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The best headphones for students: our top picks for back to school cans

Included in this guide:

sony wh-1000xm4
(Image credit: Sony)

If you’re heading back to school in the near future, chances are that you’ll need a decent pair of headphones to get you through all those long study periods you have planned (or those late night gaming sessions). 

At TechRadar, we’ve spent years testing the best headphones in every category, from noise-cancelling wonders to true wireless earbuds that are small enough to slip into your pocket. 

When it comes to choosing the best headphones for studying, there are a few key features you’ll want to look out for, including great comfort, long battery lives, and neat extras like noise cancellation and integrated voice assistants. And of course, you'll want to know that you're getting the best value for your money.

Are you going to be using your new headphones in a communal study area? You may want to check out the best noise-cancelling headphones. Love to work out before you hit the books? Then the best running headphones will give you the security and robustness you need. 

If you're studying at home, you'll want to ensure your new headphones come with a decent microphone so that your teacher or lecturer can hear you easily over Skype or Zoom.

Whatever you need your cans for, it’s important to consider the price. After all, we know that student budgets are typically on the tighter end of the scale, which is why many opt for a student Chromebook and other affordable options for school supplies. So, we’ve included no-frills budget headphones alongside class-leading models like the Sony WH-1000XM4

If you’ve got cash to splash, then great – those higher spec headphones are well worth buying. But if you’re on a strict budget, you’ll be pleased to know that you really don’t have to break the bank to get yourself a capable pair of headphones or earbuds for school, thanks to all the incredible Back to School sales taking place at the moment.

Our top picks

the sony wh-1000xm4 wireless headphones in black

(Image credit: Sony)

The best headphones you can buy in 2021

Reasons to buy
+Improved noise-cancellation+DSEE Extreme audio upscaling+Multipoint pairing
Reasons to avoid
-Not water-resistant

If you're looking for the very best headphones money can buy, the Sony WH-1000XM4 are it, delivering excellent noise-cancellation and surprising sound quality all in a lightweight, comfortable design. 

While they don't look significantly different from their predecessors, the Sony WH-1000XM3, a number of new features including multipoint pairing, DSEE Extreme upscaling, conversational awareness and auto-play/pause using a built-in sensor all help the WH-1000XM4 claim the title of best headphones in 2021.

They deliver exactly what they promise and then some thanks to their exceptional noise cancellation, which makes them ideal for studying in noisy communal areas.

Music lovers will appreciate support for Sony's 360 Reality Audio and the headphones' clever audio upscaling feature. 

These cans are undoubtably expensive, though. If you like the look of these cans, the Sony WH-1000XM3s are still well worth considering – and they're usually discounted quite heavily now that they've been usurped by a newer model.

Read more: Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Headphones review

the Plantronics BackBeat Go 810 wireless headphones in navy

(Image credit: Plantronics)

Affordable noise-cancelling headphones

Reasons to buy
+Excellent build quality+Warm, balanced sound+Reliable wireless connection
Reasons to avoid
-Hiss when music isn't playing

On a stricter budget? The Plantronics Backbeat Go 810 are a solidly dependable pair of noise-cancelling headphones.

For years, the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 were among our favorite wireless headphones because of their excellent sound, build quality and features. Unfortunately, they were also kind of expensive. 

For a lot less, Plantronics now sells the brilliant BackBeat Go 810, which use less premium materials but sound nearly identical to its more expensive predecessor – and sport an equally chic design. 

With that in mind, the BackBeat Go 810 are the best headphones if you want wireless connectivity and noise cancellation to block out your classmates without the high price tag.

Read more: Plantronics BackBeat Go 810 review

The Lypertek PurePlay Z3 2.0 true wireless earbuds and charging case

(Image credit: Lypertek)

The best affordable true wireless headphones out there

Reasons to buy
+Excellent sound+Great price+Top-notch battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Ambient mode is poor

When we first reviewed the original Lypertek PurePlay Z3 true wireless earbuds (then known as the Lypertek Tevi), we were blown away. The Lypertek PurePlay Z3 2.0 true wireless earbuds are their successors. They’re very similar to the originals, with a few key improvements, and yet still come in at the same affordable price point the originals did – $99 / £99.

This gets you everything we loved about the original PurePlay Z3 (detailed balanced sound, a whopping 80 hours total battery life from its petite USB-C charging case, and a comfortably fitting bud with physical buttons), and adds wireless charging, a powerful new LDX Audio mode, improved app functionality and a hear through ambient mode.

Our own issue is that app connectivity is patchy at best, and the ambient hear through mode is pretty much useless in comparison to the competition from the likes of Sony’s noise cancelling WF-1000XM4.

Yet, with the price still so low, and nothing to detract from the quality standard the originals set out, with a few notable improvements, they remain must-have earbuds, more than a match for headphones two or three times the price. 

Read more: Lypertek PurePlay Z3 2.0 review

  • Looking for some really cheap true wireless earbuds? Check out our JLAB Go Air review – these buds are just $29 / £29, which is an incredibly low price for the form factor. Be warned though: you get what you pay for when it comes to audio quality.

the 1More Triple Driver in-ear headphones

(Image credit: 1More)

Great sound at amazing value

Reasons to buy
+Lush sound quality+Excellent build and design+Unmatched value
Reasons to avoid
-Plastic remote feels cheap

The 1MORE Triple Driver in-ear headphones provide an amazing level of audio quality for their price, and with a choice of silver or gold accents, they look really slick, too. 

An inbuilt remote means you can subtly adjust your music playback without taking your phone out of your pocket (handy if you're sneakily listening to music during class), while triple-layered dynamic drivers mean your tunes should sound incredible.

These are a wired pair of headphones, so make sure your phone or MP3 player has a 3.5mm audio port – otherwise you may need to buy an adapter. Hate wires? Check out the best wireless earbuds for cable-free options.

Read more: 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphone review

the apple AirPods Pro with their charging case

(Image credit: Apple)

Comfy noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds

Reasons to buy
+Good noise cancellation+Better fit than AirPods (2019)
Reasons to avoid
-Pricey-USB-C charging cable in box

If you're an Apple fan, we'd recommend opting for the AirPods Pro over the original AirPods, thanks to their improved fit, better sound, and noise cancelling capabilities.

They’re admittedly pretty pricey too, and as such can’t be called the very best true wireless earbuds in terms of value for money – but they may be the best true wireless earbuds for Apple fans, and they connect seamlessly with iOS devices, which is handy if you use a Macbook or iPad for studying.

These snug-fitting earbuds offer a great sound, and the additional microphones provide strong noise-cancelling so you can work undisturbed, as well as a useful Transparency mode, which can be activated with a tap to let you hear your surroundings.

They also come with support for Dolby Atmos spatial audio, which is ideal for watching films.

Read more: Apple AirPods Pro review

the jbl tune 750btnc in black

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Quality noise-cancelling over-ears for a great price

Reasons to buy
+Good sound quality+Strong active noise cancelation
Reasons to avoid
-No waterproofing-Average battery life

The JBL Tune 750BTNC are another pair of budget noise-cancelling headphones that make a great cheaper alternative to the Sony WH-1000XM4. 

With a punchy, lively soundstage, these cans look as good as they sound, with a slick build and comfortable padded earcups.

Sure, there's no waterproofing, and you may miss out on a few extra smart features, but for the price, the Tune 750BTNC provide strong noise cancellation that can help you concentrate while studying.

Read more: JBL Tune 750BTNC review

the soundmagic e11bt wireless earbuds

(Image credit: SoundMagic)

Deceptively good wireless sound for a good price

Reasons to buy
+Fantastic price+Elegant design+Comfortable
Reasons to avoid
-Treble tones can sound harsh

The SoundMagic E11BTs are an extremely capable pair of wireless in-ear earphones, and given their low price, it really is difficult to fault them – the audio quality is fantastic and they look very elegant thanks to their compact housings. 

They're comfortable to wear thanks to ergonomically designed eartips and a flat neckband that won't irritate the back of your neck.

Thanks to an IPX4 waterproof rating, these earbuds are suitable for both studying and working out, and should be able to withstand a sweaty run as well as a spot of rain on the way to class. 

Read the full review: SoundMAGIC E11BT 

bose noise cancelling headphones 700

(Image credit: Bose)

Noise-cancellers for crystal clear calls

Reasons to buy
+Outstanding noise cancellation+Fun, lively sound+Elegant design
Reasons to avoid
-Battery life could be better

They don't quite beat the Sony WH-1000XM4s in terms of battery life and price, but the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are still a brilliant pair of over-ear cans – and the best Bose headphones we've reviewed. 

These sleek and stylish headphones are capable of blocking out environmental sound so you can hear your music in peace, as well as applying noise cancellation to your phone calls, allowing the person you're speaking with to hear you in absolute clarity. 

This is particularly useful if you take online classes – an increasingly common way of learning due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

The sound quality is undeniably good, with a vibrant, lively character and well-balanced soundstage – though bear in mind, these headphones aren't cheap.

Read more: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review 

budget wireless earbuds: Sennheiser CX Sport wireless earphones

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

No fuss budget wireless earbuds with fantastic audio

Reasons to buy
+Fantastic audio quality+Sports-friendly design
Reasons to avoid
-Mids could be richer

If the most important aspect of in-ear headphones for you is the audio quality, these budget wireless earbuds from Sennheiser could be a fantastic choice. 

With a lively, bass-heavy presentation, and a comfortable fit, the Sennheiser CX Sport Bluetooth earbuds can really bolster your workout through sound quality alone. 

With runners in mind, the CX Sports have an IPX4 splash-proof rating. This means they should be able to withstand a sweaty workout session (but you probably shouldn't take them into the shower with you post-workout).  

They have a battery life of six hours, which means they'll last you all day, whether you're wearing them on your commute or taking them out for a jog – and their budget-friendly price won't break the bank.

Read more: Sennheiser CX Sport Wireless earphones review

Earfun air pro

(Image credit: Earfun)

A mostly brilliant and sonically balanced set of budget buds

Reasons to buy
+Pleasing audio balance+Effective noise cancellation
Reasons to avoid
-No app for EQ adjustments-Case is a little bulky

On their own merits, the Earfun Air Pro buds are accomplished, but against the competition at this price point they shine. Amid a sea of similarly priced efforts on Amazon, they stand out thanks to their superior design and excellent audio chops, and show a high level of competence in almost all other areas. If it weren’t for slightly fiddly gesture controls and – in our experience at least – a slightly uncomfortable fit, these would immediately earn our wholehearted recommendation.

As it stands, these wireless earbuds are an excellent choice for most, offering a blend of useful features and strong performance that should make them popular with commuters in particular.

Read more: Earfun Air Pro review

Student headphones deals

Olivia Tambini

Olivia is TechRadar's Audio & Music Editor, covering everything from headphones to music streaming services. Based in TechRadar's London offices, she's a popular music graduate who worked in the music industry before finding her calling in journalism. She's previously been interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live on the subject of multi-room audio, chaired panel discussions on diversity in music festival lineups, and her bylines include T3, Stereoboard, Top Ten Reviews Creative Bloq, and Croco Magazine.  In her spare time Olivia likes gardening, painting, and hanging with her cat Ethel and golden retriever Dora.