The best noise-cancelling earbuds in 2021


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In the list below, we have picked the best ANC headphones from their respective price categories starting with the ones that cost around $300 – going down to the relatively affordable ones that retail for less than $100.

Best in-ear headphones under $300: Sony WF-1000XM4

Sony WF-1000XM4
We may be still reviewing it – but we think the Sony WF-1000XM4 is the best in-ear headphones you can buy today. / © NextPit
Pros

  • Excellent sound quality
  • Very good ANC
  • LDAC and DSEE Extreme support
  • Long battery life
  • Extensive range of features
  Cons

  • Google Fast Pair has some quirks
  • Sony’s official app needs polishing
  • Wearing comfort could have been better

If you’re looking for the best true wireless headphones currently available, there’s no way around the Sony WF-1000XM4. The wireless earbuds are the best that Sony’s ANC professionals currently have to offer. Besides a very effective noise cancellation and excellent sound quality, the in-ear headphones also bring a lot of extras in terms of features.

Among other things, Sony uses its “Adaptive Sound Control” to recognize which sound setting is best for you based on your position and movements. If you stand up and go outside, the headphones can automatically switch to their transparency mode or let voices through.

Sony also offers a 5-channel equalizer with bass control, ear analysis for 360-degree sound, and AI-powered “DSEE Extreme” sound optimization in the free Companion app. The product also supports the LDAC codec to ensure excellent quality over Bluetooth.

Sony claims eight hours of battery life for the WF-1000XM4 with ANC activated. If you do not need ANC and switch it off, the battery life extends to 12 hours. The supplied battery case can charge the headphones twice when they are fully charged. The case itself supports wireless charging.

Full review coming soon

With the Sony WF-1000XM4, you end up with a feature-packed in-ear headphone with class-leading ANC capabilities, Of course, you pay a premium for these privileges and as I draft this, these pair of earbuds will set you back by a cool $278.

Best in-ear headphones under $200: Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro is our choice for the best ANC earbuds under $200 / © NextPit

Rating

Bewertung Design und Handling

Pros

  • Excellent sound quality thanks to equalizer and Hear-ID
  • Long battery life
  • Effective ANC
  • Compact size
  • Fast pairing with auto-play
  Cons

  • Many features are Samsung-exclusive
  • May fall-off while talking
  • Operation too fiddly

A bit cheaper than the WF-1000XM4 is the Galaxy Buds Pro, also released in 2021. Like the Sony, these earbuds also offer excellent audio quality with ANC. My colleague Ben – who reviewed this product – was particularly impressed with how it managed to isolate him from the cacophony of Berlin’s traffic. In fact, he had to turn the transparency mode on so that he could make sense of what was happening around him.

If he did have to nitpick it was the rather cumbersome manner in which you will be required to fiddle with the controls on the product. In addition, Samsung offers features such as multi-pairing and 360-degree sound only on Samsung devices. A decision that I can understand, but at the same time have to criticize.

Read the full review of the Galaxy Buds Pro

As of June 2021, the Galaxy Buds Pro cost just under $170, making them a really solid buy. Keep in mind that our review score from February was based on the launch price of $199.

Best in-ear headphones under $150: Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro

Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro
Anker once again shows what good value for money looks like with the Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro. / © NextPit

Rating

Bewertung Design und Handling

Pro

  • Good sound thanks to equalizer and Hear-ID
  • Long battery life
  • Effective ANC
  • Compact, both earbuds, and case
  • Fast pairing with auto-play
  Contra

  • No multi-pairing via Bluetooth
  • Only IPX4 waterproof
  • ANC crackles without music

In early 2021, Anker announced the launch of the Soundcore Liberty Air Pro 2 and proved to the world that you do not need to pay an obscene amount of money to get effective, good-quality ANC.  The Liberty Air 2 Pro offers excellent battery life (six hours with ANC enable) while also adding support for fast charging. The earbuds can last two hours with a short 10-minute charge!

As for the cons, while the Liberty Air 2 Pro’s sound is convincing, the ANC can’t quite keep up with more expensive models. The noise cancellation crackles a little too much and ambient noise isn’t filtered out too much. Furthermore, multi-pairing is missing and you also have to do without comfort features like 360-degree sound or the lossless LDAC codec.

Read the full review of the Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro

For the Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro, you usually pay between $99 and $120 depending on where you buy it from.

Best in-ear headphones under $100: Huawei FreeBuds 4i

Huawei FreeBuds 4i
The Huawei Freebuds 4i are our choice for the best ANC earbuds under $100 / © NextPit

Rating

Bewertung Design und Handling

Pro

  • Great battery life
  • Balanced audio signature
  • Classic, high-quality design
  • Compact & solid case
  • Price
  Cons

  • Average ANC
  • AI Life application pretty useless
  • No IP certification or wireless charging
  • No HD codec
  • Poor microphones for calls

In 2021, troubled Chinese telecommunications major Huawei unveiled the FreeBuds 4i. We reviewed the newest ANC-capable earbuds from the company and deduced that it offers very good battery life, solid sound, and very good ANC for the price you pay for it. My colleague Antoine, in his review, gave the headphones a four-star rating. And trust me, it’s not easy convincing Antoine.

In terms of sound, Antoine highlights the W sound signature of the Freebuds 4i which he opines will appeal to most listeners. The emphasis is on the bass and treble, while the mids tend to disappear in the background. However, as with the Soundcore models, it does not support HD codecs such as AptX HD and LDAC.

In terms of ANC, the FreeBuds 4i are primarily suitable for suppressing classic aircraft noise, i.e. sonorous humming. Sudden noises such as clapping or roaring engines, on the other hand, are filtered to a lesser extent. However, these are features that are quite acceptable in view of the price.

Read the full review of the Huawei FreeBuds 4i

Depending on where you buy it from, the Huawei FreeBuds 41 can be purchased for anywhere between $90 or $100.

For Apple users: Apple AirPods Pro

Apple AirPods Pro
The Apple AirPods Pro are definitely the best in-ear headphones for your iPhone / © NextPit

Review

Bewertung Design und Handling

Pro

  • Very good fit
  • Good sound
  • Very good active noise cancellation
  • Very good integration with iOS
  • Compact charging case
  Contra

  • Only basic functions outside the Apple Ecosystem
  • Missing volume control
  • Average battery life

If you’re reading this article on an iPhone, iPad, or MacBook, buying an Apple product is a natural choice. The Apple AirPods Pro are currently Apple’s best performing in-ear headphones and feature very good ANC.

My colleague Shu, who reviewed the product rated the headphones 4.5 stars. In his review, he highlighted the excellent sound quality of the product along with its very capable good noise cancellation capabilities. The deep, seamless integration with other Apple products and the ecosystem, in general, was another plus point.

While you usually have to deal with bulky companion apps on Android, everything is integrated into the system on iOS. Your sound profiles are also automatically transferred to other Apple devices, and switching between them also happens on its own.

Read the full review of the Apple AirPods Pro

The launch price of the Apple Airpods Pro has dropped from $249 back in 2019 to just under $200 as of June 2021. 

Alternatives

The list above consists of true wireless headphones that we think is among the best in their respective price categories. However, there are several other alternatives that are worth mentioning here. In case you did not really like most of our recommendations above, all is not lost, and take a look at our list below.

Alternative in-ear headphones with ANC

Model Current price Review score Link to review
Sony WF-1000XM3 $178 4.5 / 5 stars Sony WF-1000XM3 review
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live $149.99 3.5 / 5 stars Galaxy Buds Live review
Libratone Track Air+ $198.99 4.5 / 5 stars Libratone Track Air+ review
Huawei FreeBuds Pro $169.99 4.5 / 5 stars Huawei FreeBuds Pro review
HUAWEI FreeBuds 3i $69.99 4 / 5 stars Huawei FreeBuds 3i review
Jabra Elite 85t $179.99 Not tested
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds $279 Not tested

Now that we have listed the products that we think are with considering, let us delve into something more interesting.

Below, I’ve summarized the four main things you should look for to home in on the best in-ear headphones (with ANC).

  1. Sound
  2. ANC
  3. Battery life
  4. Design

Let’s start with the sound, which is of course best experienced by yourself. But testing out audio products before you buy them is easier said than done – especially with in-ear headphones. Thus, you are left with no choice but to rely on manufacturer claims, user reviews, and professional reviews to form an opinion.

Sound quality

If you spend more on headphones, you usually get better sound. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. But the examples of such are few and far in between. Generally, you can use this rule of thumb as a guide. It also helps if you can read and understand the tech specs which are usually mentioned on the packaging (and on the website) itself.

Tech specs and what to make of them

Feature Impact
Size of the drivers The size of the drivers is not necessarily crucial. In-ear headphones use tiny speakers, but with the right choice of materials and good tuning, even small drivers can sound very good.
Frequency response The frequency response describes the frequency range (In Hz) covered by the headphones. The wider the frequency range, the better the sound quality in theory.
Watt The power of speakers is measured in watts. The more the wattage, the higher the output in theory.
Decibel Manufacturers usually specify the maximum volume in decibels.
Bluetooth codec The Bluetooth codec is particularly important for wireless in-ear headphones. We have dedicated an article just for this topic!

All things said it is not advisable to judge the sound quality of a pair of headphones solely on the basis of tech specs. After all, preferences in sound quality are just as varied as your taste in music. It is, therefore, very practical if you can adjust the sound to your listening habits via equalizers and sound profiles.

If you’re interested in a pair of headphones, you can download the Companion app to your phone before you buy. If you find detailed settings for the sound here, it’s quite likely that you’ll be able to adjust the sound profile of your headphones to your liking.

Last but not least, if you’re interested in sound, check out our headphone reviews. That’s because we rely on a hands-on testing process and describe the characteristics of each headphone in detail.

ANC

The term “ANC” stands for Active Noise Cancellation and describes a technique for reducing background noise. Unlike classic noise-canceling headphones as used in industry, ANC is an active noise-canceling technology.

Microphones pick up the ambient noise and send it into your ear with reversed polarity. The so-called anti-noise then cancels out the sound to a certain extent. On expensive headphones (especially in over-ear headphones), ANC can be really effective.

AndroidPIT airpods pro 10
The silicone attachments can be changed on all in-ear headphones. / NextPit

However, since ANC is a very popular feature, manufacturers try to integrate the feature into their headphones by hook or by crook. The result is grotty ANC features in cheap headphones. So be sure to check out our reviews, because we test the effectiveness of noise cancellation in every new pair of headphones.

Battery life

The battery life of in-ear headphones comes down to two components. One is the runtime of the headphones themselves and then there is the capacity of the charging cases that come with them. Generally, you should get 1-2 full charges via the charging case when you’re on the go. Features like Quick-Charging or Wireless-Charging are an added bonus.

Design

When we talk about in-ear headphones with ANC, we usually mean models that sit directly in the ear canal. This design has become very popular in recent years as it ensures a snug fit, passive shielding against noise, and a lossless sound path.

NextPit Oppo Enco X ben
In-ear headphones are beautifully discreet and can also be worn comfortably on a bike with a helmet. / © NextPit

If you don’t like this design, there are models like the OnePlus Buds or the Apple AirPods. These sit in front of the ear canal and are not inserted directly into the ear canal. Then there are also examples of hybrid designs that some users swear by (the Galaxy Buds Live, for example). Overall, the design is of course a matter of taste.

You should also look at the size and weight in the spec sheet. Not everyone likes heavy headphones hanging from the ear.

This updated best-of list shows an overview of the in-ear headphones space with ANC as of June 2021. As a tech magazine, we get to regularly try out new in-ear headphones with ANC, and as a result, we regularly gain new insights on what recommended models need to do. As such, all the products that made the cut went through an extensive vetting process. In fact, of the 20 models I considered for this article, I ended up picking only five recommendations.

In some cases, some very good (but old) products did not make it to the list simply because they were replaced by newer, better models. If you are looking for more individual buying advice, please make use of our comments section where we will be glad To interact with you and address any queries you may have. 

What are your favorite true wireless earbuds with active noise cancellation? Share your tips in the comments section below.

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