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All the best headphones for working at home in 2021

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

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Many people are still working from home these days and may be for a while longer. As you've probably figured out by now, if you work remotely, a reliable pair of headphones is an essential part of a setup where your office mates may include noisy children or a significant other chattering away on Zoom calls in a nearby room. The right headphones -- or headset, as office headphones are often called -- can help isolate you from all these disruptive forces and help you focus on the task at hand. 

What makes for a good pair of work-at-home headphones? Not only should they offer top-notch sound quality and comfort (since you'll be wearing them for hours on end), but they should include excellent communications features for making voice calls, which includes any sort of video chats. Good noise reduction is key, as is being able to hear your own voice in the headphones as you talk (so you don't end up shouting). Good battery life also helps. Finally, multipoint Bluetooth pairing, which allows you to switch easily between two devices, is another noteworthy feature in the home-office environment.

Some of you may be looking for a headset or headphones 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

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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.

 

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The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, the long-awaited successor to Bose's QuietComfort 35 II model, may not be a quantum leap forward, but these headphones offer slightly better sound and noise cancellation along with top-notch headset performance for voice calls. They're a strong all-around audio performer with up to 20 hours of battery life and a more durable design than their predecessor (some find the QuietComfort 35 II headphones slightly more comfortable).

At launch, they cost $400, but they've recently come down in price. We've seen the white version dip as low as $299 while the black and silver versions have hit $340. That said, the new Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones, their closest competitor, has also seen nice discounts.

They're also now available in a UC version that includes a Bose USB Bluetooth link module for prepairing 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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Plantronics' original Voyager Focus UC has long been considered one of the best work-from-anywhere headsets. Now we get the Voyager Focus 2 UC from Poly (the company Plantronics morphed into after it acquired Polycom), and it's improved in several ways, including better noise reduction (it's stellar), two levels of active noise canceling, increased battery life (up to 19 hours with ANC off and 16 hours with it on) and superior wireless range with Bluetooth 5.1. 

You can pair the Voyager Focus 2 UC with your computer with the included USB dongle or your phone (or tablet) via Bluetooth. It can also connect to a desk phone if you want to bring it to the office. Also worth noting: The boom microphone has a mute button on it, but when you flip it up it also automatically mutes the microphone. The original Voyager Focus doesn't mute when you lift the boom microphone. 

The Focus 2 comes in several different versions, including USB-A and USB-C models and a version that's Microsoft Teams certified. You can get the headset by itself or in a bundle that includes a charging dock. All versions include a nice protective carrying pouch.

The Voyager Focus 2 UC is expensive but offers excellent performance and is quite comfortable for an on-ear headphone. It also sounds good for music listening with nicely detailed sound and ample bass. It may not be quite up to the level of the Sony WH-1000XM4 for music, but it offers a nice music listening experience for a work-centric headset.  

The original Voyager Focus UC (see below) can be had for closer to $150, so expect this next-gen to come down in price with time. I don't know if it's worth double the price, but it clearly performs better and has a swankier design than the original.   

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Even if they don't sound quite as magical as you'd hope a $249 model would (they often get discounted to $200, however), the Apple AirPods Pro still manage to be a great pair of true-wireless earphones with noise cancellation. That's largely due to their winning design and fit, improved bass performance and effective noise canceling -- and now they've been updated with spatial audio, a new virtual-sound mode for watching movies and TV shows (only works with iPhones and iPads running iOS 14).

They feature excellent call quality, with good noise reduction and the ability to hear your voice in the buds as you talk. Their transparency mode is top notch (it lets you hear the outside world as if you weren't wearing headphones) and Apple users should note that the AirPods Pro can easily switch between Apple devices so long as they're all logged into the same iCloud account.

Read our Apple AirPods Pro review.

 

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I was a fan of Creative's original Sound Blaster Jam headphones that came out in 2015 and had a decidedly retro look and feel, with good sound for the money. Now they're available in a 2.0 version that has some key upgrades, including Bluetooth 5.0, USB-C charging, improved call quality and multipoint Bluetooth pairing that allows you to pair it to two devices simultaneously. Battery life is rated at up to 22 hours.

I was able to pair the headphones with a Mac Mini and an iPhone 12 Pro and then switch audio between them. Often when pairing Bluetooth headphones with Mac and Windows PCs, one can encounter some issues, but once I got the headphones paired with both my PC and phone, they made a good pair of work-from-home headphones. Also, the price is right for parents looking for a decent set of kids' headphones for remote learning and everyday use.

Comfortable for on-ear headphones, the Jam V2s are lightweight and have nicely balanced sound with good detail and bass that's ample but not overpowering. Call quality was good in my tests with callers saying they could hear me well even on the noisy streets of New York. No carry pouch is included, but you do get an extra set of foam ear pads, which is good, because they will wear out over time.

The headphones have physical buttons for controlling volume and playback, and there's aptX support for devices that support the wireless streaming codec. 

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 sporadically gets discounted to $70 and sometimes less (sometimes certain colors cost less than others). 

Note that the $250 Evolve2 65, which has an integrated boom microphone, is essentially the souped-up office version of this headphone.

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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 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.

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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.

 

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No earbuds are perfect, of course, and not everybody will love the fit of the Sony WF-1000XM4 buds or be able to afford their high price. But if you're looking for great-sounding earbuds with great noise canceling, solid voice-calling capabilities and good battery life, these buds check all the boxes.

Alas, they don't feature multipoint Bluetooth like the over-ear WH-1000XM4 (it's really their only missing feature), but their voice-calling capabilities have significantly improved. You can pair these with multiple devices but they won't automatically switch between your PC and phone when a call comes in. 

David Carnoy/CNET

Apple's AirPods Max noise-canceling headphones cost a whopping $549. But if you're an Apple-centric person who works on a MacBook and also has an iPhone (and maybe an iPad), like other AirPods, the Max allow you to easily connect to multiple Apple devices simultaneously (so long as you're signed into your iCloud account on all the devices) and switch between them. If you're on a Zoom teleconference and a call comes in on your iPhone, the AirPods Max automatically switch to the iPhone if you pick up the call.

They sound great, and with all their microphones they do an excellent job picking up your voice and reducing ambient noise. Aside from their high price, their other potential downside is their heavy weight. Although I found them comfortable, some people have trouble with their weight.

Read our Apple AirPods Max review.

 

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Jabra recently released the Evolve2 30, a new more affordable wired on-ear office headset with an integrated boom microphone. It's lightweight and comfortable and comes in USB-C and USB-A versions, as well as stereo and mono versions (I tried the USB-A stereo version). Alas, it's hard to get at the moment -- apparently, there's plenty of demand for office headphones/headsets at this price point. 

The headphones are OK for music listening but they're primarily meant for voice applications. They feature dual microphones -- one for picking up your voice and the other to help reduce ambient noise around you so callers can hear you better. 

Shure

If you're looking for a clean-sounding headphone with more of a neutral sound profile, the well-built Shure Aonic 50 is that noise-canceling headphone. 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 a good work-from-home headphone that's comfortable to wear (but might be a little big for some folks). 

While the Aonic 50 initially suffered a bit from being a little too expensive (it started out at $400 but has now come down to as low as $250 for the brown version), it's an excellent headphone that seems built to last. Battery life is rated at 20 hours -- the headphone charge via USB-C -- and it supports a variety of audio codecs, including aptX, aptX HD, aptX Low Latency audio, Sony LDAC, AAC and SBC. 

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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 $200, and were on sale last holiday season for $150.

Read our Jabra Elite 85h review.

 

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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 sometimes sells for less. 

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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 less than $300.

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 IPX4 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.

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They've been out a while but Samsung's Buds Plus are among the better values in the true-wireless category, sometimes selling for as low as $100. They're known for having great battery life (11 hours for music playback) and they pack dual drivers for better sound (it's quite good for the money) 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, Samsung Galaxy earbuds 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.

The step-up Galaxy Buds Pro ($200) offer richer sound with a little more detail as well as active noise canceling. But the Buds Plus fit my ears a little better. While they easily switch between Samsung Galaxy devices, they don't have true multipoint Bluetooth pairing (for connecting to two devices simultaneously). However, they do include Microsoft's Swift Pair feature, which allows to more easily pair them to a Windows 10-based PC.

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 on your phone.

Read our Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 review.

 

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The second-generation Momentum True Wireless 2 aren't cheap at $250, but they're better all around than the originals, with a slightly smaller, more comfortable design, active noise canceling that rivals that of the AirPods 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 helped earn them CNET Editors' Choice Award back in March of 2020.

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.

 

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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.

 

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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. Although these don't feature multipoint Bluetooth pairing (so you can connect to your computer and phone simultaneously), they work well as a headset for making calls, with good noise reduction and a sidetone feature that allows you to hear your voice in buds. They're available in multiple color options. Read our Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro review.

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The Galaxy Buds Pro -- Samsung's long-awaited active noise-canceling model -- has arrived with upgraded sound and high expectations for $200. (Yes, the Buds Live also has noise canceling, but it's pretty modest.) I've been mostly impressed, particularly with the sound quality and call quality, and there are some nice bonus features, including an improved ambient noise mode with voice detection. There's also a virtual surround feature that currently only works with the new Galaxy S21 models but will slowly trickle out to other Galaxy devices. The noise canceling is also effective if you get a tight seal from the included ear tips. That said, just how good you think they are will ultimately depend on how well they fit your ears.

The Buds Pro performed very well in my voice-calling tests. Samsung says they have three microphones, plus a Voice Pickup Unit, and they're equipped with noise-reduction technology that helps eliminate wind noise in particular. Callers said my voice sounded a touch clearer when I was using the AirPods Pro, but the noise reduction was good with the Buds Pro and people said they could hear me well even in fairly noisy environments. Like the Galaxy Buds Plus, while they easily switch between Samsung Galaxy devices, they don't have true multipoint Bluetooth pairing (for connecting to two devices simultaneously). However, they do include Microsoft's Swift Pair feature, which allows to more easily pair them to a Windows 10-based PC.

Read our Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro review.

 

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). 

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. 

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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.

 

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