Tired off hearing the outside world infringe on the deep melancholy of your daily commute? It might be time to invest in a solid pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
If you somehow haven't heard of them before, noise-cancelling headphones are headphones (usually but not always in an over-ear style) that utilise advanced technologies and algorithms to cancel out external sound. The idea here is that by removing ambient noise from the equation, you're able to hear more of the music you love and have a better listening experience overall.
So, who even makes noise-cancelling headphones?
At this point, most of the major audio brands emphasize or offer some sort of noise-cancelling experience. Some have invested in the category more than others. However, when it comes to noise-cancelling headphones, the big three are Bose, Sennheiser and Sony. Depending on who you ask, Plantronics and Jabra have also begun to distinguish itself as competitors in the space in recent years as well.
Regardless, we ran the numbers, these are the best noise-cancelling headphones you can buy in 2019.
Sony have been steadily gaining ground on Bose within the noise-cancelling headphones space over the last four or so years. The Sony WH-1000XM3 represent the current pinnacle of this investment. They're the best set of consumer-grade noise-cancelling headphones that Sony have ever made. They also pack in all the conveniences. They fast-charge using USB Type-C and support both traditional Bluetooth and NFC pairing.
Relative to the previous WH-1000X and WH-1000XM2, the Sony WH-1000XM3s feature a sleeker, more premium design and a new QN1 processor that's four times as powerful as its predecessor. It doesn't reinvent the wheel when it comes to how noise-cancelling works but it is much more powerful.
In Australia, the Sony WH-1000XM3s are priced at AU$499. You can buy them through JB Hi-Fi and Amazon.
In our full review of the Sony WH-100XM3s, we said that "if you’re in the market for a solid set of over-ear headphones for your commute and are willing to part with the cold-hard cash, the Sony WH-1000X M3s are likely our pick for the best noise-cancelling headphones you can buy right now."
You can read our full review of the Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones here.
Bose 700 Noise Cancelling Headphones
Bose's futuristic-looking Series 700 noise-cancelling headphones mark the debut of Bose's next-gen noise cancelling tech.
Specifically, the advantages here concern voice. Bose are arguing that with the rise of voice assistants like Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, consumers are going to be willing to invest in headphones are better at picking up voice commands in addition to regular hands-free phone calls. To that end, the Bose 700s feature six built-in microphones and a processor dedicated to sifting through the noise.
While a successor to the ever-popular QC35s feature the technology seems inevitable, the Bose 700 noise-cancelling headphones are currently the only set of cans available. If money is no object and you want the best noise-cancelling headphones that Bose are capable of making, these are the ones to get.
In Australia, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are priced at AU$599. You can buy them through Bose, JB Hi-Fi and Amazon.
In our full review, we wrote that "The Bose 700s find a new front that they can dominate in the war on noise but they’ve done little here to take back ground that rivals like Sony have stolen in recent years. They’ve won a battle that it’d be ludicrous to mistake for a war."
You can read our full review of the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 here.
Jabra Elite 85h
Jabra recently broke into the noise-cancelling over-ear headphones space in a big way with the new Jabra Elite 85h. Touting a stylish and fabric-laced design, the Elite 85t headphones feature 40mm drivers and a unique form of digital hybrid active noise cancelling that dynamically changes depending on the environment around you.
Essentially - rather than rely on a one size fits all solution, Jabra have used machine learning and audio samples to teach the Elite 85h what three different kinds of audio environment sound like. The final results of this crash-course are three distinct modes that the Jabra Elite 85h can shift between: public, private and commute. You'll get - and are able to customise - a different noise-cancelling experience for each.
In our full review of the Jabra Elite 85, we said that "The Jabra Elite 85h are not cheap headphones, nor are they perfect ones. Where comparable offerings from Sony and Bose have gotten both better and cheaper in recent years, the best Jabra can offer is different."
"All the same, the Jabra Elite 85h make for a competitive enough experience that, if you’re tired or uninterested in the incumbents of the noise cancelling headphones space, they might be exactly what you’re looking for."
You can read our full review of the Jabra 85h here.
Active vs Passive Noise Cancelling Explained
Passive noise cancellation refers to just that. This usually covers elements of a headset's design that work to eliminate unwanted and outside noise. For an example of this, see the seal that most modern headphones create between your ears and the outside world. The effect that passive noise-cancellation tech creates is not as noticeable as active-noise cancellation but it does play an important role nevertheless.
If passive noise-cancelling is commonsense, active noise cancellation is where things get a little more complicated. ANC-enabled headphones generally use built-in microphones to identify any external noise before a processor generates and then produces artificial noise signals that effectively cancel out those frequencies during audio playback.
The tricky thing is that all this computation has to happen at once in real time and if things are even slightly off, the end-user will be able to audibly hear the results.
For this reason, a second microphone is used to essentially double-check the results of the noise-cancellation before they reach the user. If any leftover and unwanted noise is detected, dynamic active-noise-cancellation tech is then able to modify the algorithms involved in real-time to more effectively compensate.