The 7 Best Headphones For Air Travel

Updated September 08, 2017 by Daniel Imperiale

7 Best Headphones For Air Travel
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One of the ways to minimize fatigue from long plane rides is to reduce your exposure to typical noises in the cabin. A pair of these headphones for air travel will help do just that and provide excellent sound quality for your music or in-flight movies. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best headphones for air travel on Amazon.

7. JLab Audio's J6

If durability is a sticking point with your headphones, JLab Audio's J6 high fidelity earbuds come with a lifetime guarantee. Their ergonomic design helps secure them more comfortably in your ear canal, using the natural bone structure of your inner ear for amplification.
  • seven cushion sizes to choose from
  • weak inline microphone
  • 24 karat gold plated jack
Brand JLAB
Weight 0.8 ounces
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

6. Koss PortaPro

The Koss PortaPro headphones are a popular commuter's choice overseas, thanks in large part to their lightweight design and folding earcups. They push the low end frequencies of your music to deliver deeper bass performance, but the rest of the frequencies are left alone.
  • sliding comfort adjustment
  • hardwired to each earcup
  • old-fashioned headband
Brand Koss
Model 155491
Weight 6.4 ounces
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

5. Audio-Technica ATH-M50x

The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x studio monitor headphones are designed for use in professional recording studios, so their audio reproduction is simultaneously very honest and a little flat. 45 mm large-aperture drivers provide an excellent dynamic range, however.
  • earcups swivel 90 degrees
  • physical sound isolation
  • detachable cable for durability
Brand Audio-Technica
Model ATH-M50x
Weight 2.3 pounds
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

4. Beats Solo2

Among all of Dr. Dre's headphones, the Beats Solo2 wireless, on-ear headphones do the best job balancing features, sound quality, and affordability. Their Bluetooth range reaches up to 30 feet, and the rechargeable battery includes a fuel gauge and runs for about 12 hours.
  • come in a wide variety of colors
  • remote talk cable in the box
  • overcompensated bass enhancement
Brand Beats Solo2
Model pending
Weight pending
Rating 4.2 / 5.0

3. Bose's SoundSport

Bose's SoundSport in-ear headphones are structured to maintain a sturdy, leveraged grip on the ear, preventing the buds from falling out amid turbulent plane rides or even while jogging. Their TriPort technology divides the dynamic range for a more spacious soundscape.
  • sweat and weather resistant
  • inline control options
  • optimized for apple devices
Brand Bose's SoundSport
Model pending
Weight pending
Rating 5.0 / 5.0

2. R6 by Klipsch

For in-ear headphones, the R6 by Klipsch knock out a lot of external noise. Their dual-magnet, dynamic moving coil speakers amplify incoming signals with an elevated level of nuance at a price that might raise unwarranted suspicions among audiophiles.
  • available in black or white
  • tangle-resistant cable
  • four ear tip sizes included
Brand R6 by Klipsch
Model pending
Weight pending
Rating 4.9 / 5.0

1. Bose QuietComfort 35

The Bose QuietComfort 35 wireless noise cancelling headphones fit around the ear to maximize comfort while minimizing the intrusion of outside noises. They operate on an included rechargeable lithium ion battery for up to 20 hours wireless, or 40 hours wired.
  • volume-optimized eq
  • dual microphone system
  • backup audio cable
Brand Bose
Model 759944-0010
Weight 1.5 pounds
Rating 4.9 / 5.0

A Brief History of Headphones For Air Travel

The first effective headphones date back to 1910, when inventor Nathaniel Baldwin assembled a pair in his kitchen. These primitive headphones were similar to telephone receivers, and did a poor job of reproducing sound relative to modern standards. Headphones were used almost exclusively by telephone operators until the late 1920s, when Brandes released a new design suitable for radio operators.

The first product to resemble modern audiophile headphones was brought to market by jazz musician John C. Koss in 1958. These headphones translated a stereo signal, sending different signals to the right and left channels.

The smaller earbud design used by many air travel headphones manufacturers originated with hearing aids. This alternative to full-size headphones was frequently paired with the first portable transistor radios of the early 1960s. Transistor radios were the first audio devices to feature the 3.5mm audio plug used by most headphones today. The plug was first seen in 1964's Sony EFM-117J.

As the output quality of audio devices improved, demand for high fidelity headphones increased. CD players and modern digital and streaming devices, in particular, reward users of quality headphones.

As manufacturers made audio devices smaller and easier to carry, passengers brought them -- and headphones -- aboard airplanes. Noise canceling and noise isolating headphones were ideal for use during flight, thanks to their ability to block or drown out engine sounds.

The Apple iPod MP3 player exploded onto the market in 2001, shipping with a pair of the now-iconic white Apple earbuds. Headphones manufacturers tailored their products to match Apple's offering.

Today, the most popular portable audio device is the smartphone. Because many smartphones feature Bluetooth radio, some headphones manufacturers now produce wireless and wired variants of the same model.

Are They Noise Canceling or Noise Isolating?

Most popular headphones for travel employ either noise canceling or noise isolating technology.

Noise canceling headphones monitor ambient sound with built-in microphones and invert the sound with an onboard processor. This inverted sound is almost instantly fed into the user's ear, effectively canceling out surrounding noises.

This technique is particularly effective with consistent, droning sounds like the hum of an airplane jet engine, because those sounds are easy to identify and negate. However noise canceling headphones typically struggle to cloak higher pitched sounds with greater variance, like crying babies or talking.

With noise isolating headphones, the solution to limiting outside noise is much simpler. Noise isolating headphones merely offer a barrier between your ear and those unwanted sounds. Over-ear headphones feature sound-dampening insulation, but typically aren't as effective at isolation as in-ear/earbuds style headphones.

In-ear headphones often ship with a variety of extensions designed to fit inside the ear canal and block all sound except for that originating from the attached audio device. These extensions, when properly inserted and well-fitted to the canal, can create a seal that blocks all but the loudest outside sounds.

Noise canceling headphones make it easier to enjoy audio at a lower volume than other designs, according to researchers. This can limit hearing damage in the long term.

Flying With Portable Electronic Devices

In 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration relaxed its restrictions on the use of portable electronic devices aboard airplanes.

Use of these devices was prohibited during takeoff and landing prior to 2013, and limited while the plane was in flight. The FAA's decision allows the use of portable devices during all phases of flight, provided tablets and phones with cellular radios are put in airplane mode. While portable audio devices and smartphones may now be used in flight, they must still be securely stored during takeoff and landing.

Voice calls using cellular radio are still prohibited during flight, as they have been since the Federal Communications Commission instituted a ban in 1991. It seemed the ban might be lifted in 2013 when then FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler came out against it. Wheeler said the ban was obsolete, because many airlines have their own cellular towers installed aboard planes for streaming entertainment. However, in April 2017, FCC chairman Ajit Pai said his organization would not lift the ban on cellular calls during flight, highlighting the value of "quiet at 30,000 feet."

While American airlines are prohibited from allowing passenger cellular calls, a number of airlines throughout the world permit them.

Most noise-canceling and wireless headphones are powered, and have built-in batteries. In some cases, these batteries can be hazardous aboard a plane. This issue was brought to the attention of flight safety administrators in 2013 when a passenger aboard a flight from Beijing, China to Melbourne, Australia suffered burns after the headphones she fell asleep wearing exploded during the flight. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau blamed the explosion on the batteries, and warned against letting powered portable devices fall into the cracks between airplane seats. If unable to retrieve your device from the crevice between seats, you should contact a member of the flight crew and avoid moving or adjusting the seat.

Spare batteries should always be kept in your carry-on bag, and never stored in checked baggage.

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Last updated on September 08, 2017 by Daniel Imperiale

Daniel is a writer, actor, and director living in Los Angeles, CA. He spent a large portion of his 20s roaming the country in search of new experiences, taking on odd jobs in the strangest places, studying at incredible schools, and making art with empathy and curiosity.

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