Headphone Filter: Over-Ear, Closed, Good Isolation & Noise Cancelling
October 18, 2017 10:00 PM   Subscribe

Looking for closed-back, over-ear headphones that have a good passive noise isolation seal, and good active noice cancelling to help attenuate what gets past the seal. Bonus points for iPhone mic and remote. More points still for Bluetooth, since phone manufacturers seem to be dropping the headphone jack left and right. More details inside...

My primary use case:
Listening to music and being able to hear individual instruments clearly, without being distracted by outside sounds — voices, TV, other music, typing, chairs being pulled out, etc. — in a shared studio / office room. Ideally, the sound profile of the headphones would be pretty natural — i.e., not add a bunch of extra bass or make the treble too sparkly.

What I've already tried and sent back, and why they failed me:
- Bose QuietComfort 35 — Not enough passive isolation; I could still hear voices and miscellaneous noises in the room. And ANC performance didn't live up to its reputation. Bose forums suggest that a recent firmware update degraded the ANC, and my experience bears that out.
- Sony H.ear On MDR-100ABN — Bluetooth connectivity was finicky, and bass sounded crackly and blown-out above mid-volume. Other than that, the fit and isolation were good, and the ANC was surprisingly far better than the Bose QC35s.

Some that I'm considering so far, in no particular order:
- Samsung Level On PRO
- PSB M4U 2
- AO M7
- B&O PLAY by Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9 (if they go on crazy sale)

I've looked at recommendations from Wirecutter and a handful of other sites, but (A) they rarely talk about the noise isolation, focusing only on the ANC quality, and (B) most of them love the Bose QC35s that I thought sucked. So I turn to you, audiophile MeFites! Help make my ears happy. Tell me what over-ear 'phones you've used that let you hear only the music.
posted by D.Billy to Technology (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I really dig the Sony MDR-1000x. I thought I'd be so-so on their quality, or find ANC annoying (and from there go back to wired cans + headphone amp), but they're my go-to pair whenever I can get away with something that bulky. I'm no audiophile, but they're better than Bose in flat response, and other annoyances in music I can deal with in EQ.

The mic is excellent; almost too excellent, given how clearly my coworkers can hear my dog snoring during conference calls.
posted by supercres at 10:25 PM on October 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

I never travel without my Audio Technica ANC7. It makes long flights go smoothly because I can sleep and/or listen to music without the engine drone.

here's there overview page where you can see what they offer:

posted by alchemist at 3:40 AM on October 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have the Oppo PM-3 headphones. I don't think they have active noise cancelling.

They are the best and most comfortable headphones I have ever used by every conceivable metric (except for maybe portability). They come with a cord that has iPhone controls on it. I do not think you would be disappointed if you bought them.
posted by King Bee at 4:26 AM on October 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

My Sennheiser Momentum 2.0s are the bomb.
posted by ZipRibbons at 4:50 AM on October 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

I know you say over the ear, so if you're married to that ignore this - but you will get way more passive noise isolation with deep insertion in-ear monitors with custom molds than with over the ears. ANC is good for airplances and other places with a lot of steady state noise, but won't work as well in an office type setting with a lot of impulse noises. But good in-ear custom molds will get you 40-50 dB of passive isolation, which means you will not hear anything but the music you're listening to.

Bonus because so much passive isolation means you can keep the levels lower coming from your earphones and not give yourself a noise induced loss.

If you're interested, custom molds can be made by your local audiologist and can be ordered to fit on any number of in-ear monitors.
posted by Lutoslawski at 6:34 AM on October 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

What Luto said. In-ear monitors ("IEM") generally provide drastically better isolation than any active headphones, and work better for non-droning noises. Basically, the active ones excel at muffling things like airplane engine noise, but aren't so great for noise that isn't fairly constant.

My Etymotics sound AWESOME, which is important to me, but it's also important that they keep the screaming toddler in 17D from interrupting my reading or nap when I fly.
posted by uberchet at 7:35 AM on October 19, 2017

All super helpful so far. Thanks everyone. A few follow-ups:

supercres — How reliable is the Bluetooth pairing on the Sony MDR 1000x? And how clear is the sound at mid-high volume?
King Bee— How is the noise isolation on the Oppo PM-3? How much outside sound do you hear?
alchemist — Do you have the Audio Technica ATH-ANC70 or the ATH-ANC7b?
ZipRibbons — Are your Sennheiser Momentums wired or wireless? With or without ANC?
Lutoslawski and uberchet — I hear you. (Ba-dum-ching!) If I can't find a satisfactory over-ear solution, I may go the IEM route. But over-ear definitely preferred.

Does anyone here have experience with the Samsung, PSB, AO, or B&O pairs that I listed?
posted by D.Billy at 8:28 AM on October 19, 2017

i received bower and wilkins p7 wireless headphones as a gift last spring and they've been used everyday at work since. they're comfortable all day long and sound like a dream (and not bass heavy).

they're not noise-cancelling but i have a window AC until five feet behind me that ran pretty much all summer long and it never distracted me- i couldn't even hear my phone ring on my desk (fortunately our VOIP system has a client i was able to install on my computer to interrupt me). if i'm turned away from my door i will not hear anyone knocking or coming in.
posted by noloveforned at 8:34 AM on October 19, 2017

and apparently there's a noise cancelling version of the p7 now. can't speak to the quality but there are some reviews on amazon that sound promising.
posted by noloveforned at 8:36 AM on October 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am by no means an audiophile, but have owned the Sony MDR-1000x's for a couple of months now (on sale for $170 or so) and have not had any issues with the Bluetooth connectivity so far. I love them (but won't pretend to know what I talk about beyond that).
posted by AwkwardPause at 12:01 PM on October 19, 2017

The Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 is wireless (Bluetooth) and works perfectly with both my MacBook Pro and iPhone SE. But you can also attach a wire (standard headphone jack) if you like. Yes, it has active noise-cancelling, which I think is pretty damn good.

Here's a link to a What HiFi review. Apparently the first generation of this model had connectivity problems with the Bluetooth, but mine have been completely trouble-free.
posted by ZipRibbons at 12:05 PM on October 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

How reliable is the Bluetooth pairing on the Sony MDR 1000x? And how clear is the sound at mid-high volume?

I haven't noticed any issues pairing with or spontaneously disconnecting from an iPhone 6S or Macbook Pro. Switching between devices is a little bit of a pain; can manually disconnect and then manually connect to the other, or just hold down the power button to go into pairing mode when using a different device than the last time.

I don't listen very loud but I am doing so right now for purposes of experimentation (new Beck album, so pretty bassy) and it seems solid to my non-audiophile ears.
posted by supercres at 12:22 PM on October 19, 2017

Thanks, all!
I'm going to try the Sony MDR 1000x, since it seems like that model doesn't have the Bluetooth glitchiness or fuzzy bass of the Sony h.ear On pair that I otherwise really liked.
(Although FWIW, if I felt I could justify a higher price point, I'd probably pick up the Sennheisers. Those look hot.)
posted by D.Billy at 2:14 PM on October 19, 2017

The Oppo PM-3 block pretty much everything. People will open the door to my office, walk in, and start talking to me and I will not notice them because the headphones are so immersive.
posted by King Bee at 7:30 PM on October 19, 2017

"Do you have the Audio Technica ATH-ANC70 or the ATH-ANC7b?"

I have the ANC7 and my SO has the ANC7b and we both love them. We haven't really noticed any technical differences only that the "b" version was purchased a few years later.
posted by alchemist at 4:29 AM on October 20, 2017

If anyone is still monitoring this question, especially alchemist, how often do you have to change the batteries? I love the reviews for the ANC7bs, but I really don't want to have to deal with batteries. But I am having a challenge finding the right set of over-the-ear ANC headphones in the budget range.
posted by terrapin at 8:22 AM on February 24, 2018

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