If your helmet isn’t communicator compatible, or you prefer a simpler option, here's a selection of bike-compatible headphones.
Want to listen to music or directions while riding? The best option is an in-helmet communication system like those made by Sena and Cardo, which feature external controls and Bluetooth syncing. But, if your helmet isn’t communicator compatible or you prefer a simpler option, these are the best headphones that work on motorcycles.
A Note On Noise
Loud noises make you deaf. Anyone who’s tried to have a conversation with me in the last five years or so can attest to that. And, motorcycles are loud. Wind noise at highway speeds can exceed 115 dB, even in a full-face helmet. Not only will that undeniably create hearing loss (which, once lost, you never get back), but it elevates your stress level and wears you out. Earplugs fix all that, wear them each and every time you ride.
So, just turning up the volume of music so you can hear it over the roar is a terrible idea. If you want to listen to music while riding, you need to do something about the noise level first, so you can play it at a reasonable volume.
Earplugs and noise-cancellation technology (which does help prevent hearing loss, too) work best at cancelling out low-frequency “droning” noises. Think engines and wind noise. By doing so, they leave you better able to hear high frequency stuff like voices, most music and sirens or horns. If you’re using an in-helmet communicator, you can wear earplugs.
Available with either silicone or foam earplugs/speakers, the Plugfones are wondrously simple. The speakers are integrated into the plug, blocking external noise and allowing you to better hear the music. As the price would suggest, these aren’t high quality headphones, so don’t expect them to last forever or reproduce sound with minute accuracy, but they do get the job done. You may have limited success with these depending on how you want to use them; a very loud bike, a noisy helmet or high-speed wind noise may overwhelm them.
Sony MDR NC13
Sony MDR NC13 ($45)
Our friends at The Wirecutter report that these noise-cancelling Sonys reduce ambient noise at 160 Hz by an impressive 27 dB. The in-ear design should be helmet-compatible depending on the shape of your ears and helmet. They’re also said to reproduce sound reasonably well, especially considering the price. We’d suggest trying these on with your bike helmet before buying, or order using Amazon Prime, which makes returning stuff easy and hassle-free.
Bose QuietComfort 20
The Best Gear
Bose QuietComfort 20 ($300)
Noise cancelling headphones work by emitting a sound wave opposite to that of ambient noise, thus cancelling it out. These Bose ‘phones were the most effective at doing so in The Wirecutter’s test, cutting an amazing 45 dB at 160 Hz. That’s more effective than most over-ear noise-cancelling headphones. Sound reproduction is excellent and, like the Sonys, they should fit under your helmet, again personally dependent on how big your ears are and how tight your helmet is in that area.
Do you listen to music while riding? Which products and methods work for you?