Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will make a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Another disclosure: This is an older post. I have since had to replace these headphones because I broke them. I do still like a lot about them and still recommend you consider them when looking for the best headphones for travel. Be sure to also read my latest review of my new headphones, Bose QuietComfort 35 II.
Recently I made a pretty major purchase (for me): high-quality noise cancelling headphones with Bluetooth.
For more of World is Wide’s travel gear recommendations, look here.
I like having decent quality electronics, but under different circumstances I might have tried some less expensive headphones than what I ended up buying. A perfect storm of circumstances led me to this splurge:
- My husband had bought himself some noise-cancelling headphones (Bose QuietComfort 35) a few months before I bought mine. (Note: Bose now sells a QuietComfort 35 Series II, which wasn’t available when he made his purchase.) He has a noisy cubicle environment at his work, and he said they really helped him focus. I too was working in a noisy cubicle work environment, and I wanted to see whether noise canceling headphones would help. Plus I was jealous that he could be working on a project at home and totally tune out me and the children. 🙂 Joking. Kind of.
- I had two flights to California within a week of each other coming up. It seemed like it might be nice to try noise-cancelling headphones on those trips. I’ve flown on enough noisy coach flights with loud engines and upset toddlers to know that it puts me on edge.
- I adore listening to audiobooks and podcasts. I’d been using an inexpensive pair of Kinivo Bluetooth headphones that work just fine, but since I find myself using headphones a lot, I felt for me like an investment in good headphones might be a worthwhile investment. I’d get the per-use cost of a nice pair down pretty quickly.
- I won one of the fantasy football leagues I play in, so I had a couple hundred dollars in winnings that I thought would be fun to invest in something nice.
After much deliberation and reading of reviews, I chose to get the Sony Premium Noise Cancelling Bluetooth Headphones. (Note: My headphones are the MDR1000X/C, which may not be available new in this color anymore. Sony now has the WH1000XM2. The appearance is identical and the features appear to be very similar. My links from here on out are to the newer model.) In this post I will give a very low-tech explanation of why I chose them. If you want more detailed technical specifications, I would suggest reading up on specs on Amazon. My biggest piece of advice, whether you are technically inclined or not, is to read as many reviews as possible, both from “experts” and especially from customers. As a non-techie, I found these reviews so insightful and helpful in my decision-making process.
Here are some features I liked about the Sony Premium headphones.
Noise cancelling: Well, duh. The noise cancelling on these headphones works extremely well, especially if you press and hold the optimizer button for two seconds after turning them on. Very often I wear them just to use noise cancelling, not even listening to anything. Even in the library.
On my first flight using these headphones, there was a loud, unhappy baby right across the aisle from me. I definitely heard him, but it didn’t put me on edge at all. I was able to focus on my audiobook without much distraction. A few colleagues were on the same flight, and afterward they said how sorry they were that I was in such a noisy seat. I was actually a little surprised…I didn’t realize how disruptive the child’s noise had been. That’s how great these things are.
Sound: They have great sound. Obviously high-end headphones should, and they do. I am not an audiophile to give you specifics. I just know the quality is fantastic to my untrained ears.
Bluetooth: There are plenty of corded noise cancelling headphone options. But if you’ve ever worn corded headphones while doing household chores, you know that the cord is a major pain. It gets caught in the dishwasher rack or in the pile of laundry you are transferring from the washer to the dryer. I switched to Bluetooth headphones several years ago, and I will never go back. (FYI, they do come with a cord, in case you need/want to use it.)
Color: These headphones come in black and this grey/beige color in the photo. I opted for the grey/beige. I liked that the color was different yet subtle. I didn’t want black headphones for some reason, but I also didn’t want anything too crazy color-wise.
Size and feel: I saw reviews for noise canceling ear buds, but I am not a fan of ear buds. The cushioning on the earphones and the band is so soft and comfortable on these. I just love how they feel.
Touch function: This set of headphones doesn’t make you search for a button to adjust volume, play/pause and skipping tracks. You can adjust all of these by simple swipes or taps on the right earpiece. It’s not perfect, but it works pretty darn well.
Option to hear ambient noise: There is an optional setting that uses an external microphone to pick up notable sounds while you are in noise cancelling mode. I think the idea here is that, if you’re sitting at an airport gate, for instance, you won’t miss the boarding announcement. I have never used it, but I can see the appeal and like that I have the option.
I really do love these headphones, but they are not perfect.
Price: These are not inexpensive headphones. If you feel like you can justify an investment in high-quality Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphone, then I definitely recommend these.
Transitioning between Bluetooth devices: This was a downside about the Sony headphones that I knew going into this purchase from reading reviews. Some Bluetooth headphones are seamless if you switch what device you’re listening on (say, going from listening on a smartphone to a tablet, for instance). On those seamless devices you can just start playing the other device, and the headphones will adjust to the right device automatically.
These Sony headphones cannot do that. If you are actively listening on a device and want to switch to another paired device, you have to turn off the Bluetooth connection with the first device, then turn on the connection with the second device. I rarely switch between devices, so this has only happened to me two or three times. I will say, though, that when I have had to switch devices, it was kind of a pain, especially if I was listening through my laptop and I needed to answer a call on my phone. If you switch between devices during a single listening session, know that these headphones will be somewhat annoying.
My vanity: This is a silly thing, but having the band across the top of my head messes up my hair. Also, the larger earpieces mess up the hair on the side of my head. But I knew that going in, and I still think the trade-off is worth it. There’s a reason I’m not running a fashion or hair style blog. 🙂
Other options: There are definitely other options out there for noise-cancelling headphones that will cost less. My husband has the Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones in silver, and in all fairness they are also great while being slightly less expensive. They may be a little simpler to use than my Sony headphones. Honestly, if Bose had another color I liked I might have considered them, but I only liked the silver. I know it’s kind of a lame excuse, but I didn’t want headphones that looked the same as my husband’s.
Also, our son has some Beats Studio headphones. They were definitely less expensive, and I think they work well enough (though I will say that the first pair we ordered him, which arrived just in time for his birthday, were completely dead on arrival, so we had to re-order). I feel personally that Beats headphones on a forty-something adult might look funny. I don’t know why I feel that way. I have no evidence to support it.
All of this is to say that you should definitely shop around to get the ones that meet your needs.
I hope this post has helped give you a non-techie perspective on some fantastic noise cancelling headphones. I love mine and use them at least four days a week. I like the look and feel. And I cannot imagine taking another long flight without them. Happy travels (with a LOT less background noise)!
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