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Best noise-canceling true wireless earbuds of 2020 – CNET

Active noise cancellation (ANC) has long been the pinnacle of ear and headphone technology. ANC headphones electronically counteract (or “cancel” out) external noise by producing a mirror image sound wave in your ear. The technology works best in environments with a sustained din to the ear, like the droning of a jet engine — which is why having Bose ANC earphones in your ear became a status symbol at airports over the course of the past couple of decades.

The technology used to be restricted to full-size over-ear headphones, but in just the past few years, it’s been shrunken down in your ear — to noise-canceling earbuds size. Sony’s 2018 models, the WF-SP700N and WF-1000X were the trailblazers of noise-canceling headphones, but Apple’s AirPods Pro have taken the earbud-size noise-canceling headphones mainstream. As more competitors come after Apple in 2020, we’ll see a ton of additional models hit the market. In the meantime, we’ve rounded up the best true wireless earbuds with active noise cancellation below, all of which I’ve personally used. 

Looking for ANC headphones in all styles, including over-the-ear? Check out the Best noise-canceling headphones of 2020

Read more: Best true wireless earbuds of 2020

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistant: No.

Sony hadn’t been much of a player in the true wireless (AirPod-style) headphone arena, but its WF-1000XM3 model changed that. While this pair of earphones 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 SennheiserBeatsMaster & Dynamic and Bang & Olufsen. It also has a feature that those wireless earbuds don’t have: active noise-canceling headphones technology to reduce ambient noise in your ear.

The WF-1000XM3 has a handful of drawbacks. The case is larger than competitors (like Apple), and it’s not the best headset for making calls, especially in noisier environments. But the biggest red mark is that it’s not rated as sweatproof or waterproof. That said, I’ve used it for light workouts with a bit of an ear sweat at the gym without a problem. It offers Bluetooth 5.0 with support for AAC but not aptX. Read our Sony WF-1000XM3 review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating — sweat-resistant and splashproof).

Even if they don’t sound as magical as you’d hope a $249 model would, the AirPods Pro 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 canceling and excellent call quality. Yeah, these high-quality earphones are expensive at $250, but the good news is you’ll use them so much 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 them first. Read our Apple AirPods Pro review.

Read: Best true-wireless earbuds under $100

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating — sweat-resistant and splashproof).

The Libratone Track Air+ has been out for several months in Europe, but only recently went on sale in the US (it lists for $200 but Amazon currently has a discount coupon for $10 off). It doesn’t sound quite as open to the ear as the AirPods Pro, but the audio is a bit clearer and they have well-defined bass (you can choose between neutral, bass boost and treble settings in the companion app). The noise canceling is also decent — maybe not quite on par with the AirPods Pro, but close. I liked the fit of these — the in-earbud stayed in my ear well (I was able to run with them) and the case is only a little bigger than the AirPods Pro’s case.

The Track Air+ works well as a headset for making calls but the noise reduction isn’t as good as the AirPods Pro. People said they could hear me clearly and loudly, but the earphones didn’t muffle background noise as well as the AirPods Pro.

These wireless noise-canceling headphones have touch controls — they’re responsive — and Libratone has been updating the firmware to tweak performance and add new gesture controls. A recent update did improve noise reduction slightly during calls. Battery life is rated at 6 hours and these do charge wirelessly like the AirPods Pro. These have support for AAC and aptX (Samsung Galaxy phones support the aptX codec but not iPhones).

These are a good AirPods Pro alternative for around $50 less, but I think if Libratone would create even a little more price separation — have them cost, say, $175 — it would help their cause. But they should appeal to Android owners who can’t take advantage of the AirPods Pro’s extra features, such as always-on (hands-free) Siri, that only work with Apple products.

Read more: Best wireless earbuds and headphones for making calls

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating — sweat-resistant and splashproof)

Amazon doesn’t call the Bose noise-reduction feature in its Echo Buds “active noise canceling.” However, it does turn on and off and helps muffle ambient sound (there’s also a hear-through or transparency feature). Your ear can definitely tell the difference in audio when it’s on and when it’s off.

The other signature feature is always-on (hands-free) Alexa — you just say “Alexa” and Amazon’s voice assistant is activated (it doesn’t always work, but you can read our full review for that info).

While the Echo Buds audio isn’t fantastic, it’s good (again, a tight seal makes a big difference). There’s a presence boost (treble push) at the default setting, but the earphones have decent clarity and Amazon says they’re equipped with Knowles dual balanced armature drivers. It’s not going to be a bass lover’s headphone, but it had enough kick for my tastes. You can tweak the audio with the EQ settings in the Alexa app — I lowered the treble and raised the bass — and most people should find that the Echo Buds offer a pleasant listening experience to the ear.

Note (1/28): The Echo Buds on sale for a limited time for $90 or $40 off.  Read Echo Buds review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantNo (While a PR rep says they should be fine for light workouts, 1More hasn’t provided a water-resistance rating yet)

1More made a name for itself with its wired earbuds, the Triple Drivers, which sound great and were a good value when wired headphones were still a thing. I gave 1More’s Stylish True Wireless earbuds, which list for $100 but were selling for $20-$30 less during the 2019 holidays, high marks for their sound at their price. This new model is $200, but I suspect it will come down in price in the coming months. The 1More True Wireless ANC fit pretty comfortably and securely in my ears — I was able to get a tight seal, which is crucial for sound quality and noise canceling with these types of earbud-style headphones.

It has a physical control button as well as touch controls. What’s interesting is that using the touch controls you can toggle between four modes: no noise canceling; a pass-through “transparency” mode that lets ambient noise in; and two levels of active noise canceling. Each mode changes the sound of the headphones 

The earphones have a little treble boost — sometimes called presence boost — when you have the ANC off, so they sound clearer and brighter. But when you engage the ANC the earphones become a little fuller and warmer sounding. I ended up preferring the ANC modes — the strongest did a decent job muffling noise in a loud Las Vegas casino (1More says a firmware upgrade is coming to make the sound profiles more uniform when changing modes). Battery life is rated at 5 hours with noise canceling on and 6 with it off. There’s a quick charge feature that gives you 2 hours of use from a 15-minute charge.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX5 rating — withstands sustained spray).

The Master & Dynamic MW07 Plus is the second generation of the company’s MW07. It features greatly increased battery life (10 versus 3.5 hours), Bluetooth 5.0 and active noise cancellation with two microphones on each bud (the noise isolation is fairly light, not as strong as the Sony WF-1000XM3’s). It may not fit everyone’s ear equally well, but they certainly have a distinct look, as well as very good audio and a great listening experience if you can get a tight seal. These in-ear headphones are known for more of an audiophile sound profile, with smooth, well-balanced audio and well-defined bass, and the MW07 Plus delivers that kind of audio.

Available in four color options for $300, these wireless earbuds include a swanky chrome charging case that comes with a secondary pouch for safekeeping (yes, the case can get scratched up if you leave it in a bag). The case, with its built-in chargeable battery, gives you an additional three charges (it charges via USB-C). These have support for AAC and aptX and have an extended range of more than 20 meters, according to Master & Dynamic.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX5 rating — withstands sustained spray).

Ausounds, a startup, launched a new set of $150 true wireless active noise-canceling headphones — the AU-Stream ANC — that have the same long “stick” design as the original AirPods and feature active noise canceling. They’re a little hard to find, but they’re surprisingly good if you get the right fit for your ear.

They’re similar in style to a lot of the so-called AirPods knockoffs, but have a little more of a premium look and feel. They feature 13mm drivers, Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, 5 hours of battery life with an additional 15 hours from the case and water-resistance (IPX5 certified). They also offer USB-C charging — that’s somewhat rare to find at this price point.

A tight seal is crucial not only for audio quality but the active noise canceling doesn’t work effectively without it. In terms of audio, the AU-Stream ANC isn’t on par with the Sony WF-1000XM3. It doesn’t sound quite as detailed or as open — and the bass isn’t quite as well-defined. But it’s a very decent-sounding true wireless headphone with some good ear kick in the low end. Read CNET first take.

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