For frequent travelers, finding the right pair of headphones is crucial. Right headphones can make a if you can sleep through the crying baby’s arm after a few rows behind him or the chattering couple sitting next to you. When people hear that you fly frequently, they immediately suggest active noise canceling headphones, but is this always the best course?

Difference between Active & Passive noise cancellation

To further complicate my search for “perfect” travel headphones, I have small ears. My little ears mean almost every headphone, except for headphones in the ear, provides negative and sometimes very embarrassing noise cancellation. So what is the difference between passive headphones and active noise cancellation, what will you gain by switching to active noise cancellation?

Difference between Active & Passive noise cancellation

Passive noise canceling headphones

Passive noise canceling headphones block sound waves from the environment through the materials from which they are made. Just like ear muffs are softened by external noise, headphones also use negative noise cancellation.

Active noise canceling headphones

Active Noise Canceling headphones also use the materials they made to block out external noise. But go further by creating their own sound waves. Sound waves emulate external noise, but are a “mirror image” of one another and cancel each other out.


The headphones shown here are my current travel headphones, Bowers & Wilkins P5s ($ 299). They use passive noise canceling technology and while the fit is not perfect thanks to my ears. They look great (when not in the air and are great when flying) and have been my favorite choice for quite some time. Lately, though, my flight count has increased dramatically, and after another noisy flight for 10 hours. I think it may be time to get my extreme hatred back under control to remove active noise from headphones..

My experience with Active Noise Canceling headphones was not great. I tried it several years ago and because it was not completely synchronized with the external noise, the artificial sound waves made me feel a little crazy. I felt that someone was hitting inside my ear and it was very upsetting. After about a year, I tried the technology again and felt unbalanced, the noise from the cancellation technique looked like someone who whispered “whoosh, whoosh” and made me feel underwater. Needless to say, I was not eager to wear another pair.

After reading a bit more about how they work and listening to other frequent flyers who praise their opinions, I’ve decided to take a look at Active Noise Canceling Technology. I hope you are now clear on the difference between active and passive noise cancellation. I started my search by reviewing this summary of options from last fall and now I would like to know about Our community. What headphones do you wear when you fly?

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