When we starteddue to the pandemic, we quickly discovered that one of the must-have items for keeping up productivity is a good set of for all those and conference calls. It was also immediately obvious that the best headphones for making calls aren't necessarily the same ones we use for listening to music.
So, what makes a pair of headphones good for making calls? First, Bluetooth. Theor headphones are able to reduce ambient noise even in loud environments (like when you're trying to talk with your boss and your toddler discovers how much noise a spoon and pot make when you bang them together). Sound quality is also imperative; you need to be able to hear people clearly, especially when taking project notes or nailing down the specifics of a contract. As you continue to narrow down what you're looking for, you should also consider ensuring your new headphones have great battery life, look good and are comfortable enough for long calls.
To that end, we've tested a bunch of Bluetooth headphones specifically for their audio quality during calls. Here are our current top picks for the best Bluetooth headphones for calls. We'll be updating it regularly as we review new products.
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 cost $400, which is $50 more than the QC35 II headset and the Sony WH-1000XM3 headset, CNET's current top-rated noise-canceling headphones. (The latter has recently sold for $300 or less, in fact.) But leaving aside the debate over the new design and higher price for a moment, I'll say this: The Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 sound and perform better than their predecessor, and between the two, they shine as the best Bluetooth headsets for calls. And the earcups are definitely comfy enough that you will want to wear these outside of only noisy environments.
Even if they don't sound as magical as you'd hope a $249 model would, the AirPods Pro still manage to be a great pair of true wireless earbuds. That's largely due to their winning earpiece design and fit, improved bass performance, effective noise canceling and excellent call sound quality. Yeah, these noise-canceling wireless buds are expensive, but the good news is you'll use them so much you'll probably wear the battery and maximum battery life down -- they do degrade over time and aren't replaceable -- and have to buy a new pair in 18 to 24 months if you don't lose them first. (Keep them in their carrying case when you're not using them! We can't say it enough!)
Released in mid-2020, the Jabra Elite 45h was essentially billed as the best on-ear headphone for the money. While there's nothing terribly fancy about it, it is one of the best on-ear headphone values right now, with good sound quality, a sturdy design and comfortable fit (for on-ear headphones, anyway). Additionally, it performs well as a headset for making calls and includes a sidetone feature that allows you to hear your voice in the headphones so you don't talk too loudly. Battery life is also good and it has multipoint Bluetooth pairing so you can connect to both your computer and your smartphone at the same time and easily switch between the two should a call come in on your phone (it mostly works).
Available in multiple color options, it lists for $100 but sometimes gets discounted to $80.
Note that the $250 Evolve2 65, which has an integrated boom microphone, is essentially the souped-up office version of this headphone.
Some of Tribit's 2020 true wireless earbuds were decent for the money, but none of them truly stood out from the pack. Its new Flybuds C1, however, are top-notch as far as inexpensive true wireless go. Not only do they sound very good for their modest price, with good clarity and strong, punchy bass, but their call quality measures up well to the AirPods', with good noise reduction -- the earbuds have two microphones in each bud -- and a sidetone feature that allows you to hear your voice in the buds when you're making a call.
They also have strong battery life (12 hours at 50% volume) and 30-meter range with Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity. They use Qualcomm's QCC3040 chip, which includes aptX audio streaming for compatible devices such as Samsung's Galaxy phones.
While they don't have active noise canceling like the AirPods Pro, if you get a tight seal, which is crucial for optimizing sound quality, they do a good job of passively sealing out a lot of ambient noise. They're IPX4 water-resistant (splashproof) and have a compact matte-black charging case with USB-C charging. I also liked how they have tiny physical buttons on their stems that work well for controlling playback and volume control.
Samsung's Buds Plus look essentially the same as the original Galaxy Buds, but their battery life is rated at 11 hours for music playback (up from 6), and they pack dual drivers for better sound and an additional microphone in each bud to help with external noise reduction while making calls. They're comfortable to wear and also have a feature that allows you to hear your voice in the earbuds while making calls (it's a setting in the app under "advanced").
Previously, these were more geared toward Android users (and Samsung Galaxy smartphone owners in particular), but now there's an iOS app that gives Apple users most of the same features as Android users.
I was impressed with the sound. It's detailed and smooth, with deep, well-defined bass. The sound is richer and more spacious than that of the original Galaxy Buds.
Sony's earlier WH-1000XM3 model was great. But if it had a weakness, that was in the area of voice-calling capabilities, particularly in noisier environments. The new WH-1000XM4 improves a lot in that area and also adds multipoint Bluetooth pairing so you can connect to two devices -- such as your phone and PC -- at the same time. That means that if a call comes in while you're using the headphones with your computer, the audio will switch to your phone when you answer the call.
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 probably still have a slight edge for voice calls, but the 1000XM4 headphones are arguably a tad more comfortable and also have some other slight improvements to noise cancellation and sound that make this model a great all-around choice.
Yes, they're expensive, but the AirPods Max deliver richer, more detailed sound than lower-priced competitors from Bose and Sony, and work very well as a headset for making calls. While I wouldn't recommend them for Android and Windows users, they're the ideal work-from-home headphones for iOS and Mac users who want to switch easily between their devices.
They also feature arguably the best noise canceling on the market, along with premium build quality and Apple's virtual surround spatial audio feature for video watching. While they're heavy, they manage to be surprisingly comfortable, though I did have to adjust the mesh canopy headband to sit a little more forward on my head to get a comfortable secure fit when I was out walking with them. They should fit most heads well, but there will be exceptions.
Anker's Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro ($130), the company's first earbuds to feature active noise canceling, are mostly an excellent set of true-wireless earbuds that measure up pretty well against Apple's AirPods Pro for significantly less money.
While I had an issue with the included ear tips and had to use some other tips (it's crucial to get a tight seal or both noise canceling and sound quality will suffer), they should fit most people comfortably. Sound quality is better than Anker's earlier Liberty Air 2 and the noise canceling is effective. These also work well as a headset for making calls and are available in multiple color options. They're IPX4 water-resistant (splashproof) like the Airpods Pro. Read our Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro review.
I've been a fan of Samsung's recent Galaxy true-wireless earbuds. The Galaxy Buds Plus fit my ears really well and have become one of the better true-wireless values, sometimes selling for less than $100 online. And the Galaxy Buds Live, also discounted a bit since their original debut, feature a discreet and innovative "open" design and I like to use them for running and biking. Now the $200 Galaxy Buds Pro -- Samsung's long-awaited active noise-canceling model -- have arrived with upgraded sound and high expectations. (Yes, the Buds Live also have noise canceling, but it's rather modest.)
The Buds Pro are mostly impressive, although just how good you think they are will ultimately depend on how well they fit your ears. The other caveat is that Samsung's new 360 Audio virtual surround feature (similar to Apple's spatial audio) only works with Samsung's latest Galaxy S21 models. Over time firmware upgrades will offer small improvement and performance when making calls was very good, with solid background noise reduction.
Jabra describes the Elite 85t as "semi-open" earbuds, meaning you don't have to jam the tips all the way into your ear canal. Rather, the new, more oval-shaped tips nestle in your ear for a more comfortable fit -- according to Jabra, anyway. A touch of sound will leak in, however, because you're not creating a super tight seal. Engineered on Qualcomm technology, Jabra calls the Elite 85t's noise-canceling Advanced ANC, which is designed for earbuds that don't have true noise-isolating designs.
Personally, I didn't find the 85t earbuds any more comfortable than the 75t. They didn't stay in my ears quite as securely, though they did stay in. While the 85t buds are bigger -- and so is their charging case -- they definitely seem like siblings design-wise. They do sound richer than the 75t, with more bass, and their voice-calling capabilities is also very good. They do feature multipoint Bluetooth pairing so you can take a call on your smartphone while being connected to your computer.
Available in multiple color options, they're splashproof like the AirPods Pro (IPX4 water-resistance rating) and list for $230, but we've seen them sporadically discounted to $180.
TaoTronics' SoundLiberty 79 list for $60 but sell for around $50. I don't love their looks -- the little chrome accent isn't my thing -- but these Bluetooth earbuds fit my ears well and sound decent for the money, with just enough definition and ample bass. All that said, where they really stand out is how they perform as a headset for making calls. They are five stars in that department, with excellent noise reduction; people had no trouble hearing me on the noisy streets of New York. The company's "Smart AI noise-reduction technology" really does work.
They are fully waterproof (IPX7-certified) and you can get up to 8 hours of battery life at moderate volume levels. The charging case, which provides an extra 32 hours of juice on the go, feels a little cheap, but it's compact and has USB-C charging.
Say what you will about the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live's bean-shaped design -- yes, they're affectionately known as the Beans -- but they might just be the most innovative new true wireless earbuds of the year. Like the standard Apple AirPods, they have an open design, so you don't jam them into your ear, and they're quite comfortable to wear and fit my ears more securely than the AirPods (that said, they won't fit everybody's ears equally well). Additionally, they're discreet and basically sit flush with your ear without a little white pipe extending out from them.
They deliver good sound and work well as a headset for making calls, with good background noise reduction so callers can hear you clearly even when you're in noisier environments. While they feature active noise canceling, it's mild compared with the noise canceling in earbuds that have a noise-isolating design. In other words, buy them for their design and sound, not their noise-canceling features.
AfterShokz bone conduction wireless headphones aren't quite what many people picture when they think of an earphone because they don't go on your ears -- these headphones actually deliver sound to your ear through your cheekbones. The big benefit of this technology as earphones is that, thanks to its open design, you can hear ambient noise and what's going on around you while listening to music or having a phone conversation through the wireless headphones. That's why they're a favorite or runners and bikers for safety reason.
The sweatproof and waterproof Aeropex ($160) is currently AfterShokz's flagship headphone, which it describes as its "lightest, highest-quality headphones yet" (they were released in 2019). While they're the best sounding bone-conduction headphones, they still don't sound great for music listening. However, they're top-notch for making calls and listening to podcasts and newscasts, as they're strongest in the midrange, where vocals live. They also feature multipoint Bluetooth pairing so you can easily switch between two devices, such as a smartphone and computer.
For the same price AfterShokz also has the OpenComm, which adds a boom microphone.
Jabra's new premium wireless noise-canceling headphones, the Elite 85h ($250), are excellent all around and top-notch for calls. They're right there with the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 and Sony WH-1000XM4 on the communications front. The price started out at $300, but this pair has been out a while and is due for an upgrade this year.
While the Elite 75t has been out a while, it's still one of the best true wireless earbuds out there and last year added noise canceling via a firmware upgrade. Earlier firmware updates improved voice-calling performance and it's now very solid in that department, with better noise-reduction (it also has a sidetone feature that allows you to hear you voice in the earbuds as you speak).
The Elite 75t aren't quite as comfortable to wear as the AirPods Pro, but they do sound better, with clearer overall sound and better bass audio quality definition, so long as you get a tight seal.
The slightly more rugged Elite Active 75t is also available for about $20 more, but with the new Elite 85t's arrival we are seeing some sales on the Elite 75t. They have an IP55 water-resistance rating, which means they can withstand heavy sprays of water.
The second-generation Momentum True Wireless 2 earbuds, available now for preorder and shipping in April, aren't cheap at $300, but they're better all around than the originals, with a slightly smaller, more comfortable design, active noise canceling that rivals that of the AirPod Pro, improved battery life (up to 7 hours versus the original 4 hours) and better noise reduction during calls.
Aside from improved call quality (they have a sidetone feature), the Momentum True Wireless 2 have the same stellar sound -- for true wireless earbuds, anyway -- offering clearly superior sound quality to the AirPods Pro. That makes them arguably the best true wireless earbuds on the market today and earns them a CNET Editors' Choice Award.
These use Bluetooth 5.1 with support for the AAC and AptX codecs, for devices that have AptX like Samsung's Galaxy smartphones.
The Solo Pro headphones are the first Beats on-ear model to feature active noise cancellation and the first full-size Beats headphones to charge via Lightning. They use the company's Pure Adaptive Noise Canceling (Pure ANC), "derived from the over-ear Studio3 Wireless, with updated tuning to accommodate the on-ear form factor," Beats says. With the tap of a button, you can turn off that noise cancellation to save battery life. Hit the button a second time to enter an audio transparency mode that allows you to hear the outside world, not just the music you're listening to.
Available in multiple color options, these noise-canceling headphones are equipped with six microphones, two of which are beamforming mics that are designed to home in on your voice when you're making calls or talking to your voice assistant (Apple's H1 chip is on board for always-on Siri). The sound is smooth and well-balanced, with punchy bass that doesn't make music sound boomy. Quite comfortable for an on-ear model, the more compact design travels better than some full-size models on this list. While they're overpriced at $300, we're seeing discounts that bring its price closer to $200, which is where it needs to get to.
Yes, the Bose Frames are both sunglasses and headphones -- and they sound surprisingly good for a sunglasses-headphones combo. What's also impressive about them is how good they are for calls.
The two original Frames, the Rondo and Alto, are still available for $200. But the recently released second-generation models, which cost $250, have some performance enhancements, including better sound and call quality. The Tempo, Bose's new sports model (pictured), has the largest drivers and best sound along with better battery life. The Tenor and Soprano Frames are also excellent for making calls.
The AirPods' look may not be everyone's cup of tea, but they do work really well as a headset. The new second-generation version features greater noise reduction, which helps callers hear you better when you're outside in noisier -- and potentially windier -- environments. It also adds hands-free (always-on) Siri.
Apple owns Beats, and one of the pluses of that relationship is that much of the technology that went into the AirPods also went into Beats' true wireless earphones, the Powerbeats Pro. Like the AirPods, these true wireless earbuds with ear hooks are excellent for calls, and with a noise-isolating design, they keep more ambient sound out so you can hear callers (and music and audio) better.
If you're looking for clean-sounding headphones with more of a neutral sound profile, the well-built Shure Aonic 50 are those noise-canceling headphones. The treble is clear and articulate and the bass is well-defined, but may be a little underpowered for those who want a little more oomph. The noise canceling is good but not quite up to the level of top noise-canceling models from Bose and Sony that cost a little less.
The headphones fold flat, but they're a bit bulky, as is their case. But they work very well as a headset for making calls -- Shure is known for making excellent microphones -- so they're good work-from-home headphones that are comfortable to wear (but might be a little big for some folks).
While the Aonic 50 suffers from being a little too expensive, they're excellent headphones that seem built to last. Battery life is rated at 20 hours -- the headphones charge via USB-C -- and they support a variety of audio codecs, including aptX, aptX HD, aptX Low Latency audio, Sony LDAC, AAC and SBC.
When it comes to premium noise-canceling headphones, Bose and Sony have been the dominant players over the last few years. But now Sennheiser's excellent Momentum 3 Wireless headphones deserve some attention. They list for $400, but have come down in price (you can find them for closer to $300).
Not only does this model feature improved noise-canceling features and excellent sound and audio, it also performs well as a headset for making calls. While in noise cancellation and comfort level the Momentum 3 headphones don't quite measure up to the Sony WH-1000XM4, I appreciated the nicely padded earcups covered with sheep leather and had no trouble rocking them for a two-hour music listening session.