Whether you are hopping on an airplane for work or pleasure, having a great set of noise-canceling headphones is a must. Nothing is better at drowning out the drone of the plane’s engine than the completely uninterrupted sound of your favorite music, TV show, film, or game.
Whether you just want some peace during your flight or you need to keep the kids entertained until landing, check out our recommendations for the best noise-canceling headphones for airplanes.
What to consider when choosing the best noise-canceling headphones for airplane
When selecting the best headphones for air travel, it is not only important to make sure you pick a pair that will deliver great sound quality. There are a few other design features you should take into consideration as well.
1. Active Noise-Cancellation VS Passive Noise Isolation
When looking for headphones that offer noise-cancellation it is important to know the difference between active noise-cancelation and passive noise isolation. Especially if you plan to take them on a noisy flight.
Active noise-cancellation uses built-in technology along with tiny microphones on the outside of the headphones to pick up on the sounds around you. The headphones then calculate how to cancel out these ambient background noises by producing the exact same soundwaves with a fraction of a delay.
This delay is intentional so that the peaks and the troughs of the identical soundwaves match up as in the image above. This is known as being “out of phase”. The positive and negative pressures of both soundwaves then work against each other and cancel each other out. Think of it as trying to add one and then subtract one, in the end, you are left with zero.
Passive Noise Isolation
Many headphones on the market claim to offer noise cancellation through passive noise isolation accomplished by the headphone’s structural design. Rather than using technology and microphones, background noises are blocked by the closed-back design or some circumaural headphones, coupled with thick, padded earpieces. Or the tight seal formed by an earbud within the ear canal when wearing in-ear headphones.
This is often adequate for casual use during your 20-minute commute to work. But it is unlikely to offer ample noise cancellation against an aircraft engine reaching in excess of 140dB during take-off. So for air travel, the best headphones will feature active noise cancellation.
2. In-Ear or Over-Ear Headphones for air travel?
The differences in over-ear and in-ear headphones do not stop at their shape and size, and there are a few factors to take into consideration before choosing one to take on your flight.
For some, in-ear headphones are intrusive and uncomfortable, while for others they are a welcome relief from large and heavy over-ear designs. They are incredibly portable, which is handy if you do not have much space in your carry-on, and wireless earbuds often come with their own charging case for extended playback time if you are traveling particularly far.
They also still offer a good level of passive noise isolation thanks to the seal between the headphone’s ear tip and the ear canal, however, this is only achieved if they are well-fitting. The smaller size of in-ear headphones means they are also built with smaller drivers. This results in lower quality sound than what you would find in over-ear headphones of the same price range.
Bose QuietComfort 20 In-Ear Headphones
If you don’t mind the larger design, over-ear headphones are now built with increasingly lightweight but sturdy materials. With ergonomically designed circumaural earcups, often padded with soft leathers or velour, you can wear them comfortably throughout your long-haul flight. The architecture lends itself to isolating noise thanks to the complete seal around the ear.
As well as encompassing the ear, when paired with active noise cancellation over-ear headphones can allow you to feel completely immersed in your audio. With larger drivers, over-ear headphones can create a larger soundstage and better bass response, however, this will be dependent upon the model you choose. A high-end pair of in-ear earbuds may well deliver more precise sound reproduction than a budget pair of headphones.
Bose QuietComfort 35 Over-Ear Headphones
3. Low Latency
When watching a film during your flight it can be incredibly frustrating if there is a delay between your audio and picture. While wired headphones are typically less likely to have this issue thanks to their analog connection. Wireless Bluetooth headphones, which are more prone to signal delays, are becoming increasingly more popular, particularly for those who travel.
If you opt for a wireless headset over wired, then look for headphones that come equipped with a low latency codec like aptX as shown above. The codec is what compresses and decompresses your audio, enabling it to travel via Bluetooth from your device to your wireless headphones. A good codec will do this fast and without damaging your audio quality.
Thankfully many wireless over-ear headphones now come with a detachable cable that allows you to transition between a Bluetooth and analog connection with ease.,
4. Comfort and Battery Life
If you plan on wearing your headphones during a long-haul flight you want to be sure of two things.
- They are comfortable enough to wear the entire flight.
- The battery life will last the entire flight.
There is nothing worse than your headphones running out of charge during that all-important movie scene. Or not being able to focus on your audio as your ears are too fatigued from wearing a clunky or heavy headset for hours.
Look for a pair of over-ear headphones that are both lightweight and padded or earbuds with tips and Finns that can tailor the fit to your ears. Ensure the battery life is longer than the length of your flight or ensure you have a portable charger or carry case to bring with you on your travels.
Review of the Best Noise-Canceling Headphones for Airplanes
So what are the best noise-canceling headphones for flying? Here are our top recommendations:
1. Best Overall Noise-Canceling Headphones For Airplanes – Sony WHCH710N
If you are looking for a versatile noise-canceling headphone to take on your travels with you, then the Sony WHCH710N is an all-around great option. Using their Automatic Artificial Intelligence Noise-canceling (AINC) function, these headphones can analyze your surroundings continuously for ambient background noise. These smart headphones will then select the most efficient noise-canceling filter to suit your environment.
These headphones feature dual microphones that feed both forwards and backward, allowing the WHCH710N’s to pick up on ambient sounds from multiple directions. This will allow them to filter out even more background noise than headphones with just singular microphones on each earcup, making them perfect for when traveling on a busy aircraft.
Need to listen for important announcements before boarding or during your flight? The WHCH710N’s also come equipped with Ambient Sound Mode. Simply switch it on and you can enjoy your audio whilst staying aware of your surroundings. As they are built with high-quality 30mm drivers, the sound you do hear will remain clear, allowing you to hear every note of your music or word of your podcast.
With a 35-hour battery life, you can relax knowing your headphones will have enough charge to last your journey. Should they need topping up, just 10 minutes of charging time will give you an additional 60 minutes of playback. Or for ultimate versatility, use the removable cable and audio jack to take your Bluetooth connection to analog – a great option to avoid latency or signal dropouts during your flight.
- Automatic Artificial Intelligence Noise-Canceling
- Dual microphones pick up more ambient sounds
- Ambient Sound Mode
- 30mm sound drivers produce detailed audio
- 35-hour battery life
- 10-minute quick charge for 1 hour of playback
- Switch between Bluetooth and Analog connection
- Soft oval earpads and adjustable headband
- Some reviewers felt the earpads needed softer padding
2. Best Sennheiser Noise-Canceling Headphones For Airplanes – Sennheiser PXC 550-II
The brand Sennheiser is a popular choice for audiophiles and critical listeners thanks to their impeccable sound production and reliability. If you are looking for the best Sennheiser headphones to take on your travels then check out the PXC 550-II’s which have been specifically designed with those on the go in mind.
The PXC 550-II’s feature Adaptive Noise Cancellation that will monitor the background noise within your environment and automatically adjust your noise-cancellation settings. This will ensure you never miss any of your chosen audio as you travel from the check-in gate, departure lounge to take-off. You can also tailor your audio using the Smart Control app, optimizing your settings to suit either music, podcast, or film.
The 30-hour battery life will allow you to listen uninterrupted throughout your journey on a single charge, however, an audio cable and flight adapters are included should you opt for a wired, low-latency connection. But should you want a break from your audio, these headphones can be folded flat and placed in the compact but robust travel case for easy storage.
The circumaural ear cups have been ergonomically designed to provide lasting comfort and rotate to provide the perfect fit to angle soundwaves towards the ear canal. With built-in access to your voice assistant, you can check your Google, calendar, ask Siri for a weather update, or ask Alexa to play the next track, all through your headphones!
- A popular brand among audiophiles
- Excellent sound production
- Adaptive Noise-Cancelation
- Smart Control app to tailor sound settings
- Includes audio cable and flight adapters
- Flat fold into the compact carry case
- Ergonomically designed for comfort
- 30 hours battery life
- Shorter battery life than some competitors
3. Best In-Ear Noise-Canceling Headphones For Airplanes – Bose QuietComfort 20
Over-ear headphones aren’t the best choice for everybody, if you prefer the fit of in-ear headphones the Bose QuietComfort 20’s are a great noise-canceling option. Not only do they come equipped with active noise-cancellation, but the tight seal created between the inner ear and the soft, cone-shaped StayHear+ tips provide a good level of passive noise isolation as well.
While the sound quality of in-ear headphones usually lacks in comparison to over-ear headphones, the QuietComfort 20’s produce realistic, digital-quality sound. Thanks to the Bose Active EQ and Triport technology, you no longer have to compromise your sound for comfort. You can enjoy the deep bass of your music, or the softly spoken words of your audiobook with ease, even during take-off.
The wired design helps to lower latency issues if you are watching a movie during your flight. You can also switch to “aware mode” to turn off active noise cancellation using the inline remote, so you never miss an announcement from the pilot again. They are also compatible with Apple, Samsung, and Android devices, just ensure to select the right connection for your device.
While these headphones do not offer a Bluetooth option, they are much smaller and easily portable in comparison to wireless over-ear headphones. You also do not have to depend on a fully charged battery to enjoy listening for the entirety of your journey
- Active noise-cancellation
- StayHear+ Tips provide good sound isolation
- Digital-quality sound
- Bose Active EQ and Triport technology
- Low latency analog connection
- “Aware mode” to let in ambient noises
- Small portable design
- Cannot be used wirelessly
- Some may find the in-ear design uncomfortable
4. Most Comfortable Noise-Canceling Headphones For Flying – Bose QuietComfort 35
During a long flight, there is nothing worse than being uncomfortable, so why let your headphones be the source of discomfort? Over-ear headphones are often regarded as the most comfortable of headphone designs, with their large encompassing ear cups that surround the ear. Providing noise isolation on top of active noise cancellation while in the case of the Bose QuietComfort 35’s, feeling like you aren’t wearing headphones at all.
The Bose QuietComfort 35, have soft padded ear cups that are wrapped in synthetic protein leather, so plush you feel like you aren’t wearing headphones at all. The headband is wrapped in Alcantara, the same luxurious material used in yachts and high-end cars, so soft that you can wear them comfortably throughout a long-haul flight without irritation. And with a 20-hour battery life, you can relax knowing you have plenty of playback time between charges.
As well as superior comfort, the QuietComfort 35’s are also incredibly sturdy. Built with glass-filled nylon and corrosion-resistant stainless steel, they have been designed to withstand whatever life throws at them. They also fold neatly into a protective carry case so you can take them in and out of your carry-on with peace of mind.
The sound quality remains stable at any volume, thanks to drivers featuring volume-optimized EQ. Whether listening in the peacefulness of your own home, or during take-off on your next trip, you receive balanced audio with distinct clarity so you can sit back and enjoy your favorite audio no matter where you are.
- Active noise-cancelation
- Passive noise isolation
- Soft synthetic leather padded earcups
- Alcantara wrapped headband
- Built with strong materials
- Fold into the protective carry case
- Volume-optimized EQ
- Balanced, detailed audio
- Shorter battery life than other models
5. Best Children’s Noise-Canceling Headphones for Flying – BuddyPhones Cosmos
How can you make traveling with children easier? A good pair of noise-canceling headphones. We all know children can get restless during a long flight, there is nowhere to go and not much to do. Keeping them entertained with their favorite film, a soothing story, or a lullaby to help them relax is a great way to ensure the whole family has a stress-free flight.
The BuddyPhones provide award-winning safe audio for kids, with volume capped at the WHO-recommended 85dB to avoiding damage to hearing. Thanks to the -23dB active noise cancellation, your child can listen safely even during air travel. More than that noise reduction improves overall focus making them a great learning tool for at-home studying.
Use either wirelessly with Bluetooth for 18 hours of uninterrupted playback, or use the backup cable if the battery runs low. When finished with, simply fold away into the protective carry case for easy storage throughout your travel.
Designed to be bright and colorful, kids will love the fun designs BuddyPhones have created. And with the additional BuddyCable system, all of your children can have fun listening together. These headphones are also built for durability, kids are not always careful, but BuddyPhones are tested for durability to withstand even the strongest of children.
- Volume capped at a safe 85dB
- -23dB Active noise-cancellation
- Improves focus while studying
- Foldable with protective carry case
- Fun colorful designs
- BuddyCable system for shared audio
- Use wireless or wired
- Shorter battery life than other brands
6. Best Headphones For Airplane Travel Under $100 – Soundcore by Anker Life Q30
If you are looking for the best budget noise-canceling headphones then the Soundcore by Anker Life Q30 should be on your radar. Just because you are spending less, that does not mean you are missing out. The Soundcore’s come with an impressive array of features that make them great headphones for traveling by airplane.
The hybrid active noise-cancellation features dual noise-detecting microphones that are able to detect and filter out up to 95% of low-frequency ambient background sounds. You can customize your noise-cancellation by choosing from 3 modes including a travel option, optimized to block out the sounds of airplane engine noises.
You can still experience high-resolution certified sound without breaking the bank. The Q30’s are built with 40mm drivers. The diaphragms are made from an ultra-flexible silk material that can reproduce bass with extreme clarity. The treble extends to an impressive 40kHz so you can enjoy every detail of your audio while blocking out disruptive sounds around you.
While in the noise-canceling mode you have a whopping 40 hours of wireless playback time and in standard mode, the battery lasts for an incredible 60 hours between charges. They are also comfortable with smooth protein leather memory foam padded earcups. Ergonomically designed to fit over the ears with a noise-isolating seal, they are also lightweight so you can enjoy them for hours even during long-distance travel.
- Great budget option
- Active noise-cancellation blocks 95% low-frequency sounds
- 3 modes including travel mode
- High-resolution certified sound
- Ultra-flexible silk diaphragms
- 40 hours of wireless playback
- Lightweight and ergonomically designed
- Memory foam padded earcups
- Some reviewers commented build-quality not as strong as high-end models
To Wrap Up
Whether you are traveling long-haul or taking a short flight to another state, you want to be able to sit back and enjoy the journey in comfort. Noise-canceling headphones are a great way to block out loud engine sounds that can be damaging to your hearing. They also allow you to listen to your favorite film, music, or podcast at a safe and comfortable volume. Here is a quick round-up of our selection of the best Noise-canceling headphones for air travel:
- Best Overall Noise-Canceling Headphones For Airplanes – Sony WHCH710N
- Best Sennheiser Noise-Canceling Headphones For Airplanes – Sennheiser PXC 550-II
- Best In-Ear Noise-Canceling Headphones For Airplanes – Bose QuietComfort 20
- Most Comfortable Noise-Canceling Headphones For Flying – Bose QuietComfort 35
- Best Children’s Noise Canceling Headphones For Flying – BuddyPhones Cosmos
- Best Headphones For Airplane Travel Under $100 – Soundcore by Anker Life Q30
Whichever pair you choose, you can experience your audio with unmatched clarity, without the disruptions of a busy air cabin. We hope our advice will help you make your decision, and wish you a safe and pleasant flight!