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Best Headphones for Commuting - Spring 2017

Music can ease the pain of daily public transportation and make flights more enjoyable. The best headphones for commuting block or cancel the ambient noise of moderately loud environments, like being in a metro, train or bus.

Travel-friendly headphones don’t leak much so other fellow commuters can’t hear what you are listening to. Since you can spend hours at a time wearing headphones, they should be comfortable and portable enough to not be cumbersome to use while traveling. Below are our recommendations for the best headphones for commuting we have tested so far.

Best Headphones for Commuting

Commuting headphones in this price range deliver superior noise isolation, typically through the use of proprietary active noise-cancelling technology. The best portable headphones have a good sound, are comfortable, sturdy and not too cumbersome. Additional features like wireless audio and efficient or unique control schemes are often provided on these models.

Usage Rating
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What it is How well the headphones handle the loud environments involved in commuting or traveling. Therefore your listening experience should be comfortable, hassle-free and as isolated from noise as possible.
Score components:

The Sony MDR-1000X are the best headphones for commuting. If you’re often on public transit or need headphones with enough isolation to block the ambient noise at an airport, then the MDR-1000x won’t disappoint. They’re well-built and comfortable headphones with one of the best noise canceling performances that we’ve measured so far. They’re a bit leaky at higher volumes, but these headphones are versatile with an above-average sound that will please most listeners.

See our review


The Bose Quiet Comfort 35 are still the go-to headphones for most commuters and frequent flyers, especially if comfort is a high priority for you. Their isolation measurements are slightly worse than the MDR-1000x, but it’s more than sufficient to block the ambient noise of a daily commute. Like the Sony MDR-1000x, they're a bit leaky at higher volumes, but they’re one of the most comfortable closed-back headphones we’ve tested so far. 

See our review

Best Mid-Range Headphones for Commuting

In this price range, commuting headphones will not be as feature-packed as the more premium models. They still deliver a good sound and great active noise isolation, capable of blocking the noise of a loud commute or flight.

Usage Rating
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What it is How well the headphones handle the loud environments involved in commuting or traveling. Therefore your listening experience should be comfortable, hassle-free and as isolated from noise as possible.
Score components:

If you want a compact pair of commuting headphones that you can carry on you at all times, then get the BeatsX. They're versatile wireless in-ear headphones that are lot more portable than the over-ear headphones on this list. If you don't have an iOS device, you may miss out on a few features, but these Beats headphones fare well in loud environments, have a better range than most other wireless in-ears and a decent battery life with quick charge capability. 

See our review

Best Budget Headphones for Commuting

In this price range, commuting headphones most likely have a passively isolating design. They will still be enough for loud environments, like being on a train.

Usage Rating
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What it is How well the headphones handle the loud environments involved in commuting or traveling. Therefore your listening experience should be comfortable, hassle-free and as isolated from noise as possible.
Score components:

The best budget portable headphones for travel and commuting are the Anker SoundBuds Sport. They do not have active noise canceling but they still isolate well enough to be decent commuting headphones. They’re cheap, so if you don’t want to spend much for a versatile pair of wireless headphones, they’re a great option. 

See our review

All Reviews

Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best travel headphones to buy for most people in each price range. We factor in the price (a cheaper headphone wins over a pricier one if the difference isn't worth it), feedback from our visitors and availability (no headphones that are difficult to find or almost out of stock everywhere).

A few examples of commuting headphones that didn't make the cut:

  • Sennheiser PXC 550. Well-built, versatile headphones. Isolation is weaker than the QC 35 and the Zik 3.0. See our review
  • Parrot Zik 3.0. Excellent build quality and versatile active features. Mediocre battery life and a bit tight on the head. See our review
  • Jaybird X3. The newer model of the Jaybird series. As versatile as the X2 but comes with a customizable app. See our review
  • Samsung Level Over Wireless. Good sound and decent build quality. Slightly bulky and cumbersome. See our review

If you would like to choose for yourself, here is the list of all our reviews for headphones that are good for commuting. Be careful not to get caught up in the details. There are no perfect headphones. Personal taste, preference and listening habits will matter more in your selection, especially if you listen to audio at high enough volumes to drown the ambient noise of your commute.

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Questions & Answers

Can you compare and contrast the Bose QC35, the Sony MDR 1000X, and the Parrot Zik 3.0? I am especially interested in which one has the best microphone for use in noisy environments. 2nd priority would be the most isolation from noisy environments.
We haven't reviewed the MDR 1000X yet, and we haven't started testing microphones yet either. However, in terms of isolation, the QC35 should outperform the Zik 3.0 by a small margin, but the ANC in Zik 3.0 will most likely be more comfortable than the QC35. That's because it adapts to the environment and doesn't overly isolate in quiet environments.
I noticed your commuting headphones are largely noise-isolating. However, I find that when commuting I need to be able to hear some of what is going on around me. Therefore I need headphones that give me detail without having to be too loud, but that don't completely isolate me. They also need to be able to be driven by a phone rather than a high end DAC. I currently use 1st generation Sennheiser Momentums and am very happy with everything except the ear cup size. Are there any phones you can recommend along these lines?

At the moment our Commute score favors headphones that can achieve the most amount of noise-cancelling. We agree that this may not be the choice for everyone and are thinking of ways to improve this.

We find the Bose SoundLink/SoundTrue over-ears perform similarly to the Momentums, but with more comfortable ear cups. They tend to be a bit leaky though. The Audio Technica ATH-M50x is also a great sounding headphone, but not as comfortable as the Bose.

Will you be reviewing any of the Bowers and Wilkins line of headphones? My friend swears by them for comfort and fidelity, would love to get your take!
We have just placed our order for the P7, and are planning on reviewing it sometime in July. Update: we have the review up!
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