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ANC headphones are becoming worse or are at least stagnating since 8 years (proof(?) inside)

anphex

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Bose. Sony. Focal. Sennheiser.

All of them are basically the quaternity of reasonable ANC headphones with good noise reduction and sound quality. But due to some semi necessary research for new, and better, headphones from my Bose QC 35 Gen1 and skimming through all ASR, Crinnacle and Rtings reviews I noticed something disapponting: NONE of all those manufacturers have headphones have any real improvement in noise cancellation or audio quality, don't they?!

The biggest improvements?
Smart assistants, transparency mode, slightly cleaner bluetooth codecs and ... yeah, that's it.

A a baseline I used my about 8 year old QC35 and fortunately I found a in depth review from Rtings.
To keep it simple, I'll focus on the three most important metrics for ANC headphones : frequency response, distortion and noise reduction performance

Have a look at these side by side images. Frequency response since the 2016 QC35Gen1 has mostly been pretty close to the harman standard. Thing is, these slight deviations can be fixed since all of these ANCs have very good distortion and can handle gracious EQ tweaks, enabling them to be tweaked to reference with little effort. Or you take the Focal Bathys for about 500 $ if you don't want to have any trouble and a clean frequency response. But this adds about 300 $ to the average ANC headphone price. And since you will about always use these headphones from a digital source, EQ is always possible.

FR comparison
merged_FR_graph.png


Distortion comparison
merged_distortion_graph.png


Next is the noise reduction performance. The Bose Ultra have a noticable edge here but it's still no revolution.

Noise reduction comparison
merged_noise_graph.png



Am I missing something or am I too picky? I honestly don't see any reason to upgrade my 8 year old QC35 wireless unless I really really want that aptxHD or a slightly better noise cancellation with the bose ultra.
But for now I'll just buy new ear cushions and keep my QC35 Gen1 for at least a few more years with Equalizer Apo on PC and Poweramp EQ on my phone.
 
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: NONE of all those manufacturers have headphones [that] have any real improvement in noise cancellation ... don't they?!

I might be wrong, but I believe that there is a consideration in noise cancellation for non-industrial products that takes liability into consideration. There are certain things, such as emergency alarms and back-up signals, that need to be clear to the headphone user, or there could be dire consequences. The same goes for proximity effects for large moving objects, whether vehicles or simply materials not under control. Needless to say, voice warnings also need to be able to get through.

I would never use noise cancellation in situations that could reasonably result in harm or injury, but manufacturers are undoubtedly aware that some people would not exercise such caution.

Jim
 

Moonhead

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I regret selling my QC35II and are considering Moondrop IEM, because almost any new nc headphone is waste of money.

My wife had QC45 but got rid of them fast as the where worse than her older Bose 700, especially for phone calls.

My 12y kid has Momentum 4 for the
only reason it has 60h of battery life and are somewhat rugged!
 
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anphex

anphex

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I might be wrong, but I believe that there is a consideration in noise cancellation for non-industrial products that takes liability into consideration. There are certain things, such as emergency alarms and back-up signals, that need to be clear to the headphone user, or there could be dire consequences. The same goes for proximity effects for large moving objects, whether vehicles or simply materials not under control. Needless to say, voice warnings also need to be able to get through.

I would never use noise cancellation in situations that could reasonably result in harm or injury, but manufacturers are undoubtedly aware that some people would not exercise such caution.

Jim
Actually very good point I did not think about yet. I use them solely for office and treadmill as they are too bulky to be used when going out. But there are times where I used them hiking next to a street or while riding the train. Now remembering those moments, I think I was mindful of that missing noise and was extra cautious with my vision - always having a eye on vehicles or other persons faces to see if everything is still alright.

Then again when listening to rather loud music on ANY headphones you probably have issues hearing anything. It's not rare in Berlin to see people completely oblivious to a incoming car or bicycle even when they are using normal IEMs or just ear pods.

So in a way ANC headphones with the rather new transparency mode are an upgrade to fix exactly this issue. I bet in the future there will be a small AI assistant chip that enables this transparency mode automatically when picking up horns, sirens or just a bicycle bell. Even with todays gadgets this should be doable.
 
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I just took a look at the Rtings info for a handful of these, and it's pretty clear that - at least for the Sony WF-1000XM series, they've improved substantially with every release.
And that more or less matches my anecdotal evidence, having owned the WF-1000 XM3, XM4 and XM5.

According to the info on Rtings, it looks like the newer headphones do substantially better at blocking lower frequencies, as well. They consider bass as going up to 150 Hz, so that includes a lot of human voice. If you're using these at work, like i do, then an upgrade could make a huge difference.

I know this info is for the earbuds, but my understanding is that the Sony earbuds have more or less identical performance to the noise cancelling over-ears.
 

Curvature

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Bose Ultra have a noticable edge here but it's still no revolution.

Noise reduction comparison
merged_noise_graph.png
The updates to ANC algorithms have to do with how they handle different types of noise. Those performance figures vary more than you would think. Traffic vs. crowds vs. other things. The test by RTings is not very revealing in that sense.

I would add Apple to the list.

As far as the rest goes, I don't know.
 

bodhi

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I just took a look at the Rtings info for a handful of these, and it's pretty clear that - at least for the Sony WF-1000XM series, they've improved substantially with every release.
And that more or less matches my anecdotal evidence, having owned the WF-1000 XM3, XM4 and XM5.
I have the same experience, having owned four of the newest models. XM5 is very, very good in what it does. It also sounds decent with a little EQ.
 
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anphex

anphex

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I have the same experience, having owned four of the newest models. XM5 is very, very good in what it does. It also sounds decent with a little EQ.

Not saying they are bad, they just didn't evolve. At the very left of each comparision chart is the first gen Bose QC35 wireless (I think it was the very first ANC with wireless). At the very right the LATEST Sony top tier ANC. Looking at the data, there is barely a difference.
 
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anphex

anphex

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I was also wondering the same when observing Rtings measurements over the past years, as if most companies found out that most people prefer an upper bass boost above the not bass lacking Harman target...
They usually do this to make up for lack of very low end, but all these headphones have plenty of low end so it wouldn't make much sense. All the bass above 70 Hz usually sounds boomy and annoying if there's too much.
 

thewas

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They usually do this to make up for lack of very low end, but all these headphones have plenty of low end so it wouldn't make much sense. All the bass above 70 Hz usually sounds boomy and annoying if there's too much.
Exactly, I wish we would know the reasons behind.
 

ninetylol

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From my experience ANC got even worse over time. I still use my XM3 which has the best ANC according to multiple objective datapoints.
Sony for example ruined their ANC with the XM5 with some implementation of "smart AI anc adaption", which just makes ANC worse 99% of the time. I still cant believe how Sony engineers havent been fired for such a downgrade.

Also had the Bose Ultra Headphones here, they were still worse from an ANC standpoint to the XM3 and future reviews confirmed my experience.

Its a pity.
 

ninetylol

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Iems got better, but full size - nope.

Also my ears dont support iems, so sadly not for me (also tried the Bose II)
 

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Am I seeing the same thing? According to rtings they improved bass anc by 17db, that's huge.

I'm totally satisfied with my xm3, mind you, I just wish the eq was a bit more granular.
 

ninetylol

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Am I seeing the same thing? According to rtings they improved bass anc by 17db, that's huge.

I'm totally satisfied with my xm3, mind you, I just wish the eq was a bit more granular.
no they decreased bass anc by ~17db. its because their smart anc crap doesnt work at all. (you have to put a full blown hairdryer next to earcups to have full anc for a few seconds)
 
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