Active noise cancellation has long been the pinnacle of headphone technology. ANC headphones electronically counteract — or “cancel out” — external noise by essentially producing a mirror image sound wave in your ear. The technology works best in environments with a sustained din, like the droning of a jet engine. That’s why in the last couple of decades, having Bose ANC wireless earphones in your ear 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 were the trailblazers of noise-canceling headphones, 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 that are readily available this year. Here are three of CNET’s top picks to keep your listening pristine while all hell breaks loose around you.
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2
CNET TAKE: The second-gen Momentum True Wireless 2 (https://www.cnet.com/reviews/sennheiser-momentum-true-wireless-2-review/#ftag=CAD187281f) 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).
Apple AirPods Pro
CNET TAKE: Even if they don’t sound as magical as you’d hope a $249 model would, the AirPods Pro (https://www.cnet.com/reviews/apple-airpods-pro-review/#ftag=CAD187281f) still manage 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.
Best noise canceling
CNET TAKE: Sony hadn’t been much of a player in the true wireless (AirPod-style) headphone arena, but its WF-1000XM3 (https://www.cnet.com/reviews/sony-wf-1000xm3-review/#ftag=CAD187281f) model changed that. While this pair isn’t cheap, as far as audio quality, they’re the best noise-canceling wireless earbuds at this price, matching and perhaps even exceeding the quality and performance of pricier competitors from Sennheiser, Beats, Master & Dynamic and Bang & Olufsen. They also have a feature that some of those competitors don’t have: active noise-canceling headphone technology to reduce ambient noise in your ear as you rock out on your devices.
No earbuds are perfect, and the WF-1000XM3’s have a handful of drawbacks. The case is larger than those of competitors like the AirPods Pro, and they’re not the best for making calls, especially in noisier environments. But the biggest red mark is that they’re not rated as sweatproof or waterproof. That said, I’ve worn them for light workouts with a bit of ear sweat at the gym without a problem. It offers Bluetooth 5.0 with support for AAC but not AptX.
The following CNET staff contributed to this story: Executive Editor David Carnoy, Copy Editor Jim Hoffman and Senior Editor Laura K. Cucullu. For more reviews of personal technology products, please visit www.cnet.com.
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