Black Friday has begun its onslaught, which means it’s a great time to hit the market for a new pair of headphones. More specifically, a good set of noise-canceling headphones always seems to be in high demand during gift-receiving season. But if you’re not sure what to buy, let us help you secure a good deal.
I’ve reviewed several wireless noise-canceling pairs for Ars over the years, from in-ears to over-ears, and some of the better options I’ve come across are on sale during the Black Friday barrage . Below are some of these top discounted recommendations, including those from Sony, Apple, Bose, and more.
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I’ve recommended them in several guides and deal posts since they launched last year, but to my ears, Sony’s WH-1000XM4 is still the most well-rounded pair of wireless headphones for most people. This deal has been active for over a month now, but it matches the lowest price we’ve tracked.
As for noise cancellation (ANC), the XM4 outperforms most pairs I’ve tested for blocking out low- and mid-frequency noises like air conditioner rumbles or jet engine rumbles, and they sound unusually high. They are effective in reducing high-pitched sounds such as nearby sounds. The latter makes them particularly convenient for the office (or home office with particularly talkative housewives). Note that ANC is turned off whenever you make a call.
The headphones themselves are comfortable and well-padded, and they don’t press too hard on large heads (like my own). They have a professional, if not particularly showy, aesthetic and a durable design that is flexible and can fold up for easy storage. Comes in a useful carry case box.
They also have some really useful features. An optional “speak-to-chat” mode in the app can automatically pause your music whenever you start talking to someone, and a “quick focus” feature lets you listen to ambient noise momentarily when you Keep your hand on the earcup, which can be useful for catching quick announcements. Ambient sound mode performs well, and the headphones can connect to two devices at once.
They’re not perfect: their sound profile out of the box tends to be a bit heavy on bass compared to some (though Sony’s companion app has an EQ tool to customize it to be more neutral); Their microphone quality is fine for calls; And they don’t allow you to adjust the strength of their active noise cancellation (ANC)—a feature found on other high-end pairs. Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700,
I prefer physical control buttons to touch controls, but it’s more reliable to swipe and tap on the XM4’s earcups to adjust volume, accept calls, and leave tracks. Battery life is excellent, at more than 30 hours per charge—the specific length depends on how loud you play your music—and the headphones recharge over USB-C. It’s also possible to use them passively via the included cable, though you won’t be able to take calls in that mode.
If money is no object, and you’re an iPhone user, the AirPods Max might be a better buy than the WH-1000XM4. They sound better than any other wireless headphones I’ve used to date, even without the customizable EQ tool. There’s a slight bass boost – a feature I personally enjoy – but the sound signature is exceptionally clear, precise and detailed. (To be clear, the audio quality of any wireless headphones still can’t match that of the best wired pairs.)
To my ears, the AirPods Max does a better job of canceling out low- and mid-frequency noise than any other headphones I’ve worn. Voices and loud noises still a . come through Part Clearer than the Sony XM4, but everything else is noticeably less. The ambient sound (or “transparency”) mode is also great, making outside noises sound crisp and relatively natural alongside your music.
The headphones feature an attractive design and an aluminum finish that is nice to touch. They’re heavier, and thus a little less comfortable, than the Sony or Bose pairs in this roundup, but they feel premium. The multi-function “Digital Crown” dial, as you’ll see on the Apple Watch, makes controlling volume and playback a breeze. The included mics work well for phone calls, and battery life is good at a little over 20 hours per charge. Apple also provides a $79. battery replacement service,
There are some weird design choices. Oddly, there is no power button. Instead, you have to include the headphones in the “case” to activate the low-power mode. I put the “case” in intimidating quotes because it’s barely protective, serving more as an earcup cover than anything else. Apple doesn’t include a 3.5mm cable in the box, and even if you pay for adapterIf your battery runs out, you will not be able to listen to music. The Max also cannot connect to multiple devices at once and neither can they be folded. Like all AirPods, they are best used with other Apple devices. They’re not as convenient to pair with Android or Windows, and some of the settings controls on those platforms are lacking.
There are also AirPods Max Really Expensive, with an MSRP of $549. This Black Friday deal brings them to the best prices we’ve seen, but even so, they’re not cheap, which is why we think the XM4s are closer to a much better value in quality. But if you’re an iPhone user, and want the best audio quality and active noise cancellation, the AirPods Max should make for a great gift.