Frequent fliers love to debate personal strategies for making the most of life up in the air, from choice of airline to how to best score an upgrade. But if there’s one essential point on which everyone agrees, it’s that noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds are a must. Whether you’re ensconced in seat 1A from New York to Paris or back in 67K for a 15-hour trek from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, the ability to block out the surrounding cacophony and listen to your favorite music or watch Top Gun: Maverick in relative peace can make all the difference between stress and sanity.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a selection of the latest audio choices, placing quality of sound and number of hours on a full charge at the top of primary concerns. The first might have you thinking, Good gosh, has Elton John ever sounded better? But the second is admittedly the higher priority—just ask anyone whose headphones have quit on them halfway over the Pacific. Fold in the choice of over-ear headphones versus minimalist earbuds, and it’s certain you’ll find something here to transport you, audibly speaking, during your next quick hop or long-haul flight.
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay HX
If sound quality is a priority, start with a brand audiophiles love, and Bang & Olufsen routinely ranks high in that category. Boasting an impressive 35 hours of play in active noise-cancellation mode (or 40 hours in normal mode), the Bang & Olufsen Beoplay HX offers sound quality and clarity via custom 40mm drivers. The noise cancellation is adjustable, allowing you to keep wearing your headphones even as the flight attendant is asking you a question. Comfort is also key, with components that range from an ergonomic pressure-relieving headband to the lambskin leather that covers the memory foam earcups. As with all models seen here, connectivity is effortless via Bluetooth, including the Beoplay HX’s ability to pair with two devices at once.
$499, at bang-olufsen.com
Beats by Dre Studio Buds +
Perhaps you’re not a fan of earbuds because you don’t find them comfortable? The popular Beats by Dre acoustic collection offers an easy solution for that, including four sets of ear-tip choices to ensure a perfect fit. But that’s just the start of this forward-thinking set that debuted this spring: The Beats Studio Buds + provide 36 hours of playing time in normal mode, with a Fast Fuel feature that adds up to one hour of playing time with a five-minute charge. The audio design is likewise an update from the first-generation Beats Studio Buds, with larger microphones to ensure clean, crisp calls and three new acoustic vents to improve audio precision and all-day wear. Transparency, meanwhile, isn’t exclusive to the cool styling of these buds and their matching charging case: This model also offers a transparency mode that allows the wearer to capture surrounding ambient sound via external microphones.
$169.99, at beatsbydre.com
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II
These second-generation earbuds from Bose’s excellent QuietComfort collection boast a variety of updates, starting with the brand’s proprietary CustomTune technology, which enables the device to send a signal into your ear canal—represented by a chime you’ll hear after inserting the earbuds—to determine how to best calibrate sound quality and performance. Bose likewise offers a custom fit via three pairs of ear tips and stability bands, while the noise-cancellation mode is offset by an aware mode that allows the user to hear surrounding sounds. Following a three-hour charge in the case, you’ll get 24 hours of battery life, with a quick-charge feature of up to two hours on a 20-minute charge.
$299, at bose.com
Master & Dynamic MW75 Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones
Based in New York City, Master & Dynamic launched in 2014 as a brand intent on delivering outstanding sound in an eye-catching device. That’s certainly true of its MW75 Active Noise-Cancelling Wireless Headphones, a handsome set with a chic retro vibe, crafted in lightweight anodized aluminum and, seen here, caramel-hued lambskin leather (other colors available). The device’s 40mm beryllium drivers create a quality sound output of warm lows and rich highs, while the four microphones and an acoustically tuned mesh that filters out wind sounds ensure both clear voice and listening on calls. With three choices in active noise cancellation—adaptive, max or all-day—the wearer can enjoy up to 32 hours on a full charge, or 28 hours with active noise cancellation enabled. The hard-shell case includes a two-prong adapter plug, welcome to anyone who has discovered this is still a necessity during a flight.
$599, at masterdynamic.com
Bowers & Wilkins Px8 McLaren Edition Headphones
If you’re a fan of McLaren’s thrilling hypercars, you’re sure to love this audio collab with Bowers & Wilkins, the British speaker and home-theater brand that crafts the audio components for McLaren’s automotive collection. The Px8 McLaren Edition Headphones indeed offer the best of both worlds, crafted of a carbon-fiber driver within each earcup to deliver a quality of sound inspired by Bowers & Wilkins’ upscale 700 Series speakers, while the sleek look in die-cast aluminum, gray leather and papaya-orange accents is designed to evoke McLaren’s racing-team colors. The wearer can toggle through levels of noise cancellation via a convenient earcup button, which also includes an ambient pass-through mode to easily hear surroundings. A full charge in two hours will net up to 30 hours of wireless play, while a 15-minute quick charge can net up to seven hours of play.
$799, at bowerswilkins.com
Montblanc MTB 03 In-Ear
Headphones In July, Montblanc introduced its first-ever pair of earbuds as the follow-up to the 2020 debut of its MB 01 over-ear headphones. The MTB 03 in-ear model takes its cue from the aesthetics of Montblanc’s iconic Meisterstück writing instrument, with the brand’s emblem doing double duty as the touch-control sensor. Features include four sizes of ear tips and a proximity sensor, which allows the audio to automatically play or pause when the wearer inserts or removes the device. Montblanc tapped renowned audio engineer Axel Grell, known as the “headphone guru” at Sennheiser for more than three decades, to oversee the MTB 03’s sound design, which includes a 7mm beryllium driver for optimum acoustics in active noise cancellation or live mode. The wearer will enjoy up to six hours of playback time on a full charge, which can be tripled via a charge from the pocket-sized case.
$395, at montblanc.com
JBL Tour PRO 2
Audio brands love to talk about sound quality, but only JBL is touting one feature in particular with its recently released Tour PRO 2 earbuds: the quality of silence. Its active noise-canceling capabilities include a SilentNow mode, a terrific idea if you want to take a nap or just need an escape from all noise. When it’s time for music or other entertainment, JBL’s proprietary Spatial Sound technology is designed to create an experience that feels like you’re in a theater, concert venue or studio. True Adaptive Noise Cancelling and Smart Ambient Sound, meanwhile, allow the wearer to custom-tailor the audio experience, whether in a café, on the subway or on an airplane. These can be controlled via the smart case, a feature that truly sets this model apart (the case syncs to your phone nicely, also enabling you to manage calls, view messages or set an alarm in silent mode). Enjoy up to 24 hours of playback time in noise-canceling mode or up to 40 hours in normal mode; you can gain another four hours with the Tour PRO 2’s speed charge.
$249.95, at jbl.com