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The best headphones for remote learning

The best headphones for remote learning
  • A well-suited pair of headphones or earbuds may be a key back-to-school item going forward each from now on. These picks help match different needs with great options.
  • Wireless headphones are great for movement and flexibility, but make sure kids or parents are up to the task of keeping them charged regularly.
  • While the Sony WH1000XM4 are an expensive investment, they are among the most comfortable and feature-rich ones available and could serve your educational needs for years to come.
  • Most headphones should work for young kids, but having some that limit volume could come in handy.

A new necessity of back-to-school time is suitable headphones. Students of all ages will be doing a lot more video calls and online distance learning, so a solid pair of headphones, earbuds, or audio headset is a must.

We separated these options out into different categories largely based on price. The lower cost options will come in handy for those on a budget or in need of a temporary solution, while the more premium and higher cost models will provide longer value and potentially more uses across several areas of life.

Most younger kids should still be able to take advantage of the lower cost options now and grow into them over the coming years. For the youngest kids in elementary grades, we did highlight an option which limits noise levels and fits smaller head sizes of the littlest learners.

A major item of consideration was connectivity. Most modern devices including phones, tablets, laptops, and chromebooks all support wireless connectivity for both hearing and speaking. In this case, a lot of these choices prioritized wireless connectivity in the interest of movement and flexibility, but an eye was also kept on corded use as well for situations where it is just easier to plug in a cord than fiddle with Bluetooth. (If your device does not have Bluetooth support, there are adapters to connect wired headphones wirelessly.)

I have reviewed headphones, speakers, and audio gear of all kinds for the last seven years for a wide range of publications. While it's tough to narrow the options down to just a few, I tried to select great picks from a variety of brands and at different price points — each with a built-in microphone for all types of students and remote learners.

Here are the best remote learning headphones based on our research and testing

Low-cost headphones for remote learning

Low-cost headphones for remote learning
Best Buy
The Sony WH-CH510 headphones should delight all listeners, but especially those looking to keep a rein on how much they're spending this new school year.

Sony's price-conscious WH-CH510 headphones offer an over-the-ear option which should benefit people who will be participating in more than a few consecutive hours of remote learning each day.

Sony headphones have long been known for providing comfortable ear padding in a lightweight formfactor, and reviews on TechRadar and RTing indicate this to be true here as well. There isn't padding along the top that rests on your head, it's just plastic, but a light build frame should keep it lightweight enough so it doesn't dig into the top of the head.

An important aspect of headphones will be its microphone since video calls and group learning will be critical online. These headphones come with a noise-canceling mic and ambient mode so extra sounds are blocked when speaking and so you can hear yourself speak normally, rather than muffled.

Sound quality will be decent for music, but if these are primarily for back-to-school, rather than only music listening, there should be no concerns in audio quality. There will be less bass than pricier Sony options, but respectable nevertheless.

Battery life is rated at 32 hours, which should easily last a week or more of school use. If you do forget to charge them regularly, these headphones support fast charging, so a few minutes of charging will provide more than an hour of usable time. These also include USB-C for charging connectivity, so the same cable used for a Nintendo Switch, MacBook, or iPad Pro will be compatible.

What's even better is the price: the CH510 should retail for under $50 and have been known to go on sale for even cheaper than that.

Pros: Long battery life, light-weight, noise-canceling microphone

Cons: No headband padding, music sound isn't amazing

Low-cost earbuds for remote learning

Low-cost earbuds for remote learning
Earbuds aren't for everyone, but these from Anker, the Soundcore Life P2 wireless buds, will be a smart solution for anyone who does want to go the over-ear route.

If in-ear earbuds work better for your ears, or you want something much smaller that doesn't have to sit on top of your head, Anker's Soundcore Life P2 wireless earbuds can do the trick.

Anker has designed wireless earbuds that match the styling of Apple's AirPods but at a fraction of the cost. These earbuds retail for around $50, but you can almost always find some kind of deal on Anker products happening to bring that price even lower.

Previously known for its chargers and cables, Anker's entry into the audio space with speakers and headphones has been met with happy customers. In just a short time it has produced a wide range of audio products with an abundance of positive reviews, including those from CNET and Trusted Reviews so we are confident in the Soundcore Life P2's ability to assist in remote back-to-school learning.

As for its features, these low-cost, wireless earbuds, should do well in home schools. First, they have multiple microphones for voice-enhancement and background noise suppression. Second, the earbuds get 40 hours of battery life with their included case. The earbuds can also fast-charge to get more than an hour of life with 10 minutes of charging.

Other welcome benefits include aptX lossless audio transmission for supported devices, as well as IPX waterproof rating for using them out of the house. These should hold up fine in the rain or while exercising.

Comfort will be hit or miss for people depending on their ear size and shape, but these do come with multiple sized silicon tips like most other earbuds do. This will help create a close seal and make the sound as audible as possible.

Pros: Low cost, flexible for many uses, long battery life

Cons: Pairing process not as convenient as AirPods, comfort may be hit or miss

Premium headphones for remote learning

Premium headphones for remote learning
People using back-to-school remote learning as an excuse to get great new headphones, the Sony 1000MX4 are the best of the best.

For those looking for the best work-and-learn-from-home headphones, turn your eyes to the Sony WH1000XM4. These headphones are the successor to the much beloved WH1000MX3, which were routinely pitted against competitors in the active noise-canceling space and come out on top. The 1000MX4 is equal in this regard.

There simply isn't better audio technology at the moment than that in these headphones. If you want quiet and peace from miscellaneous noise, these will do that. (Though, if you can find an amazing deal on the last generation XM3, they are a worthy option.)

These headphones have all the high-end features you would hope for with a retail price above $300. First, they sound amazing on the high and low ends with support for lossless and high-res audio formats. This means that beyond lectures and other video meetings, these headphones are made to make music sound great.

The ear cups have touch controls for easy access to manipulate the sounds. The headphones also have multiple microphones to suppress background noise while talking and include ambient noise so you can hear your own voice in a natural way.

Decked out with premium leather for around ears and on the headband, comfort should be luxurious for most people. It can be used for 30 hours at a time and features quick charging when the battery life is running low. As a bonus, there is Google Assistant or Alexa built-in to handle tasks or questions you may want to ask.

This updated version also adds the much requested ability to connect to multiple devices at once so switching between your laptop and tablet is instant and always ready to go. Plus, as an added nicety they use ear-detection to pause audio or videos when you remove them from your head and resume when you put them back on.

The big drawback with these headphones is the price. If you value audio quality and a wide range of premium specs, however, these are the ones to strongly consider. While these are the latest top tier model from Sony, the 1000XM3 model might be a way to save a few bucks if you don't need the multiple device support.

Pros: Comfortable for hours, amazing sound, lots of extra features

Cons: Pricey, might be outdated soon

Premium earbuds for remote learning

Premium earbuds for remote learning
Apple AirPods 2 will serve well across a variety of tasks, especially if you're using devices like iPads and Macs for those tasks.

If you're going to spend $150 or more on earbuds for school (and play), the second generation AirPods are the ones to get. For iPhone users, they seamlessly pair and connect upon opening the charging case. These do take the hassle out of Bluetooth. For people with Android devices, these will still work as standard Bluetooth earbuds.

Several years after debut, the standard AirPods design hasn't changed much, but battery life and audio quality has improved. The remarkable thing is that they have one of the smallest footprints, including the case, which can easily fit in that tiny fifth jean pocket. The AirPods 2 can also be bought with a wireless charging case, so refreshing the battery doesn't even require being plugged in.

AirPods really shine for remote schooling for these reasons, namely easy iPad and Mac connectivity and great sounding microphones with noise cancelation. For a lot of people they should also provide no ear fatigue because of how they hang, lightweight, from the ears.

Battery life is rated at 24 hours total with the case and five hours for each use. While that's not the six hours some provide, the earbuds will get three hours of battery life with only 15 minutes of charging in the case. Siri also lives inside the second generation AirPods, so you can say things like, "Hey Siri, raise the volume" or "call Amy."

For Android users, Google PixelBuds might suit you a little better. Although AirPods work, they don't provide the same controls and pairing ease. PixelBuds match nearly all the features that AirPods provide to iOS devices, sound great, and also come with a tiny, wireless charging case.

If you do want noise canceling as part of your AirPods experience, you'll want to jump up to the pricer, more form-fitting AirPods Pro.

Pros: Easy connectivity, great sound and microphones, comfortable

Cons: Pricey for earbuds, some features Apple only

Kids specific headphones for remote learning

Kids specific headphones for remote learning
The JBL JR300 will make any kid feel cool, even if they do have to start the school year off learning from their house.

For the small heads of the littlest learners, these JBL JR300 headphones might be the perfect headphones to start the school year. While most kids will still be able to fit in "normal" headphones, these do have a few benefits for those just entering the school system.

First, the JR300 are a smaller size than most regular headphones which means they will be more comfortable and stay in place during online learning sessions. If headphones aren't comfortable or don't stay in place then it doesn't matter how good they sound. In personal experience, kids don't particularly like headphones that don't fit. These should address that problem. Plus, there's padding on the ear cups and headband for extra comfort.

Second, once you have headphones that young ones will wear, hearing health should be a concern. These headphones address that by limiting the sound volume to 85dB. You can often limit volume levels on devices themselves, but not always and you have to manually do it for each one. These headphones bring that feature built in.

It might be a negative, but these do have a cord and need to be plugged into a 3.5mm headphone jack. It's definitely a bummer if your child prefers to move around more, but having a cord does mean that there's no battery and therefore no charging. The second negative is that there's no built-in microphone, so you'll need to rely on the microphone on the device to pick up speaking.

However, in a huge win, these headphones can usually be found for $15 or less, making them a fantastic value. If you're willing to pay a little more, JLab's JBuddies kids headphones can be had for under $30 and do include a microphone.

Pros: Inexpensive, smaller fit, volume limiting for ear health

Cons: wired cable, no microphone

The basic option for remote learning

The basic option for remote learning
In this case, it's alright to be basic. Sometimes you just need or want something super simple, and these AmazonBasics wired earbuds are just the pick to get the job done.

Sometimes, you just need the most basic option that will sit in your ears for an hour each day as you listen to or chat with classmates. In this case, there are a few options, but the most basic are the AmazonBasics wired earbuds.

The first key here is the price, coming in around $10 for most colors. This is the headset you need if you don't care about features or quality and just need audio on the cheap. There's nothing wrong with that stance, in fact, there's probably a lot of people in the same boat that misplaced their other pair of earbuds.

These do include a microphone so they work for listening and speaking. Plus, there's a controller on the cord for things like play, pause, and volume up and down. The play/pause button will usually initiate mute through different video calling apps, like Zoom, which might come in really handy.

If you are looking for the absolutely cheapest option here, you may want to see if you can find the earbuds that came with your iPhone or Samsung phone. Check the junk drawer or in a closet, because those options usually still work pretty well and may surprise you with their relative quality. You will need the Lightning adapter that came with your iPhone if you do want to use corded earbuds with it, however.

Pros: Inexpensive, lightweight, colorful

Cons: Wired cable, virtually no bass in sound profile