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The best earbuds for travel can all but eliminate the stress – and boredom – of long travel days, allowing you to tune out the noise and relax with music, podcasts and movies. And while over-the-ear headphones offer comfort, earbuds have the significant advantage of portability. Unlike headphones, earbuds can be slipped in a pocket when not in use, and don’t take up any valuable space in your bag.
Luckily, there has never been a better time to invest in some high-quality, noise-cancelling earbuds for travel. The best earbuds offer effective noise-cancellation technology, reliable wireless connectivity and premium sound quality. In short, this small piece of tech can make a huge difference when flying, road tripping or commuting.
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Travel Earbuds Buying Guide
Earbuds come in many styles, and while it’s easy to fit a pair of good earbuds online, without a bit of research you can easily wind up with an ill-fitting or under-performing pair. Below are a few key features to keep in mind while shopping for the best earbuds online.
Battery: All the best features are useless if your earbuds are dead. Because earbuds should last at an entire day of travel (even long-haul flights) we’ve given battery life extra weight in our ranking. Most wireless earbuds will last about 15 to 30 hours in total, with about five to seven hours battery before using a charging case.
Wireless vs. True Wireless: Wireless headphones don’t need to be connected to anything, but the two buds are linked with a cord. True wireless headphones, on the other hand, are two individual buds not connected by a cord. We’ve stuck to the latter — true wireless — as we think any cords can get in the way while you’re on-the-go.
Noise Cancellation: When a brand says that their headphones reduce noise, they don’t always mean the same thing. Some earbuds simply cancel more noise with better technology, while others offer more adjustability. This means you’ll be able to customize noise-reduction to outside noise levels, and avoid total (sometimes unsafe) disconnection from the world.
Comfort: Because you’ll probably have your earbuds in for most of the day while traveling, comfort is very important. Look for ergonomically-designed earbuds, as well as options with multiple-sized tips to fit your ear.
1. Sennheiser Momentum 2 True Wireless Earbuds
Sennheiser’s second iteration of the Momentum true wireless earbuds tick just about every box, but their best accomplishment is battery life. The Momentum 2 earbuds boast seven hours of continuous listening, plus another 21 hours of juice in the charging case. This brings the total battery life to a whopping 28 hours, which is more than enough for a whole day of international travel. It’s the most impressive playtime on our list – both for a single charge (i.e. without using the charging case) and total battery life.
But fantastic battery life isn’t the Momentum 2’s only strong suit. Active noise cancellation (ANC) means you can tune out the sound of airplane engines, droning car motors or urban clamor while commuting. Sound quality is also top-notch – as expected from Sennheiser – with thumping bass (for tiny earbuds), balanced mids and crisp highs.
In terms of control, the Momentum 2s offer two things: customizable on-board touch controls, as well as Sennheiser’s Smart Control companion app for further sound adjustment and customization. From within the app you can change the touch controls to your liking (both earbuds are equipped with touch controls). The Smart Control App also lets you play with equalizers for a tailored sound. Plus, removing the headphones automatically pauses the music.
We’re also fans of the Momentum 2’s design. The earbuds look good with high-quality materials and a snazzy charging case, but they’re also quite comfortable thanks to an ergonomic design and four sizes of silicone tips. With an IPX4 water-resistance rating, you can also wear these in the rain or while working out as well.
2. Sony WF-1000XM3 Earbuds
Sony is one of the current leaders in the headphone market, and they’ve been able to downsize the same noise-cancelling technology in their headphones into these compact WF-1000XM3 earbuds. Using dual sensors in each earbud, the WF-1000XM3s pick up outside noise and block as needed. For such a small device, they’re quite impressive noise-cancellers. They also automatically switch to “ambient mode,” which lets in more sound, when the earbuds sense activity (say, when you’re walking down the street).
The WF-1000XM3s are designed with long-period comfort in mind, but they’re also engineered for security. To wear the earbuds, you place the tip in your ear and then twist backwards to secure in place. Using the structure of your ear, the headphones stay locked in place yet comfortable. You also get four differently-sized silicone tips for a better fit.
And, thanks to industry-leading sound quality, you won’t want to take out these comfy buds. The WF-1000XM3s use 6mm drivers and 24bit audio signal processing to render an expansive soundstage. Whether you’re listening to rock, hip-hop or podcasts, expect full, balanced sound.
Battery life is very good with the WF-1000XM3s with six hours on a single charge and another 18 hours in the charging case. This is about as much as you can ask for from a earbuds, although not quite as much as the Sennheisers above.
3. Bose QuietComfort Noise-Cancelling Earbuds
When it comes to noise-cancellation technology, Bose is often considered the best in the business. These QuietComfort earbuds let you control the active noise cancellation with three levels, including a transparent mode that pipes in outside noises. These levels can be adjusted by touching the earbud or opening up the Bose companion app.
In addition to Bose’s award-winning active noise cancellation technology, the headphones also feature passive noise cancellation thanks to umbrella-shaped silicone tips. These tips are also very comfortable thanks to their ergonomic design and three different tip sizes. Needless to say, sound quality is also fantastic, as is the case with most of Bose’s products.
Another area where the QuietComfort earbuds do very well is control. Like most earbuds, they feature on-board controls for pause/play and cycling noise-cancellation level. But the QuietComfort earbuds also let you control volume by swiping up and down on the right earbud. This comes in very handy for travelers, as you won’t need to fish your phone out of your pocket to change the volume while, say, walking through the airport.
Battery-wise, the Bose earbuds boast six hours of battery on a single charge, which is great, but the charging case only offers two more full charges. This means the total battery life is 18 hours, which is solid, although not anywhere near as good as the Sennheiser (28 hours) or Sony earbuds (24 hours) above.
4. Apple AirPods Pro
Like most Apple products, there is a heated debate as to whether the AirPods Pro are great or not. But the truth is, if you use an iPhone and/or a Macbook, the AirPods Pro are fantastic – especially for traveling. Unsurprisingly, AirPods’ integration with other Apple products is seamless, as you can instantly connect to iPhones, iPads and Macbooks and easily switch between multiple devices. Plus, you can activate Siri by saying “Hey, Siri,” which comes in handy while cycling or driving.
The AirPods Pro also get top marks for portability, as they’re smaller and lighter than the competitors. They take up less pocket space, which always seems to be in short supply while traveling.
Active noise-cancellation in the AirPods Pro is quite good, cutting out most ambient noises. They also feature Transparent Mode that brings in outside noises to sound like you’re not wearing earbuds. After using the AirPods Pro for about six months, I’ve found that, in noise-cancelling mode, they do a good job of cutting out traffic noises, mechanical humming in my office and the majority of that airplane engine drone. However, they aren’t too good at eliminating conversation-level noises.
Battery life with the AirPods Pro is good, although not the best. You get about four and a half hours on one charge, and the charging case brings total battery life up to a solid 24 hours.
5. Jabra Elite 85t
These Elite 85t earbuds from Jabra are another worthy contender for your travel tech kit. Although they’re considerably less expensive than our other picks, sound quality is still very high thanks to 12mm speakers with deep bass and clear high notes.
Like our other picks, the Elite 85t buds come equipped with cutting-edge active noise-cancellation. They adapt to ambient noise, providing the right amount of cancellation as needed. The level of noise cancellation can be changed from the Jabra app, which also offers a feature called MySound which lets you tailor music levels to your preferences.
One of the big selling points with the Elite 85ts is their call quality. Six microphones and wind protection means your call recipient will be able to hear you clearly from anywhere. This can be very useful while making calls from the airport, during your commute or just at home when other people are around.
Jabra has placed a high importance on comfort with the Elite 85ts. The buds feature a semi-open, ergonomically design that strategically reduces pressure on the inner ear, but still stays secure (in fact, Jabra makes our list for the best earbuds for running). Battery life is also solid with five and a half hours on one charge and a total of 25 hours with the charging case.