The roar of the airplane engine. The crying baby two rows back. Your seatmate blasting music. Traveling can be a noisy nightmare. But with a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones, you can create your own peaceful bubble on a plane, train, or bus.
When searching for noise-cancelling headphones, you’ll find lots of options to suit different needs and budgets. This guide will discuss the top noise-cancelling models on the market and provide tips for choosing the right pair for your next adventure. Let’s dive in and find your perfect travel headphones!
If you’ve ever tried to nap on a plane or tune out a noisy commuter train, you know the value of noise cancellation. The technology uses tiny microphones to actively cancel out ambient noise before it reaches your ears. The result is sweet, uninterrupted silence.
Noise-cancelling headphones are a travel essential these days. They allow you to listen to music, podcasts and movies without cranking up the volume to drown out background noise. Many also have great sound quality for listening pleasure. Not to mention, the noise reduction makes it easier to nap on long flights.
This guide will highlight the top noise-cancelling headphones available in 2023. We’ll cover all the features that make them great for travel and help you choose the right pair based on your needs and budget. By the end, you’ll be ready to escape the commotion and enjoy your own peaceful bubble wherever you roam. Let’s get started!
Top 5 Noise-Cancelling Headphones for Travel
1. Bose QuietComfort 45
When you think of noise-cancelling headphones, Bose is likely the first brand that comes to mind. The company pioneered the technology and still leads the market with its QuietComfort models. The Bose QuietComfort 45 (or QC45) is the newest iteration, succeeding the popular QC35.
The QC45 maintains the same superior noise-cancelling ability with a few upgrades. This over-ear headset blocks out nearly all ambient noise, so you can focus on your music, movies and calls. The noise cancellation is adjustable, allowing you to pump it up to the max or let in some outside sound when needed.
For audio, the QC45 delivers clear, balanced sound with punchy bass. The sound profile makes any genre of music enjoyable. On-earcup controls allow for volume adjustment, music playback and call management. The headphones connect easily via Bluetooth and have a 24-hour battery life.
For travel needs, the QC45 remains comfortable on long flights thanks to plush earpads. The newly added awareness mode pipes in outside sounds when you need situational awareness. The headphones fold up into a compact shape for stashing in your carry-on.
Overall, the Bose QC45 offers incredible noise reduction, great audio and a comfortable fit for travel. The main downsides are the high $329 price tag and lack of customization options. But for frequent travelers seeking peace and quiet, the QC45 is one of the best options.
2. Sony WH-1000XM5
Sony also makes some of the top noise-cancelling headphones on the market. Their WH-1000X model frequently competes with Bose for dominance. The Sony WH-1000XM5 is Sony’s latest and greatest over-ear travel headphone.
The WH-1000XM5 is loaded with advanced noise-cancelling features. It uses eight microphones to detect and block out more ambient noise than ever. You can adjust the level of noise cancellation based on your environment. And Sony’s clever auto NC optimizer automatically tweaks it when you’re moving around.
Beyond noise cancellation, the WH-1000XM5 produces exceptional sound quality. Sony tuned these headphones with 40mm drivers for dynamic, detailed audio across the frequency range. The sound profile has punchy bass but remains well-balanced for all genres.
For calls, the WH-1000XM5 uses advanced signal processing for clear phone and video chats even in noisy areas. Touch controls on the earcups make it easy to control music, calls and volume. At 30 hours, the battery life is impressive. And the headphones charge via USB-C for modern convenience.
The plush leather-like earpads ensure all-day comfort on long trips. At 9.5 ounces, the WH-1000XM5 is lighter than previous models for greater wearability. The headphones fold down and come with a pouch for storage in tight spaces when traveling.
For its standout combination of noise cancellation, audio quality, comfort and smart features, the Sony WH-1000XM5 is hard to beat. The $399 price tag is steep, but frequent travelers who want an amazing listening experience will find it worthwhile.
3. Apple AirPods Max
It’s no surprise that Apple makes one of the best noise-cancelling headphones for iPhone users. The Apple AirPods Max brings Apple’s sophisticated design and solid noise cancellation to an over-ear form.
Apple employs eight microphones combined with computational software for excellent active noise cancellation. You can choose transparency mode to let in ambient sounds as needed. Each earcup contains an Apple H1 chip to seamlessly switch between Apple devices.
Audio quality is another major highlight. With 40mm custom drivers and computational audio processing, the AirPods Max delivers immersive, theater-like sound. The sound signature has tight bass and crisp highs. An innovative mesh canopy minimizes sound leakage.
The headphones offer touch and dial controls on the earcups for convenint operation. You’ll get 20 hours of listening time between charges. And they charge quickly via the Lightning port or smart case. For Apple users, automatic pairing and audio sharing between devices is a major perk.
Clever design makes the AirPods Max comfortable for long periods. The breathable knit mesh canopy distributes weight evenly. The memory foam earpads conform to your head. And the anodized aluminum frame stays cool on your skin. The headphones are heavier than other options at 1.64 pounds though.
At $549, the AirPods Max comes with a luxury price tag. But Apple users who want incredible noise cancellation paired with superior sound will find them well worth the investment. Just be prepared to pay extra for Apple’s audio magic.
4. Anker Soundcore Life Q30
If you’re searching for noise-cancelling headphones on a budget, the Anker Soundcore Life Q30 offers impressive features and performance at an affordable price point.
The over-ear Life Q30 isn’t as advanced as premium models in blocking noise. But its hybrid active and passive noise cancellation still does an admirable job, especially for the price. You can choose from three noise cancellation modes depending on your needs.
Audio quality also competes well above its weight class. The 40mm silk drivers reproduce audio cleanly, with well-balanced mids and highs plus thumping bass. The sound stage feels wider than you’d expect. And multiple EQ modes let you adjust the sound profile.
Bluetooth 5 connectivity provides a stable wireless connection. You’ll get an impressive 40 hours of listening time per charge—perfect for long trips. The comfortable memory foam earcups swivel to conform to your head. And the foldable design facilitates traveling.
For budget-minded buyers, the Anker Soundcore Life Q30 offers tremendous value at only $79.99. The plasticky build and simplistic controls reflect the lower price. But performance, comfort and battery life rival more expensive models. Overall, the Life Q30 is a terrific choice for frequent travelers seeking noise reduction without breaking the bank.
5. Shure AONIC 50
At the premium end, the Shure AONIC 50 provides excellent noise cancellation and hi-fi audio reproduction for critical listeners. As a respected audio brand, Shure tunes these headphones for the best possible sound.
The AONIC 50 utilizes a hybrid of feedforward and feedback microphones for adjustable noise cancellation up to -42 dB. An Environment Mode mixes in ambient sounds as needed. For audio, the 50mm drivers aim for accurate, detailed sound across frequencies.
Bluetooth 5 provides wireless connectivity with support for advanced codecs like aptX and AAC. The 20 hours of battery life works for most long-haul flights. On-board controls allow convenient adjustment of volume, music, and calls. The durable steel and aluminum construction is built to last.
Audiophiles will appreciate the sound customization in the ShurePlus PLAY app. You can tweak the EQ and spatial audio to achieve your perfect sound profile. Preset modes optimize audio for different listening activities. Options for wired and wireless use increase versatility.
As you’d expect, supreme sound quality and craftsmanship comes at a high cost. At $399, the Shure AONIC 50 sits near the top of the price spectrum. And the bulky design isn’t ideal for tight travel bags. But for discerning listeners who want premium noise cancellation paired with exquisite audio, the AONIC 50 shines.
How to Choose Noise-Cancelling Headphones for Travel
With so many options on the market, choosing the right noise-cancelling headphones for your needs requires some consideration. Here are the main factors to keep in mind while shopping:
Comfort and Fit
Since you’ll potentially be wearing your headphones for long stretches in transit, comfort is key. Over-ear headphone cups that fully enclose your ears tend to be more comfortable for extended wear than on-ear models that rest on your ears. Look for generously padded earcups that don’t pinch your ears.
Adjustable sliding headbands allow you to customize the fit. Some headphones have earcups that swivel and tilt to properly conform to your head. Weight is another consideration. Bulkier headphones can feel heavy and cause neck fatigue over time. Newer magnesium and carbon fiber materials keep weight down without sacrificing durability.
Testing out the fit and feel is ideal before purchasing. Make sure any prospective headphones feel comfortable when worn for an hour or longer. The right fit will make wearing them for long flights and commutes enjoyable.
The effectiveness of noise cancellation technology differs widely among headphones. The best noise-cancelling headphones use a combination of feedforward and feedback microphone arrays to sample ambient noise and generate counter frequencies that cancel it out.
Premium noise-cancelling headphones with the most advanced technology can nearly eliminate ambient noise. Look for models that offer adjustable levels of cancellation so you can fine-tune the effect in different environments. Some also have an ambient listening mode to let in outside sounds when needed.
Active noise cancellation that relies on battery power isn’t the only approach. Many headphones also employ passive noise cancellation through elements like tight earcup seals and noise-isolating earpad materials. For frequent travelers, seek out models with both excellent active and passive cancellation.
Noise cancellation ability shouldn’t come at the cost of audio fidelity. Travel headphones need to sound great playing your music, movies, games and calls. Look for larger driver sizes like 40-50mm for better sound reproduction. Support for advanced Bluetooth audio codecs like AAC and aptX will allow higher resolution streaming.
Tuning of the sound signature also affects quality. Some headphones emphasize bass, while others aim for a bright, balanced presentation. Consider which sound profiles best suit the audio content you listen to. Customization features like equalizers allow tweaking the sound to your taste.
Testing headphones to hear the audio quality first-hand is recommended. And models with companion apps that provide audio options are beneficial for travel use.
Long battery life is essential for travel headphones you’ll be using frequently on flights and between charges. Look for models that provide at least 20-30 hours of continuous listening time for worry-free performance. Quick charging support via USB-C or Lightning is also useful for topping up in between flights.
Optimal battery life reduces the hassle of recharging and allows uninterrupted entertainment. Noise-cancelling headphones also typically allow passive listening if the battery runs out. But maximize usage time by looking for models with extensive play time estimates.
Noise cancellation, audio fidelity and battery life are the core elements. But other features help maximize the travel utility of headphones:
- Bluetooth: Bluetooth 5 or above enables wireless connectivity and extended range. Multipoint pairing allows connecting to two devices simultaneously.
- App integration: Companion apps open up bonuses like customizable EQs and spatial audio effects. They also facilitate firmware updates.
- Transparency mode: This ambient listening mode pipes in outside sounds through the mics. Useful for situational awareness between songs or podcasts episodes.
- Wired option: Some noise-cancelling headphones allow passive listening with the battery depleted. Having a 3.5 mm or USB-C wired option provides backup.
- Case: Hard cases protect headphones and keep them safe when stowed in luggage. Soft pouches take up minimal space.
- Controls: Intuitive on-cup controls for calls, music playback, volume and voice assistants are convenient. Touch panels and dial interfaces offer sleek operation.
Consider which extra capabilities will enhance your in-transit entertainment and calls. Especially look for headphones with useful companion apps that add more personalization.
Finally, set a budget while keeping performance expectations realistic. True audiophile-level noise cancellation and sound quality comes at a premium. Expect to spend $250-400+ for the very best over-ear travel headphones with all the bells and whistles.
But you can find capable noise-cancelling headphones for under $200, and even under $100. The level of noise reduction and audio fidelity improves steadily as you climb the price ladder. Factor in your budget limits, then find the best combination of features and quality at that level.
Prioritize the aspects most important for your travels, whether top-notch noise cancellation for sleeping on planes or stellar sound reproduction. With the right considerations, you can find great travel headphones at any price point.
Frequently Asked Questions About Noise-Cancelling Headphones for Travel
How effective are noise-cancelling headphones on planes?
Quality noise-cancelling headphones can make a huge difference minimizing the roar of plane engines and noisy cabin chatter. Advancements in the technology allow premium models to nearly eliminate ambient noise. Active noise cancellation combined with passive isolation makes airplane cabins sound almost serene.
Look for advanced noise-cancelling headphones with both feedforward and feedback mics. Adjustable strength levels help fine tune the effect in an airplane environment. For best results, ensure you achieve a tight seal with in-ear or over-ear models. With the right pair, you can achieve blissful quiet even on long, noisy flights.
Should I get wireless or wired noise-cancelling headphones?
Wireless Bluetooth headphones provide the most convenient experience and freedom of movement for planes, trains and buses. Latest versions of Bluetooth like 5.0 offer extended range and stable connections. Look for long battery life and quick charging for endless entertainment.
However, wired noise-cancelling headphones still offer benefits. They work if your battery dies. And wired models don’t risk interference or dropouts, providing reliable performance. 3.5mm or USB-C wired options allow listening in wired mode after your wireless battery depletes. Either wireless or wired noise-cancelling headphones work well for travel.
How do noise-cancelling headphones work?
Noise-cancelling headphones use tiny microphones located on the earcups to pick up ambient noise around you. The headphones generate the inverse sound wave frequencies to that noise, effectively cancelling it out before reaching your ears. This active cancellation relies on battery power.
Passive noise cancellation also works by physically blocking external noise from entering your ears. Tight seals, sound-isolating materials and closed designs minimize noise entering the earcups. The most advanced noise-cancelling headphones combine both active and passive techniques for maximum noise reduction.
Can noise-cancelling headphones damage your hearing?
Listening at excessive volumes can damage hearing over time. But at reasonable loudness levels, quality noise-cancelling headphones are not inherently harmful to hearing. Models from reputable brands undergo independent testing to ensure safe listening parameters.
Look for volume-limiting features that restrict loudness to protect your hearing. Be smart about volumes, taking breaks and not cranking sound to uncomfortable decibel levels. Set volume to block out ambient noise while remaining comfortable. Used responsibly, noise-cancelling headphones pose no added hearing risk.
Do noise-cancelling headphones work for crying babies?
Noise-cancelling headphones can muffle the high-pitched wail of crying babies to an extent. But since a crying baby produces unpredictable frequencies and volumes, even quality noise cancellation leaves some of the sound audible.
For parents trying to achieve peace, over-ear headphones with full earcup seals physically block more sound waves. Combining noise cancellation with soothing music or white noise played at moderate volume masks crying better than noise cancellation alone. But expectations need to remain realistic in very noisy environments.
Can you sleep with noise-cancelling headphones on planes?
One of the best uses for noise-cancelling headphones when traveling is improving sleep, especially on planes. Quality over-ear models that fully enclose the ears provide a quieter environment that cuts out engine rumble and cabin chatter. Throw on an eye mask to block out light, and you can snooze comfortably.
Look for soft, comfortable earpads that don’t pinch. Flexible headbands prevent any pressure points forming on your head or glasses while sleeping. Pack a supportive travel pillow for your neck. Program a meditation app for drifting off. With the right noise-cancelling headphones, you’ll wake refreshed and ready for destination adventures.
Are noise-cancelling headphones safe for kids?
Noise-cancelling headphones can be safe for kids and provide hearing protection in loud environments like planes or trains. Check that volume limiting features keep sound at safe levels for developing ears. Opt for wired headphones so kids cannot make the volume dangerously loud.
Limit use to trips or situations when noise-cancelling benefit outweighs any risks. Supervise younger kids wearing headphones and teach proper volume. Having kids use noise-cancelling headphones occasionally on trips poses little risk. But prolonged, frequent use at young ages is discouraged.
What are the best noise-cancelling headphones under $100/$200?
Here are some recommended noise-cancelling headphones at lower price points:
- Under $100: Anker Soundcore Life Q30, TaoTronics Noise Cancelling Headphones, Mpow H19 IPO
- Under $200: Sony WH-CH710N, JBL LIVE 660NC, Sennheiser HD 450BT
While you’ll get more advanced noise cancellation and audio fidelity from premium headphones, these models deliver solid performance for the money. The sub-$100 headphones focus more on passive noise isolation. But they offer capable active noise cancellation given their affordable price.
The under $200 options provide very good active noise cancellation using feedback and feedforward mics. They reproduce audio cleanly with punchy bass. Premium materials and long battery life add value too. For travelers on a budget, these models provide quality noise reduction without breaking the bank.
How long do noise-cancelling headphones last?
With proper care and maintenance, quality noise-cancelling headphones can last 3-5 years or longer. Storing them in a hard case when not in use prevents damage. Regularly cleaning earpads and avoiding exposure to moisture or extremes of heat and cold extends lifespan.
Check that earpads, headbands and joints remain intact since these often wear first. Battery life decreasing and noise cancellation weakening over time signal a need for replacement. Update firmware and make occasional repairs when possible. With reasonable care, expect to enjoy years of performance from noise-cancelling headphones.
Can you use noise-cancelling headphones if they run out of battery?
Most noise-cancelling headphones allow you to continue listening even with a dead battery. The active noise cancellation will cease working since it requires battery power. But you can still use the headphones passively for music, movies and calls.
Without battery-powered noise cancellation, more ambient sound will leak in. Over-ear designs provide better passive isolation thanks to their tight seals. Make sure your headphones come with a 3.5mm audio cable or USB-C cord for wired use with a dead battery. Having this passive listening option prevents your headphones from becoming useless mid-trip.
From loud airplane cabins to chaotic commuter trains, travel often means noisy environments. A great pair of noise-cancelling headphones helps you carve out peace through muffling the madness. The right headphones allow you to immerse in entertainment and relax on long journeys.
The good news is noise-cancelling headphones now come in many shapes and sizes at a wide range of price points. Whether you value superior noise reduction, hi-fi sound, plush comfort or budget savings, options exist to suit your priorities.
For frequent travelers in search of serenity, I highly recommend investing in quality over-ear noise-cancelling headphones. Models from reputable brands like Bose and Sony combine advanced noise cancelling tech with excellent audio reproduction. The result is an oasis of calm amid the commotion.
Before purchasing, think carefully about key factors like fit, battery life and sound signature. Test out headphones first-hand whenever possible. And choose supplementary features like apps, transparency mode and wired backups based on your needs.
While delving into noise-cancelling headphone specs might seem daunting initially, it helps ensure you select the perfect pair for blocking out the bedlam in transit. Because when journeying far and wide, peace and quiet is priceless. So tune out the turbulence, turn on your favorite playlist, and float away to your happy place with the right noise-cancelling headphones. The destination will seem closer and more relaxing than ever before!