The Best Travel Headphones – Choosing Your Style
Much like your passport, wallet, and pants, a proper pair of headphones is an essential item to remember when you’re preparing to travel abroad. Traveling is an inherently frenetic activity, punctuated by spontaneity and subsequent modifications–schedules changing, flight delays, fluctuating exchange rates–but one thing remains constant amidst the peaks and valleys of traveling: The music you bring with you. Music is the one thing you can count on for tranquility among chaos, and how you choose to listen to music during your travels can make a huge difference–never again be caught forcing the unforgiving plastic of freebie airline headphones into your ears in hopes of tuning out the 737’s engine drone. Whether you’re looking for a comfy pair of headphones to accompany you on your morning subway commute, or something to help fend off the babble of your annoying seat-mate, we’ve got it covered.
This travel headphone list has been organized by price range into 4 sections, each featuring a variety of styles, and short reviews of each. Choosing the best headphones for travel has never been easier!
Check out the section below detailing the different shapes/styles available, and determine which best suits your travel and aural needs.
These are the standard headphones that you commonly see included for free with an iPod and other MP3 players. They sit in the outside of the ear, and provide very little sound isolation.
In-ear headphones have become significantly more popular in recent years, due to their better fit, granted some people find that traditional ear-buds fit their ears more snugly.
Known as IEM’s, or “In-Ear Monitors,” this style of headphone has grown increasingly popular due to higher-quality sounds they can achieve thanks to a snug, in-ear fit.
As opposed to traditional ear-buds that sit on the outside of the ear, IEM’s sit further within your ear canal, providing a higher level of sound isolation due to their deeper fit. Some models also include mics for hands-free phone communication.
A wide variety of full-size headphones exist, at myriad price-points, making it difficult to know which pair provides the best value. 2 distinct varieties of full-size headphones are available:
Circumaural–those that form a seal around the ear, or Superaural–those that sit on the ear. The biggest benefit to full-size headphones is their wide sound range, though some listeners find them to be uncomfortable for long periods of time.
select an icon below to navigate to specific buyers guide section
Disclaimer: Prices listed are averages, and exact cost may vary based on supplier and condition.
Best Travel Headphones Under $100 – Budget Buyers Guide
Fairly self-explanatory here–want to get the most, but spend the least? The Best Travel Headphones Under $100 is the list for you. Expensive headphones might not rank top among your travel necessities, but you still understand the importance of traveling with good tunes.
Philips – SHE3590 | ~ $7.99
IEM style headphones with exceptionally strong bass tones, especially given these headphones bargain price-point. Overall, for the the price, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better value than the Philips SHE3590. Packaging includes: Travel pouch, over-ear hook attachments, and 3 sizes of interchangeable ear-buds.
Skull Candy – Smokin’ Buds 2 | ~ $24.99
Another bargain pair of IEM’s, and easily one of the best headphones for traveling, Skull Candy’s Smokin’ Buds 2 definitely bring the bass. Mids and trebles are slightly subdued, but for bass-heavy music like hip-hop or electronic dance, the Smokin’ Buds 2 offer a far cheaper alternative to low-frequency-centric headphones like the ever-popular Beats by Dre. Packaging includes: Travel pouch, built-in mic, and 3 sizes of interchangeable ear-buds.
Xiaomi – Piston 2.0 | ~ $25.99
In comparison to the other IEM options on the Best Headphones Under 100 list, the Xiaomi Piston 2.0 is probably the most well-rounded in terms of fullness–bass and mids are significant and boomy, and the treble tones sound bright and crisp. The only downfall of the Piston 2.0 is it’s lackluster sound isolation, and less-than-snug ear fit. Packing includes: Travel case with built in cord-wrap, built-in mic, and 3 sizes of interchangeable ear-buds.
Koss – PRODJ 100 | ~ $59.99
As first of the full-size headphones on the bargain buyers list, the Koss PRODJ 100 stands far above the myriad budget headphones available today. Not only do they provide a wonderfully rounded sound stage with knocking bass, warm mids, and crisp trebles, but they also excel at making vocals sound exceptionally clear. For listeners of Rock n’ Roll, Singer/Songwriter, and Motown R&B, the PRODJ 100 should be your top bargain headphone choice. Oh, and they fold up for easy storage–perfect for travel! Packaging includes: Travel pouch, and replaceable 8-foot 1/8-stereo cable.
Ostry – KC06 | ~ $59.99
Easily the most treble-forward of the bargain travel headphone group, the Ostry KC06 IEM is preferable for those listening to music that requires more articulated and crisp speakers to hear the intricacies. Bass is slightly lacking, but still present, same for the mid-range tones. Probably the best choice for those travelers listening to classical, folk, or other, more sparsely instrumented music. Packaging includes: Travel pouch, 9 sizes of interchangeable ear-buds, and one pair of over-ear hook attachments.
Best Travel Headphones Under $300 – Mid-Range Buyers Guide
Looking to invest in some quality travel headphones to last you through years of traveling and vacations? Then this is the list for you. The Mid-Range Headphone Buyers Guide focuses on headphones between the $100-$300 price-point, for travelers who understand the benefits of a high-quality listening experience, but can’t afford to break the bank on the highest tier headphone options.
Shure – SE215 | ~ $99.99
First on the list of Mid-Range IEM’s comes Shure’s SE215. Easily distinguishable from the entrants on the bargain list, due to it’s immaculate build quality, the SE215 excels on all fronts–Strong and punchy bass, warm mid-range, and crisp highs. Packaging includes: 3 sizes of interchangeable foam ear-buds, 3 sizes of interchangeable silicon ear-buds, and a travel case with zipper.
Bose – Freestyle | ~ $115.99
Despite paying a small amount extra for the Bose namesake, the Freestyle IEM headphones are top of their class. Bass is warm and heavy, mid-range is clear, and the trebles pierce through with crisp precision. The biggest benefit to the Bose Freestyle is it’s ergonomically shaped ear-buds that fit very snugly, and provide a high level of sound isolation. Packaging includes: 3 sizes of interchangeable ear-buds, built-in mic, and travel case with zipper.
Audio Technica – M50x | ~ $199.99
As we ascend the price-ladder towards the “affordable” glass ceiling, mentioning Audio Technica’s M50X full-size headphones is a must. Lauded by music producers and DJ’s alike as top-quality, closed-ear headphones, the M50X provides excellent sound isolation, with warm bass and mid tones. Packaging includes: Travel case with zipper, and 3 replaceable 1/8-stereo cables in lengths of 1.2m to 3m.
AKG – K702 | ~ $249.99
Near the top end of the Mid-Range Headphone Buyers Guide, sits the AKG K702 full-size headphones. Considered by many to have the most detailed and robust sound profile in the price range, the AKG K702 offers listeners unparallelled levels of crisp, multi-layered sound, and an exceedingly comfortable superaural fit from padded ear-cups. Packaging includes: Detachable 1/8-stereo cable.
Best Travel Headphones Under $500 – Top of the Line Buyers Guide
Don’t worry, you don’t need super-human hearing to be able to appreciate high-end headphones. In fact, you’ll probably be surprised by how much better headphones sound once you reach this price-point. The Best Travel Headphones Under $500 list profiles 3 upper-echelon models for those who appreciate a high fidelity listening experience, and prefer a superior build quality.
Bowers & Wilkins – P7 | ~ $399.99
Our first entrant for the Top of the Line Travel Headphones Guide, is an immaculately built pair of full-size headphones: The Bowers & Wilkins P7. Aesthetically, the P7 is top-tier–lined with beautiful black tanned leather, with a comfortable closed-ear fit. Sound isolation is significant, providing an excellent sound stage for the warmth of the bass and mids to shine through. Packaging includes: Replaceable, 3.5mm, 1/8-stereo cable with inline mic, additional replaceable 3.5mm, 1/8-stereo cable, leather travel pouch, and 1/4-stereo adapter.
Alclair – Reference | ~ $399.99
As the only IEM style headphones on this portion of the list, the Alclair Reference stands apart from the rest as the first pair of recommended, custom-fit, travel headphones. What does this mean you ask? It means that Alclair uses custom made molds of your ear-canal to design bespoke IEM headphones, individual to each customer. Sound isolation is second to none due to perfectly snug fit, helping to project punchy bass tones, a warm mid-range, and sharp trebles. Packaging includes: No additional accessories.
Sennheiser – HD650 | ~ $499.99
Commonly used in recording studios, the full-size Sennheiser HD650 first found its place in the music production world, and has since branched out into a wider market. Lauded as a “less-expensive” alternative to audiophile-level options, the HD650 has a wide dynamic range, and a fair sound isolation, so each frequency has room to breathe, providing the listener with articulate bass, a warm mid-range, and crisp treble tones. Packaging includes: Detachable 1/4-stereo cable, and 1/8-stereo adapter.
Best Travel Headphones Over $500 – Audiophile Buyers Guide
The final section of our Best Headphones for Travel Buyers Guide is dedicated to the highest-tier headphones available on the market today. At price points starting at $500 and above, the Audiophile section of this guide is dedicated to the most fastidious music listeners–those who value high fidelity sound above all else.
HiFiMan – He-500 | ~ $599.99
With a price-point just north of $500, HiFiMan’s He-500 straddles the audiophile border, as it lives up to it’s high-fidelity sound delivery, but falls short on build quality when compared to it’s full-size counterparts on the list. Despite it’s less-than-stellar build, the He-500 delivers where it matters most–sound quality. Bass and mids blend nicely without becoming muddy, and treble tones sound crisp, allowing any vocal tracks to carve out there own sound-space and really shine through. Packaging includes: Built-in-mic.
1964Ears – V6 Stage | ~ $699.99
The second, “custom-fit,” Best Travel Headphones recommendation, the V6 Stage, comes from the specialty IEM company, 1964Ears, out of Portland, Oregon. 1964Ears, whose primary goal as stated on their website, is to “bridge the gap between price and quality,” and provide “specifically designed for touring bands, houses of worship, and audiophiles,” has done just that with the introduction of the V6 Stage. Each pair of V6 Stage IEM’s are crafted from custom molds, made bespoke to fit the individuals ear-canal for near-perfect sound isolation. The V6 Stage sound-stage is exceptionally wide, and provides the listener with articulate, punchy, and warm tones from every frequency level. Packaging includes: Personalized protective travel case, 48in or 64in detachable cable, 1/4-stereo adapter, cleaning tool, shirt clip, and 1964Ears sticker.
Hidition – NT6 | ~ $1299.99
The final Audiophile Headphone Buyers Guide recommendation comes from Korean based IEM manufacturer, Hidition, specifically, the NT6. Now, I know you see the price-point of around $1300, and are probably thinking, “this is ridiculous”–you’re not wrong. The price is exceedingly high, and rarely justifiable for non-audiophiles, but to be honest, the build quality, sound stage, and audio clarity delivered in the NT6 is second to none, and must be mentioned on any quality headphone buyers guide. The NT6 is a “custom-fit” IEM, so each pair is built with the individual listener in mind, and the ear-buds themselves are bespoke to the listeners ear-canal. Like the other “custom-fit” IEM’s mentioned in this buyers guide, the sound isolation afforded by the NT6 is far superior to any other style, allowing you aural-access to the most nuanced sounds–sounds that you wouldn’t even knew existed otherwise. Bass frequencies are punchy and bright, mids and highs are vivid and crisp, all in all, the NT6 is one of the best pairs of headphones in the world. Packaging includes: Hard polymer travel case, cleaning tool, and microfiber cleaning cloth.
Best Travel Headphones: Additional Considerations
In most cases, active noise canceling (ANC) is something you’ll want to avoid when looking to purchase the perfect pair of travel headphones. Most ANC headphones are significantly more expensive than their non-ANC counterparts, and you end up paying a premium for the inclusion of ANC technology rather than a boost in overall sound quality. For the average listener, IEM or other high isolation headphones provide enough sound isolation to nullify the benefits of ANC.
Enjoying the Best Headphones for Traveling
Now that you’ve perused the best headphones for traveling buyers guide and considered your options, it’s time to start shopping for your upcoming travels, and secure the perfect pair. Why settle for a sub-par music listening experience during your vacation abroad, when you can spend as little as $7.99 on a quality pair of headphones and jam out to your favorite traveling tunes in high-fidelity?