In this article, I would like to share my experience on the following active noise cancelling headphones, also known as ANC. The difference with passive noise isolation is that ANC uses built-in mic to cancel-off the outside noise digitally. Besides reviewing the quality of ANC, I also consider other factors like design, features, comfort, and audio.
Individual Review Post:
Bose QC35 – it feels the most flimsy and most plasticky, but also the lightest. The ear cups are the largest and feels most comfortable and most breathable. Distinctively Bose.
Plantronics BackBeat PRO 2 – its design is least subtle, and many buttons to navigate, but clearly labelled which improves ease of use.
Sony MDR-1000X – it offers the most executive-looking with premium materials, like leather, on the earcups. Subtle design elements make it look the most expensive among the 3 (and it is).
Sennheiser PXC 550 – The design looks premium with metal accents, less cushy than the Sony, less bulky than Plantronics.
Beoplay H9 – Solid design, ranked above PXC 550, not foldable like Plantronics but less bulky.
Winner: To each its own. Sony is the most classy and executive-looking, Plantronics is the most youthful.
Bose QC35 – it is the best in eliminating lower frequency, but high frequency is less effective and the ears feel more uncomfortable from the cancelling effect. Very effective when listening to soft music with clear bass response.
Plantronics BackBeat PRO 2 – the ANC is not very strong, merely to compensate for the lack of passive noise isolation from the ear cups. External noises are still audible though it is better than a headphones without any ANC.
Sony MDR-1000X – it is better at isolating overall noise more naturally across the frequency while achieving identical elimination effect like Bose. With a wide sound staging, instrumentation feels distant from the ears, but no lack of details.
Sennheiser PXC 550 – ANC quality ranks after Bose and Sony. When music volume is low, I can still hear ambient noises, and due to its more distant sound stage, I have to turn up the volume to hear the details.
Beoplay H9 – Better than Plantronics, but not as isolating as PXC 550.
Winner: Bose. It is still most aggressive in noise elimination to create that recording studio effect.
Bose QC35 – Like all the other headphones reviewed, it can listen to music wireless, with wired and power, or with wired without power. You cannot disable ANC unless power is turned off. There is no ambient mode to hear external sound. These make Bose contain the least features.
Plantronics BackBeat PRO 2 – On top of ANC and Ambient modes, it has sensor to auto-pause music when headphone is removed, which works the best. It is also easy to use thanks to clear labels, but it cannot be folded.
Sony MDR-1000X – Some of its features are unique. For one, just put the palm against the right earcup and you can ear ambient sounds instantly. The other useful feature is the ability to calibrate the noise cancelling.
Sennheiser PXC 550 – It has 2 ANC options, the first can be adjusted via the smartphone app, the second is fixed 100% ANC intensity. It also has features like ambient mode, audio effects selection, and can also auto-pause when headphones leave your ears. Best of all, there is no power button: just twist the headphones and the headphones will power down.
Beoplay H9 – It only has ANC on-off option and touchpad controls. There is no ambient mode nor adjustable ANC level. It’s the only headphones that have removable battery.
Winner: Plantronics BackBeat PRO 2,, thanks to its ability to listen to music with ambient modes, auto-pause feature, and 24-hour battery life. To top it off, it’s the cheapest.
Bose QC35 – the ear cushions are the largest and offer good room to cup over the ears without touching the pads. It is also one of the lightest.
Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 – the ear cushions comes in contact with the ears. The headband clamp force is the tightest among the tested and the heaviest too.
Sony MDR-1000X – the ear cushions are slightly roomier than the BackBeat Pro 2.
Sennheiser PXC550 – the ear cushions are slightly roomier than the Sony while it is less thick, the headband does not feel too tight. It is the lightest over-ear headphones.
Beoplay H9 – good comfort without feeling bulky. The adjustable headband does not have click positions and is quite tight to slide.
Winner: Bose, for its largest ear cushion diameter and lightweight.
Bose QC35 – the treble is forward, slightly fat around 2-4Khz, which adds sizzle to the music. Bass is natural and its powerful ANC easily delivers details at the lows.
Plantronics BackBeat PRO 2 – impressive sound character due to seismic sub-bass and pristine treble. Might not bode well for audio purists, but makes modern genres pop out.
Sony MDR-1000X – overall sound is most laid-back, widest sound stage, refined. Excellent for enjoyment of Classical and instrumental music with relaxed vocals and treble.
Sennheiser PXC 550 – overall sound is bright, with detailed treble and musical bass. Slightly wide sound staging, less forward than Bose. Best treble delivery among all.
Beoplay H9 – delivers the brightest and clearest treble among the headphones, but new listeners might find it too clear. PXC 550 is still more audiophile-sounding. H9 lacks warm mids, while sub-bass is a little less than Plantronics. 2nd most fun-sounding headphones after Plantronics.
Winner: each one has its unique audio tuning. If you like audiophile treble quality, go for Sennheiser. If you prefer exciting highs and lows, it’s Plantronics or Beoplay. Sony is laid back and refined. If you want in-your-face music, it’s Bose. Me? I enjoy listening to PXC 550.
It’s hard to pick a winner, as always. But my first choice would be Sony MDR-1000X, because it has the best balance of ANC quality, audio quality, and features. Bose QuietComfort QC35 comes in close second, and should be the preferred choice for listeners who needed a more reassuring ANC prowess. Sennheiser PXC 550 should be the choice for listeners with a preference for pristine treble. Young listeners who like strong musical impact will be impressed with Plantronics BackBeat PRO 2. Finally, if you love to be seen wearing a lifestyle-brand headphones, Beoplay H9 gets you impressive treble clarity and sufficiently deep sub-bass feel.
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