Finding the right pair of headphones for making calls or video conferencing is essential in 2022’s brave new world.
While the world commenced its challenge to readjust in the face of a global pandemic, the first step for many office-bound workers was to make the necessary transition to working from home. At first, it was a novelty. Rolling out of bed and into the shower before presenting at whatever part of the house constituted a workspace/office made a welcome change from being shoehorned into a rush-hour train carriage.
However, with soaring productivity and happier employees, once the mandatory rules were relaxed, the temporary switch to working from home became more permanent for many workers. All the tools to work effectively in a remote environment were easily accessible, and video conferencing beamed the meeting room straight into our homes.
Communication is the vital component in the working from home operation, and key to that is a decent set of headphones. Our headphone buying decisions are primarily centred around securing the best sounding pair for music that our budget will allow – the call component is just part of the package.
But if you’re a frequent user of headphones, you’ll know that call quality can vary depending on what you use.
There’s nothing more frustrating than conducting a conversation with someone who keeps cutting in and out at the other end. So, what should you look for when you’re shopping for a pair of headphones for video conferencing and calls?
An important factor is the fit of the headphones. Unlike a pair suited for exercise, you don’t want them to be too tight and restrictive if you’re going to wear them for most of the day. Earpads should be soft but also breathable – an essential factor in the summer months. Headband padding is also a consideration – too little support can lead to discomfort. And finally, weight. This is a no-brainer – the lighter the headphones, the more comfortable they will be over a prolonged period.
Wired or wireless
Wired or not wired, that is the question. This is a personal choice, of course, but it’s wireless all day long for us. There’s nothing quite like discussing an upcoming project on the phone while secretly unloading the dishwasher or pegging out the washing without missing a beat. Simple to connect to a phone or computer via Bluetooth, a wireless pair of headphones offers complete freedom, no tangled wires, and you won’t rip them off your head in a frantic dash to get to the door when a courier knocks. However, wireless comes at a higher cost. If you’re a light user, a wired pair may well be the answer.
If you opt for a wireless pair, it’s worth researching the battery life. A flat battery can mean the mic, touch controls, and the active noise cancellation will not work. If your working day/night involves lengthy video conferencing or phone calls, shoot for a battery life that will stay the distance.
Snuggled into the design of the headphones is an integrated mic. Even in premium models, these can vary in quality, but you want a mic that will represent your voice loud and clear without any interference. Easily accessible controls on modern headphones make answering calls as simple as pressing a button or touching the outer shell of an earcup. And headphones with Bluetooth 5.0 will allow the user to wander up to 40m from the source if you like to pace around when on a call.
Stop the noise
Noise cancellation does what it says on the tin. Ambient noise is reduced using filtering technology in the headphones. This is an excellent feature for when you need to concentrate and communicate in a space where environmental noise can be an issue (think builders, children, pets, etc.). They do come at a cost, although from our experience, the investment is undoubtedly worth it.
Well, without getting too technical, tiny microphones inside the earcups analyse the external noise frequencies – ambient noise – and replicate the exact opposite signal. So when the soundwaves meet, both frequencies are cancelled out. It’s far more complex than that, of course, and a lot of neat tech is deployed for this to happen, but that’s the basics in a very simplified nutshell.
Will standard headphones suffice, or do I need a purpose-designed pair?
It depends on several factors – the first being the ol’ kill two birds with one stone scenario. If you’re in the market for a new set of headphones, it pays (literally) to look for a pair with excellent call quality. That way, you’re covering both bases – good playback audio and a pair you can use in the workplace. Opting for a purpose-designed, working from home headset with a flip microphone is an obvious choice if music isn’t a focus. Here, all the technology is focused primarily on call quality, so you can’t go wrong and you’ll save a heap of dough in the process.
Whether you’re looking for a top-shelf audio solution with WFH capabilities or a headset crafted for the job at hand, we’ve got you covered with the following suggestions.
Bose QuietComfort 45
“Like wearing marshmallows” was how these were described when we originally reviewed them. Next level comfort means you can wear the 45s for hours without suffering fatigue. They feature superb active noise cancelling (ANC) functionality, and you can pair them between multiple devices, so transitioning between listening to Abbey Road on a smartphone to an unexpected Zoom call is seamless.
• Battery life: 24 hours • Charging: USB-C • ANC: Yes • Bluetooth: 5.1
Sony WH1000 XM4
Comfortable to wear and light in hand, this stunning set of headphones is exceptional at handling low frequencies, making them an ideal companion for video conferencing and calls. The ANC on the XM4s is top shelf and the headphones are perfectly suited for the working from home environment.
• Battery life: 30 hours • Charging: USB-C • ANC: Yes • Bluetooth: 5.0
The perfect all-rounder delivers triple-A performance for audio and voice calls with 11 levels of noise cancellation on hand. These stylish headphones are durable and will take a lot of punishment, including when the kids get hold of them. Light and comfortable, the 700s are a solid pair of working from home headphones and an impressive pair for music.
• Battery life: 20 hours • Charging: USB-C • ANC: Yes • Bluetooth: 5.0
The plush synthetic padding on the earcups and headbands of the PXC550-IIs makes sitting on long video and phone calls a breeze. They feature voice control at a touch of a button, and the call quality is first-rate. And should you need to head into the office, they fold up concisely for easy transportation in a bag.
• Battery life: 30 hours • Charging: USB-C • ANC: Yes Bluetooth: 5.0
Light in weight and price, the FreeWFH over-ear headset can be used on your desktop or a smartphone. The mic is perfect for voice and video calls, but if you want to listen to some music while you’re working the spreadsheets, it’s fully detachable.
• Battery life: Wired Charging: Wired – 3.5mm • Bluetooth: No
From a name in audio you can trust, the ATH-102USB is designed specifically for working from home. Suitable for prolonged use, the headset has a designated slider for volume and mic on/off. A solid performer across the board at an excellent price.
• Battery life: Wired Charging: Wired – USB-A and USB-C adaptor • Bluetooth: No
JLab Go Work
Versatility is the key here. This on-ear unit can be used as a Bluetooth headset or wired, which is a great option given the price tag. Offering good voice quality, it also features a multi-device function to switch from a phone call to a video call with ease.
• Battery life: 45 hours Charging: USB-C • Bluetooth: 5.0
Jabra Connect 4H
Comfortable and light for long days at the desk, this plug-in and go headset delivers a fuss-free working from home solution, offering great call quality with two in-built microphones.
• Battery life: Wired Charging: Wired – USB-C • Bluetooth: No