Best headphones for travel 2021: noise-cancelling headphones ideal for holidays

From wireless and waterproof to noise-cancelling and long-haul-ready batteries, it's time to grab a pair of the best headphones for travel.

Best headphones for travel
(Image credit: Beats By Dr. Dre)

If you’re not travelling with a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, you’re not doing it properly. Sure, you could travel with the same earphones you use on your 30-minute commute, but don’t be surprised when they’re uncomfortable and you can’t even hear your movie, audiobook or podcast.

Buses and trains are loud. Aircraft cabins are louder. In fact, at take-off and landing noise levels inside the cabin can reach 105 decibels (dB). At cruising altitudes, it’s about 85 dB. Which is why pilots have for decades been wearing headphones that produce sound waves to physically cancel-out ambient noise.

Now you can, too.

For frequent long-haul flyers, noise-cancelling headphones are standard issue or, at least, they ought to be. That white noise a big aircraft’s engines and air-con systems produce is a killer. Cue a precise arrangement of microphones inside and outside the ear-cups of noise-cancelling headphones that continuously measure, compare and react to the sound-waves they detect.

Essentially creating sound-waves to cancel-out the low frequencies, the latest trend is for noise-cancelling headphones to go wireless. However, a lot of models are both bulky and expensive, which means that you do have to shop around if you want something more compact or more affordable.

Luckily, noise-cancelling earphones are now coming of age, with some great quality products to pick from across the price range.

If you're looking to fully update your travel kit, then you'll need to make sure your headphones are packed inside the best suitcase or best carry-on luggage and you'll want to read T3's ultimate travel guide.

These are the best headphones for travel:

The best headphones for travel

Best headphones for travel: Sony WH-1000XM4T3 Best Buy Award

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Sony WH-1000XM4

A newly refined classic that's great for music

Specifications
Best for: Music
Noise cancelling: Yes
Weight: 254g
Reasons to buy
+High quality noise cancelling+Best for sound quality+Adapts to cabin pressure
Reasons to avoid
-Bulky

Two companies dominate wireless noise cancelling headphones; Bose and Sony. When it comes to bulky wireless noise cancelling headphones aimed at business travellers, for every benchmark Bose there's a Sony lurking in the shadows. 

The newest of the lot, Sony's WH-1000XM4 – announced in August 2020 – are a relatively minor upgrade on the XM4 from 2018, but still boast market-leading noise cancellation.

The new model's ear pads are 10 percent larger than on the XM3's, improving comfort, and as before the headphones are available in black or silver. Inside, the XM4 gets Sony's new DSEE Extreme audio processor for improved sound processing, and also new is how music automatically pauses when you take the headphones off.

The XM4's can connect to two Bluetooth devices at once, like a laptop and smartphone, adding to their wireless convenience. A feature called Speak to Chat automatically lowers the volume when you start talking, and there is access to either Alexa or Google Assistant.

Best headphones for travel: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700T3 Approved Award

(Image credit: Bose)

2. Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

Sleek new design replaces an icon

Specifications
Best for: Business class
Noise cancelling: Yes
Weight: 240g
Reasons to buy
+High quality noise cancelling+Lighter than Sony WH-1000XM3+New design

The Bose QC35 and QC35 II were an icon of travel headphones. Catch any rush-hour train and board any flight, and you will see black and silver Bose headphones peaking out from the top of almost every headrest.

Now, there's a new model in town. The literally-named Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 introduce a sleek new design that is both lightweight and elegant. Behind the smart look, the headphones still pack 11 adjustable levels of top-notch noice cancellation, impressive audio quality, and up to 20 hours of wireless battery life.

Like with many of today's headphones, either Alexa or Google Assistant can be summoned with the press of a button, while the stainless steel headband and padded, angled ear cups are designed to put comfort first.

Best headphones for travel: Bose QC30T3 Approved Award

3. Bose QC30

Travelling light? These are some of the best in-ear noise cancelling earbuds

Specifications
Best for: Travelling light
Noise cancelling: Yes
Weight: 63.8g
Reasons to buy
+Technically impressive+Comfortable+Very portable
Reasons to avoid
-Over ears sound better-

If you prefer to travel light, and don't like the idea of packing a large pair of over-ear headphones, these premium, noise cancelling Bluetooth in-ears from Bose could be the option for you.

The QC30s are almost as cocooning as the mighty impressive QC35s above, but they're obviously more lightweight, and allow you to sleep more comfortably. The only issue is that they don't sound as good as the larger, more expensive options on this list.

Best headphones for travel: Bowers & Wilkins PXT3 Approved Award

4. Bowers & Wilkins PX

Flying first class? You'll want a premium pair of travel headphones to match

Specifications
Best for: Luxury travel
Noise cancelling: Yes
Weight: 375g
Reasons to buy
+Great sound with excellent ANC+Motion-sensing features+Stylish+Comfortable
Reasons to avoid
-Don't fold

The PX is Bowers & Wilkins' first pair of Bluetooth ANC headphones, and boy, they're impressive. For a start, you can control the level and type of ANC using an app on your smartphone. 

The headphones sound great, with B&W's usual exciting, but well balanced, signature sound. In fact, we'd say they sound slightly better than the other big-ticket noise-cancelling headphones. 

The PX also features motion-sensing, which means if you lift a cup from your ear, the sound is paused, and if you take them off entirely, they go into a standby mode. It's very useful when travelling, as you'll frequently need to remove them to talk to people.

Best headphones for travel: Airpods ProT3 Approved Award

(Image credit: Apple)

5. Apple AirPods Pro

Extremely portable and with excellent noice cancellation

Specifications
Best for:: Travelling light
Noise cancelling:: Yes
Weight:: 45.60g
Reasons to buy
+Compact and portable+24 hours of battery with charge case+Excellent noise cancelling
Reasons to avoid
-Need to use the charge case every 4.5 hours

When Apple launched its AirPods Pro we couldn't believe white how good their active noise cancelling was. Despite their tiny size, they block out plenty of ambient sound passively with a good, comfortable fit, then create near-silence when the active noice cancelling is switched on.

Their touch controls are easy to use and if you are a fully paid-up member of the Apple ecosystem you can enjoy the AirPods' ability to automatically switch between your iPhone, iPad and Mac, depending on how you use them.

Battery life is 4.5 hours for the earphones themselves, with a further 24 hours of playback possible by popping them into the charging case every few hours. That can be a bit fo a drag on a long-hawk flight, but their pocket-friendly convenience more than makes up for it.

Best headphones for travel: Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H95T3 Approved Award

(Image credit: Band & Olufsen)

6. Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H95

The most stylish travel headphones around

Specifications
Best for:: Luxe travel
Noise cancelling:: Yes
Weight:: 323g
Reasons to buy
+Great looks+Lightweight+Sound great+Long battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Can't be used when battery dies (even wired)-You wouldn't want to leave them in the buisness lounge

Created to celebrate the brand's 95th anniversary, the Beoplay H95 might just be the most luxe and stylish travel headphones on this list. A combination of exceptional adaptive active noise cancellation, incredible comfort, sleek design, and outstanding sound performance makes H95 the perfect travel companion for first-class globetrotters. The headphones have been created from luxurious metal and fabrics to deliver an ultra-premium product in both build-quality and long-lasting comfort. They're equipped with high-quality titanium drivers tuned to Bang & Olufsen’s signature sound.

Best headphones for travel: Beoplay H9iT3 Approved Award

7. Beoplay H9i

Another pair of stylish headphones from B&O

Specifications
Best for:: Stylish over-ears
Noise cancelling:: Yes
Weight:: 285g
Reasons to buy
+Stylish+Comfortable+Colour options
Reasons to avoid
-Iffy app and proximity sensor-Warm earcups

If you like to travel in style, then the BeoPlay H9i headphones could be for you.  The headband uses cowhide leather atop aluminum, while the ear cushions are wonderfully soft and designed for supreme comfort. In fact, they're so soft and padded your ears can get a little too warm on a flight.

Inside, the Beoplay H9i headphones offer Bang & Olufsen's Signature Sound, excellent active noise cancellation, and an innovative touch interface (which can be a little fiddly at times).

We found the H9i was let down by the proximity sensor, which kept pausing the music for no reason, and the app, which refused to connect for us.

Best headphones for travel: Shure Aonic 50T3 Approved Award

(Image credit: Shure)

8. Shure Aonic 50

The number one choice for audiophiles

Reasons to buy
+Clear, detailed sound+Has every every audio codec you could ever need+Excellent build quality
Reasons to avoid
-Lots of buttons-Unforgiving with poor quality source material

If you want to listen to music at its very best on your next trip away, with good noice cancelling too, the Shure Aonic 50 are an excellent pair of headphones. Shure took its time to get into the headphone market, but not it's fear we are big fans, and this year awarded the Aonic 50 our Platinum Award and have them the full five-star treatment.

The headphones have a wide range of audio codecs to get the best out of your music, and have superb build quality and great design. The only drawback here is how the Shure's have a tendency to highlight the shortcomings of older and lesser-quality audio. But feed them with quality sound and you'll be in for a treat.

Best headphones for travel: Cleer Flow IIT3 Approved Award

(Image credit: Cleer)

9. Cleer Flow II

Excellent noise cancelling and long battery life

Specifications
Best for: Noise cancelling and battery life
Noise cancelling: Yes
Weight:
Reasons to buy
+Excellent noise cancelling+Long battery life+Fold-flat design+Google Assistant button+Sound great
Reasons to avoid
-Ear-cups could be more comfortable

These noise-cancelling, Bluetooth headphones from Cleer are fantastic value. For less than £250 / $300 you get a pair of great-sounding headphones with a long list of premium features. The Flow II's boast up-to 20 hours playback with noise-cancelling enabled (that's most flights around the world covered). As for the quality of noise-cancelling? That's up there with the best from Sony and Bose. Our two favourite features (other than the excellent sound quality) is Google Fast Pair, which makes pairing with Android phones a breeze, and Conversation Mode, which temporarily disengages ANC and automatically lowers the volume of whatever you're listening to when you place your hand over the left ear cup.

Best headphones for travel: Beats Studio 3 WirelessT3 Approved Award

(Image credit: Beats by Dr Dre)

10. Beats Studio 3 Wireless

Remarkable noise-cancelling and great sound make for the best Beats ever

Specifications
Best for: Battery life and charging
Noise cancelling: Yes
Weight: 260g
Reasons to buy
+Very effective ANC+Awesome sound+Rapid recharging

Are these the best Beats ever? These wireless noise-cancelling headphones’ killer feature is the way noise control can adapt to the ambient noise around you, whether that's aircraft engine noise, wind, or the jibber-jabber of other travellers. 

The anti-wind mode is impressive since a stiff breeze is often the nemesis of noise-cancelling headphones because of the way they use microphones to monitor ambient sound. However, an algorithm in the Beats Studio3 fades-out wind within a few seconds. In fact, it’s a silky noise-cancelling performance all-round because these are one of the rare pairs of headphones where you just don't 'hear' the noise cancellation process as much as you do with other really good ANC cans. 

Happily, the Beats Studio3 are also the best sounding of the Studio range to date, with a detailed sonic signature throughout. Also handy is a ‘fast fuel' feature that gives three hours of playback from a 10-minute charge, and easy pairing and device switching as found on Apple’s AirPods.

Best headphones for travel: Sennheiser PXC 550 IIT3 Approved Award

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

11. Sennheiser PXC 550 II

The nearest thing to an 'audiophile' ANC headphone

Specifications
Best for: Audiophiles
Noise cancelling: Yes
Weight: 227g
Reasons to buy
+Very musical+Long battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Annoying design-So-so noise cancelling

Here’s a fact about noise-cancelling headphones; most are good at noise cancelling, but far less impressive judged solely on musicality. Cue Sennheiser's PXC 550 noise cancelling headphones, which more a great-sounding pair of headphones that have ANC as a fairly minor side benefit. 

The best-sounding ANC headphones around? Perhaps – for pure sound quality they just can't be faulted – but the Beats, Bowers, Bose and Sony headphones here are all better at noise cancelling. 

The PXC 550’s have some odd design flourishes, such as the user having to rotate its ear-cups to turn the headphones on and off. They also have some strange on-ear touch controls for skipping tracks and changing volume that require the user to be extra-dextrous. 

The Speech mode for listening to spoken word, such as audiobooks and podcasts, is impressive, but kudos goes to Sennheiser for creating some headphones that boast punchy, detailed sonics. What they lack in noise cancelling prowess they make up for music, and for 20 hours using wireless Bluetooth playback with ANC (or 30 hours if you use the included mic/remote cable instead of going wireless). 

Best headphones for travel: Sony WF-1000XM3T3 Approved Award

12. Sony WF-1000XM3

Best noise cancelling true wireless headphones

Specifications
Best for: Completely wire free
Noise cancelling:
Weight: 6.8g
Reasons to buy
+Technically incredible+Great sound+So small!

If you're a Sony fan but need portability from your carry-on earphones, then the WF-1000XM3 are for you. Sony claims these tiny earphones offer a 40 percent improvement over the noice cancelation of their predecessors, while maintaining a compact design and pocket-sized charge case.

Battery life is six hours for the earphones themselves, a full 90 minutes more than Apple's AirPods Pro, and up to 24 hours when you top them up using the charge case.

Best headphones for travel: Marshall Mid ANCT3 Approved Award

13. Marshall Mid ANC

Compact on-ear headphones with noise cancelling, ideal for travelling

Specifications
Best for: Punchy sound
Noise cancelling: Yes
Weight: 208g
Reasons to buy
+Punchy sound+Neat styling
Reasons to avoid
-Not the most effective ANC-Uncomfortable with glasses

These are, essentially, the Marshall Mid headphones, with the added bonus of noise cancelling. They sound almost identical to their ANC-less sibling, but with the flick of a switch, you can instantly drown out background noise... to an extent. 

If you're looking for the ultimate noise cancelling, there are not it, the ANC is considerably more, uh, 'subtle' than the likes of Bose and Sony.

They're still a great pair of headphones for travelling, though, with excellent, punchy, bright, and lively sound.

Best headphones for travel: JBL Tune 600BTNT3 Approved Award

14. JBL Tune 600BTN

Affordable wireless headphones with noise reduction

Specifications
Best for: Budget travel
Noise cancelling: Yes
Weight: 173g
Reasons to buy
+Lightweight design+Low cost
Reasons to avoid
-Plasticky build quality

Until recently noise cancelling has been an expensive proposition, but that all changes with the arrival of the cut-price Tune 600BTNC from JBL. Lightweight and easily foldable for travelling, these headphones – available in pink, blue, white and black – are distinguishable from the big brands only in build quality. 

If you can stomach its relatively short 12-hour battery life and a rather plasticky feel and look, as well as rather a clumsy positioning of some of the buttons, do so because the Tune 600BTNC are otherwise highly impressive. Although noise cancelling is not up there with the top brands, it's very close, and there's always plenty of bass.

Best headphones for travel: Sony NW-WS623T3 Approved Award

15. Sony NW-WS623

Liven-up those sessions in the hotel pool or gym

Specifications
Best for: Hotel pools and gyms
Noise cancelling: No
Weight: 32g
Reasons to buy
+Waterproof+Tough build quality
Reasons to avoid
-No noise cancelling-Requires a computer to fill with music

Are you the kind that likes a quick dip or a workout after a long flight? If so, here are some totally different, totally waterproof earphones for you. These waterproof earphones work as a standalone Walkman, able to store MP3 files on its 4GB or 16GB capacity flash memory. However, it also connects wirelessly to a smartphone via Bluetooth, so you can use them as standard earphones for general use. 

While not good at keeping engine noise out when at 35,000ft., Sony's NW-WS623 instantly make swimming a less lonely experience. Available in black, blue, white and green, the NW-WS623 weighs just 32g and work continuously for 12 hours between recharges.

Looking for more suggestions?

Spencer Hart
Spencer Hart

As the Style and Travel Editor at T3, Spencer covers everything from clothes to cars and watches to hotels. Everything that's cool, stylish, and interesting, basically. He's been a part of T3 for over six years, and in that time covered every industry event known to man, from CES and MWC to the Geneva Motorshow and Baselworld. When he's not decorating his new home, he can be found messing around on an electric scooter, playing with luxury watches, or making sure his Instagram account looks perfect.