Traveler’s Guide to Noise-Canceling Headphones

If you’re an air traveler, chances are you’ve spent some time sitting beside a snoring passenger or two. If this is your own personal nemesis, then we have just the thing for you: noise-canceling headphones. Our goal today is to break down the best noise-canceling headphones for sleeping on an airplane and to tell you everything that you need to know about them so that your next flight will be as pleasant as possible.

The Pros:

  • Can create a bubble of silence to combat the myriad of distractions in public space.
  • Helps disrupt a person’s cochlear system.
  • Avoids focusing on thoughts and emotions that are unpleasant or unwanted
  • Reduces eardrums and various middle ear infections.
  • Provides mental clarity
  • Prevents hearing damage and tinnitus (ringing in ears).

The Cons:

  • Noise-canceling headphones can be very expensive, ranging from $300-$500 for just one set of headphones that use batteries as their power source, whereas earplugs can be as low as $0.50-$2.00 a pair.
  • Bluetooth noise-canceling headphones must have a power source and can only provide a limited amount of hours before needing to be recharged (10-15 hours). The noise reduction performance of active noise reduction technology can diminish over time, especially in Bluetooth headphones that rely on battery power to function.

Things to consider when buying noise-canceling headphones

How do they work?

How to use headphones that cancel noise so you can hear your music better. When someone is listening to music, the sound waves from the external environment are louder than the sound waves from their headphones. This of course means that they only hear the sounds that come from their headphones and everything else is canceled out. When noise-canceling headphones are used, they are able to cancel out a large portion of the external sound waves so that the listener can hear their music much better than if they weren’t using noise-canceling headphones.

Active: Active noise-canceling headphones take a recording of external environment sounds and then play it back out of phase or in a random pattern. This causes a type of interference (called acoustic cancellation) that decreases the amount of external noise that is heard. Active noise-canceling headphones are always powered on, just like your cell phone, tablet, and other electronic devices. They can usually last for tens to hundreds of hours depending on the size of the battery.

Passive: Passive noise-canceling headphones are the standard earbuds that come with a lot of phones. They use regular foam or rubber earplugs in addition to the headphones. The earplugs that come with passive noise-canceling headphones are usually a single tier, but dual-tier foam plugs can be purchased for those who need more protection against noise. With passive noise-canceling headphones, the external environment is canceled out by playing another sound wave besides the one coming from your headphone speaker (e.g. your music). Passive noise-canceling headphones are not powered on and thus do not run out of battery power.

Though each type has its advantages and disadvantages, it is important to understand how each one works so that you can make the most informed decision when purchasing a pair of low-profile earbuds for sleeping.