Which headphones should I get for a long (14 hours) flight with kids?
July 4, 2011 9:31 AM   Subscribe

Which headphones should I get for a long (14 hours) flight with kids? I want ones that are comfortable on a large head and are easy to remove, because I'll need to get up frequently. I looked at noise-cancelling headphones on Amazon, but the ones that sounded best for me (Sennheiser PXC 450) are too expensive for something I'll use infrequently. On previous trips I've used earplugs to deaden the ambient noise and just turned the volume up on my (airline-supplied) headphones, but there must be a better way.
posted by Joe in Australia to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Traveling a lot, I've found the big headphones bulky and they get uncomfortable after a while, hard to lean my head on anything, and they pinch my ears with my glasses.

I suggest using in-ear earbuds, you can get these for fairly cheap and I've found them more comfortable (and with better sound quality) than the typical apple-style buds. You can get them with foam so they act just like earplugs with the headphones attached if you want great sound elimination. But I find that it gets a little uncomfortable after hours and hours. The ones with the silicone tips do pretty well for blocking noise actually, they usually come with a few different sizes so you can make them fit well.

I've seen the skull candy ones like these available pretty much everywhere for around $30 or less. Perhaps not the most amazing headphones for true audiophiles, but I have had a few pairs and they'll do in a pinch.
posted by lizbunny at 9:47 AM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was just going to say what lizbunny said.

Any in-ear earbud is going to run rings around the best, most hella-expensive noise-cancelling headphone. Like, night-and-day, no-contest, don't-even-bother-trying… rings.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:50 AM on July 4, 2011

I find that my ears are _much_ happier after a long flight with over-ear headphones than in-ear headphones, personally. I use my ATH-M50s on flights, they aren't noise canceling but are very isolating. More isolating than my (pretty decent) earbuds, in fact, contra C_D.
posted by advil at 10:05 AM on July 4, 2011

I bought a pair of Audio-technica ATH-ANC7's three years ago, and they are the best headphones I've ever had. The noise-cancellation is simply amazing - I fly a lot, and when I put them on while in the air I don't even notice the noise of the engine. They're great for day-to-day use and really comfortable as well.
posted by orangeseed at 10:19 AM on July 4, 2011

I love my Etymotic HR-5s for flying (and everything else). I learned about them on AskMe (they are noise-isolating, which is apparently different from noise-cancelling, although they seem to have the same effect) and they were worth every penny!
posted by smilingtiger at 10:30 AM on July 4, 2011

I wouldn't recommend electronic noise-cancellation. Those Sennheisers you link to are about $300. How much are you hoping to spend?

IEMs isolate really well and don't take up much space, but they might not meet your easy-to-remove criteria. And while some folks find them very comfortable, others do not. Isolation fanatics (people who work in noisy environments, usually) often recommend using IEMs with headphone-style ear protection worn over them. This is probably overkill for your purposes.

Over-ear headphones can isolate fairly well (my usual go-to recommendations are the Sony MDR-V6 and the Sennheiser HD-280--either are available for, say, between fifty and a hundred bucks. Of the two, the Sennheisers isolate better, but the Sonys are a little comfier), and are easy to remove, but they're bulky, and some of them benefit from the use of a headphone amp.
posted by box at 10:31 AM on July 4, 2011

I think that any earphones with a three foot cable would be enough to help you tolerate your ride.

Can you tell that I have been on one too many unhappy plane rides worth screaming babies? The truth is, every problem I have every had with noise on commutes has been solved by my Shire e2c's. Ran me under about seventy bucks and have provided me with hundreds of hours of sleep over my daily two hour commute. Also, Shure replaced them for free when I accidentally stepped on them. Rocking sound quality too.
posted by eytanb at 10:37 AM on July 4, 2011

I absolutely recommend in-ear headphones. I have Apple in-ear headphones, which don't have the best sound quality, but the remote is awfully convenient for an iPod Shuffle. I got some aftermarket foam tip replacements recommended on AskMe that make them fit like a glove. They're not so easy to put back in (especially foam tips, which require being held for about a minute to go back in), but they're so small that maybe you don't need to.
posted by grouse at 10:48 AM on July 4, 2011

I use activated (with a battery) noise cancelling headphones when I travel long haul from Australia and I don't bother taking them off when I need to get up - I just unplug them from whatever device I have them plugged into, and then walk around the cabin with them on (and I mean not just on my ears, but actively turned on) This way, I can really minimise my exposure to the engine noise and I wear them this way even if I am not listening to any music/movie/whatever. This feature that has really revolutionised long haul flights for me.
posted by unlaced at 12:09 PM on July 4, 2011

My experience is that noise canceling headphones are wonderful in reducing the stress and annoyance of droning sounds (jet engines, for example), but actually make it easier to hear conversation. That said, using my Bose noise canceling headphones reduces my dread of flying by about 70%..and, as said, they can be used with out even listening to music... I use them once or twice a year but it was money well spent and I expect to get many more years use out of them.
posted by tomswift at 12:34 PM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

In-ear buds. I often wear them all day at work without trouble. And, in the environment of a jet, they shut out the local noise very well.

For out-of-the-ear headphones, I've had nothing but good experiences with my Sennheisers, but I'd never wear them for extended periods (> 2 hours).
posted by SPrintF at 4:45 PM on July 4, 2011

My experience is that noise canceling headphones are wonderful in reducing the stress and annoyance of droning sounds (jet engines, for example), but actually make it easier to hear conversation.

Yes, electronic noise-cancelling earphones are not designed to eliminate conversation noise. Or screaming kids.
posted by grouse at 4:48 PM on July 4, 2011

Active noise-canceling is, IMHO, a ridiculous waste of money. It lowers sound quality considerably, can be more problematic, and often requires external batteries. People like them because they sound really high-tech, and sound like they're working really hard to cancel noise.

A much better, though far less marketing-friendly option is passive noise-canceling like that offered by IEMs (in-ear monitors). Something like the ER4P (which I have) will block airplane sounds *far* better than any flashy Bose set, yet will be much, much lighter and offer vastly better sound quality.

The only downside is that they don't sound like they're doing anything: no tell-tale hiss or noticeable spikes in noise before the cancellation kicks in. Just the sound of whatever you're listening to.

Etymotic ER4Ps. I'd highly, highly recommend them.

(NB: there are two versions, one for line-level, the other for headphone-level. Be sure you select the right one for whatever you're listening to.)
posted by -1 at 9:26 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been using the Sennheiser pxc-250's for a few years and have flown on a number of long haul trips with them. For me they've been a lifesaver. I don't like to wear any in-ear monitors / ear buds so the active noise cancelling option is the best for me. I was amazed at how much of the fatigue of long-distance flying is (for me) related to the droning of the engine. I leave the headphones on through the whole trip - if I take them off I am hit with that wall of engine noise that sounds ridiculously loud.

I've just upgraded to the pxc-450's and am very happy with them - they are definitely bigger and heavier though so may not be as comfortable for a long flight.

If you don't enjoy the feeling of buds in your ears then you might want to consider the pxc-250's as they should be a fair bit cheaper. You should be aware they have a separate battery pack, which takes a bit of getting used and may be a dealbreaker for many people.
posted by urban greeting at 4:07 AM on July 6, 2011

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