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Sony WH-1000XM3

Sony WH-1000XM3 lays claim to top noise-canceling headphone

The Good The excellent-sounding Sony WH-1000XM3 is more comfortable and 20 percent lighter than its predecessor. It offers slightly improved noise canceling and performs better as a headset for making calls. Battery life is strong, and it has some nifty extra features geared toward frequent travelers.

The Bad Your ears can get a little warm inside the ear cups; I encountered some adaptive noise-canceling hiccups.

The Bottom Line With its more comfortable fit and improved performance, the Sony WH-1000XM3 becomes the noise-canceling headphone to beat.


I didn’t experience quite as dramatic an improvement in performance as Sony suggests, but after my initial tests it’s apparent that the WH-1000XM3 certainly measures up to Bose’s noise canceling and arguably surpasses it. I’ve worn it in the streets of New York and underground on the subway, as well in the air for a cross-country plane ride to and from Seattle, where I got an early look at Microsoft’s new Surface Headphones, which showed promise and are designed to compete with this model.

Like its predecessor, the headphone features adaptive noise-canceling, atmospheric pressure optimizing, ambient sound control, an equalizer and surround and sound position control. As before, the features are supposed to help you better tailor the sound to your environment. The atmospheric pressure optimizer, which is designed for plane use, is currently unique to this headphone and the WH-1000MX2. Sony’s Headphones Connect app allows you to tweak all these features.

The only issue I encountered was that sometimes the adaptive noise canceling would randomly shift gears. For instance, I’d be walking in the streets and all of a sudden I’d hear a little ding, my music would cut out, and the noise-canceling would turn off, allowing ambient sound to leak. You can toggle off noise canceling by pressing a button on the left ear cup. But I hadn’t touched the button (that button can also be programmed to activate Google Assistant if you have it installed on your device). I’m not sure what happened, but I had to manually reactivate the noise-cancellation.

Some people will value all the WH-1000XM3’s features and settings, but they’re also a bit confusing and some of them seem like overkill. For instance, I found Sony’s “surround” sound modes kind of worthless. None of them seemed to make the sound any better, so I avoided them.

Those small gripes aside, I’m happy to report that Sony has retained perhaps the best extra feature: The ability to muffle your music and let the outside world in by simply holding your hand over the right ear cup, where the touch controls are located. Once you finish listening to someone — say, a flight attendant — you remove your hand and the music resumes playing at its previous volume, and the noise cancellation kicks back in.

Also worth noting: Sony now allows you to customize the automatic-off function. Previously the headphone would automatically shut off after a short time to preserve battery life if you weren’t listening to music. But now you can set it to stay on. This allows you to use the headphone’s noise canceling feature even when you don’t want to listen to music.

The long and short of it is, despite some relatively minor issues I encountered with the adaptive noise canceling (perhaps they’ll get fixed with a firmware upgrade), the Sony WH-1000XM3 is a top-notch headphone. And while it may not be a huge upgrade over its predecessor in terms of performance, it’s definitely more comfortable to wear.

The Bose QuietComfort 35 II, which has come down in price by $50 to $300, remains excellent. But until Bose upgrades it, Sony’s WH-1000XM3 has taken over the title as the top noise-canceling headphone on our list.

Sony WH-1000XM3 specs

  • Weight: 254 grams
  • 40mm Liquid Crystal Polymer drivers
  • Redesigned headband and slightly softer padding on ear cups
  • Up to 30-hour battery life with Bluetooth and noise canceling on
  • 10-minute quick charge gives you 5 hours of battery life
  • USB-C charging
  • New HD Noise Canceling Processor QN1
  • Smart Listening by Sense Engine
  • Quick Attention Mode allows you to have conversations without taking your headphones off
  • Multimicrophone array for improved voice calling
  • Customizable Automatic Power Off function
  • You can activate your voice assistant with a simple touch
  • Price: $350, £330, $AU499
  • Available in black or platinum silver with gold highlights

 

Jabra Elite Active 65t

These wireless headphones beat out AirPods on sound quality

The Good The Jabra Active Elite 65t are fully sweat-resistant truly wireless earphones that fit comfortably and securely. They sound excellent, perform reliably and are great for making calls, with two microphones in each earpiece. Battery life is decent at 5 hours and the included charging case delivers two extra charges. A quick-charge feature allows you to get 1.5 hours of juice from a 15-minute charge.

The Bad The relatively tight, noise-isolating fit isn’t for everyone. Motion sensor doesn’t have much use at this point.

The Bottom Line The Jabra Active Elite 65t truly wireless earphones are the best alternative to Apple’s AirPods, but the stepdown non-Elite model will save you a bit of cash.

Strong sound for totally wireless

Jabra’s earlier Elite Sport were among the better sounding truly wireless headphones, but I had a harder time getting a tight seal with them. I’m not sure how much better these earphones sound than the Elite Sport, but they do fit better, which makes it easier to maximize their sound quality.

The Elite Active 65t sounds the same as the Elite 65t. I compared a handful of tracks while swapping between the Elite Active 65t, the AirPods and the Bose SoundSport Free, which has improved after a firmware upgrade to correct some issues.

I thought the Elite Active 65t sounded a little better than the AirPods and they’re clearly superior in noisier environments (like the streets of New York). Even in their “flat” default mode, there’s a little bit of presence boost, also known as treble boost, but I thought they sounded slightly richer and more immediate than the AirPods. They also had a little more bass, though not as much bass as Bose’s SoundSport Free, which arguably have the best sound in the category.

I do think the smaller 65t has an advantage over the Bose as far as design goes and Bose’s charging case is comparatively large. I also thought the Jabras where better for making calls (the SoundSport Free only uses one earbud for calls). And lastly, the buttons and controls are implemented better on the Jabras.

As I said about the Elite 65t, I didn’t find much to complain about with these earphones — they’re as good as you’ll get for a truly wireless headphone at this time. Are they worth $20 more than the standard Elite 65t? They are if you plan on sweating on them a lot, but otherwise not. The quick-charge feature has some appeal but the motion sensor doesn’t seem like a must-have at the moment. Perhaps if Jabra ties additional features to it I’d see more value in it.

Once again, the only hesitation I’d have in recommending these over the AirPods concerns the type of noise-isolating fit they provide. That fit isn’t for everybody, and some may prefer the lighter AirPods and their looser fitting, open design.

Bose QuietComfort 35 II

The already excellent Bose QuietComfort 35 II gets a touch better

The Good The Bose QuietComfort 35 II headphone adds a dedicated button for Google Assistant, but it can be programmed for other functions, too. Retains its predecessor’s top-of-the-line active-noise canceling, excellent wireless Bluetooth sound and extra-comfortable design. Works in wired mode with included cord if battery dies.

The Bad Battery isn’t replaceable; same apparent design and performance as previous model.

The Bottom Line Existing QC35 owners don’t need to upgrade, but the addition of a dedicated Google Assistant button gives the already excellent wireless noise-cancelling headphone an extra bit of personality.


The Google Assistant factor

How much of game changer is the direct connection to Google Assistant? After using the headphones for a week, I’m not sure. The new voice-assistant feature is one of those things that some people will appreciate and frequently use but others may never bother with it. It currently does have its quirks and limitations, but like Amazon’s Alexa voice-assistant, it’s evolving and acquiring new skills and will get better over time.

 

Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless

Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless crush AirPods on sound quality

The Good The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless headphones fit comfortably and sound excellent, and their wireless performance was solid with minimal dropouts. They work very well for making calls, have touch controls, and their battery-charging case charges via USB-C (cable included). There’s a transparency mode, and you can tweak the sound via the companion app.

The Bad The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless headphones are pricey, and they’re a bit larger than Jabra’s Elite 65t buds. Battery life isn’t quite as good as what you get with certain competing models, and not everybody will love the touch controls.

The Bottom Line Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless are the best-sounding true wireless earphones we’ve tested to date, but you’ll have to pay a premium for that better sound.


Like other noise-isolating in-ear headphones, it’s crucial to get a tight seal to maximize bass performance. I used the largest silicone tips to get a good seal and even though the earphones are somewhat large, they fit my ears pretty securely (the Jabra Elite 65t fit slightly more comfortably and securely).

Sennheiser isn’t marketing these as sports earphones, but with an IPX4 rating they are splashproof and should be sweatproof (sweat contains salt so it’s different than fresh water). I did use them at the gym for light workouts and some people may be able to run with them without having them fall out of their ears. I can’t tell you how well they’ll hold up over time if you do sweat on them a lot, but they should be able to put up with some moisture without a problem.

 

V-Moda Crossfade 2

V-Moda takes its Bluetooth headphone to the next level

The Good The sturdily built, well-designed V-Moda Crossfade 2 Wireless delivers better battery life and improved sound over its predecessor, with more sculpted bass and better detail. The new larger earpads provide a more comfortable fit. And the headphone folds up to fit a well-designed protective case that now includes air vents.

The Bad It’s a tad heavy in weight — and price.

The Bottom Line New drivers, new cushions, more frequency response in wired mode and better battery life make V-Moda’s next-gen Bluetooth headphone a winner.


The first thing you’ll notice about V-Moda’s new $330 Crossfade 2 Wireless headphone is that it’s a little more comfortable than its predecessor. (It retails for £300 in the UK; it’s not officially available in Australia, but the US price converts to about AU$435.) The extra comfort comes from its new, thicker earpads. They aren’t quite as deep as the optional XL earpads you could purchase for V-Moda’s earlier full-size headphones, but they do offer more cushioning.

Why the change? Popular demand. V-Moda customers kept requesting the company include the larger earpads with its headphones, so it did. The new earpads are more like a medium or large size rather than an extra large size.

The other big changes are on the inside: There’s a new 50mm driver, more frequency response in wired mode and an increase in battery life to 14 hours. That bigger battery adds weight, however, and the Crossfade 2 Wireless tips the scales at a beefy 309 grams with the included standard aluminum shields (its predecessor weighed 292 grams).

 

Apple AirPods

Apple’s AirPods have improved with time

The Good The ultra-lightweight Apple AirPods are fully wireless headphones that offer a reliable wireless connection, effortless pairing with Apple devices, decent sonics and good call quality. The included compact charging case quickly charges the buds. You can now control playback of your music with a double tap.

The Bad Will fit more securely in some ears than others. Their open design allows for a lot of ambient noise to leak in. Similarly priced wireless models deliver better sound. And yes, they still look kinda dorky.

The Bottom Line Look past their offbeat design and you’ll find that Apple AirPods’ compact size and high convenience factor are a winning combination.


Whether you think Apple’s AirPod headphones make you look goofy or not, here’s the bigger question: Are they actually good headphones? And are they worth buying versus other “true wireless” models, with separate left and right earpieces, let alone versus “regular” Bluetooth in-ear headphones, those quaint old-fashioned wireless models that connect the two earbuds with an actual cable?

The short answer is that these $159 Apple headphones (£159 in the UK and AU$229 in Australia) are better than you’d expect, especially for owners of Apple products. That general sentiment has led to them being the runaway hit that they are today. It also helps that they’re comparably well priced, particularly when you consider that such competitors as the Jaybird Run and Bose SoundSport Free cost more (in the case of the Bose, significantly more).

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from using them for several months — and from hearing from other people who’ve used them — is that a person’s love for them is correlated to the shape of their ears and how securely the AirPods fit inside them. While they fit most people’s ears reasonably well, for a certain percentage of users they fit really well. They drop them in their ears and they stay there. For that latter group, AirPods are fantastic.

 

Beats Studio3 Wireless

Beats’ best headphone looks the same, performs better

The Good The Beats Studio3 Wireless offers improved sound quality, noise canceling and battery life from its predecessor in the same sturdy design. Apple’s W1 chip makes pairing with Apple devices dead simple. Performs well as a headset for making phone calls and and stacks up well against competing models from a sound standpoint.

The Bad Design is the same as previous model’s. Does not fold flat and carrying case is somewhat bulky.

The Bottom Line Beats has taken a good wireless noise-canceling headphone and significantly increased its performance.


That Sony has a little bit more transparency and may be the better headphone to listen to over longer listening sessions. But the Beats was arguably the more dynamic, exciting headphone. For instance, it brought a little more energy to Rag ‘n Bone Man’s “Human” track. And the Beats is going to be a good fit for those who listen to a lot of EDM and hip-hop. Or as fellow CNET editor Ty Pendlebury remarked, “It’s really good headphone for people who listen to pop music.”

Compared to my current favorite in this class, Bose’s QuietComfort 35 II, it’s something of a toss-up for sound quality. The Bose has a bit more open soundstage and I felt I could hear separate instruments more distinctly. But the Beats’ treble sounded a bit sweeter. They’re both enjoyable headphones to listen to, but I rated the Bose higher mainly because it’s a little more comfortable and folds flat to fit in a more compact carrying case.

I personally think Beats’ headphone’s inability to fold flat for travel is a weakness. I rarely used the carrying case because I found it too bulky. If there’s a design upgrade Beats needs to make, it’s to add another hinge. Most other premium wireless noise-canceling headphones (Sony, Bose, Bowers & Wilkins PX) folds flat, which allows for a slimmer case that fits better in your bag.

Bose SoundSport Wireless

The Bluetooth sports headphone to beat

The Good The SoundSoundSport Wireless is a very comfortable in-ear wireless Bluetooth sports headphone that’s sweat-resistant and sounds great. The earphones fit securely in your ears thanks to winged tips. The headphone works decently as a headset for making cell-phone calls and has an auto-off feature to preserve battery life.

The Bad The ear pieces protrude noticeably from your ears (they’re a little bulky but don’t feel heavy); battery life tops out at 6 hours.

The Bottom Line The Bose SoundSport Wireless is the most comfortable, best overall in-ear Bluetooth sports headphone you can buy right now.


Smooth operation

I used the the SoundSport Wireless for over a week, taking it to the gym, using it on the streets of New York, and doing two runs with it on Randall’s Island. I used the large StayHear+ eartips and was able to get a comfortable, secure fit.

With a lot of in-ear sports headphones, I find myself having to make little adjustments to relieve some discomfort or get a more secure fit, especially while running, but with this headphone the adjustments I had to make were minimal. They were easy to put on and take off, they powered on and paired quickly to my phone, and worked as well as any Bluetooth headphone I’ve used.

The sound quality is very good for an in-ear sports Bluetooth headphone. There’ve been some complaints about it not playing loud enough, but I didn’t have that issue with the iPhone 6S or Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge I tested it with. (Bluetooth performance on computers tends to be a little dodgy and perhaps some of the volume complaints are related to computer connectivity.)

 

Tribit XFree Tune Bluetooth Headphones

A premium Bluetooth headphone for under $50? Yep

The Good The Tribit XFree Tune sounds terrific for the money. It’s comfortable to wear and seems relatively well built. The headphones fold up to fit into an optional carrying case and battery life is rated at a healthy 24 hours at moderate volume levels.

The Bad The carrying case boosts the price by $5. The Tribit logo could be less prominent. Amazon product page touts noise-canceling technology but it’s only for voice calls, not true active noise-canceling.

The Bottom Line You won’t find better full-sized wireless headphones for under $50 than the Tribit XFree Tune.


  • Hi-Fi STEREO SOUND: Dual powerful 40mm sound stage drivers deliver true-to-life audio with rich bass that’s just like the real thing. Engineered with advanced passive noise reduction, not active noise cancellation (ANC). It could prolong the lifetime of the battery and offers more real sound.
  • COMFORTABLE DESIGN: In order to achieve perfect fit and comfortable wearing experience, the wireless headphones were designed with adjustable headband, metallic slider and protein leather the memory-protein cushioned earmuffs. The ergonomic design enables users to work long time without fatigue.
  • NEVER POWER OFF: Built-in rechargeable battery with a full charge of 4 hours enables your beats go on for a whopping 40 hours playtime. You could spend much less time charging and absorb more time enjoying. You could also use it as a wired headphone with the provided audio cable plugged into your earphone jack so the headphone will never power off.
  • EXCELLENT CONNECTION & HANDS-FREE CALL: CSR chips and Bluetooth 4.1 technology provides quick and stable connection with your device, the device attachment is processed immediately with no waiting. Wireless headphone with a high-quality built-in microphone for hands-free calls, it offers you a quiet environment of connection.
  • SATISFYING WARRANTY: Tribit provides hassle-free customer service. 30 days money back guarantee, 18 months replacement warranty. If your headset breaks or is damaged for any reasons, we will give the most satisfying reply.

 

Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC Wireless

A worthy Bose competitor at a better price

The Good The Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC Wireless is wireless noise-canceling headphone with effective noise canceling that sounds great and costs significantly less than Bose’s QuietComfort 35. It works well as a headset and offers decent battery life. The headphones fold up into a simple canvas carrying bag.

The Bad Not quite as comfortable as higher-end models from Bose, Sony and Sennheiser.

The Bottom Line Sennheiser’s HD 4.50 BTNC Wireless gets you most of what you want in a premium wireless noise-canceling headphone but costs significantly less.

The noise canceling isn’t incredibly strong but it is fairly effective and did a decent job muffling sound while adding only a very faint audible hiss. There’s NFC tap-to-pair technology for devices that support it.

Sound quality was quite good for a wireless noise-canceling headphone. This headphone isn’t quite as open or refined-sounding as Sennheiser’s step-up models, but I thought it sounded as good or better than other $200 wireless noise-canceling headphones. The bass is powerful with good definition, the treble has some sparkle and the midrange sounds fairly warm and natural. There isn’t quite enough clarity and openness to get to a wow — it’s missing a little something in the upper treble — but I liked the sound signature and thought it worked well with a wide variety of music types.

 

 

 

 

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