Working from home, you get to avoid all of the noise that accompanies an office environment, including those untimely interruptions by colleagues stopping by to chat. However, a WFH environment presents its own set of challenges, ranging from the sound of your neighbors’ lawnmowers and weed-eaters to household noises and loud family members.
Fortunately, active noise-cancelling (ANC) headphones can block all of those sounds to help you focus on work (or gaming – we won’t judge). And this can lead to enhanced productivity. “With fewer interruptions and distractions, you can work more efficiently and accomplish tasks more quickly,” according to Dr. Sapna Sriram, chiropractor and injury expert at Integra Health in Toronto. “This can improve your overall productivity, making noise-canceling headphones a valuable tool for remote work,” she tells us.
Noise-cancelling headphones provide other benefits as well. “Continuous exposure to loud or distracting noises can lead to stress and fatigue, Sriram says. “Noise-canceling headphones can create a more peaceful work environment, which is essential for maintaining mental well-being.” In addition, she notes that constant exposure to loud noises, even when you’re at home, can have long-term effects on your hearing. “However, noise-cancelling headphones can help to reduce your exposure to harmful noise levels,” she says.
But you want your noise-cancelling headphones to be comfortable — especially if you’ll be wearing them for an extended period of time. In fact, the comfort level is as important as the quality of sound when weighing WFH headphones with ANC features, according to Dr. Allen Conrad at the Montgomery County Chiropractic Center in North Wales, PA. He tells us that it’s important to understand the types of headphones to make an informed decision. “A supra-aural or on-ear type means the headset will lean up against your ear, and with circum-aural or over-ear headphones, the cup of the earphone will cover over your entire ear.”
Sriram notes that headphones with an over-ear design tend to provide better passive noise isolation.” This can complement active noise cancellation for a more immersive and focused work experience,” she explains.
Regardless of your preference, these are some of the features to keep in mind:
If your head is larger than the average person’s noggin, Conrad recommends selecting a pair of noise-cancelling WFH headphones with telescoping extendable arms. “Trying to squeeze into a pair that’s too tight can put additional pressure on the temporalis muscles, which can, in time, lead to tension headaches — but expandable arms can help prevent this,” he explains.
Sriram agrees, adding that an adjustable headband ensures a secure and comfortable fit, and prevents discomfort or pressure points on the head.
“Lightweight headphones are less likely to cause discomfort or strain during long working hours,” Sriram says. This is particularly important if you tend to sit at a computer for longer than 8 to 10 hours. “It may not seem like much at first, but these headsets are designed for the band to go over the top of your head, and all of that weighs down on your neck and spine,” Conrad explains.
He recommends a smaller, more lightweight set of noise-cancelling headphones for smaller people, or those with a history of migraine headaches and neck pain. “As a general rule, over-ear headphones tend to put less pressure on the head and ears when compared to on-ear types,” Conrad says. This is a vital aspect to consider if you’re going to be wearing the headphones for an extended period of time.
“While specific headphone models may vary, some well-known brands that focus on ergonomic designs include Bose, Sennheiser, and Sony,” Sriram says. However, since individual comfort preferences can vary, she recommends trying on headphones if possible.
Quality is another factor to consider when choosing noise-cancelling headphones. “Most headphones that have a leather surface covering your ears are very comfortable and tend to be the more popular choice when considering high-end WFH headphones designed to reduce noise,” Conrad says. While leather feels good and provides a relaxing experience, he says it will also affect the price. “And leather can tend to crack and break down over time, although there are leather conditioners available that can help prevent this,” Conrad says.
Many companies also sell replacement earcups ranging from $10 to $20.Whether you choose leather or not, Sriram says the quality of the headphone’s earcups is definitely a factor that should be considered. “Noise-cancelling headphones with well-padded earcups provide comfort during extended wear,” she says. “Memory foam or plush cushions can make a significant difference.”
Connectivity And Intuitive Controls
A secure wireless connection and controls that make sense are other features to weigh. Most of the best noise cancelling headphones can be used wirelessly, but they also include a 3.5mm analog cable for wired use.
And some headphones use multipoint technology to simultaneously connect to two devices. For example, if you’re listening to music or watching a video, the headphones will pause what’s playing so you can answer a phone call, and then resume when the call is finished.
The positioning of controls on the headphone can make the noise cancelling headphones a joy to use or a frustrating experience. “Easy-to-reach and use controls can reduce the need to make awkward movements while adjusting settings during work,” Sriram says. However, what’s comfortable for one person may be inconvenient for another one, so pay attention to the type and positioning of the controls to see what works best for you.
Adjustable Noise Cancellation
Although you may be buying noise cancellation headphones to block out noise, there are times when you may want to hear some of those background sounds. Some noise-cancelling headphones have a transparency mode when you want to be aware of your surroundings. Other headphones have a range of levels to choose from.
These are some of the noise-cancelling headphones that can help to improve your WFH experience:
Bose QuietComfort 45 Headphones
As you might have been able to deduce from its name, the lightweight Bose QuietComfort 45 Headphones can be worn all day without being cumbersome. The plush, protein leather cushions are not only comfortable, but also durable — and they have acoustical properties as well. With a quiet mode and an aware mode, you can choose to completely block noise or allow ambient sounds — or you can use the custom mode (in the Bose Music app) to blend the two modes. Battery life is up to 24 hours, and the EQ is adjustable. Color choices include Black, Moonstone Blue, White Smoke, and Cypress Green.
Master & Dynamic MW75 Headphones
It’s easy to fall in love with the sleek design of the Master & Dynamic MW75 Headphones, which are made of anodized aluminum, tempered glass, and lambskin leather on the headband and ear pads. The memory foam ear pads are also replaceable. The headphones feature 3 ANC modes: adaptive, max, or all-day ANC. Battery life is up to 32 hours (28 with ANC enabled), and multipoint connection allows you to switch between two devices. The headphones are also compatible with voice assistants. Some of the many color choices include Silver Metal/Brown Leather, Silver Metal/Black Leather, Gunmetal/Navy Leather, and Silver Metal/Grey Leather.
Soundcore Space Q45 Headphones
For a comfortable ANC option that won’t break the bank, consider the Soundcore Space Q45 Headphones. The aluminum alloy hinges are easy to slide, and the cushy earcups are made of skin-friendly materials. The adaptive noise cancelling automatically adjusts to the best noise reduction choice, but using the Soundcore app, there’s also a custom noise cancelling feature with five levels to choose from. The app also lets you adjust the EQ, and change other settings. Battery life on the multipoint headphones is an impressive 65 hours with ANC off, and 50 hours with it on. Color choices are Blue, Black, and White.
Edifier WH950NB Headphones
For an extra-cushy, pillowy-soft feeling, the Edifier WH950NB Headphones are made of soft protein leather and memory foam ear pads. They feature active noise cancellation and also ambient sound aware modes – as well as a wind reduction option (which is useful when you’re outside). The headphones also have music mode, gaming mode, and theatre mode settings for the ideal audio, depending on your activity. Using the Edifier Connect app, you can enable the safe volume setting to ensure the headphones never exceed 85dB (the recommended safe limit). The heads have a dual-device connection and a battery life of 55 hours, 34 with ANC on. Color choices are Black, and White.
Bowers & Wilkins Px8 Headphones
With lightweight cast aluminum arms, Nappa leather trim, memory foam earpads, and diamond-cut metal detailing, these stylish Bowers & Wilkins Px8 Headphones deliver good looks, along with immersive sound, and comfort. Adjustable noise cancellation can be switched between ANC modes. The app provides more functionality, allowing you to adjust EQ settings, enable voice control, and more. The headphones have a 30-hour battery life, and color choices are Black, Royal Burgundy, and Tan.
Beats Studio Pro Headphones
The Beats Studio Pro Headphones are popular for a reason. The stylish materials include engineered leather cushions and metal sliders for comfortable listening, and the headphones have an ANC mode and a transparency mode. When using USB-C audio, there’s the option to select between three sound profiles: the Signature profile for music, the Entertainment profile for movies and games, and the Conversation profile for phone calls. Battery life is 40 hours, and there’s also a “Find My” feature in case you lose the headphones. Color choices include Deep Brown, Navy, Black, and Sandstone.
Focal Bathys Headphones
Magnesium, leather, and aluminum combine to make the Focal Bathys Headphones a work of art. Also, the grilles on the earcup have a white backlight system (which can be turned off, if you prefer). The headphones have 3 ANC modes: transparent, soft, and silent, and the headphones are also compatible with voice assistants. Battery life is 30 hours on the lightweight headphones, which can be used with the Focal & Naim app to set preferences and change settings. Color choices include Black/Gray, and Dune.
Sennheiser Accentum Headphones
If you tend to forget to charge headphones, the Sennheiser Accentum Headphones provide a whopping 50-hour battery playtime on a single charge. With both ANC and transparency modes, the lightweight headphones — which have cushioned earcups and a silicone-lined headband — let you hear outside noise when you need to. There’s also a smart control app that lets you choose from podcast mode or bass boost, and provides other customizable features. At the time of publication, the headphones were only available in black.
Sony WH-1000XM5 Headphones
The soft fit leather and memory foam earcups on the lightweight Sony WH-1000XM5 Headphones make them quite a comfortable choice for blocking noise when you’re working from home. The auto noise control optimizers automatically select the best mode based on the conditions in your environment. The headphones also feature multipoint connectivity, are compatible with voice assistants, and have a 30-hour battery life. Color choices are Midnight Blue, Black, and Silver.
Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 Headphones
If you’re not a fan of leather, the Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 Headphones are made with anodized aluminum and a premium faux leather headband and (replaceable) earcups. The adjustable digital hybrid active noise cancellation lets you select the preferred level of noise cancellation in the ShurePlus Play app. Also, the headphones have a music mode, cinema mode, and podcast mode for a more customized listening experience. Battery life is up to 45 hours, and black is currently the only color choice.