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A Sound Investment: Headphones

The cabin noise inside a jet can be as high as 80 decibels—equivalent to the din of a vacuum cleaner. Noise-canceling headphones reduce this ambient noise by emitting a "counter-sound" to neutralize it. Yes, it may seem like a gimmick—but the technology actually works. We tested four of the latest models.

Bose QuietComfort 2
$299
Noise-canceling Ability Very good; cancels out 17 decibels
Portability and Comfort Excellent; somewhat bulky, but smartly designed case fits in almost any bag
Sound Quality Excellent; powerful, rich, full, with particularly strong bass
The Skinny Still the gold standard, Bose turns coach into the orchestra circle. The sound can even cancel out a screaming baby
Ideal Users Those who travel often and want to be as isolated from the experience as possible
To Buy www.bose.com; 888/275-2073

Plane Quiet
$80
Noise-canceling Ability Good; cancels out 17 decibels, but seems like less
Portability and Comfort Average; headphones are somewhat bulky, though comfortable, and come in a carrying pouch
Sound Quality Average; not strong, and rather uninspiring overall
The Skinny Good—but not great—value for the money. Relatively weak sound output compromises noise-canceling ability
Ideal Users Anyone on a budget who is mostly interested in in-flight movies
To Buy www.protravelgear.com; 704/583-1100

Sennheiser PXC 250
Less than $150
Noise-canceling Ability Good; cancels out 15-25 decibels
Portability and Comfort Excellent; very lightweight, and folds up to the size of a pair of sunglasses
Sound Quality Excellent; powerful, full, clean, and very clear
The Skinny An audiophile's alternative to the pricey Bose. Sound quality and comfort are top-rate
Ideal Users Travelers who value portability (the typical iPod owner)
To Buy www.sennheiserusa.com; 860/434-9190

Ultimate Ears
$550-$950
Noise-canceling Ability Excellent; cancels out 26 decibels
Portability and Comfort Excellent; acrylic in-ear buds take getting used to, but come in an engraved metal case
Sound Quality Superb; extraordinarily clear and clean
The Skinny The best headphones ever made?Probably. Hundreds of A-list musicians are clients, including the Rolling Stones
Ideal Users Jet-setters who want to keep up with the Jaggers
To Buy www.ultimateears.com; 800/589-6531

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