For people who want to listen to music, movies, podcasts, or ebooks, but have trouble because they are in a very noisy environment, earbuds that look like earplugs might just be the answer – because they don’t just look like earplugs, they work like them too!
But can earbuds like these actually sound good? In fact, some of them sound fantastic, are comfortable to wear, and really do block out even very loud external noise so you can just listen.
So in this article, we’ll look a little more closely at the best earbuds that look like earplugs – and work like earplugs – on the market today.
If you’re in a hurry, here are my top picks:
- Best Basic Wired Noise-Blocking Earbuds that Look Like Earplugs Plugfones Basic Earplug-Earbud Hybrid – Noise Reducing Earphones – Yellow
- Best Wired Noise-Blocking Earbuds with Microphone that Look Like Earplugs Elgin Ruckus+ Wired Earplug Earbuds with Mic 25 dB Noise Reduction
- Best Bluetooth Wireless Earbuds that Look Like Earplugs Mipeace LMI04 Neckband Bluetooth Wireless Earbuds -29db Noise Reduction
- Best True Wireless Stereo Headphones that Look Like Earplugs ISOtunes Free True Wireless Earplug Earbuds 22 dB Noise Reduction 21 Hour Battery
- Bonus Pick – Best Audiophile Earbuds that Look Like Earplugs Etymotic Research ER4XR Extended Response Precision Matched In-Ear Earphones
What Are the Advantages of the Best Earplug Earphones?
The most obvious answer is that they block out sound – far more sound than normal earplugs, and often far more effectively than even expensive active noise canceling headphones.
But that’s just part of the story – the best headphones designed like earplugs offer other advantages as well, including:
These earbuds often have very soft and compliant silicone rubber flanges, which are easy to get in your ear canals and won’t cause discomfort or pain even with extended wearing and listening.
Many people who have trouble wearing normal earbuds or in-ear headphones find that the best earbuds that are made like earplugs are far more comfortable.
The special flanges that in-ear noise-isolating earbuds use do, again, allow them to make a very tight and secure fit, and one of the great things about this is how they stay in place – when you’re working, exercising, or even just staying still, they will stay in your ears.
In addition to making them even more comfortable, this secure and unmoving fit can make them much safer in certain work environments, and can also keep you from losing them.
That same secure, tight fit leads to another benefit that surprises many users – a real improvement in sound quality.
Audiophiles and real music lovers have known for a long time that with in-ear headphones, in particular, the tighter the seal they make with your ear canal, the better the sound quality. The sound has more bass, more dynamics and energy, more detail, and a lot more fullness overall, and that sound won’t change or get worse with time or movement.
And since earplug-type in-ear headphones are specifically designed to make as secure and tight a seal as possible – to really optimize their noise isolation – they also have surprisingly good sound quality.
Another consideration is that when compared to ANC (active noise cancellation) headphones – even expensive ones from companies like Bose and Sony – the best earplug-style earbuds can have more consistent sound quality since that active electronic noise reduction technology can actually alter and degrade the sound.
Because sometimes you just don’t want your boss to know you’re wearing headphones…
But most of us are here for the dramatic sound isolation and reduction in noise this type of in-ear ‘phone can offer, and the very best of them do a fantastic job at that – and all of the other benefits are really just a bonus!
And so to make sure you can get the best earbuds that look like earplugs – with superior noise blocking, secure fit, and great sound, as well as tough and durable materials and overall quality – I’ve put together a list of the ones I think are the very best on the market today.
These are generally pretty inexpensive, but all of them are really effective and very high quality overall, and each and everyone is a great value!
The Best Earbuds that Work Like Earplugs in 2023
Best Basic Wired Noise-Blocking Earbuds that Look Like Earplugs
- WHERE EARPLUGS MEET EARBUDS: We’ve combined...
- BLOCK ENVIRONMENTAL NOISE: Ideal for...
- NOISE REDUCING EARPHONES: The Basic has a...
- ENGINEERED TO LAST: Plugfones feature a...
- COMFORTABLE EARPLUGS WITH AUDIO: The...
- Type: Wired
- Noise Reduction Rating (NRR): 25 Decibels
A simple but very high-quality pair of in-ear stereo headphones, the bright yellow Plugfone Basics are earbuds that look like safety ear plugs and work like them too.
The Plugfones have an extremely effective triple-flange design and will reduce background noise by a substantial 25 decibels. They are fully compliant with ANSI noise reduction standards and NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health) criteria.
We will get into better sound quality with some of my more expensive picks, but these Basic noise-blocking earbuds actually sound quite good, with plenty of bass and clarity, low distortion, and no harshness.
They are also very tough earphones, sweatproof, with a strong cord, a reinforced plug, and long-lasting silicone tips, and should stand up to some real abuse with no problems.
Plugfones makes a whole range of excellent noise-isolating in-ear headphones, and I can easily recommend any of them, but the Plugfones Basic earbuds are the best cheap set I’ve found, and highly recommended.
Best Wired Noise-Blocking Earbuds with Microphone that Look Like Earplugs
- OSHA COMPLIANT HEARING PROTECTION:...
- IP65 DUST AND SWEATPROOF: These water...
- IMMERSIVE SOUND AND CLEAR CALLS: Custom-tuned...
- EASY TO USE CONTROLLER: With the one-button...
- INDUSTRIAL GRADE DESIGN: Backed by our 1-year...
- Type: Wired
- Noise Reduction Rating (NRR): 25 Decibels
Very close to the Plugfones just above in look and function, with similar bright yellow triple-flange tips and the same 25 decibels of passive noise reduction, these slightly more expensive Elgin Ruckus+ in-ear headphones also have a microphone – in fact, a very good quality mic that is also designed to block and reduce external noises.
The mic also has a one-button multi-function controller, which is easy to use and not distracting when you’re working.
These Elgin Ruckus+ in-ear ‘phones may even be a bit tougher than the cheaper Plugfones, with kevlar reinforced cables and a double molded l-shaped headphone plug. They are IP65 dustproof and sweatproof and have a full 1-year manufacturer’s warranty.
Big 8MM speaker drivers give the Ruckus+ a full and powerful sound that is tuned and optimized to sound fantastic, and these earbuds actually have very satisfying sound quality for their type.
Tough, affordable, and very effective earbuds that look like earplugs, and include a great microphone, the Elgin Ruckus+ are the best choice by far at their price level.
Best Bluetooth Wireless Earbuds that Look Like Earplugs
- 【Great Noise Protection】They offer a...
- 【Ergonomic & Lightweight neckband...
- 【Up to 19Hours Long Playtime】Its powerful...
- 【Advanced Bluetooth 5.2 Connectivity】With...
- 【IPX5 Water and Sweat Resistant】Features...
- Type: Wireless – Neckband
- Noise Reduction Rating (NRR): 29 Decibels
Elgin and Plugfones both make very similar neckband wireless earbuds for noise isolation, and they are great products, but for my money, the Mipeace is much better – and a bit less expensive.
These Mipeace LMI04 Bluetooth in-ear headphones have really strong passive noise reduction – 29 decibels attenuation. They are lightweight and their safety yellow triple-flange silicone ear tips are very comfortable to wear, even for a whole day of work.
This is made possible too by the excellent battery life – up to 16 hours of playing time – and the technology overall is fully up to date, including the latest-generation 5.0 Bluetooth for a more reliable signal with less drop-out, better sound, and longer wireless range.
But maybe my favorite thing about these Mipeace earplug Bluetooth headphones is their sound quality. They have plenty of volumes, which in combination with their superior noise blocking makes for very exciting listening even in very loud environments. There is plenty of bass, but it doesn’t overwhelm everything else, and the overall sound is warm, clear and very nice.
So, a great headphone for a still affordable price, with wireless convenience, tough materials and build, excellent passive noise reduction, and really good sound – even for normal use these would be a great choice and a great buy, but for noisy environments, they are a slam dunk!
Best True Wireless Earplug Stereo Headphones
- BLOCK NOISE: heat-activated memory foam...
- TRUE WIRELESS: ISOtunes FREE introduces a...
- ALL DAY BATTERY: 7+ hour battery life gets...
- CLEAR CALLS IN LOUD ENVIRONMENTS: Signature...
- BUILT TO LAST: Backed by best-in-class 1-year...
- Type: Wireless – TWS (True Wireless Stereo)
- Noise Reduction Rating (NRR): 22 Decibels
ISOtunes is one of the best companies going for passive noise reduction headphones and earbuds, and their products are always fantastic for performance and for industrial grade material and build quality.
And while other companies on this list of best earplug stereo earbuds make a nice true wireless stereo headphone, for my money the ISOtunes Free is the best – the best performing and the best sounding.
Unlike other noise-blocking earbuds on this list, the ISOtunes come with both silicone flange eartips and memory foam tips – some people find one or the other more comfortable, and they both offer approximately the same level of noise blocking. And while they don’t reach quite the same level of passive noise reduction, these Free TWS earbuds do reduce background noise significantly and are more than enough for even the noisiest environments.
It should be said, though, that the memory foam tips are really, really comfortable. I think the silicone tips are too – much more so than even the tips on some of my premium earbuds – but with the memory foam especially the ISOtunes Free are so comfortable that you’ll forget you are wearing them.
Except, of course, for the great sound you’ll hear. I find these to be not just the most comfortable and effective noise-blocking TWS earbuds out there, but also the best sounding, with really deep and powerful bass, great presence and warmth in vocals and detailed highs that are never harsh.
And they’ll play surprisingly loud. It sounds to me like ISOtunes has put a bit of a volume limiter on these babies, so they won’t play quite as loud as other Bluetooth wireless headphones – which is actually a good thing, and a very important and necessary precaution for real workplace safety – but the combination of their dynamic and engaging sound, the high volume they will reach and their effective acoustic isolation means things come through strong and clear – and then some!
Much tougher than normal headphones, designed for up to 28 hours of battery life (hope your workday isn’t that long!), comfortable, easy to use and with really great, fun and exciting sound, the ISOtunes Free TWS are the best true wireless earbuds that look like earplugs that I’ve ever found, and get my top recommendation.
Bonus Pick – Best Audiophile Earbuds that Look Like Earplugs
- High performance Balanced Armature drivers...
- Transducers: Single high-performance balanced...
- Specially designed for uncompromising...
- Sleek, anodized, laser etched aluminum body...
- 35-42 dB of noise isolation with a max output...
- Type: Wired
- Noise Reduction Rating (NRR): 35-42 (!) Decibels
Let’s say right up front that the Etymotic Research ER4XR precision in-ear headphones are not for the industrial-type workplace – while they are really beautifully made earbuds, their balanced armature design is not made for any kind of serious shock or rough handling.
Now that that’s out of the way, I will also say that these 4XR are not only the best sounding true noise-isolating in-ear headphones on the market today, they are one of the best sounding pairs of headphones period – really, from any company and at any price level.
Etymotic Research invented the first viable in-ear noise-isolating earbuds about 3 decades ago – a breakthrough that has led to basically every product on this list – and they quickly understood that not only was their revolutionary design great for passive noise reduction, but also for sound quality.
In fact, truly acoustically isolating headphones like these, especially with how directly they deliver the music into the ear canal, can offer unprecedented levels of detail, phase coherence, linearity in frequency response, transients and dynamics – all of these and so many other aspects of high fidelity sound reproduction are markedly improved by the company’s deep flange design.
But it’s not just about the ear tips – the low resonance aluminum body, the pure audiophile cables and other materials, the superb balanced armature drivers, the precise matching of left and right units, the hand tuning and every aspect of the physical delivery of sound.
This all results in a sound that is almost spookily detailed and precise, with true neutrality in frequency response, deep bass and extended highs, wholly stress-free mids and incredibly low distortion throughout. It also leads to such perfect phase linearity that the Etymotic ER4XR have imaging and space you wouldn’t expect in anything short of a much more expensive open-backed planar headphone.
If you have any issues with background noises when you’re listening to music, or if you simply want the best and most consistent performance possible, and the best and most beautiful sound you can get for this (admittedly not inexpensive) price level, the Etymotic Research ER4XR are the answer, and one of the greatest bargains – and greatest sounding headphones – in high end audio.
Just keep them away from the pneumatic drill!
To a certain degree, the beauty and quality of these high definition flagship headphones is evident all the way up and down the Etymotic product line, and I highly encourage you to check out their other brilliant in-ear ‘phones – some of them far, far less expensive! – at the Etymotic Research Product Page.
Conclusion: How Can You Find the Best Earbuds that Look Like Earplugs for You?
There are a lot of companies that make passive noise-cutting headphones, or at least headphones that look like they would cut noise, and in my experience some of them are ok, some are pretty meh and some don’t cut anything, and some sound lousy in the bargain.
Anyway, few of the less expensive choices out there are made to the standards of performance and quality you really need and want in a pair of workplace earbuds or would want for any other use.
The four companies on my list of best passive noise-reducing earbuds, though – ISOtunes, Mipeace, Elgin and Plugfones – are all industry leaders, well recognized for their effective designs, superior material and build quality and excellent sound.
I have really liked and enjoyed every product I’ve tried from each of these companies, and I can definitely recommend each company’s entire line (I’ll include their Company Store Page links below), and so you could simply go to any of them, find the type and price you like and click away.
But my own selections for the best of each type – which, purely coincidentally ended up including 1 product from each of these four great companies – are the ones I find to be the very best of their type – the best simple wired earplug headphones, the Plugfones Basic; the best wired earplug headphone earphones with a mic, the Elgin Ruckus+, the best Bluetooth neckband earplug earbuds, the Mipeace LMI04, and the best true wireless noise-cutting headphones, the ISOtunes Free.
So yeah, anything from these companies is pretty much golden, but for their price and type those 4 are, IMHO, the best choices, and I’m sure you would be thrilled with any of them.
And again, to close, here are the product pages for these four excellent companies: