Best wireless earbuds and Bluetooth headphones for phone calls

September 23, 2020 John Mendoza No Comments

Working from home during the coronavirus pandemic? Yeah, us too. When we started working from home, we quickly discovered that one of the must-have items for keeping up productivity was a good set of headphones for all those videoconferences and conference calls. We also found that the best headphones for making calls weren’t necessarily the same ones we used for listening to music. 

So, what makes a pair of headphones good for making calls? First, Bluetooth. The best Bluetooth earbuds or headphones are able to reduce ambient noise even in loud environments (like when you’re trying to talk with your boss and your toddler discovers how much noise a spoon and pot make when you bang them together). Sound quality is also imperative; you need to be able to hear people clearly, especially when taking project notes or nailing down the specifics of a contract. As you continue to narrow down what you’re looking for, you should also consider ensuring your new headphones have great battery life, look good and are comfortable enough for long calls.

To that end, we’ve tested a bunch of Bluetooth headphones specifically for their audio quality during calls. Here are our current top picks for the best Bluetooth headphones for calls. We’ll be updating it regularly as we review new products.

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The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 cost $400, which is $50 more than the QC35 II headset and the Sony WH-1000XM3 headset, CNET’s current top-rated noise-canceling headphones. (The latter has recently sold for $300 or less, in fact.) But leaving aside the debate over the new design and higher price for a moment, I’ll say this: The Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 sound and perform better than their predecessor, and between the two, they shine as the best Bluetooth headsets for calls. And the earcups are definitely comfy enough that you will want to wear these outside of only noisy environments.

Read our Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review.

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Even if they don’t sound as magical as you’d hope a $249 model would, the AirPods Pro still manage to be a great pair of true wireless earbuds. That’s largely due to their winning earpiece design and fit, improved bass performance, effective noise canceling and excellent call sound quality. Yeah, these noise-canceling wireless buds are expensive, but the good news is you’ll use them so much you’ll probably wear the battery and maximum battery life down — they do degrade over time and aren’t replaceable — and have to buy a new pair in 18 to 24 months if you don’t lose them first. (Keep them in their carrying case when you’re not using them! We can’t say it enough!)

Read our Apple AirPods Pro review.

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Samsung’s Buds Plus look essentially the same as the original Galaxy Buds, but their battery life is rated at 11 hours for music playback (up from 6), and they pack dual drivers for better sound and an additional microphone in each bud to help with external noise reduction while making calls. They’re comfortable to wear and also have a feature that allows you to hear your voice in the earbuds while making calls (it’s a setting in the app under “advanced”). 

Previously, these were more geared toward Android users (and Samsung Galaxy smartphone owners in particularly), but now there’s an iOS app that gives Apple users most of the same features as Android users. 

I was impressed with the sound. It’s detailed and smooth, with deep, well-defined bass. The sound is richer and more spacious than that of the original Galaxy Buds.

Read our Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus review.

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Sony’s earlier WH-1000XM3 model was great. But if it had a weakness, that was in the area of voice-calling capabilities, particularly in noisier environments. The new WH-1000XM4 improves a lot in that area and also adds multipoint Bluetooth pairing so you can connect to two devices — such as your phone and PC — at the same time. That means that if a call comes in while you’re using the headphones with your computer, the audio will switch to your phone when you answer the call.

The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 probably still have a slight edge for voice calls, but the 1000XM4 headphones are arguably a tad more comfortable and also have some other slight improvements to noise cancellation and sound that make this model a great all-around choice.

Read our Sony WH-1000XM4 review.

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TaoTronics’ SoundLiberty 79 list for $60 but sell for around $50. I don’t love their looks — the little chrome accent isn’t my thing — but these Bluetooth earbuds fit my ears well and sound decent for the money, with just enough definition and ample bass. All that said, where they really stand out is how they perform as a headset for making calls. They are five stars in that department, with excellent noise reduction; people had no trouble hearing me on the noisy streets of New York. The company’s “Smart AI noise-reduction technology” really does work. 

They are fully waterproof (IPX7-certified) and you can get up to 8 hours of battery life at moderate volume levels. The charging case, which provides an extra 32 hours of juice on the go, feels a little cheap, but it’s compact and has USB-C charging.

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Say what you will about the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live’s bean-shaped design — yes, they’re affectionately known as the Beans — but they might just be the most innovative new true wireless earbuds of the year. Like the standard Apple AirPods, they have an open design, so you don’t jam them into your ear, and they’re quite comfortable to wear and fit my ears more securely than the AirPods (that said, they won’t fit everybody’s ears equally well). Additionally, they’re discreet and basically sit flush with your ear without a little white pipe extending out from them.

They deliver good sound and work well as a headset for making calls, with good background noise reduction so callers can hear you clearly even when you’re in noisier environments. While they feature active noise canceling, it’s mild compared with the noise canceling in earbuds that have a noise-isolating design. In other words, buy them for their design and sound, not their noise-canceling features.

Read our Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review.

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Jabra’s new premium wireless noise-canceling headphones, the Elite 85h ($250), are excellent all around and top-notch for calls. They’re right there with the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 and Sony WH-1000XM4 on the communications front. Expect to see this model discounted to $200 for the holidays. The prcie started out at $300 but this pair has been out a while and is due for an upgrade next year.

Read our Jabra Elite 85h review.

Jabra’s Elite 75t earbuds aren’t quite on par with the AirPods Pro for calls, but sound quality has improved with firmware upgrades, and they’re among the best true wireless earbuds for communications. While they don’t do a stellar job of quieting ambient sound around you, they offer good noise reduction and the mic does pick up your voice well. They also have a sidetone feature that allows you to hear your voice in the wireless earbuds (so you don’t talk too loud). It’s also worth noting that this model will soon get active noise canceling via a firmware upgrade.

The new Elite 85t ($230) earbuds are due out in November and are likely to make this list, so watch for that review.

Read our Jabra Elite 75t review.

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The second-generation Momentum True Wireless 2 earbuds, available now for preorder and shipping in April, aren’t cheap at $300, but they’re better all around than the originals, with a slightly smaller, more comfortable design, active noise canceling that rivals that of the AirPod Pro, improved battery life (up to 7 hours versus the original 4 hours) and better noise reduction during calls.

Aside from improved call quality (they have a sidetone feature), the Momentum True Wireless 2 have the same stellar sound — for true wireless earbuds, anyway — offering clearly superior sound quality to the AirPods Pro. That makes them arguably the best true wireless earbuds on the market today and earns them a CNET Editors’ Choice Award.

These use Bluetooth 5.1 with support for the AAC and AptX codecs, for devices that have AptX like Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones.

Read the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 review.

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If you can’t afford the AirPods Pro, the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 ($100) are a good alternative and a top model for calls. Like the AirPods Pro, they do a remarkably good job of muffling ambient noise; callers said they could hear me fine even with a lot of street noise around me. While they aren’t technically noise-canceling earbuds, they sound nearly as good as if they were, they fit comfortably and their noise-isolating design passively seals out a lot of ambient noise. The only thing missing is a sidetone feature that would let you hear your voice in the ‘buds.

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The Solo Pro headphones are the first Beats on-ear model to feature active noise cancellation and the first full-size Beats headphones to charge via Lightning. They use the company’s Pure Adaptive Noise Canceling (Pure ANC), “derived from the over-ear Studio3 Wireless, with updated tuning to accommodate the on-ear form factor,” Beats says. With the tap of a button, you can turn off that noise cancellation to save battery life. Hit the button a second time to enter an audio transparency mode that allows you to hear the outside world, not just the music you’re listening to.

Available in multiple color options, these noise-canceling headphones are equipped with six microphones, two of which are beamforming mics that are designed to home in on your voice when you’re making calls or talking to your voice assistant (Apple’s H1 chip is on board for always-on Siri). The sound is smooth and well-balanced, with punchy bass that doesn’t make music sound boomy. Quite comfortable for an on-ear model, the more compact design travels better than some full-size models on this list. While they’re overpriced at $300, we’re seeing discounts that bring its price closer to $200, which is where it needs to get to.

Read our Beats Solo Pro review.

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Yes, the Bose Frames are both sunglasses and headphones — and they sound surprisingly good for a sunglasses-headphones combo. What’s also impressive about them is how good they are for calls. 

The two original Frames, the Rondo and Alto, are still available for $200. But the recently released second-generation models, which cost $250, have some performance enhancements, including better sound and call quality. The Tempo, Bose’s new sports model (pictured), has the largest drivers and best sound along with better battery life.

Read our Bose Frames review.

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Anker is known more for its value headphones, but it’s trying to step into more premium territory with its Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro wireless earbuds, which carry a list price of $150. From a design standpoint, they share some similarities with Sony’s WF-1000XM3, although this model doesn’t have active noise cancellation. Anker says they have large 11mm drivers combined with Knowles Balanced Armature, with up to 8 hours of battery life on a single charge (32 total hours of playtime with the case) and noise-canceling mic to help reduce ambient sound so callers can hear you better. In fact, they’re excellent for calls — easily superior to the Sony WF-1000XM3 for calling. They charge via USB-C and also support wireless charging.

I’m not sure they sound quite as good as the Sony WF-1000XM3, but they certainly sound like premium true wireless earphones, with rich sound that includes powerful bass performance and lots of detail. Some people may have some quibbles over the fit — I had to supply my own XL tips to get a tight seal and found the Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Air 2 a little more comfortable — but the Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro are a good value.

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The AirPods’ look may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but they do work really well as a headset. The new second-generation version features greater noise reduction, which helps callers hear you better when you’re outside in noisier — and potentially windier — environments. It also adds hands-free (always-on) Siri.

Read our Apple AirPods 2019 review.

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Apple owns Beats, and one of the pluses of that relationship is that much of the technology that went into the AirPods also went into Beats’ true wireless earphones, the Powerbeats Pro. Like the AirPods, these true wireless earbuds with ear hooks are excellent for calls, and with a noise-isolating design, they keep more ambient sound out so you can hear callers (and music and audio) better.

Read our Beats Powerbeats Pro review.

Amazon’s Echo Buds could use a little more polishing (they are a first-generation product for Amazon), but they’re a decent set of true wireless earbuds for the money and one of the better true wireless models for calls, partly because they’re equipped with Bose noise-reduction technology. They also feature always-on Alexa so you don’t have to press a button to access Amazon’s voice assistant.

Read our Amazon Echo Buds review.

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While Logitech calls its Zone WIreless a headset, it’s really a pair of on-ear active noise-canceling headphones with an integrated boom mic. What makes it unique is that you can set it on a Qi wireless charging pad to juice up its battery, which is rated for up to 15 hours of talk time or music listening. The headset also charges via Micro-USB.

I found the headphones to be a comfortable fit, especially for an on-ear design, and ithey’re great for making calls, with a sidetone feature that lets you hear your voice inside the headset so you don’t speak too loudly. The only drawback is that the sound is just OK for music and audio listening, not great. But if communications are a priority at work, this is a good choice for a headset. (It’s not really meant to be used as a mobile headset, though you can walk around with it just fine.)

Read the Logitech Zone Wireless hands-on evaluation.

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