Noise cancelling - Ear buds or Headphones?

7 replies


Etihad - Etihad Guest

Member since 21 Jul 2019

Total posts 81

I need practical advice from anybody with real-life experience. I've been using NC over-ear headphones for a decade now (various models mostly from Bose), particularly on longhauls (14 hours plus). They're great, especially on noisy clunkers like the 777. But the fact is, I can't wear any headphone for even 7 hours straight because of discomfort (my ears get warm, and ache from the weight which starts to get noticeable eventually). I can however wear earbuds for a very long time without issue. My question is: are NC earbuds nearly as effective as headphones for noise-cancelling? I don't really care about sound quality for music. My primary concern is noise-cancelling. Even if earbuds aren't as effective, as long as it's 'close enough' is good enough for me. Brand and model recommendations/advice would be greatly appreciated.


Member since 06 Jun 2017

Total posts 47

I have both the AirPods Pro 2 and the AirPods Max, and I previously owned the original AirPods Pro. I have exclusively used the original AirPods Pro for around 50 fliights, they were so good at noise cancelling I never even considered taking the Max on flights. I pre-ordered the new ones as soon as they came out and they're even better. I've only taken them on around 10 flights (maybe 80 hours flying time) since they came out in Spetember but I highly recommend them. They blocked out crying kids almost perfectly.


Member since 07 Jan 2011

Total posts 206

These are really good, too:


Member since 03 Jul 2022

Total posts 5

I have the Air Pods Pro 2 (and prior to that Air Pods Pro). The Pro2 is a significant upgrade on the Pro IMO both in terms of noise cancellation as well as battery life even when not playing music. I have over 100 hours flight time across a range of aircraft (787/330/388/737) with equally impressive results in both generic cabin noise and voices/children.


Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

Member since 06 Aug 2017

Total posts 181

Especially if your priority is noise cancellation, you should ditch the cheap silicon eartips that come with your earbuds, and replace them with foam eartips. They’re made from the same foam material earplugs, and they do a brilliant job of blocking noise even if the earbuds are not noise-cancelling.

I buy mine online from Comply Foam. In my experience, almost nothing gets through a set of AirPods Pro, coupled with foam eartips.


Etihad - Etihad Guest

Member since 21 Jul 2019

Total posts 81

Thank you to everyone who took the time to offer advice. It's been very illuminating, and much appreciated. 2023 is the year of the big switch from headphones to earbuds.


Member since 09 Apr 2017

Total posts 63

Hi sunnybrae,

There are a couple of things to consider with noise cancelling earbuds. Are you using them just to NC or are you also wanting to watch some of the in-flight entertainment (IFE)?

I switched from headphones to earbuds, like you, for the comfort factor. I have some old BOSE QuietComfort20 wired NC earbuds, which, with an inexpensive adapter, I can hook into the audio of the IFE. The noise cancelling is excellent, and also I can sleep with them in my ears (with the NC on but without audio) very easily as the earbuds are so low profile, and the battery life with the NC switched on is also excellent.

Last year bought the BOSE QuietComfort wireless earbuds. They are a bit bulky, and with my ears a little prone to fall out, but have excellent NC. They have since brought out an updated version which look a lot less bulky and they may be easier to sleep with in your ears. But obviously neither can hook into the IFE - unless things have changed since I last flew longhaul in September - but perfect if you bring your own loaded entertainment.

I did try the LG Tone Free wireless NC Earbuds, and while the profile is much better for sleeping in, the NC is in my opinion not as good as the BOSE. And with the same problem of not being able to hook into the IFE. Incidently, the case is the size of a small yoyo, and for months I thought I had lost it until I rediscovered it mid last trip, tucked into the bottom of my computer bag. Hence the BOSE wireless purchase!


Etihad - Etihad Guest

Member since 21 Jul 2019

Total posts 81


Thanks, mate. Your review/advice was especially useful. I'm partial to BOSE because it's a reliable brand and I'm used to it. But for some strange reason, I didn't look at their NC earbuds(!). Even on long hauls I'll barely watch more than 2 or 3 hours of movies/TV, or listen to music. So the actual 'listening' time is only about 20% of the flight. But for the remaining 80%, I just use it purely for NC. I also prefer wired earbuds as they're more versatile in more situations (inflight and on the ground). Thanks again. Much appreciated.

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