On the hunt for a decent pair of headphones to take and make audio and video calls with, as well as listen to music, but unsure which to get? You’re far from alone
Our team of expert reviewers has tested hundreds of pairs of headphones over the years. We can confirm there are far too many pairs of earbuds to choose from but we can also deliver our trusted recommendation on which ones really are worth the money.
All too often we’ve had great-sounding sets pass through our test rooms that deliver brilliant sonic performances but are not so good when it comes to taking and making calls. Key issues we often encounter include poor wind protection that can make a light breeze sound like a tornado on the other end of the line, as well as ineffective isolation, which can make it impossible to hear the person you're talking to in busy office environments.
To ensure you pick up a set that delivers great music and mic quality, we’ve created this guide detailing the top-performing headphones with a mic we’ve personally tried and tested.
Joe has been writing about tech for 17 years, first on staff at T3 magazine, then in a freelance capacity for Stuff, The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, Men's Health, GQ, The Mirror, Trusted Reviews, TechRadar and many more (including What Hi-Fi?). His specialities include all things mobile, headphones and speakers that he can't justifying spending money on.
The quick list
Scroll down or use the quick links above to get a detailed breakdown of the strengths and weaknesses of all the entries in this guide, based on our experience testing them. Or, if you're in a hurry you can get the Cliff notes on each entry using the table below.
The best overall
The Sony WH-1000XM5 are the best headphones we've tested in quite some time. This is because they deliver in pretty much every area. During our checks, as well as great mic quality, they offered reliable ANC, battery length and excellent audio, making them a great set for anyone looking for an all-in-one set of headphones for music as well as calls.
The best cheap
Based on our testing, the Sony WF-C700N are the earbuds to get if you're short on cash and want a great all-round set of earbuds that work for taking and making calls and listening to music. Though they don't match the performance of the more expensive options on this list, for the money you won't do better.
The best premium
Apple's first over-ear headphones aren't cheap, but based on our testing they justify their price, especially if you want a set with a decent mic. Call quality was great during our checks, and if you want a set to watch movies as well, you won't do better thanks to the inclusion of spatial audio support.
The best over-ear
Though we recommend the newer model in general, if you are a little short on cash then the WH-1000XM4 is still a fantastic set of over-ears, especially now they've had their price slashed. Though the XM5 offer better audio and connectivity mic quality is fairly similar between the two.
The best wired
If you're old school and want a wired pair of headphones with a decent mic, then the Shure Aonic 3 are the ones to get, based on our checks. In our tests, they deliver a reliable call-ready seal as well as excellent mic and audio quality.
Best Apple earbuds
The best Apple earbuds
If you have an iPhone and want an in-ear set of wireless earbuds with a decent mic then the Airpods Pro 2 is the set to get. During our checks, they provided great call quality, which coupled with their excellent ANC made them great for any buyer after a pair of true-wireless for chatting and listening to music on the go.
The best headphones with a mic we recommend in 2023
Why you can trust What Hi-Fi? Our expert team reviews products in dedicated test rooms, to help you make the best choice for your budget. Find out more about how we test.
The What Hi-Fi? Award-winning WF-1000XM5 sound much better than their predecessors for music, but also for calls. Sony’s Precise Voice Pickup technology uses four beamforming mics and AI-powered noise-reduction, plus wind-noise reduction to help your calls sound as clear as possible. The result? Your voice comes through the WH-1000XM5 clearly and without distortion. They also do a great job of suppressing general noise and any gusts of wind that can threaten to drown you out when using lesser headphones.
The XM5 can also pair wirelessly with more than one device at a time, letting you effortlessly switch between music on one, and calls on another.
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.
The XM5 might feel a little less premium than before, but the jump in sound quality from the previous generation is a big one, and rivals once again have their work cut out. If you are looking for a new pair of wireless noise-cancelling headphones for calls as well as music, your auditioning should start here. The older XM4 (below) were already the best around, but the XM5 are undoubtedly better for those who can afford to pay the premium.
Read the full Sony WH-1000XM5 review
|Sound||Musical and hugely entertaining, the best we've heard at this level||★★★★★|
|Features||Numerous control options, impressive app, but not waterproof||★★★★☆|
|Comfort||Soft ear padding, nicely judged clamping force||★★★★★|
And they're a brilliant option that more than justify their price tag. The buds are impressively small, and their lightweight design helps make them even more comfortable than Sony's new flagship WF-1000XM5, while battery life is competitive at seven and a half hours.
Calls are a joy thanks to Sony's Wind Noise Reduction Structure blocking out background sound. This helps voices sound natural and clear. Even large gusts of wind didn’t affect the clarity of our conversations. Compared to something like the JBL Live Pro 2 TWS, our voices sound more refined and dynamic.
They lack aptX HD and LDAC but do feature noise-cancelling tech, which the cheaper WF-C500 lack. Adaptive Sound Control automatically switches listening modes depending on your location, and Sony's DSEE (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) upscales low-res digital audio files to higher quality. A software update has seen Bluetooth Multipoint also added so you can be connected to two devices simultaneously.
The sound quality is superbly balanced too, with deep, detailed bass, expressive mids and engaging highs. They're a very musical listen for the money, and utterly worthy of a 2023 What Hi-Fi? Award as part of Sony's dominance of the wireless headphone market.
Downsides? The lack of support for aptX HD and LDAC is disappointing, and, the charging case only provides one extra charge which seems a little mean. But the superb sound and great feature set make these easy to recommend as some of the best Sony headphones available.
Read the full Sony WF-C700N review
|Sound||At this price you won't do better||★★★★★|
|Features||Some extra options are missing, but the essentials are covered||★★★★☆|
|Comfort||Secure and comfortable to wear||★★★★★|
Overkill? Almost certainly. If you only need a pair of headphones for calls, you really don't need to spend £549 ($549, AU$899) on the AirPods Max, but if you're looking for a mighty fine pair of over-ear noise-cancellers that also work as a hands-free kit, look no further.
They boast pristinely machined, single-piece anodised aluminium ear cups connected by a stainless-steel headband. Between the cups and your head are memory foam cushions that easily surround even the largest ears, creating a seal that’s both gentle and surprisingly effective at physically blocking out sound, leaving you to focus on the call at hand.
They're significantly heavier than their rivals. But thanks to the weight-distributing design, you can wear them for hours with no discomfort. Sound quality is superb, as is the noise cancelling, and they're a dream to use.
Downsides? You'll need an Apple device to use them to their full potential. The battery life is shorter than some rivals, and of course, there's that price...
But if you want a superb pair of Apple headphones that can work on voice and video calls, the Max are for you.
Read the full Apple AirPods Max review
|Sound||Expensive, but worth it||★★★★★|
|Features||Great call functionality and connectivty, with an iPhone||★★★★★|
|Comfort||Solid isolation and a comfy fit||★★★★★|
They've been superseded by the WH-1000XM5 (above), but you can still grab Sony's previous-gen flagship wireless over ears at the moment. And that's great news if you want to pick up a great pair of wireless headphones with a mic without breaking the bank.
How? They’re as comfortable as ever, making them perfect for long video calls; they introduce useful features that elevate the user experience; and, most importantly, you’re getting a serious hike in sound quality.
Their sense of musicality and enthusiasm remains as addictive as ever, and they still match most flagship sets’ call performance. They're confident and composed, especially when handling lower frequencies, and dig up lots more detail. Not only is that good news for music, but it also makes them ideal for conference calls on Zoom or Skype.
And when you really need to focus, there's an impeccable noise-cancelling feature that uses a new algorithm and new System on Chip (SoC). The perfect headphones for voice and video calls, be they for work or play.
Read the full Sony WH-1000XM4 review
|Sound||Despite their age, the XM4 still sound great and offer reliable call quality||★★★★★|
|Features||More than enough connectivity for most people||★★★★★|
|Comfort||Comfy to wear, even for long calls||★★★★★|
With a noise-isolating design (no noise cancellation tech), wired connection and 3.5mm headphone jack, you might think these Shures are a little out of step with most modern headphones. And that price! They'll have to do something pretty spectacular to convince us they're worth considering.
Thankfully, they do and they are – having now won three consecutive What Hi-Fi? Awards in 2021, 2022 and 2023. They time nigh-on perfectly, able to separate strands and knit them together in one glorious musical tapestry. The sense of rhythm and timing needs to be heard to be believed.
The same can be said of their dynamic ability. In the nicest possible way, they're the kind of headphones you can put on and just forget about. There isn’t a single element that sticks out – bass notes don’t protrude and highs don’t cut too deep. They're honest, transparent and true to the original recording. There’s detail and analysis, but never at the expense of the music's life and emotion.
They're comfortable and lightweight, too, and with nine different pairs of eartips, you're guaranteed a good fit. An in-line mic seals the deal, serving to make calls clearer than many rivals.
Read the full Shure Aonic 3 review
|Sound||Crystal clear audio for music and calls||★★★★★|
|Features||The cable and in-line mic is all you need||★★★★★|
|Comfort||A wealth of tip options make it easy to get a comfy fit||★★★★★|