A Guide to the Best Travel Headphones 2021: Headphones Ideal for Holidays.

Noise-cancelling, wireless and waterproof – there is a pair of travel headphones to suit every trip.

No holiday is complete without a groovy soundtrack to remember it by. While the days of CDs and iPods are long-gone, we are spoilt for choice with music apps that let you search for any song anywhere in the world. All you need to complete your music backtrack is a pair of quality headphones.

Whether you’re planning a flight around the world or just a road trip to another city, a good pair of travel headphones is a must. Travelling by plane, car or train can be noisy and uncomfortable. Make tedious travels easier to endure with a quality pair of headphones which provide both noise isolation and comfort.

I have rounded up my top picks of headphones for travelling and organised them into a neat little list just for you. So, go ahead and choose the perfect pair of travel headphones for your next trip away.

Best High-Range Travel Headphones:

1. Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless | £309

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Right up there in the travel headphone ranks are the Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless headphones.

The stand-out feature of these Sony headphones is the introduction of a brand spanking new sound processor. Switching from the DSEE HX sound processor to a new DSEE Extreme engine, Sony have taken these headphones to whole new heights. This new Extreme engine not only aims to upscale compressed music to near hi-resolution quality, but it also adds artificial intelligence (AI) technology. This AI tech, called Edge-AI, has been developed with the help of Sony Music Studios Tokyo to analyse music in real-time to reproduce a sound that more accurately resembles the original track.

The sound quality of travel headphones is especially important because travelling can be noisy. Whether it’s the plane air-con, chatting from other passengers or other traffic, perhaps the most important consideration when buying headphones for travel is the sound. Sony is well ahead when it comes to noise-cancelling headphones and that isn’t set to change any time soon. They claim that the new WH-1000XM4s can cancel our more mid-range and high-frequency sounds than ever before. The HD Noise-Cancelling Processor QN1 and the new Bluetooth System on Chip (SoC) work in tandem to constantly monitor audio and noise signals, as well as the relationship between the speaker drivers and your ears. This advanced technology is claimed to give increased control over how the noise-cancellation performs.

Another incredibly smart new feature is ‘Wearing Detection’. This refers to the fact that the WH-1000XM4 headphones use a proximity sensor and acceleration sensors in the ear cups to automatically pause playback when the headphones are removed, and then start playing again when put back on. This is such a convenient feature when travelling. Travelling can be very unpredictable and lots of unexpected things can crop up that you have to deal with. Being able to take off your headphones to speak to a flight attendant or show someone your travel documents and having them automatically stop playing is super convenient.

Battery life remains one of the best! With full charge lasting up to 30 hours with both bluetooth and noise-cancelling enabled, you don’t have to worry about your soundtrack being cut short. If you charge these headphones for just 10 minutes, you will have a whopping five hours of battery life to spare.

The only down side to these Sony travel headphones is the slightly bulky design. However, this is very much unavoidable with over-ear headphones that pack in so much advanced. To try to rectify this small fault, they do fold down into a more compact design and come with a carry case to help protect them. Despite their bulkiness, these headphones still look amazing when compared to some of the other options on the market. Available in a classic black or a slick silver, these travel headphones look smart and sophisticated.

I give these Sony travel headphones 5 stars given that they offer incredible noise-cancellation, along with superior battery life – two very important things for travelling. Although they are fairly bulky, this is standard for advanced noise-cancelling, wireless headphones so I can’t judge.

Bowers & Wilkins PX | £453.73

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

If you’re looking for a leading-class pair of wireless, noise-cancelling headphones for travelling and you’re not put off by the premium price tag, then Bowers & Wilkins’ latest drop is definitely worth the consideration. While the Sony WH-1000XM4s might be slightly better value, these smart travel headphones won’t be beaten on style or sound quality.

The design of these B&W headphones stand out compared to most others with their distinctive single-arm ear cup mounts, material covers and eye-catching brushed-metal trims. Although fairly large and bulky, the PX7 headphones are great for travelling because they manage this 310g bulk well, not feeling too heavy on your head. To add to their already comfortable feel, the ear cups are extra large, with plush cushioning that sits snugly against your ears. The headband is also lined with the same soft padding and sits comfortably against your head without slipping around. However, as with most noise-cancelling headphones, wearing them is a bit of a statement. The long headband protrudes slightly as the arms are wider than the ear cups. This means that the headphones can look fairly big on your head.

Yet, these travel headphones certainly make up for their shape with their incredible noise-cancelling abilities. There is a multi-function button located on the left ear cup which controls noise-cancelling. You can press this button to switch between automatic, low, high and noise cancelling off. Taking these headphones to whole new levels when it comes to travelling, you can press and hold the same button to activate a customisable ambient mode for listening out for announcements, whether on the train or plane. Also, like the Sony WH-1000XM4s these headphones have sensors which means that if you take them off, the music pauses and then resumes when replaced.

I rated the B&W PX7 headphones 4 1/2 stars. I was so close to giving them 5 full stars but stopped myself when comparing them to the WH-1000XM4s. Being a fair bit pricier, I would expect them to be even more superior when it comes to performance and looks. Unfortunately, I think you get slightly more for your money with the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones.

Apple Airpods Max | £549

Rating: 4 out of 5.

As the first Apple overhead headphones, the Airpods Max were hotly anticipated with extremely high expectations. Such high expectations are not surprising considering the success of the Apple Airpods and the Airpods Pro, which are easily the most-recognisable wireless earbuds around. So, have the Apple Airpods Max lived up to these expectations?

The best feature of the Airpods Max headphones is their sound – which, as already discussed, is a huge factor for travelling. The Apple Airpod Max’s sound is nothing short of incredible, easily competing with the Sony WH-1000XM4s, with an extremely wide and immersive sound stage. With such high levels of detail and incomparable clarity, the Airpods Max headphones reveal elements in your favourite tracks that you might have never even noticed before – and that is a sign of a really good sounding pair of headphones. As well as having superior sound, their ability to cancel out sound is also fantastic. The Transparency mode is also undeniably useful for when you need to tap into your surroundings and listen to any important travel announcements.

Although the design has been divisive, these headphones do look unmistakably like Apple. Simplicity and functionality are at the forefront of their minimalist design – which I am personally a huge fan of. Crafted from hunks of steel, these Apple headphones feel much more premium than other headphone options which tend to be made from plastic. However, the stainless steel build does make the Airpod Max’s heavier than most which isn’t great when constantly on the move. Yet, despite their heavier weight, these headphones do feature a mesh headband that is designed to reduce pressure on your head during use.

In terms of battery life, the Airpods Max heaphones are claimed to offer around 20 hours of use from a full charge. While this is considerably less battery life than the Sony WH-1000XM4s, it is hard to imagine that it wouldn’t be enough to get you through a full flight. However, a considerable downside to these Apple headphones for travelling is Apple’s inability to include an audio cable in the box. This means that to use the headphones in a wired capacity, for in-flight entertainment for example, you would have to purchase the optional £35 Lightning-to-3.5mm cable. This seems fairly ridiculous when you consider the already premium price tag which is the most expensive out of all the headphones included.

Overall, I have given the Apple Airpod Max headphones a 4 stars. While I like the design of these travel headphones and the sound is pretty outstanding, the fact that you have to pay extra to listen in a wired capacity makes them seem like rather poor value for money.

Best Mid-Range Travel Headphones:

AKG N60NC Wireless Headphones | £117.40

Rating: 4 out of 5.

AKG has tended to dominate the mid-range headphone scene. However, with the N6oNC Wireless headphones, they seem to be stepping out of their comfort zone slightly which has pushed AKG to the upper end of their normal price range. But, in spite of the new, more premium features, the N6oNC headphones remain significantly cheaper than the Sony WH-1000XM4s, the B&W PX7s and the Apple Airpod Max’s. Does this difference in price translate to difference in quality?

Starting with sound performance. The N6oNC headphones have a sound quality that doesn’t quite match the more premium headphones above. If you’re looking for some headphones that are as bassy as possible then these aren’t the right travel headphones for you. However, for me, these headphones have the perfect level of bass so as not to change the sound of the music. Instead, the N6oNC’s bass nicely complements the song rather than going all out on the bass no matter what, a many manufacturers at this price point do. In terms of noise-cancellation, these AKG wireless headphones give the more expensive brands a run for their money. However, while the noise-cancelling abilities of these headphones is more than good enough for blocking flight sounds, they are less effective at cancelling out higher-pitched frequencies such as speech. This slight downside is further accentuated by the on-ear rather than over-ear design of these headphones, which allows noise to seep through.

Given the price, the battery power is more than satisfactory, with the headphones lasting multiple days on just one charge with moderate usage. The only negative to the battery is the lack of indication how much battery is left, leaving you guessing as to whether they need plugging in or not.

Unfortunately, the biggest flaw of the AKG N6oNC headphones for me is their on-ear design. Despite the soft and malleable imitation leather ear pads, having them constantly pushed against your ears can become uncomfortable if worn for long periods of time. The one positive to the on-ear design of these travel headphones is that it makes them less bulky and more compact than other over-ear headphones. This is great for travelling because they take up less space and can easily be carried around in just a backpack.

I have ranked the AKG N6oNC Wireless headphones as 4 stars. Although the sound performance and design lets them down relative to the more expensive Apple Airpods Max’s, they offer an incredible amount for their modest price tag, making them great value for money.

Sennheiser HD 450BT Headphones | £133

Rating: 5 out of 5.

With a minimal design, noise-cancellation and foldable abilities, the Sennheiser HD 450BT Headphones are purpose built for the commuting crowd, also making them ideal for travellers.

First, sound quality. The HD 450BT headphone’s sound performance rivals the pricier alternatives. Offering a sound stage that is both detailed and clear, without sounding boring, these headphones combine controlled bass with lively trebles to produce a truly satisfying sound. These headphones also deliver solid noise-cancellation for such an affordable price. They add as much hiss to the soundtrack as most mid-range ANC headphones and they largely eliminate lower-frequency rumble so that the noises on planes and trains is significantly minimised. Like the AKG N6oNC Wireless Headphones high frequencies are less controlled but for the price, this is expected.

As for the design of these headphones, I really liked it. Available in black and white models, the semi-mat surface of these wireless travel headphones creates a stylish, minimalist look, with the majority of the controls relegated to the side panels. The right ear cup’s side panel has controls for power and pairing, playback, track navigation, volume and voice assistance. These over-ear HD 450BT headphones also feature very generously cushioned memory foam ear pads which makes their fit incredibly comfortable for their incredibly modest price. These Sennheiser wireless headphones also come with a surprisingly compact travel pouch, making them ideal for packing.

I have given the Sennheiser HD 450BT wireless headphones a whopping 5 stars. Given their rivalled sound quality and their superior design, these mid-range headphones give pricier alternatives a run for their money – literally.

Best Budget Travel Headphones:

Sony WH-CH700N Headphones | £98.93 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

No other company but Sony could succeed at packing in this many cool features for such a small price. After the incredible 1000XM3 headphones, Sony has sought to develop a more affordable version that is accessible to more people. Introducing the Sony WH-CH700N headphones!

When approaching any pair of budget headphones, I am always apprehensive when it comes to judging their audio quality as most tend to focus on pushing bass heavy sounds. But, I was pleased to hear that this isn’t the case with the CH700Ns. The sound produced by these Sony headphones is incredibly balanced, creating a fun sound that works with most genres. While the bass is definitely elevated, it is in no way overbearing. Adding to this surprisingly good sound quality is the fact that these are one of few pairs of headphones that actually have noise-cancellation. However, this capability is not the strongest feature of these headphones. The main issue is the design of the ear cups which are relatively wide and shallow, meaning that they don’t seal your ears well. You are left with a very underwhelming and basic background noise suppression. Yet, any noise-cancellation is better than no noise cancellation and with the budget price can you really complain?

This takes us onto the overall design of these headphones. The CH700N’s have a very unassuming design which doesn’t really stand out as anything special. The entire headphone is made from plastic and the headband and ear cups are covered in imitation leather. Despite this, these headphones are surprisingly comfortable. The large and spacious ear cups allow your ears to breathe so that they don’t get too hot as they often can with other noise-cancelling headphones. The plastic construction also makes these lighter than most travel headphones. However, when it comes to travel, these headphones aren’t the most compact to transport or pack. They also don’t even come with any kind of carry case.

One pro of the Sony CH700N headphones is their battery life, at a staggering 35 hours with NC on and 40 with it off. If you are a frequent flyer, you can guarantee a whole flight without having to recharge, no matter how long it is. Yet, one downer on the battery life is how long they take to recharge. To charge up to full capacity from empty it takes a all mighty 7 hours. So, when you do need to charge these headphones, it’s probably best to plan ahead.

Overall, I’m giving the Sony WH-CH700N headphones 3 stars. While they are on the cheaper side, I feel like you can quite easily tell. The sound performance isn’t the best, the design could certainly be improved on and re-charging them takes a lifetime. However, for the budget price tag, they do have some handy features, including the important fact that they are noise-cancelling (even if it’s no match for more expensive alternatives).

JBL Club 700BT Headphones | £79.95

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The second budget headphones on the list are the JBL Club 700BT headphones. With the straightforward on-ear design, these bluetooth headphones pack a large punch for the small price tag.

For the price, these JBL headphones sound really quite good. They combine a neutrally toned balance along with a dynamic and detailed sound. However, despite the relatively impressive sound quality of these budget headphones, they aren’t noise-cancelling – a big negative for travellers. Having said that, you are very unlikely to find a pair of noise-cancelling headphones anywhere for this kind of price.

Where these headphones are let down most is their design. These headphones are on the larger side, weighing in at 238g. After an hour or so of listening, you are certainly left feeling that some extra padding might be nice. The imitation leather ear cups and headband lure you into a false sense of security when it comes to comfort but the added bulk and the positioning of the metal hinges and chunky ear cups leaves you feeling slightly headachey. Yet, these headphones do feel incredibly sturdy and are certain to stand the test of time.

The stand-out feature of these JBL bluetooth headphones is their outstanding battery life. With an impressive 50 hours of battery life before you need to plug in, there is no need to be concerned about running low while on the move. On top of this, recharging is rapid, taking under two hours to reach full battery from empty. And, there is very little risk of you wasting that battery life. JBL has included a very convenient auto-off feature which powers down the headphones when it senses a few minutes of inactivity.

Unfortunately, the JBL Club 700BT headphones didn’t quite cut it for me. While the price tag is very attractive and they do pack in some great features, such as the auto-off feature, they just don’t deliver the sound quality or comfort that I want in a pair of travel headphones. So, I give the Club 700BT’s 3 1/2 stars.

4 thoughts on “A Guide to the Best Travel Headphones 2021: Headphones Ideal for Holidays.

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