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This is a review of the best noise-canceling headphones in 2018, and a follow-up to my comparison of Beats vs. Bose earphones that I originally wrote back in 2015. While there are different types of noise-canceling headphones available, this review focuses on products that offer active noise cancelation (ANC), as opposed to passive noise cancelation.
In addition to premium brand earphones, I have also included a few noise cancelling headphones that come with a price tag of less than $100. Plus, I share a sneak preview of the brand-new Bose wireless noise-masking Sleepbuds.
The AKG N60NC on-ear noise cancelling headphones sound great and are incredibly comfortable, even though I’m not a huge fan of on-ear designs because they press my ears against my skull. I appreciate AKG’s simplistic approach to these headphones and their single-button playback control, which you can use to play, pause and skip tracks. On the left side of the earcup, you can find a switch to turn ANC on or off.
When ANC is turned off, the N60NC headphones feature an impressive battery life of up to 30 hours. But with ANC on, you’ll have to recharge them after only 15 hours, which is lower than what some other brands offer. Active noise cancellation in the AKG N60NC works fine but is not especially impressive. The built-in microphone works extremely well in quiet environments, but has its limits if there is background noise (such as wind).
The AKG N60 NC wired noise cancelling headphones share most of the features of their wireless cousin, with the exception of the wire and the price. As of this writing, AKG’s N60 NCs are available at a steep discount, which makes them an excellent buy if you don’t mind the cable (which is responsible for the incredible battery life of 30 hours).
While the AKG’s headphones may not feature the most impressive ambient noise cancellation, they still make a valuable travel companion because of how light they are and how little space they take up when folded. In fact, the storage pouch for the AKG N60 NC was the smallest one in the test, even besting the Bose QuietControl 30.
The latest incarnation of the Beats Studio3 Wireless headphones features the same bass-heavy sound that the brand, which used to be owned by Dr. Dre, became famous for. Once Apple took over, the company upgraded the internals of these headphones by adding the same W1 chip as found in the Apple AirPods. The result of that upgrade is a better and more responsive Bluetooth connection and an easier pairing process to other Apple devices.
Even though I don’t listen to hip-hop, I have always liked how Beats sound, and I’m convinced you will like the sound as well. The microphone also works reasonably well, enabling you to use the headphones to make phone calls, even in noisy environments.
Related article: Beats vs. Bose Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphones Review
The only reason why I would not purchase the Beats Studio3 wireless headphones again is due to the incredibly thin padding on the headband. I couldn’t wear this set of headphones for more than an hour or two before they started to create uncomfortable pressure points on my skull. You can read more about that in my comparison of Beats vs. Bose.
Bose doesn’t make the QuietComfort 15 noise cancelling headphones anymore, but they offer a newer version: the QuietComfort 25. The QC 15 was the first pair of headphones by Bose that I owned, and I was incredibly happy with them until I ultimately replaced them with the newer model. If you’d like to save some money, you can still find them used on Amazon.
I used to have a pair of Bose QuietComfort 20 noise-canceling headphones, until my cat chewed up the cable. The sound quality was reasonably good, as you would expect from Bose, but I’d argue that it wasn’t on par with the company’s over-the-ear headphones, which feature a much bigger audio driver.
Besides the wire, the only thing I didn’t like about the QuietComfort 20 headphones was the relatively large control module that houses the electronics that enables the active noise cancelation. Based on recent product pictures, it seems like the control module has gotten thinner over the years, but it still weighs enough to drag down on the cable. As a result, I prefer the neckband of the QuietControl 30 over the wire of the QuietComfort 20.
For those who don’t mind the cable, the Bose QuietComfort 25 may be the right fit. The QC25 headphones are the successor to the discontinued QC15, and they offer an outstanding battery life of 35 hours, the same comfort as you would get with all other Bose models, and excellent noise cancelation capabilities.
Visually, they look similar to the Bose SoundLink II, and they are available in black and white.
In my opinion, the QC25 offer excellent value at a reasonable price, if you don’t mind the wire. From a durability perspective, I have heard some users complain that the folding mechanism of the QC25 causes the wiring to wear out and break over time. The QC25 headphones are one of the few I have not owned, so I can’t comment on that issue.
The Bose QuietComfort 35 have until recently been my favorite noise cancelling headphones. I have owned a pair for years and have little to complain about.
Bose may not make audio equipment with the best sound, but they manage to make the hardware sound good enough for most users. I’m not an audiophile, but I love how my Bose headphones sound, especially in noisy environments such as aboard an airplane. Where the Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones stand out is their noise-canceling capabilities. Among all the headphones I have tested, the QC35 are among the best when it comes to blocking ambient noise.
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Bose’s flagship headphones are also incredibly comfortable to wear over long periods, even though I did feel the occasional pressure points develop after six-plus hours of continuous use.
The Series II headphones are a slightly newer version of the Bose QuietComfort 35, and they offer a dedicated “action” button to summon a supported digital voice assistant, such as Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. Alternatively, you can use the switch to toggle between the available noise-canceling modes:
Frankly, I have never had the desire to change the way noise cancellation works, and I certainly won’t be needing a digital assistant while traveling aboard an airplane with a spotty WiFi connection. Instead, I would have liked Bose to allow me to disable Bluetooth while keeping ANC on using that button. That would potentially preserve battery life when I don’t want to listen to music.
According to some of the readers of my blog who own the Series II, Bose also upgraded the microphone, thus making digital voice assistants and text-to-speech recognition much more usable.
But if you don’t care about the potential microphone improvements or the new action button, I’d suggest you go with the Series I and save $20 in the process.
The Bose QuietControl 30 are one of my favorite headphones because they combine incredible comfort, practicability and outstanding ambient noise cancellation. The latter works so well because Bose combines active and passive noise cancellation. While the battery in the QuietControl 30 doesn’t last as long as over-the-ear headphones, the 10 hours should get you through most transatlantic flights (and a quick 15-minute charge adds another hour of battery life).
The Bowers & Wilkins PX are arguably the most beautiful headphones in this review, featuring exquisite materials and craftsmanship. The sound quality and noise cancelation are outstanding, and the accompanying mobile app provides plenty of options to fine-tune your listening experience. The PX noise cancelling headphones are comfortable to wear, but the relatively thin padding on the headband caused pressure points on my skull faster than I had hoped. If it weren’t for the lack of padding, I would have kept these headphones, despite their price of almost $400.
Besides their excellent sound, Bowers & Wilkins’ flagship noise cancelling headphones do an outstanding job of suppressing background noise, and even the microphone works reasonably well in noisy environments. Read the full review!
Out of all the headphones I tested, the JBL Everest Elite 750NC impressed me the least. While I had no complaints about the audio quality of JBL’s headphones, the quality of materials and craftsmanship is a joke. The plastic JBL chose for its headphones looks cheap, and the stitching on the left earcup was already failing when I took them out of the box. If these were $90 headphones, I might be able to look past such quality issues. But not with an MSRP of $300.
The active noise cancelation worked reasonably well, and you can use the microphone for the occasional call. Overall, JBL’s Everest Elite 750 are the only headphones in this review that I would not recommend to a friend.