Right now, the idea of heading back to school means different things for different people. For some, it means returning to a full-time schedule on a conventional campus or classroom. For others, it’s attending a virtual classroom or participating in some variation of remote learning. But regardless of what “back to school” means to you, there are plenty of great headphone options to address all your wants and needs.
One of the most important features that all of these headphones share is excellent noise cancellation performance, which is part of what makes them a great fit for back to school. When you’re working or studying from home, or in your dorm room, noise-canceling headphones will help get rid of unwanted background sounds.
Here are some of our top choices for the best back to school headphones.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 Headphones are easily a top choice for students who are simply looking for the best over-the-ear headphones the market has to offer. Sony has tweaked the design to be more streamlined compared to the XM4s.
Although they don’t exactly carry a “student-friendly” price tag, the Sony WH-1000XM5 are worth every penny, thanks to unbeatable sound quality, arguably the most effective active noise cancellation in the world, a 30-hour battery (with ANC on), and much more. Again, these aren’t the most fiscally conservative headphones available, but in terms of the absolute best, the Sony WH-1000XM5 is it.
We also like: Apple AirPods Max
As long as we’re in the “premium performance for a premium price” category, we should talk about the Apple AirPods Max, which are about as luxurious a pair of headphones as it gets. Like the Sony WH-1000XM5, the AirPods Max excel at audio performance and noise cancellation. They also offer one of the most comfortable wearing experiences we’ve ever tested and, arguably, the best software interface if you’re using them with an iOS device. Those features, plus many more, make the AirPods Max one of the best over-the-ear headphones you can buy, but at a fairly steep cost.
Still, we can't talk about the AirPods Max and not mention that it’s long overdue for an update. Apple released these in 2020 and, despite going on sale frequently, they still retail for upwards of $400, which is a big ask for headphones that seem to be aging out. Regardless, if they’re within your budget, the AirPods Max from Apple are a top choice for students who want a great-looking and comfortable pair of headphones that offer tight integration with Apple devices.
Bose® QuietComfort™ 45
For the Bose® loyalists out there, we think there is a whole lot to love about the QuietComfort™ 45s. There's a reason that Bose® hasn't changed the design of these since the days of the QuietComfort™ 35s, and that's because they’re just that comfortable. Before Sony came around, Bose® was pretty much the undisputed king of noise-canceling (and helped pioneer the technology in the first place) and these are fantastic in that regard.
I’ve been using the QC45s as my primary everyday headphones for more than a year and one thing I can promise you is they never cause discomfort, even when I wear them all day. Combined with the superior sound quality Bose® is known for, a very solid-hour 24 battery life, the Bose® QC45s are another great all-day listening option, especially for students looking for that extra degree of comfort.
We also like: Bose® 700 Headphones
We of course had to include the Bose® 700 Headphones, which are similar to the QuietComfort™ 45s headphones in that they offer great audio performance and are incredibly comfy. The shape does diverge from the QuietComfort™ design, but it just goes to show how important it is to try over-the-ear headphones first because what’s comfortable can vary from person to person. Please note that they can't be folded up and stored flat like the QCs.
Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4
These Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless headphones are a bit of a sleeper hit on this list. They're incredibly impressive headphones, and an excellent value. The overall sound is fantastic, noise cancellation is powerful, the design is simple but clean and, above all, the Momentum 4’s standout feature is its hefty 60-hour battery life (and that's with ANC on). That's more than double Sony's XM5s, for example, while still being in the same ballpark pricewise. These are some of the best practical headphones you can buy today and if you’re the student who needs something that's going to carry you through those long grind sessions, these are a great fit. They are available in black or white.
We also like: Shure AONIC 50
With some of the best-in-class active noise cancellation, super sound quality, and 20 hours of battery life, the AONIC 50 headphones from Shure are definitely giving Sony’s headphones some competition as the overall best pair of over-the-ear headphones.
However, in addition to being one of the best performing headsets on the market, they are also our top choice for students looking for a comfortable design suitable for long listening sessions. Featuring big, synthetic leather-wrapped earcups, an ultra-comfy headband, and aluminum yokes that help keep everything securely in place, the AONIC 50 headphones are perfect for marathon study sessions and other periods of long-term wear.
AirPods Pro 2
The Second-Generation AirPods Pro, from Apple, are an excellent pair of headphones bar none. They really need no recommendation on our part. Sure, they'll never sound as great as their over-ear peers on this list, but the significantly improved noise-canceling capabilities paired with their convenient form factor and Apple's trademark seamless integration, make the AirPods fantastic daily headphones.
The updated design also includes new audio features, such as Adaptive EQ and Apple’s new spatial audio feature with dynamic head tracking. These new features support the AirPods' already outstanding overall audio performance. They feature some of the best in-ear designs of any true wireless earbuds, one that ensures they always remain comfortably in your ears. The sound quality is arguably more well-rounded than the Studio Beats+, and they include several features such as spatial audio, as well as active noise cancellation.
We also like: Beats by Dr. Dre Studio Buds+
The Studio Buds+ from Beats by Dr. Dre offer some of the best noise cancellation you can get for less than $200. It's a great midpoint between the 3rd Gen AirPods, which don’t offer ANC, and the more expensive AirPods Pro (you're mainly just missing out on spatial audio). What makes them such a consistent favorite? For starters, the punchy sound quality, 9-hour battery life, and water-resistant design are all winning features active users applaud.
According to Beats, the internals have been significantly reworked from the original Studio Buds. They're powered by larger microphones in each bud alongside new acoustic vents that help them sound better. The Studio Buds+ can hold a charge for about nine hours without ANC, with the case holding an additional 27 hours of battery life. As someone who’s never really been a fan of Beats in general, the design of these are pretty great overall (especially the transparent one). Anyone who has wanted Airpods without the stem will appreciate these, and they’re also comfortable for long-time wear.
Regardless of what “back to school” means for you and your family, odds are a solid pair of headphones will be of some benefit in one way or another. The headphones listed in this article represent some of our top choices for students, but in no way are they the only choices.
If none our favorites fill your particular bill, we invite you to drop a comment or ask a question below, so we can help find the best pair of headphones for you.