Working from home during aquarantine? One must-have is a good set of headphones for all those conference calls and videoconferences -- and that doesn't always mean the same headphones you use for listening to music. What does that mean exactly? Many a device is OK at communications, but the best Bluetooth for calls are able to reduce ambient sounds around you even in noisy environments, which allows people to hear your voice and not all that extra chatter and background noise, whether it's wind, traffic noise or the kids watching the TV in the next room. Plus, you want a device with great battery life, a device that looks good, a device that has a good fit and sounds great.
To that end, we've sorted our favorite headphones after specifically testing them for phone call quality. Here are our current top picks, which we update 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 headphone. (The latter has recently sold for $300 or less, in fact.) But leaving aside the debate over the new design and fit and higher price tag for a moment, I'll say this: The Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 sound and perform better than their predecessor, and shine as a headset for calls. Read our Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review.
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 truly wireless earbuds. That's largely due to their winning earpiece design and fit, improved bass performance, effective noise canceling and excellent call quality. Yeah, these noise-canceling wireless earbuds 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 does 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. Read our Apple AirPods Pro review.
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 particularly), 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. Read our Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus review.
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 they 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 eight 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.
Jabra's new premium noise-canceling headphone, the Elite 85h ($300), is an excellent all-round noise-canceling headset model that's top-notch for calls. This wireless headset is right there with the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 and clearly beats the Sony WH-1000XM3 on the communications front. Read our Jabra Elite 85h review.
Jabra's Elite 75t, which has an improved, more compact design and better battery life, isn't quite on par with the AirPods Pro and Anker Liberty Air 2 for calls but it's better than most true wireless earbuds for communications. While it doesn't do a stellar job quieting ambient sound around you, it does offer some noise reduction and the mic does pick up your voice well. They also have a sidetone feature that allows you to hear your voice in the wireless earbuds (so you don't talk too loud). Read our Jabra Elite 75t review.
The second-generation Momentum True Wireless 2, 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 seven hours versus the original's four) 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). Read the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 review.
If you can't afford the AirPods Pro, the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 ($100) are a good alternative and a top model for calls. Like the AirPods Pro, they do a remarkably good job of muffling ambient noise (callers said they could hear me fine even with a lot of street noise around me). While they don't have active noise canceling, they sound nearly as good, fit comfortably and their noise-isolating design passively seals out a lot of ambient noise. The only thing missing is a sidetone feature so you can hear your voice in the buds.
Plantronics' new premium true wireless earbuds, the BackBeat Pro 5100 ($170), are among the handful of true wireless headphones that are very good for calls. For calling, they're on par with the AirPods (they have good noise reduction) and sound better for listening to music and audio. Read our Plantronics BackBeat Pro 5100 preview.
Anker is known more for its value headphones, but it's trying to step into more premium territory with its Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro wireless earbuds, which carry a list price of $150. From a design standpoint, they share some similarities with Sony's WF-1000XM3, although this model doesn't have active noise cancellation. Anker says they have large 11mm drivers combined with Knowles Balanced Armature, with up to 8 hours of battery life on a single charge (32 total hours of playtime with the case) and noise-cancellation mic to help reduce ambient sound so callers can hear you better (they're excellent for calls -- easily superior to the Sonys). They charge via USB-C and also support wireless charging.
I'm not sure they sound quite as good as the Sony WF-1000XM3, but they certainly sound like premium true wireless earphones, with rich sound that includes powerful bass performance and lots of detail. Some people may have some quibbles over the fit -- I had to supply my own XL tips to get a tight seal and found the Anker's Soundcore Liberty Air 2 a little more comfortable -- but the Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro are a good value.
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. Read our Apple AirPods 2019 review.
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. Read our Beats Powerbeats Pro review.
Believe it or not, you too can be listening to music and audio on glasses. Yes, the Bose Frames ($200) are both sunglasses and headphones -- and they sound surprisingly good for sunglasses headphones. What's also impressive about them is how good they are for calls.
The Frames are available in two models: the Rondo and Alto. You can only get them in black for now. Read our Bose Frames review.
Amazon's Echo Buds could use a little more polishing (they are a first-generation product for Amazon), but they're a decent set of true wireless earbuds for the money and one of the better true wireless models for calls partially because they're equipped with Bose noise-reduction technology. They also feature always-on (hands-free) Alexa so you don't have to press a button to access Amazon's voice assistant. Read our Amazon Echo Buds review.
While a pricey headset at $400, the third-gen Momentum Wireless headphone features improved noise cancellation, excellent sound quality for music and audio and voice calling. Read our Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3 preview.
Jabra's Elite 65t, which soon may get overshadowed by the new Elite 75t, feature a dual mic in each bud and a sidetone feature that allows you to hear your voice in the wireless earbuds as you talk. They work quite well as a stereo headset for calls. I have even worn them under a ski helmet and callers said they could hear me fine as I skied! Read our Jabra Elite 65t review.
When it first launched the Plantronics Voyager 6200 UC was $300. It's down to $200, which is still pretty pricey, but it delivers business-grade voice calling performance. Read our Plantronics Voyager 6200 UC preview.
While Logitech calls its Zone WIreless a headset, it's really an on ear active noise-canceling headphone with an integrated boom mic. What makes it unique is that you can set it on a Qi wireless charging pad to juice up its battery, which is rated for up to 15 hours of battery life talk time or music listening. The headset also charges via micro-USB.
I found it to be a comfortable fit, especially for an on ear headphone, and it's great for making calls, with a sidetone feature that lets you hear your voice inside the headset so you don't speak too loudly while having conversations. Its only drawback is that the headset sounds just OK for music and audio listening, not great. But if communications is a priority at work, this is a good choice for a headset (it's not really meant to be a mobile headphone though you can walk around with it just fine). Read the Logitech Zone Wireless hands-on evaluation.