Selecting a Good Pair of Noise Canceling Headphones

I recently had to work in a noisy industrial environment for long durations. The room where the servers and engineering stations were located had continuous noise from site rotating equipment. I had been thinking about getting some high-quality noise canceling headphone for a while and this was all the excuse that I needed.

The other aspect that I wanted to be really particular about was the sound quality. I wanted headphones that could deliver excellent sound quality so that I can fully enjoy listening to music and get a better experience with audio books and podcasts. When it comes to sound quality, wired headphones are likely better than wireless. But decide to get wireless for the sake of general convenience.

Among high quality Bluetooth noise canceling headphones the two most popular choices are Bose QuietComfort 35 II and Sony WH-1000XM3. I also considered Bose 700 and Shure AONIC 50. I compared their specs and reviews and got the chance to try them on as well. They are all excellent headphones. Their relative pros and cons that I found to be most significant are listed below.

Sony WH-1000XM3

  • Has the best noise cancellation.
  • Has support for more Bluetooth Codecs (AAC, SBC, aptX, aptX HD, LDAC).
  • Slightly less comfortable than Bose QuietComfort 35 II.
  • Doesn’t fully support connecting to two devices simultaneously. (I find this to be the only significant drawback with these headphones.)
  • Has a touch panel for controls. Some people might prefer physical buttons. I would’ve preferred buttons as well but the touch panel works well.
  • The default profile is quite bass heavy. Turning down the ‘Clear Bass’ setting takes care of that.
  • Noise cancelling mode has an option to let voices pass through and emphasize them. So you can enjoy the comfort of noise cancellation while still being able to hear people, announcements, etc.

Bose QuietComfort 35 II

  • Seems to be more comfortable than the competition.
  • Can connect to 2 devices simultaneously.
  • Noise cancelling mode has no passthrough mode. Only different levels of noise cancellation. Also does not have anything like audio passthrough with focus on voices like the Sony WH-1000XM3
  • Supports only AAC and SBC Bluetooth Codecs. If I am paying a few hundred dollars for headphones, I prefer that they support newer technologies and standards.

Bose 700

  • Significantly less comfortable than Bose QuietComfort 35 II and less comfortable than the other two as well.
  • Noise cancellation doesn’t have an option for audio passthrough mode with focus on voices.
  • Has touch controls. Some people might prefer physical buttons for controls.
  • Can connect to 3 devices simultaneously.
  • Only supports AAC and SBC Bluetooth Codecs.

Shure AONIC 50

  • Lower noise cancellation than Sony WH-1000XM3.
  • Has support for more Bluetooth Codecs (AAC, SBC, aptX, aptX HD, LDAC, aptX LL).
  • Does have ambient aware mode to pass though sounds. But doesn’t have an option to focus on voices like Sony WH-1000XM3. So effectively just ends up amplifying ambient noises.
  • Can connect to 2 devices simultaneously.
  • Constructed with more premium materials.

Winner

I ended up going with Sony WH-1000XM3 for their excellent noise cancellation, focus on voice ambient sound mode, and the support for more Bluetooth Codecs.

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