One of the hottest commodities in the consumer audio world is a good pair of wireless, noise-canceling headphones. 2020 saw the year of some big releases from the likes of first-timers and seasoned veterans, all of which have set high standards for the next year to come. Wireless headphones had a special task this year in particular. With everything going on in the world today, sometimes canceling out the noise and being taken away into worlds of sound can go a long way for your mental health. So let’s talk about which wireless headphones were the most ideal for making your commutes a bit more enjoyable. There were a fair amount of headphones that came out this year, but I’ve narrowed down five models that I beloved stood out among the rest. I believe these selections were the best at achieving the aims of what the manufacturers were trying to accomplish, and obviously, which ones sounded the best fidelity wise. Let’s get into which noise-canceling headphones won the year.
Honerable Mention: Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless
Sennheiser has been a hit with its Momentum line of wireless models in the past, and they released a fine pair of headphones this year as well. I enjoyed them a lot, and I really wanted to put them somewhere on this list. Although I couldn’t find a proper spot for them on this list, I felt I should give them a shout out anyway. The Momentum 3, while not having the greatest noise-canceling tech around, still manages to produce a solid output and a satisfying sound signature for a wireless headphone. The connection is great, with instant pairing and high quality, Bluetooth 5.0 bandwidth.
Their multiple noise-canceling options help personalize the experience without doing too much damage to sound quality. The soundstage and imaging aren’t anything to write home about, but it works for those who love a compact, warm stage for intimate performances with signs of high and low-frequency extension. The Momentum 3 packs a full-bodied bass response that resonates well in their controlled space. The mids stay as equality smooth, as they exhibit fine clarity and separation, while the highs feel energetic with some fine light textures. The Momentum 3 couldn’t make the list officially, since it was released near the tail end of 2019, but I wanted to include it since they still rival a lot of wireless headphones that came out this year.
- Strauss and Wagner ANCBT501
Newcomer Strauss and Wagner released their first wireless over-ear headphone this year, and it quietly became a sleeper hit. With a comfortable fit and simple controls, the BT501 is an accessible wireless headphone that feels inviting to use. Its generous price sitting at just $129.95 makes this headphone a great consumer product that sticks to a genuine friendliness that reflects in its sound signature. The low end satisfied bass-heads while providing clarity in the mids and highs that give this headphone a leg up over a few other popular bass-heavy models. The timbre of the perceived bands are better than they have any right to be for this price point, with a smooth vocal response, and impressionistic, dynamic treble that never appears harsh. It gets number five on my list for being the best budget headphone released in 2020.
- DALI IO-06
One of the more pricy models on this list, sitting at $499, but one worth every penny. The Dali IO-06 presents itself with a confident, solid style that reflects in overall comfort. The build quality is the makeup of quality parts that act as the ideal fit for a pair of wireless headphones. The design of the cups sports a non-pressured design with comfy pads and a solid headband. The Dali sports button press cups that are tight, responsive, and simple. The noise-canceling is pretty special. It attenuates an ample amount of noise while at the same time minimizing the pressure other noise-canceling models might cause, and with little to no signs of effecting fidelity. Much like the previous entry, the Dali features a large bass with clarity in the mids and highs. This is a more neutral timbre than Strauss and Wagner, but it leaves room for a wider variety of genre satisfaction. The Dali makes my list for being one of the more solid, all-around purchases you can make on a wireless headphone this year.
- Bowers and Wilkins PX7
The freshest looking cans on this list, the PX7 sports a classy, elegant physical design that’ll be sure to catch people’s eyes during your morning commutes. “Wow, I wonder what those sound like” they’ll say, and they’ll sound pretty great. Thick bass, dynamic mids, and some sibilant highs, you’ll find that this sound signature contains a good amount of character that excels with most genres. Bass is especially impressive, as the dynamic response aims well for grip and impact. The noise-canceling abilities are solid and get most of the job done, attenuating engines, and vents well enough. The PX7 just makes my list for having most of the qualities of the Dali IO-06 but for just a hundred dollars less.
- Sony WH-1000XM4
The most controversial pick in my top 5 list. I have personally, rarely found enjoyment from this series, however, sometimes I need to put my personal biases aside and appreciate what makes these headphones so popular in the first place. The look and fit are adequate, but it’s the technology applied in these headphones that really make them a stand out product. I have qualms with the sound signature the XM series has sported since it was conceived, but not every consumer headphone needs to have a high fidelity sound, and for most rock, pop, and hip-hop genres and sub-genres, the quality will satisfy enough. People buy these headphones for exceptional noise-canceling, and Bluetooth technology. The multi-point connection and DSEE capabilities are great innovations in headphone design that you have to applaud Sony for. Ambient aware options are better than ever, and though the touch gestures aren’t perfect, they’re getting better and better with each iteration from this series. The XM4 makes my list for continuing to be the industry leader in noise-canceling design and finding more ways to stir up the headphone game.
- Shure Aonic 50
My number one pick is Shure’s first wireless noise-canceling headphone, which I found to be just so incredible in almost every facet. The fact that this is their first foray into noise-canceling is astounding, as the effect matches the level of the XM4 while showing little to no effect on the sound signature. It’s functionally flawless, with responsive playback controls, and easy switch ANC. The Aonic 50 offers the best sound quality you’re going to find in a new model this year, with an excellent stage that uses a wider stereo field than I’m used to hearing on a wireless headphone. The bass is buttery smooth, with flat mids, and controlled highs that have just enough sparkle to stand out. The coloration of the sound signature places the Aonic 50 so incredibly high already, and it offers more Bluetooth CODECs than the XM4, as well as a larger driver. The Aonic 50 takes the number one spot on my list for being the best jack of all trades in the way of wireless headphones, and for being Shure’s only first foray in the headphone game.
Look for my top 5 of 2020 at Audio 46
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