Noise-canceling is an expensive and appealing feature in headphones, which is why Sony has made it central to its newest models. In the past couple of years, Sony has also managed to surpass Bose to become the industry leader in noise-canceling. At the top of the Sony lineup is the $350 WH-1000XM3, and the company recently introduced two exciting additions: the $250 WH-XB900N and the $230 WF-1000XM3 truly wireless earbuds. So many choices but how to choose?
Well, it’s worth wondering why Sony is such a hot ticket in the wireless noise-canceling space right now. While Bose invented noise-canceling headphones as we know them, Sony has been tenacious about innovating since it launched its first premium wireless, noise-canceling headphones back in 2016. The third generation of that model, the 1000XM3, is our favorite set of noise-canceling headphones, although plenty of people will find the $350 price tag mighty steep. That’s surely why Sony decided to offer some cheaper, noise-canceling options.
The refreshing thing is that Sony’s cheaper options are actually excellent! If you’re considering making the jump, and you’re convinced that Sony is the way to go with noise-canceling, then let’s make this easy for you.
You should buy the 1000XM3, if you want the very best noise-canceling.
The newer Sony models don’t shield you from the clamor of the outside world as well. Some specialized hardware in the 1000XM3 might explain why. The $350 Sonys have the “HD Noise Canceling Processor QN1" that, as the jargon-y name implies, is a dedicated chip for the noise-canceling. Only the third generation has this, and the third generation of Sony’s noise-canceling headphones is the best. It’s also worth pointing out that, like the Bose QuietComfort 35 II, the 1000XM3 adjust for atmospheric pressure, which makes them a great choice for air travelers.
You should buy the XB900N, if you want the most for your money.
They cost $250, which is less than most other good noise-canceling headphones on the market. They also look so similar to the 1000XM3, so it’s worth wondering what that extra $100 gets you. The XB900N does lack that special noise-canceling chip and its noise-canceling isn’t as effective as it is in the 1000XM3. The build quality of the XB900N also feels slightly cheaper. The driver setup on the XB900N is very similar to the 1000XM3, though, so the sound quality is comparable. Plus, since they’re part of Sony’s Extra Bass line, the XB900N give you a bit more thump.
You should buy the WF-1000XM3 truly wireless earbuds.
It’s worth explaining how different Sony’s noise-canceling earbuds option are from its over-ear noise-canceling headphones. While both models of over-ear headphones can easily silence the din of a noisy coffee shop, the earbuds struggle with noise isolation. This is a separate issue from noise-canceling, which is produced by software. Noise isolation refers to how much outside noise can travel past the earbuds and into your ear. The Sony WF-1000XM3 have a bud that squeezes into your ear canal. However, the seal isn’t tight enough to keep out all of the outside noise, and the noise-canceling isn’t powerful enough to make up for it. They’re still solid earbuds.
This is not a complete guide to buying noise-canceling headphones. If you’re not so sweet on Sony, for instance, you might like the $300 Jabra Elite 85h or the $400 Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700. If you’re after some earbuds with tip-top noise isolation, check out the $160 Jabra Elite 65t. If you just want to spend a lot of money, the $500 Master & Dynamic MW65 are a solid choice.
But like we said up top, Sony is the king of noise-canceling headphones right now. Buy accordingly.