In-ears with ANC: The best noise-cancelling headphones in 2021

The best in-ear headphones 2021 in comparison

  Under $300 Under $200 Under $150 Under $100 Apple Recommendation Apple Recommendation 2
Product
Image Beats Studio Buds OnePlus Buds Pro Beats Studio Buds Nothing ear (1) Apple AirPods Pro Apple AirPods 3
Advantages
  • High-quality sound
  • Enchanting ANC
  •  LDAC and DSEE Extreme
  • Countless convenience features
  • Battery life of up to 12 hours
  • Good sound optimization via Audio ID
  • Smart, effective ANC
  • Controls 
  • Quick charging
  • Compact charging case
  • Powerful sound
  • Solid ANC
  • Sits well in ear
  • Very compact (Earbuds)
  • Also “easy-to-use” under Android
  • Good and neutral sound
  • Compact size and clean design
  • Wireless charging
  • Fairly efficient ANC
  • Very good fit
  • Good sound
  • Very good active noise cancellation
  • Very good integration with iOS
  • Compact charging case
Cons
  • Hold in ear takes a little getting used to
  • No AptX (HD)
  • Sony needs a new app
  • 360-degree sound cool, but it is rarely usable
  • Battery life of the could be better
  • LHDC codec is not widely used, no AptX
  • Susceptible to feedback loops
  • No multi-pairing
  • No equalizer in the app
  • Sound too bass-heavy
  • No equalizer in the Beats app
  • Overall, quite few features
  • Limited app and touch controls
  • No HD codecs
  • Somewhat forced “coolness factor”
  • Average battery life
  • Only basic features outside of the Apple Ecosystem
  • Lack of volume control
  • Average battery life
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With the exception of the brand new Apple AirPods 3, we’ve worn all of the suggested models in our ears for several days. To help you make your choice, we’ve divided our selection into different price ranges. We begin with the premium models for under $300, then $200, $150 dollars, and last but not least under $100. Since Apple prefers to keep to itself in its ecosystem, we have also included two tips for Apple users.

But what is actually the advantage with in-ear headphones and what is an “ANC”?

Jump To:

  1. Buying guide: What you need to know about in-ear headphones with ANC
  2. NextPit recommends: The best in-ear headphones with ANC
    1. Under $300: Sony WF-1000XM4
    2. Under $200: OnePlus Buds Pro
    3. Under $150: Beats Studio Buds
    4. Under $100: Nothing Ear(1)
    5. Apple Recommendations: AirPods Pro and AirPods 3
  3. How did NextPit test the best in-ear headphones with ANC?

Buying guide: What you need to know about in-ear headphones with ANC

Sound quality

If you spend more money on a pair of headphones, you’ll usually get better sound. Of course, there are exceptions like the legendary Koss Porta Pro on-ear headphones, but you can use this rule of thumb as a guide. As for technical data regarding the evaluation of sound quality you will find the following information online and on the packaging:

Technical data and what it means

Feature Impact
Size of the drivers The small speakers that sit in headphones are also called drivers. Their size is often cited as a relevant criterion, but the evaluation also depends on the materials used and the quality of the drivers. So don’t be put off by small drivers.
Frequency response The frequency response describes which pitches and depths the headphones cover. The wider the frequency range, the better the sound quality in theory.
Watt The power of loudspeakers is measured in watts. The more watts, the higher the output.
Decibel Manufacturers usually specify the maximum volume in decibels. Since the sound level becomes critical from 85 decibels, the volume of most headphones is perfectly adequate.
Bluetooth codec The Bluetooth codec is particularly important for wireless in-ear headphones. It determines in which limitations the technical components can work. Read more on our overview page about Bluetooth codecs!

However, it is not advisable to judge the sound quality of a pair of headphones solely on the basis of these technical characteristics. After all, preferences in sound quality are as varied as your taste in music. It is therefore very practical if you can adjust the sound to your listening habits via equalizers and sound profiles.

ANC

The term “ANC” stands for Active Noise Cancellation and describes a technique for reducing background noise. Unlike the classic, passive noise-canceling headphones used in the industry, ANC is active noise cancellation.

However, since ANC is a very popular feature, manufacturers try to integrate the function into their headphones by hook or by crook. The result is grotty ANC features in cheap headphones. So be sure to check out our reviews, because of course we test the effectiveness of noise cancellation in every new pair of headphones.

Battery life

The battery life of in-ear headphones comes down to two components. One is the runtime of the headphones themselves and then there is the capacity of the charging cases that come with them. Make sure that not only the total runtime is long, but also that of the individual earbuds.

Generally, though, it’s a plus that you can still get 1-2 full charges via the charging case when you’re on the go. Features like Quick-Charging or Wireless-Charging, which works with some smartphones even by putting it on the phone, are practical functions.

Design

When we talk about in-ear headphones with ANC, we usually mean models that sit directly in the ear canal. If you don’t like this design, there are models like the OnePlus Buds or the Apple AirPods. These sit in front of the ear canal and are not inserted directly into your earholes.

NextPit recommends: The best in-ear headphones with ANC

Under $300: Sony WF-1000XM4

Sony WF-1000XM4
Freshly arrived in our editorial office: The Sony WF-1000XM4! / © NextPit

Rating

Bewertung Design und Handling

Pros

  • High-quality sound
  • Magical ANC
  • With LDAC and DSEE Extreme
  • Countless convenience features
  • Battery life up to 12 hours
 

Cons

  • Hold in the ear takes a little getting used to
  • No AptX (HD)
  • Sony needs a new app
  • 360-degree sound cool, but rarely usable

Sony WF-1000XM4 Review

The Sony WF-1000XM4 are the technological spearhead of in-ear headphones with ANC in the year 2021. The sound is fantastic, the ANC is frighteningly effective and the range of functions is something other manufacturers can learn from. I also found the design particularly appealing during my testing of the headphones. The fit, however, takes a little getting used to with foam tips.

Sony also uses its own audio codec and does not offer the more common “AptX HD” standard. In addition, Sony’s app does not really convince me, as it is too cumbersome for a premium product. However, the feature set is also beyond doubt here. If you want to spend almost $300 on in-ear headphones, you should invest in the WF-1000XM4. They will thank you with 10 hours of battery life.

Sony WF-1000XM4

Under $200: OnePlus Buds Pro

OnePlus Buds Pro
I’ve been using the OnePlus Buds Pro privately since my review / © NextPit

Review

Bewertung Design und Handling

Pros

  • Good sound optimization via Audio ID
  • Smart, effective ANC
  • Good Controlls
  • Quick charging
  • Compact charging case
 

Cons

  • Battery life could be better
  • LHDC codec too incompatible, no AptX
  • Susceptible to feedback
  • No multi-pairing
  • No equalizer in the app

OnePlus Buds Pro Review

As I write this comparison, I have the OnePlus Buds Pro in my ear! They are in my eyes the underdog or the insider’s tip of the ANC headphone selection in 2021, as they offer really good sound with clever sound optimization, super-effective ANC and can be recharged in no time. Combined with just under 5 hours of runtime when used with ANC, it adds up to a good battery life.

To my ears, the wearing comfort is among the best I’ve experienced with in-ear headphones. They sit firmly in the ear, but are hardly noticeable there. The same goes for the tiny charging case, which is always happy to fit in your pocket. For a street price of just under $130, the deficiencies on the cons side above are tolerable. If only they had multi-pairing support…

OnePlus Buds Pro

Under $150: Beats Studio Buds

Beats Buds Pro
The powerful sound of the Beats Studio Buds is no surprise. / © NextPit

Review

Bewertung Design und Handling

Pros

  • Powerful sound
  • Solid ANC
  • Sit well in the ear
  • Very compact (Earbuds)
  • Also “easy-to-use” under Android
 

Cons

  • Sound too bass-heavy
  • No equalizer in the Beats app
  • Overall, not many features

Beats Studio Buds in a detailed test on NextPit

I was also surprised by the most affordable in-ear headphones from Beats aka Apple! These stand out from other models not only in design, as the Earbuds are really tiny. Above all, they are totally easy and reliable to connect on both iOS and Android. Google’s FastPair recognizes the headphones directly even on new devices and Apple devices suggest the connection directly with fancy pictures.

The sound is Beats-typically bass-heavy, but solid. The ANC provides a nice underwater effect when turned on, and they take up very little space in your pocket with their little plastic case. I also found the “real” button on each Earbud cool, which reliably prevents the problem of incorrect inputs when sprinkled with water. However, important features like wear detection and an equalizer are missing in the app.

Beats Studio Buds

Under $100: The Nothing Ear(1)

Nothing Ear (1)
Antoine got the Nothing Ear (1) in his ears – too bad I couldn’t test them myself. / © NextPit

Rating

Bewertung Design und Handling

Pro

  • Good and neutral sound
  • Compact size and tidy design
  • Wireless charging
  • Fairly efficient ANC
 

Cons

  • Limited app and touch controls
  • No HD codecs
  • Somewhat forced “coolness factor”
  • Average battery life

Nothing Ear(1) in the detailed test on NextPit

I didn’t get to try the next in-ear headphones – the Nothing Ear (1)! Antoine gave the headphones a relatively poor grade in his review, as they didn’t quite live up to the manufacturer’s promises. With a few weeks of healing from Antoine’s burn, I think the headphones are a really good buy for under $100. That’s because for the price, they have several advantages.

They come with a really unique design, impressed Antoine in the review with their sound and ANC, and have some convenient features that are rarely available under $100. This refers to wireless charging and integrated wear detection. Furthermore, the headphones merge the stereo channels if you only use one earbud. Unfortunately, HD codecs are missing, and controlling the headphones via the app is not only complicated but also not comprehensive enough.

For Apple: AirPods Pro or AirPods 3

Apple AirPods Pro
The Apple AirPods Pro are definitely the best in-ear headphones for your iPhone / © NextPit

Review

Bewertung Design und Handling

Pro

  • Very good fit
  • Good sound
  • Very good active noise cancellation
  • Very good integration with iOS
  • Compact charging case
 

Cons

  • Only basic functions outside the Apple Ecosystem
  • Missing volume control
  • Average battery life

Apple AirPods Pro Review | All about the AirPods 3 on NextPit

If you are reading this article on an iPhone, an iPad or a MacBook, buying an Apple product is a natural choice. The Apple AirPods Pro are currently the most powerful in-ear headphones from Apple and have very good ANC. As an alternative, the manufacturer from Cupertino has still brought the AirPods 3 on the market, which we unfortunately, could not yet test.

Shu rated the headphones shortly after the release with a full 4.5 stars and especially emphasized on the good sound, the very good noise cancellation and of course, the integration into the iOS ecosystem. Thanks to the integrated H1 chip, the headphones connect to your iOS devices as if by magic.

While you usually have to deal with bulky companion apps on Android, everything is integrated into the system on iOS. Your sound profiles are also automatically transferred to other Apple devices, and switching between them also happens on its own.

Apple AirPods Pro

Apple AirPods 3

How did NextPit test the best in-ear headphones?

This best list represents the market overview from November 2021. We’ve been trying to get our ears on new models or untested earbuds all year. In this list, with the exception of the AirPods 3, we’ve been able to try out all the models ourselves. Thus, a recommendation comes from our own impressions and not a stringing together of numbers.

However, there are recommendable alternatives, which we do not want to withhold from you. For the sake of completeness, here are a few:

Alternatives in the field of in-ear headphones with ANC

Model Price on Amazon Test rating To the test report
Sony WF-1000XM3

Buy Now for $128

4,5 / 5 stars Sony WF-1000XM3 review
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live

Buy Now for $99.99

3,5 / 5 stars Galaxy Buds Live review
Libratone Track Air+

Buy Now for $169

4,5 / 5 stars Libratone Track Air+ review
Huawei FreeBuds Pro

Buy Now for $149.99

4,5 / 5 stars Huawei FreeBuds Pro review
HUAWEI FreeBuds 3i

Buy Now for $49.99

4 / 5 stars Huawei FreeBuds 3i review
Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro

Buy Now for $151.99

4 / 5 stars Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro Review
Jabra Elite 85t

Buy Now for $149.99

Not tested
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

Buy Now for $199.99

Not tested

What are your tips for recommended in-ear headphones with ANC? Which models are missing from this list and which should we urgently throw out based on your experience? Let us know in the comments!

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