Music can ease the pain of daily public transportation and make flights more enjoyable. The best travel headphones 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.
So far, we've reviewed 262 headsets and below are our recommendations for the best headphones for airplanes to buy in 2019. See also our recommendations for the best wireless over-ear headphones, the best noise cancelling earbuds, and the best noise cancelling headphones.
The best travel headphones we've tested are the Sony WH-1000XM3. They're a big improvement over the WH-1000XM2, with a more comfortable design, better noise canceling, and a better battery performance.
They have one of the best noise canceling feature for any ANC-enabled headset that we've tested so far. They isolate more than the previous model and even outperform the Bose QuietComfort 35 II since you can optimize their noise-canceling depending on your environment. They also leak a lot less, so you can play your music at higher volumes to mask even more noise without bothering the people around you.
They're a lot more customizable than the QC35 II and the Bowers and Wilkins PX, and they do well in most categories that make a good travel headset. If you're often on public transit, commuting to work, or travel a lot by plane or train, then the WH-1000XM3 are a great choice that will not disappoint.
If comfort is your highest priority when getting a travel headset, then go for the Bose QuietComfort 35 II instead of the Sony WH-1000XM3. They do not have the customization options of the Sonys or the Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless, so you won't be able to EQ their sound profile to match what you are listening to. They also do not feel as premium for their price tag as the Sonys or the Bowers and Wilkins PX. But on the upside, they are the most comfortable closed-back over-ears that we've tested so far.
They also have great battery life and an excellent noise cancellation performance that's more than suitable for most commutes. They're easier to use than most of the other headsets they are compared to, and they have a slightly better-balanced sound that still packs a good amount of bass without sounding boomy. Overall, if you just want a headset that's ready to go with great battery life and noise canceling for your commutes, the Bose QC35II are a great choice.
You can also go get the QuietControl 30, if you want the same great level of isolation as the over-ear Bose lineup but in a more portable earbud format. However, they have less battery life overall and are not as durable as the over-ear models.
If you want something a bit cheaper for commuting than the Bose QuietComfort 35 II or the Sony WH-1000XM3, the best travel headphones in the mid-range category are the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2. They are not as comfortable as the Bose, and they do not have the noise isolation performance of the WH-1000XM3. However, they more than make up for it with a great value to performance ratio and an exciting, bass-rich sound.
The BackBeat Pro 2 also have an intuitive physical control scheme that makes them easy-to-use even with gloves on. They also have an excellent battery life with an auto-off feature and you can use them wired completely passively so you will rarely be without music even on long flights or extended road trips. They have an excellent wireless range and support multiple codecs so if you have the right dongle (that supports aptX LL) then you can use them to watch movies while you travel.
Unfortunately, they are little bulky and not the sleekest looking headphones, but for their price, they are difficult to match and should satisfy most listeners looking for a wireless over-ear for commuting.
If you want a more portable option for commuting than the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2, then get the Jabra Elite Active 65t. They're not noise-canceling like the other recommendations on this list, and their build quality is also not as durable or as premium as the Bose QuietComfort 35 II and B&W PX. However, the compact format of the truly wireless Elite Active 65t makes them really convenient for commuting and easy to carry around in your bag or pockets.
They have a decent sound that you can EQ thanks to their customizable app, and they block more noise passively than the active noise canceling Plantronics once you get the right fit with the provided earbud tips. The Jabra Elite Active 65t also have a longer battery life, better Bluetooth connectivity, and are slightly easier to use than the similarly designed Samsung Gear IconX. If you want a compact travel headset, the Elite Active 65t are one of the best options you can purchase under $200.
If you want a budget headset for traveling and do not care much for passive or active isolation as long as it blocks enough noise for your commutes, then get the JBL Endurance Sprint. The Endurance Sprint are sports headphones so all their features may not be ideal for travel and commuting use cases i.e sweat proofing and an ear-hook design for better stability. However, their in-ear fit blocks a lot of noise passively once you get the right fit and should be suitable for most noisy environments especially if you're playing a little music to further mask ambient noise. They're also compact enough to have on you at all times, have a decent auto-off feature that saves quite a bit of power, and they are decently well built for their budget price.
Unfortunately, they are not the easiest headphones to use due to their touch-sensitive control scheme being a bit too finicky at times. But overall they're a decent, budget pair of in-ears with a sufficiently well-balanced sound and good enough passive isolation to be a good option for travel and commuting as long as you do not mind the in-ear fit.
You can also go for the Anker SoundBuds Curve for slightly better performance overall at around the same price point, although they may not be as good for travel and commuting as the JBL since their earbud-like fit does not isolate as much in noisy conditions.
If you like the compact format of in-ears for traveling, but prefer a more customizable sound profile than the JBL Endurance Sprint has to offer, then consider the Jaybird Freedom. They have shorter battery life than the Endurance Sprint and have cumbersome charging clip that may be a deal breaker for some. However, thanks to the Jaybird MySound App they offer customization options that make them a bit more flexible for different listeners. You can EQ them to better match what you typically listen to when commuting or traveling. They're also more compact than the JBL and will more easily fit into your pockets. They're also a bit easier to use since they have an inline remote with actual buttons that offer better feedback.
If you give a lot of importance to a flexible sound profile that you can tweak to your liking, then the Freedom are a good budget choice. The Jaybird Tarah are a better option overall than the Freedom, but they are more expensive and do not isolate as well in noisy conditions since their earbud-like tips do not go in as deeply in your ears as the Freedom's more typical in-ear design.
If you don't want to worry about battery life at all when traveling, then consider the wired Bose SoundTrue Ultra In-Ear. As expected, the wired design won't be the most convenient for everyone, especially if your phone does not have a headphone jack. They're also OS specific, so you have to get the version that works with your Android or iOS device.
However, on the upside, they have a comfortable earbud design that you can wear for extended listening sessions and not feel the fatigue or soreness of more typical in-ears. They also have a well-balanced sound that packs a lot of bass and their earbud fit isolates as well as some active noise canceling headphones. They're small, compact and will easily fit in your pockets, which make them a good option to have on you whenever you're traveling and commuting. However, they are a little pricey for their wired design, which won't be the best value for everyone. In this case, consider the KZ AS-10, but they're not as comfortable.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best headphones for airplanes and commutes 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).
If you would like to choose for yourself, here is the list of all our reviews for headphones that are good for traveling. 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.