Best headphones for travel 2018: 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

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Portable 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, or an audiobook, or a chill-out soundtrack.

However, you don't just need any old headphones. 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 earcups continuously measure, compare and react to the soundwaves they detect.

Essentially creating soundwaves to cancel-out the low frequencies, the trend is for £300+ 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.

Best headphones for travel

1. Sony WH-1000XM3

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
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-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.

2. Bose QuietComfort 35 II

The second incarnation of this classic adds voice assistants

Specifications
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. Libratone Q Adapt on-ear

Good value noise cancelling ideal for cities and economy class

Specifications
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. 

4. JBL Tune 600BTNC

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.

5. 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.

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