The best noise-canceling headphones for flying in 2022

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The best noise-canceling headphones make traveling so much more pleasant. When you’re flying, you’ll inevitably be confronted by a multitude of unpleasant sounds, from crying babies to the roaring engine of the plane. 

Airplane noise can be tricky to block out, which is why we’ve looked at the best noise-canceling headphones for travel rather than just for general use. If you’re a frequent flyer, active noise cancellation makes all the difference to ensure you get the most comfortable flight possible.

Active noise-canceling technology is more accessible than ever nowadays, so it’s easy to find a variety of headphones with the ability to block out nearly all unwanted ambient sound. Many headphones also have the ability to go wireless, sync up with your smart devices, and so much more. It’s a great time to be buying a new set of headphones.

Before you dive in, it’s useful to think about what your budget is and what your needs are. Generally, over-ear headphones provide the best noise cancellation because they close your ears in, providing both physical blocking of sounds and active noise cancellation. However, in-ear solutions are also worth considering too as some of these have increasingly smart features for providing true noise cancellation over merely passively blocking sounds.

What you decide to go for comes down to what you feel most comfortable with as well as any other features you may want. These can include voice assistant support or multiple levels of noise cancellation when flying. You may also want to consider how great the headphones sound as well, with audiophiles keen to ensure they don’t miss out on excellent sound quality for the sake of good noise cancellation.

We’ve already rounded up the best headphones in general, along with the best noise-canceling headphones, and the best wireless headphones for everything else. For now though, we’re focusing on noise-canceling headphones for flying and travel, as well as answering some questions on what you need to know before making a purchase.

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What is noise cancellation?

Noise-canceling headphones work by reducing unwanted ambient sounds using active noise control. A microphone captures the ambient sounds before an amplifier generates sound waves out of phase with the unwanted sounds. That way, the music you’re listening to shines through the noises you don’t want to hear like babies crying, people talking, or general airplane noise.

Generally, noise cancellation works best with constant droning sounds like a plane engine rather than sharp sounds like voices, but the best noise-canceling headphones still do a good job of blocking these out to some degree.

Is there a difference between noise cancellation and active noise cancellation?

Some headphones offer passive noise cancellation (also known as noise isolation) rather than Active Noise Cancellation (ANC). Instead of using microphones to filter out undesired sounds, these headphones rely on soundproofing by physically blocking outside sounds using the materials they’re made out of. It’s less effective than using a pair of headphones that use Active Noise Cancellation but it does mean there’s less of a strain on battery life.

Some people also prefer passive noise cancellation as active noise cancellation has been known to make people feel pressure in their ears. When using headphones for travel though, this is less of an issue and also generally something that frequent flyers will learn to live with over excessive noise.

Does paying more really get me more noise cancellation?

Generally, yes. Many earphones and headphones offer noise cancellation features but they aren’t all the same. Typically, the more you pay and the better known and regarded the brand is, the better the noise cancellation is. Brands like Bose or Sony often offer multiple different levels of noise cancellation so you can choose to be completely blocked off from the world or opt to allow some surrounding noises to come in while flying.

By paying more, you also gain better features. These can include voice assistant support, expansive battery life, advanced codec support for better-sounding music, or better call quality. If you can, it’s worth spending more on a good pair of noise cancellation headphones, particularly if you’re a frequent flyer.

Do noise-canceling headphones help on airplanes?

Noise-canceling headphones are at their most useful on airplanes. While flying, it’s difficult to find a moment’s peace when so much is going on around you. Frequent flyers may prefer to rest or work despite airplane noise distracting them. The best way to do this is by using the best noise cancellation methods to block out what’s going on.

Do noise-canceling headphones help with flight anxiety?

It depends on why you have flight anxiety. If you hate the idea of being “stuck” on a plane, it might not work as well as if it’s the noises that cause you anxiety. However, by being able to zone out and listen to your favorite music or podcasts, you can forget that you’re on an airplane as you won’t notice you’re flying in the same way as if you hear all the surrounding noises.

Similarly, if you hate flying because of ambient noise like children crying or loud talking, noise-canceling headphones can help hide this away from your ears, meaning you can relax better. With a combination of meditative sounds and music, the best noise-canceling headphones can whisk you away from irritants. Effectively, you can cocoon yourself away from the reminders that you’re traveling.

We’ve included something for everyone, from popular brands like Sony, Beats, and Apple. These are the best noise-canceling headphones for flying in 2022.

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