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

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. 

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. 

Back to School 2020 is looking a little different from years past, and you or your child may not be returning to school in the physical sense. Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, many of us have taken to working from home – and that includes students. 

If that's the case, 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 new 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

sony wh-1000xm4

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Sony WH-1000XM4

The best headphones you can buy in 2020

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 2020.

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 likely to be discounted now that the newer model is out.

Read more: Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Headphones review

Plantronics BackBeat Go 810

(Image credit: Plantronics)

2. Plantronics BackBeat Go 810

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

lypertek tevi

(Image credit: Lypertek)

3. Lypertek Tevi

Incredible, affordable buds

Reasons to buy
+Incredible value+Neutral audiophile-like sound+Great battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Design is a bit plain

Not a fan of over-ear headphones? Then you might prefer to use a pair of true wireless earbuds while studying, and the Lypertek Tevi are way more affordable than you may expect. 

With USB-C charging, a well-balanced sound, lengthy battery life, and waterproofing, they tick every box you could ask for, from what are basically a pair of budget buds. 

The Lypertek Tevi, surprisingly, might just blow you away, punching well above their weight and rivaling buds from some of the biggest audio brands on the planet. 

There's no noise cancellation on board, so if you find yourself easily distracted by environmental sound, you may prefer noise-cancelling buds like the AirPods Pro or the Sony WF-1000XM3 to accompany your study sessions.

Otherwise? These earbuds pretty much tick all our boxes.

Read more: Lypertek Tevi true wireless earbuds 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.

1More Triple Driver in-ear headphones

(Image credit: 1More)

4. 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphone

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

back to school headphone sales headphones AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Apple)

5. Apple AirPods Pro

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.

The Apple AirPods Pro are also getting a hefty firmware upgrade, which will allow for Dolby Atmos spatial audio, bringing immersive 3D sound to your true wireless earbuds – ideal for watching films.

Read more: Apple AirPods Pro review

jbl tune 750btnc

(Image credit: TechRadar)

6. JBL Tune 750BTNC

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

soundmagic e11bt

(Image credit: SoundMagic)

7. SoundMAGIC E11BT

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)

8. Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

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 

(Image credit: RHA)

9. RHA S500u

Great-sounding, incredibly cheap in-ear headphones

Reasons to buy
+Excellent build quality  +Balanced, rich audio  
Reasons to avoid
-Sibilant at times -Narrow soundstage 

If you have a tendency to lose or break headphones, but you still value sound quality, it’s hard to think of a better value pair of earbuds than the RHA S500u. 

These wired in-ear headphones have no business sounding so good for their low price, sporting a balanced soundstage with a slight mid-bass bump to power you through your study sessions with ease. 

Bass is slightly emphasized but not egregiously, and features good impact while maintaining good control – and highs, while sibilant at times, makes music sound more exciting. In short, these are the best headphones you can buy if you're on a strict student budget.  

Again, make sure your listening device has a 3.5mm audio port, or you could be forced to buy an adapter. 

Read more: RHA S500u review

Back to School 2020 is certainly going to be different, and we’re here to guide you through what you'll need. Whether you’re truly going back to school or remotely attending classes online, we’re rolling out a series of in-depth guides for students, teachers and parents to ensure you're buying the right technology and accessories.

Olivia Tambini

Olivia is TechRadar's Audio & Music Editor, covering everything from headphones to smart speakers. Based in TechRadar's London offices, she previously worked in the music industry for a few years before finding her calling in journalism. In her spare time Olivia loves playing retro video games, hanging with her cat Ethel and golden retriever Dora, and bingeing on Netflix.