Noise cancelling headphones are a great option for frequent flyers because they use electronic circuitry to cancel out background sounds, such as the roar of jet engines and the whoosh of air-conditioning systems. They're also really useful in other environments, such as busy offices or noisy trains.
They work by using microphones mounted on the outside of the earpieces to listen to the outside ambient noise. The circuitry then creates an opposite wavelength to these sounds and feeds it into the drivers in the headphones to cancel out the background noise. Here we've chosen five of our current favourite models.
Harman Kardon NC
With their rectangular ear muffs, these over the ear headphones have a distinctive look that won’t appeal to everyone. They feel robust though, as the top of the headband is made of metal and they are very comfortable to wear. There's a built-in rechargeable battery for powering the noise cancelling (NC) circuitry and even without the NC engaged these headphones sound natural and accurate. We'd describe their overall sound as laid-back, but warm and versatile. They also have a handy iPhone-friendly in-line mic and remote for making mobile calls.
PSB M4U 2
Though the M4U 2s are quite expensive for noise-cancelling headphones, they also happen to be one of the best sounding pairs on the market right now. The NC circuitry is powered by two AAA batteries and uses four noise-cancelling microphones -- two per earpiece -- to deliver more accurate processing. Thanks to a near flawless balance of bass, midrange and treble, these cans sound superb with pretty much every type of music. Sure, they're pricey, but they're worth the money for audiophile music lovers who don’t want outside noise impeding their listening experience.
Bose Quiet Comfort 15
Even when these headphones are turned off, the soft cushioned ear cups do a very impressive job of suppressing background noise. With the NC circuitry turned on, they are scarily effective at cutting out noise. In terms of music listening, they're smoother and more tonally balanced than the Comfort 2s, especially in the bass department, which is tighter and more focused here. The only annoyance is that unlike a lot of their competitors, these 'phones stop producing music once the battery dies, which can be awkward if you're using them on a long journey. Battery life is good though.
If your budget won't stretch quite as far as the Bose Quiet Comfort 15s, then this more affordable pair of headphones from Sony are definitely worth considering. They're attractive, compact and lightweight, but also have good noise cancelling and sound quality. The build quality is tough enough to withstand the daily commute and the headphones fold up to fit in a supplied protective storage case. On the audio front the bass is nice and deep, while voices are natural with adequate volume extending into the louder ranges. The noise cancelling does a good job of blocking out background noise, but isn’t quite as effective at this as the Bose models.
Audio-Technica ATH-ANC1 QuietPoint
These have a travel-friendly design, but are also very comfortable to wear, have good noise cancelling features and great sound quality. On the sonic front, bass response is firm without being overly domineering, while the mid-range is warm and the highs are nice and detailed. The noise cancelling works well, blocking out quite a bit of background din in all but the noisiest environments. On the whole, despite their low price, the ANC1s deliver a good balance between features and audio quality.