Best headphones for travel 2019: noise-cancelling headphones ideal for holidays

From wireless and waterproof to noise-cancelling and long-haul-ready batteries, there's a pair of headphones for every kind of traveller

Best headphones for travel

Music and travelling go hand in hand. Dead time and long, boring journeys in noisy environments – buses, trains and planes – are begging to be brightened up by a favourite playlist, an audiobook, or a chill-out soundtrack.

However, you don't just need any old headphones, as you may soon find out, the headphones that are perfect for your 30-minute commute are uncomfortable on longer journeys and don't cancel out the sound of a jet engine.

If you fly long-haul a lot, you’ll know the evil that is the 60+ decibels of white noise a big aircraft’s engines and air-con systems produce. Cue noise-cancelling technology, where precise arrangements of microphones inside and outside the ear-cups continuously measure, compare and react to the sound-waves they detect.

Essentially creating sound-waves to cancel-out the low frequencies, the trend is for pricey wireless noise cancelling headphones that are packed with cutting-edge electronics. 

They’re great, but while they succeed in what they do, they are bulky as well as pricey. That's fine if you have the cash to burn and you travel with lots of luggage, but if you travel light you'll want to investigate some of the other, better value options for travel-proof earphones out there. 

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

These are the best headphones for travel:

Best headphones for travel

1. Sony WH-1000XM3

A newly refined classic that's great for music

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

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-1000XM3 – announced at IFA 2018 – are four times more powerful than the previous version, and best Bose on battery life at 30 hours.

If that's a reason to buy, it's also the reason why the WH-1000XM3 are identically priced to the Bose QC35 II. The WH-1000XM3 also deal in High-Resolution Audio, and do sound much better for music than the Bose QC35 II, but they are slightly heavier.

The Sony's also have a feature which adapts the noise cancelling based on your current atmospheric pressure, which should make them work even better on planes. Whether the effect is a placebo or not, it makes the WH-1000XM3s the best headphones for travel.

2. Bose QuietComfort 35 II

The second incarnation of this classic adds voice assistants

Best for: Business class
Noise cancelling: Yes
Weight: 240g
Reasons to buy
+High quality noise cancelling+Lighter than Sony WH-1000XM3
Reasons to avoid
-Not as adept with music as Sony

Bose's flagship is the QC35 II, a recently refreshed update of the original QC35, though what's been added is pretty minimal; compatibility with Amazon Alexa and the Google Assistant. Is that really necessary? While flying, it's impossible, so consider searching for the original QC35 if you just want them for plane journeys.

Both models have the same excellent noise-cancelling abilities, with three powers to choose from, alongside great all-around sound quality, a 20-hour battery life, a 1.2 m cable, and best of all (if you intend to sleep), a beautifully soft headband. 

It's a great product, but in terms of functionality, you can get almost the same technology for a lot less.

3. Bose QC30

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

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.

Bowers & Wilkins PX

4. Bowers & Wilkins PX

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

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.

5. Beoplay H9i

These are the most stylish pair of travel headphones around

Best for: Stylish travel
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.

6. Sony WF-1000X

Best noise cancelling true wireless headphones

Best for: Completely wire free
Noise cancelling:
Weight: 6.8g
Reasons to buy
+Technically incredible+Great sound+So small!
Reasons to avoid
-Short battery life-Unreliable connectivity

These true wireless buds from Sony are like Apple Airpods but designed specifically for travelling. While there are some annoying quirks around charging and staying connected, the WF-1000X were a technical marvel, managing to pack AAC, aptX, an unusually good EQ adjuster, and ANC into tiny true wireless buds. 

The ANC is surprisingly effective, although of course, it's not remotely on par with the likes of the Sony or Bose on this list.

These aren't for long haul flights, though, as the battery life is only around two hours.

Marshall Mid ANC

7. Marshall Mid ANC

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

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.

8. Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 wireless on ear

Excellent audio and subtle noise cancelling

Best for: Excellent audio
Noise cancelling: Yes
Weight: 700g
Reasons to buy
+Excellent audio+Long battery life+Fold up design
Reasons to avoid
-Iffy Bluetooth connectivity

These Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 headphones are elegantly engineered from stainless steel, faux-suede and leather, and packed with tech that sounds fantastic. 

In particular, Sennheiser's NoiseGard noise cancelling technology is great at sucking out sound from the world, leaving you to enjoy one of the most impressive wireless performances we've heard. 

Combine the above with a 22hr Bluetooth battery life and folding frame they were born to travel.

9. Libratone Q Adapt on-ear

Good value noise cancelling ideal for cities and economy class

Best for: Commuting & occasional plane journeys
Noise cancelling: Yes
Weight: 212g
Reasons to buy
+CityMix noise cancelling+20 hours of battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Noise cancelling not as good as Sony/Bose-Shorter battery life

Half the price – and half the size – of the flagship Sony and Bose efforts are these dinky, smart-looking headphones from Libratone. An over-ear model boasting solid build quality, the Q Adapt on-ear have various strengths of 'CityMix' noise-reduction control, one of which does a great job cancelling-out plane noise, though it does let some sound in. 

There's also a 50% noise cancelling option that is safer when you're out and about and don't want to be completely cocooned from traffic noise when crossing roads, etc. The ear cups are touch-sensitive so can be used to play/pause/alter the volume, and there are 20 hours of battery life. 

10. JBL Tune 600BTN

Affordable wireless headphones with noise reduction

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.

11. Sony NW-WS623

Liven-up those sessions in the hotel pool or gym

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.

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