Best Headphones for study Buying Guide 2022: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best headphones for study you can buy in 2023.
It's back to school time! With schools, colleges and universities all gearing up to welcome students back to campuses and lecture halls, it's time for students to get themselves organised too. But we're not talking about the boring stuff like pencil cases and uniforms; we mean headphones for studying.
Because you can't study without headphones. OK, you can – but it's nowhere near as fun. A good pair of headphones will block out the outside world and help you focus on the task at hand... so long as you pick the right tracks, of course. Something repetitive with minimal or no vocals to distract you always did us proud, and we've rounded up our pick of the 8 best study playlists here.
But then you don't have to play music at all. You could always just use their noise-cancelling on its own to block out distracting background sound and help you concentrate.
Headphones come in many different styles with wildly varying prices, so we're here to guide you to the right pair. Just remember us when you're flying high toward your chosen career...
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How to choose the best headphones for study
Why you can trust What Hi-Fi? Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.
If you'll be studying somewhere at home that's quiet and won't be straying far from your laptop, then a pair of wired headphones is probably best. You'll get more performance for your money, and if you don't really need portability or active noise cancellation (ANC) then they are not features you should spend money on.
That said, if you think you'd benefit from ANC then you'll probably be looking at a wireless pair, as wired ANC headphones are a rare breed these days.
A Bluetooth pair will just as easily connect to your tablet or laptop, wire-free of course. And they would also be handy for commuting to school/campus and just generally using beyond the dimensions of your desk. In-ear wireless earbuds are the ultimate in portability, while on-ear headphones offer greater isolation and, in our experience, make for the best headphones for studying.
So, plenty to think about. Hopefully, this list below helps with your decision. All of the headphones have passed our tests with flying colours and are ordered with a focus on value. Now, let's get you a new study buddy...
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The Y400 are a little smaller than the previous model (the splendid Y500), with smaller drivers and they come with a cable complete with in-line controls and mic, for when you don't want to run down the battery with a wireless connection.
They're colourful, too, coming in shimmery pink, green, blue and goldish-yellow finishes.
There's no noise cancelling, but we wouldn't expect it at this price. There is Ambient Aware mode, however, which lets in outside noise like dogs barking and car engines. Handy if you want to avoid being bitten/run over. They automatically detect when you take them off and pause the music, too, saving you precious battery life.
The sound has much to like. It's spacious and three-dimensional. There’s impeccable timing throughout and the headphones deliver bass weight and power in spades. It's zealous to the point that some might prefer a slightly leaner listen, but in our eyes (and at this level) the Y400 get the balance just about right. Put them on and get studying.
Read the full AKG Y400 review
The HD 250BT might not feature any luxury flourishes, but they're a good-sounding, durable and truly likeable set of budget on-ears. And as such, they're some of the best headphones for study.
That's not to say the spec is bare. Features include Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX Low Latency, a 25-hour battery life, app support and Sennheiser’s beloved-of-DJs transducer tech.
The build is a black plastic affair, but it is functional and solid and features the firm’s traditional S-in-a-rectangle white branding on each ear cup. Said ear cups are nicely padded, although the headband isn't.
When it comes to sound, the HD 250BT sound a good deal more musically detailed, agile and rhythmically gifted across the frequencies than one might expect given the eye-poppingly low price tag.
All in all, the HD 250BT are a superb budget buy – and a great way to experience what Sennheiser is capable of, without breaking the bank.
Read the full Sennheiser HD 250BT review
Cambridge’s compact, fuss-free and affordable design in its original Melomania 1 true wireless earbuds was a hit with us the first time around in 2019. The addition of a slicker paint-job, app support for EQ customisation and the step-up in sonic detail and refinement – without the anticipated price hike – only makes us want to heap extra praise upon the new Melomania 1 Plus.
While the original Melomania 1 can now be had for a significant discount, we’d still point you towards this updated model. There’s no noise-cancelling onboard, but those who don’t need shouldn't hesitate to add these latest Melomanias to their shortlist.
For an engaging, detailed, expansive listen, the Melomania 1 Plus are very much in the running for best at this level. And a marathon 45-hour battery life makes them some of the best headphones for study, no matter how epic your revision session.
Read the full Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus review
Panasonic isn't a brand that immediately springs to mind when you think of cheap wireless earbuds. But perhaps it should be. The RZ-S500W are the company's first foray into wireless noise-cancelling earbuds and they're sensational performers for their outlay.
Specs are thorough, with noise-cancelling tech, an Ambient Mode, twin mics for voice calls, and battery life that totals 19.5 hours (6.5hrs from the buds and 13hrs from the charging case). A 15-minute USB-C quick-charge can deliver 70 minutes of playback. The touch controls on each bud are responsive and intuitive, allowing you to control your music and switch between noise-cancelling modes with zero fuss.
You also get five sizes of ear tips to help with fit. We found this a little hit and miss, so we'd definitely experiment and consider mixing the sizes if it means getting a more secure fit.
Both noise-cancelling and sound quality are excellent. There's plenty of agility through the low end and loads of texture across frequencies. Music sounds clear and there's a great deal of refinement on show, which is to be welcomed at this price level. Bang for buck – that's what being a student is all about.
Read the full Panasonic RZ-S500W review
Sony's latest wireless noise-cancelling headphones aren't cheap. But if you want the best headphones for study in terms of sound quality, comfort, feature set and noise-cancellation, these XM5 are worth every penny.
When we saw the official pictures of the Sony WH-1000XM5, we were more than a bit surprised. We wondered whether it was a wise move to give one of Sony’s biggest success stories in recent memory a major redesign. But it's paid off.
Because the XM5 follow the XM4, our previous favourite Bluetooth noise-cancellers and the best way to block out background sound. While the XM5's build quality might feel a little less premium than before, the jump in sound quality is a big one, and rivals could once again have their work cut out.
Read the full Sony WH-1000XM5 review
Given everyone’s apparent obsession with wireless headphones, you’d be forgiven for thinking the days of wired headphones were numbered, especially at the more affordable end of the market.
But, we’d be surprised if those thoughts ever surfaced in the corridors of Austrian Audio’s Vienna HQ. The company, born out of ex-AKG employees, has hit the ground running with its first-ever range of wired headphones, Hi-X.
We’d consider the Hi-X15 an analytical pair of headphones, but they still manage to make music entertaining with it – they extract bags of detail but keep the soul of your music intact. Throughout the frequency range, these headphones deliver consistently high detail levels and fantastic dynamics. There isn’t an ounce of fat on any track played through the Austrian AudioHi-X15 headphones. But at the same time there’s enough weight and substance to low frequencies that you don’t feel as though you’re missing out.
We wouldn't insist on you partnering them with a suitable DAC/headphone amplifier, but do so and you’ll be rewarded with a mature-sounding pair of headphones that go above and beyond at the money. Ideal for studying, or for kicking back at the end of a long day.
Read the full Austrian Audio Hi-X15 review
With the WF-1000XM4, Sony's managed to build on the huge success of the WF-1000XM3 (below) and produce a sensational pair of true wireless earbuds that are some of the best headphones for study.
Sound quality is superb. There's dynamics and detail in spades and it's a balanced performance, with taut, precise bass notes and refined, sophisticated vocals. You can't help but be carried away by their sense of musicality.
Studying all day? The eight-hour battery life should suffice. The wireless charging case also extends this by a further 16 hours, so you can use them on the bus home, too.
They're comfortable, with touch-sensitive controls and ear tips that provide excellent noise isolation. Combine this with brilliant noise cancelling courtesy of Sony's Integrated Processor V1 and the WF-1000XM4 are difficult to fault.
IPX4 water resistance is included, as are clever features such as Quick Attention and Speak-To-Chat which both allow you to have a conversation without removing the earbuds. If you buy one pair of true wireless earbuds this year, make it the WF-1000XM4.
Read the full Sony WF-1000XM4 review
Only bettered for value by their successors above, these Sonys build on the original Sony WF-1000X (some of the first true wireless earbuds to get five stars from us), with a Bluetooth chip that sharpens up music synchronization and a noise-cancelling processor which Sony claims offers a 40 per cent improvement on its predecessor. Which is not to be sniffed at.
It works. Even without music playing, you can tell they cancel out more noise than their forebears. Cue library-style silence.
There’s better in-ear grip than before too, but more to the point, these just sound great. They’re clear, expressive, detailed and deliver all the musical energy you could need to get you through that next chapter. They have subtlety in spades, and impressive pacing. Proceedings are lent a fantastic sense of musicality and balance that's guaranteed to enhance tracks of all genres.
Want a pair of the best headphones for study around? For their now discounted price, these are most definitely up there.
Read the full Sony WF-1000XM3 review
If you want a set of wireless over-ear headphones you can put on, deploy noise-canceling and largely extinguish the outside world for up to 24 hours, the Bose QC 45 has the edge over most of the competition at the price. And for many, that will be the end of the story.
Sonically, your money can buy better – the Sony WF-1000XM5 further up this list, for example. And if you want extra features like a more tailored noise-canceling experience, an auto-pause function when you remove them, or sound EQ adjustment, you might be better shopping elsewhere.
We understand the inclination to stick to a winning design recipe, and that attitude has produced another very likeable (if not class-leading) pair of QuietComfort headphones. If you need to block out any unwanted revels during an all-nighter, these are the headphones to do it.
Read the full Bose QuietComfort 45 review
When it comes to wireless earbuds, Sony has sewn up the high end with the WF-1000XM4. But can it do the same at the budget end of the market with the WF-C500?
Not quite, but it does give it a very good try indeed. The C500 handle the basics very well, with Bluetooth 5.0, and compatibility with SBC and AAC codecs. Battery life is a healthy 10 hours from the earbuds themselves, and another 10 from the charging case, making a total of 20.
They pair with Sony's consummate Headphones Connect app for sublime controls, and numerous extra features (like the Digital Sound Enhancement Engine, which upscales audio files to something approaching ‘hi-res’ quality). Voice controls come via Google Assistant and Siri, and the IPX4 rating means they're resistant to water splashes.
Sonically, they're even-handed and nicely balanced, with well-shaped bass notes. In short, they offer a lot of what makes Sony's high-end buds so compelling, without cutting too many corners. Definitely one for the shortlist.
Read the full Sony WF-C500 review
iPhone users have got multiple models of AirPods to consider, but what about Android smartphone owners? We'd point them in the direction of the Pixel Buds A-Series – they're Google's best effort to date.
They're light and comfortable, and while noise cancelling is off the menu, they do a good job of isolating you. Your colour choices are either white or 'Dark Olive' and they boast IPX4 water resistance so you can use them for general exercise and running.
The five-hour battery life isn't exactly class-leading but should be enough for most people. You also get another 20 or so from the carry case. Pairing Pixel Buds A-Series is extremely simple, especially if you're using an Android smartphone or tablet that boasts the Fast Pair feature.
Come music time, there's a lot to like about the Pixel Buds thanks to their approachable, balanced sound. It doesn't favour any part of the sonic spectrum which can't always be said for even the best cheap wireless earbuds. They're well-rounded performers and available at a great price.
Read the full Google Pixel Buds A-Series review
The third generation AirPods (2021) are a joy to use and offer some nice upgrades over their predecessors, the second generation AirPods (2019). The smaller stems are reminiscent of the AirPods Pro, the new "low distortion" driver brings improved sound and the IPX4 rating makes them water and sweat resistant.
If you're an Apple Music subscriber, you'll be excited to hear that the AirPods 3 now join the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max in exclusively offering the full spatial audio experience.
Battery life has been boosted from 24 hours to 30 hours (six hours from the buds themselves plus four full charges from the charging case). A five-minute ‘quick charge’ should give the AirPods 3 enough juice for an hour's playback.
The AirPods Pro still justify their existence with superior sound, ANC and fit-friendly eartips. But the AirPods 3 are a great buy Apple users who aren't bothered about noise-cancelling.
Read the full Apple AirPods 3 review
How we test headphones for study
We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London, Reading and Bath, where our team of experienced, in-house reviewers test the majority of hi-fi and AV kit that passes through our door. We also have offices where we work and write... and most of the time we wear headphones to block out office chit-chat and help us focus. So we know what makes up a good pair of headphones for study.
Integral to our headphones reviewing process is that each pair is compared to the best in its price and style class – whether that's one standout pair or a few we favour the highest among the 100+ pairs we listen to each year for reviews and What Hi-Fi? Awards judging. What Hi-Fi? is all about comparative testing, and we keep class-leading products in our stockrooms so we can always compare new products to ones we know and love.
We are always impartial and do our best to make sure we're hearing every product at their very best, so we'll try plenty of different types of music and give them plenty of listening time (and time to run in), while the wired headphones that might warrant being used with a DAC are tested with a suitable one. It's not just about sound quality, of course. If a pair has active noise cancellation – increasingly the case these days – we'll ensure part of our testing involves using them in different environments, from a busy indoor working environment to public transport.
All review verdicts are agreed upon by the team rather than an individual reviewer to eliminate any personal preference and to make sure we're being as thorough as possible, too. There's no input from PR companies or our sales team when it comes to the verdict, with What Hi-Fi? proud of having delivered honest, unbiased reviews for decades.
You can read more about how we test and review products on What Hi-Fi? here.