Noise-canceling headphones for your next flight

Banu Ibrahim
February 14th, 2018

Story highlights

  • Thanks to noise-canceling headphones you can hit the mute button on noisy passengers.
  • Our top devices for every budget include Bose, COWIN and Plantronics

Flying can be an incredibly uncomfortable experience. Turbulence, limited legroom and extreme AC blasts (just to name a few) can ruin your time in the air. But if there's one thing you can control, it's blocking out unwanted, external noise during your long-haul flights.

Thanks to noise-canceling headphones, you can hit the mute button on a plane's loud engines or noisy passengers. But it's important to know that not all over-the-ear headphones are equal.

Standard headphones that cover the ears help block out some noises by insulating your ears from external sounds. That's known as passive noise cancellation. But active noise canceling (ANC) headphones produce sound waves to cancel out the incoming ones, ideally resulting in no outside noise at all.

And since passive and active canceling aren't mutually exclusive, getting an over-the-ear device that also has active noise cancellation will give you the most coverage.

It is important to note that these devices aren't as cheap as your typical Bluetooth options, since they require extra technology to actively cancel out sounds. But that doesn't mean you're going to have to dip into next month's rent jar in order to get a solid pair.

We've rounded up active noise-canceling headphone options based on price — one affordable, one middle-of-the-road and one premium pick, all of which feature an extensive battery life to help you get through long flights.

Note: The prices below reflect the listed retailer's price on the date this article was published.

Affordable: COWIN Active Noise-Canceling Bluetooth Headphones ($69.99, originally $99.99; amazon.com)

Active noise-canceling headphones can easily run into the hundreds of dollars, due to the added layer of innovation. And if you're a true audiophile who requires the best audio quality on the market, you'll want to avoid cheaper models. However, if you just want a pair of solid noise-canceling headphones on a budget, there are great options under $100.

COWIN's No.1 best-selling device on Amazon is among them. The device offers noise cancellation, high-quality sounds and an ergonomic design, so you can enjoy your favorite playlists and stream videos for up to 30 hours on a single charge.

Overall the audio quality is solid, giving users powerful, unobstructed sounds. But many Amazon customers have noted that the noise cancellation properties, while good, can't match more premium models.

Other notable features include lightweight ear pads designed for comfort and a built-in microphone for hands-free calling. The bonus of an 18-month warranty is the icing on top. For just under $70, they're a steal.

Middle-of-the-road: Plantronics BackBeat PRO Wireless Noise-Canceling Hi-Fi Headphones ($159.95; amazon.com)

If you have a bit more money to spend on headphones, meaning you're looking for a notch above the budget-priced options, we recommend Plantronics BackBeat Pro.

This active noise-canceling device features great audio quality, with clear sounds and a rich bass. Its ANC features help ensure that your music, television shows or phone calls are the focal point of your listening experience. An adjustable OpenMic feature also lets you control the level of ambient noise you hear.

The Bluetooth range on the device is significant; you can listen for up to 24 hours on a single charge even when your iPhone or tablet is 330 feet away. Multiple device sync technology allows you to toggle between your favorite gadgets in a breeze.

The drawback here is material. Many Amazon customers have noted that the device's ear pads tend to suffer some wear and tear within a year, so you might be putting that one-year warranty to good use.

Overall though, Plantronic has received high marks from many users, boasting an average 4.1 out of 5 stars from over 1,300 shoppers.

Premium: Bose QuietComfort 35 Wireless Headphones ($349.95; bose.com)

With noise-canceling headphones, sometimes what you pay is what you get. That means to get the most out of your device, including optimal noise blocking, you'll want to turn to the cream of the crop. Many consider Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones just that. They provide stellar noise reduction and clear sounds, thanks to Bose's self-proclaimed world-class noise cancellation technology. According to independent tester Consumer Reports, which put the device through rigorous testing, the sound quality of the QuietComfort had few faults: "While no headphone is perfect, the shortcomings of this model are minor."

The headphones live up to their name; made of lightweight materials, the ear pads are designed to be used throughout the day with minimal discomfort.

But there are a few extra features that put these headphones over the top. An integrated app makes it a complete breeze to switch between various devices —smartphones and tablets among them. It also lets you personalize your listening settings. The QuietComfort can run for up to 20 hours on a single charge. And unlike other Bluetooth options, if your device runs out of juice, there's an attached analog plug that can keep the music going the old-fashioned way.

These additional features, on top of the QuietComfort's impressive audio quality, make it no surprise that over 5,600 BestBuy customers have weighed in, rating the device 4.8 stars out of 5.