Face-Off: Noise-Canceling True Wireless Earbuds

While isolation is a novel and challenging concept for many folks during these strange times, isolation from external sound is considered nirvana by music aficionados. Also, donning a pair of cans or buds and turning the music up to 11 can provide a temporary turn-on, tune-in, drop-out emotional escape for those stuck in a sheltered-in-place household where everyone is getting on each other's nerves.

A plethora of true wireless bud makers have added noise-canceling to their next-gen in-ear headphones. This technology—either active, hybrid, or digital—keeps your boisterous and intrusive family from spoiling your sonic social distancing.

All noise-canceling true wireless buds include some sort of "ambient sound" mode. This involves tapping or clicking the buds to turn off noise-canceling and activate external mics so you can temporarily hear enough external sound to conduct conversations. In some cases, the mics on the noise-canceling buds I auditioned for this test also enhance speech.

Noise-canceling may aid aural isolation, but it isn't always a convenience. For one thing, it can drain battery power enough to cut listening time by 10-20 percent. Noise-canceling and ambient sound mode options also create more on-bud tap/press control variations to remember. When you are grooving with noise-canceling on, you usually have to perform a two-step process—pause the music, then turn on the ambient sound mode—to hear what's going on around you. And since both noise-canceling and ambient sound modes rely on external microphones, wind sound can also get amplified to an annoying degree.

Last, but not least, noise-canceling true wireless buds are a bit pricier than their plain ear-sealing but non-noise-canceling cousins.

When selecting the nine noise-canceling true wireless earbud options I reviewed in this test, I also auditioned the new Sony WF-SP800N ($200), Sol Republic Amps Air+ ($200), Edifier TWS NB ($120), and Taotronics SoundLiberty 79 ($60), the latter of which is marketed as "noise-canceling," but is merely noise-isolating. However, since these models didn't match the sonics, noise-canceling/ambient sound quality, features, or value of the other buds featured here, they were eliminated from consideration.

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