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Best Noise Canceling Headphones

Sony WH-1000XM3 vs. Bose QC35 II vs. Sennheiser Momentum

To Bluetooth or not to Bluetooth? That is the Question...



In the world of audiophilia, "Bluetooth" and "Wireless" seem like dirty words. Why would you get a wireless headphone when wired sounds better? In a society of noise, is it okay to drown out the world with a technology that allows you to hear your music unhindered by the world around you? Is noise-canceling a necessary evil that audiophiles need to embrace? This review seeks to answer these questions.

I’m a researcher. If I’m looking to buy a high-end product, I’ll research comparisons and reviews for months before coming to a conclusion. I need stats, specs, general impressions, comparisons, usage scenarios, and more. I like being comprehensive.

Coming from a pro-audio background, a lot of this manifested in my music gear and technology in general. 10 years ago, when I was traveling overseas a lot for my previous job, I wanted to get a pair of noise canceling headphones. Well back then there was really only one game in town: Bose QuietComfort (QC). Fast forward to a few years ago when I wanted to upgrade, I actually looked at these very headphones in this review. I read, researched, looked at comparisons and ultimately came to the conclusion that Bose was the best.

I was wrong.

Now at Moon Audio, I have the special privilege of hands-on time with each of these headphones; a luxury I didn’t have before. Let me do all the work for you so you don’t have to. Coming from a fellow researcher, let’s see who the real winner is.


What started out as a simple review for the Sony WH-1000XM3 wireless noise-canceling headphones has turned into a trip down the rabbit hole of the latest technology and sound design. Sony does so many things, and very well for the most part. So, it isn't surprising that they would take on the leader in active noise-canceling headphone technology sooner or later. Sennheiser has followed suit with their latest version of the Momentum's (3rd generation).


Comparisons

In this review, we'll be comparing the Sony WH-1000XM3 to the Bose QC35 II - the main competitor to the Sony headphones. We'll also be comparing the Sennheiser Momentum, another wireless noise-canceling headphone in the same vein but priced a little higher at $400. If you are considering the top of the line wireless noise-canceling headphones, these are the ones to pick from.

Three headphones: Sony, Bose and Sennheiser

All three headphones are superb; great companies and great products. However, it can be difficult trying to pick the best one, or rather the best one for you, since each headphone shines in different applications.

*Note: Although Bose does have a newer noise-canceling headphone on the market now (700), we are using the QC35 II model as a closer comparison to the Sony WH-1000XM3 model due to its form factor and similarity in features. The WH-1000XM3 was Sony's answer to the QC series and are thus priced the same also.


What's In the Box

Sony WH-1000XM3: Sliding out the box insert from the cover you'll find the contents neatly packed into the zippered carrying case. The case itself is made of a hard form plastic covered in fabric. The case has an elastic pouch on the back for storing cables or other peripherals.

Unzipping the hard case, we find the headphones, neatly folded, ear cups facing down and the included accessories stored in a partitioned section with the headphones. There you will find the included:

  • 3.5mm male to male cable (one side being right-angled)
  • the USB-C charging cable
  • the 2-pin flight adapter attachment

The cable quality is decent enough; nothing fancy, just the same ol' factory stock cables. Having a right-angle jack on one end of the headphone cable is nice, you don't see that very often. I'm a bit perplexed about why companies still include flight adapters with their electronic products nowadays. I don't remember the last time I was on a flight (international or domestic) that required the 2-pin adapter, and in most cases, airlines provide adapters to their customers now if needed.

But lest I complain about Sony giving away more in their packaging than necessary, it's nice to have the adapter included, nonetheless. The inclusion of USB-C as the charging connector and cable are some of the best things about the package, including the ability for quick-charging. The paperwork: manual, start guide and warranty are also included in the main box.

The hard case is surprisingly sturdy. I would have no issue throwing these in a bag knowing that my investment would be well protected. The soft fabric lining the case will keep the headphones scratch-free as well. The partitioned section of the case also serves as a skeletal structure, preventing the case from being collapsed inward when closed, furthermore protecting the headphones inside. Overall it is a very nice presentation.


Bose QC35 II: Much like the Sony's, the Bose QC35's come with a charging cable (micro USB) and their proprietary 2.5mm to 3.5mm headphone cable. The headphones much in the same way fold and twist like Sony so that they can be stored in a more compact configuration.

The Bose hard shell case is smaller than the Sony case but is covered in a more leather/smooth material as opposed to the fabric on the Sony's. Bose relies on more sturdiness and rigidity on the outside edges of their hard case, letting the top and middle of the case give a little. The Bose case lacks an internal organizer section like Sony and instead gives you an elastic pocket on the inside of the top panel for your cables and attachments.

Bose QC35 II package contents

I preferred the layout of the Sony case much better, allowing for adequate space for all the contents without getting in the way of each other. The problem I have with the Bose case is that the top already has a little give, and when stuffed with cables laying on top of your headphones, I worry that the top of my headphones will get scratched if placed inside a bag where the pressure of the contents lay on the case. The Sony case is far superior even if it is a little larger.

Both Bose and Sony have the elastic pocket on the outside back of the case for additional storage options.


Sennheiser Momentum: The Momentum headphones (3rd generation)have a different folding mechanism than the Bose and Sony; where the ear cups flip up into the headband, much like Beats do for the sake of comparison. Unfortunately, this gives them a taller profile and the case - if you can call it that - is, therefore, twice the height of the others. Unfortunately, the weakest link of the Momentum's is the soft case. Looking like a fabric squeezebox, the top and bottom of the case are semi-hard whereas the sides are just fabric. I dare say this case offers absolutely no protection for the Sennheiser's. I would not feel comfortable stashing these away in my bag. It might be tolerable if you clamped it on the outside of your bag, but even then, such a high-ticket item should be better protected in my opinion.

Other included items are a USB-C charging cable, a proprietary 3.5mm to 2.5mm headphone cable, and a USB-C to Type-A adapter. The paperwork is also included at the bottom of the soft-shell case.


Winner:Sony WH-1000XM3. Sony's case sets it apart from the competition. The inclusion of the USB-C and Quick Charging capability on the Sony and Sennheiser is a nice addition and trumps the Bose QC35's.


Materials, Quality & Comfort

Sony WH-1000XM3: The Sony WH-1000XM3 headphone feels very high quality. Despite being very light, the materials feel premium. The padding at the top of the band is nice; a very soft, faux-leather material common for this price-point (compared to the competition). My favorite physical-functionality of the headphone is the band adjuster. The ear cups ever so effortlessly glide and click to the desired length or adjustment. It's a very satisfying feeling that you're getting just the right fit for your head. The mechanism is superb and probably the best out of the other competitors.

The ear cups themselves are packed with a ton of tech. Sony has gone with a sophisticated and minimalist design, and it looks phenomenal. But there's also another function of the minimalist look: the ear cups themselves also have built-in touch controls. The gestures felt natural and the responsiveness was great. Slide your finger up and down to adjust volume, front to back for song skip forward or back (respectively), double-tap for pause/start, and triple tap for voice assistant. The controls can be edited in the companion app, but it was a very intuitive experience overall.
 
The padding on both the ear cups and the headband feel comfortable. The memory foam is more forgiving on the ear pads, which is needed to help create a better seal around the ears. In the same vein, the padding on the headband is more supportive to help alleviate the overall weight (albeit minimal) of the product on your head. It was a good balance for optimal wearing comfort.



There are only two buttons on the left ear cup: the power button and the noise cancelling/ambient button. Both are rather thin and small, but I didn't have any issues accessing or finding them while wearing the headphone. However, some might find them on the small side or difficult to press depending on the size of your fingers. The left ear cup also has the 3.5mm jack for the headphone cable. I like the fact that Sony uses a simple 3.5mm jack, making it easy to find compatible cables to connect with your devices. Bose and Sennheiser both use a 2.5mm connector, which is much less common than the more industry-standard 3.5mm. On the right side, we find the USB-C charging port.

The ear cups have a nice weight to them but are comfortable for long listening sessions. The swivel mechanism on the cups are nice and smooth, you can be assured that they will conform to your head the most ergonomically. One detail I found interesting that we'll get into more in our comparison section is the driver design within the ear cup. I found that the foam inside covering the driver touched my ears, though it wasn't necessarily uncomfortable. If you have large ears or don't like the inside of the ear cups touching your ears, then you might not like the Sony's. But don't fret over that one factor. As we'll see, there's PLENTY more up Sony's sleeve regarding these headphones.


Bose QC35 II: Everyone knows Bose is the king of comfort. The QC35's do not disappoint. The Bose is a tad lighter than the Sony headphones, most of the weight being in the ear cups of the Sony's. Otherwise, construction and materials are similar between the QC and WH models. Articulation and joints are identical, though aesthetically the Sony's look much nicer due to their minimalist design and touch controls.

I laughed when someone jokingly called the Bose the "dad-bod" of headphones: it's true. They're not flashy, but the design is tried and true. A small thing that again tips the edge to Sony is the fact that they have very little exposed hinges or adjoining parts. Sony has crafted their product to look as sleek and sophisticated as possible, whereas the Bose is blatantly showing exposed screws all over. It gives it more of an industrial, rougher aesthetic when compared to Sony. Certainly not as elegant.

The Bose headband has always been one of my favorites. They use a soft touch felt for the underside of the headband cushion. The top is a faux leather that feels very nice to the touch. It's extremely comfortable.

The plastic itself feels similar to that of the Sony: durable. The ear cups certainly have some features that set it apart, however. One feature that I did not love about the Sony was the fact that the foam cushioning inside the ear cups (not the ear pads) touched my ears while wearing them. This comes from the fact that the drivers point straight out from the cup. The Bose are angled, however, giving more space for the outside of the ear to fit inside the ear cup. More importantly, the drivers are facing inward toward the natural angle of the ear. Sonically, I think this helps the natural acoustics of the ear cup while adding to the overall comfort of the experience.

The ear pads on the Bose have hardly changed from the original QC15 which I also have. They feel great. The padding is light and soft: just enough to provide a good seal without adding too much pressure inside the ear cup. However, the only downside is that they're incredibly delicate. I've traveled extensively with my QC15's before I got the 35's, and I've already replaced the padding twice in the 10 or so years I've had them.

The outside of the ear cups employs a button control system, as opposed to Sony's touch-controls. On the left ear cup, you'll find the 2.5mm jack for the headphone cable and the action button, which is by default set to toggling the noise-cancelling settings. This can be customized in the application however to do whatever action you want. The right ear cup has the power switch on the outside-middle. On the edge, you'll find the charging port, and the buttons for play/pause, forward and back.


Sennheiser Momentum: The Momentums feel substantially more durable than the Sony or the Bose, primarily from their use of metal in the construction. The headband, at least the part attached to the ear cups are designed with folding steel mechanism, and surprisingly feel no heavier than the Sony's. The headband leaves me wanting however, with very little padding. There are only two thin strips on the inside of the headband that is supposed to provide support, but I didn't find it as comfortable compared to the Bose or Sony. If I wasn't already so familiar with the Bose or Sony headsets, I would have had no problem with the overall comfort of the Momentum. The steel design of the lower part of the headband added more flex than the competitors, so if you have a wider/larger head, or like a looser fit, the Momentum's might be worth considering in this regard.

The ear cups are made of plastic similar to the Sony and Bose, making it durable and light. The padding on the Momentum's are thicker than the Sony or Bose, but I would argue not as comfortable. Stiffer padding comparatively, but still providing a good fit and seal. Aesthetically speaking I'm not a huge fan of the exposed, curled wire to the ear cup, but it's purely a preferential take. The overall design with the metal and leather adds a vintage vibe to the headphone if that's your thing; it's tastefully done.
 
The articulation system for the ear cups is also slightly different. Sennheiser utilizes a swivel system which allows the cup to form to several angles on a 360-degree pivot. The Bose and Sony headphones, on the other hand, are only able to adjust on a lateral plane, not vertically like the Momentum's. Up, down, left and right, the Momentum's are extremely adaptable to an infinite number of head shapes and sizes.

The ear cups on the Momentum's are a good balance between the Sony and Bose: they utilize button controls as well, but in a very minimalist way. There are only buttons on the right ear cup: toggle noise-canceling, forward, play/pause, back, dedicated voice assistant button and the charging port (from top to bottom).


Winner:Bose QC35 II and Sony WH-1000XM3 (TIE).The Bose win in overall comfort, though points are taken away for the durability of the ear pads and uninspired design. The Sony's are very close comfort-wise, with major bonus points awarded to the design and connection ports. Those who prefer buttons on the ear cups will like the Bose, and if you like touch-controls: Sony. Both are intuitive and functional, it's really a matter of preference in this department. The Sennheiser's just can't compete in the overall comfort category. Slightly heavier and sub-par padding holds the Momentum back. However, the articulation system is more adaptable than Bose or Sony. All are great options for over-ear headphones.


Noise Canceling

Of course, we all know the main draw to these headphones is the active noise cancellation (or ANC). Anyone who does a lot of travel for work or pleasure knows that listening to music through tiny little earbuds on a plane is 1) next to impossible and 2) really harmful to your hearing since you'll have to turn the volume up to compromise for the ambient noise including the plane engines.
 
The technology has come a long way since its inception in the 1950s. It was designed specifically for the field of aviation, where noise cancelling systems were created to reduce the noise for the pilots in the cockpit area, help make their communications easier, and to protect their hearing. Today, they are designed with the consumer in mind, the frequent flyer or someone who just wants to block the world out from time to time.
 
Nowadays noise-cancellation (or noise reduction and noise isolation) is an advanced technology integrating microphones and special circuitry into the headphones. The way it works is that the microphones are placed inside the ear cups to pick up ambient or background noise and external sounds that cannot be blocked passively. The circuitry inside the ear cups then takes the signal from the microphone, track the frequency and amplitude of the incoming wave and create a 180-degree out-of-phase wave associated with the noise. This out-of-phase signal is then amplified into the headphones along with the music, thus effectively "canceling out" the ambient noise by destructive interference. This allows the normal audio to continue to be amplified, unimpeded.

There are two separate types of noise-canceling technologies: active and passive. Active noise-cancelling essentially means that it needs a power source to work. In the case of the Sony WH-1000XM3's it's a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. Passive noise cancelling means that the device itself is capable of blocking out noise on its own, without an additional power source. All three headphones in this review implement active noise cancellation.


Comparisons: Sony’s previous iterations at noise cancelling have been sub-par compared to the then king of ANC headphones: Bose. With the WH-1000XM3, however, Bose has true competition on the market, finally.

Bose and Sony's ANC systems are relatively similar. In a variety of environments with low-noise to high-noise ratios, the headphones were very responsive in cutting out ambient noise to give me a relatively unhindered listening experience. There are a couple of factors that will ultimately impact the effectiveness of the active noise-canceling technology: the overall noise level outside the headphones and the noise level inside the headphones. It's not a perfect technology, but the main differences between the Sony and the Bose ANC systems lay in the overall frequency response. Bose is more effective at canceling out lower frequencies while Sony excels at general to higher frequencies.

To make it simple, both the Sony and Bose headphones are great at phasing out general noise. However, on a plane, Bose is more effective at canceling out the low-frequency hum of the engines. If there was a screaming baby behind you, you might still hear some higher frequencies getting through. The Sony's would be more effective at canceling out the screaming baby than it would be at phasing out the low hum of the engines.

The Sennheiser headphone also has very good active noise-cancellation. They compete fairly evenly with the Sony and Bose, but I would put the frequency response closer to the Sony's. Very "consumer-friendly" with accentuated lows and slightly increased highs. The noise cancellation will work similarly. The ANC on the Momentum is a big improvement from the last model too, as they were often criticized for being "weak." Sennheiser has beefed up the noise-canceling effectiveness quite a bit on the newer model.


Winner:Three-way tie. The environment/application is a determination in choosing the right ANC headphones. If you're new to getting wireless noise-cancelling headphones, you really can't go wrong with either of these options (based solely on their ANC properties). However, if you're a frequent flyer I would recommend the Bose as they are best at phasing out low frequencies. If you don't fly often then the Sony WH-1000XM3 and Sennheiser Momentum's are great options.


Sound Quality

Bose markets itself as a high-end consumer audio company. That being said, in most consumer-grade tests, the audio quality on the Bose is really good (comparatively). However, most consumers fail to realize that Bose isn't the end-all-be-all of high-end audio. It's all relative. Comparing the Focal Utopia to the Bose QC35 is like comparing the Bose QC35 to a pair of Skullcandy earbuds (sorry Skullcandy).
 
The other thing to consider is that true high-end headphones don't have noise-cancellation or Bluetooth/wireless compatibility. And the reason is easy. You sacrifice sound quality for the convenience of being wireless and being able to block out noise. So, if you're wanting a pair of headphones that are wireless, noise-canceling, have the best possible sound, and are reasonably priced, these are your best options in the consumer-grade market.


Bose QC35 II: I was surprised to learn that the Bose QC35 II have the most neutral sound signature of the bunch. Frequency response is pretty even across the board, with a slight boost in the low end and above 10k to balance it out. That being said, they sound good with any genre of music, and are most user-friendly with personal EQ settings for your music.

In listening to several different genres, the bass is present without being bloated, it allows the other mids and highs to come through on their own. The mids are detailed, especially in the vocal range. Depending on the music the high frequencies will be accentuated differently, but they are forward sounding and balanced in the frequency range. Mostly neutral-sounding overall.




BEST CABLE PAIRING: SILVER DRAGON PORTABLE HEADPHONE CABLE

Pairing the Silver Dragon with the Bose helped increase the overall soundstage – providing a natural 2-3dB boost in the process. Higher highs and lower lows. Tightening up the low end and providing cleaner highs – the Silver Dragon offers a substantial sonic improvement over the stock cable.



Codecs: In terms of software, a codec determines how Bluetooth is transmitted from the source to your headphones. It encodes and decodes digital audio data into a specific format. Ideally, it transmits a high-fidelity signal at the minimum specified bit rate. This results in the least amount of space and bandwidth required for storage and playback, respectively. A lower bit rate means better compression and worse sound quality, a high bit rate means better sound quality and worse compression.

The Bose QC35 II have the least codec support of the group, however. The QC35 only supports AAC and SBC Bluetooth codecs. This means that you will not be able to transmit hi-res audio. AAC and SBC are also the slowest codecs in transmitting data. However, this only becomes an issue if you have high-resolution audio files you are transmitting, as faster codecs result in better quality.

Bose Connect: The Bose Connect app has come a long way since I first downloaded it a few years ago. Before it acted like a proprietary connection application that you needed to install to be able to utilize and customize the buttons and functions of the headphone. Now it has music integration built into it; you can connect your Apple Music or Tune In account and listen to music directly through the app. It also has a "Find My Buds" setting if you have compatible Bose earbuds. Other than that, it's pretty stripped down but it works with their entire collection of Bluetooth speakers and headphones.

The application can install software and firmware updates to the app and product itself over the network, edit your noise-cancellation and the action button settings, set a standby timer, and more. One neat feature is the ability to share your music wirelessly with another Bose headphone simultaneously. The application, as we'll see for the other devices, are a necessity for getting the most functionality out of your device.


 

Sony WH-1000XM3: Sony has the darkest sound signature of the three. The frequency response shows accentuated low-end with reduced high-mids and slightly boosted highs. Comparatively speaking the Sony's are much more bass-heavy than the Bose or Sennheiser's, but overall the frequency response is still very "consumer-friendly" (accentuated lows and highs). If you listen to EDM or genres that require a big bass response, then these will be great.

Like I mentioned previously, the Sony WH-1000XM3 are not passive headphones. They can be used as such, but the fidelity of the drivers will suffer until the active power is turned on. The Bose are the only headphones of the three that can be used in true passive mode. I was surprised at just how good they sounded in active mode. They have a very "punchy" response, though I would say the soundstage isn't as wide as the Bose or Sennheiser's. Not by much though.



BEST CABLE PAIRING: SILVER DRAGON PORTABLE HEADPHONE CABLE

With the Sony’s being heavy on the low-end, the Silver Dragon will be the best pairing to tighten up the low end, help bring out those high mids, and to add clarity to the top end. The Silver Dragon really helps balance out the overall sound signature of the WH-1000XM3 and removes the veil of processed sound behind Sony’s ANC algorithms.


Codecs: This is where the Sony WH-1000XM3 really shines. Sony has implemented AAC, SBC, aptX, aptXHD, and LDAC Bluetooth codecs, allowing for the transmission of high-resolution audio. The increased codec compatibility suggests that your audio can sound the best it can through Bluetooth transmission using aptXDH and LDAC codecs.

I did notice the Sony's had better sound quality than Bose or Sennheiser in streaming from apps like YouTube. The poor quality and compression of streaming and online music can oftentimes sound thin and lacking definition. Sony did a great job in compensating for the compression and making the streamed music sound more dynamic than it actually was; taking out the high frequencies specifically.

Headphone (by Sony): The Sony application is the most robust of the three. Starting up the app you'll see controls for adaptive sound control, which detects your actions and can adjust the ambient sound control based on your environment. For instance, if you are running, the app will adjust the ambient sound so that you'll be able to hear environmental cues around you.

You also have features to optimize the amount of noise cancellation, the atmospheric pressure, and sound position control - so if you want to phase out a specific noise directionally, you are able to do so. The app can also apply virtual surround profiles along with an adaptive or manual EQ. The ability to edit the function of the NC/AMBIENT button is available along with a sleep timer.





Sennheiser Momentum: Like most Sennheiser headphones, the Momentum is "forward" sounding with "tight" responsiveness in the bass. The most analytical sounding of the bunch, the Momentum is more dynamic sounding than other Sennheiser headphones I've used in the pro audio spectrum. A "tall" and "resolute" presentation, the Momentum's will feel more at home for audiophiles who are keen on the overall quality and fidelity of the music.


BEST CABLE PAIRING: SILVER DRAGON PORTABLE HEADPHONE CABLE

The Silver Dragon cable really widens the soundstage and brings even more life to an already resolute sound signature. Higher highs and lower lows, the Sennheiser Momentum benefits from the natural dB boost and provides more definition in the low end especially, given that it is a more forward sounding headphone.


Codecs: The Momentum uses AAC, SBC, aptX and aptX Low Latency (aptX LL). AptX is able to transmit high-resolution data through a much wider bandwidth, so you'll be able to listen to your larger audio files with increased quality.

For comparison purposes, listening to music on YouTube or some other very compressed source will not result in a quality listening experience. Being a more forward sounding headphone, the higher frequencies will be accentuated, leaving you with a tinny and thin sound overall. These are definitely the wireless headphones for audiophiles if the sound quality of your music (and corresponding audio files and sizes) is of principal importance to you.

Sennheiser Smart Control + CapTune: The Sennheiser Smart Control application is straight forward connection app for the headphone. Connect, adjust noise-cancellation and that's about it. However, the CapTune application connects your music and the star of the show here is the adaptive EQ. By putting the user through various A/B tests with differing EQ curves, the application learns your sound preferences and creates a custom EQ curve specific to your listening style.

Sennheiser isn't usually about bells and whistles, but it does provide a customized experience for the user so that you can get the very best sound out of your headphones.


Passive Use

One thing that sets the Bose apart from the others is that it's the only headphone than can truly be used in passive mode without activating the internal battery, meaning that it will provide quality sound when connecting the headphone cable without powering on the device/noise canceling. Bose uses very efficient drivers that allow them to be used passively, whereas Sony's headphones can be used in a passive state, but the overall fidelity suffers without an active power supply. I made the mistake of trying the Sony’s in passive mode for the first time (expecting a similar experience as the Bose) and was completely appalled. So, keep that in mind if trying to use the WH-1000XM3 without power. It is not recommended.

The design of the Sennheiser’s, on the other hand, forces you to use them actively, since they automatically turn on when flipping them open. You can turn the Bluetooth off by connecting the cable, but the headphones will still power on when opened. Keep in mind that there is no power button on the Momentum. The headphones will enter a standby mode when taken off your head, but this will only activate while in wireless mode. You can choose to activate ANC in either wired or wireless mode, but the only way to truly use the Momentum passively is by connecting a cable and turning off the noise cancellation.

Now, this is not to say you shouldn't use your headphone cable. After all, if you are considering a headphone with wireless capability it doesn't mean that's the only mode you have you use it in. If you have a device that has a headphone jack and you want the best quality audio, then, by all means, upgrade to a Silver Dragon portable headphone cable. You'll get a wider soundstage, a natural dB boost and better overall frequency response. In testing scenarios, I also used a Chord Electronics Mojo - a small portable DAC that also provides a big boost in overall fidelity. Pair your headphones with a dragon cable and Mojo and you have yourself a quality audiophile-worthy portable setup wherever you go.


Microphone Quality

The call quality on each headphone was good and loud. All my contacts said the voice was clear and responsive, although I would advise turning the ANC off or adding some ambient noise into your headphones when you are talking so you can hear yourself. You don't want to be that guy/girl in public yelling your private conversations for all to hear. Using the in-line microphone for calls or voice assistant might seem strange at first while using over-ear headphones, but it becomes second nature the more you use it. It is nice that the headphones give you the option to turn down/off the ANC while using the microphone. The first generation of the Bose QC line did not have this feature, and it makes all the difference in overall usability.
 
I would give the Sennheiser's the advantage here overall due to its implementation of Bluetooth 5, allowing the headphones to be more future proof than the Bose or Sony.


Battery Life

The Sony WH-1000XM3 get around 30 hours of playtime on a full charge with noise-canceling on. You’ll get an additional 8 or so hours with the ANC off. They take about 3 hours to fully charge.

The Bose QC35 II have around 20 hours of playtime with ANC on. You can double that time to 40 hours when using the headphones in wired mode (BT off). If you are running low on battery, each 15-minute charge will extend the battery life an additional 2.5 hours.

The Sennheiser Momentum gets about 17 hours of playtime with ANC on. A single 10-minute charge will gain an additional 1.5 hours of battery life with the quick charging ability. The Momentum’s also have a very nice battery-saving feature wherein active mode the music will pause automatically once the headphones are taken off your head. In passive/wired mode, the music gets muted rather than paused, to cut off the drivers to save power. Sensors in the ear cups can tell when the headphones have been removed. A small, but very nice feature showing off the quality of the headphones.

Of course, the battery life for each headphone will vary based on the volume of music while listening. The more volume, the more power is needed for the driver, so the battery life will be affected accordingly. But in most cases, as long as you are not listening at 80%+ volume you should get close to the listed playtime for battery life.


The Verdict

If you are looking for the best quality noise-canceling headphones on the market then look no further. These should be your top 3 and only 3 choices to consider.

ANC technology has come a long way since the first headphones that started implementing it, but Bose and Sony still lead the pack, with Sennheiser coming in right on their heels. The difference really is going to depend on the application of your noise cancelation. If you are a frequent flyer, then the Bose QC35 II is going to be better at cutting out the low-frequency hums of a plane engine. Sony and Sennheiser are both great for any other application.

Bose is still the king of comfort. The Sony headphones were a little cramped for my ears inside the ear cup for long listening sessions, but they might be just right for you. Perhaps I'm just more accustomed to the roomier interior of the Bose QC35s. The Sennheiser Momentum is very comfortable too – just in comparison to the lighter Bose and Sony, they fall short. If you’ve never had the Bose or Sony on your head, then you’ll likely think the Sennheisers are congenial and pleasant; and they are.

When it comes to sound quality, Sennheiser is going to be the choice for the seasoned audiophile. The Momentum have clarity and a natural soundstage that Sony and Bose just don't have. When in active mode, the Sony drivers sound quite resolute for the average consumer and mixed with customizable EQ options via the application, the Sony WH-1000XM3 has the ability to sound just how you want. The "Bose sound" is simply dated in comparison to the Sony and Sennheiser.

RANKING:

1ST PLACE: SONY WH-1000XM3

2nd PLACE:   SENNHEISER MOMENTUM

3rd PLACE:   BOSE QC35 II


Is noise canceling a necessary evil in the world of audiophilia?

Maybe. It won't replace your high-end electrostatic headphones and tube amp at home, but in a world of noise, I do find it nice to tune it out sometimes. We all need peace and quiet from time to time. It's a good tool to help me focus on the music sometimes, especially if I'm in a busy airport or noisy cafe. Maybe the trick isn't to look at it like a necessary evil, but rather as a necessary tool for the right application. I doubt you're going to enjoy listening to music with some large open-back headphones in a noisy environment because the background noise is going to degrade your listening experience (and depending on how loud it is, it might degrade the experience of those around you too). But listening to my ANC headphones on a loud airplane full of screaming babies and feeling like I'm sitting in my home office all alone listening to music? You can't put a price on that.



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