Who really needs noise-canceling headphones?

If you are a frequent traveler, good noise-canceling headphones will make any journey in a plane, train or automobile far more pleasant. Even after a 12-hour flight, I’m not nearly as fatigued on arrival, thanks to the lower auditory onslaught.

In-ear models are easier, though still slightly uncomfortable, to sleep with and are my preference. Over-ear models reduce a little more noise as they are able to passively block some sound because of their design, but they are always bulky on your head or in your bag. 

However, if you rarely travel, or you find higher-frequency noises like people talking, cars honking and noisy neighbors more annoying than airplane engine noise or background chatter, these headphones may not be worth it. Cheap earplugs, or perhaps noise-isolating earbuds, might work well enough. And it’s worth keeping in mind that for the same money, regular headphones will likely sound better than noise-canceling headphones. As earplugs are lower in cost, they might be worth trying first.

Overall, I think noise-canceling headphones are great, but I also travel frequently and have expectations about how well these headphones work. For non-frequent travelers, however, this product might not necessarily be the must-have travel accessory that they might seem.

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