Since the invention of the Walkman, mobile music has been a staple of existence for many people. These days most of us can’t leave our house without slapping on a set of over-ear headphones. Some of us can’t even be alone with our thoughts for more than a minute without wanting a pair of wireless earbuds to drown out the gibbering in our head. For whoever you are, whatever you’re doing, and wherever you’re going, whether you need hard-core rap or just talk radio podcasts, you must have a pair of travel headphones to help you along.
Choosing headphones for travel is a tough call. You want them to be big enough to give you good sound reproduction but small enough to be portable. They should help drown out the sound of screaming babies, but not endanger you by shunning the noise of nearby traffic. Above all, they need to be comfortable enough that you don’t feel your auditory canals are being pierced or your ears are being smashed. For a better balance whether walking across the room or jetsetting around the world, we’ve got the 10 best travel headphones.
Pro: L-shaped plug does not work with all phone cases
Con: Bargain sound for a bargain price
Tossed Off: Expensive travel headphones can be expected to be left in a hotel room the first time you take them on the road. If you’re the forgetful kind or just prefer a decent headphone at a bargain price, the Ergo-Fit will keep you happy. At less than $10 they can go for long periods of time without faltering, don’t annoy your ears, and come in all the prettiest colors.
Pro: Adjustable temporal-comfort ear pads
Con: Headband tends to pull hair
Go Retro: Undoubtedly one of the strangest looking headphones we’ve ever seen, these are nonetheless an engineering marvel when it comes to portable headphones. The PortaPro’s make outstanding sound, fold up tightly, fit comfortably, and bounce back from the worst bangs, bumps, jostles, and jiggles we threw at them.
LG Tone Infinim
Pro: Retractable earbuds
Con: Thin wires tend to snap
Forgettable: Using their simple piece of neckware to hold these headphones in place and act as the bluetooth receiver, it’s easy to completely forget that you are wearing them. The Infinim have a 14-hour battery life, allowing them to last from the US to Australia’s Gold Coast without missing a beat. The sound quality is good as far as earbuds go, but audiophiles will crave more depth.
Pro: Solid, closed design and near audiophile quality
Con: Bass response is slightly muddy
Middle Ground: Not sure if you want a set of headphones for home, for the road, for DJing a bar mitzvah, or going to the gym? The M50x is a nice all-purpose headset that we found especially useful for travelling. Their wide sound arrangement and capacity for being able to run with the bulls one minute and give us stereophonic quality when plugged into a turntable the next made them a great go-to for a reasonable price.
Pro: Earcup mounted controls
Con: Sound is strong and rich, but inaccurate
Bells and Whistles: Headphones built for the road need to be able to adapt to a multitude of conditions, which is what we found the most appealing about the Y45BT. They have a noice-cancelling feature if you need that. They can work wirelessly or tied down depending on your circumstances and how badly you need your music to sound good; and they fold up neatly for easy carrying anytime and anywhere.
Pro: Can produce balanced sound, particularly when paired with an EQ
Con: Tend to be tight, especially on larger craniums
All In: Here, it’s tough to make a call. The entire Momentum line from Sennheiser is incredible, so we suggest buying for what you need. Whether you want an on-ear headphone or crave pure Bluetooth functionality, they’ll never disappoint. You’re going to spend a little more than you would for similar products, but that’s the Sennheiser brand for you. Low impedance gives you powerful sound and precision without a power drain while tough construction gives you years of use.
Bose QuietComfort 20i
Pro: Includes responsive in-line microphone
Con: Noise cancellation does hiss mildly
Best Buds: Though Bose’s QuietComfort over-ear headphones make an appearance on this list, their smaller earbuds deserve their own place in the mix. The design that puts a soft piece of plastic into your ear to hold the buds in place is comfortable and ingenious. Walking tours or running for your plane won’t dislodge these headphones or interrupt the sound flow, nor irritate or annoy the most sensitive ears.
Bose QuietComfort 25
Pro: Music continues even if battery dies
Con: Creates some pressure on the ears
Supreme Softness: Bose’s QuietComfort line is always among the top tier when it comes to any kind of noise-cancelling headphone, primarily because they give you lovely sound reproduction, but more importantly you can wear them for hours on end without feeling any fatigue at all. The 25’s come with a compact, foldable design that’s better than their predecessors, and noise-cancelling that has few peers. To save a few bucks, track down a 20 or a 15 QuietComfort model.
Pro: Unbeatable soundstage for an IEM
Sleeper Cell: If you’ve never heard of Grado, you’re not alone. They’re a small, family run corporation who produces incredible products quietly. You will pay more for their travel headphones, but the difference is astounding. Thicker cables mean better sound transference that makes these earbuds sing, squeal, and squelch like a pair of professional DJ headphones. The air seal is tight as a drum, allowing the dulcet tones to flow freely and easily.
Bowers & Wilkins P5
Pro: Won’t leak sound to the outside
Con: Leather earpads aren’t well ventilated
Odd Job: If you want to make a statement with your headphones, these will surely do it. That isn’t to say they’re just another pretty set of drivers. They can certainly deliver providing accurate sound in all ranges with an on-ear design that uses passive noise cancellation that won’t drown out the world around you, but also won’t stop irritating noises from penetrating. Add in replaceable earpads that you can customize, and there’s extra features beneath the surface that make these a strange but wonderful choice.