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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 Buywww.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 Buywww.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 Buywww.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 Buywww.ultimateears.com; 800/589-6531