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The best headphones for back to school from our Testing Lab

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Written by Quentyn Kennemer

Quality headphones have become increasingly important for effective studying and relaxation. The best headphones for back-to-school will block out excessive noise, last most of your school day, are comfortable to wear, and are easily transportable without worrying about durability.

At Best Reviews, we test a large variety of personal audio products. You'll find most of our recommendations for dorm-appropriate cans in our guides to the best headphones and best wireless earbuds.

Shop this article: AirPods Max, JBL Endurance Peak 3, Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation)

Essential considerations for student headphones

Different students have different needs when it comes to headphones. Some may prioritize sound quality for music and media consumption, while others may look for active noise cancellation (ANC) capabilities for peaceful studying in noisy environments. Portability might be a priority for those who are always on the move, and budget is an important factor for many students. 

No matter your need, a comfortable fit is universally important for anyone purchasing a pair of headphones. It doesn't matter how good they sound if you can't stand to wear them longer than a few minutes. 

If you're going with over-ear headphones, make sure they don't clamp your head too tightly. You'll also want something that's decently breathable to prevent sweat. 

Like the low-key nature of earbuds? Make sure they fully plug your ear canal without irritating it. Not only will this make them difficult to dislodge, but you'll maximize the potential of their audio quality by keeping unwanted sounds from disrupting the flow of soundwaves to your eardrums. Most earbuds include silicone or memory foam tips to customize the fit.

How we test headphones and earbuds

Our expert testers begin by examining the build quality and design of each pair of headphones or earbuds. This process includes assessing the materials used, the fit's comfort and adjustability, and the product's overall aesthetic appeal. We also consider any additional features, such as touch controls, voice assistants, or the inclusion of a carrying case.

Next, we turn to performance testing. This involves several hours of listening across a range of music genres and other audio types, such as podcasts and audiobooks, to evaluate the sound quality. We take note of the clarity and balance across different frequencies, from deep bass to clear, sharp treble.

We also assess the effectiveness of any noise cancellation or isolation features, and run battery life tests to determine whether the manufacturer's claims hold up under real-world conditions. For wireless models, we test the range and reliability of the Bluetooth connection.

Finally, our testers take the headphones or earbuds into different environments, from quiet offices to noisy public transport, to see how they perform under varying conditions. This hands-on experience, combined with technical testing, helps us understand the pros and cons of each model and how they stack up against each other.

Best headphones for back-to-school

AirPods Max 

Apple's AirPods Max produce top-tier sound quality thanks to spatial audio and excellent noise cancellation. They feature a comfortable over-ear design with a mesh canopy for breathability, making them suitable for extended study sessions. Our testers like the fit and function, but they're pricey and may be too big for some bags.

Sold by Amazon

JBL Endurance Peak 3

The sporty JBL Endurance Peak 3 are ideal earbuds for students on the go with regular workouts between studies. The hooks help secure an already comfortable fit, they offer great sound, don a lightweight waterproof design, and boast a total battery life of up to 50 hours (10 hours per charge).

Sold by Amazon

Apple AirPods Pro 

The AirPods Pro don Apple's iconic lightweight design and great sound with active noise cancellation. These are ideal companions for iPhone-wielding students who also carry an iPad or MacBook to class. They fit better than standard AirPods thanks to customizable tips, but can still shake loose at times. 

Sold by Amazon

Beats Powerbeats Pro 

These Beats earbuds offer excellent sound quality (sans ANC) and a secure, customizable fit thanks to integrated ear hooks. Notably, they use the same H1 chip as Apple's AirPods, so they pair great with iPhones. They run nine hours per charge and feature water resistance, making them perfect for active students. 

Sold by Amazon

Soundcore Anker Life Q20 

The Anker Soundcore Life Q20 are budget-friendly over-ear headphones that don't compromise on sound. Audio quality is surprisingly good for a pair this affordable, and decent ANC performance helps amplify that. Anker also makes nice on their advertised 40-hour battery life, making them suitable for long study sessions.

Sold by Amazon

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Quentyn Kennemer writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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