Everyone has headphones, but a small amount of those headphones and earbuds are noise-cancelling. This site is the go-to resource for information, reviews, tips, and news about wireless noise cancelling earbuds and headphones.
You may not have guessed it, but wireless, noise-cancelling earbuds are very much a thing in 2017. Are they a niche thing with a limited number of options? Sure, but they are a thing nonetheless! Let's look at some of the best earbuds sold today.
It's an open debate whether or not to consider neckbuds to be earbuds. Some people do, some people don't. For the sake of simplicity we will include them, and expect users who don't like them to skip over. They technically have wires, but they are not tethered to your phone with wires, so we will consider them to be wireless.
The Bose QuietControl 30 are a go-to in the wireless noise-cancelling earbud space. Priced around $300 they carry a hefty price tag that is in keeping with the Bose name, but they are a popular item with headphone fans.
New for 2017, the Sony WF1000X are the true wireless, noise-cancelling earbuds that many of us have been looking forward to for years. They a super compact, great looking and come from Sony, who knows a thing or two about audio and wireless. They have active noise cancellation (ANC) which is why we're all here on this site, but this feature doesn't seem to be implemented as strongly as some of other parts of the earbuds. So buy the WF1000Xs for their looks and battery life, and you can appreciate their noise cancelling, but know it's probably not the best on the market today.
Packed full of features and a category appropriate price tag of $348 from Amazon (Prime), the Sony WH1000XM2’s are Wireless-Noise.com’s pick for the best wireless noise cancelling headphones for 2017 (over ear or headband style).
The successor to the well received MDR1000X, the WH1000X-M2’s improved upon a good thing by adding Bluetooth 4.1, improved battery life (approximately 30 hrs according to the manufacturer) and a more durable finish to prevent scratching. The M2’s also have a Quick Charge feature which provides over an hour of battery life with only 10 minutes of charging. Standard for this premium price point is a ballistic case, a wire high resolution listening and an airplane adaptor. Much like the Bose Quiet-Comfort series, they fold flat and collapse into themselves for storage. Additionally, the M2’s can be personalized to the wearer’s preferences , with Sony’s Headphone Connect app available in the Google Play and Apple App Store.
What pushed the M2’s over the edge for us was the wealth of features and the variety of high fidelity codecs to pair with nearly all the smartphones on the market: AAC (Apple iOS), LDAC (Sony/Android), aptX (Android) and even aptX-HD (Android). Therefore, we can say with confidence that the fidelity of these wireless headphones is high; some well known sites have claimed that the active noise cancelling on the M2’s is even better than Bose’s. So, check back for an on-ear review.
It was a tough choice between the Sony WH1000XM2’s and the Bowers & Wilkins PX’s, but the M2’s edged out the win with the cheaper price tag ($348 vs. $399), longer battery life (30 hrs vs. 22 hrs) and the incorporation of the LDAC codec for “hi resolution” listening.Nonetheless, the PX’s put up quite the fight. In terms of aesthetics, materials and design, they are the more handsome of the two - undoubtedly. I think the PX’s are even better looking than their own lineage, sorry P7’s. Unlike the Bose QC’s and the M2’s, the PX’s do not collapse onto themselves for storage/travel; however, the earcups do twist 90 degrees outward thus creating a flatter profile when not in use or resting on your collarbone.
Like the M2’s, the PX’s are one of the few wireless noise cancelling headphones on the market to feature the recently released Qualcomm aptX-HD codec. The PX’s also feature the AAC codec, so they are a strong choice for Apple iPhone and Android users alike, assuming the Android features the newest upgrade (Android 8.0 ‘Oreo’). Like the M2’s, we can say with confidence that the fidelity of these wireless headphones is high; as always, the headphones are only as good as the transmitter sending the signal and the signal itself.
The PX wearer can select between a variety of ambient settings to tailor the B&W’s active noise cancelling to their environment - Flight, City and Office. These settings, along with voice-pass through, are controlled through the PX app, available in the both the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.
Overall, they’re a beautiful piece of kit with the aural experience to match. They carry a hefty price tag, at the higher end of the premium scale, but you definitely are getting a lot for the dollars spent. Check back soon for an on-ear review.
First and foremost, this category is very fragmented as many manufacturers and reviewers define “wireless earbuds” differently. Obviously, these earphones are in-ear, and not over-ear, but how the two channels (Right, Left) are connected (or not) varies. Therefore, for the ease of comparison we broke the best wireless (active) noise-cancelling earbuds into three distinct categories:
1. Best Wireless Noise-Cancelling Earbuds for 2017 (truly wireless): In our mind, this is the top of the heap - real Her movie type stuff. These are two asymmetrical, unconnected and independent earbuds that connect wirelessly to your device. This category is sometimes referred to as “truly wireless”, which we think is a good designation.
2. Best Wireless Noise-Cancelling Earbuds for 2017 [with wire]: Although the “truly wireless” option above is at the top of the heap, we think this is the most practical. These are “wireless” in that there are no connecting wires to your device; however, there is a single wire connecting the two channels (Right, Left) - yes, the wireless earphones have a wire. We think they are more practical because they are harder to lose, albeit slightly, than the truly wireless option and if you have to remove one or two of the channels, they can hang around your neck in the meantime.
3. Best Wireless Noise-Cancelling Earbuds for 2017 [with neckbands]: This is the “old faithful” of the category. They were the first wireless headphone solution on the market. Like the “with wire” category above, this category is wireless in that there are no wires connecting to your device. Instead of a wire, there is a (typically) semi-circular band, or “neckband”, that connects the two channels (Right, Left) and houses the battery, wireless transmitter and the related hardware. Although they’re the bulkiest of the three, typically their performance is some of the best in the overall category because of the hardware they can pack into the neckbud.
If you are looking for active noise-cancellation and you prefer earbuds, than the Bose QC20s are a standard pick. These earbuds are wired, which means they are more affordable than their wireless cousins the QC30 and QC35. These earbuds are known for their excellent active noise-cancellation and their comfort in the ear, regardless of how long you are wearing them. The main downside of the QC20 earbuds (aside from being wired) are that they use a small battery pack that sits about two inches away from your phone. All active-noise cancellation earbuds have some sort of apparatus like this, as the tiny in-ear earbuds are too tiny to accommodate the battery storage and circuitry required for noise-cancellation.
Wireless headphones for television aren't just wireless phones. Why not? For one thing, they usually use RF (radio frequency) as opposed to Bluetooth connectivity because before 2016-2017 very few smart televisions have Bluetooth, which means you need to find a way for the TV to communicate with the headphones. This generally involves a wire from the TV, a base station near the TV, and wireles, rechargeable, RF headphones.
The Sennheiser RS120 headphones are a super popular choice for wireless TV headphones. With over 14,000 review on Amazon and an rating of 4 stars, there is a strong consensus around these. And the reasons are clear: Sennheiser is a top name in all forms of audio equipment, the RS120s $60 street price is attainable for most buyers, and they have a range of well over 100 feet, which is more than enough for TV or listening to music while walking your home.
Lemme guess, you’re an audiophile who wants the freedom of wireless but you still want those tight bass lines and ethereal treble notes? You may even believe that active noise cancelling ruins the listening experience or is bothersome. Oh yeah, and you’re willing to go to the hip to hear the most realistic recreation of Pink Floyd’s The Wall - we hear you. Wireless-Noise’s choice for the Best Wireless Hi-Fi Headphones (for Audiophiles) is the Audio-Technica ATH-DSR9BT and ATH-DSR7BT.
Surprisingly, the list for audiophile/hi-fi wireless headphones is shorter than you would think -- it really comes down to the 1’s and 0’s more than the drivers -- so we looked for those headphones without a noise-cancelling feature and either Sony’s LDAC and/or Qualcomm aptX-HD codecs. Additionally, we excluded those that were import only, such as the Sony MDR-1ABT and the Beyerdynamic Aventho (let’s ignore the +$1000 price tag), as well as those not available through Amazon, such as the AIAIAI TMA-2 Wireless 1 and 2, the Nuraphone. So with all those qualifiers out of the way, you’re really left with only two: the Audio-Technica ATH-DSR9BT and the ATH-DSR7BT.
They are both "DJ style" headphones which means the actual headphone surrounds are very large, which can create this Princess Leia look while wearing them, but that’s probably the look you're going for. With a ginormous 45mm driver on both the DSR9BT and the DSR7BT's, they weigh in at a hefty 2.65 and 2.3 lbs respectively. With a four-wire voice coil and a Diamond-Like Carbon driver diaphragm, the 9's carrying a higher price tag ($449) than the 7's ($249) with the cheaper True Motion Driver. They both feature Audio Technica’s Pure Digital Drive, which according to their press release "keeps the audio signal completely digital from source to driver" and does not necessitate a Digital-to-Analog converter nor amplifier. They continue with this colorful process description, "the digital pulses generated by the chipset directly excite the voice coil(s) of the driver to move the diaphragm forward and backward to create the sound waves heard by the user."
The battery life is OK at 15 hours and it can be connected to a source via USB cord (note: not 3.5mm) for improved sound quality over Bluetooth (96kHz/24bit wired vs 48kHz/24bit over Bluetooth). What we thought was really cool is the three LED indicators on the side of the headphones not only show battery charge status and life, but also what codec is in use. Both the 7's and the 9’s automatically choose the highest fidelity codec available from the source.
The features on these "cans" are less than their rivals, but you’re not paying for features with the Audio Technicas, you’re paying for sound quality and clarity. Many reviewers said they were some of the best, if not the best, sounded headphones they’d ever tested. The fit and finish, which many complained of as too plastic-y, doesn't stack up to the price tag but do you really care if they sound that good? Check back for an on-ear assessment soon!
Without a doubt, the best wireless noise-cancelling (over ear) headphone on the market is the Bose QuietComfort 35 I and II’s. With years of noise-cancelling experience, Bose tops the charts with the 35’s and 35 II’s with the Google Assistant. No, they don’t have apt-X nor LACD, but they have been working on active noise-cancelling technology longer than anybody in the market.
The QC35’s (I and II) are in no way an audiophile’s headphone, but they work for travelling. If you’ve ever spent more than two hours in a pressurized cabin, there’s no other product I’d rather have.
There is a reason they are the go-to for management consultants worldwide, because they work. Yes, the noise cancelling feature may give some a slight headache on cross-country trips, but it helps to drown out that crying baby. You’ll thank us later.
This is a pretty narrow window and somewhat discount / promotion dependent, but right now (Nov 2017) the Best Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones for Under $200 is the Sony XB950N1. They are discounted on Amazon from $250 down to $178. They featured the more efficient Bluetooth 4.1 as well as SBC, aptX and AAC codecs for use with Apple iOs and Android (note: Amazon’s site says they featured the newly released LDAC codec, which we believe to be an error - awaiting confirmation from Sony). They also feature the same noise cancelling technology as in the much more expensive WH1000XM2’s, which we view as the best wireless noise-cancelling headphones for 2017.
It’s quite a tailorable experience with the extra bass button and Sony Connect app, available in the Apple App store as well as Google Play store, which enables the user to specify their bass levels as well as presets such as club, hall, arena, or outdoor style. Even with the extra bass and monstrous 40mm driver, Sony claims a 22-hour battery life. They come in black or army-ish green.
If you’re not on the big (b)ass bandwagon with the Sony’s, we will direct you to another sub $200 wireless noise cancelling alternative coming from the audiophile juggernauts, Sennheiser. They’re listed at under $200 on Amazon, so you can probably get them for a small savings below the $199 MSRP listed on Sennheiser’s website. We listed them as second to the Sony’s for the lack of AAC codec and an app for customization. The Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC features the Qualcomm Apt-X codec which means they leave millions of iPhone users with a sub-par experience compared to their Android brethren. All that being said, if you’re an Android user who is picky about your noise cancelling, they may be worth a look before the Sony’s.
According to their sales collateral, Sennheiser has been in the noise reduction business for over 30 years, when they first developed headsets for the Lufthansa Airlines; therefore, there’s a whole lot of institutional intelligence packed into these cans. Many reviewers consider Sennheiser’s active noise cancelling technology, which they call “NoiseGard”, on par with Bose’s and to some even better.
At first blush, they appear big but it must be noted that many reviewers found them uncomfortable for bigger heads and ears. They feature a typical mix of hard plastic, metal and leather; I think the design is classic in shape, albeit a bit boring. For the price point, I think you’re gonna be hard pressed to find a better option, especially if you’re an Android user or pairing them with your laptop.
Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7B wired headphones
... more coming soon ...
Note: We have seen some people put the Jaybird X3 in this category. While they are earbuds, and they are very well-reviewed, they are not active noise-cancelling headphones. The X3s are Bluetooth noise-isolating earbuds, which is to say that they block noise from reaching your ears, so they are passive noise-cancelling, but they have no active noise cancellation technology.
... coming soon ...
The short answer is that they are audio coding formats, or “codecs” (short for "coder-decoder"), designed for transmitting a digital data stream across a Bluetooth signal. Sadly, not all Bluetooth audio codecs are created equal. Every Bluetooth device, either transmitter or receiver, must support sub-band coding ("SBC") at a minimum; therefore, SBC is the bare minimum to support the transfer of an audio signal. The problem is that SBC sounds about as good as your iPhone plugged into an a rental passenger van's "AUX Input," so if you want audio quality, you'll have to look elsewhere which means aptX, AAC, and other better options. Different codecs can affect sound quality, but also audio latency, which can have a huge impact on your listening experience (even if you aren't an audio obsessive).
You have probably heard or read a few of these phrases associated with high-end wireless headphones marketing: hi-fi, hi-res, hi-def, CD quality (or "near"” to), etc. Here is the issue: having a pair of "hi-fi" wireless headphones is not enough; the device sending the signal, most likely your smartphone or laptop, must be equipped to transmit according to that same high quality codec. Many of the headphones on the market are equipped with a higher fidelity codec, so let’s take a look at the most prevalent ones...
Advanced Audio Coding or “AAC” Bluetooth audio codec was designed as the digital audio compression successor to MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3 (aka “MP3”) format. It was designed to be better quality sound at similar bit rates to MP3. Here’s the important part for you: it’s the supported codec of Apple's iOS and iTunes. According to Apple’s 2017 design guides, the company chooses to transmit AAC over Bluetooth around 265 kbps at 44 kHz, so not quite aptX HD. The difficult part is finding a supporting headphone and the list isn’t long compared to aptX and even aptX-HD -- but that’s why you’re here.
According to Sony, "LDAC is an audio coding technology developed by Sony that enables the transmission of High-Resolution (Hi-Res) audio content even over a Bluetooth connection." Notice the strategic use of the words "even over" in that last sentence. Restated, LDAC enables the transfer of 24-bit, 96kHz files wirelessly via Bluetooth. The user can choose between three connection modes: Quality (990kpbs), Priority (660kbps) and Normal (330kpbs).
Sony purports that LDAC transmits three times the data (ompared to SBC when transmitting at the highest connection level ("Quality" which is 990kbps). Therefore, LDAC has the highest transfer and frequency rate in the market, but you cannot simply compare bit-rates and frequencies, especially when you’re exceeding the capacity of the human ear (~20kHz). LDAC is a proprietary codec to Sony and its devices -- wait you DON’T carry a Sony Xperia?!? -- but it is featured in the newest Android 8.0 Oreo and a number of their high end wireless noise-cancelling headphones like the Sony MDX-1000.
A product of the Queen’s University Belfast in the late 1980's, aptX, per the official website, “was born with the realization of unprecedented bit rate reduction and processing speed.” aptX is capable of transfer 16-bit 24kHz audio data at 352 kbps while aptX-HD (announced Jan 2016) is capable of 24-bit 48 kHz at 576 kbps. aptX HD is a remarkable improvement over the original, but not quite loss-less which is the ultimate goal. Qualcomm says that there are more than 1 billion smartphones, tablets, PC’s and TV’s that are aptX enabled and 50 million Bluetooth headsets, speakers and soundbars.
So, the big question is whether your device(s) are equipped to transmit via aptX or aptX HD codec? If you’re running Android 'O', you’re in the clear (tip of the hat to Sony for helping Google develop that functionality in the most recent Android update). Also good news for those people using their beautiful hi-fi at work or home, as both Windows 10 and MacOS support aptX. The bad news is those loads of people carrying iPhones and $350+ hi-fi headphones, they’re most likely still transmitting via lowly SBC. You can check if your device is aptX capable on Qualcomm’s website. The list includes headphones like the August EP735, AIAIAI TMA-2 Wireless 1 and 2,Bowers & Wilkins PX, Nuraphone, Sony W1-1000X wireless noise cancelling headphones, Sony WH-1000XM2, Sony h.ear in 2, Phiaton BT 330, Phiaton BT 220 noise-cancelling earbuds, and other top audio products.
They’re the same Quiet Comfort over-ear noise cancelling headphones, but the II’s feature Google Assistant built into the headphones. According to Bose’s website, you can “play music, receive texts, manage your daily tasks and get answers” without touching your actual smartphone.
This is a very popular question with a surprisingly simple answer. Active noise cancellation uses a microphone to listen to the surround environment and responds by playing "anti-noise" back to you. This can be done in a number of different ways, but all require circuitry and battery power.
Passive noise cancellation is the simple one -- it's the creation of a physical barrier between your ear canal and the source of the sounds. This can work like an earplug (or in-ear earbud) by being placed inside your ear canal or it can be a closed headphone, where the ear cup blocks the sound from reaching you. Both methods are simple, effective, and require no power to work.
This is a common question with a simple answer that we basically just covered in the above question about active noise cancellation versus passive noise cancellation. To make a long, scientific answer short and sweet: noise cancellation is an active technology and noise isolation is passive. Noise cancellation does what it says on the tin... it cancels noise with sound produced by the headphones. Noise isolation blocks the noise, isolating the parts of your ear that do the hearing from ambient noise. And that last bit is very important -- the noise that is being cancelled or that you are being isolated from is external noise.