InnerFidelity's "Wall of Fame" Noise Canceling
Noise canceling headphones perform a fancy little electronic trick with microphones and electronic widgetry that sums an acoustic counter-signal in with your music that will help cancel out outside noise. At its best it works very well and will isolate you better than the passive isolation of sealed headphones. But it comes at a price as the electronic circuits that modify the signal can have some strange effects on what you hear. Even the good noise cancelers can sound a bit odd ... the bad ones can sound miserable. As a rule, I think the better sound of passive sealed headphones makes them the better choice for most everyday uses, and I usually reserve recommendation of noise cancelers to air travelers and rail commuters.
Noise canceling headphones require batteries to operate the electronic circuitry. These can be both replaceable or rechargeable, but many noise canceling headphones will not operate when the batteries die, so you'll have to plan your use on long excursions accordingly.
Bose Quiet Comfort 20 ($299)|
Bose have really outdone themselves with the QC20, it not only meets or beats the noise canceling abilities of the QC15, but sounds way better in the bargain. Performing as well as the best $100-150 IEMs, this is simply a fabulous sounding noise canceler.
The QC20 will operate for 16 hours on a full charge, batteries are not replaceable, but should retain full capacity for 500 charge cycles. The QC20 will operate in a passive mode when the battery is discharged or power turned off. Apple compatible remote is available on the QC20i version, order QC20 for Android/Blackberry/Windows smartphones. Ships with carry pouch, shirt clip, and Small, medium, and large StayHear+ tear-tips.
Read full InnerFidelity review here.
Bose Quiet Comfort 25 ($299)|
Bose have long been making noise canceling headphones, and in the Quiet Comfort 25 it shows. Its ability to quiet the world around you is shockingly good, and the sound quality is likewise remarkable. Critical listeners will hear some oddities in the sound, but given their superior ability to deliver good listening in a noisy aircraft cabin I heartily recommend these cans.
The QC25 is an incremental improvement over the QC15 in every way, but it's not a huge improvement in any way. If you currently have a QC15 there's no need to replace it immediately.
This is a fairly neutral sounding headphone. Bass extension is very good, but might benefit from a bit more level; mid-range is very nicely neutral and coherent; treble balance is very good, but sometimes a bit artificial sounding making "s" sound a little more "th" than it ought.
The QC25 is comfortable on the head being very light, and having ample space in the earpieces. Ear pad protein leather is high quality and memory foam underneath making long listening session very comfy. Runs on a single AAA battery for about 35 hours, and will operate (though sound quality takes a solid hit) when the battery runs out.
Read InnerFidelity capsule review here.
Sennheiser Momentum Wireless ($499)|
While the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless M2 AEBT doesn't sound as good as the passive Momentum models, it does sound better than any other Bluetooth noise canceler I've heard. I'd characterize it as good upper mid-fi when run passive on the wire, and a notch lower with the power on. Styling, build quality, comfort, and ergonomics are simply outstanding. This is a headphone that can be worn for hours and with confidence you won't look odd wearing them. Battery lasts 20 hours and you can keep listening when the juice runs out. The M2 folds to become more compact and the included carry case is as handy as it is stylish. At $499 I would expect Sennheiser to have made the best sounding, most stylish and comfortable Bluetooth noise canceler available...and to my eyes and ears they have.
Read full InnerFidelity review here.
Sennheiser MM 450 X ($449)|
This headphone was bumped off the WoF by the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless that's significantly better sounding, more isolating, and more comfortable for only $50 more.
The excellent sound, small size, and freedom from tether make the noise canceling and bluetooth wireless Sennheiser MM 450 X a great traveler's headphone.
The MM 450 X bristles with features like: a TalkThrough button you can push to hold quick conversation with those around you without taking off the headphones; A2DP high resolution stereo Bluetooth with compatible devices (regular Bluetooth for other devices); a cable for times when Bluetooth is unavailable; it charges from USB or included wall-wart; and the headphones fold and store in included compact carry case.
Bose Quiet Comfort 15 ($299)|
This headphone was retired from the WoF when Bose disontinued it and replaced it with the nicely improved QC20, which is now on the WoF.
Bose have long been making noise canceling headphones, and in the Quiet Comfort 15 it shows. Its ability to quiet the world around you is shockingly good, and the sound quality is likewise remarkable. Critical listeners will hear some oddities in the sound, but given their superior ability to deliver good listening in a noisy aircraft cabin I heartily recommend these cans.
The QC15 will not operate without a battery, but readily available AAA batteries will power the headphones for about 35 hours. Two cables are included: one plain, and one with 3-button Apple compatible mike and remote. A hard-shell case and airline adapter are also included.
The Bose QuietComfort 15 in included on page 3 of this review.