These days, headphones are the equivalent to the likes of a wallet and smartphone—i.e. they’re an essential item that you simply can’t afford to leave home without. So what are the best travel headphones?
After travelling without headphones for years, I've since discovered noise cancelling headphones and I have never looked back! Every-time I stop wearing them, I'm amazed about how much noise there is in the world!
Whether it's on an airplane, train, or in the car (only when I'm not driving myself of course), the best travel headphones will isolate outside noise while providing a great listening experience.
So what do you need to consider when buying headphones for travelling?!
Noise Isolating vs Noise Cancelling Headphones
When you buy travel headphones, make sure that you know the difference between noise isolating and noise cancelling headphones. Yes, there is a difference!
Noise cancelling headphones, like the BOSE QuiteComfort 20, actually listen to your surrounding environment via built in microphones for low-frequency noise (like the engine noise on airplaines) and eliminate it from your audio by creating inverse waves that cancel out all the noise. That's why these are the best headphones for air travel.
Noise isolating headphones (closed headphones or in-ears with isolating earbuds) just use a physical barrier to block out all the noise from the outside.
That's why noise isolating headphones or earbuds are cheaper then noise cancelling once, most of the time.
Closed headphones provide less isolation, ~10-20dB, and are not as effective isolating low frequencies typically heard in airplanes and other mass transit. On the upside, top closed headphones can sound very, very good at much lower prices and function beautifully in other environments like a dorm room or office cubicle.
Wired vs Wireless
While technologies for wireless audio, like bluetooth for headphones, seem on the rise, I wouldn't recommend this as an important factor for buying one. Even the best wireless headphones can’t compare to a hardwired set.
Storage and Portability Options
During airplane travel, there’s a lot of moving around and changing flights. Therefore, you want headphones that are fast and easy to pack, lightweight and highly durable so that they don’t break when you stuff them in your pocket, jacket or bag.
Whether you like in-ear, on-ear, or over-ear headphones, there are many options for storage and portability available. Most manufacturers will include a traditional hard plastic case with your purchase, but there are many third party accessories on the market.
If space is tight in your luggage, but you really don’t like the in-ear form factor headphones, be sure to look at “foldable headphones.” These are designed to fold the large earpieces into the gap your head typically occupies, allowing larger headphones to pack small!
Comfort Considerations – How Long is Your Trip?
If you’re going to be taking long plane flights and plan on using headphones for the duration of the flight, the comfort of the headphones is something you do not want to neglect.
Although super portable, using in-ear earbuds for long periods of time can cause sore ears. In that case you could opt for a pair of over-ear headphones that have soft ear pads with plenty of cushioning. Also, check the fit of the headphones to ensure they aren’t too snug on your head.
My Top recommendations for Travel headphones:
Taking all of the previous things into account, here are my personal recommendations:
Both the Bose QC20 in-ears and Bose QC 25 over-ears are the best noise cancelling headphones around.The first time I tested these Bose noise cancelling earbuds I couldn't believe what I was NOT hearing! It was just incredible how all the noise around me just... disappeared! I just had to have them and I've been travelling around the world with these beauties ever since!
The Bose travel headphones are the overall highest rated headphones by experts and users that are suitable for airplane travel. The main reasons for their airplane suitability are their unmatched noise cancellation and secure and comfortable fit. These headphones are pricey, so you expect them to be amazing. And they are! The effect of cancelling out the drone of an airplane engine or central air unit is, to me, well worth the price.
While I normally hate earbuds, these Bose earbuds have these StayHear Headphone Tips that are comfortable to wear and stay securely in my ears when I'm moving around and not just sitting in an airline seat.
And if you're a real Apple Fan boy, you can actually get them in this apple white version!
In-ear buds are great for versatility, but when it comes to comfort, there’s no doubt that over-the-ear headphones reign supreme. The Bose QC25 replaces the QC15 and if you don't mind the extra weight or bulkiness, then the Bose QuiteComfort 25 (the beefed up version of the aforementioned QC 20) headphone is the one for you!
There’s no such thing as the “perfect” headphone. There’s no one headphone that will do everything, and well. Sennheiser has come close with the Momentum Wireless.
According to PCMag, ”if it’s big bass and wireless audio—and active noise cancellation—you seek, the Momentum Wireless packs them all. ”
The second iteration of the Sennheiser Momentum headset combines wide frequency sound and high output levels with the benefits of a design that collapses to fit easily into your travel bag. Yes, the stainless steel headband actually folds up so it’s easier to pack and it has that "trendy" Hipster look.
Overall they sound good, the noise cancelling is acceptable, and they also have Bluetooth. However, they’re not the best sounding headphone in this price range, nor do they offer the most noise cancelling. They’re also $500. That’s a lot of money.
In-ears with foam earbuds.
If your budget is more limited, go for in-ears with foam earbuds. If you want better sound than the Bose QC20s, or you don’t care about noise cancelling (or $300 is out of your budget), there are a bunch of in-expensive in-ear headphones that offer decent noise isolation.
The key is getting a good seal, which for most people will be with foam tips. Many headphones, like the $100 NHT Superbuds and $200 RHA T10i come with foam tips, but on complyfoam.com you can buy tips to fit on most other headphones.
Everyone has different needs, but hopefully you found my tips useful for finding your own perfect set of travel headphones.
Do let me know in the comments, what you ended up with and why!
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