I’ve churned through many reviews on wireless headphones lately not wanting to miss out on a good Black Friday deal and will attempt to summarize here what I’ve found. I’m not an audiophile. I am a woman just trying to listen to good quality sound and sometimes block out noise. Here’s a female perspective on what appears to be an extremely male dominated consumer niche.
Seriously. Out of the dozens of reviews I’ve read and watched, only one reviewer was female. If you look at product images for older versions of what most people consider top of the line consumer headphones, you’d think that only men listen to music. At least the marketing of the latest models from these brands include photos like the one above from Bose of their QuietComfort 35 II’s.
As a petite woman, I’ve historically been uninspired by over-the-ear headphone technology because these headphones have been so freaking huge that only gamers and hardcore nerds could pull off that look, and they were only pulling it off because they didn’t care what it looked like.
Now there are more color options, different silhouettes and sizes to choose from, and enticing technological advances. The industry seems to acknowledge that women exist now – barely. There certainly is more room to cater to women, in my opinion.
Fashion bloggers’ pick
In my research I found that the FRENDS headphone was a popular choice for fashion bloggers. They come in on-trend colors like white and rose gold (see photo below), photograph well, seem to flatter the female face better than the top-of-the-line go-to brands, and are wireless. They aren’t readily available to try in a brick and mortar store here though and I assumed the sound quality wasn’t going to be anywhere near Bose or competitors in their tier. They also don’t appear to be noise cancelling (please correct me if I’m wrong), which makes them fairly pricey at over $200.
I spend way too much time on J.Crew’s website so I was peripherally aware of the Urbanears brand because they carried one of their models fairly recently. The Urbanears Plattan II looks great, is wireless, and is much more affordable than top-of-the-line models. Some reviewers thought they were not as durable as expected over the long haul. I couldn’t find the Plattan II for sale in the US anywhere, but Nordstrom carries the similar Plattan ADV. The fabric headband is removable and machine washable, and you get 14 hours of battery life in a charge. They come in a lot of colors and seem smaller and sleeker than most other options. I can see why J.Crew chose to carry these, and while they no longer do, they are conveniently available at Nordstrom in six fun colors.
Most Affordable and Best Minimalist: Urbanear Plattan ADV
The award for coolest looking headphone goes to the Marshall Major II. It looks like something Ron Burgundy would wear if he were a radio DJ instead of an anchorman. In other words, the overall look including the brown colorway and faux leather finishes reminds me of the 70s in the best way. I want to buy these just to wear as a headband. They also look smaller than leading headphone brands’ models, but still over-the-ear (possibly actually on ear, not sure), and they come in brown (my favorite), white, and black. I wish I could comment on sound quality but all I know for sure is that they’re not noise cancelling. Best Buy has these on sale right now for under $100.
Coolest style: Marshall Major II
The Sony XB950N1 were just next to the Sony WH-1000X mk2’s at Best Buy that I went there specifically to try so I gave these a try as well. These seemed a little lighter and definitely a lot more comfortable (less squeeze) than the Sony WH-1000X mk2. I thought they were even more comfortable than the Bose QuietComfort 35 II. Unfortunately the sound is extremely bass heavy (“Extra Bass” is technically part of this product’s name, great if that is what you’re looking for), doesn’t have the cool swipe features (see below) or the longer battery life and wireless range of the Sony WH-1000X mk2’s and the thick earphone padding makes you look too much like Maz Kanata from Star Wars. There are a few different color options and they cost significantly less than the Sony WH-1000X mk2. This would be a good choice for someone that prioritizes comfort and/or wants good audio quality and noise cancelling in a wireless unit but does not want to shell out for pricier models.
From here on out, the headphones will make you look like Maz Kanata if you are petite. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a women’s fit option though for these higher end models? Partnerships with artists like Michael De Feo to give these utilitarian devices some pizazz? Why not. Life is short. Flowers on everything.
Most comfortable: Sony XB950N1 in Titanium (could not find any images of women wearing these, is that a bad sign?)
Best audio quality
I thought the Bose QuietComfort 35 II’s had better audio quality than the Sony WH-1000X mk2’s. The latter just had too much bass out of the box (more on this later). The QC35’s were also lighter and more comfortable than the Sony WH-1000X mk2, and reviewers noted how spacious the interior ear pad is such that they are comfortable to wear over extended periods of time without your ears heating up or sweating. But they only come in two colors, black and silver, and I doubt the shape of these headphones has changed much in the last decade. Bose also makes two other wireless noise cancelling models that are smaller in size, the SoundLink around ear wireless headphones II and the on-ear wireless headphones, but I thought the QC 35’s were the most comfortable. The only major difference I saw between the 35 II and the older 35 version was that the 35 II has a dedicated Google Assistant button. At fairly similar price points, one could go either way.
Best sound: Bose QuietComfort 35 and 35 II
Best noise cancelling
Reviewers seemed to agree that the Sony WH-1000X mkII had better noise cancelling than the Bose QC 35 or 35 II. The Sony WH-1000X mkII also has a cool feature where you can place your hand on the earphone and ambient sound is mic’d in so you can have a conversation or hear what’s going on around you without removing your headphones. There is also an ambient noise feature that you can enable to hear what’s going on around you while wearing the headphones. Rather than cumbersome buttons, one can control volume and playlist with light swipes on the earphone. These Sony’s also have longer battery life and wireless range than the QC 35 series. The sound is bass heavy, but equalizer settings can be adjusted in an app. Downsides include these are immediately noticeably heavier than the QC35 series, initially less comfortable, and have less spacious ear pads such that some reviewers’ ears touched the inside of the ear pad and one reviewer noted ear sweating after extended use.
Best noise cancelling: Sony WH-1000X mk2
Side by side comparison summary
Bose QC 35/35 II v Sony WH-1000X mk2
Weight: Bose > Sony
Comfort: Bose > Sony
Sound: Bose > Sony
Noise cancelling: Sony > Bose (based on others’ reviews, both seem very good)
Aesthetics: Sony > Bose (you may disagree? please let me know below)
Features: Sony > Bose (that swipe technology though)
Battery life: Sony > Bose
Wireless range: Sony > Bose
Durability: = (I am convinced that both are equally well made, despite reviewers reporting a headband cracking problem on the older Sony 1000X)
Price: Sony > Bose (they are priced the same retail, but the Sony apparently goes on sale while I do not expect the 35 II to go on sale any time soon, though if you opt for the older 35 model it is only about a $30 price difference between the 35 and mk2 right now with both on sale for Black Friday)
Sony also makes the smaller profile h.ear on 2 Mini Wireless which comes in a wider range of colors. It can’t stand up to the WH-1000X mk2 in terms of overall specs, but does cost a lot less. There’s not much in the way of reviews or attention online for these, and they seem to be heavily geared towards women. Sony’s website says “Try them with your favorite outfit” and “The headband adapts to fit your head shape and hair style, helping you look your best.” Just based on stock product images alone, I actually think the mk2’s look better on the female Sony models than the h.ear on 2 Mini Wireless, but maybe in person it’s the opposite.
Downside for all of these
I think with wireless technology an industry wide issue is that the battery WILL eventually not be able to hold a charge and cannot be replaced easily. Some reviewers said Bose will replace the battery on the QC 35 for somewhere between two and three hundred dollars, not far from the price of a new pair of headphones. I’m not sure about Sony (TechRadar says Sony does not offer battery replacement on the 1000X so it seems reasonable to assume the same is true for the 1000X mk2) or the other brands covered here, but think it’s reasonable to assume that these are all unfortunately rather disposable because of this design issue. I believe the Bose QC 25 and earlier run on standard AAA (or AA?) batteries that are easily replaced (especially in an airport or something) rather than the lithium ion batteries that all the latest wireless models most likely employ. Unfortunately the Bose QC 25 and earlier are not wireless.
Best headphone reviews online
And the award for Best Headphone Reviews goes to Jimmy at JimsReviewRoom on YouTube. He’s reviewed all of the best headphones on the market right now, and also does side by side comparison reviews like this one (Bose QC 35 II vs Sony WH-1000X). Beautifully produced and packed with useful analysis that a layperson can understand, his channel was the single most useful resource for deciding where to invest in headphones.
Black Friday 2017 deals
Best Buy seems to be leading the pack on pricing for electronics and tech, as usual, with Amazon competitively price matching in real time.
Which headphones do you use?