TEN HEADPHONES FOR TRAVELLING AND ON-THE-GO
Listening to music via headphones is a treat for the senses and an excellent experience at home. The warm glow of tube amps, no worries about the weight and portability of balanced DACs and flagship rigs. Nothing can beat the Head-Fi system that you’ve spent hours and hours researching, tweaking, and piecing together.
But, like it or not, sometimes we have to venture outside. Whether it be for the daily commute on public transport or that long-haul stretch interstate or overseas, fear not. We've pieced together a handy selection (in no particular order) of travel and smartphone-friendly headphones that might be a good fit for you if you don’t have room in your bag for a digital audio player, portable DAC, and bulky cans.
Price: $549 RRP
Distributed by: Bowers & Wilkins Australia
Bowers and Wilkins unleashed these puppies in 2017, and straight away they have skyrocketed in popularity in the Head-Fi scene. The battery life is utterly ridiculous: 22 hours in Bluetooth mode with noise cancelling switched on. The classy aesthetic is an effective mix of unique, subtle and luxurious styling, which sets them out from the crowd but also oozes with sophistication.
The noise cancelling ability on these rivals the Bose QC35ii, and the drivers are derived from B&W's flagship P9 Signature headphones. If you haven’t tried the PX yet, we highly recommend you give them a try.
Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 2.0
Price: $699.95 RRP
Distributed by: Sennheiser Australia
The flagship of the Sennheiser Momentum line, these Beats By Monster destroyers are gorgeous to look at and come in a variety of colours. In my mind, these are unmatched when it comes to stylish and functional design.
Of course, not only do they look good, but these headphones are also packing noise cancelling, NFC pairing, a fully collapsible frame, and aptX Bluetooth compatibility, along with the fun sound signature that the Momentum line brings along with it. Not to mention the often overlooked Sennheiser 2 Year International warranty.
Price: $79.95 RRP
Distributed by: Eds Trading
Even after 34 years, the American-born Koss Portapro still gets a mention as one of the best on-the-go headphones available on the market.
Sure, they are semi-open backed and offer very little isolation, and they might even pull some of your hair out when you adjust the headband. But they have absolutely rockin’ bass, and catchy retro styling. And besides, they only cost eighty bucks so if you leave them in the back of the aeroplane seat pocket, just buy another pair.
The best part? Koss just released a Bluetooth version, so you can enjoy them with your new iPhone, too.
Sennheiser Momentum Wireless In-ear
Price: $290 RRP
Distributed by: Sennheiser Australia
Here's my personal favourite for riding my bike to and from martial arts training in the morning. A fun and engaging listening experience, with plenty of midbass, paired with capable battery life and effortless portability. The voice prompts helpfully let you know how many hours of listening time you have remaining on the battery.
The only main drawback is that they aren’t IP rated (unlike the KEF/Porsche Design Motion One IEM). If the rain starts to pick up, these will need to get packed away into a bag.
Audio Technica ATH M50X
Distributed by: Technical Audio Group
The tried-and-tested road warrior. They might not be the smallest headphones to wear, but they fold into a tiny little package, which can be casually thrown into a bag when not in use.
They are notoriously durable. I own a pair for work, and they live in my toolbox which is continually thrown into the back of trucks, getting crushed, or being thrown around backstage. And even after all of that, they still look brand new.
They have a mostly flat/neutral signature, with slightly elevated bass, which makes them a great listening partner when walking around a busy city, or even sitting on public transport. They can be found for dirt cheap, as well.
Distributed by: Apple
There is just no denying the flexibility and ease-of-use that these things bring to the party. Once you pair these little white earbuds with your phone, iPad or Macbook, they work instantly. Not only that, but they also have a case available that works as a portable battery pack, giving 24 hours of usage time in total.
While this all sounds good in theory, sadly these technically brilliant devices fall a little flat in the sound department, offering little to no isolation, and an underwhelming sound signature that is to be expected from a mass-produced earbud. Still, they have very little competition that can match what they do, and they still have a firm foothold in the headphone market as a result.
Sennheiser HD 4.50 Over-ear
Distributed by: Sennheiser Australia
The top dog of the Sennheiser mid-tier, these bass-heavy budget headphones have some killer features that punch well above their price range (such as NFC pairing, and noise cancelling). They fold neatly and are reasonably intuitive to use, and have a price which is more than palatable.
I have seen more and more of these in use on the streets of Melbourne recently by both older businessmen and teenagers, and everyone in between. I often see these being used by those on flights too, so it looks like Beats and Bose have some genuine competition on their hands here.
Distributed by: Bose Australia
I'd likely have Bose fans turning up at my house with pitchforks had the QX35ii been excluded from this list. Yes, they do have class-leading noise cancelling, and yes, they are wildly popular and available pretty much everywhere. The newest edition also comes with a Google Assistant button, which I have to admit is pretty cool.
The build quality has improved over time, but after my father’s QC35’s fell apart after just 12 months, I still have my doubts.
Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay H9i
Distributed by: Bang And Olufsen (Australia and New Zealand)
If luxury is what you’re after in a portable headphone, look no further. Made almost entirely from aluminium and “carefully selected” leather, these are designed to physically age well, where most headphones would deteriorate.
While the touch controls take some getting used to, this is a small price to pay for the comfort and noise cancelling ability these bring to the table. Sound-wise, there's a predominantly heavy midbass, with plenty of detail up top.
If all portable headphones were cars, these would probably be the Bentley. You’ll look and feel a lot more classy after wearing these on your next long-distance flight.
Distributed by: Sony Australia
Another headphone with a rabid fanbase, the WH-1000XM2 has iron sights aimed squarely at the Bose QC35ii. They don’t just have noise cancelling; they have Atmospheric Pressure Optimisation, which adjusts the level of noise cancelling depending on your current altitude during your flights. Neat!
They might not be quite as comfortable as their Bose nemesis, but they have the upper hand when it comes to hard hitting bass and feature list.
So, there you have it. Ten headphones that are worth considering if you ever need to leave the utopia of your Hi-Fi or Head-Fi home system, and need to travel lightly. After all, music soothes the soul, but at very least, it makes the time pass faster when you're travelling.
What's your headphone of choice when out and about? Let us know in the comments below.
Further reading: Headphones Discussion Forum
Constantly keeping himself busy, Matthew is a production manager, Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt, Head-Fi fanatic, coffee enthusiast and all-round cool Dad.