What are noise-cancelling headphones?
If there’s one thing that makes flying more comfortable, it’s noise-cancelling headphones. Getting rid of wind noise might not seem like a big deal, but it is.
Sure, you’re still breathing everyone’s farts on the plane, the food still isn’t great, and those damn kids won’t stop running up and down the aisle, but at least you’re not hearing them anymore.
What do they do exactly? Well, as the name suggests, they cancel out ambient noise. There are little microphones on the outside of the headphones that detect the sounds around you, and with the help of some computer-magic, the headphones create the exact opposite of those sounds, effectively cancelling them out. That’s how it works in a nutshell, and it works pretty damn well.
Why I love it
You probably don’t realize it, but the constant wind-noise in an airplane is extremely tiring. It is a constant bombardment of loud sound on the eardrums, and it wears you out. It’s like driving for a long time. You feel you’re doing nothing because you’re sitting on your ass for hours, and yet when you arrive, you’re completely destroyed. Noise-cancelling headphones are no magic pill, as flying will always drain the life out of you, but they do make a big difference. Especially long flights become a lot more bearable if you have a pair with you.
When you put them on your head and switch them on, it’s like the ambient noise suddenly has a volume knob, and you just lowered it with about 90%. It really feels like a magic trick every time.
It’s a lot easier to take a nap when you’re surrounded in silence, and you don’t have to crank the volume to drown out what’s going on around you when you watch a movie or listen to a tune. Some people also like to wear them at work or school to be more distraction-free, as they make the world around you a lot quieter in any situation (so don’t be a dumb-ass and wear them on the street or while driving a car).
They can be hooked up to an audio-source, just like normal headphones, or they can be used just to get rid of ambient noise. They require batteries, and they’ll generally last 30-35hours on one AAA battery. When the battery is dead, they’ll function like normal headphones. The only real downside to them, is that they’re expensive.
Which ones to get
I narrowed it down to three different pairs, in three different price ranges.
Bose QuietComfort 25
These headphones have have by far the best noise-cancelling, while having excellent audio quality. The sound is overall clear and a little on the bass-heavy side, but most people will probably like that. Comes with a carrying case, and has volume controls and microphone in the cable. Folds up compactly and doesn’t weigh a lot. Overall the best choice for the frequent traveler. Also the most expensive, $299
Sennheiser PXC 450
The sound-quality of these is better than the Bose. The highs and mids are well-defined, and there is plenty of bass that’s tight and not overwhelming. The soundscape is well-balanced and overall pleasant, but the noise-cancelling is less good than the Bose. These headphones are large, have a very comfortable fit, and have the best build quality of them all. This also makes them heavier. Comes with a carrying case and also has volume controls. Stellar value for money, $249
Get it here.
Less elegant and more plastic-y than the previous two, but they do get the job done. Build quality is solid and they come with a carrying case and all the cables you want, just like the more expensive offerings. Noise-cancelling is decent, and although it isn’t fair to compare the sound quality to headphones that are over 2-3x as expensive, the sound quality is alright: not exceptionally good, nor bad. There’s some sound-leaking, which means that the people around you will hear what you’re listening to if you turn up the volume.
With all that said, on a plane, these are a lot better than non-noise-cancelling headphones. Like the case with most things in life, you get what you pay for. $115 offers good value for money with these. Just don’t compare them to the other two when you set your mind on these.
Get it here.
This is one of those cases of personal tastes. I’m a bit of an audiophile, which is why the Sennheiser PXC 450 came out on top for me. I just love the neutral, balanced sound of them. The Bose is a very close second, as its noise-cancelling is better, no doubt, but the sound is a little too bassy for my tastes compared to the Sennheiser. That’s not saying they’re bad; they do sound like $300 headphones, and the sound will impress anyone who puts them on for the first time. Besides, most people like a bump on the bass-side of the spectrum, so there’s a good chance a lot of people will like the sound of the Bose better. Again, it’s mostly a personal taste thing. The Audio Technica is a solid pair that will get the job done for a fraction of the cost. They’re not as good as either the Bose or the Sennheiser, but they sound decent for what they are and are a lot better than nothing.
Find all of these on Amazon
“Active Noise Reduction” by Marekich – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons