Listening to music can help ease the pain of taking public transportation every day and make flights more enjoyable. The best travel headphones block or cancel the ambient noise of moderately loud environments, like inside a subway station or on a train. They shouldn’t leak much sound, either, so fellow commuters aren’t bothered by the sound of your music. Travel-friendly headphones should be comfortable enough to wear for hours at a time and portable enough to not be cumbersome to use while traveling. Wireless headphones are especially convenient, but their battery life has to be good, so they don’t need recharging in the middle of your travels. They should also have easy-to-use controls for smooth sailing whether you’re on the bus to work or on a plane to another country.
So far, we've reviewed 325 headsets and below are our recommendations for the best travel headphones 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 so far are the Bose QuietComfort 35 II. They’re among the most comfortable headphones that we've tested so far. They have impressive active noise cancelling and sound great. They’re easy to use and are a good choice for travelers of all kinds. If you're often on public transit or travel a lot by plane or train, then the Bose QC 35 II are sure to please.
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II have great noise isolation and effectively cancel the deep rumbles of bus and plane engines. They have a remarkably well-balanced sound and are comfortable enough to wear for hours. Their battery lasts 20 hours of continuous playback before needing to be recharged, which is great. They even support multi-device pairing so you can pair them to two devices simultaneously.
Unfortunately, the QuietComfort 35 II are a bit leaky for noise cancelling over-ears. This means that if you like to play your music a bit loud, people standing at a bus stop with you may overhear your music. The Bose QuietControl 30 have a comfortable earbud design that is more portable and doesn’t leak as much, but their battery doesn’t last very long. The Bose QuietComfort 35 II are a better choice overall, especially if you prefer an over-ear fit.
If you’re looking for the best in isolation, get the Sony WH-1000XM3. Their ANC feature is better than that of the Bose QuietComfort 35 II and they also leak less sound, but they’re not as comfortable and don’t sound as good out-of-the-box. They’re much more customizable, though, since they’re compatible with the great Sony | Headphones Connect app. Their battery is also longer-lasting, which is a bonus for international flights and long car rides.
The Sony WH-1000XM3 have a good touch-sensitive control scheme that offers a lot of functionality but doesn’t work properly when the temperature is below freezing. This may not be an issue for some but could be a deal breaker for those who live in or frequently travel to colder climates. That said, the WH-1000XM3 are still well-built, comfortable headphones that are a good choice for travel thanks to their great isolation and customizability.
If you find the Bose QuietComfort 35 II or the Sony WH-1000XM3 too expensive, get the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2. They’re not as comfortable as the Bose QC35 II and they don’t isolate noise as well as the Sony WH-1000XM3, but they provide great value for their price. They’re well-built wireless headphones that are a decent choice for travel.
The Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 have an excellent battery and are perfect for weekend getaways since they provide 30 hours of continuous playback before needing to be charged. They have an excellent wireless range and even support low-latency codecs, so if you have an aptX(LL) dongle you can watch movies while you travel with hardly any latency. They also have an intuitive physical control scheme that makes them easy to use, even with gloves on.
The BackBeat Pro 2 have an exciting, bass-rich sound that will please fans of hip-hop, EDM, or dubstep, but might not be the best choice for those prefer a more neutral sound profile, especially since you can’t EQ their sound in-app. They're a little on the bulky side and aren’t the sleekest-looking headphones, but for the price, they provide performance that’s hard to beat.
If you want a more portable option for commuting, then get the Jabra Elite Active 65t. They're not noise cancelling like the other recommendations on this list, and their in-ear fit won’t be comfortable for everyone. However, the compact format of the truly wireless Elite Active 65t makes them easy to carry around in your bag or pockets, which is convenient when commuting or traveling. Once you get the right fit with the provided earbud tips, they block more noise passively than the ANC-enabled Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 and they sound decent.
Like most truly wireless earbuds, the Jabra Elite Active 65t don’t have a very long-lasting battery. They provide about 5 hours of continuous playtime on a charge, which isn’t much, but come with a charging case that packs 2 additional charges. They’re a good choice for commuters who don’t mind taking breaks to charge their headphones every now and then, especially in exchange for the convenience of the ultra-portable truly wireless design.
If you have a noisy commute and are looking for headphones that will help bring some peace and quiet to your daily routine without putting a dent in your wallet, get the AUKEY Latitude. They have great passive noise isolation and are very portable, which makes them well-suited for daily use in the subway.
The AUKEY Latitude sound decent for budget headphones and are especially well-suited to more bass-heavy genres of music like EDM, dubstep, or hip-hop. Their battery isn’t bad for wireless in-ears and provides about 7 hours of continuous playback on a charge, which should be enough for your morning and evening commutes. They also support multi-device pairing and have magnetic earbuds that clip together for easier cable management.
Although the AUKEY Latitude have a couple of EQ presets built into their controls, they aren’t compatible with a companion app so they can’t be customized in great detail. They’re also not as well-built as more premium in-ears like the Jabra Elite 65e, but that’s to be expected that this price point. They provide good value for budget headphones and are overall a good choice for commuters.
If you like the compact format of in-ears for traveling but prefer a more customizable sound profile, then consider the Jaybird Freedom. Their battery life is shorter than that of the AUKEY Latitude, but they’re compatible with the Jaybird MySound App so you can EQ their sound to your liking. They have good noise isolation and are ultra-portable.
The Jaybird Freedom have a proprietary charging clip that’s a bit restrictive. If you forget it at home before a trip, you can’t just buy a micro-USB cable to charge the headphones. However, if you don’t mind the dedicated charger and give a lot of importance to a flexible sound profile that you can tweak to your liking, then the Freedom are a decent budget choice.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best headphones for airplanes 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 out the ambient noise of your travels.