You may think that noise-canceling headphones are only for travel or open office environments when you need to drown out distractions. Take it from someone who has worked from home the past 9 years (and my colleagues who have done it a lot longer): active noise-canceling (ANC) headphones are critical for working from home, too.
While it may seem nice at first to work in the comfort of your own home, away from office space that's often simple and dull, being in a familiar environment poses its own set of issues. You're far more likely to be distracted by everything around you, no matter your situation. Obviously family members and pets can be the biggest and most blatant types of distractions, but just the sounds of daily life happening around a home are different from that of an office — and something you don't really notice until you're sitting down and trying to work. It can be really hard to focus.
Before jumping into the complex world of researching new office chairs or standing desks, one of the best things you can do to boost your productivity when working from home is to buy a pair of good over-ear noise-canceling headphones. I use the Bose QC35s every single day, which I still see as the gold standard for comfort and noise cancellation. I can wear them for several hours at a time with no discomfort, which is incredibly important, and the noise cancellation technology is exceptional. There's a reason why you see the QC35s everywhere, from offices to airports, though some people do prefer the design and features of the newer Bose 700s for $50 more.
The regular debate in this category is between Bose and Sony's WH1000XM3s, which are also incredibly popular and seem to be put on sale more often. They're actually 20% off at the time of publishing. Like the new Bose 700s, they're sleeker, charge over USB-C, and they're a favorite of many of my coworkers.
While each of these is highly rated, they're also expensive — but you don't have to spend big to get solid noise-canceling headphones. You can easily get a pair for well under $100, and while you'll miss out on some of the creature comforts and long-term durability, they'll absolutely get the job done for a shorter stint in work-from-home life.
There's a distinct difference between just putting any old headphones on (or worse yet, earbuds in), and getting a pair of really good, comfortable, and active noise-canceling headphones. The active noise canceling technology makes a critical difference: when you put these on, and play some music (or audiobook or podcast, whatever works for you), the outside world really disappears. It's an interesting phenomenon in that because you're isolated aurally, you also get a bit of tunnel vision and seem to be able to focus your eyes and hands on the work in front of you. And the aforementioned headphones really are comfortable enough to wear for hours on end to get you through your workday.
ANC gold standard
There's a reason why you see these everywhere.
Bose wins in this category because of the QC35's combination of comfort, noise-canceling, sound quality and durability.
You don't have to spend a ton to get noise cancelling headphones.
Anker is far better known for its batteries, cables and other accessories, but makes great inexpensive headphones — even ones with ANC.
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Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.