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How to choose the best noise cancelling headphones and earbuds

The best noise cancelling headphones and earbuds can do a lot more than just cancel noise. Which pair is perfect for you? This guide will help you decide.

You’re trying to relax on a long flight, but the roar of the engine isn’t exactly soothing. You’re working on a presentation at an outdoor café, but the people at the table three metres away are so noisy it seems like they’re thirty centimetres away. You’re working on a personal best on the treadmill at the gym, but need an extra layer of focus to finish strong. In situations like these, noise cancelling headphones can offer the buffer you need to tune out distractions and interruptions.

But with so many options to choose from, how do you know which noise cancelling headphones are best for you? It’s as easy as reading on. From features to form factors, we’ll cover the topics that matter most. 

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Noise cancelling you control

Believe it or not, noise cancellation is all about using one kind of sound to eliminate another. Imagine the whirl of a blender or the drone of a vacuum cleaner. To neutralise the distracting noise, it takes an equal but opposite signal. In theory, it’s as simple as 1 + (-1) = 0. 

In reality, it takes some pretty sophisticated acoustic engineering to work. On your Bose noise cancelling headphones and earbuds, there are external microphones that monitor the sounds around you, like that annoying blender or vacuum cleaner. Meanwhile, internal microphones monitor the sound inside your ear canal. In a fraction of a millisecond, the headphones use all this information to produce an equal and opposite signal to precisely counteract the external noise—essentially erasing it. Hasta la vista, blender. Sayonara, vacuum cleaner.

While all Bose noise cancelling products have the power to isolate you from the world outside, there are several options that offer the additional benefit of adjustable noise cancellation. This handy feature enables you to decide exactly how much of the outside world you want to hear—like the barista calling your name or the flight attendant giving preflight safety instructions. 

In fact, Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 and Bose QuietComfort® Earbuds allow you to personalize your listening environment with 11 different noise cancelling levels. Crank up the noise cancellation to neutralise coffee grinders, blenders and gossip at the café. Minimise it if you want to hear traffic when you’re out jogging in town. Or choose any level in between that suits your mood. And when you need to pause the music altogether to interact with the world around you, use Conversation mode. This handy feature lets you briefly talk to a co-worker, order a cup of coffee or listen to an in-flight message without the hassle of removing an earbud or the headphones. On the earbuds, just double-tap the left bud to cycle through your noise cancelling favourites. On the headphones, there’s a button on the left earcup. Or if you prefer, turn on Conversation mode through the Bose Music app.

QuietComfort® 35 wireless headphones II have three levels of noise cancelling that are easy to switch between. QuietComfort® 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones give you the option of Aware mode, which uses the headphones’ built-in microphone to capture external noises that you can hear inside your headphones with the press of a button—without taking them off. It’s an ideal feature for anyone who wants to tune out, but still needs to be able to tune in.

Voice control

Everyone could use an assistant sometimes. When emails pile up, meetings never end and your calendar is bursting at the seams, a little help can go a long way. Fortunately, Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 and QuietComfort® 35 wireless headphones II are both optimised for Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa*, which can lighten your load by helping with some of the small details of your everyday life. You’re just a voice command away from checking your appointments for the day or scheduling a reminder to grab your dry cleaning after work. (Voice commands and controls may vary.)

Voice pickup

You’re working from home, juggling a presentation for your client, some video games for your kids and a well-deserved smoothie for yourself. Thanks to the superior voice pickup of Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, you won’t have to worry about the racket around you when you receive a phone call. Bose Headphones 700 feature a cutting-edge four-microphone system that isolates your voice while cancelling the background noise around you. It’s a voice pickup leader, not only among Bose headphones, but also in the market at large. That means important clients won’t hear the whirl of the blender or your child’s cry of victory at a new high score. You’ll hear and be heard almost as if you were talking face-to-face in a quiet room.

And if it’s even possible to take voice control to the next level, Bose Headphones 700 UC are designed to help you work better, wherever your workspace is. Bundled with the Bose USB Link Bluetooth® module, this special version of Headphones 700 delivers a convenient, pre-paired wireless experience for conference calls. Together, the headphones and module are Microsoft Teams certified. They also work with Google Meet and are compatible with Zoom. So you can conduct meetings and collaborate with confidence.

Like both versions of Headphones 700, the microphone system in Bose QuietComfort® Earbuds is also designed to help you communicate clearly to people over the phone and to your voice assistant. But because earbuds are so much smaller than earcups, there are fewer microphones to do the job. So while the voice pickup of QuietComfort® Earbuds isn’t at the same level as Headphones 700, it is as good as or better than any other true wireless earbud on the market.

Touch controls

Because we count on our smartphones to do so many things for us, we’re constantly engaging with them. When that happens, our heads go down and we disengage from our surroundings—until now. With Bose Noise Cancelling 700 and Bose QuietComfort® Earbuds, you can control your content without looking at—or even touching—your phone.

With a series of simple touch gestures, you can accept and end calls, adjust your volume, play and pause your content, change noise cancelling levels and more.

Finding your perfect fit

Your headphones should feel as great as they sound. When shopping around, find out what kind of headphones are the best fit best for you—and your lifestyle.

If wireless over-the-ear headphones are a must, Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 and QuietComfort® 35 wireless headphones II surround your ears like a hug. The adjustable headband helps make a secure seal around your ears without putting added pressure on your head.

If you prefer the sleeker look and feel of an in-ear option, consider Bose QuietComfort® Earbuds. With true wireless headphones, there’s a delicate balance between having a bud that feels just right in your ear and having a bud that feels stable. If the bud is too soft, it can lack the structure it needs to stay in place. Just as bad, it could be so rigid it will never fall out, but so uncomfortable you wouldn’t want to wear it. After years of researching the issue, Bose engineers created the StayHear™ Max eartip for Bose QuietComfort® Earbuds. These eartips are comfortable enough to wear for hours, but versatile enough to be used for virtually any activity. 

QuietComfort® 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones feature the StayHear+ tips. For maximum comfort, the cone-shaped tip spreads contact evenly across the ear and forms a gentle seal that contributes to the headphones’ full-spectrum noise reduction. The best noise cancelling earbuds fit snugly inside your ears so you can exercise more easily or wear a winter hat comfortably when the temperature drops.

Battery life

You’re settling in for a long flight. Although you’re looking forward to relaxing, and perhaps even taking a nap, there’s a group of talkative passengers behind you. Luckily, you’ve got your noise cancelling headphones with you. You pull them out of your bag, put them on, then sit back to enjoy a sleep-inducing soundtrack. Not so fast: Just as you start to drift to sleep, the battery dies, the music stops and the chatter behind you jolts you awake again.

Managing your battery level can be a nuisance, and waiting anxiously for it to charge is never fun. Fortunately, Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 and QuietComfort® 35 wireless headphones II have superior batteries that provide up to 20 hours of continuous listening. Plus, they come with cables that come in handy when your battery dies, and you don’t have time to charge it.

Bose QuietComfort® Earbuds offer up to 6 hours of uninterrupted listening time. When you’re not wearing your earbuds, be sure to store them in the wireless charging case. When the case is fully powered up, it has enough juice to give the earbuds two additional full charges. All told, that’s up to 18 total hours of battery life.

A few last thoughts

When it comes to must-have features for your new headphones, what’s at the top of your list? If you had “lifelike audio performance” or “powerful noise cancellation,” conventional wisdom would point you to an over-ear option. But right now, conventional wisdom is seriously rethinking its point of view. That’s because Bose® QuietComfort Earbuds offer audio and noise cancellation that’s every bit as astonishing as our best over-ear headphones. With that critical matter settled, you’re free to think about which form factor best suits your lifestyle.   

Whether you’re a world traveller who’s looking for a relaxing travel experience, a remote worker who’s searching for some peace and quiet, an athlete for whom music is fuel or a commuter who wants to tune out the outside world, Bose has the perfect fit and features for you. Armed with the information in this guide, you can determine what kind of listener you are—and more importantly, what kind of noise cancelling headphones you need.

* Voice assistants are not available in all countries and may vary. Bose smart products voice assistant availability.
Product availability may vary by country


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