We’ve tried the top noise-canceling earbuds and listed picked our favorites. Depending on your ecosystem (Apple vs. Android) and budget we can suggest either the Apple AirPods Pro or the Sony WF-1000xm3. For the budget-conscious we’ve included a few more options.
Apple’s new active noise cancellation (ANC) tech as featured on the AirPods Pro is top-of-the-line. With the combined power of two microphones, as well as the new and improved software, background noise rarely stands a chance, especially in a regular office environment.
The microphones are also aided by Apple’s Adaptive EQ, which helps to optimize the cancellation of any background noises for individual ears. Adaptive EQ also works to improve the sound coming from the earbud diaphragms.
As such, the mid and low frequencies have received a boost that depends on the shape of the wearer’s ears. Because of this, the result is an immersive soundstage unaffected by background ambient noise. However, it is worth mentioning that the AirPods Pro are not particularly fine-tuned for a wide range of musical genres.
Luckily, this doesn’t mean that call quality is going to be affected. On the contrary, because of the detailed midrange reproduction, conversations with others, when using these earbuds should be crystal clear.
The power behind the sound comes from the built-in high dynamic range amplifiers. Besides boosting the sound and enhancing the clarity, the amp also has a low power draw, which helps to extend the battery life. What’s also impressive is the wide frequency response range, starting at 20Hz for full and rich bass reproduction. At least as far as small earbuds are concerned.
Another interesting feature is the Transparency Mode. By enabling this mode, the user would disable the ANC feature, opting to let in the background noise. In an office environment, this can sometimes be very useful as you may not want other people to have to tap on your shoulder if they have to speak to you. It also makes the AirPods Pro suitable for other activities such as driving, jogging, and so on.
These earbuds also boast a high-quality vent system. The vent system ensures pressure equalization, which with the aid of the ANC software, prevents enough background noise from getting into the audio. Enough to allow you to hear something important but also to prevent all the buzz from interfering.
This switch to toggle ANC or Transparency mode is very easy to do. The new and improved controls feature a force sensor located on the stem. Using this technology, Apple has made it easy for users to control everything about their AirPod Pro earbuds, from selecting the level of ambient noise cancellation to skipping tracks, taking calls, and more.
It’s also worth mentioning that these earbuds come with all the accessories and parts needed to get maximum performance out of them. A powerful H1 chip is at the core of the performance and also for rendering very low audio latency.
The battery can help you get up to 18 hours of continuous talk time and up to 24 hours of listening (at regular volume levels). The included charging case supports wireless Qi charging or wired charging via a lightning cable. Of course, this means that you can charge these wireless earbuds with any Qi charging device or regular USB charging (as long as you have the right cable, which is included).
Three sizes of ear tips (pair) are also included so that the AirPods Pro can ensure a comfortable fit for all, as well as for optimum passive noise cancellation (which is simply using the earbuds to block out the noise passively rather than using any active circuitry).
Another cool thing about the ear tips is that they each have a pressure sensor. That sensor can understand the sound level measurements from the microphones and quickly compare and make on-the-spot adjustments.
These adjustments are designed to provide optimum clarity and volume in each ear, depending on the size of the ear tip and how well it fits.
In terms of pricing, these may not be the cheapest earbuds for office use. But if you are using Apple devices, they are the best choice in terms of comfort, battery life, performance, matching aesthetics, and of course, compatibility with iOS.
It’s also worth noting that the AirPods Pro have another unique feature called Audio Sharing. With this feature enabled, you and another coworker can listen to the same thing on the same iPhone or iPad, if both of you are close enough and wearing a pair of AirPods Pro each.
Besides the regular shared listening experience, this can also be useful if conference calling is not an option but you or the other person needs a second opinion.
Furthermore, since Siri is already set up for the AirPods Pro, you won’t get interrupted by spoken incoming messages when you’re engaged in Audio Sharing or when you’re in a call.
But, are the AirPods Pro limited in any way? Yes, but only when used with Android devices. The AirPods Pro don’t care what device they’re paired with. This means that the active noise cancellation will continue to work. However, switching in and out of ANC won’t be as easy even though the performance won’t be hindered in any way.
As you might expect, some features of the AirPods Pro will not work at all with Android devices. Siri, obviously, won’t be available, which also extends to all features that are enabled through the virtual assistant. Audio Sharing won’t be available either and perhaps more importantly, Fit Test will be absent too.
Considering the unique adjustment that’s built into Fit Test, it’s safe to say that Android users would be missing out. But then, there are only 3 pairs of ear tips included, so you have a 1 in 3 chance of getting it right even if you don’t know anything about fit. At worst, you could trouble a friend who owns an iPhone or iPad, which would be easy to find if you’re in the United States.
Last but not least, the battery life shouldn’t suffer too much either. There are some third-party apps that can take advantage of Apple technology and create a more efficient pairing of the AirPods Pro with an Android device.
Overall, it’s hard to pit many other competing earbuds head-to-head against Apple’s latest achievement and get better performance, at least not in a similar price range. While not all features will work on just any device, including some of Apple’s earlier iOS smartphones, the active noise cancellation circuitry does, which is only dependent on the outside noises picked up.
First things first, the Sony WF-1000xm3 earbuds use the electronic and entertainment giant’s most current noise-canceling chip to its fullest. The QN1e chip is optimized to block external sound at a number of levels to suit how little or how much you need. It also has a low power draw, which in turn helps to extend the battery life.
The earbuds provide good audio too. The audio playback and call clarity feel premium at all times. In fact, that’s due in part to the superior ANC technology too, which gives the entire frequency range the attention it deserves.
The WF-1000xm3 earbuds are capable of deep bass reproduction that adds just enough thump without overpowering the other frequencies. The midrange frequencies are enhanced just enough to preserve clarity and vocal detail, while the high frequencies are airy and highly detailed to represent most musical genres almost equally well.
It’s all about the bold and airy sound that’s uninterrupted by whatever background noises that may be present (okay, within reason). One of the top contributors is unequivocally the software. These earbuds are designed with Sony’s Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE) HX.
DSEE HX acts as both an amplifier and a digital audio converter (without converting to analog first). This means that it can upscale and enhance the quality of compressed audio files to bring them to a level that’s closer in quality to the original high-definition uncompressed formats.
But perhaps even better is that you won’t be limited to the default optimizations. All users can open up the Sony Headphones app and start tinkering with the EQ. As a result, there’s no telling just how good the earbuds can sound, since personal preferences can’t be ignored.
In terms of compatibility, both iOS and Android devices can be used with the WF-1000xm3 earbuds. That said, it seems like Android users will probably get a more satisfying experience. That’s mostly because of Sony’s Headphones app and how it functions.
The Adaptive Sound feature is perhaps one of the best in terms of convenience and because it gives the earbuds plenty of versatility for more than office tasks. With this feature enabled, the DSEE HX software can detect certain ambient noises and either block them or allow some to bleed into the mix. This will eliminate your need to manually switch based on what you’re doing and where you are.
When it comes to user interaction, the controls are somewhat limited. It’s great that you can customize the controls from the Headphones app, but you can’t make it so that everything is accessible from the onboard controls.
One of the more interesting features is the Quick Attention Mode. What this does is to reduce the audio volume considerably in order for you to hear whatever outside noises or voices that call for your attention. To use this, all you have to do is to cover the left earbud.
The connectivity has been vastly improved too, compared to Sony’s past ANC earbuds. The new Bluetooth chip, which is unique to the WF-1000xm3 earbuds, is not only more stable but also does something different with signal transmission.
Unlike most chips that send signals to one earbud first and then the other, this new Sony chip can beam the signal to both at the same time. This eliminates the risk of latency and will result in much fewer dropouts. It should also help with audio-video synchronization.
The battery life is good, but perhaps not the best. After all, with the ANC feature on, it’s unrealistic to get more than eight hours of runtime. This is somewhat compensated by the fact that the charging case can store up to three charges and also offers a quick charge feature.
Of course, as is the case with any wireless earbuds and headsets, once the battery stops powering them, you may not have a backup ready. Because of this, other manufacturers take a different approach when designing ANC-capable earbuds.
Although this type of charging case may be ideal for office work, the overall design of the earbuds may not appeal to everyone. They’re not the smallest and may stick out considerably. Even though nothing sticks out anymore compared to the old xm2, the WF-1000xm3 earbuds still appear and feel on the bulky side.
It’s clearly not for everyone and perhaps the lack of additional control features doesn’t make the situation any better.
That said, on the inside, the earbuds are comfortable. And, since there are three sets of silicone rubber ear tips included, finding a good fit shouldn’t be a big issue.
Whether for the office or for outdoor use, the TaoTronics TT-BH042 neckband earbuds are among the most affordable ANC earbuds around. These earbuds are developed by TaoTronics so that everyone could experience enhanced call quality without outside interference.
Armed with two batteries, these earbuds have a working time of up to nine hours with the ANC feature on. This is not bad considering that it only takes two hours to get a full charge. Also, you can turn ANC off and get up to 16 hours between charges.
One of the most interesting things about these earbuds is the call quality. Both incoming and outgoing audio is superior for this price range. Part of the reason is the CVC 8.0 noise-canceling technology and its pairing with the MEMS microphone.
However, call quality isn’t everything. Most people want to use their office earbuds or headphones for other activities too. So how do the TT-BH042 earbuds stack up in terms of music quality?
The overall detail across all frequencies is not as prominent, as is to be expected in this price range. Unlike high-end ANC earbuds, TaoTronics chose to concentrate on call quality, which is of course a lot easier to get right than music.
The built-in microphone is capable of reducing a good amount of the most common vocal interferences. This means that you should be able to get your message across with these earbuds on just as well as talking straight into the phone.
It’s worth pointing out that not all manufacturers of ANC earbuds put as much attention on the microphones. After all, most makers of high-end ANC earbuds are music first. This means that sometimes the conversation quality can be one-sided. While you may be hearing the caller clearly because of the noise cancellation, you may not be heard equally well on the other end. But as mentioned, that’s not the case with the TaoTronics TT-BH042.
For affordable ANC earbuds, the TT-BH042 earbuds perform really well outside too. While the noise cancellation may not be the best when you’re in a very loud environment, the durability is impressive. Few ANC earbuds feature IPX5 water resistance. Thanks to the fine nanocoating, the Bluetooth headphones are well-protected from light rain, sweat, and the random splashes.
Another feature of convenience is the magnet. Not the magnets on the audio-producing diaphragms but the one that allows the earbuds to sit tight together around the neck when not in use. Hence, there are many people who dig the design of the neckband. Not the most discrete design feature, but one that should offer extra security and prevent losing the tiny earbuds.
Unlike some of the premium alternatives on the market, these are among the lightest ANC earbuds for the office. They weigh just 4oz, which is nothing when you consider the built-in magnetic clip, batteries, and necklace.
In terms of accessories, there are many. For example, the TT-BH042 earbuds come with ear tips and ear hooks already fitted on them. In addition, there are also three extra pairs of each to accommodate a wide range of users.
When it comes to controls, there are some hiccups now and then. There are times when skipping a track by holding down the volume button may also change the volume. But you can’t have it all at this price point. The quality of the noise cancellation, at least as far as office environments go, should compensate for the minor drawback in this regard.
However, one could argue that the added control features and neck support take away from a true wireless experience. But, all things considered, that may be acceptable in light of all the other features and affordable pricing. You can be the judge.
Whether you’re an Android or iOS user, you will find that a pair of Bose QuietComfort 20 earbuds can assist you to tune out the buzz of the workplace environment. Bose has done a good job of taking advantage of each operating system’s strong suits so that no smartphone users get left behind.
This also brings into light one of the main drawbacks. The QuietComfort 20 earbuds are designed to be OS-specific. This means that they’re not an ideal option if you use both Android and iOS devices on a daily basis, as you wouldn’t be able to use the same pair for both devices.
Given their price point and how other similar earbuds can perform, even if not perfect, with multiple platforms, it’s safe to say that the Bose QC20 earbuds are for people who have made up their minds regarding their devices.
That said, there are more pros than cons for sure. First of all, the level of comfort is very good for the money. The total weight of just 1.5oz is really nothing compared to other options on the market. With the Stay Hear+ earbud tips, it’s possible to get a good seal that also minimizes the pressure. The fact that the tips don’t go in too deep may also create additional comfort.
Of course, the excellent fit also provides the user with effective passive noise cancellation. This can only take the active noise cancellation circuitry to further heights.
The TriPort design is largely responsible for the enhanced audio clarity. Bose is known for offering a unique soundstage, clarity, volume, and richness. The TriPort design not only makes all of this happen but it also helps with the ANC.
As part of the active noise canceling, two microphones help to monitor all external noises, from faraway voices to clanking keyboard and perhaps even the sound of jet engines. Fine-tuned mirror sound waves of opposite phase and amplitude are then generated to tune out all the background noises that can interfere with music and calls.
The above is, of course, how ANC works in a nutshell. But there are different algorithms and software/hardware that each manufacturer uses to accomplish the same thing, though rarely to the same degree. With respect to Bose, the company is a leader in ANC technology and the brand of headphones that NFL coaches use for sideline communications.
It’s also worth noting that the QC20 earbuds feature a unique chip that can handle Bose’s latest research into active noise cancellation (at least at the time of the QC20’s release).
Another feature that works wonders for maintaining consistent noise cancellation is Active EQ. This is something that Bose does differently than some other manufacturers in the sense that all the important optimizations are done without user intervention.
One thing that’s perhaps not mentioned enough is the battery and how it powers the earbuds. For one, the battery pack can offer up to 16 hours of continuous runtime with all features turned on. But just because the battery may be reaching its lost drops of capacity, it doesn’t mean it won’t still be active.
Interestingly enough, you can still use these for regular audio even if the battery is no longer around to power the active noise cancellation circuitry.
In many models of earbuds, there’s a very specific feature missing and that’s the on-board volume control. Sometimes it’s to avoid making the earbuds bulkier and other times it’s to avoid having to bind multiple actions to a single button.
Whichever the case may be, it’s not really convenient. Bose addressed this issue in the QC20 earbuds by implementing a volume controller on the Y-cable. This is also where the microphone is located, as well as the control for Aware Mode.
Bose’s Aware Mode is not a unique feature. It’s the same effect that reduces noise cancellation so that you can hear outside noises, such as when you’re talking to a coworker or driving.
With the two controllers and the wired connection, it’s clear that the Bose QC20 earbuds are not for someone who’s looking for a hands-free experience. Even though their lightweight design makes them very comfortable, not everyone is interested in having earbuds that show.
It comes down to personal preference in the end. But since many ANC earbuds in the same price range can deliver the same function, the QC20 is for those who truly care about audio quality. If you really need to go wireless, there’s the big brother of the QC20, the Bose Quietcontrol 30 or QC30 wireless ANC earbuds
With the QC20, the earbuds may be light but the battery pack is not. So, you may also want to consider the added weight of that and your smartphone on your body.
It’s true that the highly convenient on-board controls may compensate for this in certain situations. Especially when you use the QC20 while sitting in the office.
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