Are noise-canceling headphones really worth the cost?

I'll be going on an airplane for about 20 hours (with transfers) to Europe, and the thought of flying/not being able to sleep well scares me. I also get air sick and jet lag easily. I've heard really good things about noise-cancelling headphones, but at a price tag of $300- $400, are they really worth it?

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
2375 posts

I was gifted the Bose set and they most definitely do work. The downside is that they are large compared to the small discreet ear plug headphones in use today. So you can't really roll your head around trying to sleep with them on.

Posted by Laura
Virginia, USA
2891 posts

The noise cancelling headphones won't help you with air sickness or jet lag. I do like them and find they help me to relax. I can listen to music at a normal level and they block out the jet noise. You don't have to pay $300 to $400. I have Sony noise cancelling headphones that I bought at Target for less than $100. They are good enough for me. I'm sure the high-end brands are better.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9094 posts

$300-400? I'm pretty certain I paid considerably less money for my pair, and they work just fine. I find that they allow me to sleep sporadically throughout the flight. Not a good solid sleep (I use sleep meds for that when flying), but better than nothing. "I also get air sick and jet lag easily." You might want to ask your doctor about an sedating anti-nausea medication.

Posted by Michael
Des Moines, IA
2155 posts

If you're talking about Bose, they're really the best money can buy...a colleague swears by his. While I have personally purchased Bose speakers before, I can't spend that kind of bank on headphones and feel good about it. Another friend has really decent Sennheiser headphones that he likes a lot. While you can spend $300 on Sennheiser, too, his was about 1/3 that cost, and they're very nice. If it were me, I would get cheaper headphones and buy a bottle of Excedrin PM and some Dramamine.

Posted by Mark
Santa Barbara, CA, USA
144 posts

Yes, they are totally worth it. You don't feel as wiped out after a flight. You don't have headaches due to the engine roar.
You do not need high end Bose however. You can get let's say 75% of the efficiency for a fraction of the price.

Posted by Dick
Olympia, WA, USA
664 posts

They help me avoid a headache on and after long flights, with or without music. I have a pair of Sennheisers that cost about $100, very comfortable but bulky. The last couple of trips I've used Panasonic earbuds that cost around $50 on Amazon, less comfortable but small and almost weightless. They run on batteries (mine are AAA) so you want to bring an extra battery just in case. I can't say they help me sleep, because nothing seems to, but that's just me being excited about the trip. Listening to music, movies, or whatever might help with airsickness by distracting you, I don't know. Probably they do nothing for jet lag (a topic that could fill many threads and periodically does), except that it helps not to have a headache when you land!

Posted by Rob
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
370 posts

I bought a pair of Sony noise reducing headphones before my trip to Europe this past spring. I loved them and they were only about $80. I found that the spa cd on the Delta flight made for some good sleeping music. I wouldn't want to fly again without them!

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
7675 posts

Totally worth it! And you don't need to pay nearly as much as you think. I got a pair of noise-canceling earbuds for about $50 at Target. I think they are Phillips brand.

Posted by Monte
Genesee, ID
1376 posts

I have used Audio-Technica Quientpoint ANT-ANC7 noise cancelling headphones for several trips to Europe and Philippines. They are equal to B-ones as verified through empirical testing by my wife and her brother-in-law who pays the most for everything before shopping around. They are a lot less expensive than the B-ones and just as good. I bought them through the A-company.

Posted by Frank II
4377 posts

For those of you who have a set of noise cancelling headphones that you like, cost less than say about $100, and aren't too bulky for those of us who travel light, could you let us know the exact model, what you spent and where you got them? Thanks.

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
10854 posts

I used the ones that Monte recommended. A number of sources have rated them superior to the Bose at a third of the price. Unfortunately, the over the ear works best but are bulky. Consumer Reports recently evaluated the ear bud models. Obviously they cannot match the over the ear but are a vast improvement over nothing or ear plugs.

Posted by Wray
Boston, ma, usa
154 posts

I use construction ear protection from Home Depot. If I want music or movie sound I put earbuds underneath them. My husband has the best Bose. My headgear blocks sound better. Do I look unsophisticated? Yes. Do I care? No. Cost: $20.00.

Posted by Southam
Windsor, Ontario, Canada
910 posts

Noise-cancelling headphones/earbuds can be used without music, still dulling the background cabin noise. They certainly improve the sound quality of in-flight music and movies. In my experience, they do not help with the loudest parts of the trip, takeoff and landing, because the cabin crew will insist they be removed as a safety measure, in case of emergency instructions.

Posted by Kelly
St Petersburg Florida
948 posts

I have an Apple pair of ear buds...the kind with a rubber tip that comes in 3 different sizes. I have found them to be the best in-flight headphone, as they are very compact and effective to reducing enviromental noise. I will even use them for when the husband starts to snore. I purchased a pair of BOse, ear buds, that somewhat contour to the shape of your ear, and come with 3 different sized tips, but they did not contour to my ear and i heard every noise possible on the plane, including the roar of the engine, and had to keep the volume high so I could hear the my audio.....this got complaints from others around me, who could hear the audio from my headphones (and yes, I have good hearing). But the apple earbuds really go into the earhole and I felt they vacumn into the ear, rendering a very quiet momment. They were cheap, I believe $29 vs the $119 I paid for the Bose ear buds.
I have always been interested in the noise cancelling mickey mouse ear head phones; they have great sound.......but would take up space; I find space valuable when I travel as I do the carryon thing.

Posted by Beatrix
1974 posts

I'm not familiar with the ones Monte recommended. My husband has first used a Sony headset which sold somewhere in the $150 range. Worked ok. He has now switched to the more expensive Bose and is much happier with it. Not the ear buds though! It provides great sound for listening to music or audible books. And he does manage to sleep on long flights with them.

Posted by Karen
Santa Rosa, CA
605 posts

I love my Bose headsets. Not only do they drown out the airplane "hum", they also drown out conversations around you, and enable you to actually hear audio while watching movies. I historically don't sleep much on planes, but the between the headsets and my Brookstone neck pillow, I can cat nap a bit more, and don't fly without the head sets for any flights over 4 hours.

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2600 posts

Sony MDR-NC7... about $40 at Target. I just arrived in Europe and again was able to doze off with my headphones on. After many flights of never sleeping I found this is the trick for me. I also arrive feeling much better, I think it is the stress of the engine noise that makes me feel terrible, but not with my headphones! They even work okay if the battery goes dead. I cannot stand the earbuds as they are uncomfortable for me. If the only ones I could find were $200 I would still buy them, but mine work great. It has changed my flight experience.

Posted by Suz
Denver, USA
223 posts

Monte, I really liked my Audio-Technica ANT-ANC7 headphones. I agree, they were about as good as Bose NC 'phones. Sadly, I didn't secure my Audio-Technica 'phones in a bag when deboarding a plane, just had 'em around my neck. Bad idea. They disappeared in the cattle stampede AKA deboarding and navigating to baggage claim in a crowded airport. I stumbled on a Bose trade-in program for their (discontinued) QuietComfort 2 NC headphones. The QC2s are the smaller over-the-ear ones that Bose released several years ago. I bought a set used, quite cheap, on eBay but soon the plastic housing on the headband thing cracked and started falling off in pieces. Last year I learned (thank you, innernets!) the bad plastic was a manufacturing flaw and that though the phones were out of warranty and of course I wasn't the original buyer? I took 'em to a Bose store, where after they verified they were genuine Bose and not a knockoff (serial # is inside one of the earpiece cushions), I gave 'em the old set and $100 and walked out with a brand new in-the-box set of QC15's ($300 or $350 retail, I forget which). Some people online have reported bargaining that down to $45. I love my Bose earphones and take care to stash 'em safely when traveling. I'd pay in the $100 range for NC earphones but would balk at $300, and I won't take a long flight without them. (Note: my Bose trade-in was last year and I have no idea if they are still doing that. But that deal was only for the QC2 model, which apparently was the one with the bad plastic, and not for any other older Bose headphone model.)

Posted by Maggie
Boscombe, Dorset, UK
960 posts

I got Bose headphones at an outlet store in Florida, near St. Augustine, for $200, and I love them. I find they do help with jet-lag. I think it's because the noise is so much less, and noise is tiring.

Posted by Ellen
Centennial, CO, USA
1391 posts

I use my Bose headphones without music, just ON during flights to sleep, and keep the engine noise out of my head, and it helps to reduce the stress because of background noise, and the noise of others on the flight moving around or snoring. I can't travel overseas without them. They are also so much more comfortable on my ears for watching movies on the plane.

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
3298 posts

I've not been carrying my Bose headphones, but after my most recent flight, I think I will carry them again. ; ) Screaming child for 45 minutes. Of course, this was an Orlando flight and I should have known. ; ) Pam

Posted by Nicholas
Seattle, Washington, United States
282 posts

I bought a pair of Sony noise canceling headphones (MDR-NC40) for about $60 and they are great. They do not block out 100% of the noise, but they do tone it down quite a bit. They can help you sleep better or just plain hear the movie when you plug it in. I always have them with me when flying.

Posted by Swan
Napa, CA
2858 posts

I prefer the aisle seats in the side sections of planes, but found the engine noise to be less in the center section. Almost any headphones will help dampen the noise. For me, it's not so much the noise of the engines that makes sleeping difficult, it is the other commotions on planes. Seat mates need to wake you up so they can go to the toilet. Attendants come by with water, snacks, etc. On my flights on United they lower the lights and leave us alone (mostly) for a few hours when flying to Europe from the West Coast.

Posted by John
Brangwin, Wa, USA
349 posts

I tried a cheap heasphones $35 (as I recall) against another passengers Bose on a plane --lets just say the cheapees
are good enough for these untrained ears.

Posted by Kathy
Winston Salem
18 posts

After reading all the posts here, I decided to get a $35 noise canceling phone from Amazon. I just went on a Thanksgiving trip to California and got back back like an hour ago, so I was on the airplane all day. The $35 headphone was about 50% effective to cancel noises on the airplane and honestly I was quite happy about it. There was definitely a big difference when I put it on, although it was still a bit noisy of course.

Posted by Gerard
Temora, NSW, Australia
172 posts

Even the very cheapest 35$ NC headphones will "remove" about 15Db of noise.
Bose make great speakers and headphones, look for a large electronic retailer in your area that has display units,pick a real busy time not a quiet time and go try them.

Posted by al
keller, TX, United States
2 posts

I got my Bose headphones as a Christmas gift about 10 years ago. I WILL NOT travel without them. You can listen to your own music (ipad, droid, etc) or the plane's piped in media (movies, radio, talk). Noise cancelling will make you think you're in a concert hall or theater. It's amazing. I feel so much more refreshed leaving a plane without the roar the engines and the passengers wearing on me. You can also use them when lawn mowing and other loud activities to eliminate the engine's roar.

Posted by Sarah
Chicago (formerly St. Louis), IL, USA
1311 posts

I agree with Swan in terms of other annoyances on the plane. I'm sensitive to noise but the loud engine serves as white noise for me, blocking out a lot of smaller sounds like people talking, kids crying, etc. I wear regular earplugs when I try to sleep and those take care of 90% of sounds with the help of the engine.

Posted by David
53 posts

Has anyone tried the white noise app "simply noise"? We use it on the iPhone. You can use it on the plane and even better in the hotel. Really works great. That and a clothespin to close the drapes in the room.

Posted by Chrissy
Denver, CO, USA
1 posts

I was gifted a pair of the Bose noise-cancelling headphones. I noticed that after wearing them for 15 to 20 minutes, my ear drums would start to hurt. The pain gradually increases and after about 30 minutes I have to take them off because my ears are in too much pain. The first time it happened I thought it was a fluke and unrelated, but it's happened every time I've put them on. I was surprised and did a search online and found some other people describing a similar pain. Of course, I can't find that info anymore to provide a link. Basically what I learned is that a small percentage of the population have sensitive ear drums and the noise-cancelling sound waves irritate those people to the point of causing pain. I guess my point in all this is try to borrow a pair from someone to try out for 30 to 60 minutes and see if your ears can tolerate the sound waves. I feel terrible that my mom bought me the headphones at about $300 and I never use them. (my husband uses them with no problem though)