Noise cancel culture me
May 9, 2024 7:10 PM   Subscribe

I used to travel very frequently, but then I changed careers and there was that whole pandemic thing, so I'm going on a proper trip for the first time since 2020, and I want to make the experience as non-awful as possible. My beloved Sennheiser noise-canceling headset has seen better days, plus my devices now don't have headphone receptacles. I'm seeking suggestions for what's good for travel noise canceling in the modern era. Snowflakes within.

I'm looking for something that will work with:

Samsung Android phone
MacBook Air M2
Whatever they have on airplanes these days (ANA, specifically, in this case)

For earbuds, I would need something with different sizes of rubbery bit, since the ones that don't have that (like Apple's) are always too large for my ear canals.

I'm guessing that airplanes still just use a headphone jack, so maybe I need two separate things? I could get an adapter for the computer, but then there's the phone.

I'm fine with earbuds or over-the-ear, though something that's not huge would be better from a packing perspective.
posted by LadyOscar to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I'm guessing that airplanes still just use a headphone jack, so maybe I need two separate things? I could get an adapter for the computer

There are small Bluetooth adapters for headphone jacks now (~$30).
posted by praemunire at 7:35 PM on May 9

And there are USB-C to 3.5mm (aka 1/8-inch) adapters now (a couple bucks). I personally swear by wired, especially on planes with their saturated RF environments and wonky infotainment systems. Even if the seatback system offers Bluetooth, the software is s--t and you might find that you can't get the pairing to work. Wires work.
posted by intermod at 9:03 PM on May 9

I got a pair of Bose Quiet Comfort headphones from Costco and they're awesome - bluetooth, mostly, but come with a little adapter cord for the airplane headrest entertainment systems. They come in a soft case and fold down pretty small, easy enough to stuff into my carryon, but also comfy enough to wear around the neck for a bit while chatting with people. Good noise cancelling and they connect to my Samsung Galaxy and Lenovo laptop. Two thumbs up!
posted by carlypennylane at 10:26 PM on May 9 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the heads-up about the adapters for headphone jacks! The Bose headphones recommended by carlypennylane look nice, but I"m concerned about some reviews about sizing. I should have mentioned that along with tiny ear canals, I also apparently have a small head, so it would help for headphones to have some kind of sliding adjustability.
posted by LadyOscar at 10:58 PM on May 9

I use my Bose 700 on a daily basis for work and commuting and have now for three years, I still love them. I like the touch features - I can change volume, skip songs, go back, change noise cancellation, go on mute, etc without taking my phone out of my pocket.

I usually use Bluetooth but there’s a wire for the plane that’s handy.

I found this to help compare, seems accurate to me.
posted by ohio at 11:01 PM on May 9

If you are okay with a headset, I did almost the exact same thing as you just a couple years ago. I swapped my beloved Sennheisers for these Sony headphones. They have successfully communicated with a variety of devices both iOS and android as well as different game consoles. You can use a regular jack for devices that have it. They charge quickly and the charge lasts a long time. I find the noise cancelling to be quite good and the adjustability of the band appropriate. I have the teeny ear canal problem too and I’ve yet to find any earbuds I can stand for more than twenty minutes, so that’s out for travel, but these headphones fold up and pack into a nice clamshell that is surprising small and has a zip and handle so if you want you can clip it to your bag, and there is a bit of extra space in there for adapters and the charging cord. The extreme long wear comfort of the ear cups and the sound quality of very delicate and detailed classical music is not quite as fantastic as my Sennheisers, which I bought specifically to listen to entire operas at once, but they are better in every other way and those two qualities really aren’t much of a dip at all.
posted by Mizu at 11:44 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]

if you're willing to spend the money, please don't waste it on bose. bowers and wilkins px7 s2e are currently on-sale. I shared my b&w p7 wireless with a coworkers a few months ago and he ordered these later that day. they fold up and come with a carrying case.
posted by noloveforned at 4:14 AM on May 10

Honestly the Bose Quiet Comfort are wildly more effective than I ever believed they could be, I think it’s worth a shot to test one out for doing purposes.
posted by samthemander at 6:32 AM on May 10

Consider the Apple Airpods Pro. They do have the different-sized rubbery bits, unlike the less expensive Apple buds which I think just have plastic. On a recent plane ride I found their noise-cancellation to be amazing. I'm used to noise-cancellation that reduces mostly high-frequency noise. But these bad boys also cut out a lot of the bass rumble and roar of the engine, a lovely cocoon of silence. It does depend a lot on the fit; if you can't get a good fit then the noise reduction is merely adequate and not astounding. They work OK with my Android phone though I don't have full control over all the features with that pairing, and of course they work well with my Macbook.
posted by hovey at 7:07 AM on May 10 [3 favorites]

With respect to sizing, you can replace the plastic or rubbery tips with soft foam tips (Comply, or I'm sure there are knockoff brands out there now). You squish them between your fingers before inserting and then they expand to fit the ear canal. I find them much more comfortable and more effective at achieving sound isolation than the OEM plastic/rubber tips. You just have to replace them at more frequent intervals (because the foam eventually loses a lot of its rebound).
posted by praemunire at 7:38 AM on May 10

Seconding the Sony above. A neighbour has the m5 and says it's even better (and priced accordingly).
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 8:56 AM on May 10 [1 favorite]

I bought one of these for an overseas trip. Plug into the airplane's 3.5mm jack and stream via bluetooth to your headphones. Can act as a transmitter or receiver.
posted by terrapin at 9:37 AM on May 10

I also use (and love) the Sony WH-1000XM4. They seem to check most/all of your boxes. They're great for me: bluetooth works fine but there is the wire (included) for when you need to plug in. They are adjustable. They work with Android phones and Macs. They fold down nicely and have a nice carrying case included.

The newer model (XM5) is a bit fancier, but be aware that they don't fold down as much, so they're less convenient for travel.
posted by number9dream at 10:29 AM on May 10 [1 favorite]

Should have added, I also have a small head, but I use the XM4's at the lowest size and it's fine.
posted by number9dream at 10:29 AM on May 10

Another recommendation for the XM5. Kills road noise and airplane drone almost completely and does a good job with voices (enough that even low level playback of audio drowns voices out) The software allows for microstepping volume on Android. Connects well with my android device and my windows laptop and can be connected to both at the same time.

The included hardwire just works though it will conduct noise into the head set if you rub it along something. You also can't use Bluetooth and the hardwired connection at the same time.

15 minutes of charge gets you 3 hours of playback. A full charge easily lasts two travel days (I travel a lot for work).
posted by Mitheral at 1:26 PM on May 10 [1 favorite]

AskMe sees a lot of questions about headphones, these two may be of interest.

Seconding AirPods Pro 2, though Foam Masters makes a better replacement eartip than Comply. They’re not huge, while the rest of my suggestions mostly are. If that’s a priority, the usual suspects (Sony, Bose, Apple, Sennheiser, etc.) all have noise-cancelling Bluetooth earbuds, and they all offer a range of eartip sizes. When it comes to earbud noise cancellation, I think fit and isolation are often more important than who has the best tech.

For over-ear headphones, (there are some on-ear noise-canceling headphones, but they’re not great), you’d probably like the Sennheiser Momentum, especially since it sounds like you might have an older version. Sony/Bose/Apple are best for noise cancellation, Focal/Bowers & Wilkins/Bang & Olufsen/Master and Dynamic for sound quality, Monoprice or Soundcore are good if you’re on a budget.
posted by box at 5:41 PM on May 10

I have the wirecutter-recommended soundcore space a40 and I’m shocked at how good the noise cancellation is. I frequently wear them at work without music playing and they block out conversations I could hear word for word and background noise I didn’t notice until I took them out. I also have small ear canals and these stay in well, especially with a bit of plastic first aid tape to add grip to the smooth plastic part.
posted by momus_window at 6:07 PM on May 10

After a little research I picked up the Sony WH1000-XM5. At first I felt the mild ear pressure thing as I never used over the ear headphones but after a few hours I didn’t even notice it. They do a very good job of blocking out sound and have all the bells and whistles. I swear by them now. I also have AirPod pros but only use those for exercise or podcasts while in my bed. Over the ears can’t be matched for noise cancelling.

My recommendation is to go to a the fanciest BestBuy you can find and try on as many headphones as you can.

Also read this to get your head around attributes to consider:
posted by jasondigitized at 6:00 AM on May 11

I have a pair of Beats Pro noise canceling headphones. My husband has the Bose and I’ve borrowed them. I can tell you if sound quality matters to you, especially in music, the Beats are far superior. Extremely long battery life - I use them bare minimum 3hrs per day and only need to charge every ten days or so. Super comfortable and my 10 year old has snuck off with them, so I can attest that they fit small heads.
posted by sonika at 6:35 PM on May 11

I have many headphones and the ones I use inside the most are a refurbished set of Sony WH1000-XM5. The set I use the most outside is also a Sony WH1000 but this one is my much older XM2.
posted by zenon at 12:04 PM on May 13

Sony WH1000-XM5 works with:
  • modern bluetooth things- the headset reliably works with the 3 things I paired it with
  • airplanes need a special thing and the headset comes with that
  • earbuds: oh I have so many cool ones (I blame crinacle) but uggg and bleh on all the ear tips and the Sony's are so much more comfy and easy to just actually use. But they are warmer
  • size: it's not small. And the box for the new one is bigger than the old one! But it's just, for me, become the default sanity keeping noise blocking, music enjoying, movie watching headset. a quieter world is a nice place.
  • I didn't think I would get much use out of controls on the headset but I totally use them constantly. The phone app is actually fine for fiddling with once in a while but not essential, which is nice

posted by zenon at 12:18 PM on May 13

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