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As coronavirus restrictions ease, those of you who were working from home may not be heading back to the office on a permanent basis. Whether your employer has introduced flexible working, or you’re still at home, a great pair of headphones can be a godsend – helping you stay focused on your to-do list and undisturbed by your surroundings.
You’ll need to choose carefully to find the ideal home working pair, especially so you can be heard clearly on calls. This is because headphones are typically designed for use out and about.
This year, we’ve improved our headphone tests with exactly this in mind, testing call quality for over 100 different models.
Below, we run you through some headphones to consider if you’re shopping for a new pair suitable for remote working. Plus, we can reveal which models for less than £50 are proving popular with Which? members in 2021.
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Useful headphone features to look out for
You’ll need to do a little bit of research to ensure your new headphones are suitable for working from home, whether you’re tucked away indoors or drafting emails in the garden.
If you’re shopping for a pair suitable for remote working, remember to consider:
- Comfort – you’ll likely need an exceptionally comfortable pair of headphones so they can be worn for hours at a time. Over-ear pairs are most comfortable, but you might prefer a more discreet in-ear model for video calls. It’s best to avoid on-ear models, as the pressure on your ears will make them ache after a while.
- Bluetooth support – for wireless headphones, you’ll need to check whether your laptop supports Bluetooth, If not, you won’t be able to hear your laptop audio through your headphones.
- Built-in microphone – you’ll need to check wired headphones have a microphone so you can use them for calls. Otherwise, you’ll be relying on your laptop’s built-in microphone, which might not be as crisp.
- Noise-cancelling technology – the best noise-cancelling models are remarkable in how well they block out noise from traffic or a vacuum cleaner.
Note that good-quality wireless headphones should last three to four years, but their non-replaceable batteries do give them a finite lifetime. So you might prefer a wired pair – so long as you take care to not accidentally snag the cord.
Need some help deciding between in-ear, on-ear or over-ear headphones? Explore our detailed guide on how to buy the best headphones.
Headphones for working from home
For wireless headphones for home working, consider the models we’ve listed below – all of them offer active noise cancelling, which blocks out distracting dins.
Make sure you have a look at our expert reviews to check they’re ideal for you and to see how each pair scores in our tough lab tests.
Apple AirPods Pro
We like: strong noise cancellation, comfortable, easy to use
We don’t like: limited functionality on Android, pricey
Apple’s iconic AirPods are worth considering if you’re working from home for the foreseeable future. These truly wireless, in-ear Bluetooth headphones are partly protected by a water-resistant design and have Apple’s Siri voice assistant built-in.
Tapping the stems of the headphones will let you control them without having to reach for another gadget. For example, a single press can answer an incoming call, or you can use touch controls to temporarily pause the noise-cancelling function.
To see how these headphones perform, and whether or not there are better alternatives at a lower price, see our full Apple AirPods Pro review.
We like: high-quality sound, comprehensive smartphone app
We don’t like: touch controls aren’t the best we’ve seen
You can fold up these over-ear, noise-cancelling headphones and chuck them into a bag. The Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones are compatible with Siri on Apple devices and Google Assistant on Android, meaning you can control them with your voice. You might, for example, use a voice command to schedule in a calendar event or reminder for later that working day.
When you’re not using your voice to boss virtual assistants around, you can try the touch controls on the headphones. These allow you to play and pause music, adjust the volume or answer a call.
How do these over-ear headphones compare with rival models from Apple, Bose and Sennheiser? Our Sony WH-1000XM3 review has more details.
JBL Live 650BTNC
We like: effective noise cancellation
We don’t like: in our test we had problems using the app to adjust settings
JBL’s Live 650BTNC headphones support Siri on Apple devices, Google Assistant on Android, plus Alexa. There are touch-sensitive controls worked into the earcup. If you download the ‘JBL Headphones’ app on your phone, you can adjust the sound and tinker with bass levels and tone.
Although these are wireless headphones, you also get a detachable 3.5mm cable bundled in the box. If the headphones run out of charge, you can use a wired connection to continue listening to your music. But note that you need some charge in the wireless headphones to experience the noise-cancelling feature.
Are these headphones the perfect companion on a busy day working from home? Read our full JBL Live 650BTNC review.
Revealed: the most popular cheap headphones under £50
Of course, you might not like the idea of spending big on a pair of headphones if you’re not using them very often.
We’ve crunched the numbers and picked out the most popular cheap headphones that we’ve tested, based on visits to our expert reviews since the start of the year.
But popular doesn’t always mean high-scoring, so consult our full reviews to see if these headphones under £50 deserve your attention and money.
- Sony MDR-XB50AP (£22) – wired, in-ear headphones that have an in-line mic so you can take calls on the move. They weigh in at just 19g and come with a carry pouch.
- Skullcandy Sesh (£30) – truly wireless, in-ear headphones with single-button control on both earbuds. These headphones are IP55 rated, which means they’ll be protected if you get caught in the rain on your lunch break.
- Sennheiser HD 300 (£45) – lightweight, wired headphones with a closed design to help prevent sound leaking to your surroundings. Although Sennheiser markets them as over-ear headphones, we think they’re small enough to be considered on-ear headphones.
How to stay productive while working from home
Even if you’re equipped with the perfect set of headphones, there are still other changes you can make to upgrade your working environment.
Add a smart speaker or smart display to your setup
By adding a voice-activated smart speaker to your working space, you can manage your schedule using voice commands.
We’ve tested speakers that allow you to set reminders, create calendar events and run web searches without having to open up your laptop. If you opt for a smart speaker with a screen, you can check the weather, watch videos and control your other internet-enabled products with a tap.
Browse through our wireless, smart and Bluetooth speaker reviews and see what you can get for your budget.
Consider investing in a second computer monitor
Buying a second monitor is a great idea if you find yourself juggling lots of different tabs at once. For example, you could have one monitor dedicated to your emails, while the other is used as a screen for Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Word.
If you’re working with a budget of around £100, we expect you’ll end up shopping for 21-22 inch monitors. At the £150 mark, you’ll find plenty of 27-inch monitors. When settling on screen size, consider the size of your desk and what you’ll use the second monitor for.
We’ve recently fully lab tested a selection of computer monitors to find out which models boast vivid colour and are a breeze to use.
See our expert pick of the best computer monitors 2021.
Make sure you have a suitable home office desk and chair
The more comfortable you are, the easier you’ll find it to concentrate on your work. Using a desk and chair setup that promotes good posture is a sound idea.
Many home office chairs are designed with ergonomics in mind. Kneeling chairs, for example, position your body so that your knees are below your waist – this should feel like a more natural sitting position when compared with a regular desk chair. When picking a desk, consider its height, as well as storage space and how easy it is to move around.
Retailer prices correct as of 16 August 2021.