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All the best headphones for working at home in 2020

Looking for a great pair to use during the day for telecommuting? These are CNET's current top picks.

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If you work remotely full-time, you've probably figured out that an essential part of a solid work-from-home setup is finding a reliable pair of headphones. If you're thinking about upgrading to new ones, or maybe you want to buy some as a holiday gift, this list will steer you towards the best headphones for work.

A good pair of work-at-home headphones combine sound quality and comfort, of course. But you also want to hone in on what makes a good communication headset when making calls, which includes any sort of video chats. For many folks, that means being able to hear your own voice in the room, instead of the odd "earplugs" sensation that most in-ear or earbud headphones provide. If that's important to you, you want to make sure your headphones have either a sidetone or transparency feature. Lastly, good battery life is a must, as is the ability to switch easily between two devices, aka multidevice pairing. 

You may be looking for headsets or headphones that are designed to work with Unified Communications applications and certified for Skype for Business, optimized for Microsoft Lync, and suitable for softphones from Cisco, Avaya and Skype. I've included some UC headphones on this list of the best headphones for work, but the majority of these are mainstream "consumer" headphones that also work well on the go.

Read more: Best cheap VPN: Three options for working from home

Now playing: Watch this: Bose's new Noise Cancelling 700 Headphones live up to...
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Sarah Tew/CNET

The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, the long-awaited successor to its QuietComfort 35 II models, may not be a quantum leap forward but these Bose headphones offer slightly better sound, call and noise cancellation quality. Alas, this wireless headphone option costs $380 to buy, but they're a strong all-around audio performer with up to 20 hours of battery life.

They're also now available in a UC version that includes a Bose USB Bluetooth link module for pre-pairing with PCs. That model -- Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 UC -- is Microsoft Teams-certified. Read our Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review.

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Even if the music or audio doesn't sound as magical as you'd hope a $249 model would, the AirPods Pro still manage to be a good pair of truly wireless headphones. That's largely due to their winning design (are any earbuds as much of a status symbol as Apple Airpods?) and wireless earbud fit. You'll also enjoy the improved bass performance (which helps the audio quality), effective noise cancellation and excellent call quality (you can hear your voice just enough in with these buds snuggled into your ear canal) of these popular earbuds. Apple users note that they have an easy time switching between their iCloud devices -- which is key for true wireless headphones. Read our Apple AirPods Pro review.

Sony's earlier WH-1000XM3 was a great noise-canceling headphone. But if it had a weakness, it was its voice-calling capabilities, particularly in noisier environments. The new WH-1000XM4 has improved 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 is arguably a tad more comfortable and also has some other slight improvements to its noise canceling and sound that makes it a great all-around choice for working from home. Read our Sony WH-1000XM4 review.

Jabra

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 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 frequently 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.   

David Carnoy/CNET

AfterShokz has turned its Aeropex ($160) bone-conduction headphones into a more communications-friendly headset with an integrated boom microphone. Since these leave your ears open (the sound is conducted through your cheekbone), they aren't for people who want to seal their ears out from outside noise. Rather, the idea is that you can hear everything around you without having anything covering your ears or jammed inside them. Some find folks find that liberating.

While AfterShokz are arguably the best-sounding bone-conduction headphones, they aren't great-sounding for music because they're lacking in the bass department. However, they're great for speech so they work very well as a headset for making calls, with good noise reduction. These also have multipoint-Bluetooth pairing, so you can pair them with your phone and PC and easily switch to your phone if a call comes in while you're on your computer. (Here are the instructions on how to use it.)

As long as you don't mind the book microphone, you can use the OpenComm for sporting activities as well. The Aeropex and other AfterShokz headphones are favorites for runners who want to keep their ears open to hear the outside world for safety reasons. They're also water-resistant. The only downside is they require a proprietary charging cable instead of USB-C. Battery life is rated at 16 hours of talk time and eight hours of listening time.

Sarah Tew/CNET

When Jabra first announced its new Elite 85h over-ear headphones, it touted how it would be equipped with always-on (hands-free) voice assistant control using Alexa or Google Assistant. Alas, that feature didn't make it into the final product -- apparently it affected battery life too much, and battery life is critical -- but the Elite 85h are nevertheless excellent noise-canceling headphones that are very comfortable to wear, have strong sound quality and are great for making calls. They started out at $300 but are down to about $230, and will be on sale this holiday season for $150 (refurbished versions also run around $150). Read our Jabra Elite 85h review.

David Carnoy/CNET

If you're looking for a souped-up version of the Elite 85h, the recently released Evolve2 85 offers even better telephony options along with a Unified Communications USB dongle for PCs. While it has similar sound quality to the 85h, it has an updated audio chipset, a hideaway boom arm and two additional microphones (10 altogether, with the extra two in the boom arm) for noise reduction and picking up your voice. Its build quality is also a step up. A Microsoft Teams-certified version is available for those who need it.

I found it comfortable to wear over several hours -- it offers an impressive 37 hours of battery life or slightly more than the Elite 85h. 

Downside: It lists for a whopping $450 but will hopefully come down in price in the next few months. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

While the Elite 75t have been out a while, they're still among the best true wireless earbuds out there and recently added noise canceling via a firmware upgrade. Earlier firmware updates improved voice-calling performance. 

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. They also have multipoint Bluetooth pairing, which allows you to pair them with your phone and a computer at the same time. When a call comes in on your phone you can easily switch from your PC's audio to your phone's. 

The slightly more rugged Elite Active 75t are also available for about $20 more. We recommend both models not just for working at home, but as workout headphones as well. Read our Jabra Elite 75t review.

David Carnoy/CNET

This enterprise-level model from Epos is essentially a souped-up version of the Sennheiser PXC 550 with superior telephony and PC connectivity. It's comfortable and has excellent noise-canceling. The voice performance is top-notch and it's Microsoft Teams certified. Battery life is rated at 30 hours, which is very good.

The only downside is that it still uses Micro-USB instead of USB-C for charging (the new Sennheiser PXC 550 II has USB-C).

While its list price is $400, you can pick it up for closer to $250.  

David Carnoy/CNET

Jabra's Elite 85t is a slightly bigger version of the 75t that features more powerful active noise canceling. Its new oval-shaped tips are designed to offer users a more comfortable fit, but the Elite 75t may actually be a better fit for some people's ears. 

The Elite 85t includes a wireless charging case (it's a $20 upgrade for the Elite 75t), larger 12mm drivers for improved sound and six-microphone technology -- three on each ear, two on the outside, one on the inside -- for improved voice calling with better noise reduction (four of the microphone are used for active noise canceling).  

Like the Elite 75t, these earbuds feature multipoint Bluetooth pairing so you can pair them with your phone and computer at the same time (and take calls with your phone when they come in). They're IPX splash-resistant and deliver five and a half hours of battery life with noise canceling on and seven hours with it off. Read our Jabra Elite 85t review.

Angela Lang/CNET

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" -- these are advanced earphones indeed!).

Previously, this pair of headphones was 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. In these in-ear headphones, 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.

David Carnoy/CNET

Microsoft's over-ear noise-canceling Surface Headphones 2 were released earlier in 2020, and the biggest change from their predecessor is the price: The original Surface Headphones launched at $350, while the Headphones 2 cost $250. Like the original, there's a lot to like about this second-gen model. While they've lost their hands-free Cortana voice-control feature (a change no one will lament) and the sound quality hasn't improved (it's quite good but not stellar), the combination of some small design tweaks, better battery life, upgraded Bluetooth and the new lower price help bump their rating up and make them more recommendable. 

Their multipoint Bluetooth pairing capability allows you to pair them with two devices at the same time (such as a computer and phone) and quickly switch the audio from each device to the headphones. That's an appealing feature from a work-from-home standpoint, and these also work well for making voice calls. Read our Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 review.

David Carnoy/CNET

The second-generation Momentum True Wireless 2 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. And, if you don't like them in black, a white version is slated to follow later this year. Most importantly, though, 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 our Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 review.

David Carnoy/CNET

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. These wireless earbuds get 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 and there's light sidetone so you can hear your voice in the buds as you talk. 

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

When it comes to premium noise-canceling headphones, Bose and Sony have been the dominant players over the last few years. But now Sennheiser has turned up with its new Momentum 3 Wireless and it deserves some attention, particularly from folks who are fans of the Momentum line. It's available to buy now for $350 -- around the same price as Bose's Noise Cancelling Headphones 700.

Not only does it feature improved noise-canceling features and excellent sound and audio, but it also performs very well as a bluetooth headset for making calls. While its noise cancellation and comfort level doesn't quite measure up to the noise cancellation and comfort of the Sony WH-1000XM3's, it has nicely padded earcups covered with sheep leather and I had no trouble rocking it for a two-hour music listening session. Battery life is rated at up to 17 hours with noise canceling on, which is toward the low-end for a full-size noise-canceling headphone. Read our Sennheiser Momentum 3 first take.

Jabra

Jabra's Evolve 65e UC ($210) is an around-the-neck model that offers a comfortable, secure fit. (You get three sizes of stabilizing fins along with three sizes of ear tips.) This version is Skype for Business and UC certified and the included USB Bluetooth adapter allows you to be connected to your PC (Windows or Mac) at the same time as your smartphone.

While this headphone is decent for music listening -- it's a little shy on the bass -- it excels as a headset for making a phone call, with good noise reduction, especially wind noise. The integrated inline microphone sits close to your mouth so people have no problem hearing you. Battery life is rated at 13 hours. 

Note that this is the business-grade version of the Elite 65e. Jabra also makes the step up Evolve 75e UC that costs about $50 more and features active noise canceling. I didn't think the noise canceling was great, however, so it's probably best to save the money and get the 65e UC. 

Amazon

An oldie but goodie, the Plantronics Voyager Focus UC allows you to switch between a Bluetooth connection (on a smartphone or tablet) and a computer. This is a lightweight, comfortable on-ear headphone that has excellent noise reduction and a retractable boom microphone so people have no problem hearing your voice (and you can hear your voice in the headphones). 

The non-business version of this is called the BackBeat Sense ($130), which sells for as low as $50 in a renewed version.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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 noise out so you can hear callers (and music and audio) better. They also have a bit of sidetone so you can hear your voice inside the buds when making calls, and Apple users have an easy time switching between their iCloud devices. Read our Beats Powerbeats Pro review.

David Carnoy/CNET

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, While it's not really meant to be a mobile headphone, you can walk around with it just fine and its multidevice pairing feature allows you to easily switch between your phone and a computer. Read our Logitech Zone Wireless first take.

Sarah Tew/CNET

When it first launched, the Plantronics Voyager 6200 UC was $300. It's down to $273, which is still pretty pricey, but it delivers business-grade voice calling performance with the ability to switch between your smartphone and computer.

More headphones and WFH advice