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Noise-canceling headphones — available commercially since the mid-1990s — are now go-tos for flights, home offices and loud work environments. But they aren’t beloved by everyone. The Hollywood Reporter spoke with prominent composers and sound designers to get their recommendations for the best headphones and discovered that while some pros love them, many don’t — because, as composer Diane Warren puts it, “I want the true sound.”
Eight-time Oscar nominee Wylie Stateman (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) wears headphones for hours, and he finds noise-canceling options fatiguing. “Unless you’re listening in a noisy environment, I would not use them,” he says. “In order to cancel outside noise, they produce anti-noise that reduces the sound that is entering your ear.” He prefers Sennheiser’s HD series ($80 up to $2,400, en-us.sennheiser.com), which are “designed to isolate noise rather than cancel.” He goes for their wireless options that also fit over the ear. (On-the-ear headphones, he finds, “get hot.”)
Composer and orchestrator Jonathan Beard (Us, Godzilla: King of the Monsters) favors the “extremely comfortable” non-noise-canceling Listen Professional ($299, focal.com) headphones from French brand Focal for personal and professional use. “The sound quality is really good but also really flat, frequency-wise, so it’s not hyping any certain signals more than any others,” he says. “That’s valuable because I can trust what I am hearing.”
Oscar-nominated composer Terence Blanchard (Harriet, BlacKkKlansman) recommends two sets of non-noise-canceling headphones: the AKG K701 ($449, akg.com) and the Beyerdynamic 880 PRO ($249, north-america.beyerdynamic.com), relying on them for their “honesty of sound, tonal balance and clarity.”
Fans of noise-canceling headphones include Oscar-nominated sound editor Julian Slater (Baby Driver) and composer Marcelo Zarvos (Fences), both of whom use Sony’s WH-1000XM3 headphones (discontinued; $398 for newest model, WH-1000XM5). “I really like to mix score when there’s noise around me, and the noise-canceling helps me have a kind of audio bubble,” says Zarvos. “I find that if the music can cut through the environment I’m in, whether a plane or the subway, it’s part of my process.”
Ben Wilkins, who won a sound mixing Oscar for Whiplash, also goes the noise-canceling route. “It’s a very intimate thing. Think about someone whispering in your ear,” says Wilkins, who likes the Bose QuietComfort 35 ($280, bose.com). “They’re not the newest ones, but they just work better.” He uses them for travel, watching films in flight and listening to music. “And they’re not super-fancy,” he adds, “so you don’t feel as self-conscious putting them on as you would putting on a $900 pair of headphones on a plane.”
Below, shop some of the best noise-canceling headphones recommended by sound experts, including the latest models of the above-mentioned gear.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II Bluetooth Headphones
MORE BUYING OPTIONS: Bose | Amazon | Best Buy (QuietComfort 45)
Focal Listen Pro Closed-Back Reference Studio Headphones
Sennheiser HD 350BT Headphones
MORE BUYING OPTIONS: Sennheiser | Amazon | Best Buy
AKG K701 Ultra Reference Class Stereo Headphones
Beyerdynamic 880 Pro Headphones
MORE BUYING OPTIONS: Beyerdynamic | Amazon
Sony WH-1000XM5 Headphones (Latest Model)
MORE BUYING OPTIONS: Sony | Amazon | Best Buy
Sept. 22, 4:07 p.m. Updated with latest models and purchase information.
This story first appeared in the Dec. 19, 2019 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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