with several extra pair of replaceable silicone eartips.
The earbuds are powered by a 350 mAh battery, and you can expect up to 20 hours of playback time with the Active Noise Cancellation system turned on. The ANC system relies on a small microphone placed inside the earbud housing to record ambient noise, which is then analyzed and turned into anti-noise sound waves. This is exactly how Bose and other well-known manufacturers of noise cancelling headphones and earbuds combat…
3. Jabra Elite 65e
The best bluetooth Alexa enabled earphones don’t have to be super expensive. But they do need to offer you a really good quality and value for the price you pay. And with the Jabra Elite 65e you pretty much get all of that and so much more in a comprehensive way. But is this model worth the effort or not? Let’s figure that out right now.
What you will notice right off the bat is that the Jabra Elite 65e is a very interesting model. The design is quite simplistic and it doesn’t stand out that much to be honest. But on the other hand, you do have wireless stereo added here and you also have a small controller for the microphone too. These small things make the unit come together a lot better than you would imagine, and that on its own is a special thing to have in the case of a unit like this to be honest.
Jabra Elite 65e is one of those models that offer in ear noise cancellation. Honestly this is super hard to achieve nowadays, and that on its own is a crucial aspect for you to…
4. Audio-Technica ATH-ANC33iS
The Audio-Technica ATH-ANC33iS in-ear headphones are the successor to the highly-rated ATH-ANC23. Unlike many other manufacturers of audio equipment, who have decided to focus on design and style instead of sound, Audio-Technica stays true to its main goal: deliver excellent sound quality. While they share many similarities with the predecessor, they offer enough improvements and new features to appeal even to owners of the ATH-ANC23.
On the outside, not much has changed from ATH-ANC23 to ATH-ANC33iS. The newer model has ditched the silver accents that could be found on the previous one for a stealthier all-black look, and the cable has gained a few inches in length. Apart from this, it’s still the same old plastic housing.
Some prefer plastic materials due to their light weight, but others enjoy the more substantial feel of machined aluminum and steel. In our opinion, the material itself doesn’t matter if the build quality is good enough. That means no loose parts, no squeaking, and nothing that could…
5. AKG K391NC High-Performance
You can rarely find in-ear headphones with noise cancellation nowadays. This is a rather niche market, even though there’s plenty of demand. And yes, if you do want something with a pretty good or more than decent sound quality, you have to pay some big bucks. AKG and BOSE introduced some new models in this regard, and the AKG K391NC claims to be one of the best on the market in that perspective.
The AKG K391NC has a rather attractive design, even if it’s pretty simple at its core. You have the metallic end of each piece that makes it interesting, and then you also have a plain black cable that stores an inline remote control and microphone. These connect via the 3.5 mm connector so that you can use them on a computer, phone and just about any…
6. Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23 QuietPoint
The Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23 are a rare breed of in-ear headphones that combine high-level of passive noise-isolation with active noise-cancelling functionality to greatly reduce the total amount of outside noise.
The strange shape of these earphones helps to achieve a deep insertion, thus increasing passive noise isolation and allowing listeners to reduce playback volume and protect their ears from damage caused by prolonged exposure to overly loud music.
The Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23 QuietPoint earbuds play it safe and stick to the combination of silver and black. Their appearance is professional, easy on the eyes, and it’s safe to say that it won’t go out of fashion anytime soon.
Somewhere in the middle of the cable is the QuietPoint box that houses a single AAA battery, a power switch, and a volume control wheel. Sadly, all that stuff takes quite a bit of…
7. OVC H15
Given a choice, most people would prefer noise-canceling headphones over headphones that only have passive noise isolation. The problem is that noise-cancelling headphones under $100 are extremely hard to find, and those few that exist usually don’t sound all that great. Fortunately, exceptions exist, and the OVC H15 is one of them.
The OVC H15 are unassuming sporty in-ear headphones with an in-line remote control and a dedicated noise-canceling box with a large rechargeable battery. Compared to in-ear headphones with a battery integrated directly into the headphone housing, the OVC H15 last much longer on a charge, up to 60 hours. The OVC H15 also has a built-in microphone for hands-free phone conversations and communication with intelligent voice-controlled personal assistants like Siri or Cortana.
The OVC H15 ship with special silicone eartips with integrated earhooks. Thanks to the earhooks, the headphones stay securely in place and don’t cause any…
8. Phiaton BT-220 NC
Phiaton describe themselves as a company that combines inventive technology and elegant design. Their products typically belong in the high-end market segment, and the Phiaton BT-220 NC active noise cancelling earbuds are no exception. They come with a promise of a fantastic sound quality and highly effective noise cancellation, among many other things. But as we know, a lot can go wrong with active noise cancelling earbuds, and we’re curious to find out how the Phiaton BT-220 NC perform when put to the test.
The Phiaton BT-220 NC sport the half-in-ear earbud design, which uses one part of the earbuds to block the outer ear canal, preventing outside noise from ruining your listening experience. The biggest advantage…
9. TaoTronics TT-EP01
The TaoTronics TT-EP01 in-ear headphones are one of only a few truly affordable noise-cancelling in-ear headphones on the market. For a long time, noise cancellation has been associated with companies such as Bose and their very expensive headphones. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford to spend hundreds of dollars on a pair of headphones, even though nearly everyone could benefit from owning a pair. TaoTronics, a leading consumer electronics brand established in 2008, sees this untapped market and is fully committed to meeting the customer demand.
We can’t help it, but the TaoTronics TT-EP01 remind us of Sennheiser’s approach to headphone design. The timeless combination of silver with black gives the headphones a professional look that shouldn’t offend anyone’s taste.
TaoTronics spared no expense on the build, using machined aluminum alloy and a gold-plated 3.5mm audio jack. As a result, the headphones feel like a…
How to Choose the Best Noise Cancelling Earbuds
What many people forget when choosing new noise cancelling earbuds is the influence noise cancelling has on everything from build to sound quality. While regular earbuds and headphones should be tested in a quiet environment that allows the tester to hear even the smallest detail and perceive every minor sound characteristic, noise cancelling earbuds and headphones should be tested in the real world—in the streets, inside busy offices, and in dorm rooms on Friday nights.
Try to keep this in mind when reading online reviews. Otherwise, you might follow the advice of a reviewer who was thrilled with how the earbuds performed when testing them alone at home, only to discover that they behave very differently as soon as you leave your home and turn on the noise cancellation to combat outside noise.
Sound quality can be determined by three entirely different criteria—accuracy, enjoyability, and intelligibility—and it can also be determined by all of these criteria at once.
Back in the 1970s, audio manufacturers started to compete with one another, trying to produce audio equipment with the least amount of total harmonic distortion possible. In other words, they wanted audio systems to reproduce audio recordings just as they were recorded, without any measurable sound changes. To their surprise, the reduction of the amount of total harmonic distortion didn’t positively correlate with sonic improvements. Sometimes, accurate speakers, amps, and headphones sounded worse than their less-than-perfect counterparts.
How come? The answer is simple: people are not machines. We don’t get enjoyment from perfect accuracy (most of us don’t, at least) and identical waveforms. Whether we want or not, we measure sound quality subjectively, based on how enjoyable the sound is. That’s why the world of audio equipment has no shortage of legendary speakers, amplifiers, headphones, and microphones that noticeably affect the sound quality of the source material, elevating it to the next level.
For this reason, a subjective judgement of a trusted reviewer or someone you know is usually more useful than dry measurements and graphs. Phrases like “warm sound signature,” “flat mids,” or “lack of brightness and spark” may seem ambiguous, but they’re actually close to how people perceive various sound characteristics.
This leaves us with intelligibility, which is affected by volume, the distance from the sound source to the listener, and outside noise. Since in-ear earbuds are always roughly the same distance from your eardrums, and since you should never increase volume beyond certain safe levels, noise cancellation has the most dramatic effect on intelligibility. Without the sound of passing cars and talking people, it’s much easier to make out lyrics in songs and feel the emotions your favorite singer puts into every verse.
Not all noise cancelling headphones are equally effective, and some noise cancelling systems work better with certain kinds of sounds than others. For example, one pair of noise cancelling headphones can be great at cancelling the sound of human speech, while another pair can make long flights much more bearable. Noise cancellation also slightly alters the sound quality of the headphones—sometimes improving it and sometimes making it worse.
If you already own a pair of earbuds whose sound you like, you can ask online for recommendations of noise cancelling earbuds that sound like yours. If not, start with our reviews and select a few favorites. You can then visit any large online store, such as Amazon, and read user reviews to find out which of your favorites is the best.
Depending on how much time on average you spend talking with friends, family, and colleagues on the phone, you may consider microphone quality to be just as important as sound quality. In that case, you should know how to select noise cancelling earbuds with a high-quality microphone and understand some of the basic microphone specifications and terminology.
Microphones are often categorized based on the shape of their fields of sensitivity. The type of microphone that you may see clenched tightly in the hand of a rock singer on a concert stage has what’s called a cardioid response pattern. This means that the microphone is the most sensitive at the front and is the least sensitive at the back, which is ideal for concerts and presentations in front of large audiences.
Many microphones that come with noise cancelling earbuds have the same response pattern. Other noise cancelling headphones have microphones with omnidirectional response patterns, which, as the term suggests, capture sound coming from all directions. Because cardioid microphones better isolate your voice from other sounds around you, they’re more suitable for use in loud environments. On the other hand, omnidirectional microphones can faithfully capture the world around you, making video recordings and even phone conversations more immersive.
The human ear can detect sounds from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. As we get older, this range naturally shrinks, especially when it comes to high-pitched tones. Almost every microphone can capture sounds across this entire range. Even inexpensive microphones often have a far wider frequency range that the maximum range of human hearing. That’s why you shouldn’t be surprised when you don’t see it listed with other technical specifications.
Every microphone has a certain frequency response curve. Such curves illustrate how the microphone transforms acoustic energy into electric signals that are then converted to a digital form and saved as audio data. Frequency response is not to be confused with frequency range, which indicates the lowest and highest frequencies, measured in hertz, a microphone can pick up. Two different microphones may both have the same frequency response range of around 80 Hz to 15 kHz, yet the recordings they produce will likely sound noticeably different because each has a unique frequency response curve.
Microphone sensitivity is measured in decibels (dBs), which is a logarithmic scale that states a given pressure in proportion to a reference pressure. Microphones with a higher sensitivity are better for lower sound pressure level (SPL) applications—SPL being the local pressure deviation from the ambient atmospheric pressure, caused by a sound wave—because they capture more details. Microphones with a lower sensitivity are commonly used by musicians to record loud instruments like drums and in other high-SPL applications.
Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR or S/N)
Often expressed in decibels (dBs), signal-to-noise ratio is used to measure level of a desired signal to the level of background noise. The higher the signal-to-noise ratio of a microphone is, the less background noise it captures when recording sound. The average person using a microphone built into noise cancelling headphones doesn’t need to worry about this specification as other common microphone specifications impact microphone quality much more profoundly and directly.
Don’t confuse signal-to-noise ratio with noise cancelling. Even though microphones with a high signal-to-noise ratio produce cleaner recordings, they don’t actively cancel outside noise. Active noise cancelling is accomplished by filtering ambient noise from the desired sound.
One records nearby sounds, while another microphone records ambient noise. Most people who use noise cancelling earbuds as headsets don’t want to record all sounds. They want to capture only the sound of their voice. This can be accomplished by comparing the two recordings and preserving only the sounds unique to the microphone for recording nearby sounds. This method of microphone noise cancellation is usually found only on more expensive earbuds and headphones.
Budget and mid-range earbuds and headphones have a single microphone with two entry holes. Sound coming from a source located farther from the microphone enters with more force through one port than the other one. This results in a greater pressure gradient between the front and back of the diaphragm, causing the diaphragm to move. This type of microphone noise cancellation is affordable yet surprisingly effective.
Microphone noise cancellation isn’t meant to make all outside noises disappear. The goal of most manufacturers is to get rid of wind noise and microphone echo. But don’t even think that this makes microphone noise cancellation unimportant. Try having a phone conversation on a windy day using a pair of noise cancelling earbuds with a built-in microphone that doesn’t reduce outside noise in any way. You’ll find yourself repeating every other phrase you utter, and the person on the other side will be anxious to finally end the phone call and stop the torture. In other words, without reliable noise cancellation, even an otherwise excellent microphone can sound worse than a budget microphone with noise cancellation.
We understand if you now think that choosing a good microphone is more complicated than landing on the Moon. Don’t forget that the above-listed microphone specifications are much less important when it comes to tiny microphones for hands-free communication than they are when it comes to professional studio-grade recording equipment. The specifications can help you determine which noise cancelling headphones are likely to have a better microphone without testing them in person, but you would be hard-pressed to stumble upon a mic so bad that you couldn’t use it for phone calls because the person on the other side wouldn’t hear you properly.
Most noise cancelling earbuds have an in-line remote with a built-in microphone and several music playback control buttons. Some in-line remotes feature only a single button, while others have three or more. The total number of buttons isn’t nearly as important as the total number of playback control shortcuts.
Here are some of the most common shortcuts (they may vary from one brand to another):
- Play/pause – A single click of the play button. Starts or pauses music playback.
- Skip one track forward – A single click of the forward button. Skips a single track forward.
- Skip one track back – A single click of the back button. Skips one track back or jumps to the beginning of the current track.
- Fast forward – A long press of the forward button. Moves forward through a recording at a speed faster than that at which it would usually be played.
- Rewind – A long-press of the back button. Moves backward through a recording at a speed faster than that at which it would usually be played.
- Answer/hang up a phone call – A single click of the play button when a phone call is incoming or in progress. Answers incoming phone calls and hangs up phone calls that are in progress.
- Activate a voice-controlled assistant – A long press of the play button. Activates a voice-controlled assistant like Siri, Google Assistant, or Cortana.
Noise cancelling earbuds often have a dedicated control button or slider that activates or disables the noise cancelling feature. Such button is often located either directly on the earbuds or somewhere close to the noise cancelling electronic circuit, which tends to be situated near the audio jack.
Most noise cancelling earbuds that connect via the 3.5mm audio jack, instead of the USB Type-C connector, require a source of power, usually either a rechargeable lithium-ion battery or a single AA or AAA battery. Without power, the noise cancelling feature usually doesn’t work, and some headphones even refuse to play music altogether.
For this reason, virtually every pair of noise cancelling headphones has a small LED battery level indicator light. Sometimes it’s a single RGB diode that changes its color depending on the current battery capacity, and sometimes it’s a small array of LEDs that shows the remaining battery capacity as a percentage of the maximum capacity.
Some in-line controls are designed to only work with smartphones and tablets running a specific mobile operating system. If you attempt to use noise cancelling headphones certified for iOS with a smartphone running the Android operating system, most buttons will likely work just fine, but certain OS-specific shortcuts may be broken. Still, it’s better to select noise cancelling earbuds that are confirmed to work flawlessly with your device, especially since manufacturers often release multiple versions of the same earbuds for different mobile operating systems.
Wireless or Wired
Noise cancelling earbuds are either wireless or wired, with each of these two types having certain pros and cons. Much of what you may read online or hear from other people about the difference between wireless and wired earbuds and headphones is based on outdated information and misconceptions.
Wireless Communication Methods
The wireless technology that makes it possible to listen to music played on your smartphone without any wires has evolved significantly over the past decade. When we now talk about wireless earbuds and headphones, we usually refer to those that connect via Bluetooth. There are, however, other types of wireless communication methods as well.
- Infrared – The first wireless earbuds and headphones used infrared waves to transmit and receive data over the air. Yes, that’s the same technology used in home remote controls, and infrared headphones are plagued with the same problems as your TV remote. Namely, a limited transmission range, the inability to pass through obstacles, and a high degree of static interference. These days, infrared earbuds and headphones are mostly obsolete.
- RF (Radio Frequency) – As the name suggests, RF headphones transmit and receive data using electromagnetic waves, usually ranging from 800 MHz to 900 MHz. The most significant advantage of RF earbuds and headphones is their range, up to 300 feet. On the other hand, they usually lack security features, allowing anyone to eavesdrop using readily available radio equipment. They also require separate transmitters, which limits their portability.
- Wi-Fi – The popular technology for wireless local area networking with devices has found its way to the world of audio equipment. Modern Wi-Fi standards offer fast transmission speeds and excellent connection stability over longer distances. The main reason why there aren’t that many Wi-Fi noise cancelling earbuds is their higher power consumption compared to Bluetooth, making it suitable mostly for headphones for home listening and stationary speakers.
- Bluetooth – Most wireless noise cancelling earbuds use the Bluetooth technology, which sends data over short distances using short-wavelength UHF radio waves in the ISM band from 2.4 to 2.485 GHz. The first Bluetooth specification, Bluetooth 1.0, was released in 1991, and the latest version, Bluetooth 5, was unveiled during a media event in London on 16 June 2016. Modern Bluetooth earbuds and headphones offer excellent audio quality, low energy consumption, and a significantly improved transmission range.
The standard 3.5mm audio jack (as well as its 6.2mm brother) has been around for decades. It is used to transfer various analog signals, mainly audio. It may not be the most durable connector in the world, but it’s one of the most supported ones. Even with the steady rise of USB Type-C as a universal replacement for virtually all other connectors on consumer electronic devices, it will still take many years for the dominance of the 3.5mm audio jack to be questioned.
Because the 3.5mm jack transmits audio in its analog form, it can transmit signal from an analog recording to a listening device without passing it through a digital-to-analog converter. For this exact reason, purist willing to pay obscene sums of money just to hear their music with the least amount of distortion and compression swear by wired audio equipment.
Past versions of Bluetooth had limited transmission speeds. For example, Bluetooth 1.0 had a transmission rate of up to 721 kbit/s. Considering that Spotify Premium streams music at 320 kbit/s, it’s easy to see why manufacturers often used drastic audio compression, noticeably reducing the quality of the source audio. But times have changed, and Bluetooth 5.0 has a maximum transmission rate of 48 Mbit/s, or more than twice the bitrate of an HD Blu-ray video.
We also have much better digital audio data reduction technologies and audio codec compression algorithms, such as aptX. Because of these and other improvements, most listeners wouldn’t be able to distinguish wired headphones and earbuds from wireless if they had to participate in a blind test. That’s great news for you as a consumer because you can choose from a much higher number of noise cancelling headphones without sacrificing high-fidelity listening.
Wireless noise cancelling headphones require more maintenance than wired noise cancelling headphones. Both types usually run on a battery, but the battery in wireless noise cancelling headphones powers both the electronic components responsible for noise cancelling as well as the Bluetooth transmitter and everything else that’s required to convert the digital signal from a smartphone or tablet to sound waves.
In practice, this means that wireless noise cancelling earbuds last up to 30 hours of uninterrupted use before their battery capacity reaches a critical level. Wired noise cancelling earbuds tend to last well over 100 hours, often 200 and more.
Apart from a more frequent charging, wireless noise cancelling earbuds also take longer to connect. It takes just a second to plug a 3.5mm audio jack to a smartphone or laptop, but Bluetooth pairing—especially the initial one—can take a minute or two, depending on how much experience you have with the process.
Portability and Convenience
Most wired noise cancelling earbuds come with a 4-foot to 6-foot cable. If you listen to music using your smartphone, wired noise cancelling earbuds will force you to always carry it in your pocket or have it somewhere close to you. Wireless noise cancelling earbuds allow you to be up to 30 feet (or even more with Bluetooth 5.0) from the audio source.
So many people have ruined their expensive smartphones because they were listening to music using wired earbuds and rolled a heavy barbell over the smartphone the earbuds were connected to. If they had used wireless earbuds, they would have been able to leave their smartphones in their gym bags.
And the absence of a wire running from the earbuds to an audio source also eliminates issues with snagging and microphonics, which is the term used to describe the phenomenon wherein certain components in electronic devices transform mechanical vibrations into an undesired electrical signal (noise).
Wired noise cancelling earbuds are guaranteed to work with any electronic device with a 3.5mm audio connector. Even if you own a smartphone that only has a single USB Type-C connector, you can still easily connect any wired earbuds using a USB Type-C to 3.5mm adapter.
Wireless noise cancelling earbuds should also work with virtually every Bluetooth-enabled device, but you might not be able to use them to their full potential. A pair of earbuds with a Bluetooth 5.0 chip should be paired with a device that also has a Bluetooth 5.0 chip. Pairing it with a device that has, for example, only a Bluetooth 2.1 chip will decrease the maximum transmission rate, range, and potentially even sound quality.
Contrary to the expectations of many people, wireless noise cancelling earbuds don’t always cost more than wired noise cancelling earbuds. Because Bluetooth is everywhere these days, it costs manufacturers almost nothing extra to make their earbuds wireless. The cheapest wireless noise cancelling earbuds cost around $10, and the price can go as high as your wallet can go deep.
We think that wired noise cancelling earbuds are best for people who spend a lot of time in a single place—office, dorm room, library—and those who always choose the best sound quality above everything else.
Wireless noise cancelling earbuds are perfect for active people who like to make their workouts and other activities more fun by listening to music. They’re also fantastic for travelers because wired earbuds must be treated with the utmost care to prevent the 3.5mm audio jack from breaking.
Comfort and Fit
Listening to music through high-fidelity but uncomfortable headphones or earbuds can be a very frustrating experience. Yet, comfort and fit are difficult to estimate when shopping online. When you read user reviews for any pair of headphones or earbuds, you inevitably find some users who praise how comfortable they are, and users who find them downright unusable.
For most people, how comfortable noise cancelling earbuds are is determined mainly by the size of the earbuds and the eartips included with them. Some earbuds are so tiny that they almost disappear when you insert them into your ears, while others are much larger, often anatomically shaped to form a seal against the outer part of your ears.
With small earbuds, the chance that some part of the housing will dig into your ears and cause discomfort or pain is relatively small. Large earbuds can be completely unfit for your ears, but they can also fit like a glove and provide nearly as great long-term listening comfort as custom-made earbuds costing hundreds of dollars.
Most eartips are made from silicone, but you can also get foam tips in a variety of sizes. Silicone eartips last longer, are easier to keep clean, and most noise cancelling earbuds come with several spare pairs. Single-flange eartips don’t insert too far into the ear canal and provide only a basic passive noise isolation. Bi- or triple-flange silicone eartips are much more effective at reducing the amount of outside noise that reaches your ear drums, but the very deep fit isn’t for everyone.
Foam tips, such as those from Comply, can be squished like ear plugs for sleeping. Keeping them squished, you insert them into your ears and hold them in place for a few moments as they expand and copy the shape of your ear canal. As long as you use the right size, you should be able to achieve excellent long-term comfort and fantastic noise isolation. The only downside of foam eartips is their short lifespan.
The durability of noise cancelling earbuds is determined by the used materials and the construction of the earbuds. At the very least, the earbuds should withstand the wear and tear caused by daily use, but you may also want to consider buying noise cancelling earbuds that offer extra protection against the ingress of dust and water.
Such protection is indicated by the IP Code (International Protection Rating or Ingress Protection Rating, depending on your interpretation). Every IP Code consists of the letters IP followed by either two numbers or a combination of a number and the letter X, for example, IP68 or IP2X. The first digit indicates the degree of protection against the ingress of solid objects, and the second digit indicates the degree of protection against the ingress of liquids. The letter X means that the device hasn’t been rated for the type of protection.
The highest level of protection against the ingress of solid objects is 6, and it guarantees complete protection against dust or any other solid foreign particles. The highest level of protection against the ingress of liquids is 8, and it guarantees complete protection of the device even when continuously immersed 1 meter or more under water while respecting the conditions specified by the manufacturer.
Dust- and water-proofing adds to the price of noise cancelling earbuds, but it gives you the peace of mind that comes with knowing that your earbuds won’t have any problem to survive a day on a beach or a jog during a rainy day.
If there’s one aspect of every noise cancelling headphones that’s even more subjective than sound quality, it’s design. Just like there are legendary cars, collectable watches, or highly sought-after cameras, there are many timeless earbuds and headphones that have managed to retain their appeal over the decades and influence the entire industry. There are also innumerable earbuds and headphones that are clearly products of their time.
It can be argued that great industrial design combines form with function. Noise cancelling earbuds that look pretty but are awkward to use are the hallmark of design-oriented brands that know how to make an attractive product and don’t care about anything else. So many headphones and earbuds look like they were taken straight out of a sci-fi movie or a fantasy novel, with aggressively sloped angles, protruding elements that do nothing besides increase the weight, and so on.
Most design-oriented earbuds and headphones are closer to the world of fashion accessories than audio equipment. They are often made from cheap plastic materials and covered in a thin coat of paint that’s supposed to mimic the look of more expensive materials like steel, aluminum, or titanium.
And fashion headphones and earbuds made from premium materials tend to cost a lot more than they should. Their manufacturers target the average consumer who doesn’t know how much a pair of headphones costs on average. You can easily tell who’s the target customer from the product description of the headphones. If the manufacturer emphasizes common features such as a gold-plated 3.5mm audio connector, you know that audiophiles are the last group of people they care about.
Does it mean that you should only buy boring, black and gray headphones and earbuds? Of course not! There are many brands that make beautiful and unique noise cancelling earbuds that work just a great as they look. It may be hard to tell apart brands that make good products from those that only care about their bottom line, but that’s what our reviews are here for.
What’s most important is that there’s something for everyone. Whether you like the tame elegance of Sennheiser, or the utilitarian design of Bose, or the unmistakable look of Beast by Dre, you can be sure that finding noise cancelling headphones that match your taste won’t be a problem.
The total amount of energy a battery can store at one time is expressed in milliampere hours (mAh). The higher the mAh, the longer the battery will last. Compared to modern smartphones, noise cancelling earbuds have relatively small batteries. Fortunately, they don’t consume too much juice, so even a low-capacity lithium-ion battery usually has enough power for at least 5 hours of continuous wireless listening, and many wired noise cancelling earbuds last more than 200 hours on a single charge.
You should always select noise cancelling earbuds that are a good match for your lifestyle. If you want to use the same pair of earbuds for your morning commute, the entire time you spend at work, your afternoon gym session, and your daily hour of gaming, you definitely need noise cancelling earbuds with a 10-hour battery life or longer. If you seldom use earbuds for more than half an hour, even noise cancelling earbuds with below-average battery life should make you happy.
When you run out of battery power, some wired noise cancelling earbuds can continue playing with the noise cancelling feature disabled, and others can’t. If you hate long subway rides with nothing to listen to as much as we do, make sure the earbuds you buy aren’t entirely dependent on batteries.
Everyone how own a pair of noise cancelling earbuds should consider buying a powerbank. They come in all sizes and shapes, with the most affordable powerbanks starting at around $10. Even a small and inexpensive powerbank should be able to recharge any noise cancelling earbuds several times. You can get a powerbank that fits on your keyring and has an integrated USB charging cable. If you ever happen to run out of battery power in the middle of a song, you can just whip out your keys and do a quick charge.
As is the case with any other type of audio equipment, noise cancelling earbuds can either be very affordable or ridiculously expensive. What’s important the most, however, is the fact that good noise cancelling earbuds can be found in every price category. Mid-range noise cancelling earbuds cost around $50, and some models sound indistinguishable from high-end earbuds that cost incomparably more.
More expensive noise cancelling earbuds usually come with a certain brand guarantee and features that you most likely won’t see in the mid-range price category for three to five years. For example, Bose, an American privately held corporation famous for its range of noise cancelling headphones and earbuds, hasn’t released noise cancelling headphones or earbuds that we wouldn’t recommend. Of course, most noise cancelling headphones and earbuds from Bose cost over $200. You don’t get this kind of guarantee with less reputable brands.
But as long as you’re willing to do your homework and spend some time reading reviews, you’ll be able to find something great regardless of your budget.
Frequently Asked Questions
Noise cancellation, also known as active noise control (ANC) or active noise reduction (ANR) is often confused with noise isolation, and many online sellers exploit ill-informed buyers by stating that a certain pair of earbuds or headphones actively cancels outside noise.
In this section, we answer several questions frequently asked by buyers when selecting noise cancelling earbuds. Knowing how active noise cancellation works will make it easy for you to spot earbuds that pretend to be something they’re not and select those that perform exceptionally well.
How Do Noise Canceling Headphones Work?
As you may know from your high-school physics classes, sound is a pressure wave transmitted through the air. A sound wave is a result of the back and forth vibration of the particles present in the atmosphere of Earth or another medium. These particles move in a direction that is parallel to the direction of energy transport. As such, sound waves are often described as longitudinal waves.
Now, try to imagine what happens when you hit a drum with a drumstick. The drumhead stretches and moves in the direction opposite to the direction of the drumstick. This creates a negative air pressure on one side of the drumhead and positive air pressure on the other side. After a fraction of a second, the drumhead moves back, this time stretching in the opposite direction. The regions of air particles that are compressed together and the regions that are spread apart are known as compressions and rarefactions respectively.
The distance that these disturbances travel along the medium in one complete cycle is known as wavelength, expressed in hertz (Hz). Sounds that are perceived as low-pitched have long wavelengths, and sounds that are perceived as high-pitched have short wavelengths. The human ear is sensitive to sounds between 20 Hz and 20 kHz, but dogs, for example, can perceive sounds up to 100 kHz.
What makes one 10-kHz sound louder than another 10-kHz sound is the difference in their amplitudes, which is measured in decibels (dB), a logarithmic unit used to express the ratio of two values of a physical quantity, and indicates the difference from the normal atmospheric pressure caused by the sound wave. When depicted as a sine wave, amplitude is the height of the peaks and troughs, and wavelength is the distance between neighboring peaks and troughs.
So, knowing what the wavelengths and the amplitude of a sound is, we can produce an identical sound. If we emit the same sound from one source slightly later than from another source, there will be two identical waves with a small phase difference between them. This difference is expressed in degrees or time. Waves with no difference are said to be in phase, whereas those with a difference between them are said to be out of phase with each other. When the difference between two waves is 180 degrees, the waves are said to be in antiphase.
The key to active noise cancellation is the fact that when two waves meet at a point where they are in antiphase, they cancel each other out.
Understanding these basic physical properties of sound, manufacturers of noise cancelling earbuds record outside noise using a microphone, analyze it, and emit sound waves with the same amplitude but with inverted phase to the original sound. When the waves combine, an effect called destructive interference occurs and the result is silence.
While the process of active noise cancellation may be relatively straightforward in theory, things get much more complicated in practice. The first problem that manufacturers of noise cancelling earbuds face is how to accurately capture outside noise. Such noise may come from every possible direction, and it never stays the same for too long. For these reasons, larger and more expensive noise cancelling headphones usually have several built-in microphones. Noise cancelling earbuds are often too small for manufacturers to install additional microphones, so all the heavy lifting must be done by noise cancelling algorithms.
These algorithms instantly analyze all the outside noise captured by the microphone and determine the most optimal way how to cancel it. Some manufacturers allow listeners to switch between different noise cancelling presets. One preset may be optimized for plane travel, and other may focus on speech. Because noise cancellation usually works best for steady sounds, such as the hum of an airplane engine, noise cancelling presents for blocking speech are usually more aggressive than others.
As you can see, to create noise cancelling headphones, manufacturers must solve many technical challenges without negatively affecting the overall sound quality nor increasing the price beyond a certain upper limit.
What Does Noise Cancellation Mean?
When talking about earbuds and headphones, noise cancellation is a method for reducing unwanted sound by the addition of a second sound specifically designed to cancel the original sound. However, the term is often misused to express other things.
If you go on Amazon or any other large online store that sells audio equipment, you’ll see hundreds and thousands of inexpensive earbuds claiming to come with noise cancellation. But when you open any list of top X best noise cancelling earbuds, you won’t find anything under $50. Do reviewers ignore inexpensive noise cancelling earbuds, or do all noise cancelling earbuds below a certain price range suck? Neither. In reality, all those cheap earbuds that supposedly come with noise cancellation provide only the most basic level of passive noise isolation.
By its definition, noise cancellation is an active method that relies on complicated electronic circuits to capture, analyze, and reproduce outside noise in a way that cancels it out and produces silence. Noise isolation, on the other hand, simply block sound waves from entering the ear canal and hitting the ear drum. Some do a better job than others, but every single pair of earbuds provides a certain level of passive noise isolation. Even earbuds with an open construction that seemingly do nothing at all to help you enjoy your music could be, theoretically, called noise isolating.
Just because are noise isolating, instead of noise cancelling, don’t really tell you how effective they are when it comes to making the world around you a little quieter. After all, earplugs can extremely effectively block noise and loud sounds, and they’re nothing but a small piece of a special foam. Indeed, some of the earbuds with the highest acoustic attenuation, a measure of the energy loss of sound propagation in media, are noise isolating. But claiming that some earbuds are noise cancelling when that’s clearly not the case is dishonest and misleading.
Because noise cancelling earbuds produce sound waves with the same amplitude but with inverted phase to the original sound, they reduce unwanted ambient sounds without forcing the listener to increase the volume beyond the highest safe level. With noise isolating earbuds, sounds that exceed a certain loudness remain audible. Increasing the volume is the only way how a listener can get rid of them. Of course, this only masks their presence by covering them with loud music. Active noise cancelling earbuds can simply produce sound waves that match the amplitude of ambient sounds to create silence.
Manufacturers of luxury vehicles use advanced active noise cancelling to eliminate wind noise and the hum of the road. Noise cancelling also has its place in the aviation industry, where it helps pilots communicate with other aircraft and the personal on the ground. The technology dates to the 1930s, and its evolution has been impressive, to say the least.
Noise cancellation has seen a renaissance with the advent of wireless headphones and earbuds. Because wireless headphones and earbuds come an integrated source of power, the addition of active noise cancellation doesn’t cost manufacturers too much extra money. In the past, noise cancelling headphones were available only from a handful of specialized brands. Now, many brands known primarily for their Bluetooth earbuds and headphones have released noise cancelling models, often at very attractive prices.
And as voice-controlled personal assistants powered by artificial intelligence are steadily finding their way to our smartphones, tablets, computers, and home automation systems, the need to separate important, meaningful sounds from noise will only grow larger. Noise cancellation is an old technology that is becoming more useful with each passing decade, and it has been a long time since become available to all.
What Is Active Noise Cancellation?
Active noise cancellation is a technology that reduces outside noise by emitting sound waves that cancel it out. Active noise cancellation is often confused with passive noise cancellation, even though the two noise reduction methods have very little in common. To learn more about the difference between active and passive noise cancellation, read our in-depth explainer article.
Many people associate active noise cancellation with Bose, an American privately held corporation founded in 1964 by Amar Bose. Noise cancelling headphones and earbuds from Bose are often used as the benchmark against which the performance of other noise cancelling products is measured. Despite the association with Bose, the roots of active noise cancellation go back to a time long before Bose was established.
The first patent for a noise control system was granted to inventor Paul Lueg in 1936. The patent described how to cancel sinusoidal tones by inverting their polarity. Roughly twenty years later, in the 1950s, engineers managed to successfully cancel noise in helicopter and airplane cockpits using a noise cancelling system that would make Paul Lueg proud.
Some of the first noise cancelling headsets had active attenuation bandwidth of approximately 50–500 Hz, with a maximum attenuation of approximately 20 dB. That may not sound like much by today’s standards, but it made a tremendous difference for helicopter and airplane pilots at the time. When Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager successfully piloted the Rutan Model 76 Voyager around the world without stopping or refueling, they used prototype headsets built by Bose.
The process of active noise cancellation has three distinct stages: noise capture, noise analysis, and noise cancellation. During the first stage, outside noise is captured by a microphone or multiple microphones. The captured sound waves are then analyzed by special noise cancelling algorithms that create sound waves with inverted phase to the original sound. The modified sound waves are then emitted by speakers to combine with the original sound, effectively cancelling each other out in a process called destructive interference.
It’s important to realize that active noise cancellation systems don’t cancel all sounds equally well. Lower-pitched sounds that follow a regular pattern can usually be cancelled out more effectively than random, higher-pitched sounds. When manufacturers of noise cancelling headphones and earbuds advertise their products, they usually focus on people who often travel by plane or work close to a busy road. Using active noise cancelling headphones escape the sound of a crying baby or chatty coworkers usually doesn’t work too well.
What is Passive Noise Cancellation?
Passive noise cancellation, properly called noise isolation, involves a physical obstruction that prevents sound waves from reaching the ear drum. There’s also active noise cancellation, which requires battery power. For a detailed comparison of the two noise cancelling methods, read this article. Those cheap, yellow earplugs construction workers use to protect their hearing when using loud tools and working close to heavy-duty vehicles are actually extremely effective when it comes to passive noise cancellation. Earplugs and other noise protection equipment is rated based on the amount of noise reduction at the ear when worn properly. This reduction is expressed as a noise reduction rating (NRR) in decibels (dB).
The highest NRR rating for earplugs is around 33, and the highest available NRR rating for earmuffs is around 31. The NRR rating is relevant because headphones and earbud manufacturers use it to indicate the level of passive noise cancellation their headphones and earbuds provide.
If you’re looking for a pair of headphones with the highest level of passive noise cancellation, you should look for headphones with a closed-back construction and a plenty of clamping force. When it comes to earbuds, deep insertion and foam eartips lead to excellent passive noise cancellation. That said, all headphones and earbuds provide passive noise cancellation. It’s just that some do a much better job than others.
You should realize that a high level of passive noise cancellation may not always be desirable. For example, if you like to listen to music while jogging or riding your bike, you want to hear incoming traffic and everything else that goes on around you. A pair of headphones or earbuds with a high noise reduction rating could cause you to miss the sound of a car horn, robbing you of the chance to react before it’s too late. But even when listening to music indoors, headphones and earbuds that isolate you from your surroundings might make you feel almost claustrophobic. Some people don’t like when they hear their heartbeat, which happens when you eliminate ambient noise.
When selecting any headphones or earbuds, consider what your needs are and how you want to use them. Decide whether you want to eliminate as much outside noise as possible, or whether it would be best to purchase headphones or earbuds that let you hear what goes on around you.
What Is a Noise Canceling Microphone?
You might have noticed that even some earbuds and headphones that don’t actively cancel noise have a noise cancelling microphone. Such microphone is supposed to capture only your voice and discard ambient noise. As such, a noise cancelling microphone makes it easier for the person on the other side to understand you, and it increases the accuracy of your voice-controlled personal assistant of choice, allowing you to accurately dictate text messages, record memos, or control the playback of music.
The simplest form of microphone noise cancellation simply involves the use of a directional microphone instead of an omni-directional microphone. A directional microphone captures sound coming from only one direction, whereas an omni-directional microphone captures sound coming from all directions. If it wasn’t for directional microphones, you wouldn’t be able to hear a singer performing in front of a huge audience. And if it wasn’t for omni-directional microphones, movies would like all the ambient sounds that make them so immersive.
For the purpose of hands-free voice communication, directional microphones are clearly superior to omni-directional microphones. On most noise cancelling earbuds, you’ll find the directional microphone integrated into the in-line remote control and positioned closed to your mouth. Sometimes, the in-line remote control with the microphone is located much farther down the cable, which may cause the microphone to capture the noise it makes as it rubs against your clothes.
A slightly more sophisticated type of microphone noise cancellation involves a microphone with two ports through which sound enters, with a diaphragm placed between the two ports. Sound coming from a distance enters these two ports roughly at the same time and with the same strength. Because it hits the diaphragm equally from both sides, the force coming from one side cancels out the force coming from the opposite side. As the result, the diaphragm doesn’t move at all and no sound is captured.
Sound coming from a source located near the microphone enters more through one port than the other one, resulting in a greater pressure gradient between the front and back of the diaphragm, which, in turn, causes the diaphragm to move. This type of microphone noise cancellation has been used for commercial and military purposes since the Second World War.
Finally, microphone noise cancellation can also be accomplished through active or passive circuitry, similar to how headphone and earbud noise cancellation works. A primary microphone is used to record the desired source, and a second microphone is used to record ambient noise. The recorded ambient noise is electronically subtracted from the main recording while the desired source is preserved. Further sound post-processing may be applied to enhance the quality of the recording.
With a good noise cancelling microphone, you should be able to have a phone conversation when walking on a busy street, without shouting or having to repeat yourself all the time. Microphone noise cancellation also reduces wind noise and prevents the dreaded echo effect from happening.
Most noise cancelling earbuds come with a noise cancelling microphone. More affordable earbuds usually employ more basic methods of noise cancellation than high-end earbuds, but the difference is seldom significant. As long as the microphone is located in the right place, it should work fine.
Keep in mind that microphones with active noise cancellation require a steady supply of electric power to work. Depending on how often you use your earbuds or headphones as a headset, the real battery life of your earbuds or headphones may be noticeably shorter than the advertised battery life.
Overall, a noise cancelling microphone is an attractive feature that greatly increases how useful a pair of noise cancelling earbuds is when used as a headset for voice control and phone conversations. Most manufacturers don’t place too much emphasis on microphone noise cancellation when advertising the features of their earbuds and headphones, so online reviews are usually the best source of information whenever you want to find out how well certain headphones or earbuds with a noise cancelling microphone perform.
What Is Adaptive Noise Cancellation?
Adaptive noise cancellation is like a more intelligent version of active noise cancellation. Normally, noise cancelling earbuds either try to cancel all outside noise or none, depending on whether the noise cancelling feature is active or not. With adaptive noise cancellation, the earbuds automatically determine how much noise cancellation to apply based on two factors: outside noise and whether you’re listening to audio.
Adaptive noise cancellation is useful because even the best noise cancelling systems in existence aren’t perfect. Some affect the audio you’re listening to, and others may even introduce a steady, audible hiss. The stronger the noise cancellation is, the more noticeable these negative side-effects are. As such, it makes sense to apply the least amount of noise cancellation possible.
Yes, manufacturers of noise cancelling earbuds and headphones could simply let you adjust the amount of noise cancelling manually (and some do), but determining how much noise cancelling is too much and how much is too little while listening to music with the amount of outside noise constantly changing would be extremely difficult and, after a short while, frustrating.
A task like this is perfectly suited for a clever electronic device that can act instantly and never get tired, which is how adaptive noise cancellation was born. Also known simply as ANC, adaptive noise cancellation reduces the level of noise cancellation when you listen to music and there are no loud noises around you to disturb you, and it increases the amount of noise cancellation when you pause the playback and the environment you’re in is noisy.
Consequently, earbuds with adaptive noise cancellation appear to be just as effective as earbuds without the feature, but the amount of interference and audible sound artifacts is much lower. Because adaptive noise cancellation is active only when there’s something to cancel, it consumes less battery power than regular noise cancellation.
Adaptive noise cancellation is usually a feature of high-end headphones and earbuds, but it’s slowly finding its way to the mid-range category. Unlike regular noise cancellation, adaptive noise cancellation is a relatively inexpensive feature from the manufacturer’s point of view. The heavy lifting is done by clover software algorithms that carefully analyze audio captured by the microphone integrated into the headphones or earbuds together with audio transmitted to the headphones or earbuds either wirelessly via Bluetooth or through a cable. The actual noise cancellation is then a business as usual.
The main reason why you don’t see it everywhere has a lot to do with the very nature of the modern headphone market. Take a look at Amazon, and you’ll see hundreds of smaller brands alongside recognizable names like Sennheiser, Koss, Beyerdynamic, Panasonic, AKG, Audio-Technica, and others.
Unlike the big brands, the smaller brands don’t employ experienced audio engineers who work tirelessly for years, trying to perfect the sound of headphones that are already considered by many to be the very definition of perfection. Instead, they partner with an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), who sells products to many other manufacturers and companies who rebrand them and market them as their own. Because everyone buys the same headphones from the same manufacturers, with the only difference being the packaging, profit margins are very low and deceitful marketing claims are everywhere. Many of these small brands would rather lie, claiming their noise cancelling headphones or earbuds support adaptive noise cancellation, than sell true adaptive noise cancelling headphones or earbuds at a higher price.
Which means that you should stick with established manufacturers if you’re in the market for a pair of adaptive noise cancelling earbuds. The manufacturer’s reputation will be reflected in the price, but the guarantee you get is well worth the extra cost.
What Is the Difference Between Passive and Active Noise Cancellation?
If you know how active noise cancellation works, you’re now probably thinking that the phrase “passive noise cancellation” is an oxymoron, and you have every right to think it is. If noise cancellation is an uncharted territory for you, pay a close attention because you’re about to learn a lot of new, useful information.
In the 1930s, airplanes and helicopters started to play a huge role on the battlefield. The one problem that nearly every pilot faced at the time was the horrible noise produced by the enormous engines that powered military aircraft. Even when far away from the frontline, pilots often couldn’t communicate with the operators on the ground. A solution was needed.
By emitting sound waves of the same frequency and amplitude but with inverted phase as the sound waves produced by an engine, army engineers successfully canceled the two kinds of sound waves out, significantly reducing the engine noise. Soon after, every pilot wore a noise cancelling headset that looked remarkably like the headsets worn by modern-day pilots.
It took several decades for active noise cancellation to reach the consumer market, but what was once a state-of-the-art military technology is now available to virtually everyone. Just like when the technology was still young, the latest active noise cancelling systems require a power source to work. In most cases, the source is a tiny lithium ion battery. All active noise cancelling systems use at least one microphone to record outside noise, which is then analyzed to determine the correct properties of the sound waves transmitted for the purpose of noise cancellation.
Noise cancellation is active by its very definition. To cancel sound waves, noise cancelling systems must actively capture sound, analyze it, and transmit it with inverted phrase. When you see the phrase “passive noise cancellation,” it almost always means “noise isolation.”
Noise isolation is a type of passive noise reduction that relies on noise-isolating materials rather than electronic components and a power source. Closing your ears with your fingers is a type of noise isolation. The biggest difference between active noise cancellation and passive noise isolation is how well they filter certain types of sound. Active noise cancelling systems have been developed to combat engine noise, and that’s also what they excel at. Every type of noise that follows a regular pattern and has a lower pitch can be effectively canceled out using active noise cancelling systems. But human speech, for example, presents a problem even for the most sophisticated noise cancelling systems in existence. Passive noise isolation, on the other hand, blocks all sounds more or less equally.
That’s why pilots wear active noise cancelling headsets but concert singers use custom-made in-ear headphones that insert deep into the ear canal, creating a tight seal that doesn’t let any unwanted noise in.
Since every pair of headphones and earbuds provides some level of passive noise isolation—even if it’s barely audible—manufacturers usually advertise as noise isolating only those models that are somewhat exceptional in terms of sound attenuation. The level of passive noise isolation is expressed in decibels (dB), and some of the best noise isolating headphones and earbuds out there claim around 35 dB of sound isolation.
As you’ve might have realized by now, noise isolation matters even when choosing noise cancelling headphones or earbuds. A pair of earbuds with relatively mediocre active noise cancellation and above-average passive noise isolation may block more outside noise than expensive noise cancelling earbuds with excellent active noise cancellation but poor passive noise isolation.
The good news is that you can get great noise isolation for cheap. Just look for earbuds that both insert deep into your ears and have no vent holes through which sound could enter your ear canals and eventually reach your ear drums. Once you find earbuds like this, replace the stock eartips with high-quality foam tips made from a special material that conforms to the shape of your ears and doesn’t let in nearly as much sound as silicone eartips.
In summary, passive noise cancellation is a nonsensical phrase that doesn’t reflect the fact that noise cancellation is, by its very definition, active. The correct name for headphones and earbuds that black outside noise without batteries and electronic components is “noise isolating.” Neither noise isolation nor noise cancellation is superior to the other noise reduction method, and they also aren’t mutually exclusive.
What is ANC mode?
Have you stumbled upon a pair of noise cancelling earbuds with a button that activates something called ANC mode? If so, you’ve come to the right place to learn what it means and what it does.
ANC stands for adaptive noise cancellation. This type of noise cancellation greatly increases the versatility of every pair of noise cancelling headphones and earbuds that support it. Essentially, noise cancelling earbuds with adaptive noise cancellation can automatically increase or decrease the level of noise cancellation based on music playback.
It’s no secret that even noise isolating earbuds block outside sounds and help you enjoy your music. It often takes just a small volume increase to cover the noise your neighbors make and hear nothing but your favorite songs. The problem is that as soon as you pause the playback, your moment of peace will be instantly over.
What’s so great about noise cancelling headphones and earbuds is their ability to get rid of ambient noise and outside sounds even without any music playing. They do so by emitting sound waves that are exactly opposite to the unwanted sound waves. When two opposite sound waves meet, they cancel each other out, resulting in silence.
With noise cancelling earbuds, you can just activate the noise cancelling feature whenever your neighbors get too loud and never hear a thing. But if you hear nothing regardless of how much noise your neighbors make, how do you know when to turn the noise cancelling feature off? You don’t, and that’s where the ANC mode comes in.
Active noise cancellation consumes battery power. If you happen to have noise cancelling earbuds that are also wireless and connect to your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth, you may not get more than 5 hours of listening on a single charge. That’s barely enough for a few days, let alone an entire week. And if you take your earbuds with you everywhere, you need every extra minute of battery life you can get, and having noise cancellation active only when it’s really needed is one of the most straightforward ways how to make your noise cancelling earbuds last longer on a single charge.
What’s more, noise cancellation affects sound quality. If you think about it, noise cancelling earbuds emit sound waves to cancel other sound waves. In case the sound waves emitted by your earbuds don’t perfectly match the original sound waves, the result won’t be perfect silence but noise. Usually, this noise is so quiet that it becomes completely unnoticeable even with music playing at a low volume, but that’s not always the case. Why let it interfere with your music if the music alone is enough to block outside sounds?
Adaptive noise cancellation has been created to improve the sound quality and battery life of noise cancelling earbuds and headphones. By automatically adjusting the intensity of noise cancellation to strike a balance between audio quality, battery life, and noise cancellation, it allows you to stop worrying whether you should turn noise cancellation on or off and help you focus on whatever you’re listening to.
Most noise cancelling earbuds and headphones that come with the ANC mode have a switch that lets you disable it, so there’s really no reason at all to avoid ANC-enabled earbuds just because you would rather be in charge of when the noise cancelling feature is active. From the technical standpoint, adaptive noise cancellation is relatively easy to implement and doesn’t affect the price.
Are there any downsides to adaptive noise cancellation? Not really. Some implementations of adaptive noise cancellation may be less reliable than others, but that doesn’t say much about the technology itself. If you do your homework and read how well the ANC mode of the noise cancelling earbuds that you would like to buy works, you won’t regret your purchase.