The isolation performance of the best noise isolating earbuds is largely due to the design of the housing, nozzle, and most importantly – the ear tips. The seal that the earbuds create around your ear canal determines in large part how much ambient sound the earbuds will keep from leaking in.
Earbuds with a more comfortable and tight seal offer a better level of noise isolation. Aside from music, good noise isolating earbuds can work well as earplugs when you just want to protect your ears from high workplace noise levels or noisy surroundings that keep you from being able to hear without having to crank your volume up to MAX.
We’ve rounded up several pairs of earbuds that not only sound good and have the sound signature you prefer but also have stellar noise isolation. While closed-back over-ear headphones were better known for isolation quality due to the large earcups, but in recent years several models of earbuds have come on the market that also has very good noise isolation.
If you are looking for a quick recommendation, our top overall pick for earbuds is these Shure SE215-K for best noise isolation. See below for detailed reviews and several other options including more high-end options if your budget can allow for it.
Here are all our top picks for both earbuds and headphones that have high-quality noise isolation.
Best Noise Isolating Earbuds
Etymotic Research MC5
The Etymotic Research MC5 earbuds come with a lot of accessories including triple-flange silicone eartips, foam ear tips, and Etymotic Glider eartips. A set of filters and tools are also supplied along with a nice carrying case.
The MC5 has a great build quality for the price. Though they are entirely plastic, they don’t feel cheap! They are lightweight and the cables are Kevlar reinforced which makes them resistant to tangles and knots. When you wrap the cord around your ear, following the over-the-ear style, no microphonics are present.
This style of earbuds is sometimes called earplug headphones and the noise isolation of this set in particular works at its best when using the included tri-flange eartips. Whether you are on a plane, a train, a busy street, or just at home with a noisy television, these headphones can block 35-42 dB of ambient noise.
The MC5 earbuds are also very comfortable to wear. Note that this comfort depends on the type of eartips being used. You can always find the best pair for you from an array of eartips both included and on the market. The slim and lightweight housings help add to the comfort, and even though these headphones have large dynamic drivers, Etymotic still keeps their headphone size as tiny as possible.
Sound quality is varied a bit when you change eartips from one type to another. Foam and glider eartips are both comfortable, but they can degrade the sound in different ways. Foam tips make the treble less announced while gliders enhance the harshness.
For the best noise isolation and audio performance, the tri-flange eartips should be used. These are the first earbuds from Etymotic that utilize dynamic drivers. The bass is crisp but doesn’t make a big impact like typical bassy earbuds that generally retail for less than $100.
Bass response is not well extended, so if you play heavy bass music they remain relatively calm. The MC5 headphones are very well-balanced sounding earbuds. However, they seem not to focus heavily on any single part of the mid-range where you hear the sound clearly and they tune the detail well. I found at this range they sound quite similar to another set of bass enhanced earbuds, the Sony MDRXB50AP. The treble in the MC5 is gently, not lusty. This sound wouldn’t be appealing for those who like sparkling and crisp treble.
Lastly, the MC5 offers a wide soundstage but a quality of depth it is still missing somehow.
- Great noise isolation
- Good build quality
- Reasonably clear sound
- Balanced sounding profile and accurate treble
- Tri-flange eartips may not be comfortable, but they provide excellent noise isolation
Shure SE215 Noise Isolating Earbuds
Another set great at isolating sound is the Shure SE215 which is bigger in size and offers more quality of bass than MC5. Some users say are less comfortable because you can only wear them over-the-ear. There is a rubber loop that wraps around your ears starting at the end of each curved earpiece.
The bass of the SE215 earbuds is generally strong and deep but doesn’t make a huge impact like the Sony MDR XB90EX. The mid-range tends to be warm and detailed. This is well balanced with the bass so that you feel the sound is evenly focused over these 2 ranges.
Like almost all earbuds with dynamic drivers, the SE215’s treble is not too energetic or well isolated. If you crank up the volume they still sound pleasant without distortion, but the sound details won’t be improved at a higher volume.
To increase the noise isolation, you can buy aftermarket eartips like the triple flange sleeves to replace the ones that come with the SE215 earbuds.
- High noise isolating capacity
- Solid sound performance
- Well-controlled and powerful bass
- Bulky and heavy cable and connectors
Shure SE535-CL Sound Isolating Earphones with Triple Drivers
Review: This is our top high-End Noise Isolating pick
The Shure SE535-CL Earphones come in two versions, the metallic bronze one, and the transparent plastic casing version. If you are one of those tech geeks that adore that type of aesthetics for your electronic gadgets then you are in for a treat with the SE535-CL earphones.
Shure, as expected, incorporated the over-the-ear design with this earphone which helps avoid tangles and microphonics (noises made when the microphone brushes against a surface). The Kevlar-reinforced cable used is also quite rigid which made it a bit awkward at first but was necessary to achieve improved durability.
The SE535 drivers also saw some upgrades. They are more compact when compared to previous drivers which allows them to fit better in the ear. If you like listening to your tunes in bed then the compact design of the SE535 will surely give you the comfort you need.
The overall triple driver system remains the same in terms of positioning. You get 2 woofers taking care of the low and mid-range while a tweeter is specifically used for mixing high-end frequencies.
The patented Shure quality remains intact here with its consistent sound production on both left and right earpieces. The right sound goes through the correct driver.
The Shure SE535-CL also manages to avoid common shortcomings such as sound distortion. While the bass isn’t as explicit or powerful, I highly prefer accuracy rather than power when it comes to my music. Mid-range frequency also maintains its detailed reproduction even when the volume is pushed to the max.
- Tried and tested triple high-def micro driver system.
- Comfortable and ergonomic design.
- Optimized for sound isolation.
- Compact and lightweight.
- Comes with a detachable 3.5mm cable (clear), carry case, volume control, airline adapter, and ¼ inch adapter.
- Sound Quality: 9/10
- Bass: 9/10
- Build Quality/Design: 9/10
- Fit/Comfort: 9/10
- Battery Life: n/a
- Connectivity (Bluetooth stability): n/a
- Who else is this good for?
If you have the budget and prefer something that delivers the best in terms of earphone noise isolation and audio quality, you can’t go wrong with the Shure SE535-CL Earphone. In terms of overall in-ear headphone quality, few can match up to what Shure SE535-CL can deliver. You won’t be disappointed with this headphone, that’s for sure.
ISOtunes Pro Bluetooth Earplug Headphones Review
The orange and black color palette of the ISOtunes Pro Bluetooth Earplug Headphones is definitely one of its initial striking features. There is also the overall size of the earphones which was undoubtedly larger than your standard earplugs. Fortunately, the design and construction of the ISOtunes made it lighter and more comfortable to wear.
The ISOtune Pro uses high-quality plastic for durability and for its lighter weight. The memory wire also allows users to wrap it around their ears without causing any discomfort. The ISOtune Pro is also IPX4 water and sweatproof making it a great choice for outdoor use.
It comes with a remote control located at the right-side wire that allows you to adjust volume, play, rewind, fast-forward, pause, and answer incoming calls.
As for the sound quality of this headphone, it produces clear quality with mids to highs audio and produces heart-thumping bass with relative ease. The audio quality benefits greatly from the ISOtune Pro’s impressive noise isolation capability. It achieves this with the help of the Comply ear tip which completely plugs off your ears from ambient sound. These are some of the best eartips on the market and our top brand pick for replacement earbud tips.
Due to its wireless Bluetooth connectivity capability, one of the most important aspects here would be its battery life. The ISOtune Pro can keep you company for up to 10 hours with one full charge. The volume level will play a big part in its battery life, I suggest you keep the volume between 50% to 70% for optimum battery life.
- Bluetooth (4.1) wireless connectivity
- 10-hour continuous battery life.
- 27 dB noise reduction rating.
- aptX High definition audio playback.
- Noise-isolating microphone.
- IPX4 water and sweatproof.
- Memory wire for a comfortable fit.
- Sound Quality: 9/10
- Bass: 9/10
- Build Quality/Design: 9/10
- Fit/Comfort: 9/10
- Battery Life: 9.5/10
- Connectivity (Bluetooth stability): 10/10
Who else is this good for?
The ISOtune Pro offers amazing noise reduction and is sweat and waterproof. It is also lightweight, comfortable, stable, and wireless. All of this makes it a great choice for outdoor enthusiasts who loves to listen to tunes outside. It can also be a good choice for those who work in construction or factories as it is non-cumbersome. Sound quality is quite impressive and can handle music from all genre types as well.
- Reasonable price.
- Well-made and comfortable to wear.
- Comply earbuds allow for greater noise isolation.
- Delivers good sound quality from mids and highs to the powerful bass.
- Comes with a 30-day guarantee.
- Bluetooth connectivity is not 100% stable as the range is rather short.
RHA T20 Dual Coil Hi-Fi Noise-Isolating In-Ear Earbuds Review
When it comes to overall construction quality, RHA has already built a pretty solid reputation for itself. The jack is manufactured using custom machine metal which is then securely attached to an extended cable.
The cable itself is made from an impressive stain-resistant material. The cable features a sort of memory wire feature that prevents it from bending at strange angles and helps it regain its original position.
The RHA T20 headphones also come with their signature 3-year warranty which goes to show you how confident the manufacturer is with the quality of their product. The sound isolation of the RHA T20 is also nothing to balk at. Its sound-isolating capability is quite impressive on its own but further improves when you use the Comply tips included with the set.
As for sound quality, you can expect it to be on par with the construction quality of the headphone. I found everything to be fairly on the middle ground. While not the most exact and detailed headphone, which is to be expected with an earbud type, it still manages to deliver a solid performance.
The highs and mids are surprisingly detailed even when pushed to the maximum volume. The sound is also more precise with a clear and crisp impression no matter the musical genre.
- Dual coil dynamic drivers.
- Stainless steel earpiece construction.
- Ear hook design for better stability and comfort.
- Sound Quality: 8.5/10
- Bass: 8.5/10
- Build Quality/Design: 8/10
- Fit/Comfort: 8.5/10
- Battery Life: N/A
- Connectivity (Bluetooth stability): N/A
Who else is this good for?
The T20 is a great choice for those who prefer lightweight noise isolating earphones rather than their bulkier and heavier headphone counterpart. I would recommend this in-ear headphone to music lovers who are not too nit-picky with their sound quality and prefer something extremely lightweight and comfortable with solid noise isolation capabilities. I’m not saying that the T20 offers subpar audio quality, far from it. It still manages to hold its own but doesn’t expect it to match up with high-end headphones.
- Impressive construction using stainless steel shell casing enhances overall durability.
- Surprisingly rich and detailed sound.
- Significant improvements from the T10 model.
- The cables are not detachable.
How to test the noise isolation
There are 2 methods to measuring noise isolation: Real-Ear-Attenuation-at-Threshold (REAT) and a probe microphone. While the first is commonly used to measure the sound isolation of regular headphones, the latter is used for testing noise-canceling performance.
Note that you should try all sizes of eartips to make sure you’ll get both comfort and proper noise isolation. Too large eartips cause discomfort and too small eartips won’t help achieve good noise isolation because of a loose fit.
If the housings are heavy and long when you shake your head, they will move and loosen up which will give a poor fitting. If the nozzle is not angled ergonomically then the eartips won’t fit well. Tri-flange eartips always provide the best noise isolation, but they are not as comfortable as single-flange eartips.
The term passive noise canceling refers to this blockage of outside noise because of a secure fit. In contrast, active noise-canceling earbudshave electric circuitry to actively cancel out the noise.
Noise isolating earbuds naturally block most ambient noises for a clear, detailed listening experience. The soft flexible eartips that are included with earbuds provide a secure and snug fit, isolating the outside noise.
Etymotic Research and Shure earbuds have a better noise reduction capacity than most brands out there. Noise isolation earbuds are effective over both low and high frequencies, and they perform better than active noise canceling earbuds. Another advantage of passive sound isolating earbuds is that they don’t require a battery or digital circuitry, so no hissing sound is present.
The level of noise isolation is measured by the amount of outside noise heard in by decibels (dB), also known as loudness level, at a range of frequency normally from 100Hz to 10kHz.
To get the best sound isolation for your ears you must experiment with different eartips and sort out which ones work best for you and give the proper fit.
Custom in-ear monitors (IEMs) provide the best noise isolation since the eartips are molded to perfectly fit into your ears.
However these IEMs are extremely expensive, priced at least $1000, and typically used at the professional level by singers or speech presenters.