Background information

Shhh...We’ve put seven noise-cancelling headphones to the test

Aurel Stevens
Zurich, on 06.07.2017
Translation: Eva Francis
There’s no doubt Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones are in great demand. We’ve tested the three most popular models and four others. Which one comes out on top?

What a special occasion: We took the chance to test seven products in one go. One afternoon, our video journalist Manuel Wenk and I put seven different headphones to the test. But wait a second, we didn’t test them ourselves, we had four Digitec Galaxus employees do so.

Our testers

* Dimitri is our product manager for headphones and our go-to guy for any kind of headphones. He knows them all and he decides which models you can buy in our online shop. * Alina’s one of our editors. She listens to music with Apple earbuds. I was curious to know what she’d think of the «real» headphones. * Phil’s also one of our editors and he’s known for his good taste when it comes to headphones: he likes the same ones as I. Just kidding, Phil’s tried quite a few headphones and he knows exactly what to look out for. * Andrea’s our product manager for the Galaxus category «Gourmet + Treats». This makes her the perfect candidate to treat herself to our seven selected headphones.

Our test devices

up to CHF 500.−

Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9. At the upper limit of our «Outch!» price range, these headphones are our most expensive contender. Do they have more to offer than the others do? I can’t wait to hear our testers’ opinions.

  • Battery life: 14 hours
  • Charging time: ~3 hours
  • Noise cancellation can be deactivated: yes
  • Weight: 285 g
  • Codecs: aptX, AAC
  • Foldable: no, but ear cups can be rotated
  • Handling: touch interface that works with gloves, too

    between CHF 300-400.−

Sony MDR-1000X, a new addition. Sony has always had an excellent reputation when it comes to headphones. This model is a bestseller in this upper-scale price range of Bluetooth over-ear headphones. This is the jack-of-all-trades for codecs: Sony’s in-house invention LDAC operates without any down-conversion of the audio content (in combination with Xperia smartphones). Sony’s MDR-1000X has its own calibration function for background noise, which works remarkably well.

  • Battery life: 20 hours
  • Charging time: ~4 hours
  • Noise cancellation can be deactivated: yes
  • Weight: 275 g
  • Codecs: aptX, AAC, LDAC
  • Foldable: yes
  • Handling: touch interface
  • Other: calibration function for background noise, additional voice cancelling mode to filter in voices

Bose QC 35. These headphones are considered best of class when it comes to no noise-cancelling technology. Bose just know how to do it. I was keen to know is any of the other test devices would come close or possibly even beat this model. With astounding sound quality, it’s no surprise this is one of our bestsellers and has loads of great reviews.

  • Battery life: 20 hours
  • Charging time: ~2.5 hours, 15 minutes quick loading for 2.5 hours of battery life
  • Noise cancellation can be deactivated: no
  • Weight: 234 g
  • Codecs: AAC
  • Foldable: yes
  • Handling: buttons

Sennheiser PXC 550. This is the latest addition to the range of Sennheiser Bluetooth headphones. Personally, I have the Momentum Wireless 2, which is a fun gadget. Although these headphones came out three years ago, they have pretty decent noise cancelling. The PXC 550 model should, in theory, have the best of both worlds: excellent sound quality and great noise cancelling. Let’s see what our testers have to say.

  • Battery life: 30 hours
  • Charging time: ~3 hours
  • Noise cancellation can be deactivated: yes
  • Weight: 227 g
  • Codecs: aptX
  • Foldable: yes
  • Handling: touch interface on right ear cap
  • Other: additional voice cancelling mode to filter in voices

    up to CHF 250.−

Denon AH-GC20. Another model of a renowned manufacturer. So far, noise cancelling hasn’t been one of Denon’s strengths, but these headphones are in the least expensive price range, so we’ll see how they perform. * Battery life: 10 hours * Charging time: ~2 hours * Noise cancellation can be deactivated: yes * Weight: 305 g * Codecs: aptX, AAC * Foldable: no, but ear cups can be rotated * Handling: buttons

BackBeat PRO 2 (Over-ear, Black Tan, ANC)
Headphones
–11%
184.–was 206.–
Poly BackBeat PRO 2 (Over-ear, Black Tan, ANC)

Plantronics BackBeat PRO 2. Plantronics are an insider tip, they sneaked in almost unnoticed. And this even though the company has been in the business for decades: Neil Armstong’s «One small step...» from the moon was transmitted with a Plantronics device. Plantronics used to focus on headsets and acquired much respect in the gaming community. The BackBeat PRO 2 model could be great value for money if our testers like it.

  • Battery life: 24 hours
  • Charging time: ~3 hours
  • Noise cancellation can be deactivated: yes
  • Weight: 289 g
  • Codecs: AAC, aptX, aptX Low Latency (!)
  • Foldable: no, but ear cups can be rotated
  • Handling: buttons
  • Other: multipoint technology (allows switching between streaming music on one device and answering calls on another); additional noise cancelling mode to filter in voices; class 1 Bluetooth with range of 100 meters

Teufel MUTE BT. With such a name, how could this company not be interesting («Teufel» is the German word for «devil») 😈. Teufel has a good reputation, especially when it comes to bookshelf speakers. They’re fairly new to the headphone business and this is the least expensive device, so let’s see what our testers think of it.

  • Battery life: 28 hours
  • Charging time: ~2 hours
  • Noise cancellation can be deactivated: yes
  • Weight: 240 g
  • Codecs: aptX
  • Foldable: no, but ear cups can be rotated
  • Handling: buttons
  • Other: replaceable battery (but I couldn’t even find replacement batteries on the manufacturer’s webpage…)

Our test

First off: This test was in no way conducted in a scientifically correct manner. I was hoping a trend would emerge from the wide range of opinions. Everyone tested each device twice. The first time around, I asked the testers to judge the sound quality. The second time around, they focused on the noise-cancelling ability. This excellent video came in handy, it plays Boeing 777 cabin sound non-stop for 11.5 hours.

To make sure this was a blind testing, I put the headphones onto our testers’ heads from behind. I didn’t want them to be influenced by the device and brand («it’s Bose, it’s bound to be good!»). Of course, Dimitri knew which ones he was wearing most of the time anyway 😛 Some of the testers had sent me their favourite song. I chose three tracks that are ideally suited to test headphones. We streamed all songs from Spotify with 320 kbps and connected all headphones to an iPhone 6s. Although some of the headphones make use of AAC codec, this aspect was not part of our test. Adjusting the volume to a specific decibel count is rather tricky on Bluetooth headphones, so I had to make do with rather rudimental volume control.

Our results

You can see some opinions and results in the video (it’s in German). Observing the participants’ reactions to the different headphones was very interesting. Contrary to what I was hoping for, no clear trend emerged from the four opinions. At least when it came to comfort, there were some correlations:

    1. Bose QuietComfort 35
    1. Sennheiser PXC 550
    1. Denon AH-GC20
    1. Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9
    1. Sony MDR1000X
    1. Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2
    1. Teufel Mute BT

When it came to noise cancelling, the results were also quite clear:

    1. Sony MDR1000X
    1. Bose QuietComfort 35
    1. Sennheiser PXC 550
    1. Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9
    1. Denon AH-GC20
    1. Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2
    1. Teufel Mute BT

Interestingly, our testers dethroned the «king of the silence», the QC35. It looks like the other manufacturers have caught up when it comes to noise-cancelling technology. Sony’s calibration function for background noise seems to be especially effective.

When it came to judging the sound quality, our testers didn’t agree at all: The ladies didn’t like the Plantronics while the men couldn’t get enough of it. Aline liked the Sony MDR-1000X , Dimitri loved it, but Andrea and Phil didn’t appreciate it at all. What this shows it that there’s no such thing as «the best headphones», but only «the most suitable headphones for your ears and your taste in music». Of course, there are large differences in price, but manufacturers such as Beyerdynamic and Sennheiser know their trade and at the end of the day, it’s a question of taste rather than quality. Even more so, as transmission via Bluetooth never comes without loss.

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As a side note: Alina complained about missing bass with all devices. This doesn’t surprise me, considering the curtain of hair that was between her ears and the headphones. Some advice on the side: A few millimetres between eardrums and headphones can make a huge difference. The video shows how Dimitri shakes his head slightly; a good trick to put the headphones back into their ideal position. I’m hoping our test will help you choose the best Bluetooth headphones for you.

This might also interest you (in German):

Von brav bis feuerspeiend: Der *Sennheiser PXC 550** im Test
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Bluetooth-Audio: Der Teufel steckt im Detail
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*Sony MDR-1000X** im Test: Die neue Referenz für Audiophile mit Lärmallergie?
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Aurel Stevens
Aurel Stevens
Chief Editor, Zurich
I'm the master tamer at the flea circus that is the editorial team, a nine-to-five writer and 24/7 dad. Technology, computers and hi-fi make me tick. On top of that, I’m a rain-or-shine cyclist and generally in a good mood.

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