When it comes to the best noise-cancelling headphones for travel, it’s hard to beat the Sony WH-1000XM5. Not only are Sony's flagship cans as comfortable as they come, but excellent ANC drowns out all the disruptive sounds that you typically experience on an airplane.
For these reasons, I’ve developed a loyalty to the Sony XM5. Yet, with the new Beats Studio Pro now available, I wanted to know if Apple’s latest non-AirPods headphones could keep up. So, when I packed my carry-on for a 12 hour flight from Seattle to South Korea, I left my Sony headphones at home and brought the Beats instead.
So which one turned out to be the best headphones terms of portability, performance and battery life — the things that matter most for travel?
Here’s what I found out.
The Beats Studio Pro pack like a dream
Compared to wireless earbuds, headphones take up a lot of space in a bag — especially if the cups don’t collapse or fold.
Needing plenty of room in my backpack for snacks and other essentials to survive the long flight, the Beats Studio Pro offered refreshing convenience. The cups collapse inward, saving enough space that I could even fit them in my small side purse.
Sure, I appreciate how the Sony WH-1000XM5 comes with a case that folds flat when the headphones are in use. But the included Beats soft bag rolls or scrunches up to the size of a pair of socks. Although it's nothing innovative, it's highly practical.
In terms of portability, the Pro proved that they're the better travel companion.
Does ANC on the Beats Studio Pro keep up with Sony WH-1000XM5?
In our full review of the Beats Studio Pro, we placed the active noise cancelation performance in the "good-but-not-great" category. While it's true Beats improved the ANC in this model compared to the previous-gen Beats Studio3 Wireless, they're not totally equipped to take on the sounds of an airplane.
I didn't hear people speaking or bags of chips crumpling, but the roar of the plane engine still hummed in my ears as I listened to music and movies. I missed how my Sony WH-1000XM5 disconnected me from the ambient noises completely, making it easy to relax and even get some sleep.
While the Beats can dampen some light ambient noise, I wish I had brought the heavy-hitting Sony headphones to block out engine noise instead.
Battery life blew me away
Having compared the Sony WH-1000XM5 vs. AirPods Max, the WH-1000XM5 set the battery life standard with 30 hours of use. Assuming I charged them fully before leaving, they probably would've lasted the journey there and back. But I've also had times when I brought the WH-1000XM5 on a long trip and needed to plug them in to charge at some point.
The Beats Studio Pro claim to last up to 40 hours without ANC, and with mixed usage on the two flights and throughout the week, they didn't need to be recharged at any point. I didn't expect this to be the case, so I'm sure you could imagine my surprise.
I have a feeling the ultimate stamina is subjective, but in my experience, the Beats definitely passed the battery life test.
Would I take them again?
While several factors are important to consider when deciding which headphones to bring on a trip, for me, it'll probably come down to the amount of space I have in my backpack going forward.
If I'm traveling a bit lighter and know the Sony WH-1000XM5 will fit with enough room (and then some), I'll grab those first. But in the case of a long day of travel, during which I'm basically living out of one bag, the Beats Studio Pro are definitely more convenient.
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Kate Kozuch is the managing editor of social and video at Tom’s Guide. She covers smartwatches, TVs and audio devices, too. Kate appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account, which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her taking up a new sport, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.