Best Noise-Canceling Earphones iMore 2021
Noise-canceling earphones continue to evolve with each passing year. Today's devices are oh-so-much better than those released just a few years ago. The Apple AirPods Pro checks all of the important boxes and are our favorite noise-canceling earphones to date. We've included other products that for one reason or another, might be a better choice for you.
- Best Overall: Apple AirPods Pro
- Best Alternative: Sony WF-1000XM3
- Most Stylish: Master & Dynamic MW07 Plus
- Best Wired: Bose QuietComfort 20
Best Overall: Apple AirPods Pro
Apple AirPods have been a popular choice for on-the-go audiophiles since the first version was released late in 2016. The second-generation model, released in early 2019, added a new processor, hands-free "Hey Siri" functionality, Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, and better connection times. Then came the AirPods Pro, which changed everything.
With a slimmer design, the AirPods Pro offers adaptive EQ, IPX4 water resistance, and interchangeable silicone tips. They also provide crystal clear sound when making and receiving calls. Did I mention just how easy they are to pair to other Apple devices? The AirPods Pro's active noise cancelation (ANC) is very impressive. Along with the alternative "transparency mode," you can either filter the outside world or embrace it.
Comfort is also a strong selling point for the AirPods Pro. As Lory Gil noted in her positive review: "AirPods Pro are a set-it-and-forget-it experience. I can leave them in my ears for hours and not even notice them. I practically forget they're in my ears."
AirPods Pro aren't perfect, however. Though you can expect a well-balanced sound, the bass is lacking, which is often the case for in-ear earbuds. Also, while the wireless charging case offers a respectable 24 hours of battery life, the earbuds themselves only give you 4.5 hours with ANC or Transparency and five hours with those settings off. Good, not great, compared to other options. Overall, however, these are our favorite noise-Canceling earphones of the year!
- Comfortable - very comfortable
- Calling clarity
- Simple pairing
- Suburb ANC
- Never a dropped signal
- Water resistance
- Good, not great on-board battery life
- No pro-quality audio
Best Alternative: Sony WF-1000XM3
Sony's WF-1000XM3 are a suitable alternative to the AirPods Pro for casual music listening. Offering incredible noise cancelation and a Sony Headphones app to adjust your settings, these earphones are beautifully designed and priced right. Battery life is a strong selling point here. With noise-canceling turned on, you can get up to six hours of power. When off, it climbs to eight hours. The case itself can hold up to 32 hours of playtime.
Available in silver and black with copper accents, these buds aren't discrete and might catch just as many eyeballs as the AirPods Pro. You'll need to decide whether that's good or bad.
Overall, the Sony WF-1000XM3 earphones are highly rated, although a few across-the-board negatives have been reported. The tips don't always stay in, which means these aren't for workouts. Also, the tap gestures and on-ear detection sometimes disappoint. Finally, the call quality isn't always robust.
- Awesome noise cancelation
- Superior companion app
- Excellent battery life
- Call quality lacking
- Tips sometimes fall out
- Interesting design choice
- Touch controls sometimes stick
Most Stylish: Master & Dynamic MW07 Plus
New York-based Master & Dynamic has been one of my favorite boutique audio companies for many years. In 2018, it finally got into the truely wireless game when it introduced the MW07 earphones. Now comes the awesomely improved MW07 Plus earphones.
Available in steel blue, white marble, tortoiseshell, and black quartz, these earphones have been designed to be seen and also perform. With a stainless steel charging case that holds 40 hours of playtime, the MW07 Plus are industry-leading in the battery department. Couple this with the 10 hours of onboard playing time, and it's easy to see why they are worth considering.
Incredibly comfortable, the MW07 Plus come with three fit-wings and five ear tip sizes for the perfect fit. Inside, you'll find custom 10mm drivers that deliver rich, expansive sound alongside Bluetooth 5.0, which provides coverage for up to 100 feet.
On the negative side, I have experienced sound breaks when using the MW07 Plus outside. Also, while pairing to a first device is a simple enough process, the same can't be said for subsequent pairings with other devices. It shouldn't be this difficult.
- Available in four colors, with multiple fit-wings and tips
- Charging case holds 40 hours
- IPX5 water resistance
- Expansive sound
- Sound sometimes cuts out on walks
- Connecting to new devices is sometimes troublesome
Best Wired: Bose QuietComfort 20
If you're looking for a wired solution, you can't go wrong with the Bose QuietComfort 20, which offers stunning noise cancelation in a compact design. Incredibly comfortable thanks to StayHear+ eartips, even on long flights where they are ideally suited, the Bose QuietComfort 20 offers 16 hours of battery life for the ANC. When that battery dies, you can still listen to your music (without ANC), which is one of the perks in the wired vs. wireless game.
Some reviewers have complained that the rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack isn't replaceable. While this is certainly true, there's no doubt the battery will last many years or at least until newer (and better) models arrive. Besides, all batteries in electronic devices eventually die.
Priced similarly to wireless options, the Bose QuietComfort 20 earphones are expensive for what they are, which is something else to keep in mind.
- Battery life for ANC is great
- Impressive noise cancelation
- Pricey for wired
- Non-replaceable battery
Successful noise-canceling earphones offer good battery life, comfort, and do a great job of removing the sound of the world around you. They should also provide easy set-up and crystal clear sound during calls. Our favorite are the Apple AirPods Pro, which offer a nice mix of sound, comfort, and battery life. Although the market has yet to see the perfect set of noise cancelation earphones, these are the best to date, and we can't wait to see where the product line goes from here.
Available only in white (surprise, surprise), the Apple AirPods Pro offers adaptive EQ, IPX4 water resistance, and interchangeable silicone tips. When you rather not use ANC, turn on transparency mode, and let the entire world in. For most folks, the AirPods Pro are the noise-canceling earphones to buy. Happy shopping!
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Bryan M. Wolfe is a dad who loves technology, especially anything new from Apple. Penn State (go Nittany Lions) graduate here, also a huge fan of the New England Patriots. Thanks for reading. @bryanmwolfe
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