The 12 Best Noise-Canceling Headphones To Buy for Travel [2021]

noise cancelling headphone on a plane

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Noise-canceling headphones use fancy technology that helps eliminate annoying external noises, allowing us to concentrate only on what we want to hear.

Perfect for busy commuter trains, noisy subways and even to drown out the sound of fellow air passengers, noise-canceling headphones are the way forward for anyone who wants to be alone, even in public.

Of course, these wonders of modern technology come with an elevated price tag to match. But if you really want to enjoy uninterrupted tunes — or simply tune out from the world while you listen to your latest audiobook — these beauties can achieve levels of peace and quiet that leave regular headphones in the shade.

How Do Noise-Canceling Headphones Work?

Noise Canceling Headphones
Noise-canceling headphones cancel out surrounding sounds. Image Credit: Amar Hussain

Noise-canceling headphones work by creating a noise-canceling wave that is 180 degrees out of phase with the ambient noise around you.

This wave acts like a noise eraser and cancels out any surrounding sounds that diminish the audio you really want to hear. Noise-canceling headphones aren’t magic, but they can feel like something close to it in the right situations.

The clever processes that cancel out intruding sound waves only work really well at blocking out certain frequencies. On an airplane, for example, the low hum of engine noise is almost completely obliterated. But higher or transient sounds like crying babies and people’s voices may still be able to seep in depending on the quality of your headphones.

Active Noise Cancellation Explained

Noise Canceling Headphones Cable
Noise-canceling headphones can be wireless and cable-operated. Image Credit: Amar Hussain

There are 2 commonly accepted forms of noise-canceling headphones available on the market. Passive noise cancellation relates more to the make and design of the headphones, which reflects the amount of noise cancellation offered by the physical device — or how well the headset works like an earplug.

But active noise cancellation is where the really clever stuff happens, as unique technological processes block out the bad sounds and emphasize the good ones.

Noise Canceling Headphones Microphone
Some noise-canceling headphones have built-in microphones. Image Credit: Amar Hussain

With active noise cancellation (or ANC) technology, the headphone features a chip that “listens” to noise and generates audio that is opposite to it in nature (also known as pink noise), thus canceling it out.

Using simple physics, we know that sound travels in waves. So by firing out a sound wave that is the opposite phase and amplitude as an audio wave, you can cancel the original wave out.

Still with us? Just think of ANC technology as the antidote to unwanted sound — the unseen hero that takes care of distracting, annoying, and unwanted sounds and actively erases lower-frequency sound waves by using additional powered instruments.

Noise Canceling Headphone Protective Case
Noise-canceling headphones can come in protective cases. Image Credit: Amar Hussain

ANC headphones work better when worn on your head instead of stuffed inside your ear canal. There can also be an element of decreased sound quality with ANC headphones, and a slight background hiss may be detectable over your music.

But, you win some, you lose some right? ANC headphones still beat other types hands-down for a completely immersive listening experience.

The Best Active Noise-Canceling Headphones

Best for Serious Music Enthusiasts With Deep Pockets

Sony WH1000XM3 Wireless Noise Canceling Over Ear Headphones

Weight: 9 ounces

Battery Life: Up to 30 hours

Cable Length: N/A

These industry-leading noise-canceling headphones bring you the very best and nothing less when it comes to total musical immersion. With premium sound quality, you’ll never miss a beat thanks to the 40-millimeter liquid crystal polymer drivers, and the 30-hour battery life will keep you tapping your toes on even the longest of flights.

For those who don’t want to be left out even when listening hard, the Sony Quick Attention mode allows effortless conversation with those around you — without ever taking your headphones off.

A touch sensor control also allows the user to pause/play/skip tracks, control the volume, activate the voice assistant, and even answer phone calls effortlessly.

As you would fully expect from Sony, these are solidly built and include everything they promise and more. Excellent sound quality, 30-hour battery life (with a quick charge for an extra few hours when you need it), and smart auto-settings to optimize listening automatically based on your own behavior make these babies worth every last cent.

What We Like

  • Quick attention mode for conversations without removing the headphones

What We Don’t Like

  • Microphone can be sensitive to external noises when on the phone

Older Noise-Canceling Headphones (But Still Competitive)

Sony Noise Cancelling Headphones WH1000XM2

Weight: 9 ounces

Battery Life: Up to 30 hours

Cable Length: N/A

Fly high with these awesome noise-canceling headphones from global giant Sony. With an ergonomic design that wouldn’t look out of place on the coolest of cats, these ANC headphones offer punchy bass, refined treble, and brilliant noise-canceling capabilities.

Being the 2017 model in this range, you should be able to pick these up cheaper than the Sony WH1000XM3s.

The touchpad built into the surface of the right earpiece makes it simple to control the volume of your music or come back to reality for a moment using the Quick Attention Mode. You can also easily pause/play/skip tracks, control the volume, activate the voice assistant, and even answer phone calls.

Sony’s patented Smart Listening is the piste de resistance in these cans, as the headphones cleverly detect your activity to automatically adjust the ambient sounds you hear. Genius!

Up to 30 hours of battery life with quick charging capability (10 minutes of charging for 5 hours of playback) means these headphones allow you to be as engaged with the real world as you want to be — or not!

What We Like

  • Quick charging for hours of playback

What We Don’t Like

  • Headband can break easily

For Those Who Like Big Brand Names and Crave Extra Gadgets

Bose QuietComfort 35 (Series II) Wireless ANC Headphones

Weight: 6.88 ounces

Battery Life: Up to 20 hours wirelessly, 40 hours wired

Cable Length: 3.9 feet

When is a pair of headphones not just a pair of headphones? When it can seamlessly interact with your other favorite technology, of course.

Bose doesn’t just bring the noise better than the competition — they are also world leaders when it comes to bringing the internet of things right to you, courtesy of your earholes.

These ergonomic, good-looking headphones don’t just offer fully balanced audio, hassle-free Bluetooth pairing, and noise-rejecting microphones for crystal clear sound. They now also allow you to ask Alexa to play your music or provide you with information whenever you need it. Bravo Bose, Bravo!

Of course, the biggest reason to chose Bose is the solid sound quality and future-proof technology. With the QuietComfort 35 (Series II) you can enjoy personalized settings as well as access to all future updates using the very smart and efficient Bose Connect App.

What We Like

  • Alexa-enabled to control playback with your voice

What We Don’t Like

  • Bluetooth connection can be intermittent

For Minimalist Apple Lovers

Apple AirPods Pro
245,652 Reviews

Apple AirPods Pro

Weight: 0.19 ounces

Battery Life: At least 24 hours listening time, up to 11 hours talk time

Cable Length: N/A

Following on from the success of the first generation of Apple AirPods, the newly released AirPods Pro bring even more adaptive sound quality and high-tech features to the table.

Light as a feather, and incredibly easy to use, the new and improved AirPods Pro are designed to sync super quickly to your iPhone, iPad, or other Apple devices. They are also more comfortable than ever before, coming complete with a selection of different sized ear tips to enable you, the user, to tailor the fit of the pod to your ear shape and size.

As a bonus, there is also a small pressure valve on the inside to help reduce the pressure inside your ear, making them feel more comfortable for longer.

To appeal to those that like to listen to music while they work out, the AirPods Pro are water-resistant and have an IPX4 rating that makes them far more resilient to sweat and water than ever before. Take note though, water-resistant is not the same as waterproof, and drenching them with water will inevitably ruin them.

Probably the most noteworthy addition to the AirPods Pro is the introduction of the active noise cancellation function that can be fully customized by the listener. Shut out the ambient sounds around you and lose yourself in the music, or set to transparency mode to allow you to hear what is happening around you at all times.

What We Like

  • Wireless charging case for on-the-go charging

What We Don’t Like

  • Speakers are very sensitive when cleaning

Award-Winning Superior Quality (and Perfect for Anyone Who Really Appreciates Music)

Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless with Active Noise Cancellation

Weight: 6.7 ounces

Battery Life: Up to 22 hours

Cable Length: N/A

These second-generation award-winning headphones from Sennheiser remain the #1 choice for hip and fashion-conscious music lovers. Thick leather ear pads, a new collapsible frame, and large ear cups make them easy to love before you’ve even started listening to them.

When it comes to sound quality, Sennheiser certainly does it well. The exciting blend of strong bass and subtle higher notes makes for a rich overall performance that’s so impressive you’ll want to close your eyes and just enjoy it.

To keep unwanted sounds at bay, these little beauties do an awesome job of lowering the external hubbub in an incredibly natural way.

With an easy 22 hours of wireless play, intuitive controls, stylish looks, and awesome sound quality, you may even forget that these are some of the pricier ANC headphones on the market. Worth it? You decide.

What We Like

  • Exceptionally good sound quality

What We Don’t Like

  • Bluetooth range could be better

Entry-Level ANC Headphones (That Compete With the Bigger Boys)

Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Weight: 8.0 ounces

Battery Life: Up to 30 hours wirelessly

Cable Length: N/A

Always serious about sound, Sennheiser developed these handsome (and surprisingly slim) cans that are as clever as they are attractive. Say goodbye to traffic noises and office hum — the PXC 550s hit each note with perfect clarity every time.

Intuitive user control means you can benefit from voice prompts, touch controls, NFC pairing, smart pause, and automatic on/off. Or go full space-age and use the Sennheiser CapTune App to manage the music player, check your battery status indicator, and adjust your EQ settings.

Its Bluetooth 4.2 wireless technology works seamlessly, and the lightweight design (paired with the clever way they collapse for storage) makes these a great choice for travel.

Small enough to pack away into a compact ball but big enough to eliminate all the background noise you never want to hear, these are a smart pair of headphones for the serious music lover who wants to look cool.

What We Like

  • Small and compact, perfect for travel

What We Don’t Like

  • Battery life can reduce over time

Bose-Brand Brilliance for Budget-Conscious Music Lovers

Bose QuietComfort 25 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones

Weight: 6.9 ounces

Battery Life: Up to 20 hours wirelessly, 40 hours wired

Cable Length: 3.9 feet

Perfect for those who want all the quality of Bose on a smaller budget, these noise-canceling headphones are a great entry-level pair. First launched in 2014, they still stand strong against the competition and will diminish most background noise to let you hear your tunes with clarity.

The lightweight and comfortable ergonomic design means you’ll never tire of wearing these little beauties, and the music, EQ, call answer features, and other extras can be controlled simply by using your smartphone.

Designed to reduce unwanted noises while still producing powerful sounds, these headphones are comfortable enough to wear all day. And with a battery life of up to 35 hours on a single AAA battery, there is literally nothing stopping you from doing just that.

What We Like

  • Cable connection, so no chance of Bluetooth cutting out

What We Don’t Like

  • Requires a battery for noise canceling

Noise-Canceling Headphones for Those Who Don’t Follow the Crowd

Bowers & Wilkins PX Active Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphones

Weight: 11.8 ounces

Battery Life: Up to 22 hours wirelessly, 50 hours wired

Cable Length: 4 feet

Looking for something a little different? Bowers & Wilkins have proven their place as David against the Goliath of big brands like Sony and Bose with these really great noise-canceling headphones.

Offering a satisfying user experience, reliable Bluetooth connection, and easy-to-control audio playback, these headphones will cut out the drone of your daily commute and let you concentrate on your music.

B&W made a serious effort to ensure no noticeable drop in sound quality — even including the same drive units found in the revered P9 headphones by the same brand. It has also subtly angled the drivers to provide a natural, all-encompassing stereo sound every time you use them.

The PX is as smart as they are beautiful, too. Want to stop listening? Simply raise an ear cup — and when you’re done for the day, the PX stops playing when you put them away.

With an impressive 22-hour battery life, an instant power-saving sleep mode, and a dedicated Bowers & Wilkins headphone app, these are definitely the real deal.

What We Like

  • Easy to pause playback by lifting an ear cup

What We Don’t Like

  • Takes some time to get used to wearing them

Lightweight, Enjoyable ANC Audio for Those on a Budget

AKG Noise Canceling Headphone Black (N60)

Weight: 5.3 ounces

Battery Life: Up to 15 hours wirelessly, 30 hours wired

Cable Length: 4 feet

Perfect for those on the go, these budget-friendly headphones can give you over 15 hours of listening pleasure using aptX Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity. Better still, the wireless connectivity automatically turns on the active noise cancellation, making them a safe bet for those who like to listen while they run, walk, or travel.

Lightweight and easy to wear, these headphones remain well secured to your head, meaning you can bounce in them without them slipping off. The 3D folding mechanism and carry case also make it super easy to listen when you need to and store them when you don’t.

Sound quality is also impressive — beats are delivered with detail and precision, while the mid-range and treble remain crisp and delicate in every song. If you want great quality ANC headphones at a bargain price, the AKG N60 is a major contender that really can hold its own against the might of the bigger brands.

What We Like

  • Lightweight and comfortable to wear on the go

What We Don’t Like

  • Noise cancellation could be better

Efficient Sennheiser Headphones for Those on a Budget

Sennheiser HD 4.50 Bluetooth Wireless Headphones with Active Noise Cancellation

Weight: 8.4 ounces

Battery Life: Up to 20 hours

Cable Length: N/A

A futuristic-looking and ergonomic design is the first thing you’ll notice about these headphones. How cool will you look wearing them?

But the delight doesn’t end there: good sound quality comes in an affordable package, as the well-tuned mid-range and deep, throaty bass will have you nodding along wherever you are.

As you would expect from Sennheiser, the Bluetooth 4.0 and aptX technologies deliver seamless connectivity, while the NoiseGard active noise cancellation does its important job of reducing ambient noise levels and improving your overall listening experience.

With a 19-hour battery life, you should be all set for most long journeys — if you need to listen longer, use the connection cable for battery-free listening that still sounds great.

Ear-cup mounted controls offer intuitive options for changing tracks, upping the volume, or even making calls to tell someone how much you really love your new Sennheiser headphones. A great pair for anyone on a budget.

What We Like

  • Great value mid-range headphones

What We Don’t Like

  • You can’t charge and listen at the same time

Semi-Noise-Canceling Headphones for Those Who Like Their Beats on a Budget

Plantronics BackBeat PRO 2 – Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Weight: 10.9 ounces

Battery Life: Up to 24 hours

Cable Length: N/A

While these may not be the prettiest things to look at, they are certainly worth considering if you want more bass for your buck. A solid choice for fans of rock music and EDM, these produce heavy, thumping low notes while keeping the mid-range crisp and clear.

Class 1 Bluetooth enabling means you can stream your favorite tunes from 330 feet (100 meters) away, and enjoy wireless connectivity for those moments when the air guitar solo comes calling.

The design of the BackBeat Pro 2 is lightweight and practical, but not as chic as some of its main competitors. That said, the sound quality more than makes up for any loss in looks — so take your pick on which factor is more important to you.

Finally, this set’s 24-hour battery life will give you weeks of traveling joy, and you can recharge using a cable or USB.

What We Like

  • Super long-range Bluetooth connection

What We Don’t Like

  • Functional, but a bit bulky and heavy

Acceptable Noise-Canceling Capabilities With Plenty of Customizable Options

JBL Everest Elite 700 NXTGen Noise-Canceling Headphones

Weight: 9.6 ounces

Battery Life: Up to 25 hours

Cable Length: N/A

These JBLs are a solid choice for music enthusiasts looking for all-around performance paired with customizable options and an affordable price tag.

Offering Bluetooth 4.0 technology, it’s simple to stream your tunes from a variety of Bluetooth-enabled devices. The My JBL Headphones App offers simple controls and further customizable options.

End-user satisfaction is guaranteed if you don’t expect these to sound like a $400 pair of headphones. However, reliably good quality sound will come pouring into your ears, while annoying external noise will be muted for the most part. The Nxtgen active noise-canceling technology manages to minimize ambient noise well at the push of a button.

The rechargeable lithium-ion polymer battery offers 15 hours of playback, and the clever addition of “ambient awareness” means you can choose just how much you want to engage with the real world during every minute of those 15 hours.

What We Like

  • Handy app for checking the charge level

What We Don’t Like

  • Headband is a bit fragile

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for an awesome pair of noise-canceling headphones that will keep the world out and the music in, there are a lot of choices out there.

For jaw-dropping sound quality that will keep you utterly immersed for hours on end, the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 really is one of the best of the bunch. That said, the Sony WH1000MX3 is certainly on par performance-wise, and choosing a clear winner between them can only really come down to personal taste. The Bose QuietComfort 35 is also well worth considering.

However, any of these options have an investment-worthy price tag and should be treated as such. You’ll want to look after your new headphones carefully, as they may well cost more than the device you choose to stream from!

For a more affordable option, the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 offers decent noise elimination and good throaty bass lines for those looking to enjoy proper tunes while they travel, while keeping those looking to drown out their daily commute perfectly happy.

If brand is important to you or you want your headphones to look pretty, the Sennheiser PXC 500 will give you the logo you’re looking for — but it won’t necessarily thrill you as much as the signature Momentum headphones. Alternatively, the Bose QuietComfort 25 will give you a good sound quality and a premium badge.

Are you interested in more top products to help you get the most out of your travels? Check out these other articles we’ve published:

Frequently asked questions

Is it worth buying noise-canceling headphones?

If you are prepared to invest in a quality listening experience and the added benefit of blocking external noise when you’re in noisy situations, noise-canceling headphones are worth buying.

Can noise-canceling headphones cause hearing loss?

Noise-canceling headphones do not emit low-level radiation as phones do, so the risk is minimal. However, listening to music loud on any device, not just noise-canceling headphones, may be hazardous to your hearing.

What are the best noise-canceling headphones for travel?

These are some of our favorite noise-canceling headphones:

  • Bose QuietComfort 35 (Series II)
  • Bowers & Wilkins PX Active
  • Sennheiser Momentum 2.0
  • Sony WH1000XM3

Are noise-canceling headphones worth it for flying?

Noise-canceling headphones are worth the price tag, especially when flying. On an airplane, the low hum of engine noise is almost completely obliterated. But higher or transient sounds like crying babies and people’s voices may still be able to seep in depending on the quality of your headphones.

How do noise-canceling headphones work?

Noise-canceling headphones work by creating a noise-canceling wave that is 180 degrees out of phase with the ambient noise around you.

This wave acts like a noise eraser and cancels out any surrounding sounds that diminish the audio you really want to hear. Noise-canceling headphones aren’t magic, but they can feel like something close to it in the right situations.

Amar Hussain

About Amar Hussain

Amar was born and raised in England, UK, embarked on an 11 country round the world gap year after graduation and then became well and truly hooked. The first gap year inspired a second which ended up being a 23 country down-the-world trip from Canada to Antarctica. Since then Amar has endeavored to turn his gap year into a ‘gap life’ and has spent the last 10 years traveling the 7 continents.

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1 comment

  1. Good article.


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