Whether you’re travelling, in the office, on the train or just at home, noise-cancelling headphones will keep you quiet so you can listen to your favourite music in a relaxed way. We have compared four new wireless noise cancelling headphones from major manufacturers: Bose Quiet Comfort 35, Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless, Beats Studio3 Sennheiser and Bowers & Wilkins PX.
First of all, noise-cancelling headphones do not sound as good as those in the same price range without the feature. The noise-canceling models are bought precisely because of their ANC function. For the tests we listened to music across the genres of classic, film music, electro, rock and current pop/rap/dance songs. For the comparison of the noise cancelling we went through different scenarios: Street noise in the city, direct wind through a fan and noise in a café or office.
How Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) works
Sometimes we don’t want to hear the ambient noise when we have headphones on. So we need a technique to suppress them. Noise cancelling works by using anti-sound waves. This is, in simple terms, artificially generated sound whose waves polarize in the opposite direction to the waves of the ambient noise. And as we still know it from mathematics, +1 is added with -1 at the end zero – the sound is canceled. The whole thing is called Active Noise Cancelling (ANC).
But the signal that the headphones measure through their outside microphones in this technique is not identical to what reaches the ear. The sound from the outside of the headphones sounds different from what is coming from underneath. As a result, the sound wave calculated against the environment is never perfect and the result is not zero. High frequencies also have a shorter wavelength and are therefore more difficult to calculate in real time than low frequencies with long waves. This means for the music under the headphones that even with the best technology, interference is created and therefore the sound is changed.
Beats also installs microphones inside the new Studio3 headphones – not only outside – and merges the signal recorded there with the ANC result. This means that less information is filtered out of the music. The result: the track should sound more like the original.
Test Results: Bose Quiet Comfort 35 vs Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless vs Beats Studio3 Sennheiser vs Bowers & Wilkins PX7
Ranking First: Bowers & Wilkins PX
- Powerful audio performance with great bass and crisp highs
- Extremely comfortable
- Noise cancellation can be turned off
- Beautiful design
- USB-C support
- USB-C can’t be used to transmit audio
The name Bowers & Wilkins stands for excellent sound. They have long since made a name for themselves in the high-end headphone segment with the P-Series. The recently introduced PX are the first eavesdroppers with noise cancelling. Because we were extremely impressed with both the P5 Wireless and the P7, expectations were extremely high.
Fit and setup
The Bowers & Wilkins PX7 are by far the highest quality in comparison. Cool metal everywhere, finely crafted but not too soft leather and tough yet chic textile applications. All of this not only looks good, it’s also useful for everyday use. While the headband is lined with leather on the inside, it ends with metal caps at both ends, inside of which the position of the auricles can be continuously adjusted via a rail. The highlight: the connecting cable with textile sheathing runs visibly in the middle of the rail and then into the two ear cups on the outside. The hinges can be turned by almost 180 degrees and look so solid that even hammer blows cannot harm them. The over-ear “grips” the ear firmly, but without pressing on the head. In this way it seals well even without an active NC.
For the setup, it requires the matching Companion app, which also immediately recognizes the headphones. Because the PX enables so-called “adaptive noise cancelling”, several scenes can be activated and adjusted in the app. You can choose between office (conversations and office noise are muffled, discussions in the vicinity remain audible), city (street noise is reduced but remains perceptible) and flight (engine noise is faded out, cabin noise is minimized). In addition, and this is something we completely miss in the Bose headphones, is the pass-through function which is adjustable from “off” to “amplified”. The ambient noise is either completely suppressed, as in an airplane, or optionally amplified. This is made possible by the built-in outside microphones. This can be useful if you want to work in a concentrated manner, but still want to react when colleagues speak to you directly.
Depending on the NC mode, the PX7 seals well. Please note: With the different modes, the headphones don’t always aim to isolate you completely. If you deactivate the optional pass-through, it filters out the everyday noise in a café or office. Wind noises are then hardly to be heard anymore. You can also completely isolate yourself in traffic. But the city mode is better recommended. Then engine noises and the usual street noise, ringing or honking as well as particularly loud noises will disappear. And that’s why with the strongest settings the PX7 seals exterior sound better off than the Bose models, which is really impressive.
After shuffling through our relatively well heterogeneous playlist, we noticed that the PX only unfolds its potential when noise cancelling is activated. If it’s deactivated, highs seem more accentuated and the PX lacks a bit of pressure in the lows. When the NC is active, basses come through better, highs sound less prominent. Overall, the PX sounds discreet. It doesn’t want to massage my skull with booming basses and raise my neck hair with excessive highs. It’s as if B&W’s sound engineers had a long discussion about how to find the best compromise between noise cancellation and good sound.
Verdict, Price and delivery
Yes, the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 are very expensive. But considering what you get, the price is actually very fair. If you plan to use these for a couple of years, then they are hundred percent worth buying. The PX is available in space grey and a gold tone. Included in delivery are a soft case, a USB and a jack cable. Peformance-wise the B&W PX7 is our perfomance winner.
Ranking Second: Beats Studio3
- Rich, crisp sound signature with a focus on high-mid definition
- Good battery
- Many different colors to choose from
- Easy pairing with iOS devices
- No passive listening mode
- NC could be better
Fit and setup
The beats headphone Studio3 has smaller ear pads, the headband has no cushion. All in all, it sits tighter than the headphones from Bose and Sennheiser. As a result, they sit uncomfortably on the head over time. By the way, the ear pads of the Studio3 cannot be turned. If you wear glasse, the tight fit of the Beats Studio3 is even more enhanced, because the ear pads press on the temples. Because Sennheiser and Bose use such soft cushions, glass wearers are not affected by the other models.
Beats’ Studio 3 looks rather plain in comparison. On the left earcup, the “b” logo is the button for starting and stopping the music, and the ring changes the volume by clicking on it. On the right auricle is a small button to switch the headphones on and off. If you press it twice in quick succession, you switch on the so-called “Pure ANC”.
Beats Studio 3, which is optimized for Apple devices, is the best choice, as it only has to be switched on next to the iPhone or iPad. The device already asks if we want to connect the headphones.
The Beats Studio3 has only one button to enable or disable Pure ANC. If it is activated, the headphones constantly adapt to changing ambient noise. This worked impressively well. In street noise and in a café, the headphones behaved similar to the other two models, and the background noise disappeared. But in the fan test the result is much better: the wind can be heard for a few seconds, then the headphones automatically adjust to it and the noise disappears.
The Beats Studio 3 exaggerates the low midrange of classical music, so the strings don’t come across as brilliant. In film music, for example, Hans Zimmer already creates dark mixes, but this headphone presses on it again in such a way that it almost sounds disfiguring. At the beginning of “160 bpm”, a title from “Angels & Demons”, a hi-hat sounds. Under this headphone it is colored, the following drums sound very dull. With electro music beats close everything. If you want to get stoned, that comes very well, but sound-wise the trebles are cut off. Bass lovers get their money’s worth especially with the rap/pop/dance titles. The bass pushes itself into the foreground, but still always stays behind the vocals.
Verdict, Price and scope of delivery
The Beats Studio3 also, are not cheap, but as you get a lot of performance for the price, the Beats Studio3 win our best price-performance ratio award. Beats Studio3 are available in red, blue, black, white, grey and porcelain. A USB charging cable, an audio jack cable and a stable transport case are included.
Ranking Third: PXC 550 Wireless
- Great sound quality when compared to many other models
- Swipe controls
- Balanced sound
- No display to show the battery levels
- NC is medium compared to other models
Fit and setup
Sennheiser’s ear cushions are very comfortable but slightly triangular in shape. If you have rather large ears, this may affect the fit. Overall, the headphones fit a little tighter than the QC 35 from Bose, but could be worn for several hours without any problems.
The Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless can be switched on by turning the right earcup. The switch that activates Bluetooth is located on the right front edge. Behind it, there is a three-stage switch for active noise suppression. Next to it is the button for activating one of three effects (voice, club, film) if required. Everything is controlled during operation by gestures on the right earphone: vertical wiping changes the volume, horizontal wiping selects titles. By tapping you accept calls, pause the title or mute the headphones. Unfortunately, it often happened in the test that gestures were triggered incorrectly by mistake, for example, a title was skipped when changing the volume because it was easy to “blur”.
Connecting the smartphone and tablet via Bluetooth works via the Bluetooth settings menu.
Sennheiser’s PXC 550 has a switch on the headphones to turn on ANC or increase the intensity. In addition, this can also be very finely adjusted in the app.
In the road noise test, the model behaves in a similar way to Bose’s QC 35: the background noise of the cars disappears and buses and trucks can be clearly heard. In the café, the conversations were strongly muffled, but the clinking of glasses and laughter came through. The PXC 550 fails the fan test, though. The wind remained permanently audible and sounded as if I was talking on the phone to someone who was in the middle of a storm. No ANC setting brought improvement here.
In comparison, the bass, midrange and treble are more balanced than in the other test models. The trebles, for example, are much more noticeable than on Bose headphones. But overall there is also less bass. Something is also wrong with the headphones’ behaviour: the low drums are distorted in electric tracks and in film music, it sounds partly like dropouts in the music and partly like a crackling sound. Strange effects are created, although all effects are switched off on the headphones and via app. These feel like a dynamic equalizer that tries to keep low frequencies down. This results in a loss of uniformity in the sound image.
Price and scope of delivery
The Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless is only available in black. It is available for around 280 Dollars. It comes with a sturdy transport case, a USB charging cable, an audio jack cable, an adapter to large jack and an aircraft adapter. The PXC 550 is a solid option if you don’t want to spend too much money. If you are able to save a bit more though, we highly recommend the B&W PX7 or the Beats Studio3.
Ranking Fourth: Bose Quiet Comfort 35
- Google Assistant support
- Works also in wired mode (cord included)
- High class NC
- Very immersive
- Battery cannot be changed
- No auto play/pause
Fit and setup
The large ear pads of these headphones are very comfortable. The soft leather nestles pleasantly against the ears because the cushions give way a lot. Even the top of the headband is softly padded. Wearing the QC 35 for hours is no problem at all.
On the Bose QC 35, the Bluetooth on/off switch is located on the outer right of the ear cup. When you switch on the headphones, ANC is automatically activated. You can only control this via the App. At the rear edge of the right ear cup, there are buttons for adjusting the volume and for starting and stopping the music. The new models also have a button for the Google Assistant, which we tried out separately in the following test:
Connecting the smartphone and tablet via Bluetooth works either through the Bluetooth settings menu or through the “Bose connect” app.
With the Bose QC 35, you can only adjust the intensity of the ANC via app. But since you can also control your music in the “Bose connect” app once you have started it, this is not too complicated.
In the test I walked through the city with headphones. They reliably filtered out the background noise of the cars. If a bus thunders past, this is however clearly audible. In the café it behaved similar. Conversations fade into the background, but high frequencies like laughter, clapping or glasses clinking are clearly audible. The third test was directly in front of a fan. Bose’s QC 35 has two levels of ANC: low and high. When set to “High” the wind whistling was clearly audible, when set to “Low” the noise disappeared with few exceptions.
Bose’s QC 35 sounds rather dull overall. “Forte” passages in classical music feel like a tough mass under the Bose QC 35. Individual instruments are difficult to differentiate. The headphones are also not transparent in film music. As soon as many instruments play at the same time, the sound becomes mushy. The high frequencies are strongly filtered out. In the electro genre it might be good for those who want a bit more kick in the bass, but with vocal tracks it gets dull again. Especially in Cardi B’s hit “Bodak Yellow”, which is the latest at the time of testing, you generally don’t understand the singer very well. Under the Bose headphones this is unfortunately even amplified.
Verdict, Price and scope of delivery
The Bose Quiet Comfort 35 comes in a black and a silver version. It costs around 240$. It includes a sturdy transport case, a USB charging cable, an audio jack cable and an aircraft adapter. Two years ago when the QC35 came out, it was cutting edge tech and changed the game for noise-cancelling. In these two years the competition didn’t sleep though. And that’s why the QC35 comes last. Quality-wise there is a huge difference between the top three of our test and the QC35. We cannot recommend you to buy these anymore.
Conclusion: Bose Quiet Comfort 35 vs Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless vs Beats Studio3 Sennheiser vs Bowers & Wilkins PX7
Especially with closed headphones, wearing comfort is important if you want to use them for a longer period of time. However, this also depends on the shape of the head and the anatomy of the ear. In this respect, no comparison can replace a “fitting”.
Nevertheless, Bose QC 35 is very comfortable to wear, even for hours, and its noise reduction works very well. The new QC 35 II is also the only model to integrate the Google Assistant as an additional function – even if, after our test, one can argue about its usefulness. The headphones’ sound image could be more balanced, though. That’s where the Bowers & Wilkins PX comes into its own. It sounds best in comparison and scores with its adaptive noise cancelling. But that doesn’t cancel out noise quite as much as with Beats headphones.
The Sennheiser also takes a more prominent position in terms of sound, but sometimes mixes strange effects into the music. Large ears could also have problems with the fit.
Bass lovers who like to wear their headphones close to their head and listen to music with their iPhone will certainly like the Beats Studio3. But spectacle wearers will have problems here. The “Pure ANC” still works impressively well. Moreover, the Beats headphones are the best when it comes to price-performance ratio.
Buying guide for headphones
Anyone who has decided to buy headphones is spoilt for choice. There is a wide range of models, which of course makes it not so easy to choose one model. Especially for the first purchase, you should ask yourself: What are my expectations of my new headphones? These can be for example: how much value do I place on quality, what do I want to spend at most. In the following we have listed some characteristics for good headphones.
The most important key metrics for headphones
The following 8 factors play an important role:
Sound level (dB)
What does the sound level (decibel = dB) of headphones say?
Put simply, it is the volume that the headphones can produce. In the normal range we are at 90dB. In comparison, a jet plane has about 150db, which is very loud and dangerous to health in the long run.
What does the frequency range (Hertz = Hz) of headphones say?
The frequency range is given in Hz or kHz and usually looks like this:
30 Hz – 20,000 kHz. A quick explanation: 30 Hz are for the low tones (subs, bassline), normally 30 Hz are very low and should make the headphone membranes vibrate. 20,000 kHz are for the high notes, this number probably tickles your eardrum. The higher the frequency spectrum, the more sound is covered.
Manufacturing & Quality
One of the reason factors for a good Dj headphone is the workmanship and quality of the materials used.
A few questions about quality and how you recognize it:
- What is the flexibility of the headphones?
- Can I wear the headphones on only one ear for mixing without it becoming uncomfortable?
Duration of wearing the headphones
The wearing comfort of good headphones is characterized by the fact that they do not feel uncomfortable even during longer sessions. For this purpose, there are different model variants such as: over-ear and in-ear headphones. Over or on-ear have another difference based on the ear padding: leather or velour.
The headphones should support you and not burden you. Therefore the weight also plays a role in the purchase.
Interchangeability of small parts
It can unfortunately happen very often, in the heat of battle, that a cable break occurs, small parts come loose or the headphone padding has wear phenomena. Many manufacturers usually offer spare parts for these problems for quick replacement.
Many manufacturers very often give more than the legal warranty period. Of course, this can also be a plus point for the quality requirements of the respective manufacturer.
And last but not least the look, this one depends on your taste
The purchase of headphones requires a small needs analysis in the first moment. You should analyse exactly which of the above mentioned criteria you attach great importance to. We have reviews for the best headphones on the market for you and provided them with the most important criteria to offer you good support for your purchase.