Are you looking to buy noise-canceling headphones?
There are plenty of options in the market, and each has different mileage. They also come with different prices, so if you’re eyeing to buy a specific model, you need to have the proper budget.
General Price of Noise-Canceling Headphones:
Noise-canceling headphones cost as low as $5 or as much as $550/pair. The cheaper ones have passive noise canceling, while the expensive ones use active circuitry to reduce noise. Many of the most popular noise-canceling headphones lie within the $300 – $400 range.
1. Apple AirPods Max:
If you’re using Apple products and you rely heavily on the iPhone, then the Apple Airpods Max is the best option for you.
Many users also swear by these headphones, as they outperform flagship models made by Bose and Sony.
But are they worth the $549 price tag?
You can say they are worth it if you heavily use iOS devices and rely on them as your daily driver.
Airpods Max Features:
First of all, the noise-canceling is very remarkable and does the job quite well.
To give you an idea of the performance of the headphones, there’s a good chance that you can eliminate hums from air-conditioning and even engine sounds from a plane.
The AirPods Max comes paired with a transparency switch that lets you hear noise surrounding you when you need it. That means not having to remove them when talking to someone or checking the PA system for announcements while still hearing your favorite tunes or podcast.
Because of the active noise canceling system of the AirPods Max, you get no compromise in the sound quality of the headphones.
Now, if there’s anything worth noting about the noise-canceling feature, it’s that you can’t turn it off unless you’re using an iOS device.
The headphones are configured by default to toggle between noise-canceling and transparency mode. You can tweak these settings if you’re using an iPhone or iPad, even turning off noise-canceling or transparency.
That is why you can maximize these headphones when using iOS devices.
Design & Aesthetics:
The Airpods Max features a digital crown on the right ear cup, controlling volume and playback. The position could have been fixed, as some users sometimes adjust the volume by accident when adjusting the headphones.
There are also sensors in the ear cups that power the auto-pause playback when you take off the headphones. This feature is one of the essential functions, as you don’t miss a beat or key phrases in the song or podcast you’re listening to.
The AirPods Max switches to low-power mode when you put it in its case. Unlike other noise-canceling headphones, the AirPods Max relies on the case for you to turn it off.
This method is similar to what true-wireless buds use to turn off.
Without the case, the AirPods Max stays on for a few hours before entering Sleep mode, which is a waste of power since you couldn’t turn it off manually.
The AirPods Max has a stainless steel headband and aluminum ear cups that add a premium feel. They may be heavier than other noise-canceling headphones, but they are designed with efficient weight distribution. The padding and fabric also feel good, and the ear cups can be replaced as needed.
If Apple could improve anything, it lacks features when not using iOS devices and a lack of foldable ear cups for more compact storage.
2. Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony shows its A-game with the WH-1000XM4.
Priced at a more competitive price of $350, the XM4 is a solid contender for the Apple AirPods Max, but does it perform well?
The XM4 can eliminate most frequencies within human hearing by checking its noise-canceling feature. It does an excellent job of lowering noise within the low frequencies, such as air conditioners or plane engines.
Design & Aesthetics:
The earcups on the XM4 are better than its predecessor, the XM3. With noise-canceling off, the XM4 can do passive isolation pretty well, thanks to its thicker ear cups.
Like many high-end noise-canceling headphones, the XM4 has an ambient mode that lowers the volume of the track you’re listening to and uses the noise-canceling microphones inside to amplify ambient sound. You can activate this feature by cupping the left earcup, which is handy when chatting or hearing announcements on the PA.
One exciting feature of the XM4 is its auto-pause or mute function.
Like the AirPods Max, the XM4 pauses what you’re listening to when you take off the headphones. It resumes when you put on the headphones again.
Aside from pausing when you take off the headphones, the XM4 pauses when you speak. This feature is helpful when talking to someone, but the pauses can be annoying at times.
For one, some users noted that the headphones pause when you laugh or make some sounds from your mouth, but don’t worry; you can tweak the auto-pause settings through the Sony Headphones Connect app.
Speaking of the app, the Sony Headphones Connect App lets you manage and tweak different settings on the XM4.
While you need this app to use all the features on the headphones fully, the good thing is that the app is available for Android and iOS.
Sony WH-1000XM4 Additional Features:
Some of the things you can do with the app include setting voice commands, equalizer settings, multiple pairing, and access to Sony’s 360 Reality Audio.
The battery life on these headphones is quite decent. Battery life can last up to 30 hours with noise canceling off and around 20 hours of constant playback with active noise canceling. The XM4 charges via USB-C and 10 minutes of charging can get you up to five hours of use.
The sound quality here leans towards a more balanced and neutral sound. If you’re leaning towards more bass, you can compensate with the EQ settings in the Sony app, but that’s not to say that the bass is lacking out of the box. It’s just that the bass isn’t as heavy as its predecessor, the XM3.
Lastly, the comfort on the XM4 is still good, despite having a thinner headband and less padding. You may need to stretch the headband a little, depending on the width of your head, as long listening can have a little pressure later on.
For $350, you can’t go wrong either with the XM4.
3. Sennheiser PXC 550-II
For those on a budget, the Sennheiser PCX 550-II is worth considering.
These headphones are priced at $213, an excellent alternative to the XM4 and the AirPods Max. We have an article here with how durable Sennheiser headphones are.
Sennheiser PXC 550-II Features:
Looking at its noise-canceling ability, the PCX 550-II performs reasonably well but could be improved in succeeding iterations.
To give you an idea sounds heavy on low frequency are half as loud, with noise-canceling at the full setting. Mid and high frequencies sound less noisy with the help of passive isolation.
While the active noise canceling system isn’t at par with Sony or Apple, these headphones make up with their passive isolation design that reduces stress on the active noise canceling.
Now, while both isolation and noise-canceling help eliminate ambient sound, the position of your headphones matter, too; you need to have the proper fit to make the most of it. The proper fit means having no gaps between the headphones and your skin and the ear cups covering your ears.
When it comes to the sound quality, these headphones won’t disappoint.
The low and mid frequencies get an accurate voicing with the headphones, making them flat for these spectrums. Even when other elements have a strong presence, vocals on songs are evident and don’t overpower other tracks.
If you’re not satisfied with what you hear, you can use the Sennheiser app to access the EQ settings for tweaking to your liking.
You can also use this app for firmware updates, adjust noise-canceling settings, or locate your headphones. Another notable thing you can do with the app is to set two Bluetooth connections to your headphones.
The battery life on the PCX 550-II won’t disappoint. You can get around 20 hours of power while using active noise canceling on wireless mode.
Using a wired connection with active noise canceling, you can get approximately 30 hours of power.
These headphones take around three hours to charge via micro USB. You also get fast charging with 90 minutes of power in ten minutes.
Design & Aesthetics:
Like the other headphones listed here, the PCX 550-II uses a combination of buttons and touchpad technology to use.
These controls are located on the right ear cup and may be customized using the Sennheiser app.
Comfort on these headphones is also remarkable. If you wear glasses, these headphones won’t interfere with the frame to wear them for hours without discomfort.
The headband also adds to the pleasing experience when using them for hours with the thin form factor.
The PCX 550-II is made of plastic, which might worry some users, but the plastic build makes it lighter to wear. The headband is reinforced with metal and comes with a case to protect them from damage while in your bag.
What Should You Look For In Noise-canceling Headphones?
You’re likely to encounter a lot of terms when choosing a pair of noise-canceling headphones:
Active Noise Cancelling:
Active Noise Cancelling is a must for any noise-canceling headphones. When a pair of headphones says it has active noise canceling, it has a set of tiny microphones that pick up the ambient noise and play it back out of phase, which results in the cancellation of sound.
And while headphones already offer some passive noise canceling, an active system does it much better.
Another consideration is the battery life, especially for those using Bluetooth headphones.
Remember that active noise canceling needs the power to operate the tiny microphones that eliminate noise. With Bluetooth also active, you have two draining power sources in your headphones.
Look for tried and tested headphones with power that can last at least 20 hours with noise canceling on.
The last thing you want to happen is to have a drained battery when you’re trying to nap between schedules with monstrous traffic outside.
Long Warranty Periods:
Since noise-canceling headphones contain more electronics, you should consider having long warranty periods for your peace of mind.
As long as you don’t misuse these headphones, the warranty coverage has you covered.
Look for a year coverage for warranty. If you can go for something longer, go for it. You may also consider paying extra for extended coverage.
Remember, it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
How Much Should You Spend On Noise-canceling Headphones?
If you’re after performance, you should look into spending around $350, which is around the price range of the XM4 by Sony.
For those with a smaller budget, you may want to spend not more than $250 for something decent.