Updated

Best Headphones for Commuting - Spring 2017
Reviews

The best headphones for commuting block or cancel the ambient noise of moderately loud environments, like being in a metro, train or bus. They don't leak much so other commuters can't hear what you are listening to. They're also comfortable and portable enough to not be cumbersome to use while traveling. Below are our recommendations for the best headphones for commuting we have tested so far.

Best Headphones for Commuting

Commuting headphones in this price range deliver superior noise isolation, typically through the use of proprietary active noise-cancelling technology. The best portable headphones have a good sound, are comfortable, sturdy and not too cumbersome. Additional features like wireless audio and efficient or unique control schemes are often provided on these models.

Usage Rating
7.8Commute/Travel
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What it is How well the headphones handle the loud environments involved in commuting or traveling. Therefore your listening experience should be comfortable, hassle-free and as isolated from noise as possible.
Score components:

The MDR-1000X are the best headphones for commuting: they are versatile with an above-average sound. If you’re often on public transit or need headphones with good enough isolation to block the ambient noise at an airport, then the MDR-1000x won’t disappoint. They’re well-built and comfortable headphones with one of the best noise canceling performances that we’ve measured so far. However, they’re a bit leaky at higher volumes.

See our review

Runner-up

The Quiet Comfort 35 are still the go to headphones for most commuters and frequent flyers, especially if comfort is a high priority for you. Their isolation measurements are slightly worse than the MDR-1000x, but it’s more than sufficient to block the ambient noise of a daily commute. Furthermore, they’re one of the most comfortable closed-back headphones we’ve tested so far. However, like the MDR-1000x, they’re a bit leaky at higher volumes.

See our review

Best Mid-Range Headphones for Commuting

In this price range, commuting headphones will not be as feature-packed as the more premium models. They still deliver a good sound and great active noise isolation, capable of blocking the noise of a loud commute or flight. They're also comfortable and relatively compact. However, their build quality is a little less durable.

Usage Rating
7.4Commute/Travel
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What it is How well the headphones handle the loud environments involved in commuting or traveling. Therefore your listening experience should be comfortable, hassle-free and as isolated from noise as possible.
Score components:

If you want the great noise canceling of the Bose Lineup in a format that still fits into your jean pockets, then get the QC 20 instead. They’re excellent commuting and traveling headphones thanks to the comfortable earbud design, great control scheme, isolation, and compact size. Although some in-ears perform as well or better at blocking noise, the earbud fit is a lot more comfortable for most listeners. Unfortunately, the sound quality is a bit too bass-heavy and dark for more critical listeners.

See our review

Runner-Up

If you want a cheaper option than the QuietComfort 20 and don't mind the in-ear fit, then the Jaybird X2 are a good alternative for your daily commutes. They’re also wireless which makes them more portable and less of a hassle when using them on the go once you’ve paired them with your mobile device. They isolate as well as some of the noise canceling headphones despite not having ANC and they sound decently balanced.

See our review

Best Budget Headphones for Commuting

In this price range, commuting headphones most likely have a passively isolating design. They will still be enough for loud environments, like being on a train.

Usage Rating
7.2Commute/Travel
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What it is How well the headphones handle the loud environments involved in commuting or traveling. Therefore your listening experience should be comfortable, hassle-free and as isolated from noise as possible.
Score components:

The SoundBud Sport do not have active noise canceling but still isolate well enough to be decent commuting headphones. They’re also quite cheap, so if you don’t want to spend much for a versatile pair of wireless headphones, they’re a good option. Sound-wise, they won’t be the most accurate which could be a deal breaker for some.

See our review

All Reviews

Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best travel headphones to buy for most people in each price range. We factor in the price (a cheaper headphone wins over a pricier one if the difference isn't worth it), feedback from our visitors and availability (no headphones that are difficult to find or almost out of stock everywhere).

A few examples of headphones that didn't make the cut:

  • Sennheiser PXC 550. Well-built, versatile headphones. Isolation is weaker than the QC 35 and the Zik 3.0. See our review
  • Parrot Zik 3.0. Excellent build quality and versatile active features. Mediocre battery life and a bit tight on the head. See our review
  • Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless. Sturdy build quality and decent sound. They don't leak much but are a bit pricey for what they have to offer. See our review
  • Denon AHGC20. Great isolation and low leakage. Poor sound quality and too pricey for what they offer. See our review
  • Samsung Level Over Wireless. Good sound and decent build quality. Slightly bulky and cumbersome. See our review

If you would like to choose for yourself, here is the list of all our reviews for headphones that are good for commuting. Be careful not to get caught up in the details. There are no perfect headphones. Personal taste, preference and listening habits will matter more in your selection, especially if you listen to audio at high enough volumes to drown the ambient noise of your commute.

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Questions & Answers

3 ANSWERED QUESTIONS
2
Can you compare and contrast the Bose QC35, the Sony MDR 1000X, and the Parrot Zik 3.0? I am especially interested in which one has the best microphone for use in noisy environments. 2nd priority would be the most isolation from noisy environments.
We haven't reviewed the MDR 1000X yet, and we haven't started testing microphones yet either. However, in terms of isolation, the QC35 should outperform the Zik 3.0 by a small margin, but the ANC in Zik 3.0 will most likely be more comfortable than the QC35. That's because it adapts to the environment and doesn't overly isolate in quiet environments.
1
I noticed your commuting headphones are largely noise-isolating. However, I find that when commuting I need to be able to hear some of what is going on around me. Therefore I need headphones that give me detail without having to be too loud, but that don't completely isolate me. They also need to be able to be driven by a phone rather than a high end DAC. I currently use 1st generation Sennheiser Momentums and am very happy with everything except the ear cup size. Are there any phones you can recommend along these lines?

At the moment our Commute score favors headphones that can achieve the most amount of noise-cancelling. We agree that this may not be the choice for everyone and are thinking of ways to improve this.

We find the Bose SoundLink/SoundTrue over-ears perform similarly to the Momentums, but with more comfortable ear cups. They tend to be a bit leaky though. The Audio Technica ATH-M50x is also a great sounding headphone, but not as comfortable as the Bose.

0
Will you be reviewing any of the Bowers and Wilkins line of headphones? My friend swears by them for comfort and fidelity, would love to get your take!
We have just placed our order for the P7, and are planning on reviewing it sometime in July. Update: we have the review up!
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