Back in 2008, nobody could imagine that Dr. Dre’s electronics company would amass a worth of more than a billion dollars. With celebrities rocking the headphones, they became as much of a necessity as they did a fashion trend. Even after Apple bought Beats Electronics and Music for $3.2 billion, they’ve continued to generate more and more revenue. But, as with all products that reach a certain level of notoriety, the Beats headphones started to become more costly. Sometimes much more than they should actually be worth.
Eventually, Beats’ popularity became enormous enough that they overshadowed the better choices as well. We’re approaching the point where they are just overpriced headphones that just have the iconic “b” logo to stand for. However, fret not because we’ve taken the liberty to answer the much-asked question about there being better alternatives. There are so many things to account for when comparing headphones so let’s dig right in.
1. Sony WH-1000XM4
- USB Type C charging cable for longer life
- Adaptive sound control
- Variety of sound cancellation and sound stage options
- Only one device can be paired at a time
- Microphone sounds muffled in phone calls
Connectivity Cable: USB Type-C | Weight: 255g | Battery Life: 30 hours | Number of Mics: 2 | Multiple Device Connectivity: No
Sony is not one to shy away from any competition. For the past three years, their focus has been on the 1000X series. And, with their latest addition, they have released the WH-1000XM4 and we could not be more pleased. With one of the best noise cancellation, a touchpad for control and a plethora of other features, they have successfully declared themselves the unanimous king with this product.
For headphones like these noise cancellation, comfort and of course, great sound is absolutely pivotal for their success. Sony, with the WH-1000XM4, has done that and then some with perfect cups padding and clamping force. The touchpads on the sides are responsible for volume, skipping songs, answering calls etc. Another crafty feature is the Quick Attention Mode which turns down volume upon covering the right pad.
The noise cancellation in this baby easily outweighs not only of Beats but almost what any other vendor has to offer. With different noise cancellation modes, which can be scaled up or down, noises from whirring fans to train engines can be blocked out. Furthermore, the app allows the noise cancellation to be tweaked corresponding to different altitudes and atmospheric pressures. The passive noise cancellation works very well too, with the cups and the headband providing ample suction force to block noise.
The quality of the sound is much more musical and crisp than their Beats’ peers. These use neodymium magnets which are not only lighter in weight but also output more bass and higher quality notes. Even non-audiophiles can notice the wide variations in sound stages and the ripe sound audible during the most non-friendly environments. Moving on to the battery life, Sony has not really left any room for competition in this niche. At the bottom of the right cup is a USB Type-C port, which results in a faster charge. With a mere charge of 20 minutes using the quick charge, these can give 5 hours of continuous usage.
A rather disappointing aspect is this headphones’ ability to only be connected to one device via Bluetooth. To switch over to another device, the current one has to be manually disconnected which gets rather tedious. Also, there have been instances of “phantom” touches being issued at the touchpads in cold weathers. What it essentially means is that in cold weathers, automatic commands are registered at the touchpads. As of yet, it is unknown whether a firmware update can fix this problem.
WH-1000XM4 not only outmatches its nemesis Beats headphones but the other vast variety as well. With their multitude of customizations and features, these are ideal for travellers, office workers and music lovers who want to use headphones for long hours. The muffling of the microphone might be a let down for call oriented tasks but, for the most part, it gets the job done.
2. Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
Great Noise Cancellation
- Noise-cancelling microphone
- Stunning design
- Google Assistant and Alexa enabled for voice access
- Buggy App
- Not a huge upgrade on sound
Connectivity Cable: USB Type-C | Weight: 254g | Battery Life: 20-40 hrs | Number of Mics: 4 | Multiple Device Connectivity: Yes
Bose, being one of the leading headphones manufacturers in the world, had to revamp their line of wireless headphones at some point. The QC series was no slouch but it was time Bose upped the ante. They did so with the Bose 700 noise-cancelling headphones, designed to be the flagbearers of the top line of Bose headphones. We saw great improvements and very high standards upheld in this particular piece of equipment. This is more than just eye candy, as the product carries with it great features and solid sound results. The Bose 700 come in two colours, white and black.
The Bose 700 headphones go a level up from their predecessors, namely the QC35s and are a huge upgrade in terms of aesthetics and design. They look far more modern and sleek. The finish of the headphones is fantastic. The headband is covered with a very comfortable rubber-ish material instead of the usual foam or leather. The big win in our opinion regarding these headphones is the fact that they have a touchpad as well as the conventional buttons for some features. With the touchpad, you can easily control the Volume, Play/Pause and skip or recover music tracks. As far as the buttons go, they are not a lot. There is a button for Google Assistant/Alexa, Bluetooth pairing, on/off and a button for changing the amount of noise cancellation. The headphones last 20 hours with Noise cancellation to about 40 hours without it.
These headphones offer fantastic sound quality results. This is no surprise as Bose has always delivered in this particular aspect. The upper-mid-range of this product is stronger than those that came before it. This can be a little taxing at higher volumes for some users but for most its a pretty good aspect. Bose has always been associated with being the undisputed king of noise cancellation. The newer Sony products showed how other competitors had caught up. The Bose 700 definitely deliver big this time on the noise cancellation aspect as well. The best part is that through the app you can access and understand noise cancellation levels more easily and interact with them better. As far as the app goes, you really need to use the headphones through the app to make use of most of the features on offer.
The standout feature that Bose offers with the Bose 700 is definitely the microphone. The technology makes use of 4 microphones to deliver absolutely stunning voice input results. This feature and result that Bose has managed to achieve are unrivalled. Crystal clear calls are 100 percent guaranteed even in the noisiest of circumstances.
There is one shortcoming as far as this product goes. The sound quality although fantastic, it is still not as good as Sony’s competitor products. You could actually argue that these headphones sound almost the same as the QC 35 series. There is not a discernible difference in sound and although that does not make them bad, this makes them slightly less epic than the Sony headphones we placed at number 1. There was another major issue regarding the Bose 700 headphones, its app. The app had a plethora of bugs and performance issues. Some users had issues even starting it, others couldn’t connect and there were also frequent disconnections and interruptions on both Android and Apple devices. Since the headphones are designed to run with the app this issue could become bothersome. Bose will definitely solve this issue pretty soon, but it was a bummer for us.
These headphones are probably the most visually stunning ones we have on this list. They look futuristic and elegant at the same time. The design factor is a huge plus in every way. They offer fantastic features that are similar to the Sony top tier headsets, including the touchpad and different levels of noise cancellations. They are different in the regard of their unmatched mic quality and easy to use the app provided you can run the app smoothly. The battery time is no slouch and other interactive features make these a very high-quality product in our eyes.
3. Sennheiser PXC 550
- Mode for cycling through levels of ANC
- EQ tuning with the app has several options
- Miniature buttons are hard to spot and use
- Touch is overly sensitive and cannot be turned down
- Microphones are prone to wind noises during calls
Connectivity Cable: Micro USB | Weight: 227g | Battery Life: 20 hours | Number of Mics: 4 | Multiple Device Connectivity: Yes
Just the name Sennheiser is enough to turn many heads around. They are a unanimously adored company that is responsible for making the most user-friendly and crisp sounding headphones. With ANC gaining more and more popularity for wireless headphones, Sennheiser too took a shot at it. In Sennheiser’s pursuit of perfect sound, we have been gifted the PXC 550, an outstanding product made with passion.
The PXC 550 has a robust and solid design with a balance between durable plastic and solid metal. The headband is cushioned and soft, with a black silicone finishing which is stretchable as well as just the right amount of stiff. The clamping force is just right and the ear cups, being a more oval shape, fit perfectly around the ears. In order to power PXC 550 up, the ear cups must be twisted. Twisting the cups outwards powers them on and vice versa. This can prove to be quite troublesome as they need to be twisted in order to turn off. If not, the battery is continued to go to waste. The built-in voice assistant is available and it indicates battery level and the name of the connected device upon firing up.
The right ear cup features touch-sensitive controls and it is very responsive. Smart Pause, as Sennheiser has dubbed it, pauses the audio being played when one side of the headphones are pulled away from the ears. There are buttons for Bluetooth connectivity, ANC switching and one for cycling through sound profiles. It houses a micro USB port for charging and connectivity. You can also double-tap the pad to enable Talk-Through which magnifies the ambient noise instead and allows you to listen to outside noises without taking the headphones off.
There are two mics on the outside and two on the inside that cancels higher and lower frequencies which, when combined, create a balanced isolated environment. The passive noise cancellation works great as well, thanks to the cleverly manufactured ear cups. The PXC 550 has an audio range of 17 – 23,000 Hz and they sound absolutely marvellous. They’re audible over a very wide range and are more focused towards a non-bloated output. The sound magnifies the higher notes more than the low notes and most importantly, does not hurt despite hours of usage. The battery can give an estimated usage of 20 hours with ANC enabled.
All in all, the Sennheiser PXC 550 is a perfect travel headphone that is almost essential for the people who have it. It is supplied with a very durable bag with pockets for housing cables etc. The frequency range is spectacular, with just the right emphasis on the correct frequencies and notes. For some, the twisting to switch power feature can become somewhat of a hassle as in the off mode, the folded PXC 550 does consume more space as well. But, Sennheiser has still paid great attention to detail, giving us an excellent product.
4. Microsoft Surface Headphones
- Music automatically pauses when headphones are taken off
- Angled cushions maximize coverage and comfort of ears
- Do not need to speak into phone for voice activation
- Cortana cannot be turned off and drains battery life
- Battery life is not as long as Microsoft has claimed
Connectivity Cable: USB Type-C | Weight: 290g | Battery Life: 15 hours | Number of Mics: 2 | Multiple Device Connectivity: Yes
The flashiest designed headphones have made it to our list as number four. Microsoft’s Surface Headphones have a very soft feeling about them. They are very tightly wound together, with Microsoft’s best engineers responsible for the design. Just from the look of it, wearing these futuristic caps sends you 15 years in the future. Underneath this lightweight plastic allure is a quality build with great overall audio.
The Surface Headphones feel bulkier when compared to the previous ones in our list. The build quality and the headband strength is phenomenal however, the leather is not too soft to the touch. Depending on the head shape, these headphones might start to weigh in on the head after a few hours. Even without ANC, noise is minimized via the effective passive cancellation. This is all thanks to the ergonomically designed ear pads and ear cups.
Fortunately, Microsoft has employed USB Type-C in Surface Headphones. There are only two buttons- microphone mute and power. On the left and right sides, are dials which control volume and level of noise cancellation. This is a very sneaky but charming feature as it allows for full control over the hardware itself. You can go an extra step and not only minimize noise cancellation but amplify background ambient noises. There is a gradient effect when adjusting NC as passive noises slowly die out when you turn the dial.
Devices are connected via Bluetooth 4.2, however NFC support is not entertained. These have an effective functioning range of 100ft linearly. Microsoft claims 15 hours of continuous usage on this device, however, users have gotten less. This is mainly due to Cortana voice assist being always on which reduces the net battery life. Surface Headphones have two mics and have noise-cancelling enabled in them as well. Double tapping the ear pads answers incoming calls and automatically enables the NC microphones.
But at this price, the question about the sound and audio department comes to light. The ANC can block out a number of background noises and is able to cancel out most frequencies. However, even with maximum cancellation, background chatter is quite less than the top 3. The sound quality is extraordinary in these bad boys. Microsoft has decided to slightly flatten out the instrumentals and make room for clear vocals instead. This comes down to personal preference but it is evident that the bass distribution could have been a nick better.
5. Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT
Great Sound Quality
- Bluetooth 5.0 for better connectivity
- Apt-X compatible Very long-range Bluetooth connectivity
- No active noise cancellation
- Too much clamping force
- No markings on buttons for identification
Connectivity Cable: Micro USB | Weight: 310g | Battery Life: 40 hours | Number of Mics: 1 | Multiple Device Connectivity: No
Audio-Technica has revamped its classic ATH-M50x and has fulfilled the dreams of many of its fans. With the added Bluetooth mode and a few other things, it has been made to compete in today’s demand for the headphone standard. The original model might be slightly old but they still remain as dominant as loved as they were when fresh. For this, and a couple of other reasons, the ATH-M50xBT has proven itself to be a very fair competitor for the likes of Beats as well, with hidden gems underneath.
With the black primary colour and silver accents, the design and craft are very durable and strong. The headbands have soft and supple leather to provide support and some extra clamping force. The ear cups too, have extra padding in them to increase softness. As with the classical model, the clamping force for some people proved to be a bit too much making it not very ideal for continuous use. Additionally, the ear cups are circularly shaped so can cause some issues depending on the ear form.
The Bluetooth connectivity stays functional with a range of over 30m with almost negligible cases of random disconnects. A point to ponder is that multi-device compatibility is not supported. Also, tapping and holding the right pad brings up the virtual assistant that you are connected to. The touch is not too sensitive to the touch as to register phantom touches and so it delivers a soothing feeling when bringing up Siri or Cortana.
Audio-Technica really nailed it the ATH-M50xBT. For the price label, the sound quality is incredibly rich and diverse. They feature a frequency response of 15-28,000 Hz, delivering a well-rounded output. These cans are definitely on the higher end of the sound spectrum for wireless headphones and outclass their rival Beats Pro. Audiophiles can easily identify that there is a rather lack of focus in deeper pitched notes and bass-oriented sounds. However, this comes down to personal taste since many have taken a liking to ATH-M50xBT’s signature sounds.
Audio-Technica’s contribution to the wireless headphone cause is surely a pleasant surprise for the average consumers. By compromising on the price, they have made staple entry-level headphones for audiophiles worthy of mentioning and appreciating. Some higher-end features and a bit budgeted build quality has been employed in the production of this can but still, for the mid-tier headphone with a low price, they deliver quite decently.