I didn’t set out to have a collection of noise-canceling headphones around the house but between presents and units that companies sent for me to review (the Audio-Technica and AKG headphones) I found myself with 4 pairs of noise-canceling headphones on my desk. Which begs the question, which is the best?
I have been an advocate of noise-canceling headphones for years and they are definitely part of my strategy to sleep on a plane, but I also find that a good pair makes me less tired after a flight. It’s not just the baby that’s crying two rows up but also the general background noise of the plane that tires me out.
Years ago I found that the only company that was making noise-canceling headphones that I thought were worth buying was Bose. The good news, is I now believe those days are gone. I have tried most of these headphones on a plane, but since it was different headphones on different planes I tried them all in a noisy office with the dryer running outside the office door simulating the plane noise. I tried them all with and without the noise-canceling feature turned on. The bottom line is that any of these 4 will work for you to make your flight better.
These are the largest of the 4 headphones. Even with my big ears the ear cuffs on these headphones go over them. From a comfort viewpoint, that’s good news as I find that makes them more comfortable on a long flight.
I also like that of the 4 pairs reviewed they have the best indicator that the noise-canceling feature is turned on as one side of the headphones lights up. This is important because the easiest way to kill the effectiveness of these headphones is to drain the battery (bring a spare battery). Leaving them turned on in your carry-on bag will do that faster than anything.
These headphones come with a rigid zipper case that the headphones fold into. The downside is that this case is pretty big. You won’t lose these in your backpack but you may get annoyed by how much room they take up.
I did have a problem where the noise-canceling feature stopped working for me after only a few flights, although the company assures me that is unusual.
As of this writing these sell for around $100 on Amazon (down from $200).
The second-largest pair of headphones are the Plane Quiet headphones. They also fit over the ear but are not quite as large as the ATH-ANC70 above.
These headphones fold into themselves until they are roughly the size of a softball but did not come with any case. Unlike the other 3 brands the headphones all fold in one dimension so they don’t fold as flat as the others. These headphones won’t impress your seatmate, but they will get the job done.
These tie with the Sony as the least expensive of the 4 headphones. They sell at the time of this writing for $55 on Amazon.
Sony Premium Lightweight Noise-Canceling Stereo Headphones
Smaller still in size than the Plane Quiet are these lightweight headphones from Sony. Because of the smaller size they ride pressed up against your ears instead of over them which I do find less desirable on a long flight. On the other hand, I value a small light backpack on the plane and these fit in nicely. The ATH-ANC70 headphones are so large that I have to put them in the main segment of the bag, but these will fit in a smaller pocket.
These are the only pair of the 4 headphones that don’t have detachable cables. Yes, that does make the cable harder to lose but it also makes wrapping them up a bit more of a pain.
These tie with the Plane Quiet as the least expensive of the 4 headphones. They sell at the time of this writing for $55 on Amazon.
The AKG N60nc headphones are the smallest of the 4 headphones I reviewed, the most expensive and also the ones that have earned a place in my backpack.
Although smaller than the Sony headphones, I thought they had better padding and were more comfortable. I also liked that instead of usual rubber cables these came with cables covered with nylon like parachute cord. They don’t tangle as easily. The cord also features a pause button, unlike any of the other brands. All 4 headphones have volume adjustments only on the ear pieces.
The AKG N60nc headphones come with an impossible small neoprene-like pouch that they actually fit into. It is about a 3rd the size of the of the Audio-Technica case.
As of this writing the AKG N60nc headphones sell for $280 on Amazon.
There is no one right pair of headphones for everyone. Price? Size? Comfort? The good news is that no matter what is more important to you, you now have good options.