Best In-Ear Headphones for Travel
While top in-ear models will provide better isolation than noise canceller headphones, it is the deep sealing 'in ears' that will isolate best. Etymotic Research hold many patents in this category and has long been making some of the best in-ear headphones in the industry: the Etymotic HF5 is a beautiful looking and also beautiful-sounding earphone and the audiophile-grade Etymotic ER4PT has been a "serious listener" recommendation since our HeadRoom inception; it remains a truly brilliant earphone more than 10 years after its initial introduction. For smartphone listeners, the Apple iPhone-ready Etymotic HF3 is simply unbeatable in all-around audio performance and microphone clarity and features a handy 3-button Apple player controller built-in. Non-Apple listeners will need the 1-button design of the equally impressive Etymotic HF2 model suitable for any smartphone or music cellphone. Shure also makes a strong line of fully sealing in-ear headphones, all of which are extremely good performers. We'll specifically point out the Shure SE425 as a superbly detailed, musical set of in-ears that are easy to wear, along with the slightly larger but oh-so-sweet sounding Shure SE535, a triple-driver reference earphone with the fullest tonal presentation of any 'non-customized' in-ear we've heard to date. All Shure earphones remain very well accessorized and after-market iPhone/cellphone Shure headset cord adapters are available for the newest detachable-cord Shure 'SE' line of earphones.
Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones for Travel
The affordable Audio Technica ATH-ANC7b is a slim, solidly-engineered and very competent noise cancelling design, a traveler's headphone ready for road trips and airports. The pricier Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9a ups the sound quality while improving noise-cancelling ability. We've tested a lot of noise-cancelling headphones and very few come close to sounding as good as the fully-featured Polk UltraFocus NC800, a frequent airline traveler's NC headphone of choice. The lovely sound of the Sennheiser MM450X offers travel listeners great Bluetooth wireless sound with a warm-toned musicality and excellent long-term wearing comfort from its deeply padded 'on-ear' cushions. Bestowed with all the best bells and whistles, the Sennheiser PXC 450 is so fully featured that a push of the button will mute the music and an ambient microphone is activated, so you'll clearly be able to hear, "Would you like a bag of peanuts?" Fortunately, you can release your finger and quickly go back to the sublime sound and wonderful isolation of these fine upscale headphones.
For Best Sound with Laptops and iPad, Use a Headphone Amp/DAC Combo
Audio enthusiasts will tell you that laptop computers are notorious for poor sound quality (note: the folks from Apple actually do a pretty good job). There are several key problems here: 1) there is a lot of radio frequency (RF) and power supply electrical noise; 2) laptops feature low supply voltages, and 3) the internal digital to analog converter (DAC) and analog audio amplifiers inside laptops are typically low quality. This is remedied by connecting to a portable headphone amp/DAC. The DAC electronics get the signal out of the noisy computer environment, the DAC processing will be much better quality, and the headphone amplifier will drive the headphones with total authority. You can also use an external DAC, or a headphone amp with internal DAC, with noise cancelling headphones. Though they won't utilize the drive power from the headphone amp, they will benefit from the better sound clarity of the DAC.
Apple iPad has a digital-USB signal available via the Apple 'Camera Kit' which is actually a USB adapter capable of exporting a true digital signal into any DAC for vastly improved sound quality into your headphones. Click here for our HeadRoom iPad recommendations.