back to article Fancy a mile-high earjob? We've had five!

Yes, noise-cancelling headphones are useful in all manner of times and places, but they really shine during air travel by blocking some of the endless bass rumble that jet engines emit. Bose QuietComfort 25 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones Make your flights less hum-drum with some noise cancelling headphones …

  1. Day

    Plantronics Backbeat Pros £130 at Amazon at the moment.

    I think your price for the Backbeat Pros is wrong. I have these headphones and I do like them. A friend let me try his QC25s and the Bose headphones seemed to me to be far better at noise cancellation, but I really wanted bluetooth and I like the very simple controls. I think I bought mine for £140 and the price difference with the QC25s was also part of my decision.

  2. TheProf
    Megaphone

    Background hum

    I always wondered why the crew of the USS Enterprise never wore noise-cancelling headphones. The background hum would drive me mad in a few hours. Ditto the TARDIS.

    Unless everyone on board had tinnitus and the hum was used as a masking sound.

  3. Roq D. Kasba

    An actual bargain

    https://www.7dayshop.com/noise-cancelling-headphones/7dayshop-headphones-active-noise-cancelling-headphones-with-aeroplane-kit-and-travel-case

    These are excellent for the price. I mean, look at that price, they're worth every penny and then some.

    1. getHandle

      Re: An actual bargain

      Agreed. Tilt the headband a bit forward for maximum comfort. Did me London -> Korea a few times very nicely.

    2. Bsquared

      Re: An actual bargain

      ++ These are bloody awesome, for well under 40quid from Amazon.

      I think I bought these based on a previous Register thread. They have decent sound quality, reasonably comfortable for extended wear, good noise cancellation and amazing battery life. They also have one killer feature (apart from the price) - 3.5mm jacks at BOTH ends of the sound lead. So when you inevitably get your sound source entangled in something and the lead gets a good yank - it just pops out of the headphones. Thus NOT damaging vital connections inside your expensive noise-cancelling headphones that would require the skills of a neurosurgeon to solder back together (yes, Sennheiser, I'm looking at YOU!)

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  5. Paul Renault

    A table listing specs would have been handy.

    Y'know, like with the noise-reduction numbers, battery life, and price (and how much of that price is because of all the ads..).

  6. Alan Sharkey

    I've got the Bose

    I tried a few before settling on the Bose ones (which I got in Dubai for £200). They really do work well and I take them on all my flights now. I don't use the case - it's a bit bulky.

    Mine came with two wires - one straight and one for an iphone - which doesn't work with Android. But since I use them with my laptop anyway, I don't really care.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    correction

    "Passive headphones use padding and cunning acoustics to block ambient sound. Just about all headphones do this to some degree. Passive noise-cancellers are engineered to do it better."

    Should have been "Active noise-cancellers are engineered..."

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: correction

      No; he's comparing the engineering of passive noise-cancelling headphones with ordinary headphones.

  8. AJames

    Appreciate the review, but it would have been nice to see a few specs or measurements as well.

    Also, several inaccuracies on the first page gave me doubts:

    1. Noise canceling headphones are always the active kind. Passive "noise-islolating" headphones may attenuate noise, but they do not in any way "cancel" noise. Please correct your terminology.

    2. Noise canceling headphones do not make you "think" that you do not hear the noise, they actually apply energy to cancel the sound wave so that it isn't there any more.

    3. You do not have to be out of your mind to wear noise-canceling earbuds during a flight. While most earbuds may be less comfortable for long-term wear, there are some well-designed ones that that can be reasonably comfortable. They can do an excellent job of passive noise isolation in addition to the active noise canceling, and they have the added advantage that on many flights you are allowed to wear earbuds during the takeoff and landing phases of flight (the noisiest) while you are not allowed to wear headphones.

    1. Tromos

      @AJames

      I can't quite see the advantage of being allowed to wear earbuds during the phases of flight where all electronic equipment (including any noise-cancelling circuitry) has to be switched off.

      1. Dr_N Silver badge

        Re: @AJames

        "I can't quite see the advantage of being allowed to wear earbuds during the phases of flight where all electronic equipment (including any noise-cancelling circuitry) has to be switched off."

        Have you not flown recently? Switching off gadgets in no longer a requirement on most flights.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @AJames

        >> I can't quite see the advantage of being allowed to wear earbuds during the phases of flight where all electronic equipment (including any noise-cancelling circuitry) has to be switched off.

        To isolate noise. Do try to pay attention.

        1. DiViDeD Silver badge

          Re: @AJames

          A guy I work with wears his on the train with no input apart from the noise cancelling. He says it cuts out the background noise enough for him to read in peace.

          Horses for courses I suppose.

    2. offer

      I agree with the ear buds - I have a pair of Bose QuietComfort, and they work perfectly for UK to west coast US flights.

      Because they don't encompass the ear, the work much better with wearing glasses.

    3. DryBones
      Holmes

      Fun Fact...

      While the noise cancelling earphones may reduce your perception of sound, they do not actually cancel the sound itself. Or maybe I mean the carrier is still there, even if the modulation isn't. Picture the sound wave on an X-Y graph. You can set all the Y to 0, but you still have motion in X.

      All I know is when I put on a set of Bose it gets quiet, but I am very aware of a pressure -inside- my ears when they are donned and active, versus donned and disabled. It's a curious thing, somewhat disconcerting, and has kept me from springing for any pair of them.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Fun Fact...

        "I am very aware of a pressure -inside- my ears when they are donned and active"

        If you go into an anechoic chamber (or a well muffled radio studio), you'll notice the same effect. I think it's the brain's reaction to an acoustically dead environment.

  9. Mark Wilson

    No Audio-Technicas?

    I would have thought that the ATH-ANC9s would have deserved a mention here, Noise cancellation on par with the Bose but not as bass heavy (though they are still slightly bass heavy) and they work even when turned off unlike the Boss. I use these every day in the office and they are fantastic.

    1. whitespacephil

      Re: No Audio-Technicas?

      The Bose ones now do work when switched-off or with a flat battery. Big improvement.

  10. Rusty 1
    WTF?

    Nobody in their right mind

    "Nobody in their right mind wears earbuds for the duration of a long-haul flight"

    Find a good set of in-ear phones (for the audio), find good buds for them (foam, rubber, whatever), get used to them, and you'll be fine with them for many hours on end. Very small, generally cheap, and easy to manage on a flight, at your destination, and for the entire trip.

    Certainly, from my point of view, having some thermal insulation hanging by my ears would be an unbearable thing for more than a few hours. But then you do say "Hot I can deal with, as one of the reasons I like to wear headphones in the air is to stay warm". Seriously, WTF? Would you uprate headphones because they had rockwool over the ears? I have never been on any flight where being cold has been a problem.

    Couldn't you just wear a hat? You could write "Beats" on it to make sure everyone knew you were cool.

  11. LAGMonkey
    Black Helicopters

    Out of my mind!

    Nice that I'm one of the people who are out of my mind... but oh well.

    I got a pair of Sony (I know.... I was young and naive!) MDR NC-22 in Dubai in 2007. Still going to this day with a long distance Atlantic crossing every 4 weeks, however the clip on the battery pack (AAA) is broken, the wires (stranded core) inside are starting to fray and short so i suspect they are not long for this world.

    Any one got a list of in-ear NC headphones available. I have ethical objections to buying from Sony again.

    Icon... well its flying so NC headphones would be good

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Out of my mind!

      "Any one got a list of in-ear NC headphones available."

      Bose's ones are _very_ good. With a pricetag to match.

      1. phil dude
        Thumb Up

        Re: Out of my mind!

        The only piece of Sony Kit I own - in-ear NC headphones (NC100?). Fantastically convenient (small), and comfortably enough to trans-Atlantic or even trans-Pacific flights. Required a AAA battery and subdued the air noise and still left voices unmuted.

        For some reason Sony stopped making them...

        I really don't like the over-ears version on flights, because although this review was in Economy, when you get a chance to lay down, a pillow means you can keep the headphones on.

        P.

        1. slightly-pedantic

          Re: Out of my mind!

          I had some of the Sony's but recently sprung for the Bose in the ear nc's. They are much better.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You've used the wrong earbuds

    Pick up some HiFiMan RE-400s. They are so small that they essentially fit inside your ear. They are aluminum and super lightweight. And the tips are extremely soft rubber. They're incredibly comfortable and I've worn them on flights for 5-6 hours straight before they started to annoy me.

    Also, Inner Fidelity measured them at -25 dB for broadband noise isolation and more than -20 dB at 300Hz:

    http://www.innerfidelity.com/images/HiFiMANIE400.pdf

    That's similar to headphones and earbuds that do active noise cancelation.

    Also you can see from the other graphs that the sound quality is excellent.

    EDIT: I also feel compelled to point out that earbuds take up dramatically less space in one's luggage.

  13. Richard Ball

    Shame no Sennheiser and AT.

    Review would have been much more valuable if you'd included their gear despite no advice from them or freebies.

    I know getting ignored isn't good, but those guys are in a minority of makers that have pedigree(*) . I want to know how their stuff compared, even if you do have to spend some money to find out.

    (*they have made studio-grade stuff for years. I know that doesn't mean that everything with their name on is 'proper pro')

    1. Roq D. Kasba

      Re: Shame no Sennheiser and AT.

      For over a decade I've had a Sennheiser pilot's headset - wonderful thing. Active NR reduces the droning engine noise, meaning you can reduce the volume of the incoming radio, meaning you respond more quietly, meaning you're more relaxed, meaning you fly better. Yep, that's quite a claim, but it worked well for me :-)

      1. Sixtysix
        Happy

        Re: Shame no Sennheiser and AT.

        I have had a pair of activeNC Audio Technica that I bought on special offer and have used on trains and planes for upwards of 8 years. came with a soft case and replaceable cable (and that should be essential in my view!) Fantastic things and I don't hesitate to pack/use/recommend them...

        I also have some "bud" type in-ear NC phones which I cannot stomach for long - too sore unless your jaw is absolutely still... no eating drinking swallowing etc. possible without increaing pain and the damn things working out of my ears. Originally in tended for flying, only used once, relegated to using under ear defenders when mowing/strimming, but not even really useful for that as head movement still has them leaping out.

        I have tried foam plugs under headphones - dissatisfied - but now use a pair of -18db sound reducing plugs under eardefenders and under my AT, and that works very well.

  14. ecarlseen

    I stopped using noise-cancelling headphones on flights.

    I've actually found that running my headphones with a program that generates "sounds of nature" is better for reading and sleeping on flights (YMMV, of course). I generally use V-MODA Crossfade-XS because they sound great, they're more or less indestructible (real metal frame - yay!), and they neatly fold up into a surprisingly tiny case. If I have extra room in my carry-on bag (rare) then I'll bring my V-MODA M-100s.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If you're unlucky enough to be flying sitting next to some selfish parent's screaming kid and that parent follows today's standard parenting approach of allowing their offspring to do anything at any time, then I can thoroughly recommend the Bose kit, or, if you don't have it, anything by Insomnium played loudly.

    AC, because this type of parent gets a bit spiteful when their inbred sense of entitlement is challenged.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "AC, because this type of parent gets a bit spiteful when their inbred sense of entitlement is challenged." -lol Because you are challenging their rights.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MF02lXM77Tw

      For more advice the whole Onion "parenting" series is worth a watch.

      NSFW

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKmDGWv9gRk

  16. xeroks

    Minor omission

    The reviewer's testing didn't cover one of the bigger aural annoyances on flights: the screaming child.

    It's well established in psychological circles that the howling of babies is more stressful than the mechanical noises. A pair of cans which cancels out those noises entirely would be worth a lot of money.

    1. Rafael 1

      Re: A pair of cans which cancels out those noises entirely would be worth a lot of money.

      Go to the Duty Free before flying and see if they sell vodka or rum in cans :-)

      Apply directly to mouth. No batteries required.

      1. david bates

        Re: A pair of cans which cancels out those noises entirely would be worth a lot of money.

        Apply directly to child and it will sleep through the flight.....

  17. Rainer

    QC25 here, too

    But I never fly. We've got a noisy office, though.

    And I can use them to make calls with the iPhone.

    I've downloaded an app that plays white noise (breaking of waves in my case) and that helps blocking the typical office-noise (that is hard to noise-cancel actually).

    I've read a test in a magazine that concluded that the best results can be achieved by using in-ear NC headphones plus earmuffs on top.

    Don't know how comfortable that is, but it sounds quite effective...

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: QC25 here, too

      "And I can use them to make calls with the iPhone."

      Just once I'd like to see a good set of noise-cancelling phones with a noise-cancelling boom microphone for use in server rooms.

      When the background noise level is 85dBA, those built in ones becomes pretty much useless.

    2. OwenMc64

      Re: QC25 here, too

      In-ear + level III ear-protectors are comfy enough that I wear them for an hour or 2 at a time in the office.

      I've had colleagues come over to tell my my phone was ringing, within arm's reach, so that's plenty quiet for my purposes :-)

  18. slightly-pedantic

    I am told that a cheap and effective solution is to use industrial grade earplugs then put ordinary over the ear headphones on as well. You have to crank up the volume so what you want to hear is still audible though. Anyone tried this?

    1. Sixtysix
      Stop

      I find the foam ones too uncomfortable, but do use a pair of "-18db noise reducing in-ear" plugs under other defence to be good.

      The in-ear noise reducing I wear to concerts - I have all the tinitus I need for the rest of my life already thanks your sound engineer very much...

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Sony MDR10RNC are a better bet than the MDR1: they're $227 on Amazon and arguably sound better. There's a little more depth to the inside of the earpiece too.

    For sound quality in ear buds the is NOTHING to beat the Kef M200 and with Comply Foam tips you can get excellent sound isolation. With the correct size of the tips I find them comfortable for at least 8-9 hours into a flight. I found them for $99 last year, then add about $20 for a three pairs of tips.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Poor quality QC25

    The QC25 I bought on Black Friday has failed 4 times. Out of the box the left speaker would cut out if you moved. 2nd pair left speaker wouldn't noise cancel. 3rd pair was working great on one flight to New York but completely died on the flight home. So far the 4th pair is working fine.

    Also only buy these from an approved Bose reseller not Amazon. If you didn't buy from an approved Bose reseller you don't have the Bose warranty for when these go tits up.

  21. nobody2

    Goldring NS1000 are good value

    I have a pair of these, which are in the £60 range. I doubt if they are as good as Bose, but the active cancellation definitely works. They are also comfortable and have survived several years' use. You can detach the cable for noise cancellation without audio listening and they also work as normal headphones without their AAA batteries.

  22. Nick L

    Preferred noise isolating... until bose 25s

    I've tried quite a few different noise isolating headphones, and favourites have been up until now the Etymotic ER-4i, which do isolate quite brilliantly. After a 10 hour flight my ears do know that I've been wearing them for 10 hours though!

    Tried the Bose 25s, despite preferring passive. Previously, I must admit that I don't Bose well at all: for me, a triumph of marketing over performance. Beats for the previous generation, if you will ;-)

    But I bought a set of these in Schiphol whilst on the way to the US (€269, so about £190) and my goodness, they're superb. Goes from noise to practically nothing at the flick of a switch: genuinely astonishing. Sound isn't bad, either.

    Downside? The crying child's cries come through nearly perfectly, with no background noise... Oh, and you can hear all the little 'alarm' noises because there's no background noise!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Preferred noise isolating... until bose 25s

      +1 for Bose.

      I've got a set of the older ones that have been round the world a few times with me and I can vouch for their build quality. They sound great, they are comfortable and the single AAA cell lasts for absolutely ages.

      When I bought them I winced at the price but they have more than paid me back by preserving my sanity - and reading some of the silly prices in this review has made me feel a lot better about the £200-ish I paid for them.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Business opportunity?

    I would love decent stereo microphones placed in locations like "inacessible beach, Maldives", deep forest Europe/S_America/N_Amerca/Asia, pebble beach (with long draw waves) or even country park (but away from people enough to ensure privacy).

    We are programmed to subconsciously respond to noise threats and hearing nature in a non alarm state is one of the most calming background noises to me.

    I want to be able to spin the globe and pick a live streaming location from a map and scenario, some people might like to hear the background hum of a city, not my kind of thing but I could imagine it would help some people relax if that is their natural habitat.

  24. druck Silver badge
    Boffin

    Planes make noise in a few ways – notably air flow over the fuselage and wings, mechanical engine noise and the noise of the hot gas engines emit

    The loudest noise in a modern airliner isn't any of those, it's the on board air conditioning and other passengers!

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