The world today runs on electronics. From home to work, our smartphones, tablets, laptops, and a host of other gadgets tag along with us. Headphones are one of those accessories that are used by everybody. They seem permanently attached to the heads of our teenagers; no serious gamer is without headphones, and they’re a crucial part of the business world for both office-bound employees and remote workers.
Whether you’re using your headphones for Skype conference calls, listening to your favorite tunes while working, or zoning out on a long-haul business flight, finding the best headphones to suit your needs is a good investment to make.
Here’s a guide to the different types of headphones available and recommendations on the best headphones for work.
1. Active noise-canceling headphones
If you work in a noisy office, don’t skimp on cost when it comes to making your daily existence bearable in a buzzing office. Rather than risk destroying your hearing by turning up the volume on your headphones to drown out the hubbub, high-quality noise-canceling headphones are a better option and can make the working day a lot more pleasant.
Noise-canceling headphones are clever devices that have built-in microphones that listen to noises in the surrounding environment and feature circuitry that generates a counter-signal. This signal actively cancels out the noise, leaving a blissful silence. High-quality noise-canceling headphones work so effectively that some people slip them on not to listen to anything, but just to enjoy some silence!
Best noise-canceling headphones: Bose QuietComfort 35 at $349
These wireless headphones are among the best in the market. Not only do they do a great job blocking out noise, but the sound quality is awesome. Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones have a long battery life of around 20 hours, and they come with a cable to use with non-Bluetooth devices or when charging the battery.
Best budget noise-canceling headphones: Audio Technica ATH-ANC7B at $99.95
For the price, the Audio Technica ATH-ANC7B model is a fantastic affordable alternative to the pricier Bose. Its generous closed-cup padding does a good job sealing the ear and reduces distracting background noise by up to 90 percent. A plus with these headphones is that when the battery dies, they switch to passive noise cancellation so you can continue to use them.
2. Passive noise isolating headphones
If you’re looking for a slightly cheaper way to reduce noise, opt for good on- or over-ear headphones with noise isolation. They’re not as good as active noise-canceling headphones at blocking noise, but they do a good job of reducing noise—referred to as passive noise-canceling. You can still hear sounds around you, but they dampen the loudness.
Best over-ear noise isolation headphones: Beyerdynamic DT 770 M 80 at $187.50
This is the best all-around noise-isolating over-ear headphones. If you work in the music industry, these are ideal for DJs, drummers, and stage use. They’re rugged and durable, featuring a 10-foot cable and well-cushioned soft-skin padding you can wear for hours.
Best on-ear noise isolation headphones: Sennheiser HD25 at $187.95
For virtually the same price, the Sennheiser HD25 on-ear headphones offer superb sound quality and noise isolation. The closed-back headphones reduce sound leakage so they won’t disturb nearby coworkers. They’re also lighter than over-ear headphones yet extremely durable. These headphones are also great for DJ and studio work as they offer one-ear listening.
3. Travel-friendly earphones
When traveling, you want headphones that are light, compact, and preferably wireless. You also want good noise cancellation so you can escape the airplane engine and cabin noise.
Best wireless earphones: Bose QuietComfort 30 at $299.95
For a luxury option, the Bose QuietComfort 30 will have you traveling in style. The headphones are wireless, making use of a neckband design, and come with Bluetooth and NFC pairing. The coolest aspect is that they enable you to adjust the level of noise cancellation. So if you’re waiting for your boarding call, just reduce the noise cancellation to a level that let you hear the announcement.
Best travel earphones: TaoTronic Active Noise Cancelation In-Ear Headphones $45.99
For the price, this is a great buy for travel. These headphones have active noise-cancellation, 15 hours audio time, interchangeable ear buds and hooks to fit different ear sizes, in-line remote control for volume adjustment, track selection, and play/pause functionality—and they’re small enough to slip into a purse. Plus with a cheaper pair of earphones, if you lose them along your travels, it won’t be as painful as losing a $300 pair.
Skype and other VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) applications are a big part of today’s business landscape. Rather than annoying coworkers with loud and grating “speakerphone” chats, a headset removes the disruption and is useful when discussing confidential information.
Best USB headset: Jabra UC Voice 550 Duo at $69
For use in customer call centers and for anyone who spends a large portion of the day on the telephone, this is the headset of choice. Calls are crisp and clear on both ends, plus Jabra’s Peakstop technology actively prevents any sudden, loud, or jarring background sounds from reaching your ear.
Best budget headset: Logitech ClearChat Comfort at $39.95
Logitech is a major player in the office headset market, and for almost half the price as the Jabra, the Logitech ClearChat Comfort offers great features for the price. It has padded ear pads, rotating microphones with noise-canceling technology, inline controls with mute and volume buttons, and is compatible with most operating systems.
Types of headphones
Like many people, you may think headphones are just headphones. The simplest description of headphones is that they’re a set of speakers designed to fit over your ears. But all headphones are not created equal. Now that we’ve looked at some of the best in the market, let’s clarify why they are referred to as earphones, headphones, or headsets. People often use these words interchangeably. The three terms, however, refer to different devices and there are variations within the headphones category.
Also called earphones, these are the small in-ear plug-like speakers that fit into the ear canal. Earphones are the most popular on-the-go headphones, as they are discreet and portable and therefore great to use when moving around. On the downside, most of these little in-ear plugs are not able to cut out surrounding noise, plus some people find them uncomfortable in their ears.
On-ear headphones are a step up from the in-ear phones. They cover the ear but are not as big and bulky as full over-ear headphones. For those who find the earphones irritating and over-ear headphones a tad heavy and claustrophobic, these are a nice compromise.
Over-ear headphones cover the ear and because of this are usually the best at noise-canceling. Over-ear headphones can be modest in padding or very bulky. They tend to be the most comfortable of the three types, provided the headband and pads are comfy and don’t make your ears sweat. They also provide top sound quality, making them the preferred choice of audiophiles.
Wireless headphones mean no messy wires or cords to add to an already cluttered desk. If you hate cumbersome wires, these are the work headphones for you. They’re also useful when needing to move around to your coworkers’ desks or to grab a file that’s out of reach without disrupting a call. Wireless headphones used to be expensive, but they’re becoming more affordable.
Also called USB headsets, these are not merely headphones for listening but also feature an adjustable microphone boom for speaking. Headsets can be used with telecom systems and computers. Many customer-service representatives and switchboard operators have been using headsets for years, but they’re now an even more common feature in the office for voice and video calls as businesses communicate with people across the globe.
The array of headphones out there is staggering. While some high-end ones cost an arm and a leg, with a little research it’s possible to find high-quality headphones at a good price.