Are earbuds or headphones better for noise cancelling? (Answered)

The other day, I was walking down a noisy street trying to listen to some music. The background noise made it extremely difficult to have a good listening experience. It was then that I decided to buy noise-cancelling headphones. Or earphones?

Are earbuds or headphones better for noise canceling answered

I asked my friends for advice, and they had different opinions. I was left more confused than in the first place. But do not worry, I found the solution to my query- Are earbuds or headphones better for noise cancelling?– and here is a detailed guide for you if you’re facing the same issue.

What is noise cancellation?

Before answering your question, it is important to understand what exactly this technology entails. Noise-cancelling headphones or earphones, as the name suggests, basically cancel the background noise around you in order to make it easier for you to hear the sounds on your device.

However, it may come as a surprise to you that noise-cancelling headphones do not actually mute the noise around you. Instead, it cancels out the sound in the background, so the disturbance is significantly reduced. There are two methods of doing so- active and passive noise cancellation. What’s the difference?

Active Noise Cancellation (ANC)

Active noise-cancelling devices are quite smart. The technology picks up the sound around you, analyses it, and produces certain sound waves of its own. These sound waves are like an anti-thesis of the sounds around you, so they are essentially negated. This negation of background sounds makes it quieter for you to focus on the music you are listening to.

Active noise cancellation is best for low-frequency sounds, ones that are heavy on the bass. Unfortunately, high pitch sounds like that of a baby crying on an aeroplane in the seat next to you will not be drowned out by this technology.

Passive Noise Cancellation (PNC)

On the other hand, passive noise cancellation is focused on using the design and material of the device to drown out the noise around you. Basically, it refers to utilising the device’s physical features to make the environment quieter for you.

You know how when you wear earmuffs in chilly weather, and the sounds around you are considerably muffled because the earmuffs encapsulate your entire ear? That’s passive noise cancellation. These are usually used for high-frequency sounds, such as the sound of people talking.

Here’s a detailed guide on the difference between ANC and PNC: Noise Canceling vs Noise Isolating Headphones– What’s the Difference?

A combination of active and passive noise cancellation will yield the best results. While both earbuds and headphones are good at active noise cancellation, the latter is better at passive noise cancellation due to its earmuff-like design.

Advantages of Noise Cancellation

There are many advantages of noise cancellation, which is why the technology is growing in popularity recently.

The first is, quite obviously, noise cancellation itself. These devices make you perceive the environment as significantly quieter, making it easier for you to focus on the sound coming from your device, the one you actually want to listen to.

Flowing from this is the advantage of a lower volume. Listening to sounds on your headphones or earphones at a higher volume can cause hearing damage. However, when your surrounding environment is quieter, you have the luxury of listening at a lower volume, without sacrificing the crispness of the sound.

Additionally, a quieter environment can help you concentrate on the sounds a lot more. Often, when you are in a busy environment, you will notice that it is much tougher to focus on something. Noisy environments can hamper your concentration considerably.

With noise cancellation devices, even though you will continue to be in a noisy environment, you will be able to concentrate easily and noiselessly. A noisy environment is also unhealthy for you, upon exposure for a long period of time. So, noise-cancelling earphones can help quite a lot.

Disadvantages of Noise Cancellation

Everything comes at a price, and nothing is perfect. Where there are great advantages to noise cancellation, there will be disadvantages as well.

These disadvantages are specific to headphones and earbuds as well, which will help us in answering the question- are earbuds or headphones better for noise cancellation?


To house the noise cancellation technology the infrastructure of the headphones becomes considerably bigger. The extra padding and wiring make the headphones bulkier than usual. This has a number of disadvantages.

The bulkier nature of the headphones can affect the amount of time you are able to wear them. Due to the extra weight, the headphones themselves can cause discomfort upon long use, and may not be prone to wear for a long period of time.

The extra bulkiness will also affect portability. Majority of people like using headphones on the go and like to carry them around everywhere. However, the considerable amount of extra mass of the headphones themselves will be a huge issue when it comes to carrying the headphones around.

Usually, you just put the headphones in your bag and go about your day. However, these headphones will take up a huge amount of space in your bag and may be prone to damage if you put other things in the bag along with the headphones.

Another major disadvantage of noise-cancelling headphones is their affordability. Noise-cancelling headphones are pretty expensive if you go for headphones that also offer great sound quality. If you are willing to forego the sound quality up to a particular point, you can definitely go for cheaper noise-cancelling headphones.

Lastly, the battery life is a drawback. Noise cancellation drains out the battery significantly faster than usual. Moreover, using noise-cancellation technology with plugged-in headphones is difficult.


While earbuds are portable and considerably more affordable as opposed to noise-cancelling headphones, they come with their own problems.

The sound quality of noise-cancelling earbuds is not very good. For a quieter environment, you will have to sacrifice the great bass of your favourite song. It is completely on you to decide if that is a sacrifice worth making.

To hear your favourite song, or the audio on a podcast more clearly, you will have to increase the volume. This increase in volume can, however, cause damage to your hearing. While you can take breaks periodically to protect your ear drums, this is not very effective. Using earbuds at a high volume for a long period of time will nonetheless cause hearing damage, possibly permanently.

Noise-cancelling earbuds are not very durable either, and are, similar to headphones, prone to breakage and require additional care.

Are earbuds or headphones better for noise cancelling?

Now, to answer the million-dollar question. Which one is indeed better for noise cancellation?

In short, the answer is over-ear headphones. They are much better at cancelling out the noise around you than any other device. Earbuds are not quite close to headphones when it comes to noise cancellation.

For low-frequency background noise, you can consider noise-cancelling earbuds. They are at par with noise-cancelling headphones. However, it must be noted here that only the high-end earbuds, the ones that are considered best in the market, are comparable to noise-cancelling headphones when we talk about low-frequency sounds.

On the other end of the spectrum are high and mid-frequency sounds. When you want to drown out the background noise of many people talking or doing work, such as in a busy office, noise-cancelling headphones are far better.

This is probably because headphones sit over your ears, while earbuds sit inside your ear canal. The passive noise cancellation of headphones is important in this regard. Hence, the former is able to drown out mid to high-frequency sounds much better.

To summarize, over-ear headphones are the best for noise-cancelling (both ANC and PNC). For low-frequency sound, noise-cancellinge earbuds can be as effective as headphones but for mid to high frequency sounds, headphones are the one to beat!

Comparison Chart

Noise cancelling headphonesNoise cancelling earbuds
Better at noise cancellationNot as good at noise cancelling
Not very portablePortable
Expensive- not very affordableAffordable as compared to headphones
Better sound quality with noise cancellationBass is not very audible with noise cancellation
Do not cause as much hearing damageCause considerably more hearing damage
Less comfortableMore comfortable
Longer battery lifeShorter battery life

Best Noise-Cancelling Earbuds and Headphones (Our Top Picks)

This section will be a review of the best noise-cancelling earbuds and headphones in the market at present.

1More Dual Driver ANC Pro Wireless Earbuds

1More Dual Driver ANC Pro Wireless Earbuds are widely known as a gem of noise cancellation and are quite possibly the best option available to you when it comes to noise-cancelling earbuds.

The earbuds are equipped with Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) modes. These modes will help you pick the kind of sound balance that you are looking for.

ANC Mode 1 boosts the bass while reducing the mid-frequency sounds. On the other hand, ANC Mode 2 is comparatively more mellow, while preserving the mid-frequency sounds.

However, the bass on both modes will be better with ANC turned off. However, if you are buying the earbuds while specifically keeping in mind the noise cancellation, then this feature is pointless.

The active noise cancellation technology of the earphones is stellar- as the feature that makes these earbuds so sought after. These are good for low, mid and high-frequency sounds, such as engine noises, background conversations, barking, and so on.

Further, these earbuds come with all the features that make your earbuds loved. They are comfortable and portable, with good battery life. They use the latest Bluetooth 5.0 technology, with a good radius of Bluetooth connectivity. Lastly, the earbuds are waterproof and stylish.

Sony WH-1000XM3

On the other hand, the over-ear Sony WH-1000XM3 Headphones, which are absolutely amazing at noise cancellation, can even be better than the 1More Dual Driver ANC Pro Wireless Earbuds.

These headphones are great at noise cancellation and are fitted with state-of-the-art noise-cancelling technology. However, this does not cause you to sacrifice comfort. These headphones are extremely light, and will not cause discomfort regardless of long wear. Further, they have great and extensive padding, which only adds to the quality of the noise cancellation.

The sound quality of these headphones is also great, which amplifies the bass much better than other noise-cancelling headphones. However, if you are not a basshead, do not worry. These headphones come with a mobile app that lets you control the frequency of different instruments, to alter the sound to your personal liking.

The price of these headphones is easily justified owing to its great features, in addition to noise cancellation, which is already a rare quality that is difficult to perfect.

Here’s how to connect your Sony headphones to any device: How to Connect Sony Bluetooth Headphones To Any Device (Step by Step Guide)


What is the best type of noise cancellation?

Between active and passive noise cancellation, a combination of both is ideal. Active noise cancellation helps drown out low-frequency sounds, while passive noise cancellation helps reduce mid and high-frequency sounds. Between earbuds and headphones, the latter combines the two technologies in a better way, the product of which is great noise cancellation.

What is the price range of noise-cancelling earbuds and headphones?

You can find cheap to average-priced noise-cancelling headphones for about 50-100$. However, the technology on these may not be the best. On the other end of the spectrum are high-end headphones, which can range anywhere from 100-350$.
Earbuds, on the other hand, are cheaper than headphones. You can get good noise-cancelling earbuds for about 50-60$, while high-end noise cancelling earbuds fall around the 150$ price point.

Are noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds worth it?

Yes, definitely. Noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds have a ton of advantages, and have gained popularity in recent times. They can help you focus better, and perceive the sound coming from your device in a much clearer way. You will see considerable differences in how you perceive sound with noise-cancelling devices. The price range is on the higher side, but it is definitely justified.

What are the best noise-cancelling headphones on the market?

There are many factors that contribute to the quality of noise-cancelling headphones, including comfort, portability, and most importantly, the price range. Hence, you should do your research to figure out the best headphones for you, personally and go for them! However, objectively, the best headphones on the market right now are the Sony WH-1000XM3 Headphones.

Summing up

Noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds are a luxury item and are more expensive than normal headphones or earbuds. Hence, it is important to take into account a number of different factors that will affect your choice. However, if you ask us, noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds are definitely worth the heightened price, for all the advantages it provides. We hope that we have made this choice easier for you!

Many technologies may be flashy and effective. But are they safe for you? Be conscious of the health issues that can come with all these new technologies. Similarly, it is important to know if noise cancellation technology is safe for you before choosing between headphones and earbuds. Find the answer hereAre Noise Cancelling Headphones Safe for You?