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Jenia and I have been flying extensively since 2012. We’ve found intercontinental flights can be really draining. In the last few years we started hearing more and more about how great noise-canceling headphones are for long flights, but because good ones are expensive, we steered clear. Could they really be that nice? Are noise canceling headphones worth it? Since lots of people said they were, we splurged and purchased a pair while in the USA this summer. We opted for these JBL noise canceling headphones, which offer similar performance to those made by brands like Bose but are less pricey–especially now that the price has been reduced to $160 instead of $200.
I let my dad try them out. He was impressed and also a bit mystified. “How do they work?” He asked.
Here’s the explanation: there’s a tiny microphone on the outside of the headphones, which detects ambient noise and then creates a sound wave inside the headphones which cancels it out, so your ear doesn’t detect any sound at all. As I understand it, sound waves are bunches of air which have been expanded and/or compressed. The sound wave the headphones create meets the incoming wave and compresses the expansions and expands the compressions, so the sound wave vanishes, leaving silence. I found a neat video that explains this better than I can if you’re interested.
The big 15 hour test came when we made our journey from Atlanta to Shanghai in August. We both had high hopes that these fancy headphones would perform well.
As soon as the kids fell asleep, I plugged the audio jack in and turned on the latest Avengers flick. I’ve never enjoyed a movie on board an airplane so much. Instead of running the volume at 8 out of 10 like I needed to with regular earbuds to make the film’s soundtrack audible, I set it at 3, and the sound quality was more robust than I realized was possible.
The JBL headphones made it quieter for movie viewing, and even without an audio track playing they silenced much racket. Almost all the jet engine roar was gone; and though a little high-pitched hissing remained, it was negligible. They don’t always cancel out sudden noises, which the headphones can’t react to entirely before they subside anyway, but there aren’t many of those on a flight. There were moments when I simply sat with the noise canceling function engaged so that I could enjoy the quiet.
We only bought one pair (because we’re cheapskates), so we swapped them between us during periods when one parent looked after the kids. That meant they were used more or less continuously for 15 hours. Now JBL says the E-series headphone battery is supposed to last for 15 hours if they’re used with bluetooth, and plugged into an audio jack as we were using them, battery life is supposed to be up to 30 hours. The battery never ran low, giving us no reason to doubt JBL’s claims about battery life. Of course, had the charge been depleted, we could have charged them up easily with the USB charger that came in the package.I wore them around the house and thought they were neat. Then I put them on while on the plane and was blown away! - JeniaClick To Tweet
So are noise canceling headphones worth it? Yes. In fact, they’re a revelation. After 15 hours of extensive use, we came to the same conclusion. These JBL noise canceling headphones are an excellent investment. They really made the trip a lot more enjoyable. Of course JBL isn’t the only brand out there, but we found them to be a good choice. Jenia and I agree that a quality set of noise canceling headphones would be worth buying if you’re looking for a way to make long, intercontinental flights more enjoyable.
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