Home Reviews Entertainmnent What excited me in 2016 – Bluetooth, noise-cancelling headphones

What excited me in 2016 – Bluetooth, noise-cancelling headphones

OPINION Bluetooth, noise-cancelling headphones are a must for any frequent traveller. While there are dozens of brands, four very different ones caught my eye.

This year we have four extremely competent “cans” winning the stakes for sexiest (Parrot Zik 3), value (Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2), best noise-cancelling (Bose Quiet Comfort 35), and best overall if money is not the object (Sennheiser PXC 550).

This year I adopted a paradigm for all sound devices to ensure fair reviews. It is based on the six individual sound signatures and other criteria such as battery life, comfort, usability, connectivity, convenience and of course cost.

The table at the end shows the various “features”, but take it from me – all are excellent and deserve the tick.

Sound Signatures

There are six basic sound signatures that describe the natural state of the headphone. Of course, you can have a combination of two or more, and many have equaliser and sound profile apps that can change the signature entirely.

  • Analytical: (bass/mids recessed, treble boosted)
  • Balanced: (bass boosted, mids recessed, treble boosted)
  • Bass: (bass boosted, mids/treble recessed)
  • Mid: (bass recessed, mids boosted, treble recessed)
  • Warm and Sweet (bass/mids boosted, treble recessed)
  • Bright Vocal (bass recessed, mids/treble boosted)

Audio signatures

To a large degree, it is about your personal preference. Where a Gen Z may prefer head thumping Bass (Monster), a Millennial may prefer Analytical (Beats), Baby Boomers Balanced (Sennheiser) and others like those who are harder of hearing may prefer Bright Vocal (Bose). Jazz lovers prefer Warm and Sweet. But remember that the natural signature is what you get without equaliser and many devices do not have that.

As all these headphones use noise-cancelling (microphones are used to generate white or anti-noise) and all have some form of sound insulation/isolation (over the head and ears) – ear pressure can be a consideration for long periods of use.

Some have Hi-Def music as well using the USB cable (also for recharging). All act as hands-free phones.

And some use touch controls, some use micro-switches and some premium materials and some have better storage cases etc.

BT ParrotParrot Zik 3 – Oh la, la, swanky

I admit to falling in love with the Parrot Zik version 1 designed by Phillipe Starck – frankly, I did not care how they performed!

The Zik 3 – three generations later, is the epitome of good quirky French design, offering everything headphones should – real and colourful leather choices, wireless charging, touch controls, auto-adaptive noise cancelling, USB Hi-res, 5.1 surround mode, 32-bit audio processing, Concert hall/jazz/living room/silent room pre-sets, as well as original artist settings and apps for iOS, Android, and their respective smart watches.

But it has one drawback – battery life is six hours Bluetooth and ANC, 18 hours 3.5mm/ANC, and that is not enough for the long haul. I ended up using the USB cable to charge and for Hi-res sound/data – and that was OK.

It wins the sexiest category hands down – I got more interest from fellow passengers that any other brand. iTWire’s review is here.

BT SennSennheiser PXC 550 – Silence, headphones at work

These are the best all round, definitely for the business end. They look good, feel great, have the “Balanced” Sennheiser sound signature, the incredible battery life of 20 hours with Bluetooth and ANC, touch controls, USB Hi-res sound, and a vast range of sound equalisations.

They are also the most comfortable pair for the long haul. I used these on a couple of 20-hour trips with plenty of battery left!

iTWire's review is here.


BT BoseBose Quiet Comfort 35

Bose have a reputation for the best noise cancelling – although all others in this article came very close.

Sound signature is bright vocal – recessed bass, mid and high boosted and that is good for hard of hearing – but I found that these were behind the Parrot Zik and Sennheiser for music quality. Interestingly my wife prefers these, probably because of the carry case and they are more compact cans.

iTWire’s review is here.

BT PLanPlantronics BackBeat Pro 2

At A$299 these are a steal, offering nearly as much as cans that are twice the price. In the value end of the market, these cannot be beaten.

iTWire’s review is here.


  Parrot Zik 3 Sennheiser PXC 550 Bose* Quiet Comfort 35 Plantronics BackBeat 2
Natural sound signature Balanced Balanced Bright Vocal Bright Vocal
ANC effectiveness (out of 5) 4.5 4.75 5 4
Bluetooth 3.0 4.2 4.1


Class 1 – 100 metre range and multi-pair

NFC Yes Yes Yes No
aptX No Yes No Yes
AD2P Yes Yes ? Yes
AVRCP Yes Yes ?  
DIP Yes Yes ? Yes
HCP/HSP/HFP Yes Yes ? Yes

Android and Android Wear

iOS and Apple Watch

CapTune for iOS and Android Bose Connect for iOS and Android iOS and Android
Sound effects

- Concert Hall

- Jazz Club

- Living room

- Off

- Club

- Movie

- Speech

- Off

Use whatever equalisers you have on the content device Use whatever equalisers you have on the content device
Battery 5V 830mAh 3.7V 700mAh   5V 680mAh
Charge micro-USB (500mAh to 2.1A)

Wireless and cable

3-4 hours

2-3 hours 2-3 hours 3-4 hours
Bluetooth and ANC

6 hours BT/ANC

And up to 17 hours 3.5 and ANC

20 hours BT/ANC

and up to 30 hours 3.5mm and ANC

20 hours BT/ANC and up to 40 audio cable and ANC 24 hours BT/ANC and up to 40 hours 3.5mm and ANC
Controls Touch Touch Push button Push Button
USB Hi-res audio Yes Yes No No

- Fabric covered 1.3m USB-A to microUSB and

- 1.3m 3.5mm audio

- Velvet bag

- USB-A to micro-USB cable

- 3.3mm audio

- Airline adapter

- 3.5 to 6.5mm - - - Folding fabric case

- USB-A to micro-USB cable

- 3.5mm audio

- Airline adapter

- Hard carry case

- USB-A to micro-USB

- 3.5mm audio

- Fabric bag

Weight 270g 227g 310g 289g
  $599 $629 $499 $299

* Note that Bose do not publish full specs.


If money is not the object, then Sennheiser are better in almost every way. Overall it is my choice for the best balance of sound and battery life.

Don’t write off the Bose – they do an amazing job at ANC, but overall offer little more than the Plantronics.

Plantronics is the value end, and that is where the smart money is. For the price they are amazing.

And if you want ultimate style, maybe watch control, and don’t care about how long the battery lasts, the Parrot Zik are an Objet d'art, et C'est Magnifique


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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!