Flights can be stressful enough as it is, without the noisy distractions of fellow passengers and the constant drone of the engines. That’s where a good set of noise-cancelling headphones really come to the fore. Not only are they great during the flight. They can be a useful tool in day-to-day life, such as the daily commute. Often a set of noise-cancelling headphones are included as a feature on Business class flights, but for those occasions when they aren’t we’ve taken a look at the best models currently on the market.
How do noise cancelling headphones work?
Noise-cancelling headphones eliminate unwanted ambient sounds by using a process known as active noise control. The noise cancellation allows makes it possible to listen to audio without the need to raise the volume excessively. It also allows passengers on an otherwise noisy flight to sleep. The headphones will contain an active microphone that will ‘listen’ for ambient noise. The active noise control system then ‘cancels’ the ambient noise by generating a waveform that is the exact opposite of the incoming sound. Noise-cancelling headphones require a power source, either via a USB connection or by a battery. As a result, this increases both the weight and the expense of noise-cancelling over passive headphones.
Sony’s latest noise-cancelling product is the WH 1000XM3 with the new generation QN1 processor and Bluetooth. The QN1 processor increases the range of frequencies from which noise-cancellation transpires, giving more control over the sounds you want to block out. The battery life of the WH 1000XM3 is an impressive 30 hours, so you don’t need to worry about constantly charging the headphones. This means you can embark on long journeys with confidence that the battery will not run out. We used the WH 1000XM3 on a long-haul flight from London to Sydney (22h 40m) and there was still several hours worth of charge at the end of the journey. If the battery does run low, the quick charge (USB-C) feature will provide 5 hours of playback time from just a 10-minute charge.
Lightweight and comfortable
The WH 1000XM3 is even lighter than its predecessor the MX2 at only 254g. They are very comfortable to wear with deep, soft ear pads. We managed to wear them for nearly the entire flight from London to Sydney with no discomfort whatsoever. The WH 1000XM3 comes with a specifically designed carrying case which the set and the accompanying cables extremely portable.
The adaptive sound control feature has a number of smart settings that optimise listening conditions automatically. These are based on your listening history and the outside environment. The settings can also be manually customised based on the user’s preferences using the Headphone Connect app (Android and iOS). Playback control is via touch on the right ear cup. Double-tap to pause or play, swipe left or right to skip a track or up and down to adjust the volume.
The WH-1000XM3 has dual voice assistant compatibility. It is optimised for both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. You can play music, hear the news, makes calls, control smart devices, get answers to questions just by talking to your headphones.
The WH-1000XM3 combines great sound, excellent battery life and loads of customisable features. This is one of the best noise-cancelling options on the market. RRP £330 (at the time of writing).
- Sony WH1000XM3 Headphones
- Plug Adaptor for In-flight Use
- Headphone cable (approx. 1.5m, OFC strands, gold-plated stereo mini-plug)
- USB Cable
- Carrying Case
- Operating Instructions
Bose QuietComfort 35 II
Bose pioneered the first noise-cancelling headsets in the mid-1980s. They have been at the forefront of the technology ever since. They combine excellent active noise control and passive isolation with good sound, simple operation and reliable Bluetooth connectivity.
It is probably the QC35 II’s unparalleled level of comfort that sets it apart from competing brands. The QC35 II is the most comfortable over-the-ear headphones I’d ever worn. The sprung headband creates just enough pressure to create a decent seal around your ears, but not so tight that it creates pressure points or around your ears. The earpad design is so good that the headphones do an excellent job of blocking out ambient sounds even with noise cancellation turned off.
The QC35 is relatively small, fairly discreet and light. At only 236g they are even lighter than the Sony WH 1000XM3. You can wear the QC35 II all day without the slightest discomfort. They fold up relatively compactly for travel too and fits neatly into the accompanying Bose travel case.
Battery life for the QC35 II is about 20 hours when using Bluetooth, or a little longer if via the headphone cable. It’s doubtful the QC35 II would have lasted my long-haul flight to Sydney without an in-flight power boost. A full charge takes approximately two hours to complete.
In respect to sound quality, the Bose QC35 II is good, but not the best in class. The sound is a little soft when compared to the Sony WH 1000XM3. This means the dynamic range is a bit limited and makes for a rather flat presentation. Resolution is good but not great and the sound stage is about average.
The Bose QC35 II is both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa enabled, accessible by a dedicated button. We trialled the Google Assistant as part of our testing. We were surprised by its speed and accuracy even in a crowded, noisy environment. Using the Google Assistant with the Bose QC35 II works just like it would on Google Home. You can ask it to read headlines, add reminders, or a myriad of other questions. The Assistant can also read to you your notifications as they come in.
Bose took the already-excellent QC35 and updated with the feature list with virtuals assistants. The headphone is identical in every way save for the new virtual assistant button. This means you still get the class-leading noise cancellation Bose is known for, with good sound quality and incredible comfort. RRP £330 (at the time of writing).
- Carry case
- Owners manual
- Detachable Cable