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These noise-cancelling headphones may be indispensable for families stuck at home together

October 3, 2020, 3:00 PM UTC

Many adults are working from home during the COVID pandemic while their children attend school online. The result: living rooms are ground zero for a cacophony of math lessons, board meetings, and doctor appointments.

To concentrate, those stuck at home may need noise-cancelling headphones. They help eliminate background noise that may interfere with conversations.

The key is to find noise-cancelling headphones that actually cancel noise and that fit snuggly around the head so they still feel comfortable —even after hours of wear. Of course, cost is also a major consideration, with prices ranging from $50 to $400.

Here are some noise-cancelling headphones to consider:

For adults

The cheapest, most comfortable noise-cancelling headphones
The harsh reality is that if you want comfortable headphones that can filter unwanted noise, you better be prepared to spend a couple hundred dollars. That said, there are some cheap headphones that can reduce noise from the outside world, but they’ll likely be lacking when it comes to sound and durability.

The TaoTronics Hybrid Active Noise Cancelling Bluetooth Headphones are recommended by CNET as a good value—they cost only $50—and are “comfortable to wear.” The main drawback is sound quality, CNET noted. But if you’re only using the headphones to talk to colleagues, sound quality may not be so important. However, if you use headphones to listen to high-quality audio of the London Philharmonic, you may want to try something else.

Good bang for the buck
While I may be biased because I own these, the PSB M4U-1 over-ear headphones are very comfortable. I can listen to music or my interviews for extended periods without feeling like I have a helmet strapped to my head. They also feature fantastic sound quality for the price, producing a clear bass sound that doesn’t seem artificially boosted. 

These headphones are $179, while a noise-cancelling version, PSB M4U-2, is $249. Although I don’t have experience with the noise-cancelling version, one reviewer noted that it’s “pretty effective” at filtering out background noise, adding that the earpads offer “a good amount of isolation” that produces “a convincing feeling of being shut off from the world.” That said, the same reviewer said that Bose’s entry-level noise-cancelling headphones outperforms the PSB’s noise-cancelling feature.

For those who want easy access to a digital assistant
Bose’s QuietComfort 35 wireless headphones II have earned accolades from multiple reviewers for their quality noise-cancelling features. One of the selling points of Bose’s entry-level model, which cost $299, is that they contain a button that activates Google Assistant voice recognition technology, so that people can switch songs or lower the volume merely by speaking.

For the audiophile
If you have cash to spare, the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 noise-cancelling headphones have earned praise from reviewers for their superb sound and comfort. The headphones, which cost $400, come with an adaptive noise cancelling feature that adjusts to a person’s environment. So if you’re doing work in the study and then head to the kitchen where your kids are watching TV, the headphones should, in theory, recognize the increased noise and filter it out so you can continue listening to music.

For kids

Wacky colors for wacky kids
The JBL JR300BT children’s wireless headphones, which cost $40, come in colors only kids (or adults with youthful hearts) could love, like bright blue, orange and hot pink. The main selling point is that the headphones have “safe sound” technology, which automatically prevents audio from going over 85 decibels, which may be harmful for still-developing ears. If you want to save money, a more traditional version of these headphones that require a wire that connects to a headphone jack only costs $19.95.

For children with instincts to destroy
The ONANOFF BuddyPhones Wave has the honor of being PCMag’s top choice for the “Best for kids who easily break things” category. That means parents should feel comfortable spending $70 on the headphones knowing that if their child decides to toss them into the air and miss the catch, they should survive. The headphones are also waterproof. 

For the sophisticated child
If you want to pamper your kid, the Puro Sound Labs BT2200, which costs $90, has a sleek design that’s more staid than most children’s apparel and gadgets. These headphones also keep audio below 85 decibels and come with a noise-isolation feature so your child can listen to music and study without being distracted. And your child will look relatively stylish.