Best noise-cancelling earbuds 2022: The most effective in-ear ANC headphones for blocking out the world

Ben Johnston
28 Sep 2022

Enjoy your music, movies and podcasts in peace with our pick of the best noise-cancelling earbuds for all budgets

The best noise-cancelling earbuds are capable of cutting out a significant proportion of external sound without compromising on audio quality.

No longer just the purview of premium offerings, active noise cancellation has slowly trickled down into more affordable models. The technology itself has come along leaps and bounds, resulting in a market where you don’t need to pay the world in order to get decent sound attenuation from your earbuds.

Of course, the other side of this coin is that more options make it increasingly difficult to pick the right pair for you. Fortunately, we’ve rigorously tested a huge number of noise-cancelling earbuds and you’ll find a selection of our favourites below. We’ve got options suited to all budgets, from impressive sub-£100 models to wallet-emptying alternatives, so whatever your fancy, there will be something to suit you.

If you’re not sure what to look out for in a pair of noise-cancelling earbuds, or, indeed, what exactly noise cancellation entails, our buying guide below covers the key points. Armed with that knowledge, read on to discover the best noise-cancelling earbuds on the market today.

READ NEXT: If you prefer over-ear, these are the best noise-cancelling headphones

Best noise-cancelling earbuds: At a glance

  • Best noise cancellation: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds | Buy now
  • Best under £100: Anker SoundCore Life P3 | Buy now
  • Best all-rounders: Sony WF-1000XM4 | Buy now
  • Best sounding: Bowers & Wilkins PI7 | Buy now
  • Best for Apple users: Apple AirPods Pro | Buy now
  • Best for battery life: Creative Outlier Pro | Buy now

How to choose the best noise-cancelling earbuds for you

What are the benefits of noise-cancelling earbuds?

As well as letting you enjoy audio with minimal distractions from the outside world, noise-cancelling earbuds can help protect your hearing. With the outside world leaking in, the tendency is often to crank the volume of your audio up. Loud-volume listening can damage your eardrums over time and potentially lead to permanent noise-induced hearing loss. Noise-cancelling earbuds let you listen at lower volumes, reducing the impact on your eardrums and better protecting your aural health.

What types of noise-cancellation are there?

Passive noise cancellation refers to the physical blocking of outside noise – this is achieved by using gel or foam tips that sit snugly in your ear canals. Most earbuds will come with a selection of different-sized tips, allowing you to get the closest fit possible for effective passive noise cancellation and, of course, comfort.

Active noise cancellation (ANC) uses microphones to pick up sounds from the world around you, such as the rumble of a train, and then produces opposing sound waves to cancel them out before they reach your eardrums. As high frequencies have a much shorter wavelength than lower ones, they’re harder to eliminate in real-time, so sounds like babies crying or a doorbell ringing will still make their way to your ears to some degree.

Different noise-cancelling earbuds use different combinations of microphones. Those that use feedback mics on the inside of the buds and feedforward mics on the outside of the buds are described as hybrid noise-cancelling setups. They’re typically more effective than those that rely solely on feedback or feedforward microphones.

What other features should I look out for?

While the efficacy of the noise cancellation is clearly a key consideration if you’ve found yourself here, there are several other factors that are worth bearing in mind when choosing a pair of ANC earbuds.

Battery life: The power required to implement noise cancellation takes a toll on battery life, and manufacturers typically state figures with ANC on and off. With in-ear stamina and additional juice from the charging case, 20 hours total audio playback is around average, though this will vary depending on volume levels and how much time you spend on calls.

Codec support: Audiophiles will want to make sure that the earbuds they choose support high-resolution codecs like Qualcomm’s aptX HD and aptX Adaptive or Sony’s LDAC. The SBC codec is pretty much universal, while Apple devices use AAC. Just bear in mind that your output device will need to support the codec: iPhones, for instance, aren’t compatible with aptX, so Apple users will want to look out for AAC support.

IP certification: If you’re planning on using your ANC earbuds to block out the din of your local gym, you’re going to want assurance that they can hold up against a bit of sweat. An IP rating reflects a device’s ability to withstand such endeavours, with the two digits after ‘IP’ indicating the resistance to particle and liquid ingress, respectively. IP67, for instance, is fully dust- and waterproof, while anything above IPX4 will be sufficiently protected against splashes of liquid like sweat and rain.

Touch controls: These have become pretty much ubiquitous, and allow you to perform actions like playing/pausing audio and skipping tracks without taking your phone out of your pocket. Some will have physical buttons that you push, but the majority of modern models use touch-sensitive panels.

Companion app: Like touch controls, companion apps are fairly commonplace these days. The level of customisation options offered will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but most will offer the ability to remap the controls and switch between different EQ presets.

Wear detection: This handy feature automatically pauses audio playback when you remove one of the buds from your ears and resumes when you put it back in. Once only found in the most expensive earbuds, wear detection is slowly making its way into more affordable models.

READ NEXT: Check out our favourite headphones for all needs and budgets

How much should I spend on noise-cancelling earbuds?

As you’ll see in the list below, the price of ANC earbuds can vary wildly depending on the audio quality and breadth of features. Previously only offered by high-ticket models, ANC can now be found in plenty of more affordable options, with surprisingly effective noise-cancelling earbuds available for less than £100.

On the other end of the spectrum, if you want the best of the best, you’ll naturally have to pay more for the privilege. Mid-range options that offer a smattering of great features can be picked up for between £100 and £200, while most premium offerings are priced between £200 and £350.

The best noise-cancelling earbuds to buy in 2022

1. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: Most effective noise cancellation

Price: £229 | Buy now from Amazon

It took a while for Bose to step into the ANC earbuds market, but the brand proved that patience is a virtue with the introduction of the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. Offering ten distinct levels of noise cancellation, the QC Earbuds attenuate all but the loudest and shrillest of tones, setting a new standard for effective in-ear ANC.

In addition to the best noise cancellation that we’ve heard from a pair of earbuds, the QC also offer a high level of audio quality. The expansive soundstage makes for an immersive listening experience and the balance between the various elements is strictly maintained, ensuring that no one part of any track overwhelms the rest.

They’re not perfect – 18-hour total battery life is lacklustre – but if you want the absolute best noise cancelling available from a pair of wireless earbuds, Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds should be your first and last call.

Read our Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review for more details

Key specs - Built-in microphone and music control buttons: Yes; Battery life: 18hrs; Connections: Bluetooth 5.1; Weight: 8.5g per earbud, 76g charging case; IP rating: IPX4

2. Anker Soundcore Life P3: The best noise cancellation under £100

Price: £70 | Buy now from Amazon

ANC used to be a luxury inclusion, but we’ve started to see the feature make its way into more affordable models. No wireless earbuds highlight this shift better than the Anker Soundcore Life P3, whose ANC performance is so impressive that it competes with many more expensive alternatives.

In addition to effective noise cancellation, the Life P3 also impress in the sound department. The Soundcore Signature audio profile boosts bass, but the weighty low end doesn’t disturb the overall balance, with the mid and upper registers maintaining a decent level of clarity. The EQ is also extremely customisable via the Soundcore app, with 20 presets to choose from and the ability to create three bespoke tunings via an eight-band graphic equaliser.

The narrow touch control receptors are slightly hit and miss when registering commands, and the in-ear fit could stand to be more snug, but the Life P3 are excellent value for money and a terrific choice for ANC on a budget.

Read our Anker Soundcore Life P3 review for more details

Key specs– Built-in microphone and music control buttons: Yes; Battery life: 35hrs; Connections: Bluetooth 5.0; Weight: 5.5g per earbud, 50g charging case; IP rating: IPX5

3. Sony WF-1000XM4: The best noise-cancelling earbuds overall

Price: £193 | Buy now from Amazon

The Sony WF-1000XM4 can’t quite match the noise-cancelling prowess of the Bose QC Earbuds, but they’re our favourite all-rounders. One of their big draws is Adaptive Sound Control, which allows you to program different ANC settings to automatically take over during activities like running or commuting, or in specific locations.

Such effective ANC allows you to fully enjoy the exquisite audio quality on offer. Bass reproduction is clean and punchy, and dynamic shifts are handled with aplomb. If the standard tuning doesn’t quite hit the spot, there’s a five-band equaliser to toy with, along with a handful of presets and the ability to save two custom profiles.

Another exciting feature is compatibility with Sony’s 360 Reality Audio. This spatial technology has you take pictures of your ears to create a personalised head map and deliver a listening experience akin to being in a concert. It’s a bit hit-and-miss, and the list of compatible services remains fairly short, but when playing the right content, the effect is truly stunning.

Read our Sony WF-1000XM4 review for more details

Key specs– Built-in microphone and music control buttons: Yes; Battery life: 24hrs; Connections: Bluetooth 5.2; Weight: 6g per earbud, 41g charging case; IP rating: IPX4

4. Bowers & Wilkins PI7: The best-sounding ANC earbuds

Price: £281 | Buy now from Amazon

If you want the best-sounding ANC earbuds money can buy, the Bowers & Wilkins PI7 are top of the class. Their sound signature is beautifully balanced, with powerful bass and sub-bass reproduction complemented by silky smooth and delightfully detailed vocals.

This fidelity is aided by a generous selection of supported codecs, and the PI7 are able to connect to three Bluetooth sources simultaneously, which is a big plus. They also offer audio retransmission via their case, which allows you to connect to any non-Bluetooth output via a cable and redirect audio to the earbuds wirelessly.

The active noise cancellation employed may not compete with the best on this list, but it’s a strong contender nonetheless. Adaptive and automatic, the PI7’s ANC will adjust depending on how much sound the buds detect in your environment. The results don’t always hit the mark perfectly, but it’s a handy inclusion for times when you’re transitioning between places with varying ambient noise levels.

Read our Bowers & Wilkins PI7 review for more details

Key specs – Built-in microphone and music control buttons: Yes; Battery life: 20hrs; Connections: Bluetooth 5.0; Weight: 8g per earbud, 50g charging case; IP rating: IP54

5. Apple AirPods Pro: The best ANC earbuds for Apple users

Price: £189 | Buy now from Amazon

While those who prefer the Apple ecosystem aren’t short of true wireless options, only AirPods offer system specific functionality like quick pairing and the Find My AirPods feature. The AirPods Pro are the company’s premier earbuds and deliver a combination of impactful audio and impressive noise cancellation.

The AirPods Pro analyse the information picked up by their mics 200 times per second to ensure responsive noise cancellation on the fly and there’s an effective ambient mode available, too. Audio quality is a big step up on the original AirPods, with the Pro model delivering clear, airy mids and treble with plenty of depth. Bass has a decent thrum to it, but never gets so rambunctious that it overpowers other elements of a track. Fans of ribcage-ratting low-end response may find the offering here wanting, but otherwise, these are extremely well-rounded earbuds, particularly if you’re invested in the Apple ecosystem.

Read our Apple AirPods Pro review for more details

Key specs– Built-in microphone and music control buttons: Yes; Battery life: 24hrs; Connections: Bluetooth 5.0; Weight: 5.4g per earbud, 46g charging case; IP rating: IPX4

6. Creative Outlier Pro: The best noise-cancelling earbuds for battery life

Price: £68 | Buy now from Amazon

While other options on this list offer great battery life, listeners who engage in marathon audio sessions should consider the Creative Outlier Pro. With ANC on, they’ll last you around ten hours in-ear, with a further three full charges in the case. Turn ANC off, and these figures jump to 15 hours in-ear and a whopping 60 hours total.

The Creative app gives you control over five levels of noise cancellation and ambient sound, allowing you to find the right setting for your environment. The ANC is effective at cutting out low-end rumbles and puts a decent dent in higher pitched frequencies, too, while the Ambient mode filters in enough external sound to let you hold a conversation.

The Outlier Pro’s sonic signature is warm and powerful, with the default profile offering rich, weighty bass that avoids encroaching upon the mid-range and treble. And, should you wish to tweak the EQ, there’s a companion app offering a wide selection of presets to choose from, ranging from R&B to country.

Read our full Creative Outlier Pro review for more details

Key specs – Built-in microphone and music control buttons: Yes; Battery life: 60 hours; Connections: Bluetooth 5.2; Weight: 4.1g per earbud, 30g charging case; IP rating: IPX5

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