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Hi, my name is Thomas Frank
and I am in the market
for some new noise canceling headphones
because after about four years of use,
my trusty, Bose QC35 gen1's are finally dying on me.
The battery is running out quicker and quicker these days,
and there are some new models on the market.
So in this video,
I'm going to be testing out
and deciding which of these,
noise canceling Bluetooth headphones
are the absolute best ones you can buy here in 2021.
For me, budget is not a huge consideration.
These are all the models that are the top of the line
as far as all the other reviewers I've seen,
So we have the Bose 700, the Apple AirPods Max,
the Sony WH-1000XM4, nice naming convention Sony.
And because my friend, Ali Abdaal loves them so much,
I'm also throwing in
the $250 Microsoft Surface Headphones 2, into the mix.
And what I wanna do is compare all of these
against my trusty, Bose QC35s,
to see whether or not I should just rebuy these
or go with one of these newer models.
So, first and foremost,
I'm gonna give you a quick upfront verdict.
So you know what I think
and what you might wanna do
if you're short on time,
and then we're gonna dive into the details,
going over the criteria that I care about the most.
Comfort, sound quality, noise cancellation quality,
portability and cool extra features.
Finally, we're going to be rounding things out
with a more detailed verdict.
So for me, after two full weeks of testing,
I am going with the Apple AirPods Max.
Yes, these are much more expensive than the competition,
about $200 more than anything else on this table.
And yes, they have some weird quirks.
The case that these come with is absolutely stupid.
I have no idea why Apple designed it that way,
but they sound amazing.
They connect perfectly to all of my other Apple devices.
The transparency mode is a game changer.
I'll talk about that a bit later.
And their noise cancellation is absolutely the best
out of everything on this table.
So these are the ones that I'm personally going with.
However, if you're not heavily invested
in the Apple ecosystem,
if you don't have a bunch of different Apple devices
or you have other maybe Android or PC devices,
you also wanna connect to,
or if you don't wanna spend a ton of extra money
for marginal extra benefit,
what I would recommend going with,
is the Sony again, WH-1000XM4s.
These are about 350 bucks last time I checked,
they have amazing noise cancellation
just about as good as these.
The sound quality is excellent,
especially if you like bass
and they have a lot of cool features.
So these are the ones that I would recommend
for most people,
if you are trying to get the best
and you don't wanna go Apple's way.
So that's my upfront verdict.
We'll have a more detailed version at the end,
but now let's get into some of the details
behind the criteria that I was looking for
when I was looking for a new pair of headphones.
And let's start with comfort
because I think that's actually the most important criteria
of them all.
I'm gonna be wearing these headphones
or whichever one I pick
for multiple hours at a time.
So of these, which are the most comfortable?
Well, if you've ever owned a pair of Bose QC35,
quiet comfort 35 headphones,
it will probably be no surprise to you
that these are still absolutely
the most comfortable headphones you can buy.
At least out of (chuckles) this test area here.
They basically feel like pillows on your head
and out of everything that I tested,
these are the only model
that I will actually sometimes forget are on my head.
So if comfort is of the utmost priority to you,
these are definitely at the top of the list,
even though they do lack some of the features
and some of the tech that the newer models have.
my opinion may be a little contentious here
because of the other four that are remaining.
I actually think that the AirPods Max
are the most comfortable.
And this is where I differ from a lot of other reviewers.
I read a lot of reviews
and a lot of research in preparation for this video,
and a lot of people said the AirPods Max
were kind of uncomfortable,
and it's not hard to see why,
even though Apple put a ton of engineering
into this mesh canopy thing
that they're calling the top headband,
the fact of the matter is that these headphones
have a metal build,
which makes them about a hundred or more grams heavier
than everything else here on the table.
And yes, these metal ear cups,
these metal connectors here,
they do feel very premium,
but you can't get around the fact
that they do make them quite a bit heavier.
That being said,
even though a lot of other reviewers
have griped about the weight here
after testing these,
every single day for about two weeks,
they do not bug me at all.
I've actually worn them at night to watch movies
in addition to wearing them during the day
for work purposes.
And the mesh canopy for me is actually the real deal.
So this is definitely going to be one of those,
your mileage may vary things,
but for me, other than these old Bose of mine,
these are actually the most comfortable.
Coming in second,
or I guess third place after these,
I'm gonna give it up to the Sony.
I'm just gonna call them XM4 at this point.
These are nearly as comfortable as the Bose.
They have a little bit more rigidity to them,
a little bit more clamping for us,
but otherwise they're pretty nice feeling on my head.
The Bose 700 are pretty similar as well,
but I will say I have kind of an elongated head,
feel free to make fun of me in the comments about that.
But even with the ear cups extended to the end
of the rods here,
it does feel a little bit tight on the top of my head.
So I probably give the edge to the Sonys over these Bose.
And then unfortunately,
I have to give a resounding last place
to the Surface Headphones 2, in terms of comfort.
Now I know Ali loves these,
so again, I think the verdict here
is really gonna come down to personal preference,
how your head is shaped,
different pressure points on your head
and how those differ from mine.
But for me, these are the only headphones
that became actively uncomfortable
after about just an hour of use.
I started to get this pressure point spot
on the top of my head
and no matter what I did to shift it
or try to adjust these headphones,
they just weren't comfortable for me.
Let's move on to sound quality.
What sounds the best?
Well, when I was doing research
before I even bought the headphones for this review,
a lot of the reviews were saying,
yes, the hype is real,
the AirPods (chuckles) Max actually do sound better
than all the other headphones that we've tested.
I read this on SoundGuys,
read this on some other blogs.
And in my testing, I have to agree,
these are the best sounding Bluetooth,
noise canceling headphones that I have ever tried.
Except for in one dimension.
So for me, the sound stage here is the best.
The clarity of the highs is the best.
The overall quality of the music in general is the best.
However, the bass in the AirPods Max,
isn't quite up to the level
of what you're gonna find in the Sonys
and in the Microsoft Surface Headphones 2.
So if you are somebody who loves bass over everything else,
I would go for either one of these,
with the edge going to the Sonys
because while I found the bass to be even boomier
in the Microsoft headphones,
the overall listening experience
just sounded a bit better in the Sonys.
I will also note that if you're using this with your iPhone,
your Android device, there is an app
where you can actually change the EQ profiles.
And weirdly, I found that the classical EQ profile,
was the one I liked best for even rock and metal,
but I won't give too much weight to that
because if you're using it on a Mac or a PC,
you're not gonna have that built-in EQ
and you can just use a system wide EQ
or the EQ in Apple music or Spotify
to adjust how any of these headphones sound.
Still, these get the edge over these
in terms of overall sound quality.
And these are both what you wanna go for in terms of bass.
Let's talk about the Bose options here.
The 700 is the newest Bose headphone offering.
It is what a lot of people consider to be the successor
to the QC35,
even though they are a totally different model line
and Bose is still making and selling these
in their second generation,
but given the price difference
between a pair of QC35s, $250,
and the 700s, $380 when I bought them,
I was expecting these
to completely blow me out of the water.
And what I actually experienced was just about the opposite.
And Tony verified this for me,
when he tested these against the Sonys.
These kind of sound terrible to my ears.
They sound worse than the old QC35s.
In terms of sound quality,
these are the absolute bottom (chuckles)
of the tier list,
even compared to the Surface Headphones,
which you think wouldn't sound quite as good,
given that they're 250 bucks.
Again, a huge price delta,
when compared to the 700s.
So I gotta say the sound quality here
is a massive disappointment
and maybe the kind of music that you listen to,
or the kind of ear you have
is gonna be a little bit more favorable towards these.
But both me and my editor,
think that these are woefully underperforming
even compared to their previous model
and definitely compared to the Sonys and the AirPods Max.
Now to be fair to the 700s,
I do think one big area where they do beat out
the old QC35s is in the area of noise cancellation.
That's gonna be our next detailed criteria
that we're gonna go through
and one of the most important.
If you're in the market
for a pair of noise canceling headphones,
then the noise cancellation performance
is probably gonna be pretty important to you.
Now to set a baseline,
all these headphones here in front of me,
do a really good job at blocking out outside noise.
And they do that in two different ways.
Number one, these are all closed-back
over the ear headphones,
which means that their physical design,
provides some isolation already,
but they also have what's called,
'active noise cancellation,'
where they've got an array of microphones
that actually listen to the ambient noise around you,
and then generate opposite sound waves
that cancel out most of that ambient noise.
Now, the degree to which these are successful in doing that,
is going to depend on a few things.
The frequency ranges of the noise,
the steadiness of the noise.
Like an airplane drone versus a loud coffee shop
with a baby crying every once in a while,
there's gonna be differences there,
but also the tech within each pair of headphones.
And that's what we're really gonna focus on here,
which of these actually does the best job.
Well, number one,
new tech definitely beats old tech.
All of these new models that I tested,
do a better job at blocking out outside noise
than the QC35s.
These still do a really good job
and if they hadn't started dying on me,
I probably never would have even thought
to do this comparison.
So if you really care about comfort
and you want these,
they still do a pretty darn good job.
The Surface Headphone too.
I also say it would do a pretty good job
but not quite on the level
of these other more expensive headphones.
Now among the Sony,
the Bose 700 and the AirPods Max,
which ones perform at the absolute best level?
In my testing, in my opinion,
I think the AirPods Max really do take the cake here.
And my testing methodology was twofold.
I took all of these headphones
to a very loud dynamic coffee shop environment.
So I was getting lots of different sounds
that came at different unpredictable times.
And I also tested out all of these headphones,
next to my very loud HVAC system
on the opposite side of this single drywall,
wall here in my basement.
I didn't have access to an airplane for this test,
but I think that thing is a pretty good substitute
and sitting here, testing things out,
going to the coffee shop, testing things out.
I do think that the active noise cancellation
on the AirPods Max,
is just a cut above everything else in this comparison.
And I read several reviews saying the exact same thing.
In fact, the SoundGuys review shows an interesting graph,
comparing the Sony XM4s to the AirPods Max
and shows how the AirPods Max
actually do have a objectively better cancellation
in the lower frequency range.
That being said, in my anecdotal experience,
I think that the XM4 are so close to the AirPods Max,
especially if you're not sitting,
right next to an HVAC system.
They're so close that you probably wouldn't notice
an appreciable difference over a long period of time.
And especially given the price delta between these two.
These are almost $200 cheaper.
If noise cancellation quality
is your main criteria you're looking for,
these are kind of a no-brainer.
So what about the Bose 700?
I think that they also have very good noise cancellation.
If you look at the SoundGuys objective tests,
it's not quite as good
and not quite on a level of these two,
but still very good
and noticeably better than the QC35
and the Microsoft Surface Headphones in my opinion.
So if you really want Bose again,
if you can deal that objectively worse sound quality,
these will be the ones to go for.
So now let's move things onto portability.
This is a bit of a less important category
when compared to comfort and sound quality
and noise cancellation quality,
but it still is important
because if your headphones are going in your bag,
then they have to jostle for space,
with everything else you wanna put in your bag
when you go about your daily work.
So, which of these is the best in terms of portability?
Well, the answer is-
actually it's a tie.
It's the Sony XM4 and the Bose QC35.
And the reason for that is that
both of these headphones have a dual folding mechanism.
You can fold the ear cups back,
but you can also fold the entire headphone up
and make it take up less space.
And this means that the included cases
for these two headphone models,
take up less space in general than the other three.
Whereas the Surface Headphones,
the AirPods Max and the 700s
just have their ear cups lay flat
and they don't fold up in any other way.
Which means their cases take up quite a bit more space.
Let's talk about the case
that comes with the AirPods Max for a second,
because it is the stupidest,
most idiotic design case that I have ever laid eyes on,
when it comes to premium headphones.
I have no idea why Apple designed it this way,
because, by my reckoning,
the most fragile part of these headphones
is this mesh canopy thing on the headband.
And that case does absolutely nothing to protect
this fragile part of the headphone.
So if you're gonna buy these, like I am,
then you're probably gonna wanna do what I did
and tack on an extra 20 bucks onto your buying budget.
So you can go on Amazon
and buy a cheap zipper case
that actually protects your headphones.
And doesn't add a whole lot to the footprint
since you already have the headphones
taken up a ton of space
due to the way that they fold.
Anyway, in terms of overall footprint in your bag,
the Bose 700 do seem to take up a little less space
than the Surface Headphones 2
and the AirPods Max,
whereas these two are the big daddies.
They're gonna take up more space in your bag
than pretty much anything else.
So if you want these, if you want these,
make sure you got room in your bag.
One criteria that I didn't explicitly mention in the intro,
but that I probably should talk about now is battery life.
But fortunately we can go pretty fast here
because for the most part,
you're gonna get around 20 hours of use per charge
on all of these headphones.
I've got two notes that I can make about that.
Number one, the XM4s are marketed
to have 30 hours of battery life.
So you should be getting quite a bit more,
but in the SoundGuys review,
their tests found out
that they only got 19 hours of battery life.
So that kind of brings it down to the level
of all of these other options.
Maybe they worked out some kinks,
maybe it's a bit better,
but that's something to reconsider.
Point number two,
the AirPods Max do not have an off button.
And a lot of people are freaking out about that.
And they're like,
what if I don't wanna put my headphones in the case?
Are they gonna die overnight?
I will mention that Quinn Nelson over at Snazzy Labs,
he actually left these out on his nightstand,
outside of the case overnight
and only experienced 3% battery loss.
So I think the hubbub about these dying,
if you don't put them in the case,
it's a little bit overblown.
Would I like to be able to turn them off for real,
when I'm not using them?
Yeah, but on the other hand,
the AirPods Pro,
have gotten me pretty used
to being able to stick the headphones in my ear
and just have them immediately connect.
So that's a nice convenience feature.
And personally, I have to charge my iPad,
my MacBook every single night.
So it's not a huge hassle to just plug these in,
right on top of all that stuff
and have them fully charged in the morning.
So that brings us to maybe the most fun category
in this review,
which is cool extra features
that these headphones come with,
because they have some
and you might actually care about them.
So first let's talk about Bluetooth multipoint.
This is a technology that allows you
to connect your headphones to multiple devices,
and then even have them automatically switch over
to a new device when something starts playing.
So maybe you're listening to Spotify on your laptop,
and then you open up a YouTube video on your phone.
These headphones can all for the most part,
switch over automatically
and start playing that video in your headphones.
But there are different degrees to multipoint
and the AirPods Max don't actually have,
true Bluetooth multipoint.
I'll get to that in a second.
Among these four models,
they all have Bluetooth multipoint,
but I found that in my testing,
the switching speed was actually the fastest
on the Microsoft Surface 2 Headphones.
So if you really care about Bluetooth multipoints,
maybe these are ones to consider.
Works really well on these though,
works well on these,
works pretty well even on these QC35s as well.
So let's talk about the AirPods Max.
They don't have true Bluetooth multipoint,
but what they do have
is the ability to switch pretty seamlessly
between all of your Apple devices
that you have these connected to.
And I believe it all syncs through your iCloud account.
So if you're a heavy Apple user, like I am,
I do have a desktop PC for editing,
but otherwise I'm pretty much all Apple all the time.
This actually works better
than traditional Bluetooth multipoint.
I can have these switch seamlessly between my Apple TV,
my MacBook Pro, my iPhone
in very little time
and it's very nice and convenient to have.
But if you have an Android device
or you have a laptop,
that you're gonna wanna connect to that's running windows,
then these can work,
but the multipoint is not gonna work so well.
And overall, I wouldn't recommend these
if you are trying to mix those other non-Apple devices
into your workflow.
Auto-pause, is another interesting feature
that some of these headphone models have,
where when you take the headphones off of your head,
they can actually detect that you've done so
and pause the music or pause the video that you're playing.
The AirPods Max has it,
the Microsoft Surface Headphones have it
and the Sonys have it.
But if you are a Bose aficionado,
you are sadly going to be out of luck
on the auto-pause front.
Now, one feature that the AirPods Max have
that none of these other headphone models can boast,
is something called spatial audio.
This is something I didn't think I would care about
before I bought these
and started testing them out.
But now that I've tried it,
it is honestly really cool.
So if you're using an iOS device
that has the latest iOS installed,
or even an Apple TV with the beta tvOS 15,
you can actually turn on something called spatial audio,
which basically is like 3D audio.
It mimics surround sound.
And the first time that I tried watching a show on my iPad
using it with these headphones,
I legitimately thought the sound was coming from my iPad.
I thought these were disconnected.
And then I was like wait,
why does it sound so good?
These do a really good job at mimicking surround sound.
this is kind of like a hidden feature
in terms of what I was thinking about,
but if you're living in an apartment or something
and you can't set up a proper surround sound system,
because you've got neighbors who don't wanna hear it,
this is actually a pretty convincing alternative.
And it's gonna be something that I'll probably use,
quite a bit when I'm traveling
and being on planes watching movies that way.
Lastly, let's talk about transparency
or ambient sound mode,
all of these,
except for my old school Bose QC35s,
have the ability to let outside noise
actually pass through the headphones
and be amplified past the point of what you would hear
if the ANC was turned off.
However, only one of these headphone models
has a transparency mode
that I actually would want to use on a daily basis.
And it is the AirPods Max.
In fact, the transparency mode
on the AirPods Max is so good
that I've been using it all the time.
I didn't think I would use it at all,
but I found out that when I have these on,
when I have transparency mode on.
It sounds almost indistinguishable
from having no headphones on at all.
And it also means that I can listen to music
at a pretty low volume
and easily hear anybody else in the house
if they need me
and they wanna get my attention.
So I've actually been wearing these
and using transparency mode
while filming B-roll
or doing work around the house.
And if Anna needs me or Tony needs me,
they can easily get my attention.
I absolutely love the transparency mode on these,
which is a surprise for me
because I don't like the transparency mode very much
on the AirPods Pro,
in those it sounds a little bit too amplified
and a little bit too harsh,
but here it's like not wearing headphones at all.
The Surface Headphones,
the Sonys and the Bose,
all have their own transparency mode.
But to my ears, the world either sounds muffled,
it sounds dull.
It's just like, it's there if you need it,
but it's not something
that I think you would actively want to use.
It's not pleasing like it is on the AirPods.
So final verdict time.
Which of these five headphone models should you buy?
We didn't talk about price in this comparison
because my aim here was to identify
the best possible headphones.
But if price is something that's important to you,
the Service Headphones 2 and the Bose QC35
are a hundred dollars less than the Sonys
and the Bose 700
and definitely (chuckles) cheaper than the AirPods Max.
So these might be interesting options
if you're looking to spend under $300.
I've gotten a lot of use out of these QC35s.
They're great headphones.
and if none of these existed,
I would be perfectly happy to buy these again.
But in terms of the absolute best choice,
I am going with the AirPods Max.
Again, I have a very Apple-centric lifestyle
aside from my desktop
where I've got wired headphones.
So I'm wired into the ecosystem
and they work pretty much perfectly because of that.
However, the price is really high
compared to all the other options
and in the most important categories,
comfort and sound quality and noise cancellation quality.
They really don't beat out the Sony XM4
by that big of a margin,
there is a margin there.
I do think they are the absolute best,
but these are in my opinion,
the best overall value.
You get stellar noise cancellation.
You get really good sound quality,
especially if you like tighter and bigger bass
and you get great comfort
and better portability to boot.
So these are the ones that I would probably recommend
to most people,
but what you could do is try them all out,
put them on your head
and see how they fit feel when you go about your work
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