Wireless headphones are all the rage these days, as they should be. There’s delightful freedom in being able to start your music, podcast, or audiobook and roam about the house unteathered. Working out without wires is a true step up in terms of the quality of the experience. Add to this wireless freedom active noise canceling that can quiet ambient sounds like air conditioners, airplane engines, and the neighbor’s lawn mower, and you have a recipe for audio technology that deserves as be ubiquitous as it is. Bose, Beats, and Senheiser all deserve their place in the high-end headphones landscape.

However, these kind of headphones start at about $200 for a great experience. You can find some brands like Cowon selling similar headphones for about $50-$80, which can provide a good (though perhaps not great) experience. I have been pretty happy with some wireless, noise-canceling headphones in that price range. The thing is, wireless, noise-canceling headphones aren’t necessarily the best headphones for travel in every situation.  I found myself looking for something different for a recent trip I took. Why?

  • Wireless, noise-cancelling headphones are often heavy & bulky. Weight and size are the enemy of traveling light. Traveling light is great because it makes the travel experience easier and more flexible, and thus, more fun.
  • Wireless, noise-cancelling headphones have to be charged. Again, having to charge lots of stuff while in transit is just less than ideal. Running out of power on the go is huge bummer!
In travel, I'm mostly using my over-the-ear headphones on the airplane and waiting in the airport, or sitting in the car. The increased mobility of wireless in this situation isn't as important of an advantage. What about active noise-cancelling? I've found that it's a "nice-to-have" for me, but not a "must-have." Now, if I was going to be in noisy airport all day, every day, or if I was regularly doing long international flights, that would be one thing. But for my 2-3 four-hour flights per year, I've found that good noise-isolation is enough.

So, I found myself on the hunt for a compact, lightweight, wired pair of headphones that offered good sound, decent noise-isolation, and acceptable comfort. I had a budget of $25. I wondered if it was even possible, but then I found exactly what I was looking for in an unassuming pair from Sony.

Sony has distilled the essence of over-the-ear headphones into their MDRZX110 model, a minimalist marvel of sonic wonder. 

It comes in one color (black), and has only the features you need in a solid pair of headphones. Everything you need, nothing you don’t. Here’s why I ended up loving my Sony MDRZX110 headphones:

  • They're affordable. I mean. Less than $20 online. Incredible considering the next points.
  • There're lightweight and comfortable. Compared to my wireless headphones, these feel so light! I easily wore them for hours without discomfort.
  • They offer ok noise-isolation. This is just means the block some outside noise. Not a lot, by any means, but I was able to hear my music and podcasts just fine on the airplane, and in my house with three noisy kids.
  • They provide fantastic sound quality. I really cannot get over the quality of sound I am getting from these cheap heaphones. I listen to all kinds of music, and it all sounds good. Bass is punchy, but natural. Highs are clear. Vocals are warm. I LOVE the sound.
  • They are reasonably compact. The ear pieces fold flat and inward for easy packing. This was also huge for me.
Headphones have come a long, long, way. In today's age of Bluetooth enable wireless headphones costing at minimum $50 or so for any kind of quality, I expected sub-$20 headphones (even wired ones) to have really weak, subpar sound. However, I am glad to say my expectations were totally wrong. Sony MDRZX110 headphones are legitimately good headphones and are a great choice for every day use and travel if you are ok with being wired in.

Get the Sony MDRZX110 headphones on Amazon.