Q: We'll be traveling from New York to Rome this month. What would you recommend for a noise-cancelling device in order to be able to get some sleep? Is it worth the price for Bose headphones just for the noise-canceling feature?
Gail and Walt Peters, Hickory, N.C.
A: Active-noise cancellation, like what you'll find in products such as Bose's QuietComfort headphones, works great on blocking low-frequency sounds, such as a plane's engine. However, no matter how much you spend on headphones, high-frequency noises, such as a crying baby, will still come through.
With that in mind, before you spend $300 on a pair of headphones, think about whether it's a sound (ha ha) investment:
- Because of the noise-canceling circuitry, these types of headphones generally don't achieve audiophile standards, so music comes out sounding processed and distorted.
- Also, Bose's headphones can't be used without the noise-cancellation function turned on — if your battery dies, so does your music.
- If you buy these headphones just for this trip, afterward, you'll be stuck with headphones that sound worse than normal ones you can get for hundreds less.
To be honest, any good quality circumaural (covers the entire ear) pair, such as the $99 Sony MDR-7506 or the $50 Sennheiser HD 205, will do a decent job of passively blocking out ambient sounds while you enjoy the in-flight entertainment. They are not as effective as a more expensive noise-canceling pair, but when listening to music, you'll barely notice the difference.
Gail and Walt, since what you truly want is sleep, I personally believe all you need are comfortable foam earplugs like these ones from Moldex and Howard Leight — trust me, these are much better than the generic ones you'll find at the drugstore. For less than $1 per pair, there is simply no better option for R&R on a transcontinental flight. Just make sure you follow the instructions for proper insertion, otherwise you won't be getting the full level of noise reduction.