The Apple Airpods Pro and Sony WF-1000XM3 are the first big-brand noise cancelling truly wireless headphones to launch – but which are the best? Sony’s pair made a big splash launching first, but can Apple’s high-end pair topple one of the biggest brands in audio? Our expert lab couldn’t wait to find out.
Truly wireless headphones – in-ear models with no cables between the earpieces – have proved to be a real challenge for even many of the biggest brands, with more than a quarter of all pairs tested by our lab so far being so bad we’ve made them Don’t Buys. We’ve found real-world battery life can be as low as one hour between case changes in our independent tests, even when new.
So packing in battery-intensive noise cancelling tech into truly wireless headphones seems a Herculean task. Have either Sony or Apple managed to pull it off, or are these early pairs ones to avoid? Our comprehensive lab tests give the definitive answer in our expert reviews – read on to find them.
We’ve tested a whole range of different styles of the latest headphones, too, from basic wired ones to on-ear headphones and even more wireless in-ear pairs. See how they all fared.
[This story was first published on 16 November and was updated on 29 November to include results of the Apple Airpods Pro headphones in our test].
Best headphones – head straight to our full list of the top headphones on the market
Noise-cancelling technology is becoming more common
Are truly wireless headphones really the best choice for noise cancelling? Bose, JBL and Sennheiser battle it out to prove otherwise in a hotly contested market, launching their flagship over-ear headphones promising exceptional comfort as well as long battery life that leaves truly wireless pairs in the dust.
But with the Bose and Sennheiser pairs costing up to a whopping £350, more than double the current price of the JBL pair, are they really worth the money? Find out below.
The hottest headphones on test
Apple Airpods Pro, £249
The Apple Airpods Pro add active noise-cancelling technology to Apple’s basic truly wireless headphone offering, the Apple Airpods (2019). The additional £90 cost is the pretty typical premium for noise cancelling, which gives you peace from unwanted background sounds like train and plane noise.
Other changes compared with the standard Airpods are shorter stalks on the earpieces and the addition of different sizes of eartips, meaning these form a proper acoustic seal round your ear, helping to block out outside sounds when not desired, as well as prevent the sound being heard by those around you.
They’re also water resistant and the charging case even supports wireless charging if you want to be totally headphone wire free. Apple claims the battery lasts for 4.5 hours with noise cancelling on, and asserts that with top-ups from the case you’ll breeze past 24 hours of listening in total.
So are these really the best truly wireless headphones around, or has Sony outdone them with their top-of-the-range – and cheaper – Sony WF-1000XM3?
We give the ultimate verdict in our thorough Apple Airpods Pro review.
Sony WF-1000XM3, £217
The rival Sony WF-1000XM3s have been making waves, and also feature noise cancelling, technology which also benefits your hearing as you don’t need to listen at higher volumes. There’s an ambient sound mode you can toggle to allow you to let in outside sounds when needed, like train announcements.
They also feature a much wider variety of features than Apple’s headphones as they come with an app for your smartphone or tablet, including the ability to tweak the sound like treble and bass to your personal tastes with the build-in equaliser.
Sony also claim these headphones last for a remarkable six hours with noise cancelling on – well above Apple’s claims for the Airpod Pro and an impressive claim for this style of headphones.
But does the sound quality and battery life really live up to claims? We’ve found so many truly wireless headphones with woeful battery life and lots more besides, as the technology’s been such a devil to crack.
We put them through our comprehensive independent tests – find out the results our expert Sony WF-1000XM3 review.
Skullcandy Push Truly Wireless, £80
If you’re used to budget wired headphones, truly wireless headphones can seem seriously expensive, with the standard Apple AirPods and rivals like the Samsung Galaxy Buds and Bose SoundSport Free all costing well over £100. Are you paying a premium just for the brand name?
With the Push Truly Wireless, Skullcandy claims an above-average six hours of listening time between case charges, as well as all the usual features you’d expect including music and call controls, and the ability to access your smartphone’s voice assistant (Siri on Apple devices and Google Assistant on Android).
So is there a catch, or are these a smart purchase? Read our expert Skullcandy Push Truly Wireless review.
JBL Live 650BTNC, £139
In-ear headphones don’t suit everyone – many find them inherently uncomfortable, and truly wireless pairs in particular can be so easy to lose. Traditionally over-ear noise-cancelling pairs however have costed a small fortunate. JBL aims to solve this with the extremely competitively priced JBL Live 650BTNC, now available at less than half the price of rival pairs like the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 (below) and even around £100 less than the popular Bose QuietComfort 35 II.
What’s more, JBL claims a remarkable 30-hour battery life and powerful controls are offered to tweak the noise cancelling and sound of the headphones to your tastes in the My JBL Headphones app. They also feature a durable-looking fabric-covered headband, a common area where headphones can wear out over time.
Do these headphones simply prove Bose pairs are overpriced, or does it have something to hide? Read our JBL Live 650BTNC review.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, £339
These headphones are a big deal, at least if Bose’s giant marketing budget for them is anything to go by. They’re aiming right at the top of the market against heavyweight pairs like the Sony WH-1000XM3 and all-new Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless (below).
They feature an all-new design for Bose, a departure from traditional iconic, dependable looks in favour of a modern slimline design. The exceptional build quality is obvious as soon as you take them out of the box. Bose has pared back physical button controls here in favour of touch controls, and promises even better noise cancelling than on its other high-end noise cancelling pair the Bose QuietComfort 35 II.
Are these the best headphones money can buy? We reveal all in our comprehensive Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review.
Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless, £349
Sennheiser has taken its sweet time to relaunch its flagship noise-cancelling headphones, but they’re finally here. And style icons are in for a treat – featuring a genuine leather headband and sturdy steel arms, it’s a marked departure from the heavy reliance on plastic in rival pairs.
They’re reasonably lightweight too, and their smart folding makes the carry case smaller than many competitors. There’s all the usual features you’d expect including controlling your smartphone’s voice assistant and an app to adjust setting further, plus a backup detachable 3.5mm-to-2.5mm cable if you forget to charge them.
But are they really worth the premium price? Read our Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless review.
Plantronics BackBeat Go 810, £100
It can be a real challenge to find premium noise-cancelling headphones for under £100, and Plantronics aim to provide a compelling offer with the BackBeat Go 810. And they’re not short of features: besides the usual music and call controls, you can toggle the noise cancelling and sound equaliser modes from the headphones, plus there’s even a helpful ‘find my headphones’ feature if you misplace them in the accompanying BackBeat app.
Plantronics claim the battery lasts for a good 22 hours with noise cancelling, and they even come with a detachable cable if the battery runs out.
Could this be the wise choice for noise cancelling headphones? Read our extensive Plantronics BackBeat Go 810 review.
Even more headphones to consider
We’ve tested so many headphones in recent months there’s too many to feature here. At the more affordable end of the scale, Sony offers the compelling, stylish WH-CH510 on-ear wireless headphones for £45, and the corded wireless in-ear Sony WI-C200 for only £29. If wired pairs are more your thing, Sennheiser’s refreshed its entry-level pair with the CX 100 for only £20.
We put every pair of headphones through the exact same test so you can find out those that really are the best pairs on the market, and which give you the best bang for the buck in your price range. See which are the best pairs for you by clicking through the links below to see how they perform – with Best Buy success celebrated and Don’t Buy disasters exposed:
- Sony WH-CH510 review, £45
- Sony WI-C200 review, £29
- Sennheiser CX 100 review, £20
- Sennheiser CX 300S review, £35
- Jabra Elite 85h review, £225
- Yineme ANC Headphones review, £25
- JBL LIVE 500BT review, £90
- JBL Tune 120TWS review, £84
- Samsung Galaxy Buds review, £114
- Beats Powerbeats Pro review, £209
- Enacfire Future Plus Headphones review, £34
- Jabra Elite 65t review, £82