All of us at CNET areduring the — and if you’re not yet, there’s a good chance you will be soon, as mandatory continue to spread across the nation and the globe. Whether you’re working from home or just keeping in touch with friends, though, a key part of your tech toolkit is going to be your . And if you’re in a position to upgrade to new ones, this is the list for you.
So, what makes for a good work-at-home headphone? You always wantand , of course, but you really want to focus on what makes a good communication headset when (which includes any sort of video chats). For many people, that means the ability to hear your own voice in the room, instead of the odd sensation of “earplugs” that most 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).
For those who are looking for headphones/headsets that are designed to work with UC (Unified Communications) applications and certified for Skype for Business, Optimized for Microsoft Lync, as well as suitable for softphones from Avaya, Cisco, Skype, I’ve included some UC headphones on the list, but the majority of these are mainstream “consumer” headphones that also work well on the go.
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, the long-awaited successor to its QuietComfort 35 II models, may not be a quantum leap forward but they offer slightly better sound, call and noise cancellation quality. Alas, they cost $400 to buy, but they’re a strong all-around audio performer with up to 20 hours of battery life.
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 ear buds as much of a status symbol as Apple Airpods?) and fit, 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). Apple users note that they have an easy time switching between their iCloud devices — which is key for true wireless headphones.
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 Amazon’s 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, with “renewed” versions going for as low as $150.
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 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. 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.
Jabra’s Elite 75t, which has an improved, more compact design and better battery life, isn’t quite on par with the AirPods Pro for calls in noisier environments but it’s quite excellent indoors with a sidetone feature that allows you to hear your voice in the buds. It also sounds good for listening to music and earned a CNET Editors’ Choice Award.
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 $400 (£369) — 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 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.
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 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.
Originally $350, Microsoft’s Surface Headphones, which feature active noise canceling and not surprisingly play well with Windows computers, have come down in price (they’re currently $200 at Best Buy). I thought they could have sounded a little better for $350, but they’re nicely designed, are comfortable, have good sound and do work for making calls with the ability to switch between your computer and smartphone.
I wouldn’t be surprised if a second-generation model arrives this year, but they’re certainly more enticing at $200.
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 (you can hear you voice in the headphones).
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. They also have a bit of sidetone so you can hear voice inside the buds when making calls and Apple users have an easy time switching between their iCloud devices.
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 multi-device pairing feature allows you to easily switch between your phone and a computer.
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 with the ability to switch between your smartphone and computer.
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