Noise-cancelling headphones were originally developed to drown out background engine noise on planes. Because of this, they've generally been expensive, luxury items aimed at jet-set executives with a fat expense account.
However, in recent months they've started to become much more affordable. There are several models now available for less than £150 - less than £100 in some cases - which means that they're now available to economy-class travellers like the rest of us as well. Just remember that they all need at least one battery to power the noise-cancelling electronics, and may not work well as ordinary stereo headphones when you run out of batteries.
Price: £90 More info: Altec Lansing Accessories: Carrying case, airline adaptor, inline volume control
Altec Lansing UHP805
We're big fans of Altec Lansing's speaker systems but were a little disappointed with their UHP805 headphones.
The noise-cancelling aspect does work well. A small switch on the right-hand earpiece allows you to turn the noise-cancelling feature on or off, and you can certainly hear the background noise fade away as you do this. However, the sound quality seems a little muffled at times - as though the earpieces were padded with cotton wool. It's mainly the bass end of the scale that comes through at lower volumes, and you need to turn the volume up quite high before the mid- and upper frequencies start to punch through properly.
To be fair though, the UHP805 is one of the less expensive sets of noise-cancelling headphones currently available, so they're worth considering if you're on a tight budget. The carrying case and airline adaptor also add to their value for money, especially if you travel a lot.
Affordable, entry-level noise-cancelling 'phones Minus points
Higher frequencies are indistinct at lower volumes
Price: £130 More info: Audio-Technica Accessories: Carrying case, airline adaptor
Most of these noise-cancelling headphones are designed for travellers who want to block out the background noise on a train or plane, but Audio-Technica's ANC7 headphones are designed for more general use.
The company has a background in studio recording, so their noise-cancelling headphones are simply designed to let you hear your music as clearly as possible in any environment, whether it's a plane or your living room. They produce a nice, warm bass sound that doesn't overwhelm the higher frequencies. However, the sound does fray around the edges a little when you start to pump up the volume, so the ANC7 will perhaps be more suitable for people who prefer to wallow in more mellow sounds.
We also noticed that the sound quality drops significantly if you turn off the battery-powered noise-cancelling features. That's not a major criticism, as we're focusing on the noise-cancelling option here. However, you'll need to make sure you've always got a spare battery to hand, as they're not much use without one.
Good sound quality in noise-cancelling mode Minus points
Expensive, sound quality drops badly in conventional stereo mode