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HEADPHONE GUIDE

By Mike Dunphy

Along with your ticket, passport, and a toothbrush, a set of headphones has become an essential accoutrement of travel, be it passing hours in the air on in-flight movies, blissing out to your curated playlist, motivating jogs on the hotel treadmill, or conducting digital meetings on the fly. Like all technology, headphones have grown in capability, function, and power in the past decade, making the right headphone for you a lot more than about how it sits on your head or in your ears. Seeking expert advice, we spoke with Eden Goldberg, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at InMotion, the largest airport-based electronics retailer in the nation. Below are her recommendations for fitting the right headphones to your needs.

FOR PURE SOUND

When the goal is to feel every slap of the bass and snap of the snare, slip on a pair of the Beats Studio 3, which dazzle at the high, mid, and low ranges of sound, creating an immersive experience with solid spatial presence and unparalleled heights of volume. The Apple W1 chip inside instantly pairs with all Apple devices and uses less power than typical Bluetooth, supporting the headphone’s 40-hour battery lifetime. The chip also enables fast fueling, netting two hours of playback in just 5 minutes of charging. A smaller on-ear version — Beats Solo 3 — comes in a limited edition Mickey Mouse edition.   

FOR KEEPING EARS FREE

When attention to surroundings is as important as sound quality, over-ear headphones may not be the best choice. The Bose Soundwear Companion offers a different approach, fitting an adjustable speaker around the shoulders like an airplane pillow to create a high-tech collar. It particularly shines at the office, thanks to a strong microphone and powerful speakers — perfect for conference calls. A novel alternative is the bone-conduction technology in headphones by Aftershokz, which fit on the temples, not the ears, delivering sound through your cheekbones instead. This makes them ideal for biking or running along roadsides. 

FOR WORKING OUT

When sweat slickens your ears on the treadmill, and the headphones begin to slide, it’s easy to divert your efforts from getting stronger to reps of re-insertions of the falling earbuds. Jabra Elite Active 65T is made with a special sweat-proof material that can withstand high pressure water jets. In addition to music, buttons on the bud connect phone calls or enable a “HearThrough” mode, which lets in outside noise. A good alternative is the JBL Reflect Mini BT, which adds a cable around the back of the neck, keeping it off your face and free of the exercise equipment. The highly reflective material keeps you visible at night, too.

FOR BLOCKING OUT NOISE

When the jet is humming, keeping a laser focus can become a challenge. One answer to this problem is the Sony WH1000XM3, which comes with a noise-canceling QNI processor chip that has its own microphone to detect and eliminate ambient noise in real time. Tune noise-canceling and EQ on the headphones further through Sony’s Headphones Connect app. A more affordable (and readily available as Sonys are commonly sold out) version is the Panasonic HD605N over-ear headphones, which come with three levels of noise cancellation and the same ambient noise feature as Sony.

FOR ENHANCING SLEEP

It’s hard enough getting to sleep in a strange bed or upright seat with little leg room, that the smallest beep, buzz, and snore can make achieving REM impossible. Bose Sleepbuds present one effective parry to a thrust of insomnia. While they don’t stream music or cancel noise altogether, the buds come pre-loaded with 10 different “white” sounds to mask the noise with soothing sounds like ocean waves, falling rain, cricket serenades, rustling leaves, and crackling fire. 

FOR A FASHION STATEMENT

Sometimes, how your headphones look is as important as how they sound. An ideal marriage of the two is the rose-and-gold JBL Quincy Jones headphones, which pay tribute to the renowned producer of albums by megastars like Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Michael Jackson. From the soft leather band to his logo on the earcups, the headphones were personally fine-tuned by Jones. In fact, his own voice guides the listener through the various headphone functions. For a greater bass kick, and more hip-hop flavor, aim for the Beats Decade Collection, which comes in a “defiant” red-black color scheme paying tribute to the company’s 10-year anniversary. 

FOR WATCHING YOUR DOLLAR

If dropping hundreds of dollars on quality headphones remains purely aspirational, the $50 Sony MDR-ZX110NC outpunches the affordable price with decent noise canceling technology — powered by a single AAA battery (lasting 80 hours) — along with a 30mm dynamic dome driver, which achieves pristine bass, mids, and treble. For high-quality, in-ear performance at under $100, aim for the Shure SE215 phones, which use a removable, and replaceable cable. Although without noise canceling technology inside, the Sound Isolating design blocks up to 37 dB of outside noise for immersive listening no matter where you are.