Photo of Tim Leffel

Tim Leffel

Professional Travel Expert

Best Sennheiser Headphones & Best Noise Canceling Headphones

Many people use their portable music players while working out, jogging, or taking public transportation to work - activities where shutting out the surrounding noise can be inconvenient or even dangerous.

While traveling, however, music players are used as an isolation device, especially on an airplane where they provide an escape from crying babies, chatty seatmates, and engine noise. There are two main choices to accomplish this effectively: active noise canceling headphones and passive noise blocking earbuds. The first generate sound waves to cancel out existing noise, while the latter simply keep the external sound from entering your ear. Two hybrid models reviewed here attempt, with mixed success, to bridge the gap.

People with sensitive ears may want to avoid the “on the ear” noise cancelling headphones or at least try them out in a store first. With these there is more pressure in the ear canal from the noise cancellation sound waves. The passive noise cancellation ones may let in more external noise, but they don’t apply additional pressure.

Sometimes the best Sennheiser headphones are essential when you don't want to blast out the rest of the family or your coworkers. Choose the best noise canceling headphones with our help finding the best price.

Best Travel Headphones and Earbuds by Tim Leffel

The Best You Can Get

  • Bose QuietComfort 3

    Tim says: The Bose brand has been synonymous with noise-cancelling headphones are have sonically been the standard by which everything else was measured. Until this slimmer third edition was released, however, it meant feeling like you were in someone’s 1970s basement when you had them on.

    Bowing to market pressure to get smaller, the QuitComfort 3 fits on the ear instead of over it, reducing a lot of bulk without much of a sacrifice in terms of sound quality. There is a proprietary (and expensive) lithium ion battery, however, which eliminates throwaway batteries but you can’t pop in a replacement when you are away from a charger for an extended period. They won’t work passively either, meaning once the batteries die, so do your headphones. The earphones fold flat, but the overall footprint of the carrying case is still rather bulky overall.

    Despite the negatives, these are still the go-to headphones for traveling audiophiles who care most about squeaking out the best possible performance from their music. Those who swear by the Bose model look at every other option as a step down.

    • The standard, in its third version
    • Rechargeable battery
    • Lots of cushioning on the head and ears
  • Sennheiser PXC 300 Travel Headphones

    Tim says: Sennheiser’s travel headphones deliver noise cancellation while eliminating the main source of complaints: the bulk. These are super-light, take up very little space, and have a battery pack that works with two AAA batteries. Despite all that, they deliver incredible sound even from the cheapest MP3 players. A nice folding design and a handy carrying case make these easy to pack, the case being about the same size as that of a portable travel hard drive. Adapters are included for a regular stereo jack and the two-pronged audio outlets on many airplanes.

    Sennheiser’s “NoiseGard” active noise cancellation does a good job of canceling out an engine hum or crowd noise, plus it noticeably boosts bass response at the same time. The frequency response and distortion specs on these Sennheiser headphones are comparable to rival models costing far more. With the ability to pop in AAA batteries when these die, or using the headphones passively in the meantime, you can’t beat the value here.

    • Active noise cancellation
    • Slim and easy to pack
    • Still work passively when batteries die
  • JVC HA-NC250 Noise Canceling Headphones

    Tim says: JVC’s high-end noise canceling model delivers audio comparable to the more expensive Bose headphones for many listeners, but they are lighter and more convenient. The slender, hard-shelled carrying case has a built-in zipper pouch for an extra battery or even an iPod Nano. It holds all the required adapters as well.

    These win the prize for being stingiest with power: they only need one AAA battery to work their noise-canceling magic and it reportedly lasts for 50 hours. Plus when the battery dies on these, the noise cancellation stops but the headphones themselves still work.

    • Comparable sound quality to more expensive models
    • Thin carrying case can also hold slim MP3 players
    • Only requires one AAA battery
  • Comply NR-10 Noise Reducing Earbuds

    Tim says: The Comply NR-10 Noise Reducing Earphones look much like normal earbuds, but have the kind of squishy foam earplugs that factory workers and rock bands often use. They work passively, with no batteries required, but block out 48 decibels of outside noise, including engine noise and crying babies.

    The earphones produce a frequency range of 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz, which is lighter on the bass than audiophile headphones but better than many cheap earbuds. They noticeably cut out extraneous noise and make your portable music player sound great.

    The package comes with one additional pair of smaller foam tips for dainty ears and a nice handy travel pouch that's half the size of an Altoids box. There's a volume control on the cord itself too, which is a nice touch when your iPod is tucked away and you’re trying to snooze in flight.

    • Passive noise reductions doesn’t require more power
    • Foam buds conform to ear canal
    • As easy to pack as regular earbuds
  • Shure SE310 Sound Isolating Earphones

    Tim says: It may be hard to imagine replacing the earbuds that came with your iPod with ones that cost more than the player itself, but these are the gold standard for providing unbelievably clear audio in a tiny package, with a gold-plated plug to match. Listening to these after your cheapie earbuds is like a concert in a symphony hall after one in your local concrete block community center.

    At 22 Hz to 19000 Hz, they don’t reach quite the range of full headphones, but then again they do only weigh one ounce and can fit in a scrunched fist.

    The whole package provides more than you need in order to ensure a custom experience. There are two lengths of cord, for example along with various ear tips: one triple flange, three sizes of soft flex, and three sizes of foam. (If you can’t get one of these to form a perfect seal in your ear canals, you’ve got one strange set of ears.) With the right tip for you, most external noise is blocked out. The sturdy canvas case, which easily fits in a small pocket, also includes a device for cleaning the earpieces.

    • Multiple tips to fit any size ear
    • Accurate representation across whole audio spectrum
    • Two-year warranty

You will be happy with any of these

  • Bose QuietComfort 2

    Tim says: Bose still actively promotes its second version of its popular headphones because some customers still prefer the larger, over-the-ear setup to the newer and smaller design that just goes on the ear. This version has been heavily promoted and time-tested. The people who choose the QuietComfort 2 model are generally happy with all but one aspect: the bulk. Although the earpieces swivel for packing, it all ends up being bigger than a stuffed CD wallet.

    As with the QuietComfort 3, the music dies when the battery dies, though in this case you only have to switch out one AAA battery, which should last 20 hours under normal conditions. In independent tests, this model often comes out on top for rich bass and overall audio quality, so many audiophiles are happy to put up with the high price and increased bulk. Bose has a 30-day trial period as well, so if you try them out and are not happy, you can return them.

    • Completely covers the ears
    • Only one AAA battery
    • 30-day trial period
  • Panasonic RP-HC500 Noise-Canceling Headphones

    Tim says: These Panasonic headphones rate slightly below the Bose and Sennheiser ones on the market, the average listener may find them close enough. The audio frequency range is the same as the Bose models (8-22,000 HZ), there’s still a gold-plated tip, and you get the same array of adapters in the case.

    They go completely over the ear and are comfortable and light, weighing in at around six ounces, but have a longer cord then most at five feet. The cord offers a unique twist-lock feature to keep from becoming accidentally unplugged. The headset only requires one AAA battery, which should last for 40 hours, but the music takes a big dive in quality when the battery dies.

    • Impressive specs at a lower price
    • Lightweight package
  • Audio-Technica ATH-ANC3 QuietPoint Noise-Canceling In-Ear Headphones

    Tim says: In theory, these earbuds from Audio-Technica present the best of both worlds. They fit in your ear canal to block out ambient noise and pack up small, but they also have a built-in noise cancellation function to cancel out low rumbles and white noise.

    The specifications on these are especially impressive, with a 15 Hz to 22,000 Hz claimed frequency range that’s on par with bulky headphones. Yet the whole package weighs only half a pound, including the three sizes of earbud tips to ensure a snug fit. There’s an airplane adapter and a hard carrying case as well.

    One interesting feature of the clip is a “monitor” button, which automatically turns your music down and allows you to hear outside noise through the microphone, like a drink order or gate announcement. The AAA battery lasts approximately 50 hours and the headphones still work passively when the power dies. These may not envelop the ear like full headphones, but they are a lot easier to carry.

    • Active noise cancellation with earbuds
    • Small package with three earbud tip sizes
    • Long battery life
  • Sony MDR-NC22 Noise Canceling Earbuds

    Tim says: Like their Audio-Technica counterparts, these Sony earbuds are meant to provide the noise cancellation of larger earphones while still fitting snugly in your ear.

    At two thirds the price though, they are an impressive engineering feat, fitting a microphone on the outside of the earbud (to hear what noise to cancel out) and a speaker on the inside of the earbud to deliver music. While the two work in tandem, these don’t measure up to the experience you will get from full noise cancellation headphones going over your ear. Many also complain of a louder hiss than they experience with full headphones.

    The noise canceling circuitry fits in a clip that goes onto your shirt or jacket and it only uses one AAA battery. As with the similar A-T buds, there’s a monitor button on the clip that allows you to instantly turn down the music and turn on the earbuds’ microphones to listen.

    • Active noise cancellation for less
    • Only needs one AAA battery
    • Monitor function to listen without removing earbuds
  • Koss KEB24 Isolation Earbuds

    Tim says: Even a small step up from standard earbuds can produce a surprisingly rich increase in sound quality. These Koss isolation earbuds provide a rich listening experience with a wide frequency range.

    The buds come with small, medium, and large silicone ear cushions for a customized fit, ensuring good outside sound reduction for any size ear. The company stands strongly behind its products, providing a more generous warranty than other earbuds with a much higher price tag: a “no-questions-asked” lifetime warranty. If you lose your old earbuds or arrive in a new city without packing them, you can order these from your room at the W Hotels chain.

    • Great sound quality in an inexpensive model
    • Noise reduction with three sizes of cushions
    • Lifetime warranty

Related Articles

With the best Sennheiser headphones, you'll be able to jam to your favorite tunes as you workout or relax at home without disturbing others. We suggest the best noise canceling headphones for home and travel. Our suggestions for the best travel headphones are perfect in the car or on the plane when you don't want to hear anything but your favorite songs.