I travel a lot. I also review headphones. Figuring out what headphones are the best for travel seems like a logical idea. More than just a “these seem cool” list, these are all headphones I’ve personally reviewed or at least heard, plus I’ve included links to other reviewers that like them too.
So, what are the 5 Best Travel Headphones?
Check out the 2015 version of this article: Best Travel Headphones 2015!
Before we get going, if you’re curious about the value of high-end headphones, or have questions about headphones in general, first check out Are Expensive Headphones Worth It?, What Are The Best Headphones?, Are Noise Cancelling Headphones Worth It?, Glossary of Headphone Terms, Best Headphone Test Tracks, Noise Cancelling Vs. Noise Isolating Headphones, and 10 Headphones Better Than Beats.
5) Bowers & Wilkins C5 Series 2
What are they: Small, lightweight in-ear headphones with a unique and clever way of securing to your head.
Why they’re good: These are the most comfortable in-ear headphones I’ve ever tried, and they’re also some of the best sounding. Rich, full bass that’s not boomy. Clear, open treble that’s not harsh. I loved the originals. These new models I’ve only had a chance to listen to briefly, but they sounded good.
Who else likes them: Sound&Vision liked them. CNET gave them 4/5 stars. PCMag gave them 4.5/5.
Other options: Not everyone finds the C5s comfortable. This is the problem with all in-ear headphones, but perhaps more so given the C5′s unique design. I find them perfect, others not so much. Because everyone’s ears are different, some in-ears fit some people, and not others, even with all the foam and/or rubber tips available. Also check out the gorgeous RHA T10s, or the much cheaper $100 NHT Superbuds which are also great.
4) JH Audio JH16 Pro
What are they: Custom-molded, high-end in-ear monitors
Why they’re good: They fit perfectly because they’re built to fit your actual ears. You get molds made, and the headphones are built from these modes. Multiple drivers supply some of the best sound you’ve ever heard.
Who else likes them: CNET’s Steve Guttenberg’s a fan.
Other options: If the JH16 Pros are too pricy ($1,149 and up), there are models with fewer drivers that don’t sound quite as good, but still offer the custom-molded design. The Shure SE846 are a touch cheaper, and sound incredible.
3) AKG K490 NC
What are they: Highly-portable on-ear headphones
Why they’re good: Not everyone likes in-ear headphones. Though over-ear headphones offer better sound isolation (i.e., are quieter), they tend to be bulky. The AKG K490s are smaller than over-ear headphones, but still offer excellent sound quality and active noise cancelling.
Who else likes them: Headphone reviewer extraordinaire, Brent Butterworth from Sound and Vision magazine.
Other options: Brent mentions that some might like the similar (but $50 more expensive) K495s, which have a little more bass..
2) PSB M4U 2
What are they: Over-ear noise cancelling headphones from one of the most lauded speaker designers in the industry. Check out Are Noise Cancelling Headphones Worth It? for more info on NC.
Why they’re good: The sound, oh the sound. One reviewer said: “Not only does the M4U 2 sound like a really great speaker, it sounds like a great speaker in a great listening room.”
Who else likes them: Sound and Vision magazine awarded them product of the year last year (I was part of the voting, fwiw).
Other options: Well, the headphones in the #1 spot, if you want better noise cancelling (but not as good sound quality).
1) Bose QC25s
Why they’re good: These are probably the best selling travel headphones on the market, and it turns out, rightly so. They have the best noise cancelling of any headphone I’ve tested, by far. And that’s not just subjective “these sound quieter,” but verified with objective headphone testing gear. They don’t sound nearly as good as the PSBs, but they sound decent enough.
Who else likes them: I did an exhaustive test, where I compared the best noise cancelling headphones on the market.
Other options: The PSBs, for people who want better sound at the “expense” of a little noise cancelling. As I mentioned before, I reviewed the QC20s from Bose and they offer even better noise cancelling, but are nicely small earbuds. Check out Bose QuietComfort 25 Vs QuietComfort 20 for the pros and cons of both.