x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

What It Costs: noise-cancelling headphones

Curt Brandao tunes into three headsets that can help your ears transcend your next transcontinental flight.

Bose QuietComfort 3 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones. Photo Bose
Bose QuietComfort 3 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones. Photo Bose

We've all been there - approximately 30,000 feet up - that moment when the flight attendant says we can "now use our approved electronic devices". Shortly after we gleefully plug in the ear buds that came with our favourite media player, we rediscover the unrelenting torrent of white noise rushing through the cabin that renders our puny audio hardware both moot, and mute.


Bose QuietComfort 3

The look Compared with ear buds, many noise-cancelling headphones can feel like a bulky throwback, when listening to music in private meant looking like a mission specialist for the Apollo moon landings. Fortunately, tech advances at Bose have reduced QuietComfort 3 to a nice travelling weight - just 5.6 ounces.

The feel The headset's cushy memory-foam earpieces sit on top of your ears, as opposed to covering them, and are designed for long listening. While comfy, they press in a bit to achieve their noise-cancelling goals, and can get sticky in high humidity.

Sound advice The rechargeable battery allows for a no-fuss, no-muss wireless experience, but it also means that if you want to keep the music going in a pinch, you won't be able to save the day buying wildly overpriced AAA batteries in the airport shop. Still, the QuietComfort 3 offers a near-perfect balance for travellers - lightweight headphones that produce a rich, noise-cancelling experience.



Sennheiser PXC-300

The look These even lighter (2.3-ounce) headphones fold up neatly and come in a handy travel case. They look more like a 1990s-style headset you might wear while jogging to the beat of the Red Hot Chili Peppers spinning inside a portable CD player.

The feel The noise-cancelling feature is powered by AAA batteries housed in a 12cm-long external tube that connects to the headset by a separate wire. The ear pads do put a bit more pressure on the head, and could be uncomfortable on long trips.

Sound advice Though not as loud as they could be, the PXC-300 blocks out ambient noise and approaches top-quality sound at a less than top-quality price. Some may also find the external battery compartment unwieldy - something else that might snap or break when nature calls and you must acrobatically extricate yourself from the window seat.



Audio-Technica ATH-ANC1 QuietPoint

The look This on-ear headset (3.2 ounces) houses its AAA-battery-powered noise-cancellation circuitry in a plastic case that rests on the wire just a few centimetres from the 3.5mm jack, low enough not to get in the way as you eat your veggie pasta and hermetically sealed chocolate-chip cookie in economy class.

The feel It's one of the smallest on-ear headsets around, and it even comes with a dual-pronged adapter for input on aeroplane armrests. However, some may find it feels more flimsy than flexible.

Sound advice Though the sound quality and volume are not top shelf, the noise-cancelling is superb. This headset may be the best option for budget-conscious travellers who want to enjoy their media at cruising altitude, but don't want to spend too much on something they might only use for a few hours a year, and could easily break or lose while in transit.