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As the exasperated phrases “can you hear me?” and “is your mic on?” echo throughout this new ‘WFH’ regime, having a headset – or ‘on-ear headphones’ – with an attached microphone has pretty much become an everyday necessity.
- READ MORE: The best noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones
- READ MORE: The best wireless gaming headsets to give you a competitive edge
Thankfully, such headsets have gained many valuable features in recent years. Many now have noise-cancellation, the ability to switch between devices in a flash, and features to isolate your voice for when it’s your time to speak in those weekly Zoom calls. And many don’t even have protruding microphones, keeping things sleek and presentable.
So where do you start? We’ve picked five models that’ll do the job for video conferencing and other online meetings.
What to look for in a headset for online meetings
Microphone quality: This is the main factor to consider when choosing a headset for work – it needs to have a great microphone so anyone on a conference call can hear you clearly. These are either built into the headset itself or as something that slides out to position itself near your lips.
Sound: Unlike the mic, the sound quality of the cans doesn’t matter as much – you’re not looking to gain a competitive edge over your Call Of Duty opponents with the headset. Still, the unit needs to be able to reproduce clear sound and it should have a great bass response, too.
Noise-cancellation: Focus is the name of the game when at work, which is where noise-cancellation can turn your headset into a haven. There are varying levels of noise-cancellation, with some in this guide offering up to 15 levels, depending on just how loud your surroundings are.
Design: Keep things professional with dark colours and non-visible logos – this is, after all, for work and not play. So you’ll want to avoid gaming headsets with all their RGB bling and loud branding.
The best headsets with microphones for work in 2021
You just can’t escape Sony’s WH-1000XM4. These wireless cans are everywhere, wrapping around the ears of commuters, audiophiles at home, office workers and everything in between. And for good reason – these sleek headphones are widely regarded as the best all-round model.
The WH-1000XM4 boasts best-in-class noise-cancellation, which automatically monitors your surroundings to adjust the level of the feature. We also like that the Bluetooth headset can pair with two devices simultaneously, ideal if you use both a laptop and tablet for work, for instance. The 20-hour battery life is another major win here.
Then there’s the sound quality. The speakers provide great thump and clarity, while the five in-built microphones – all of which are hidden within the enclosure – will ensure your voice gets picked up.
One nice touch we like is how the headset can automatically detect when you’ve taken it off and pause whatever you had playing. The controls are also touch-sensitive on the right cup, so you can swipe left and right to skip a track for example, or swipe up and down to control volume.
SteelSeries Arctis 7 Wireless
SteelSeries has built a solid reputation for creating affordable headsets that, while designed for gamers, also have features that appeal to the work-from-home crowd.
The Arctis 7 Wireless is one of those. Its sleek all-black design – no RGB lighting or loud logos – gives it a professional sheen, while a retractable microphone can be pulled out, twisted and adjusted to fit any head size. The controls are also easy to reach: the volume control and aux access are conveniently placed on the left cup. Plus, the AirWeave ear cups and plush fabric-lined steel headband ensure comfort and durability.
What we don’t particularly like about the Arctis 7 Wireless is in the name. While SteelSeries touts them as wireless headphones, they require a dongle to be connected to your transmitting device. Sure, this may secure your connection and reduce latency, but it’s a hindrance that would only be worth it for serious gamers.
Anker Soundcore Life Q20
Anker strikes again with a pair of unbelievably priced wireless noise-cancelling headphones – they’re only $/£49.99, the cheapest on this list. If you’re on a shoestring and need a pair for work, they’re the prized choice.
Anker is very well known for surprising people with its quality, especially for its powerbank products, and the SoundCore Life is no different. The brand has applied the same design philosophies here: straight to the point in its sturdy but admittedly plasticky design, but with an impressive 40-hour battery life, which we really like, especially if a meeting on Slack overruns.
The sound quality is also surprisingly good, with great clarity, good treble and great bass in the different audio tracks that were tested. The four hidden microphones found around the headset also captured the voice very well, especially in a noisy kitchen.
Bose Smart Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
Bose and Sony are constantly battling it out for the throne of best wireless headphones, and, honestly, we’re calling it even. While the Bose Smart Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 is the brand’s answer to Sony’s aforementioned WH-1000XM4, there are a few major differences that set them apart.
The first, most noticeable one, is the design. Bose prefers sleek minimalism – which, ironically, makes its models more eye-catching – to Sony’s utilitarian aesthetics. Do you really want your co-workers on video call to know you’ve splashed out over $300 on a pair of headphones? With the Bose, they’ll know – the 700 just looks fancy. On the plus side, the Bose is more comfortable than Sony on the head.
Under the hood, the Bose features 11 levels of noise reduction – in our opinion, Sony just pips Bose in this department – as well as Alexa and Google Assistant baked in. The Bose 700 also has an aux-in port alongside USB-C charging, so you can plug these into any PC or laptop when needed. It has a battery life of up to 20 hours in any case.
At $379/£269.99, this pair certainly represents a considerable investment. However Bose is a proven brand for its sound and design quality, and if you’ll be constantly using these for work, play and when you’re on the move, they’d be worth it.
Surface 2 Headphones
In the year 2000, if you had told someone that Microsoft would be releasing its own line of headphones, they’d laugh at you. How times have changed.
Microsoft has since taken the Surface name from its tablets to other devices, such as headsets. The Surface 2 Headphones are a high-quality pair, featuring 13 levels of noise reduction, a long-lasting 20-hour battery life and easy-to-reach touch controls.
The ’phones feel firm and comfortable, an ideal combination if you’re planning to use them from 9 to 5, five days a week. Similar to Sony’s WH-1000XM4, they also pause whatever you were playing when you take the Surface 2 Headphones off.