A Very Brief Buyer's Guide To Sony's Great Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Image: Adam Clark Estes, Gizmodo

Noise-cancelling 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-cancelling.

Sony Probably Sold Souls To Satan To Make Headphones This Good

Sony recently dropped its latest offering to the sound gods - the WF-1000XM3 truly wireless noise cancelling headphones. This inner-ear music delivery system is a bold move. It's notoriously difficult to achieve both noise cancellation and great sound quality in non-over-ear headphones. Let's see if Sony managed to deliver.

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At the top of the Sony lineup is the $549.95 WH-1000XM3, and the company recently introduced two exciting additions: the $399.95 WH-XB900N and the $399.95 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-cancelling space right now. While Bose invented noise-cancelling headphones as we know them, Sony has been tenacious about innovating since it launched its first premium wireless, noise-cancelling headphones back in 2016.

The third generation of that model, the 1000XM3, is our favourite set of noise-cancelling headphones, although plenty of people will find the $549.95 price tag mighty steep. That’s surely why Sony decided to offer some cheaper, noise-cancelling 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-cancelling, then let’s make this easy for you.

You want the very best?

You should buy the 1000XM3, if you want the very best noise-cancelling.

Sony WH-1000XM3 (Photo: Adam Clark Estes, Gizmodo)

The newer Sony models don’t shield you from the clamor of the outside world as well. Some specialised hardware in the 1000XM3 might explain why. The $549.95 Sonys have the “HD Noise Cancelling Processor QN1" that, as the jargon-y name implies, is a dedicated chip for the noise-cancelling.

Only the third generation has this, and the third generation of Sony’s noise-cancelling 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 travellers.

You want the best deal?

You should buy the XB900N, if you want the most for your money.

Sony WH-XB900N (Photo: Adam Clark Estes, Gizmodo)

They cost $399.95, which is less than most other good noise-cancelling headphones on the market. The XB900N does lack that special noise-cancelling chip and its noise-cancelling 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 want earbuds?

You should buy the WF-1000XM3 truly wireless earbuds.

Sony WF-1000XM3 (Photo: Adam Clark Estes, Gizmodo)

It’s worth explaining how different Sony’s noise-cancelling earbuds option are from its over-ear noise-cancelling 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-cancelling, 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-cancelling isn’t powerful enough to make up for it. They’re still solid earbuds.

This is not a complete guide to buying noise-cancelling headphones. If you’re not so sweet on Sony, for instance, you might like the $499 Jabra Elite 85h or the $US400 ($575) Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700.

Editor's Note: No official Australian pricing is available for the Bose 700.

If you’re after some earbuds with tip-top noise isolation, check out the $329 Jabra Elite 65t. If you just want to spend a lot of money, the $US500 ($718) Master & Dynamic MW65 are a solid choice.

Editor's Note: There's no official Australian pricing for the M&D MW65s either.

But like we said up top, Sony is the king of noise-cancelling headphones right now. Buy accordingly.

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