Practice English Speaking&Listening with: The Absolute BEST Noise-Cancelling Headphones in 2021

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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,

are concerned.

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.

Beyond this,

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,

his review-

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.

And honestly,

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.

And honestly,

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.

They're wonderful.

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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The Description of The Absolute BEST Noise-Cancelling Headphones in 2021