Bose has pretty much dominated the noise-canceling headphone market since the launch of the QuietComfort line over a decade ago. You're bound to see at least a few pairs on any long flight you board, as its class-leading noise cancellation has made its headphones a favorite among frequent travelers.
But if you're looking to buy a pair today, you should take take a look at the $350 Sony WH-1000XM3s. After a week with them, I'm convinced that Sony's newest entry has finally dethroned the Bose QuietComfort 35 II as the best noise-canceling headphones you can buy.
This is the first headset that truly feels like a generational leap forward, with significantly more noise being blocked out by Sony's headset compared to my Bose QC 35 II headphones.
Whereas the QC35s tend to be weak with the highest and lowest tones, the XM3s provide rich bass and crisp highs. Instrument separation is also fantastic for a closed-back pair of headphones. The lack of outside noise allowed me to appreciate details in the music.
Sony's last-generation XM2s matched the QC35s for noise cancellation and bested them on audio quality. While the listening experience was better, livability fell short due to a deeply uncomfortable headband and heavier weight.
The XM3s are still a bulky pair of headphones, but the design has been tweaked to make the band rest softly against your head and prevent ear fatigue during long-term listening sessions.
In over a week with them, I realized I hadn't even bothered to check the battery or charge them. When I did, they had only gone from 80 percent down to 30 percent. Plus, while Bose headphones still use ancient micro-USB connectors, the XM3s charge rapidly thanks to a newer USB-C port.
They also worked well as a headset for phone calls. If you don't want to use Bluetooth, you can use an included 3.5mm headphone jack to plug right into your phone. There's also an adapter that supports old airplane-style two-prong connectors.
Much like the Bose QC35 II's, the XM3s have Google Assistant support built in. After enabling it in the app, Google Assistant can be summoned by pressing the NC/AMBIENT button on the left earcup.
It works well, allowing you to get simple information without pulling out your phone, like the weather or a sports score. Assistant works when paired to either an iPhone or Android, but it's better on Android because it doesn't allow you to send text messages or control hardware settings on iOS. Also, while Bose supports Amazon's Alexa as an alternative, the XM3s only support Google Assistant.
Most controls are handled through a touch-sensitive pad on the right earcup — swipe up or down to adjust volume, slide left or right to change track and double tap to pause. The touchpad control system is cool, but It's less reliable than volume and control buttons found on headphones made by Bose, Sennheiser and others.
Also, the first set Sony sent for review were broken on arrival with an irritating buzzing coming from the right earcup. I'm not sure what caused it, but I didn't have a problem on the second pair.
I also found the Bluetooth experience to be less seamless with the XM3s than the QC35s. While Bose lets you connect to multiple devices at once and automatically swap between them based on which one is outputting audio, the XM3s will only connect to one device at a time. If you like working on your computer but listening to music from your phone, as I do, the XM3s make that more challenging.
But there is one final price you pay: I felt a little silly wearing them. Even compared to the already beefy Bose QC35s, the XM3s were huge on my head.
The Sony WH-1000MX3, more than any other pair of Bluetooth headphones on sale today, can provide peace and quiet nearly anywhere.
They're pricey, at $350, but if you're a frequent traveler in search of something to help cut out the noise of a crying baby on an airplane, consider these even over the Bose QC 35 II headphones.