Best headphones for an open-plan office

Keep the office noise out and your music in.

Sometimes the place specifically designed for working can dampen your productivity. If you’re in an open office, it’s hard to escape others’ conversations and actually get to, say, writing your article about the best headphones.

Because open floor plans are becoming more popular—and because the Popular Science crew is moving to an open office this week—it seemed wise to do some research to determine the best gear for this new working environment. Clearly, the first stop on this gear tour is headphone town.

If you have people working 18 inches from either shoulder, you want to block out their noise (who knew breathing could be so loud?) without bothering them. You’ll want to block chatter without blasting your tunes so loud your coworkers know exactly how many times a week you listen to the soundtrack for A Goofy Movie. If you’re like me and listen to music way louder than you should, it’s important to bring a pair of headphones to work that won’t distract the people around you.

Best design: Master & Dynamic MW40

Top-Notch Sound

Stay stylish when you rock out. Amazon

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I prefer wireless headphones because they’re better for commuting, but I understand it’s important to have a nice wired option that doesn’t need to be recharged and can plug into older devices. If you haven’t switched over to a wireless pair yet, Master & Dynamic’s over-ear headphones are stylish, comfortable, and produce top-notch sound. The MW40 model has 45mm Neodymium drivers, removable lambskin, and memory foam ear-pads, and can fold flat so they don’t take up much room in your bag while you travel to and from work. The body is made of leather, stainless steel, and aluminum, materials designed to make the set more durable than cheaper pairs. It comes in 12 color options and includes a 3.5mm cable with audio controls, and a protective carrying case.

Super durable: Bose QuietComfort 35 (Series II)

For Any Occasion

The perfect performance for any ears. Amazon

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Bose’s QuietComfort 35 (Series II) over-ear headphones were my go-to for traveling, office listening, and blocking out unwanted noise. They hold a 20-hour charge, interact with virtual assistants, and connect over Bluetooth or NFC (near-field communication). The headphones can be used wirelessly or with a 3.5mm cable, and have adjustable noise cancellation.

Most advances features: Bowers & Wilkins PX wireless headphones

From The Future

Reacts to your surroundings. Amazon

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Bowers & Wilkins’ PX headphones have two, angled 40mm audio drivers—that claim to create a more natural stereo sound—and can be used wired or via Bluetooth 4.1. There are three levels of adaptive noise-canceling—they react to a range of noise levels—that can be controlled from within the smartphone app. These three settings are designed to block background noise from cities, planes, and offices.

The PX also reacts to your motions, meaning if you remove the leather-and-memory-foam cups from your ears or place the headphones around your neck, the music automatically pauses. The PX also features an impressive battery life. While using the adaptive noise-canceling, the headphones last for up to 22 hours but can last up to 33 hours if the headphones are wired and not using Bluetooth. The headphones charge via USB.

Basic pick: Sony MDR7506 monitor headphones

If You Like To Stay Attached

Blocks out unwanted noise without noise-cancelation. Amazon

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For a cheaper—and less fancy—option that still provides quality sound, Sony’s large-diaphragm MDR7506 headphones are my go-to when mixing music at home. The over-the-ear headphones have 40mm drivers and are designed to block out unwanted noise and prevent sound from escaping into microphones. They come with comfortable, padded ear pads, an extendable cord that can reach up to 9.8 feet, and a soft travel pouch.

Billy Cadden
Billy Cadden

Billy Cadden is the Director of Commerce for the Camden Media tech group. He was part of NYC indie rock band The Postelles, and currently releases solo music under his name. His latest work is available on all streaming platforms. Contact the author here.