There is arguably no better piece of travel technology for the frequent flyer than a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones. The drone of engines, the chit-chat of passengers and even the squeals of crying children: you can shut them all out and focus on your music, movies or TV shows, reading a book or even settling in for a fitful doze.
But there’s a lot to consider when choosing the right set of noise cancelling headphones to accompany you on your travels. Beyond the obvious factors of comfort and battery life, there’s the ‘audio profile’ of any headphone: are its audio characteristics matched to your favourite type of music?
We flight-tested the best wireless noise cancelling headphones from Bose, Sennheiser, Sony and Beats to help you pick the right cans for your next flight.
Bose QuietComfort 35 Series II
Battery life: 20 hours
Comfort: the Bose QuietComfort 35 Series II headphones are extremely comfortable, and at 240g they’re also exceptionally light. They sit well over your ears and the suede-like Alcantara-wrapped earcups are soft and breathable even after wearing them for hours.
Audio: Bose’s noise-cancelling technology is among the best in the market, so you can hear more of your music. However, while the sound stage is wide it lacks depth, which prevents classical or big band music from sounding natural and detracts from instrument separation.
Highs are rolled off to prevent sibilance from poorly-recorded music, but as a result female vocals, piano and woodwind instruments can sound distant and unimpressive.
X-factor: the QuietComfort 35 Series II includes inbuilt access to Google Assistant so you can issue voice commands to play music, receive texts and get search answers to commonly-asked questions.
Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless
Battery life: 22 hours
Comfort: Easily the most luxurious headphone in this set, the Momentum 2.0 Wireless boasts leather earcups and a stainless steel headband, although this tips the weight to 260g.
Audio: exceptional clarity of high notes on the Momentum 2.0 Wireless makes this the premier choice if you lean towards female vocals, piano and woodwind instruments. However, there’s less warmth for genres like rock and male vocals.
The soundstage combines depth as well as width, delivering good instrument separation for classical and big band tracks, and the Momentum 2.0 Wireless can also handle fast-paced, complex music without sounding congested.
X-factor: building on the highly-regarded Momentum headphone series, the Momentum 2.0 Wireless is a top choice for most music lovers.
Beats Studio 3 Wireless
Battery life: 22 hours
Comfort: While the design is more subdued and professional-looking than Beats’ conventional look-at-me styling – although you can choose from six colours – the 260g Studio3 Wireless headphones lack the luxurious build quality of their competitors and proved to be the least comfortable pair in the round-up.
Audio: with Beats, it’s all about the bass. Rock, metal and hip-hop sound fantastic, with a rich midrange but rolled-off highs and muddied instrument separation working against more textured and gentle genres.
X-factor: the same Apple-designed chip used in the Airpods chip makes it a snap to pair the Beats with your iPhone via Bluetooth. Just switch them on, hold them near your iPhone for a few seconds and you’re connected.
Battery life: 30 hours
Comfort: at 275g Sony’s WH-1000XM2 headphones are the heaviest in this group, but compensates with soft earcups and a well-designed build which evenly distributes their weight.
Audio: the well-rounded audio profile suits pretty much every genre of music , which makes these headphones a good choice if you’re blessed with wide-ranging tastes.
You’ll enjoy offers clear highs, if a notch below the clarity and extension of the Sennheisers; bass response is surprisingly punchy and almost as satisfying as the Beats; and the neutral midrange and sharp transient response handles complex music with ease.
X-factor: need to ask the flight attendant for a refill? Place your hand over the earpiece housing and the volume is automatically dialled down for instant conversation.