March 7, 2021
The best noise-canceling true wireless earbuds for 2021

The best noise-canceling true wireless earbuds for 2021


Active noise cancellation or ANC headphones work by essentially producing a mirror image sound wave in your ear to electronically counteract (or “cancel out”) external noise. The technology works best in environments where there’s a sustained din of noise, like the droning of a jet engine — which is why Bose ANC wireless earphones became a status symbol at airports.

The technology used to be restricted to full-size over-ear headphones. But in just the past few years, it’s been shrunken down to earbud size. Sony’s 2018 models, the WF-SP700N and WF-1000X, were the trailblazers, 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, all of which I’ve personally used. As more competitors keep coming after Apple, we’ll see many more models hit the market, and we’ll update this list accordingly. 

Looking for ANC headphones in all styles, including on-ear headphones or over-ear headphones? Check out the best noise-canceling headphones of 2021. Keep reading here to find out which models I consider to be the best noise-canceling wireless earbuds.


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Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: Best noise canceling



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It took Bose quite a while to get them into stores, but the new $279 noise-canceling QuietComfort Earbuds are finally here. In many ways, they’re excellent true wireless earbuds, particularly when it comes to their sound and noise canceling, which is arguably the best out there right now in a set of earbuds. Performance-wise, they clearly have a leg up on Apple’s best-selling AirPods Pro true wireless noise-canceling buds. However, the AirPods Pro’s smaller design, somewhat more comfortable fit and superior voice-calling capabilities make it hard to declare the Bose the straight-up champ. Ultimately, it depends on what your priorities are.

Read our Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review.

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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, active noise cancellation rivaling that of the AirPods Pro, improved battery life (up to 7 hours versus the originals’ 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 — clearly superior in 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).

Read our Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 review.

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The Mpow X3 earbuds play loud and sound shockingly good for their low price of $52 (currently, there’s an instant 20% off coupon on Amazon), with good clarity, powerful bass and active noise canceling that’s fairly effective.

Mpow seems to be regularly tweaking its earphones, and the X3 model was briefly taken off Amazon for an update: “The new version upgraded the volume control [and] optimized its active noise-canceling function and call effect,” the company told me. “It also added the supersoft ear caps, which [are] more comfortable to wear for a long time.”

They did fit me comfortably and securely and I got a tight seal from the XL ear tips. They’re fully waterproof (IPX7) and get up to 7 hours of battery life at moderate volume levels with USB-C charging, in a charging case that looks like a fat version of the standard AirPods case. Call quality is good — they have a sidetone feature that lets you hear your voice in the ‘buds — but I’ve used other models with better noise reduction during calls. I noticed a touch of audio lag when streaming a YouTube video but I had no issues when streaming iTunes movies.

The touch controls are a little wonky and take some getting used to, and it didn’t help that the instructions in the box seemed to be for the old X3 (I found the current instructions online, which helped me figure things out). But aside a few minor downsides, the X3 is a great value.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Even if they don’t sound as magical as you’d hope a $249 model would, the AirPods Pro still manages 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 cancellation and excellent call quality. Yeah, these high-quality headphones are expensive, 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 earbuds 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.

Samsung

The Galaxy Buds Pro — Samsung’s long-awaited active noise-canceling model — has arrived with upgraded sound and high expectation for $200. (Yes, the Buds Live also has noise canceling, but it’s pretty modest.) I’ve been mostly impressed, particularly with the sound quality and call quality, and there are some nice bonus features, including an improved ambient noise mode with voice detection. There’s also a virtual surround feature that currently only works with the new Galaxy S21 models but will slowly trickle out to other Galaxy devices. The noise canceling is also effective if you get a tight seal from the included ear tips. That said, just how good you think they are will ultimately depend on how well they fit your ears. Read the CNET review.

While the Elite 75t has been out a while, it’s still one of the best true wireless earbuds out there and recently added noise canceling via a firmware upgrade. Earlier firmware updates improved voice-calling performance. 

The Elite 75t aren’t quite as comfortable to wear as the AirPods Pro, but they do sound better, with clearer overall sound and better bass audio quality definition, so long as you get a tight seal.

The slightly more rugged Elite Active 75t is also available for about $20 more, but with the new Elite 85t’s arrival we are seeing some sales on the Elite 75t. 

Read our Jabra Elite 75t review.

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I had Edifier’s TWS NB2 ($100) on this list and then the very similar-looking Earfun Air Pro came along. No, it’s not exactly the same as the TWS NB2, which has a companion app, a “low-latency” gaming mode and a nicer textured finish on its case. But it’s very close and costs a good deal less when you factor in extra discounts.

As I said about the Edifier, the Earfun Air distinguishes itself with a comfortable fit, decent noise-canceling (though not great) and nicely balanced sound with good clarity and well-defined bass. They’re smooth-sounding earbuds.

Voice calling is also above average — noise reduction outdoors was decent and callers said they had no trouble hearing me (there’s a light sidetone feature that allows you to hear your voice in the buds as you talk). Battery life is rated at up 7 hours with noise canceling on and these have a IPX5 rating, which means they’re splashproof and are fine for working out (I ran with them). The Edifier buds are listed as having an IPX54 rating.

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Sony’s WF-1000XM3 earbuds have been out for a while and are probably due for an upgrade in the not-so-distant future. In recent months, we’ve seen them discounted by $50 off their list price and they remain a solid pick at that price. As far as sound quality goes, they’re among the best-sounding wireless earbuds and also feature excellent noise-cancellation technology to reduce ambient noise.

The only drawback is the WF-1000XM3 earbuds aren’t rated as sweat-proof or waterproof headphones. That said, I’ve used them for light workouts with a bit of a sweat at the gym without a problem. They use Bluetooth 5.0 with support for AAC but not aptX.

Read our Sony WF-1000XM3 review.

David Carnoy/CNET

Sony’s WF-1000XM3 model is considered one of the best sets of true wireless noise-canceling earbuds. But to the dismay of some people, it lacks any sort of water resistance, making it unsuitable for sports. It took a while, but now we finally have a new true wireless noise-canceling sports model from Sony: the WF-SP800N.

This isn’t quite the WF-1000XM3 with a water-resistant body. It’s missing Sony’s QN1e processor, but there’s still a lot to like about it, including very good sound, solid noise cancellation and good call quality. It’s definitely a nice upgrade over the WF-SP700N, which came out in 2018, and its “arcs” (sports fins) lock the buds in your ears. Just make sure you get a tight seal from one of the included ear tips or else both the sound and noise canceling will be lackluster.

Read our Sony WF-SP800N review.

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I can’t remember the last time I reviewed a Technics product — it’s been that many years — but the venerable audio brand, which Panasonic brought out of retirement in 2014, appears on the company’s line-topping noise-canceling earbuds. The Technics EAH-AZ70W earbuds’ list price of $250 puts them squarely up against Apple’s AirPods Pro ($250), Sony’s WF-1000XM3 ($230) and Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless 2 ($300). While they’re a little large, they stack up well against that stiff competition, with impressive sound and noise cancellation.

Read our Technics EAH-AZ70W review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantNo (While a PR rep says they should be fine for light workouts, 1More hasn’t provided a water resistance rating yet)

The first generation model of this headphone made the list, but the new upgraded version is THX-certified and has some tweaks, including improved drivers and more refined tuning. It already sounded good, now it sounds excellent.

The earbuds fit comfortably and securely in my ears (though they do stick out a bit), so I was able to get a tight seal, which is crucial for sound quality and noise cancellation. The only significant drawback is that they have no water-resistance rating, but they should be OK for light workouts. 

This model has a physical control button as well as touch controls. Using the touch controls you can toggle between three modes: no noise cancellation, a pass-through “transparency” mode that lets ambient noise in, and active noise cancellation. The noise-cancelling mode is effective and I thought the voice-calling capabilities were decent, with solid noise reduction when I hit the streets of New York. 

The previous version had a bit of treble push, but this updated version sounds fuller and richer, with more balanced, cleaner sound that’s pretty dynamic (there’s AptX support for devices like Samsung Galaxy phones that support AptX). Battery life is rated at 5 hours with noise cancellation on and 6 with it off. There’s a quick-charge feature that gives you 2 hours of use from a 15-minute charge. The USB-C-equipped charging case also charges wirelessly. 

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