Bose QuietComfort 35
Bose’s QuietComfort range of headphones has long been the frequent flyer’s best friend, thanks to its combination of marshmallow-like comfort and screaming baby-blocking noise-cancelling. With the new QC35s you can add freedom-enhancing Bluetooth to the list of features that will make you the envy of business class.
That said, the QC35s don’t actually look very special at all. The design is pretty basic and the glass-filled nylon feels very much like plastic. At first glance, it’s a little hard to see where your £330 has gone.
That’s until you start to use them. Unlike the QC25s, you can use the QC35s wirelessly via Bluetooth, and if you run out of juice to fire the ANC, you can listen to them passively with the included wire.
You’ll want to try to remember to keep them charged up (though with 20 hours of battery, you shouldn’t need to do it too often), because it’s in the noise cancelling department that the QC35s really shine.
Hands down, it’s the best noise cancelling we’ve ever used, blocking out almost everything from the low hum of traffic to general office hubbub. It doesn’t produce any buzz of its own like some systems either, so it won’t interfere with your music.
Speaking of which, the QC35s deliver a clear, crisp and balanced sound. Other headphones might be bassier or more attacking, but the QuietComforts are tuned to stay pretty neutral and deliver the kind of clarity and spaciousness that makes them suited to both movies and music.
There is a slight zing in the treble, but that shouldn’t prove much of a problem as long as you avoid overly compressed tracks. For this very reason, the lack of the superior aptX variant of Bluetooth is a bit of a shame, but only Android users will miss this as the iPhone doesn’t support it anyway.
In the end, any minor complaints with the QuietComfort 35s fall away in the face of their awesome noise-cancelling and overall sound quality. Add in superb comfort levels and the newfound freedom of wirelessness and you’ve got one of the best pairs of travel headphones we’ve ever tested.
For their noise cancelling alone, these headphones are a frequent flyer's must-have.
Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless
The majority of noise-cancelling headphones could hardly be described as stylish. A plastic construction for lightweight travelling might be sensible, but it’s not exactly sexy.
The Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless stick two fingers to that mentality entirely. They’re immaculately constructed, with soft leather cushioning around the ears, and foldable arms to make them just as portable as their plastic-y competition. Playback controls are included on the right earcup, but they are a bit fiddly.
The Momentums’ noise cancellation is good, equally good at blocking out the droning of an aeroplane cabin as it is dulling the piercing noise of a crying baby. You won’t get the eerie silence of the Bose QC35s, but it feels a little more natural in its effect.
This helps its performance too – the Momentums are arguably a more musical pair of headphones than the Bose, and there’s a better overall balance that makes them more forgiving with all types of music.
They’re fuller bodied but are equally precise and expressive with it. The deep bass is tight and controlled, and underpins a midrange that’s full of subtle detail.
They’re also surprisingly spacious, and give as good as they get when it comes to dynamics.
The battery life is excellent at 22 hours, but you can use the wire for passive listening if you’re caught short. The sound between the two is admirably similar, but the ability to turn noise cancellation off when using them wireless wouldn’t go amiss – especially if it could stretch that battery life even further.
The headphones support Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC, the latter allowing for simpler pairing on devices that support it. Wireless performance is solid, and you can get some 15m away from your source before you run into problems.
Even better, you can connect to up to eight devices at once, meaning you don’t have to unpair from your phone to connect to your computer, for example.
The one sticking point in all of this? The price. At £380, the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless headphones aren’t cheap, but they’re one of the best wireless models out there.
Luxurious wireless headphones that sound great and are built to last.
Sony MDR-1000X - Winner over £250
It’s a pretty ballsy move to burst into a new market with an “industry-leading” claim, especially when that market is as competitive as noise-cancelling headphones is.
That hasn’t stopped Sony doing just that though, with the MDR-1000X. And with competition from the likes of the Bose QuietComfort 35 and Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless, that claim goes from ballsy to downright ambitious.
From a design perspective, they’re ok. Pretty chunky, if we’re being picky, but otherwise discreet and sharp in their unshowy finish.
They fold down for travel and are reasonably comfy on your head, albeit not quite to the same degree as the Bose QC35s. Bose’s ear pads are plusher and more supple; these don't have quite as much give.
As for that “industry leading” claim, Sony has conjured up some clever tech in its attempt to take the noise-cancelling crown.
Similar to the room calibration software found on home cinema amps, the MDR-1000Xs shoot out test tones to measure your head and ear shape, and then tweaks the noise-cancelling effects to suit.
We have to say, it does a really good job. The results equal the capabilities of the QC35s, and better the pricier Momentum 2.0 Wireless, doing well at cancelling out the drone and rumble of everyday life.
Need to cut the noise cancelling for a chat? Put your hand over the right earpad and any music playing will cut out. Remove it, and it’ll pick up right where it left off, plus there are touch controls here too.
As for how they sound, the MDR-1000Xs deliver a smooth, refined sound – without any hint of harshness the QC35s can show up.
It’s not lacking in crispness or precision, though, and the silky smoothness doesn’t detract from excellent dynamics either. It’s a beautifully balanced performance, but won’t hold back on power or bass punch when you need it.
On both sound quality and noise-killing efficacy, the MDR-1000Xs should have more established rivals sweating – these cans are superb, and cheaper too.
In fact, in the MDR-1000Xs, you’ve got a serious contender for the best wireless noise cancelling headphones on the market.
A stunning set of noise-cancelling headphones. Watch out Bose - Sony's coming for your lunch money.