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Within the last several months, I’ve gotten to test new ANC headphones, some refreshed and some completely new to the market. I clearly haven’t tested every pair out there but… the ones you see in this review are some of the best of the best and most popular that I have tested on the channel. I’m going to detail both pros and cons on each pair of , so I can help you make that purchase decision…
SENNHEISER 4.50 BTNC
Clean, accurate audio and no-frills noise cancelling provide a more budget-conscious option for ANC headphones.
First up, these are obviously not the best, that’s why it’s number 6, BUT… this has the MOST value of all ANC headphones out there. This is the Sennheiser 4.50BTNC’s. Retail they go for $200 even, on sale, I’ve seen them for around $150. They’re on my list because they’re as light as my Bose QC35 and Sennheiser PXC550’s, two very premium headphones. I didn’t feel any pressure on the crown of my head causing discomfort. There is a slight clamping force at the jawline on day one, but on day two and three, I felt my face acclimating or getting used to the clamping force.
Battery life is rated at 19 hours which is slightly on the lower end of average battery performance. Most other ANC headphones are getting 20 to 22 hours, but honestly, 19 hours is surely good enough for most people. As for Noise Cancelling performance, they did muffle or mute a decent amount of ambient air, voices, and general background nuances, but justifying its price, the other headphones on this list does better. As for audio performance, the 4.50BTNC’s are more of a neutral sound characteristic. Accurate and clean, no distortion and very easy to listen to. I would get these if you’re into rock, classical, some pop songs and for general listening. If you’re on a budget and want some name brand, quality built ANC headphones, definitely check these out.
Don’t let the bass in Beats by Dre fool you – these are the premier pair of bass-focused headphones – and a lot cheaper.
Number five on my list, this is somewhat niche, but I rather inform my fans out there. Don’t buy the new Beats Studio 3 wireless. They’re not bad, – though some might say they are, I’m being unbiased here but… The Studio 3’s go for $349, the one I’m recommending which is as good, if not better in the audio department, buy the Sony XB950BTN1’s going for $180. If you love bass, the 950’s has their Xtra Bass feature and it is hands down the best bang for the buck for those who love bass. Leave it on the low setting, it sounds pretty close to the Studio 3’s or other “claimed” bassy headphones, but you have the option to turn it down deeper, and it gets resonating and thumping with tons of fullness on the bottom end.
The weight and comfort is not as good as some other headphones out there coming in at 290grams, but the quality of bassy audio makes up for it, and I’ll reiterate, the price tag is hard to beat. Battery life is on the upper end of average with 22 hours. Active Noise Cancelling performs just like the Studio 3’s and a smidge under the Sennheiser 4.50BTs. It does cut out some things, but again, not as great as the remaining headphones on my list. Again, check out my links in the header of each paragraph. Bass lovers out there, you gotta get these.
BOWERS AND WILKINS PX
While not the most comfortable headset, the PX’s are luxurious and stylish, with extremely high-quality ANC and sound performance to match.
Moving on to number 4. The Bowers and Wilkins PX Active Noise Cancelling was one of the best I’ve tested. This blocks out a lot of my surroundings, even at times, it slightly blocks out more than the Bose QC35’s. The audio is refined and balanced by offering decent bass and neutral mid-ranges. The spacial sound is better than all of the previous headphones I’ve mentioned so far. And the battery life is also on the upper end of average with 22 hours of use. With our testing, we did get 25 hours when we played it at 50% volume. One critique, they’re not the most comfortable.
We’ve had these for close to a month and surely have broken them in and they do get better, especially the earcups become less stiff, but the top of the head and long-term wearing, I’m still experiencing slight soreness up there. This isn’t a deal breaker and the PX’s do feel better than most other headphones, but for the sake of this list, I’m comparing these to the best. Last but not least, I can’t finish these headphones without mentioning, the PX’s looks amazing.
From far away to looking at these up close, there’s a lot of details, textures, and simple design that you can come to appreciate. The arms of the headphones themselves slide out instead of using a clicky ratcheting system. The braided cord is recessed into the metal arms, and the materials around the headband and earcups look great. The reason why it’s number 4 on my list is its audio signature, original design, and the Active Noise Cancelling performance.
SENNHEISER PXC 550
One of the most natural sounding noise-cancellation experiences, with intuitive touch controls, smart features, and a forward sound.
Moving on to number three, this is where it gets a little difficult because we’re heading into premium territory. The Sennheiser PXC550 is my next choice. Priced at $400 retail when they first came out, they’re going for $300 on Sennheiser’s website at the moment. One of the biggest reasons why you would get these is how light they are – 227 grams making these the lightest ANC headphones currently available. They felt great on the head and on my ears… they’re also much slimmer and more contoured around my face versus the previous headphones which stick out a bit. Not to mention, 30 hours of battery life with ANC off and 21 hours with ANC on.
One of the main reasons you would get these are it’s high-tech features. You get touch-sensitive controls to adjust volume. Automatic Smart Pause enables you to lift an earcup and have your music stop… You have the option to adjust how much ANC is allowed or you can turn it off altogether. At the coffee shop or in the city during rush hour, a lot of general noise is blocked out. They did do better at noise cancelling than the Studio 3’s and Sony XB950’s, and just to reinforce my first choice on the list, The PXC550’s tied with 4.50BTNC’s. I know, sorry, that’s a lot of model names and numbers there.
Last, audio performance did take some time to burn in. Give this a day or two and bass becomes tight and punchy, the mid-range stretches a bit and surely is pushed forward and the high notes are further emphasized. There are times the audio does become a little too bright and also too bassy where it impacts accuracy. Some may like this very colorful approach as it’s in your face, energetic and strong, while others may prefer detail and resolution… something with a bit more balance. Sennheiser does include their own app with an equalizer built in, and that in your face or not, you can turn it down if you want. The PXC550’s are one of the most versatile, comfortable, and most high-tech ANC headphones out there. I highly recommend them.
The only real addition over the original QC35’s is the new Google Assistant button, but with fidelity and clarity, along with insane comfort, the QC35ii’s are one of the best out there.
Moving on, I know, this one doesn’t have many features or the bells and whistles the PX550 has, but what it lacks, Bose makes up in performance. My recommendation, if the first generation is available, get those, as the QC35ii’s, it’s the same exact weight, same exact ANC performance, and the same exact audio signature from my testing. The QC35ii’s just adds the Google Assistant feature on the left earcup. At 232 grams, they feel crazy lightweight, and I can’t emphasize this enough. I am not exaggerating when I mean these.. are the most comfortable ANC headphones out there. Although the Sennheiser’s are lighter, the Bose design is better in every way. The earcups have tons of room for your ears to fit inside, and wearing these all day long, never once did I have wearing fatigue or ear sweat. The crown of the head is evenly distributed and great for long-term wearing and long commutes.
The audio signature is still the best, and I’ll emphasize this too, the best for accuracy, detail, soundstage, and overall enjoyment. I have the QC35’s as my benchmark for most ANC headphones as I haven’t found another pair that would sound as detailed as these. Bass is punchy and just enough to not be overpowering. The mid-range has a lot of soundstage and it’s clearly identifiable if you wear the QC35’s and swap them back to back with the competitors, you can tell the difference of hearing music in front of you, to the side, above you and slightly below you.
The Active Noise Cancelling performance was one of the best for a long time. Because of how strong the ANC can be, some may experience Air-Cabin Pressure on their ears, unlike the previous headphones I’ve mentioned so far. If you have sensitive ears, be mindful of this. But as stated earlier, the Bowers and Wilkins PX’s do surpass Bose by a smidge in performance… also, the number one headphone on this list is slightly better at blocking out noises than the Bose. Either/or, you’re still getting one of the best of the best… you can’t go wrong. Claimed battery life is on the low end of average with Bose advertising 20 hours of use. I was able to confirm 23 hours and 22 minutes was achievable with my battery test. If you want to play it safe, forgo those bells and whistles once again, Bose has the three qualities that overshadow most others. Audio quality, the best comfort of all ANC headphones, and the ANC performance is up there in the Top 3. Not much offered, but what is offered, Bose pretty much nails it. Again, I’ll have my links in each paragraph header.
Sony brings the best in active noise cancelling, with a solid sound and hi-tech features in an attractive, modern package.
Alright, folks, who is number one on this list? I don’t think many of you are surprised, but… it’s the new Sony WH1000xM2… Though not as light as the Bose, they are comfortable for long-term wearing. They are understated but bad ass looking in my opinion. These have all the high-tech features that the Sennheiser’s had. Touch swipe controls to adjust volume, pause and play. One hand over the ear cup amplifies your surroundings, and one of the biggest features that you can’t see… this has AptX HD and for those on Android 8.0, LDAC support. This pair of headphones supports the highest… high-definition audio for wireless headphones at the moment. Battery life measures at over 27 hours, the highest on the list by several hours, enough to provide an entire week of listening over three hours a day. Like Bose, they also have quick charging, with 10 minutes plugged in providing 70 minutes listening time.
ANC performs incredibly well with the Sony’s, they are currently the best in my list here, severely muffling voice chatter, cars, wind, and room tone. As for music, they don’t have the fidelity or clarity as pronounced as the Bose QC35’s, but Sony provides a bass boosted, thumping, punchy sound for most of today’s modern pop, hiphop, and EDM music. Mid-ranges where most instruments and vocals can be heard, they are slightly bright and pushed forward which I loved, and the high-notes are present without being ear ringing or ear screeching.
Although this is a perfect blend of being a more upfront and in your face audio experience, the Sony’s were more refined compared to the PXC550’s. The biggest reasons why they were number one on my list… This has tons of value with all the high-tech features. Best in class active noise cancelling. An audio signature that’s more modern by being bass boosted without being overdone, the Sony’s are also future-proofed with high-definition audio support. Last, again, they’re not the most comfortable on the list, but it is moreso than the Beats, Sony’s and JBL’s, of course the Bowers and Wilkins as well.
So that’s it folks, I hope this list did help you in some way. These truly are the Top 6 BEST ACTIVE Noise Cancelling Headphones for 2018. If you asked me personally which one I use on a daily basis, it’s the QC35’s just for sheer comfort. But if I’m wanting to jam out, go with the Sony’s. You honestly can’t go wrong with any one of these headphones.