WFH. The relentless onslaught of COVID Zoom meetings. A utter lack of separation from your work and personal life. There’s never been a more crucial time to drown out the noise, and noise-cancelling headphones are amongst the quickest productivity (and sanity) fixes you can add to your self-isolation mix.
If you’re yet to experience the magic of noise-cancelling headphones, the effect is something akin to entering a bubble of privacy. They’re able to take the drone of a plane engine and reduce it to almost nil. More and more, they’re effective at drowning out nearby conversations and other more complex, unpredictable ambient noise. They’re as big a WFH game-changer you can purchase, desk and chair aside.
Plus, when offices slowly begin to re-open, there’s no need to leave the noise cancelling headphones at home. Consider them a secret weapon for 9-5 productivity: totally capable of dulling the distractions that come with the tyranny of open-plan offices – from buzzing desk phones to chatty colleagues.
Here are 5 that we love and recommend, right now.
THE REIGNING CHAMP
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
Think back to the last long-haul flight you took. Regardless of your class of travel, you odds-on would have spotted a pair of Bose wrapped around the skull of a frequent flyer. The Bose 700s are the follow-up to the company’s wildly popular QuietComfort 35 series, and they have improved on what has widely been considered the GOAT all-purpose noise-cancelling headphone.
The 700s allow you to adjust the active noise cancellation on a ten-point scale, meaning you can find the sweet-spot of silence for whatever situation you might find yourself in. They’re as lean and lightweight as ever, and still fold-down into a compact travel size. Plus, the battery life remains at a totally muscular 20 hours – good enough for even the longest of work day, and any long-haul flight.
THE LEAN AND MEAN
Apple AirPods Pro
While not as robust in the noise-cancelling department, the AirPods Pro make a very good case for themselves in the battle of silencer headphones: they’re tiny. While they can’t compete with the noise-cancelling (or battery life) of the over-ear cans found elsewhere, they might make a better everyday solution for those who’d prefer not to carry another large bit of tech everywhere.
The AirPods Pro arrive in a box with three sizes of buds, which help nail a perfect snug fit, and assist in creating a physical seal that kicks-off the noise-cancellation. They make particular sense for Apple users, who will quickly be swooning over the clever H1 whip which makes for crazy easy device linking, increases the range of the Bluetooth connection and allows for quick switching between your iPhone, iPad and Mac. They’re also an elegant solution for gym-goers: they’re comfortable to run and lift in, and have reasonable water and sweat resistance to boot.
THE (OTHER) REIGNING CHAMP
Boy, you can’t say much for the model name – but these Sony headphones are probably their own best marketing, anyway. They go happily head-to-head with Bose on noise cancelling, but have the upper hand when it comes to battery life – they’re good for a whopping 30 hours per charge.
They sound a little more dynamic than the ultra-neutral Bose, and Sony’s EQ app allows you to tinker to your heart’s content. The – sigh – WH100XM3s aren’t the best-looking noise cancelling headphones out there, but all that will be quickly forgotten once you pair and hit play.
THE AUDIOPHILE PICK
Master & Dynamic MW65
$499, Master & Dynamic
They’re considerably more expensive than the rest of the models on our shortlist, but the MW65s sound so pretty, they’re offensive. And while we’re on the subject of pretty, it’s a breath of fresh air to reach for headphones that do away with plastic and instead use aluminium, not to mention the ultra-cosy memory foam pads that wrap around your ears.
Whether or not the price point makes sense is a personal decision. But, if you’re already dropping a pretty penny on premium headphones, it doesn’t hurt to splurge for whatever catches your eye – headphones like these have a habit of lasting through five-plus years of use.
THE BEST FOR DESK TO GYM
Again, our friends at Sony aren’t winning any awards for their gloriously dull naming conventions, but the WF-SP800N is a neat piece of tech. They’re slightly bulkier and definitively less sleek than the AirPods Pro, but they double Apple’s offering in the out-of-case battery life stakes: rated at 9 hours. Like other buds, the noise-cancelling here can’t compare to the over-ear cans, but they’ll do the trick at cutting out the noise and letting you get back to your work – or workout.