I do spend quite a bit of time on airplanes (2012 is a good example) and there are mainly 2 things that are very fatiguing once in the air: sub-optimal seat ergonomics and background noise.
The first one is hard to overcome without a recurring increase in expenses (using business class or premium economy class) while the second one is a bit easier and I’ve made a few experiments in this area.
7 years ago I bought Creative Labs’ HN-700 noise canceling headphones for about 50€ new on sale. On an airplane sound quality is acceptable (way better than what is offered by the ones offered in economy by the airline) and noise reduction (both active and passive) is there to a degree.
Active noise canceling with this headphone is not an option in a normal home/office environment due to the high level of white noise that is generated even in a silent environment.
Sleeping while wearing them is really not an option due to the size.
Also long use is not comfortable due to the weight and to the fact that the ear is completely inside: sweat builds up.
The bulky construction is a bit of an annoyance too.
The last 3 reasons led me to the purchase of an in-ear alternative, again with active noise canceling.
About 9 months ago I picked up Philips’ SHN4600. On sale I paid 49.90€
They are light, sweat-free, occupy a small volume, and again the sound quality is better than the one from the airline: potentially perfect on the paper.
Unfortunately the reality is different: there it is a very noticeable cable noise and repeated insertions and removal of the tip bruises a bit the ear canal with the remaining of the moulding process on the silicone; compensation of pressure while climbing and descending is a bit difficult
The passive noise isolation is in a different frequency range compared to the NH 700 and the same is true for active canceling. They can be kept on while sleeping.
The “talk mode” button works but it’s not really as good as simply removing the earphones.
Production and quality control can be improved: the left ear bud has problems of major distortion as soon as the volume moves up and bass tones are played and this was from day 1.
Overall I’d not buy this model again even at an even lower sale price.
When sleeping the best option so far has been to use earing preserving devices commonly used in the construction business and made by 3M.
I usually pickup either the orange ones or the yellow ones
Fitting is very good as is the noise dampening: it’s necessary to remove them to have a conversation with the cabin crew.
In some cases I’ve used the earplugs in combination with the HN 700 (with the volume way up) to get rid of as much as possible of the external noise while listening to music or watching movies during a flight.
The HN 700 recently broke (I made it somewhat useable again by securing the left can in a fixed position with the help of a fair amount of electric insulating tape) and the SHR4600 is not a satisfactory either.
Sooner or later I’ll have to go shopping again for a noise canceling solution.
I’ve tried the latest generation of Bose and the difference in performance is impressive, but I’m not sure that’s worth 300€.
If anyone has a suggestion based on personal experience please comment.
Thanks in advance!