Wearing noise cancelling earbuds while you travel abroad or in the plane can make a lot of difference. You can experience high quality music without having to put up with ambient noise and listen to your favourite soundtracks without any hindrance, and this gives a more pleasurable listening experience as compared to traditional over the ear headphones or earbuds. Here we review the 10 best noise cancelling earbuds of 2017 which stand out for their superior noise cancelling effect and superior comfort, while delivering stellar audio performance. While it is not uncommon to find noise cancelling headphones, it is rare to find noise cancelling earbuds that does the job equally if not better than over the ear headphones.
#1 The Bose QuietComfort (QC20) Acoustic Noise Cancelling Earbuds
The Bose QuietComfort noise cancelling earbuds is hands down revolutionary. We were truly surprised at what Bose has accomplished with the QC20 series. If you are looking for the best noise cancelling earbuds on the market today, combined with very good sound and comfort all in a very small lightweight package, the QC20 is for you. These pair of earbuds features advanced noise reduction rivalling any full-sized headphones – when we first turned on its noise cancelling circuit, we could only describe the effect as eerily silent. In addition the achieving great noise-cancelling in an “ear bud” type design, Bose has also made real strides in quieting the sounds of speech (i.e., such as loud talking or a baby crying). The QC20s are by no means perfect in silencing speech, but it’s a clear step forward.
Furthermore, the soft silicone of the QC20 ear tips rest so comfortably against the ear openings that you simply forget you’re wearing them at all. Most importantly, the Bose StayHear design of the tips keeps them in place, which is a huge deal for me. The Bose QC20s remain secure, but without force that would cause discomfort. The QC20s come with medium tips installed, but also include small and large sizes in the box. We found that wearing these noise cancelling earbuds for long periods of time did not cause any discomfort at all – in fact we barely noticed we were wearing them.
The sound quality of the QC20 is excellent, and the bass is deep and punchy with the added noise-cancelling effect. The highs and lows are crisp and clear, and it also handles the mids really well. We could literally hear the instrumental separation when we ran through classical music through these earbuds – no distortion was heard at higher volumes.
The minimal size and lightweight design make the QC20 a “take everywhere” earphone. These earbuds come with a super lightweight lithium battery that runs for 16 hours on just a 2-hour charge from USB. (Bose includes the required USB to micro-USB charging cable.) The earphones will continue to function with a dead battery, but without noise-cancelling and with somewhat degraded sound quality. The integrated microphone makes it a perfect headset for use with iPhone and other cellular phones. (Note that you must order the QC20i for use with Apple products.) The microphone also includes an “Aware Mode” switch that allows in some outside noise, like traffic sounds–convenient and an essential safety feature if wearing these in a city environment.
If you like to bring along noise cancelling earbuds when you fly there is no reason to use anything but these. Although the QC20s may be a little more expensive than most, they will pay for themselves in added enjoyment after the first few flights. It’s a great investment for frequent flyers.
The Verdict? Overall, the QC20s are one of the best noise cancelling earbuds in the market right now which are ideal for android, BlackBerry and Windows phones. They reproduce the notable audio performance exclusive to Bose technologies, and provide long-lasting comfort plus stability from proprietary high quality earbuds and advanced noise cancelling. It’s the perfect companion for travelling or for those who taking long flights – and makes listening to your favourite music and videos such a fine pleasure. This product is currently selling with a 30-day full refund policy that will give you a chance to try them out without having to fully commit right away, so be sure to check these out while they are still available.
#2 Audio Technica ATH-BT04NC Noise Cancelling Earbuds
The Audio Technica ATH-BT04NC are one of the best noise cancelling earbuds and feature very good audio quality. They are extremely comfortable and the remote is easy to use. Additionally, you can use these earbuds without enabling Bluetooth by using the 3.5mm jack cable, making this a great choice for airplanes. The noise cancelling is superb, and they have great bass response and overall they sound really good. The Bluetooth range on this device is easily a range of 10 meters, or 33 feet, and no static unitl you reach the fringe of the range.
Compared to some other noise-cancelling earphones, the Audio Technica ATH-BT04NC has some really useful features – it has a bass enhancement (SRS WOW) button and can be used to make or receive calls. Other nice things are extra ear plugs/pieces to fit any ear canal, a hard case to store the earphones and an airline adaptor which is a really nice added touch. While they may not be on par with some of the high end over the ear active noise cancelling headphones, they certainly can hold their own with any in this price range.
We found that one of the most important things is to select the right earbud size, and there are at least 4 different sizes to choose from to help you with that. You want them large enough to seal in the ear canal without being too tight and becoming uncomfortable after wearing them for some time. When you find the right fit you can wear them for extended periods without a lot of discomfort. They also stay in place very well and they also come with a standard micro USB charge cable.
The Verdict? Overall, these are one of the best noise cancelling earbuds at this price range, and we would recommend them to anyone looking for active noise cancelling BT earbuds. They are convenient, sleek and easy to use, and the Bluetooth function makes travelling with these a true bundle of joy.
#3 AKG High Performance Noise Cancelling Earbuds
The AKG High Performance noise cancelling earbuds are built to deliver true high-performance AKG sound with digital active noise cancellation. Furthermore, it comes with an in-line microphone and a closed-back design which keeps environmental noise out. This is vast improvement over the previous AKG models and a great step for those who like in-ear earbuds and even less ambient background noise. On the whole, it’s very compact for travel, it has a high quality microphone for chat/video calls, and the noise cancelling function makes a lot of difference on the airplane.
The sound quality on the AKGs are pretty good – they are definitely at the high end and one of the best noise cancelling earbuds we’ve heard at this price range. While the Bose Q20 may sound too overwhelmingly bassy for some, the AKGs are more moderate and balanced in sound output. It brings in bass only when necessary, and focuses on the highs and mids, and the tremble is arguably much clearer. In general, we found that the AKGs are more flat – so if rock and pop music are you thing, the Bose Q20 will give you a better experience. If you prefer voice, instrumental or vocals and want a clear touch of them, follow the AKGs.
The whole kit with cables fits nicely in a small bag that will fit nicely into a laptop bag pocket, and ultralight. The microphone quality is very good, and the mic/switch is at chin-height. We tested it with a android phone (Galaxy Nexus) the call switch doubles as a pause button for my music player app, which was a nice added touch.
The Verdict? The AKGs are great sonically and comfort wise, and we expect that they will be very comfortable to wear on a plane. They’re definitely going to be perfect for traveling and much easy to schlep around than a big noise-canceling headset. Those who have a music preference more on the highs and mids should consider getting these.
Note: At the time of writing, the AKG noise cancelling earbuds are selling for a whooping 20% discount off!
#4 Shure SE846-CL Noise Cancelling Earbuds (Noise Isolation)
While the Shure SE846-CL are not exactly noise cancelling earbuds per se, they provide enough noise isolation by their sheer design and incredible output sound quality that they rival or beat the best noise cancelling earbuds. We have listened to many earphones, over the ear “cans”, including the Bose AC20s active noise cancelling earbuds, and nothing compares to this experience in good listening. We used the Comply Txs-100 Comfort Plus Earphone Tips (Black, 3 pair, small) with these and they isolate noise extremely well.
The Shure SE846 features quad hi-definition micro-drivers which are capable of delivering extended high-end clarity and unparalleled low-end performance. It’s low-pass filer provides incredibly deep low-end performance of a true subwoofer without sacrificing clarity or detail – we were surprised at how good these earbuds were as compared to actual headphones. We could even customize the frequency response on these – the adjustable sound signatures were available (balanced, warm or birght) via changeable nozzle inserts and removable metal nozzles.
Shure did not leave anything out when they put this package together. It comes with a large plastic case like a pelican case as well as a zippered case. It also comes with a plethora of tips and most interestingly a set of 2 additional tubes that can be inserted in to the IEM’s that change the sound of the SE846’s. We opted to stay with the pre-installed neutral tubes for a more balanced experience. The Shure SE846 felt extremely comfortable on the years – although these are noticeably larger and if you have smaller ears you may have some comfort issues with them. We found that wearing these for extended periods of time did not cause any issues, although it’s good to adjust them around from time to time.
The sub bass is incredible in these little IEM’s. The Shure SE846 literally takes it to another level with the low frequencies it can go down to. The bass is there and not overwhelming and the highs are crisp and clear. Overall, the sound on these is excellent! Also worth noting is the very low impedance of only 9 ohms – this means that they can easily be driven from mobile devices and get good volume without having to turn it all the way up.
The Verdict? While the SE846’s are not active noise cancelling earbuds, they seem to be an evolutionary step in a long line of IEM’s. The superior design of these earbuds helps isolate outside noise effectively, coupled with an impressive sound performance that is just stunning. The sub bass is amazing in an IEM and the other improvements like the metal nozzles and removable tubes to change the sound are great. They are hands down one of the best IEM’s on the market today and we highly recommend them.
Note: At the time of writing, the Shure SE46 is selling at a 20% discount the total price!
#5 Phiaton BT 220 NC Noise Cancelling Earbuds
The Phiaton BT220 are the go to noise cancelling earbuds for their sound profile as well as their design and comfort. The BT220s are actually a follow up on the previous BT210 models and they still sound amazing. This version features a better solid construction, the wires are thicker and seem to be more robust, and the battery life seems to be longer. The sound quality of these Phiaton earbuds have received wide acclaim for some years now, and although they do not come cheap, we found that they deliver a deeply satisfying listening experience. From light classical music to heavy rock, the 220s handles them all, lending every track a certain heft and balance while still allowing it to retain its most salient features. The sound never gets slack and muddled at the low end or tinny and shrill at the other. While other earbuds might deliver a little more punch for highly compressed and processed genres such as rock or hip-hop, the accuracy of the 220s makes them the perfect all-round headphones.
The noise cancellation on the 220s, while not perfect, can easily cancel out 95% of ambient sound and makes it one of the best noise cancelling earbuds on the market. We compared these with the Bose QC20 and found that the 220s are able to equal to those in performance. For frequent travellers, the 220s will certainly be an indispensable accessory.
In the looks department, you can’t do much better than the 220s. The style is clean and refined but with enough dash subtly worked in to make it look of the present. The buds in particular might seem a tad oversized at first but don’t feel at all cumbersome and are just beautifully hewn. The aesthetics clearly indicate the 220s are a premium device (they remind you of the iPhone 6 in that sense), and should remain current years from now.
The Verdict? The sound quality on the 220s is great and the noise cancelling is pretty decent. If you are looking to block 95% to 100% of ambient noise in your area, you might want to try other noise cancelling earbuds. However, they sound pretty decent with noise cancelling and the wireless Bluetooth function is a definite plus, making these one of the best looking and most convenient earbuds to travel around with.
Note: At the time of writing, the Phiaton BT220s are selling at a whooping 31% discount!!
#6 Polk Audio 6000i Noise Cancelling Earbuds
The Polk UltraFocus 6000 is the one of the best noise cancelling earbuds available, delivering ultra-high performance sound with focused details, fully fidelity and deep bass. When we first reviewed the UltraFocus 6000, we noticed that it comes with many salient features which enhance its performance and comfort. The materials and controls all seem to be high quality with no flimsiness. Furthermore, Polk’s exclusive optimized active tuning takes advantage of noise cancelling technology to improve overall performance of these earbuds – listening to these was simply sublime.
There are 7 choices of earbud tips to choose from as well as an airline 2 prong adapter I even noticed that the phone jack is very short, unobtrusive, and has a nice flexible rubber 90 bend so as not to catch on things. As far as the noise cancelling is concerned, it seems to work pretty well and will eliminate all but the loudest sounds. Testing this on an Airbus A320, we could barely hear the inside of the cabin on the flight as well as people talking. When wearing these around other people in a medium noise environment, for instance in an airport terminal, we could not hear anything from the outside. The sound that these speakers (13.6mm) put out are superior than any other medium priced earbuds we have reviewed, with nice crisp highs and surprising lows (8-25 kHz). The controls are easy to figure out and the speaker seems to work well, no complaints from people on the other end. The packaging says they have 115db of sensitivity, which we thought are comparable to or better than $300 Bose.
In fact, we would go so far as to say that the UltraFocus 6000 sound so good that they are almost comparable to a home theater system. The bass on them is amazing and sounds fairly close to a dedicated subwoofer. Although some might complain of too much bass, those who love rock and hip-hop genres would really enjoy this one. The highs and mids are very crisp, also may be compared to home theater systems with devoted midrange and tweeter speakers. Simply said, these earbuds sounded crisp, detailed, and full of bassThe fact that they are active noise cancelling makes it nice on the bus, subway, or just when there is any background noise going on.
The Verdict? Although the UltraFocus 6000 may be slightly bulk and require a battery, they are one of the best noise cancelling earbuds which deliver superb sound performance and accurate audio reproduction. We would highly recommend these for travelling or for anyone who needs earbuds but wants to hear full quality sound, and who don’t mind slightly bulkier earbuds.
#7 Sennheiser CXC 700 Noise Cancelling Earbuds
The Sennheiser CXC-700 earbuds are very lightweight and are very comfortable. At this price range, they rank as one of best noise cancelling earbuds in terms of comfort and sound quality. There are two types of earbuds, those that fit into the ear canal and those that place a speaker at the entrance of the ear canal (much like Apple’s buds). The CXC-700’s are of the former type they fit into the ear canal with little effort and actually seal in better than most. This is a big plus right out of the box.
When inserted properly, earbuds that fit in the ear canal should block a lot of noise and these do that as expected. When we got them in and turned them on, we were plunged into near-silence. Sennheiser claims that these block 90% of low frequency noise and that seems to be about right – with a fan turned on in the room and the buds turned on, the fan simply vanished. The active noise cancelling comes at a small price that some may find annoying, though – there is a white-noise hiss when these are engaged and though it is faint it is unmistakable.
An interesting feature is that these earbuds come with three cancellation modes for blocking different sets of frequencies. Mode 1 blocks very low frequences, mode 2 blocks a higher set of frequencies (still low) and mode 3 combines the other two modes into one. We would recommend using mode 3 at all times to block all ambient noise at all times, although some might prefer other modes just in case they want to hear the traffic or office phone ringing. It’s good to note that these speakers functions equally well without batteries in passive mode. The small 10 MM drivers allow users to sleep on their sides while travelling without any discomfort.
When the CXC-700 earbuds were compared to the Bose QC20s, we were surprised at how much of the low frequencies were knocked out – the earbuds actually performed on par with Bose and definitely outclassed the PXC-450’s. The passive cancelling combined with the ANC capabilities of these earbuds make them equals with the Bose top offering and a clear winner over their over-the-ear sibling PXC-450.We also found that these earbuds have excellent treble (like most earbuds) and they have good bass. Where most of the troubles with most headphones is in the midrange, these earbuds did astoundingly well. In fact, the sound reproduction is very warm, crisp and lively. We were able to get what we wanted to hear without resorting to an equalizer to improve the bass output. Finally, the TalkThrough function enables users to communicate with others without removing the earbuds, which is a very nice added touch.
The Verdict? These CXC-700 earbuds are easily one of the best noise cancelling earbuds in the market today in terms of comfort and audio performance. If you want noise cancelling and prefer earbuds to regular cans, these deserve a look. For anyone who travels often this is hands down one of the best earbuds to get – and while the retail price on these seems a little high, the actual selling price from Amazon and others provides a very fair value for the price. For an excellent pair of in-ear noise cancelling, we would highly recommend the CXC-700.
#8 Shure SE535-V Noise Cancelling Earbuds (Noise Isolation)
While the Shure SE535s are not exactly noise cancelling earbuds, they provide enough noise isolation and high quality sound that rivals or outperforms that of the best noise cancelling earbuds in the market. The first thing most listeners will notice with the 535’s is their phenomenal mid-range response, which is largely out of style in most of today’s popular (read: crap) audio products. The tight, clean bass is delightfully present in the mix without clouding over other ranges. The treble is bright and organic, not harsh and overpowering. The improved bass response, build design, and crossover sets these apart from earlier and lower models. For those seeking full, powerful, honest sound with a great build and innovative features, buy these and don’t look back.
The 535 has been improved in several areas from the earlier 530 model. The build quality has been improved and is substantially solid and commendable. The replaceable cord is almost indestructible, but it being replaceable it is a non-issue. The Shure SE535s are specially designed to provide a great deal of noise isolation too, shielding the input speakers from ambient noise.
More important is the sound quality which has been dramatically improved in a number of ways due to refinements to the shaping of the cavity within which the balanced armatures are fitted (the “speakers” inside are more comparable to tuning forks than typical electo-magnetic speakers.) The crossover points between these armatures may also have been refined and adjusted for flatter response – meaning audibly flat, rather than just measurably flat. The external shape of the device was changed too, and it should fit more comfortably for many ears once one gets used to inserting them.
There is tremendous clarity and transparency throughout the frequency range resulting in better delineating of instruments, one from the other, and the textures and shapes within the sound. For example, the airy whoosh of a flute, the tinkles in the distance of a softy struck triangle at the back of the stage, the rosiny draw of the bow of a string instrument, the brassy rasp of a trombone, and the shimmer and afterglow of a brushed cymbal. It also provides higher resolution of the soundspace, such that the leading edges of percussion instruments penetrate with greater force, impact and speed. The fading tails of sound decaying away are easily distinguishable and followed to its silence.
The 535 excels in the bass department, even over Shure’s 530 earlier model which provided deep bass surely, but not with the 535’s impact, solidity and tightness, definition and textures. There are other brands with seemingly more bass or lower bass capability. This may be an illusion. For plumbing the deepest bass we have the requirement for very high definition. The 535 is, by a long shot, superior – you need to seal the earbud to your ear canal to hear it in all its glory.
The Verdict? We have not yet heard a more enjoyable, and most importantly, accurate portable set of noise isolating earbuds to date. The price, understandably, will be a factor for most people. However for the discerning listener who demands the quality of sound the 535 can furnish and will install higher resolution audio files in their music players/iPods, the Shure 535 will be a stunning addition to their musical enjoyment on the go, in a plane, while exercising, or at home.
#9 Sony MDRNC13 Noise Cancelling Earbuds
The Sony MDRNC13 noise cancelling earbuds provide effective noise suppression across a range of frequencies and packs a stunning 100 hour battery life with hybrid earbuds. It reduces approximately 87.4% of ambient noise and the dual-use capability allows you to listen to music with or without noise cancellation. The earbuds feel very comfortable and fit securely; you can wear these for long periods of time without feeling fatigued.
These earbuds fit into your ears like earplugs to eliminate sound in your surroundings, and once turned on, will actively cancel the incoming low-frequency noise. The noise cancellation function takes a couple of seconds to kick in after turning on, and we could definitely tell the difference. It will get rid of the low-frequency engine humming during flight. If you are not listening anything during the flight, do not plug the 3.5mm jack in – noise cancellation works best if there is no additional white noise/picked up static coming from the sound system. Consider these as electronic earplugs with built-in speakers as a bonus.
The MDRNC13 provides good noise cancellation and better sound than what most earbuds can deliver. When you add the ear-canal seal, you can even get some decent bass for a transducer this small. The frequency response is pretty even across the rest of the audio spectrum, without any resonances or frequency dropouts.
Note that there’s no hiss (at least none that my aging ears can hear) when it’s not cancelling background noise, even when it’s on. This is definitely a side-effect of the noise cancellation process and not a defect with the audio circuitry. Also note that the overall volume decreases slightly when you turn on the n.c., unlike the NC22’s which actually boosted the volume slightly. It comes with a small pouch, extra plastic tips, and a AAA battery (required for the noise cancellation function). You can clip the noise cancellation circuit on your shirt/jacket for a more comfortable experience.
The Verdict? The Sony MDRNC13 delivers very good audio performance and noise cancellation, and feels less bulky in its design from the other noise cancelling earbuds. While the audio performance isin’t at the top of the range, it packs an incredible 100 hours of active noise cancelling time and is extremely portable and user friendly. If you are looking for a cheaper option that delivers effective noise cancellation for travelling, these high quality earbuds represent a good value investment.
#10 The Sony MDR-NC300D Noise Cancelling Earbuds
The Sony MDR-NC300D are one of the best noise cancelling earbuds and have the ability to reduce up to 98.4% of ambient noise. When we reviewed this product and compared it with the Bose Quiet Comfort 15, we found that the noise cancelling was about equal. The quality of the sound while listening to music was about equal – but one nice feature with the Sony is that you can calibrate the noise cancelling through an adjustment system. The Sony also features 3 different modes of noise cancelling depending on what type of noise environment you are in, which is a useful addition for those who need to listen for phone calls or oncoming traffic. Another advantage over the Bose is that they are way much smaller and more portable, making them the ideal travel companion. The battery lasts about 15 hours as advertised.
The Sony drivers are 16mm, so that bass is nice but does not compromise the upper frequencies. Furthermore, these new NC300 buds are certainly more advanced at noise cancelling (ie a NYC subway) and do not produce a hissing noise unlike some other noise cancelling earbuds. Do note that the Sony earbuds do not allow you to listen to music at all when the noise cancelling unit runs out of batteries – which means you cannot listen to anything until you replace the battery, so be sure to get an extra set of batteries when you go travelling.
The Verdict? The Sony MDR-NC300D are very good at reducing ambient noise and have a seek portable design. It’s active digital processing realizes more effective noise and also has more comfortable vertical-in-the-ear style earbuds. While the battery life of this device is not as long as other models, they compensate by providing very good noise cancelling and are more portable than other noise cancelling earbud models. The drivers also provide decent bass and good sound reproduction, which definitely represents good value at this price range.