True wireless earbuds are getting most of the spotlight these days, but there are always cases where tried-and-true over-ear wireless headphones are going to win out. Noise cancellation is one such advantage; though the technology is increasingly making its way into more wireless earbuds, there’s no beating full-size headphones if you want to truly hush your surroundings and enjoy your music without any distractions. Wrap them around your head, and you can escape any nearby ruckus like the constant hum of an airplane cabin or the buzz of a coffee shop.
Unfortunately, buying a great pair of headphones — especially with noise cancellation, which you’ll want in your everyday, take-everywhere pair — means spending a lot of money, with most good options ranging between $300 and $400. But can you really put a price on peace and quiet or making long-haul flights more bearable? I regularly use them to fall asleep a little easier — with nothing playing at all.
If you’re investing that much, you’ll want a set of headphones that sound good, can be worn comfortably for hours on end, and are durable enough to be a travel companion. Most high-end wireless headphones have made the switch to USB-C at this point, and they all offer lengthy battery life that should last through your travels. But there’s still a clear first-place pick for consumers who want a reliable pair with great noise canceling powers and good-enough sound quality.
Best overall: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
Bose is the company that built its name on noise-canceling headphones. And while competitors like Sony have done a commendable job catching up over the last few years, Bose still pieces everything together in the best overall package. The Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are the follow-up to Bose’s QuietComfort 35 cans that have become an essential piece of kit for frequent flyers or subway commuters. They’ve been completely redesigned with a more modern look, but retain the lightweight fit and exemplary comfort of the old headphones.
The NCH700s can be paired with two devices simultaneously — a great feature if you’re multitasking between a phone and laptop or tablet. You can adjust the level of noise cancellation to your preference, and at the highest setting, these headphones have no equal. It’s like hitting mute on the outside world. Battery life is 20 hours, which is firmly average these days, but plenty for any travel situation.
Bose made an effort to improve voice call quality on the NCH700s, and this is another area where they’re best in class. If you rarely chat with people while wearing headphones, this might not be a big draw. But if you’ll be breaking up your music with conference calls, these are about the only cans I’d trust to do it aside from Jabra’s Elite 85h headphones.
In a departure from previous models, Bose moved away from most physical buttons in favor of gesture controls on the right ear cup. The new system takes some practice, but works reliably without detracting from the user experience.
The Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 retain Bose’s neutral, well-balanced sound quality with a little extra kick of bass. You can expect good clarity and detail, but the soundstage is where Bose could stand to improve; noise cancellation brings you closer to your music, but that music isn’t as enveloping here as with other high-end headphones.
If you’d prefer headphones that prioritize sound quality over noise cancellation effectiveness, Sennheiser’s third-gen Momentum Wireless headphones are the best option. With cushy leather ear pads and the company’s warm, clear, and immersive sound signature, the Momentum 3s offer a blissful listening experience — and you’d hope so for their price.
They automatically power on when unfolded and pause music if you take them off. The Momentums also support a nice range of codecs including SBC, AAC, AptX, and AptX Low Latency, which is supposed to eliminate any noticeable audio delay when watching videos. Unfortunately, in some apps like YouTube, I’ve encountered sync issues, so the Sennheisers are still best suited for music more than movies.
They can’t cut down on outside clamor to the same level as Bose’s headphones, but come close enough for my liking. Still, Bose gets so much right (comfort, noise cancellation, voice calls) for less money that I think the Sennheisers will only appeal to those who demand better than “good” for sound quality.
Two other nice touches about the Momentum Wireless 3s: they have Tile integration so you can track them just like any keys or bag with an attached Tile accessory, and you can listen to them wired over USB-C in addition to the standard headphone jack, which is something the Bose headphones can’t do.
Sony’s 1000XM3 headphones are right up there with Bose in terms of noise canceling and some prefer their sound quality. But they’ve got to be nearing a refresh pretty soon, so only buy them if you can find a great deal. Microsoft’s dial controls on the Surface Headphones are brilliant and something that other companies should shamelessly copy, but the headphones themselves offer just so-so sound quality. If you’re looking for another audiophile-geared pair, the new Bowers & Wilkins PX7 are a significant improvement over the old PX headphones. They’re now much lighter and more comfortable thanks to a revamped design that includes carbon fiber arms. And the new Beats Solo Pros are the company’s best headphones yet, but they can get uncomfortable over time.
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