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We all need a restful hour or two of sleep on commute, and these headphones might just be your gateway to rest. Image Credit: Pexels/cottonbro studio

With the right audio gear, we're less reluctant to board a flight that's going to take us halfway across the world. As long as there's a trusty pair of headphones in the bag, we'll be able to drown out any noisy commute with our favourite audiobooks, podcasts and tunes.

But, when the headphones feature active noise cancellation (ANC), travelling becomes a whole different ball game. Neither the cabin clamour nor the perpetual hum of the engine should stop you from squeezing in a few precious hours of shuteye. If you're looking forward to a quiet flying experience this summer, find out how noise-cancelling headphones can actually help.

How do noise-cancelling headphones work?

Headphones that dampen ambient noise could employ either one or both types of noise-cancelling technology: active and passive. The latter is completely dependent on how well the earcans seal your ears, so as to physically muffle any sound. For purer noise cancellation, travellers might want to look into a combination of both, ANC headphones with passive suppression.

"[Active] noise cancellation happens through mics, which measure the ambient sounds and then regenerate the exact same audio signal in the opposite direction, to suppress the noise," explained Barry Kassab, an electronics and audio engineer, also the owner of Barry Electronics and Audio Works in Dubai.

Travellers are not obliged to listen to anything for noise cancellation to work. As long as there's enough charge in their gadget, the processing chip does its job with or without audio. So, if you're someone who can't fall asleep to music, these headphones go over your ears and block most frequencies out.

"The most irritating sounds on an aircraft, such as brown noise composed of the wind, rumbling and the hum of the engine, can be cancelled by these headphones. [They handle] low and mid-low registers, but ANC headphones do become inefficient at higher frequencies. Though, with passive cancellation, they can be muffled," added Kassab.

Why should I get noise-cancelling headphones for travel?

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ANC headphones can help cut down a few decibels to protect your ears. Image Credit: Unsplash/Lukas Souza

The reason may seem obvious, but if there's any audio gear you plan on carrying on travels, let it be a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. Regular ear cans do little in the face of a loud environment, whether you're stuck in a jam-packed street or a crowded moving vehicle.

Kassab is all for protecting the ears in such situations. He said: "Not many people are aware that long exposure to any sound above 85 decibels can cause hearing damage. Frequent travellers flying on aeroplanes will find themselves exhausted after a long-haul trip, usually because their nerves and ears have been trying to protect the eardrums from damage. They might even hear a 'pinging' sound later, which is a tell-tale sign."

Noise-cancelling headphones will be able to lessen some stress on the ears. Realistically speaking, higher register conversations may be audible still, but Kassab says such sounds become less disruptive.

What features should I look for?

An over-ear pair with ANC should be the ideal criteria for fliers. This, of course, must be combined with comfortable padding around the ears and a headband that doesn't clamp on too strongly. No matter how good the noise-cancelling technology is, a pair of headphones would be extra baggage if it's not enjoyable to wear for long stretches at a time.

Consider its travel-friendly aspects, too: Can the headband fold in half? Do the headphones come in their own case? Are you getting dual, Bluetooth and wired, connectivity? As a product packs in more features, expect the price tag to reflect these.

Kassab prefers the convenience of disabling noise cancellation whenever the situation calls for it. This saves you the trouble of removing the gadget completely, to hold conversations.

He finds Bose a reliable brand to start your search with, as "they've been manufacturing ANC headphones since early days". Our expert, who's been in the industry for over 25 years, notes how helicopter and aircraft pilots speak highly of Bose models.

Editor's tip
Snag up to 20 per cent off on true wireless headsets on Amazon right now.

Discover your possible options in the list below, which features only the best expert picks. Don't forget to carry along a neck pillow to guarantee a solid in-flight nap. Buy your favourite true wireless headphones now, while they're on sale, and shop with Prime for free, same- or next-day delivery.

1. Best Overall: Bose 700 Noise Cancelling Headphones


  • Adjust noise cancellation via buttons
  • 20-hour battery life and fast charging
  • Touch controls for volume and calls
  • Compatible with Google Assistant, Alexa and Siri
  • Uses USB-C to charge


  • Uses a 2.5mm audio jack, instead of the conventional 3.5mm
  • Expensive

The Bose 700 wireless headphones are immediately our number-one pick. Thousands of five-star reviews describe a positive travel experience with these in their corner. Active noise-cancelling on the Bose 700 is fully adjustable, letting you control how much of the cabin or bus chatter you want to hear. Expect high-fidelity audio through the drivers and crystal-clear calls that are made possible by eight mics on the body. These microphones suppress any disruptive sounds to isolate your voice for the caller. Quickly swipe the right earcup to turn down the volume, pause music and more, without glancing at a screen. And, if your hands are full, call upon your phone's default voice assistant to handle the task for you. As for comfort levels, the earcups are slightly tilted to match the natural slope of your head. Gel-like foam and protein leather all ensure up to 20 hours of relaxing journey.

Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh91.58 for 12 months with select banks.

Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh63 and two years for Dh104.

2. Best for Everyday Use: Sony WH-1000XM5 Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphones


  • 30-hour battery life and fast charging
  • HD noise-cancelling processor with eight mics
  • Music stops when wearer speaks or takes off the headphones
  • Noise cancellation is optimised per environmental factors
  • Voice assistant compatible


  • ANC is not adjustable manually

Kassab's second-best choice is the popular WH-1000s by Sony. Its latest model in the range garnered social media hype for all the good reasons - it's incredibly sleek, cushioned to the nines, and has a long battery life of 30 hours. Let's not forget the eight mics that work together with Sony's Auto NC Optimiser to adjust cancellation levels based on atmospheric pressure and wearing conditions. Its QN1 processor even promises to capture some of the high-frequency sounds. If you speak to a fellow passenger, the Speak-to-Chat function automatically pauses any audio to filter in the outside world. Like our Bose option, this pair works with voice assistants, charges via a USB-C head and keeps in its own travel case. Travellers in the reviews try it out in-flight with success, noting how it cancels out any plane-specific noises, helping them tune out their surroundings for a six-hour sleep. Instead of a manually adjustable ANC feature, however, listeners get to turn on the ambient mode.

Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh92.83 for 12 months with select banks.

Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh69 and two years for Dh113.

3. Best with Passive Isolation: Shure AONIC 40 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones


  • Three levels of active noise cancellation
  • Environment mode
  • Dual connectivity with Bluetooth and audio cable
  • 25-hour battery life and fast charging
  • Comes in a sleek protective case


  • Could be more comfortable

The Shure Aonic range receives recommendations from two of our sound experts, including audiovisual producer and instructor Reza Moradi. This industry-favourite doesn't fall too short of its popular contenders Bose and Sony. With the Aonic 40, you'll be able to pick from three levels of active noise cancellation, and listen to the outside world by turning on the Environment Mode. The pair is meant to last you for years of travel, made with aircraft-grade aluminium alloy and glass-filled nylon. Reviewers owe its noise cancellation properties to passive isolation from the tight ear cans, so even on a dead battery, the Aonic 40 may still dampen disturbances to an extent. Speaking of battery, only 15 minutes of charge from your power bank will win you five hours of peace and quiet. In terms of comfort, buyers do wish the padding on the headband was thicker.

Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh83.25 for 12 months with select banks.

Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh57 and two years for Dh94.

4. Best Spare Headphones: Soundcore by Anker Space Q45 


  • Amazing battery life of 50 hours on ANC mode
  • Charges for four hours in just five minutes
  • Five levels of transparency to adjust ambient mode
  • Adaptive noise cancellation
  • Value for money


  • Might not work well as a go-to pair
  • Not as intuitive as others on the list

If this is your first foray into travel headphones, then it's likely you don't want to break the bank with expensive options. Try the Soundcore Q45 headphones by Anker. They'll last for as many connecting flights as possible, with a whopping battery life of 50 hours, even in ANC mode. Like the Sony WH-1000XM5, you can expect adaptive noise cancelling to suit your ever-changing surroundings. While there are no on-body controls for a quick ANC adjustment, you can pick from five levels of transparency on the app. Though it only comes with two mics, there's the AI algorithm to make up for clear calls on commute. Reviewers who've sat through planes, trains and participated in outdoor activities, all find the pair surprisingly excellent at cutting out noise. Even those who find their ears hurting from the air pressure in the cabin leave five stars. They're the perfect secondary headphones for travelling purposes.

Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh23 and two years for Dh38.

5. Best Budget: Srhythm NC25 Active Noise Cancelling Headphones


  • Effective digital ANC for aeroplane sounds
  • Very comfortable over the ears and head, per reviews
  • Gives you up to 50 hours of battery
  • Travel case comes with an aircraft adaptor
  • Value for money


  • Audio quality is just decent

For an even better bargain, check out Srhythm's NC25 ANC headphones with large 40mm drivers. A dedicated noise-cancelling button on the earcup instantly tunes out disruptive sounds, in both wired and Bluetooth modes. Similar to the Anker headphones, the NC25 runs for 50 hours on a single charge, perfect for long-haul flights. It arrives in a compact travel case, complete with an aircraft adaptor, audio cable, type-C charging wire and more. A bonus feature for gamers on the flight is the ultra-low latency mode for shortened response times. Since the drivers are so big, reviewers with ear piercings say there's no discomfort. These muffle crying sounds, the cabin hum and the engine rumble during takeoff. They're also a great companion for office work as the ANC helps remove any distractions. The only qualm is that the NC25 does fall behind in terms of studio-grade audio quality, but at this price point, this drawback is to be expected.

Bonus: Get 5 per cent off when you apply a coupon.

Our recommendations are independently chosen by Gulf News editors. If you decide to shop through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission, as we are part of Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.