Let’s face it: conference calls are rarely ever smooth. Best-case scenario, you only say, “what” a few times, worst-case scenario, you’re left feeling like you spent an hour of your day parodying an old Verizon commercial. Seeing how many of us are forced to stay in for the foreseeable future, telecommuting is becoming even more prevalent. We’ve put together a list of the best headphones for conference calls to make work a little less frustrating.
Editor’s note: this list of the best Bluetooth headphones for conference calls was updated on March 22, 2021, to address an FAQ about microphones rejecting ambient noise.
The best headphones for conference calls are the Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony’s flagship noise cancelling headphones receive plenty of praise, all of which is well deserved. These are one of the best all-around headphones you can buy and have a great microphone system for hands-free calls. Sure, the headset is pricey but is a smart investment for anyone beholden to telecommuting in these odd times.
Sony WH-1000XM4Full Review
The microphone on the WH-1000XM4 is rather similar to its predecessor, meaning nearly all vocal registers will sound equally loud and accurate. There is a slight drop off in the lower frequencies, around 150-200Hz, meaning that people with deeper voices may not come through calls with the utmost in clarity. However, it shouldn’t be a deal breaker as the microphone will be more than enough for a Zoom call—regardless of your vocal pitch.
Microphone quality aside, these are great headphones: they support a slew of high-quality Bluetooth codecs such as AAC and Sony’s proprietary LDAC. No matter what device you’re streaming from, you’re guaranteed to enjoy optimal sound quality from these wireless cans. If you want to kick it old school and plug in via the 3.5mm cable, you can do so for high-resolution audio. This is great for anyone who wants to enjoy lossless FLAC files from Amazon Music HD or Tidal.
Sony WH-1000xM4 microphone demo:
Noise cancelling is the best in the business. The WH-1000XM4 is reliable and combats external noise more effectively than the WH-1000XM3 . Even if you’re just a casual commuter, the headphones attenuate subway hums and chatter well too. The sound signature of these cans are tuned with a flatter frequency response than its predecessor, meaning you won’t get that slight emphasis in the low-end—as common amongst consumer headphones. If you’d rather have a little more oomph to your kick drums, you could always boost the bass via the EQ controls in the Sony Headphones Connect App.
There are few drawbacks to getting the Sony WH-1000XM4, such as the lack of aptX support, though we reckon they’re the best headphones for conference calls due to their solid vocal reproduction, comfort, and active noise cancellation.
What you should know about Bluetooth headphones
What makes a good headset microphone?
The obvious answer is a headset with a dedicated boom mic like the Plantronics Voyager Focus UC or the V-Moda Crossfade 2 Wireless Codex with its proprietary BoomPro attachment. The main benefit to having an external microphone is that it more effectively mitigates the proximity effect. This way, your voice won’t be unevenly amplified across the frequency spectrum. When irregular emphasis does occur, your voice sounds unnatural and could be considered “echoed” or “distant.”
If you opt for one of the more versatile headsets without an integrated boom mic, the quality will still be good but there are some things to be aware of: clothing may rub against the microphones and transmit an irritating crinkle sound to the person on the other end of a call. An easy way to fix this is to forgo your style inclinations and un-popping your collar. It’s also good practice to be aware of hoods that could do the same thing.
V-Moda BoomPro microphone demo:
What’s more, make sure you’re placing the left ear cup on your left ear and the right cup on your right. It sounds silly but if you’re in a rush, there’s a good chance for you to accidentally flip the directions here. Wearing the headphones incorrectly can have a huge negative impact on microphone quality, since the mics operate under the assumption that users wear them the right way.
Even the best headset mics won’t blow you away
Headsets rarely have passable microphone, making every listed pair of headphones for conference calls an exception to the rule. Even though there are some great options highlighted, the fact remains that microphone quality won’t compare to a dedicated XLR or even USB mic.
There are a few things we prioritized when picking out headphones for conference calls. Although background attenuation is important, and all picks perform above average in this regard, it’s second to raw microphone quality. Yes, reducing external noise by way of an advanced system is great but if the actual microphone still isn’t up to snuff, it doesn’t matter how well tertiary mics cancel ambient noise.
What’s more, amplification doesn’t always mean better sound quality. There are plenty of headset mic that use loudness as a crutch at the expense of clarity. We made sure to avoid adding those products to the list of the best headphones for conference calls.
These picks are headphones first, conference call tools second
Although we do have one specific set of professional headphones listed, the fact remains that most of us are looking for a versatile pair of headphones for conference calls, something that does it all well. That’s why most of our top picks are consumer headphones with top-notch mic systems built-in. If you’re looking for more professional, office-oriented headsets, we have some great options in the notable mentions section.
You may not expect a gaming headset to be a great option for conference calls, but the fact that most models include external microphones makes them ideal candidates for calls. The downside is sometimes, the microphones aren’t removable or the headsets have a specific aesthetic that won’t please most users. However, if you just want good microphone quality in your headphones, a cheap gaming headset will be a good bang for your buck.
To optimize audio quality, get a proper fit
To get the best sound quality during your call, you need to find a proper fit. When external noise permeates your headphones’ barrier, auditory masking occurs. This can result in poor audio clarity and make it difficult to perceive detail from your music or during a call.
When using over-ear headphones, finding a proper fit requires that your ears fit within the ear cups. On-ear headphones are a different story: you want the ear cups to lay flat against your outer ear. This positioning will lessen any chance of background noise masking your music. Bespectacled workers may need to invest in third-party ear pads. SoundGuys recommends velour material as it’s forgiving and still wraps nicely around eyewear arms.
Avoid noise-induced hearing loss
Plenty of people experience what the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) classifies as a normal degree of hearing loss. This happens with exposure to loud sounds over time and age. There are also more specific variants of hearing loss (e.g. sensorineural and conductive hearing loss) that are preventable. With regards to headsets, the easiest way to prevent auditory damage is by keeping volume levels below a dangerous output. It’s unlikely that you’ll crank up the volume to dangerous levels during a conference call, but you may be tempted to do so when listening to music. We encourage you to avoid this and either invest in one of the noise cancelling options or go to great lengths to find a proper fit.
Get the Bose SoundLink On-Ear Wireless for a portable solution
On-ear headphones are rarely recommended here because they usually aren’t as comfortable and don’t fit as well as their over-ear counterparts. The Bose On-Ear SoundLink Wireless is an exception to this rule: these headphones are uniquely lightweight and evenly distribute pressure across the head.
Bose SoundLink On-Ear WirelessFull Review
Bose has made a name for itself over the years and it surfaced to the top of the audio brand pile as one of the most reliable, high-quality consumer companies around. The physical buttons are laid out logically and the multifunction button is an easy way to access your virtual assistant be it Google or Siri.
These headphones are great for conference calls because they support multipoint connectivity, so you can connect to two devices simultaneously. If you’re expecting an incoming call, you can keep the SoundLink On-Ear connected to your phone awaiting the call, while you enjoy the YouTube video streaming from your laptop. Microphone quality is excellent as the dual-mic array reduces ambient noise while amplifying the speaker’s voice. This process allows for the clear transmission of vocal frequencies through the headset, and the processing can make volume adjustments on the fly according to your environment and its noise levels.
These headphones let you connect to more than one device at a time.
Sound quality is interesting: the headphones amplify bass notes quite a bit, rendering them 2-4 times louder than midrange frequencies. This is fine for consumer-friendly music but audiophiles won’t be happy. Then again, if you consider yourself an audiophile or general enthusiast, you’re probably looking at other brands like Sennheiser or Audio-Technica instead.
The Shure AONIC 50 has the best noise cancelling
Shure makes some of the best microphones on the market, so it’s no surprise that its AONIC 50 headset has made its way to the best headphones for conference calls. Voices are relayed loudly and clearly, so long as you’re in a relatively quiet environment. Shure even attenuates low-end frequencies through the microphone to actively combat the proximity effect. Unfortunately, this mic fall sshort when outside, but this shouldn’t be an issue for extended conference calls that you’ll take from a home office anyway.
Shure AONIC 50Full Review
Noise cancelling is the best we’ve seen: virtually all sounds, no matter the frequency, are reduced by way of Shure’s ANC technology. This is great news for anyone who’s stuck working remotely or just wants to block out the sound of chatty roommates while trying to study.
Sound quality is excellent, too. Shure amplifies upper-bass notes and low-mids to make vocals stand out from instrumental din. What’s more, you benefit from a host of Bluetooth codec support (aptX, aptX HD, aptX Low Latency, AAC, LDAC), meaning all devices can stream high-quality audio to the headset. This extreme range of support also makes the AONIC 50 a great pick for anyone who streams videos from their laptop. You can even connect to two devices at once thanks to multipoint functionality.
Shure AONIC 50 microphone demo (firmware 0.4.9):
Whether your needs are professional or personal, the Shure AONIC 50 noise cancelling headset is a fabulous pick and well worth the money.
Have an iPhone? Get the AirPods Pro
iPhone users should consider the Apple AirPods Pro for their compact build, H1 chip-integration, and noise cancelling properties. Not to mention, the microphone array is among the best of any true wireless earbuds available.
Apple AirPods ProFull Review
Ever since the nozzle-less AirPods, Apple has impressed us with its mic quality especially when it comes to background noise attenuation. This is the headset to get if you plan to take a lot of calls while outside. Pretty much anyone who uses the AirPods Pro for calls will sound as they do in real life with minimal distortion. You can hear this in Adam’s voice demo below.
Apple AirPods Pro microphone demo:
As far as sound quality goes, the AirPods have a fairly neutral frequency response where it matters from 100Hz-1.5kHz. This is where most instrumental frequencies lie, particularly fundamentals, so most music will sound accurate so long as you’re able to get a proper fit. Apple amplifies most of the treble and upper midrange notes in order to add a greater perceived sense of clarity to your music.
The charging case is compact and compatible with Qi wireless chargers. Whether you’re an iPhone user or Android user, you’ll benefit from the AirPods Pro’s compact size, which is great for people who onebag their way through life. They’re also a great option for travel due to ANC performance. Heck, Apple even throws in a special DSP to optimize noise cancelling if the seal isn’t ideal. Pretty intelligent stuff there, Apple.
Mute your mic with the Microsoft Surface Headphones 2
The Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 focus on form before function, which makes for a handsome headset. The rotating control rings set this headset apart from all others, and is one of the most intuitive user interfaces we’ve tested. These compact headphones are fine for travel, though the hinges don’t fold, and they really shine in an office environment.
Microsoft Surface Headphones 2Full Review
Microsoft is one of few companies to successfully implement Bluetooth multipoint into its headset, and this works wonders. Switching from one device to another takes little effort, and happens whiteout any hiccups. These Bluetooth 5.0 headphones support aptX Bluetooth streaming, but don’t support AAC. iPhone owners are forced to stream over the SBC codec, which is sub-optimal.
Noise cancelling is effective, but not the best we’ve tested. The headset modestly quiets low and midrange frequencies, and it’s enough to make a difference, but daily commuters have far better ANC options. Sound quality is good, with some slight bass emphasis, making these a crowd pleaser among the general audio market. You can always EQ the sound within the Surface Audio app, which is a nice plus.
Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 microphone demo:
Microphone quality is fine, but the Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 made it on our list because Microsoft included a dedicated mic mute button. This is a must-have feature for anyone who spends their days clicking in and out of various Zoom calls.
Related: Microsoft Surface Earbuds review
Generally speaking, conference calls sound bad
No matter what headphones for conference calls you’ve decided to run with, the odds are pretty high that your conference call will still sound bad even if you sound good.
There are plenty of reasons for this poor audio quality and transmission, one of them being a consequence of limited bandwidth: dynamic range compression. This processing reduces loud sounds’ volume levels while increasing quieter ones, effectively stripping the unnecessary frequencies from your voice. This is great for efficiency purposes but can make people, especially those with cheap headsets, sound bad. To get a better idea of issues surrounding telecommuting and how you can improve call quality, read on here.
Headphones for conference calls: Notable mentions
- Anker SoundCore Liberty Air 2: If you don’t want to shell out for the Apple AirPods Pro, these earbuds are the next best option. Microphone quality is good for the price.
- Audio-Technica ATH-M50X BT: If you’re looking for no-nonsense Bluetooth headphones that sound great, last forever, and give you the option of wired listening, get these. Microphone quality isn’t perfect but you won’t find much to complain about especially relative to cheaper headsets like the Anker Soundcore Vortex.
- Beats Powerbeats Pro: These true wireless earphones have an uncommonly good mic array for their product type, but as they’re true wireless earphones—battery life may be a concern if you’re in meetings all day.
- Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: These earbuds are very good all ’rounders with stellar noise cancelling, similar to the Jabra Elite 85t.
- Bose QuietComfort 35 II Gaming Headset: This headset takes the Bose QC 35 II and adds on a boom microphone. Though the package is pricey, if you want the luxury of these headphones for everyday use along with a high-quality detachable boom mic for your calls, it’s worth the price.
- Google Pixel Buds (2020): Google’s answer to Apple’s AirPods is excellent for hands-free calls. The microphones outperform those found on the AirPods (2019) and rivals the array found on the Pro model. If you want hands-free access to Google Assistant in a sleek package, get these ‘buds.
- ICOMTOFIT Bluetooth Headset: If you’re just looking for an affordable ear piece, this little gadget will get the job done. It only goes into one ear, so if you need to remain aware of your surroundings, this is a great option.
- Plantronics Voyager 6200 UC: If you’re looking to cancel out the office air conditioner or the din of your daily commute, the Plantronics Voyager 6200 UC can help. Active noise-cancelling easily combats low-pitched frequencies, and as far as sound quality goes, vocals are pleasantly emphasized.
- Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus: Another pair of true wireless earbuds with a great microphone, these are a great alternative to the AirPods Pro for people with Samsung phones. These earbuds also have great battery life, so you don’t need to worry about them dying in the middle of a long call. For noise cancelling, pick up the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro.
- Sony WH-1000XM3: This headphone is hailed for its active noise cancellation performance, sound quality, comfort, and a good microphone with accurate vocal reproduction. With its successor on the market, keep an eye out for when these cans eventually go on sale.
Why you should trust SoundGuys
We strive to educate our readers on the perpetually evolving world of consumer audio. When approaching any audio product, we acknowledge that assessing it requires a combination of objective testing and subjective reflection: not everyone wants a studio sound and that’s just fine. At the end of the day, we want you to be happy with your purchase if one is made. Although SoundGuys does use referral links, none of our writers may benefit from awarding one product over another.
Frequently Asked Questions
It depends on what you're doing while teaching. If you're going to be sitting at the computer the whole time, you may want to opt for a standalone mic for better audio quality, but you'll probably also want to be wearing headphones so that, when your students speak, it doesn't echo through your microphone. If you're going to be standing and drawing on a whiteboard, having a wireless headset might be a more ergonomic solution. The long and short of it is this: a standalone mic will almost always have better quality than a headset, but a headset is usually more convenient.
For one thing, having a headset improves ergonomics because it frees up your hands and allows you a larger range of movement. Call quality is also better with a headset because you can hear through both ears rather than one, and speakerphone is typically low quality too. Additionally, if your headset has a dedicated boom microphone your colleagues will be able to hear you crystal clear.
Whether a pair of headphones fits you well depends on your particular ear shape, if you wear glasses or have ear piercings, and, of course, the build of the headphones themselves. If you are wearing headphones for many hours at a time, you'll probably want to go with over-ear headphones because they don't squish your ear in any way. Of this list, we recommend the Shure AONIC 50 because of their thick memory foam ear cups and headband adjustability for any head size.