The landscape for noise-canceling headphones has changed over the last few years. Basically, every audio company (and several non-traditional audio companies) has thrown its hat in the ring — more than once — so there are a lot more options to choose from. And while you can buy a decent pair of noise-canceling headphones for less than $100 today, most are going to cost a good deal more than that. Especially if you want the best.
Apple AirPods Max Read More
Master & Dynamic MW75 Read More
Bowers & Wilkins PX8 Read More
Focal Bathys Read More
Mark Levinson No. 5909 Read More
A few years ago, top-of-the-line noise-canceling headphones were capped at around $350. Both Bose and Sony, the two biggest names in noise-canceling headphones, had flagship models that were priced right around there. But since then prices have started to climb upward.
The catalyst for this climb was probably Apple. When it released the AirPods Max in late 2020, the $549 price point blew people away. No way they were going to spend that much on noise-canceling headphones, right? Not so fast. It turns out that people were willing to pay over the odds for more premium or "luxury" products. Fast forward to today and there are quite a few wireless headphones with active noise-cancellation that cost more than $500.
So, what makes these luxury headphones better?
The price of "flagship" noise-canceling headphones has undoubtedly gone up in the past few years — Bose, Sony and Sennheiser now all make models that cost around $400. And when it comes to sound quality, active noise-cancellation and even other advanced features (like fast charging, multipoint Bluetooth and support for immersive audio), you're not probably not going to get much better than these flagship models.
When it comes to sound quality, all wireless headphones are still limited by Bluetooth technology. So while more expensive wireless headphones have more advanced drivers and support higher-resolution codecs, none can truly stream lossless-quality audio even where there are so many music streaming services nowadays that offer it. You're probably not going to notice a huge jump in audio quality when comparing Sony WH-1000XM5 ($399) vs Bowers & Wilkins PX8 ($699), for example.
And when it comes to active noise-cancellation (and transparency) modes, Bose and Sony (and more recently Apple) are still the top dogs. It's true that a lot of other headphone manufacturers have caught up considerably on this front, too, but if you're seeking wireless headphones with the best possible active noise cancellation, you don't actually need to spend more than $400. The Sony WH-1000XM5 and Bose Headphones 700 are still the crème de la crème. So why pay more?
When stepping into the realm of luxury wireless headphones, the main thing you're also paying for is the step-up in materials. Instead of faux leather, you're getting the real thing. And the plastic arms and headbands, you're getting a lot of metal. These more premium materials tend to also be more comfortable (although this isn't always the case and metals generally add more weight, too).
And, of course, these luxury headphones are also a bit of a status symbol. In the same way a really fast car or a really expensive watch is designed to look cool and be shown off, so too are luxury headphones. Are they practical? Probably not for most people. But are they cool? Damn right.
The Luxury Headphones
Apple AirPods Max
The AirPods Max paved the way for more expensive noise-canceling headphones. But aside from the hefty price tag and premium materials — made mostly of stainless steel frame and a breathable knit mesh — the AirPods Max hold the distinction of working better with iPhones than any other noise-canceling headphone. They are integrated with Apple's special H1 chip, which helps them quickly pair with an iPhone, and support spatial audio and Dolby Atmos. They also charge via Lightning.
Master & Dynamic MW75
Master & Dynamic has always been a luxury audio company with headphones that blend premium materials, great sound, distinct style and a pretty steep price tag. And the MW75 are the company's newest flagship noise-canceling headphones. They have a new look, thanks mostly to shimmering tempered glass earcups, but still retain the aluminum frame and leather (lambskin) earcups and headband. They also have a lot of physical buttons (no tap or swipe gestures), which honestly is a godsend.
Bowers & Wilkins PX8
Released in late 2022, the Bowers & Wilkins PX8 are the company's newest flagship pair of noise-canceling headphones. They're essentially a higher-end and more "luxe" version of the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 ($399); the two headphones are identical, but the PX8 replaces the mostly plastic and faux leather design of the PX7 S2 with aluminum and real leather. The sound of the PX8 is also a little more refined thanks to slightly more nuanced drivers.
The Bathys (pronounced "Bath-ees") are the French hi-fi company's first-ever pair of wireless headphones and, as you've probably guessed, they're designed for true music aficionados. They pack the same 40mm M-shaped dome driver as the company's Elear (open-back) and Celestee (closed-back) headphones and thus promise to deliver a wide, rich and accurate sound. And pair that sound with premium materials like magnesium, aluminum and real leather). These are wireless headphones that put sound at the forefront — and you use them as wired hi-fi headphones when at home for an even improved sound — but also can deliver solid active noise-cancellation when you need it.
Mark Levinson No. 5909
At a cool grand, the Mark Levinson No. 5909 are the most expensive wireless noise-canceling headphones you can buy. Their design is mostly made out of anodized aluminum and real leather, and their shape is actually very similar to Master & Dynamic MW75. (In fact, according to Digital Trends, the two headphones actually come from the same original design manufacturer.) With their 40mm Beryllium-coated drivers and support for lossless sound (thanks mostly to supporting LDAC audio files), the No. 5909 promise audio quality that's almost as good as its wired hi-fi headphones.