Christmas gift guide 2016: Best wireless noise cancelling headphones
Christmas is just around the corner. The Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales are mostly wrapped up, but who is seriously that organised when it comes to Christmas shopping? If, like me, you’re still in the market for a gift for the music aficionado or audiophile in your family, this guide is designed to help you speed up the search. It’s focused on the finest wireless noise cancelling models available in 2016. You’ll find both on-ear and over-ear models here. We also recently did a guide for the best over-ear Bluetooth headphones for 2016 here. You can find a mix of noise cancelling and traditional cans in that article.
Best wireless noise cancelling headphones for hi res audio:
The Sony MDR-1000X can the rival Bose QC35 in the ability to wipe out ambient noise. The noise cancellation is customisable and can be temporarily turned off by touching the right earpiece. Where the MDR-1000X really stands out though is its support for high resolution codecs (LDAC, aptX and AAC). You’ll need to have a LDAC compatible Sony device to take advantage of it however. The audio quality remains excellent for a wireless noise cancelling model nonetheless, even when used with regular devices. The MDR-1000X also has Sony’s Digital Sound Enhancement Engine, which is designed to restore low resolution files to their original glory. This is questionably effective but depending on your collection it could be a useful feature.
Best affordable wireless noise cancelling headphones:
Bohm B66 Bluetooth
This lightweight model is made with aluminium and provides excellent value for money. It’s also quite comfortable, which is a bit of a rarity with on-ear designs. The 40mm drivers provide a 20hz-20khz frequency response over a wireless range of 33 feet. The Bohm B66 provides good clarity throughout the frequency range. They aren’t a big bass headphone but not everyone requires that. You can expect medium-strength noise cancellation, although the on-ear design doesn’t provide as much passive isolation as over-ear models. All in all it’s hard to find a better set of wireless noise cancelling headphones at this price-point. Let’s face it, not everyone has $400 to drop on a Christmas gift so this could be a winner.
The PXC 550 Wireless is pricey but the design is near perfect. They are Sennheiser’s most powerful noise cancelling solution, and hold their own against the Bose QC35 in this department. The PXC 550 is highly customisable, with three noise-cancellation settings (including the ability to turn off ANC during wireless operation). You can also customise the EQ via the CapTune app, although unfortunately you can only access this by using CapTune as your media player. It’s a decent enough media player although I still prefer my iPhone Music app. The audio response has pleasantly boosted highs and lows with plenty of bass on tap. Finally, the Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless is sublimely comfortable.
Best wireless headphones for strong noise cancellation:
Bose QuietComfort 35
The Bose QuietComfort 35 lives up to its name. It’s very comfortable and the noise cancellation is the best in the business. Unfortunately the noise cancellation can’t be turned off while using them wirelessly. This model does work with the included cable after the battery runs dry though, which is always appreciated. Unlike earlier Bose noise cancelling models, the quality of the audio has caught up, so these put in a good showing in the sound department. The bass and treble is boosted in typical consumer headphone style, but it’s more subtle than the other offerings listed here by Sennheiser or Beats. You can get better sounding headphones for $349, but none with the noise cancelling credentials of the QuietComfort 35.
The Momentum 2.0 Wireless is the best wireless noise cancelling headphone for bass in today’s crowded field. It’s $50 less expensive than the more recently released Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless. Both models have a similar sound profile but the Momentum has an even fatter low end. The bass presence is huge, but it remains focused and tight, just the way it should be. Hip hop, EDM and R&B sound massive, and it makes a good showing for rock and pop too. The noise-cancellation is medium-strength, and it’s definitely not up to the level of the PXC 550 or the Bose QC35 in this area. It’s also a little light on features, with no EQ or noise-cancellation settings (cancellation is always active during wireless operation). It’s definitely a stylish set of headphones though, and is made of premium materials.
Most comfortable wireless noise cancelling headphones:
Sony H.ear On Wireless NC MDR-100ABN
This offering from Sony is a little more affordable than the top-tier models but in terms of comfort it’s hard to beat. The Bose QuietComfort 35 is in the same territory for ease of fit, but it’s a significantly bigger outlay. The charging time is double the length of time for most of the other headphones here unfortunately. The noise cancelling is very effective, not quite industry-leading but certainly up there. There’s also no nasty noise cancellation audio artefacts that can occur with certain models. The Sony MDR-100ABN is an excellent sounding wireless headphone, with clarity throughout the frequency range and a punchy bass response. For a mid-priced noise cancelling headphone, it’s certainly a great contender for a Christmas gift for someone special this year.