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Traveling and daily commutes can be stressful, to say the least. Often, the culprit is noise – be it a plane engine, crying babies or loud road-trip companions. But with the right pair of headphones, traveling can quickly become a peaceful time with your favorite music, podcasts and movies.
When it comes to headphones for travel (especially flying), noise-cancelling over-the-ear headphones are your best bet. Over-the-ear headphones typically block out the most sound (no headphones block out all sound, as that could be dangerous) and they offer unparalleled comfort compared to in-ear, or on-the-ear headphones. Of course, high-quality noise-cancelling headphones are great for use at home as well. You’ll be able to hear every note of that new album, work or watch your own show – all while others are making noise in the same room.
Because so many people are now finding tranquility with a pair of noise-reducing headphones, dozens of brands are making solid options with travelers in mind. But only a handful of these headphones can offer the crispness, full bass and effective noise-reduction that audiophiles and frequent flyers are looking for. Below are the creme-de-la-creme of travel-ready headphones that might make you wish for a longer flight time.
Travel Headphones Buying Guide
Even top-of-the-line headphones have some variation in features and quality. Below are a few considerations to keep in mind while choosing the best travel headphones for your needs.
Noise-Cancellation: Not all noise-reduction systems are made equal. The headphones in our roundup all boast the maximum level of noise-cancellation, but some have more adjustability. This will allow you to customize noise-reduction to your setting and needs (for example, less noise-cancellation while walking on a busy street).
Comfort: Because travel headphones are typically on your ears for hours at a time, comfort is paramount. But not all cans have the same level of comfort: some have softer earcups and headpieces, while others are more lightweight. Keep your eyes peeled for brands that have taken extra steps to make their headphones as comfortable as possible.
Battery: We’ve chosen headphones with industry-leading battery life of around 20-30 hours (or, about enough for two long-haul flights). Still, there’s some variation, and if you’re constantly on-the-go, a large battery is a must-have.
Microphone: All the headphones below have a mic for making calls or talking to virtual assistants (i.e. Alexa, Siri, etc), but some have engineered their mics to block out ambient noise as well. This means your call recipient will actually hear your voice – and not the loud airport chatter around you.
Durability: Sadly, your new headphones are bound to be dropped, bumped or caught in the rain while traveling. Be on the lookout for durable cans, and especially water-resistant options if you’ll be using your headphones outside.
1. Sony WH1000MX4
Sony’s WH1000MX4s aren’t just the best headphones for travel – they’re also our number one pick for the best noise-cancelling headphones in general. Their predecessor, the WH-1000XM3s, were great, but the new WH1000MX4 introduce some slight improvements to make them the best in the business.
Plush earcups and a good headpiece make the WH1000MX4s as comfortable as headphones get, meaning you can keep them on throughout a long-haul flight without any discomfort. And, thanks to fantastic sound quality, you’ll want to keep them on as long as possible. Sony has given music special attention with a “Digital Sound Enhancement Engine” which upscales digital music files, while 40mm drivers deliver full, crisp audio – no matter what you’re listening to.
Noise-cancellation was central in the WH1000MX4s development, as the headphones boast industry-leading digital noise cancellation. Four microphones (two on either earcup) pick up ambient noise, run it through a Noise-Cancelling Processor and deliver the same minimal outside sound whether you’re in a busy airport or on a road trip.
One of the best upgrades with the WH1000MX4s over their predecessor is multipoint pairing, which lets you connect to multiple devices at once. This means you can seamlessly switch between, say, Netflix on your laptop and a call on your phone. This is just one of the WH1000MX4s several convenient features, which also includes auto-pausing when you speak. Plus, the headphones feature incredible 30-hour battery life, plus five hours of battery with a quick 10-minute charge.
2. Bose 700
Bose has always been on the cutting-edge of noise-cancelling headphones, and their latest model, the 700s, follow suit with Bose’s prowess. Unsurprisingly, the best feature is the headphones’ noise-cancellation powers, which are arguably the best around. The headphones use six microphones to pick up and actively block outside noise, and the voice-isolating microphone makes phone calls especially crisp for both parties. But the real kicker is 11 levels of adjustable noise-cancellation, allowing you to change the noise level via onboard controls or the Bose app.
As expected from premium headphones, sound quality with the Bose 700s is crisp and deep thanks to active EQ. You also get plenty of customizability with the sound through the Bose app. In terms of comfort, the 700s get top marks as well with a lightweight, half-pound build and enough padding for hours of use while catching a long flight or grinding in the office.
Two other key features with the 700s are water-resistance and an elegant design. An IPX4 water-resistance rating means you’ll be able to wear these in the rain, which many other headphones (even high-end options) can’t claim. And with a pricey piece of tech, this is a major plus. Plus, despite their durability, the 700s are also quite good-looking. The only downside is a less-than-stellar 20-hour battery life.
3. Bowers & Wilkins PX7
When celebrated audio companies try their hand at high-end noise-cancelling headphones, it doesn’t always work. With Bowers & Wilkins, it did, and their latest PX7 headphones are the proof.
Soft earcups and a large, cushy headpiece make the PX7s comfortable enough for long period usage, but the headphones’ real strength is audio quality. Beefy 43mm drivers and tuning by the B&W experts provides seriously good sound – no matter what type of music or movie you’re watching.
The PX7s are also very impressive technology-wise with a four-microphone setup for capturing and adapting to outside noise. They have what B&W calls “Ambient Pass-Through,” which is meant to relay the important stuff like conversational noises (so the plane engine will be silenced but you might catch the flight attendant’s drink offer). Plus, the headphones feature multipoint pairing for connecting to multiple devices at once.
Battery life is industry-leading with the PX7, boasting 30 hours of listening time with a full charge, and six hours with a 15-minute charge. This is more than enough for a full day of international travel, and ties the PX7s with the Sony WH1000MX4s for best battery life on our list.
4. Bang & Olufsen H9
If you’re looking for a pair of luxury headphones fit for first class, check out these Bang and Olufsen H9s. The real upgrade with the H9s is in design quality, with the headphones sporting memory foam earcups, a leather headpiece and anodised aluminum discs on the earcup exterior. These upgrades translate to more comfort (from the memory foam), an extremely elegant look and lasting quality.
But the H9s aren’t all looks. Bang & Olufsen has equipped the headphones with Advanced Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) which discerns and effectively blocks outside noises of different frequencies using four microphones. And when you feel like hearing the world around you again, swipe the right earcup to activate transparency mode. This right earcup also features intuitive touch controls for pause/play, switching tracks and so on. Further sound customization is available via the Bang & Olufsen app.
Battery life is great (although not the best) with the H9s, clocking in at 25 hours of playtime with 2.5 hours required for a full charge. But most users won’t notice the five-hour difference between the H9s and longer-lasting headphones (namely, the Sony and Bowers & Wilkins sets above).
As expected from high-end Bang & Olufsen headphones, the H9s’ sound quality is top-notch. Electro-dynamic 40mm driver drivers and integrated bass ports ensure a surplus of thumping bass plus sharp, clear upper levels.
5. Shure AONIC 50
Shure has been impressing audiophiles for almost a century. Just this year, they’ve also impressed noise-cancelling headphone lovers with the release of these Aonic 50 headphones — a favorite of artists like Adam Levine (picture below).
Sound-quality is very impressive with the Aonic 50s, largely thanks to the headphone’s enormous 50mm drivers (hence the name) and a neodymium magnet. This makes for an exceptional frequency response between 20Hz to 22kHz (basically encompassing everything that humans can hear). What’s more, the Shure headphones sound good with almost any input music as they support a very wide range of codecs. No matter what you’re listening to, expect balanced, full sound at every frequency.
Thanks to memory foam and high-quality leather earcups, the Anoic 50s are prepared to sit comfortably on your head for long flights, road trips and work session. The headpiece is also nice and chunky to avoid discomfort up top.
Even though this is Shure’s first foray into noise-cancelling headphones, they’ve done a great job with developing noise-cancelling technology. You get two settings – “active noise-cancellation” and “environment mode” – but the latter (which lets in some outside noise) features ten levels ranging from minimal noise to essentially transparent. This can be controlled via the ShurePlus PLAY app, while on-board buttons offer basic controls.