I started traveling with great noise cancelling headphones a couple years ago and it has been a game-changer for me. It’s hard to imagine how I was able to handle all the crazy noise on flights, buses, coffee shops – even my office! – before I bought my noise cancelling headphones. If you’re looking to buy your own pair, here’s a quick rundown of the important factors to consider as well as recommendations based on my own research.
As you’re probably already aware, noise-cancelling headphones are different from your typical headphones in that they cancel outside noise so that you can get crystal-clear sound without jacking up the volume. In short, they save both your sanity and your ears 😉
Now, to be clear, there’s a difference between active noise cancelling and passive noise blocking. Passive noise blocking headphones might be cheaper, but they do nothing more than block out external noise using specific materials and ear tips.
Active noise cancellation may use those same materials, but the technology is different. Active noise cancellation uses proprietary technology to listen to outside noise in order to create opposing sound waves to cancel it out. This is why you won’t find too many quality active noise cancelling headphones for under $100.
As with any type of headphone, there are several different variations to choose from, and your ultimate choice will depend a lot on how you plan to use the headphones. How would you answer the following questions:
- Do You Run with Your Headphones? If that’s the case, you’ll probably want smaller, in ear noise-cancelling headphones.
- Do You Plug in Your Headphones? Most newer headphones are wireless (which is a good thing) but there are times when you’ll still want to plug in. In this case, you’ll want to make sure you get headphones that have the option for a plug – and a wire to come with it.
- Do You Listen to High-Quality Music? You can get super-cheap headphones, but they’ll sound crappy. If you want solid bass and amazing balance, you’re going to want to invest a little bit of money.
As a traveler, I value noise-cancelling headphones that pack small, aren’t too heavy, sound amazing and look good.
Here’s a quick list of my favorite noise-cancelling headphones for travelers that can hopefully help you to make a decision.
*Note: Some of the links in the article below are affiliate links, which means that at no extra charge to you, I will be compensated if you click through and choose to purchase one of these headphones. Rest assured, I have personally used these headphones and wouldn’t recommend something I don’t love using myself. Thanks for your support!
1. Bose Quiet Comfort 35 – Recommended
I’ve been using my Bose Quiet Comfort 35 wireless noise-cancelling headphones for a little over two years now and I am in love. These are the top-of-the-line, most coveted set of noise cancelling headphones (and the price shows this).
Not only are these headphones comfortable (I can keep them on for an entire trans-oceanic flight), they also sound amazing whether you’re listening to a podcast or your favorite music.
- Wireless (Bluetooth) but have the option for a wired input if needed.
- Can connect to two devices simultaneously (so I can use them with both my computer and my phone).
- Excellent battery life; they’ve never let me down on my 15+ hour flights.
- Not especially designed for use while exercising or doing any activity that causes you to sweat.
- One of the most expensive noise cancelling headphones on the market today.
Overall, these are the #1 recommended noise-cancelling headphones for good reason. They’re awesome.
2. Sony WH-1000XM2 Noise Cancelling Headphones
Lets get one thing straight before we continue: Sony should fire the person responsible for naming their products. With that said, the Sony WH-1000XM2s are an incredible set of noise cancelling headphones.
Although these wireless headphones are priced the same as the Bose QC-35s above, they set themselves apart in the following ways:
- Wireless connection that also gives wired option (similar to Bose)
- Offers “ambient noise mode” that only lets in certain frequencies, such as an announcer over a PA system.
- “Quick Attention” mode, that lets you quickly hear the outside world without having to take off the headphones.
- Can only connect to one device at a time, so you’ll have to disconnect from your phone in order to connect to your tablet.
- Similar to the Bose QC-35s, these headphones are equally expensive.
If you’re a nerd when it comes to quality sound, the Sony will not disappoint.
3. Apple AirPods Pro – Best In Ear Noise Cancelling Headphones
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple years, you’ve probably seen Apple’s signature white AirPods sticking out of people’s ears.
In late 2019, Apple introduced the new AirPods Pro, the first version of the AirPods lineup to be classified as in ear noise cancelling headphones. While they work best with Apple products, most people don’t realize that they can pair with any Bluetooth-enabled device.
- If you have an Apple device, the AirPods are ridiculously easy to connect and use compared to other headphones.
- Sound quality is excellent, better than you’d expect from earbuds this small.
- Easily switch off noise cancelling mode by squeezing the stem of the earbuds.
- Come with a custom carrying case that doubles as a charger for the earbuds.
- Although comfortable, I have a hard time keeping these in my ear for more than an hour, much less an entire flight like I can with over the ear headphones.
- As with all Apple products, you’re paying for the name, so even the older generation of AirPods are expensive.
I love using the Apple AirPods for workouts, such as when I’m running or biking, and they work well in both situations. Better yet, if you have an Apple Watch, you don’t have to take your phone with you to listen to music!
4. Powerbeats Pro Wireless Noise Cancelling Earbuds
For some people I know, including my dad, the Apple AirPods just aren’t comfortable. They want something hugging their ear, not hanging out of it.
That’s where an option like the PowerBeats Pro noise cancelling ear buds can be a great option. With the over-ear design, that added support can go a long way in terms of comfort. That’s not to mention the amazing sound quality that they offer – pretty much the best you can find with noise cancelling earbuds.
- Because Beats is also owned by Apple, PowerBeats also pairs well with Apple devices (in addition to Android).
- Over-the-ear design makes for more stability that doesn’t fall out of your ears as easily (or so most users say).
- IPX4 rated for sweat and water resistance.
- Multiple colors available.
- The over-the-ear design is bulkier.
- Same price as the AirPods Pro
Ultimately, AirPods Pro and Powerbeats are very similar and offer the same technology. Powerbeats sound better but they’re bigger. It’s all up to your preferences.
5. Cowin SE7 – Best Cheap Noise Cancelling Headphoneas
If $250+ is too much for your budget…I get it. Trust me, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, all of the above options are priced out of your budget.
Thankfully, there’s still an option for you to consider: the Cowin SE7 noise cancelling headphones.
Now, you can expect the same quality of sound and noise cancelling technology when you’re only spending $100, but you might be surprised at how good they sound for such an affordable price.
- Unbeatable value – probably the cheapest quality noise cancelling headphones you would want to buy.
- Boasts 50 hours of playtime using Bluetooth, which blows away the competition.
- Extremely light (.6 lbs), which translate to more comfort for longer uses.
- Sound quality and noise cancellation technology don’t measure up to the standard set by Bose, Sony & Apple.
- Have more of a cheaper plastic feel than other headphones.
If you can’t afford the higher-end noise cancelling headphones offered by Bose, Sony or Apple, these Cowin headphones are an excellent, much cheaper alternative.
Final Thoughts | Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones for Travelers
Whether you’re purchasing a pair for yourself or you’re looking for a great gift for that traveler in your life, a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones goes a long way in making traveling so much better. There are literally hundreds of off-brand headphones that you can find online, so before you make your purchase, remember these important facts:
- Get ACTIVE Noise Cancellation: Most of the cheap headphones have passive noise cancellation, which is essentially worthless.
- Comfort is King: Headphones and earphones are only good as long as you’re willing to wear them. Name brands have built their reputation not just on sound quality, but also on comfort.
- Sound quality makes a difference: Trust me when I say that if you were to put on $20 headphones and compare them to my $300 Bose headphones, you’d hear a massive difference. I love my music and I want it to sound good.
I highly recommend the Bose Quiet Comfort 35s that I own, but you’ll be happy with any of the ones on this list. Next time you’re on a plane with a crying baby and you slip on your headphones, you’ll thank me 🙂