Christmas tech: Bluetooth headphones to block out the world
Over-ear noise cancelling headphones are a sanity-saver for commuting
Have you made the jump to Bluetooth headphones yet? You may soon not have a choice. An increasing number of new phones are being released minus the headphone jack, which means a choice between wired headphones with a USB C or Lightning port, or investing in Bluetooth headphones.
There was a time when Bluetooth meant poorer audio, but the current crop of wireless headphones can hold their own. And active noise cancelling is a sanity saver if you are travelling regularly. You simply flick the switch and the background noise melts away.
Here are a few over-ear wireless noise cancelling headphones to consider.
Microsoft Surface Headphones
The Surface headphones tick all the right boxes: they sound good, they’re comfortable with plenty of padding, and they have touch controls so you don’t have to mess around with your devices. Microsoft has made them noise cancelling and wireless, so you can use them on your commute to listen to music, catch up with podcasts or just dull the travel noise. Touch panels on the ear cups are useful for stopping music and rejecting or accepting calls; dial controls are used for volume and noise cancelling. You can also adjust the noise cancelling depending on your environment, which is a handy feature, simply by rotating the dial.
I like Sony headphones, but the naming could use a bit of work. The WH1000XM3 may not trip off the tongue, but it ticks all the right boxes. Active noise cancelling makes them a good choice for commuters, blocking out much of the irritating background noise, and come with adaptive sound control that adjusts the ambients sound settings to your environment. Noisier environments mean the noise cancelling works harder than it would for a relatively quiet flight, for example. It also compensates for atmospheric pressure when you’re flying. If you need to talk to someone while listening to music, you can simply place one hand over the ear cup and the volume turns down. You’ve also got touch controls on the ear cup: gestures that can increase and decrease volume, play and pause your music, and skip tracks. It’s all very simple, swiping up and down, and left and right, so even a new user will be able to pick it up quickly. Sound quality is, as you’d expect, great. These headphones are a good all rounder.
Jabra Elite 85h
Jabra’s Elite 85h active noise cancelling headphones are comfortable, they filter out a good bit of noise even before you flick on the noise cancelling and the sound is easily customised. The headphones themselves are fairly standard. On one ear cup, you have controls that will cover volume, music selection, and making and taking calls, plus a button to control the voice assistant of your choice (assuming your choice is Siri or Alexa). The other has the sound button that will let you switch between active noise cancelling and the microphone pass through, so you can be more aware of your surroundings, and switching it all off. One of the more interesting things about the 85h is the ability to customise the sound. Pair the headphones with the Jabra Sound+ app and you’ll get the option to tailor your sound to your surroundings – whether that is the commute, public spaces or private ones.
Usually €299, they’re currently on sale in Harvey Norman for €189.
When the Audeara A-01 headphones launched, they were the only ones that really offered personalised audio profiles. There are a few headphones that have moved into that space too, but the Audeara’s is still one of the most involved. The long test takes about 15 minutes - a shorter one and a standard one will take less time but give less impressive results - and involves identifying when you can just about hear the beeps. Each ear is done separately, and it was interesting to see the graphs for both ears and how they differed. That means you have to wear the headphones on the correct ears, though; to help you with that, there’s a large L and R on the inside of each cup. It goes without saying you’ll get the best results out of the highly detailed test. Plus you have a ready-made excuse to refuse to lend out your headphones. The headphones are very well made too; they don’t feel flimsy and could stand up to a bit of rough treatment.
Skullcandy Crusher ANC
Skullcandy’s Crusher headphones offered serious bass that made your head practically vibrate. The latest version is both wireless and active noise cancelling, and it offers the same bass boost as the originals. The slider on one ear cup will boost bass from mild to bone shaking, and the active noise cancelling, while not perfect, will filter out the background noise. Download the app and you can personalise the sound too, which makes everything sound that little bit better. The best thing about the Crusher ANC? They have Tile built in, so you can add them to your Tile account and locate your headphones if you lose them - a handy feature.