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18 Mar 2021

Headphones with mics reviewed: which are the best for phone and video calls?

We've tested the call quality of more than 100 pairs of wired and wireless headphones with microphones to help you buy the best for more than just music
Headphones with mic

Over the past year, we've all relied on technology to communicate with friends and family that we can't see in person, or for work - and one of the devices that's made that easier has been the humble headphone.

Computer audio isn't always up to scratch, and headphones with a decent microphone can help boost call quality. Even if you're chatting on your mobile, using headphones can help you hear better in noisy environments, or minimise disturbance if someone is working in the same room as you.

But our tests reveal that call quality often seems to be an afterthought, even on some of the big-brand headphones, and even pairs that have exceptional sound quality for music can be remarkably poor when you try taking a call.

Headphone reviews: we've tested the call quality of more than 100 headphones with mics so you know which to buy

Wired vs wireless headphones: which have the best microphones?

Sony WF-1000XM3 active noise cancelling headphones

The vast majority of wired headphones we test have a built-in microphone, usually integrated in a tiny, in-line remote control on the cable, and we've not come across a pair of wireless headphones without a mic.

In our music sound-quality tests, we've found that both wired and wireless sets are exceptional and those that are terrible - it's all about the specific headphones. But does the same hold true of phone call quality, where the quality of the sounds you make are as important as those you hear?

In short, yes. As with music quality, our tests have found that it's the specific headphones that matter for call quality, rather than whether they're wired or not.

That said, it's fair to say that the increasing popularity of wireless headphones means that they get more of a manufacturer's attention (and investment). So if you want extra features, you may be better off with a wireless pair. For example:

  • Some wireless pairs have tech that can improve call quality in real time, such as by filtering out some background noise - this is particularly common on noise-cancelling headphones
  • Certain wireless pairs let you tweak call settings to your preference in their apps as well.

How to buy the best headphones - we explain how to pick a pair that will deliver for sound quality, comfort and much more

Best headphones for calls

Our audio lab tests the call quality of headphones in six different ways, including both inside and outside environments.

In each setting, we hold two-way conversations using the headphones with different levels of background noise: none at all, low levels and a rowdy background mimicked by a recording of the London Underground. We've found that while many headphones can cope with quiet conditions, but as soon as louder noises interfere they start to struggle.

Below, we've highlighted a selection of over-ear, in-ear and truly wireless headphones that we've tested for call quality, ranked by price to reflect different budgets - some of which make bold claims. We've found some diamonds that dazzle for call quality as well as music, as well as sets that disappoint when you try to hold a conversation.

Use the links to click through to our full reviews to find out which ones impressed us - and which ones didn't.

Sennheiser HD 400S, £49

Type Wired, on-ear headphones

Sennheiser HD 400S wired headphones with mic and c

If you're looking for a wired pair of headphones with mic and call controls, perhaps this attractively-priced pair will fit the bill.

Sennheiser says the in-line remote controls on the cable allow you to 'take calls with ease', and also promise their 'durable and compact' design is ideal to be taken anywhere.

Are they as great for conversations as Sennheiser claims? Find out if these are the headphones for you in our Sennheiser HD 400S review.

JBL Live 650BTNC, £100

TypeWireless, over-ear headphones

JBL Live 650BTNC wireless headphones

JBL promotes this pair as an 'award winner' on its website and its very attractively priced for a pair with active noise cancelling.

However, like many headphones, its marketing focuses on music rather than taking calls. So is the hands-free call function great, or an afterthought?

Our experts have the answer in our JBL Live 650BTNC review.

Sony WF-1000XM3, £165

TypeTruly wireless earbuds

Sony WF-1000XM3 wireless headphones

The WF-1000XM3 headphones have been a major hit for Sony and are seen as one of the main rivals to the Apple AirPods.

They feature active noise cancelling for a lower price than the Apple AirPods Pro, full compatibility with Android as well as Apple, and a whole host of extra settings to choose from in the well-featured Sony Headphones Connect app.

Sony promises 'easy hands-free calling', including 'hearing calls clearly in noisy environments'.

This sounds good, but do they deliver? We reveal all in our Sony WF-1000XM3 review.

Apple AirPods Pro, £189

TypeTruly wireless earbuds

Apple says the mesh microphone ports (the black parts on the sides of the earpieces) on its AirPods Pro headphones improve call clarity in windy locations.

By pressing your finger against the stems of the earpieces, you also have access to headphone controls that let you manage phone calls from your Apple devices.

So can they really tackle blustery phone calls, or is the focus more on music sound quality? Find out in our Apple AirPods Pro review.

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, £249

TypeWireless, over-ear headphones

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 active noise

Bose has traditionally been a popular brand with commuters, so you'd hope that the call quality is up to scratch. This is its current flagship pair, with active noise cancelling and a more modern design with touch controls on the earcups.

These active noise-cancelling headphones are certainly not cheap, though - and there are plenty of rivals, many of which are cheaper.

See if these really are one of the best for taking calls and more in our comprehensive Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review.

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, £249

TypeTruly wireless earbuds

Bose reckons that its noise-cancelling QuietComfort Earbuds are as good for calls as they are for music, stating that 'you won't get a more compelling listening experience' for calls from any other truly wireless headphones. A bold claim.

Find out whether the proof is in the pudding in our Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review.

Sony WH-1000XM4, £295

TypeWireless, over-ear headphones

Sony seems to have got its headphone mojo back in recent years and become a major rival to high-end headphone brands such as Bose and Sennheiser.

The Sony WH-1000XM3s got many talking by claiming 'industry-leading' active noise cancelling, and the XM4s are their successor (both pairs are still widely available).

The XM4s include an array of tech specifically designed for taking calls, including five built-in microphones that Sony claims deliver 'clearer voice quality to the other person on the phone'.

Could these be the ideal headphones for calls? Find out in our Sony WH-1000XM4 review.