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Back when I was a college student burning through last-minute essays and reams of textbooks, I used to put on my noise-canceling headphones, crank up my playlist, and hear nothing but the sound of textbook chapters being read out in my mind. Now, as I work from home every day, I find my trusted noise-canceling headphones to be the one essential I can’t work without. They tune out all distractions, from the sirens and truck engines on the New York City street I live on to the sounds of neighbors and my robot vacuum. All that is without other indoor distractions that many face, such as young children, creaky floorboards, roommates, and old sputtery heaters.
So if you find yourself struggling to focus while working from home, a pair of noise-canceling headphones might just be the thing to help you block out all the noise — literally and figuratively. And if you’re looking for a basic, no-nonsense set, then Microsoft’s Surface Headphones 2 are an excellent choice for WFH-ers. The company offered me the chance to test them out, and I found them to be a great starter option for those looking at more affordable, mid-range prices.
The Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 include all the necessary trimmings that a good pair of noise-canceling headphones need: decent noise-canceling capabilities, touch controls, wireless Bluetooth connectivity with your smartphone that includes a calibration app, call assistance that works with your phone’s smart assistant, and a long-lasting battery. Using them is easy, too. A simple tap plays or pauses the track, while a double tap plays the next song or answers and ends a phone call. A triple tap brings you to the previous song, while touching and holding the touch area activates your smartphone assistant. The headphones also include a turnable ring on the left ear cup where you can adjust noise cancellation levels.
Don’t worry if your other major electronics aren’t from Microsoft — the Surface Headphones 2 pair just fine with Apple’s operating systems, as they did with my iPhone and my MacBook Pro. Microsoft Office users do get some extra perks, though: You can dictate in Word, Outlook, and PowerPoint using the Surface Headphones 2, and when connected to your smartphone, the headphones can read out and act on emails in the Outlook mobile app with the Play My Emails function.
The headphones are incredibly convenient for those working from home: I picked up my conference calls with a simple tap, and the Play My Emails action was an easy way to run through my bursting inbox while I started my day with a cup of coffee. The battery life of Microsoft’s Surface Headphones 2 is impressive, with the set capable of playing music for an hour after just a five-minute charge, and up to 20 hours when the battery’s fully topped up. I found myself able to use the headphones for days before I really had to plug them into my laptop to charge.
That’s not to say, however, that the Surface Headphones 2 don’t have room for improvement. When compared to my Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones, the Microsoft pair paled in comparison when it came down to the nitty gritty of music quality. I compared the two to Florence & The Machine’s “Hunger,” and the Microsoft pair was wanting in showing the definition of Florence Welch’s piercing trill. While the Sony headphones provided layers upon layers of drums, background vocals, and the searing richness of Welch’s powerhouse vocals, Microsoft’s fizzled into a flat, staticky flood of noise that lacked the note-by-note clarity Sony’s provided.
In synthesizer- and bass-heavy anthems like The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights,” the Sony headphones were able to take on the frequent bass drops in a much more controlled way than Microsoft’s, which gave me a slight headache after incoherently mixing heavy pounding with The Weeknd’s synthesizer (especially when he sang the line, “I can’t see clearly when you’re gone”). The Microsoft headphones did better with less electronically-produced music like jazz, instrumental music, and orchestral works. Listening to Antonio Vivaldi’s “Spring” from The Four Seasons was an especially rousing and heart-thumping experience.
Another area where the Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 could have done better is in comfort. Since I’m used to the large, ergonomic, and soft oval padding on my Sony headphones, it took me a while to adapt to the smaller, round ear covers of the Microsoft pair. I also found that the noise cancellation adjustment ring on the left side of the Microsoft headphones would easily tangle my hair, and the top overhead padding, while certainly grippy, could press upon my head and create uncomfortable pressure, which required me to take them off every few hours or so to take a break.
Of course, I made my musical comparisons after hours of listening to the same songs over and over again, picking out the tiniest differences within seconds of refrain, so those who are just casual music listeners will certainly find Microsoft’s headphones more than adequate. Most probably don’t have their headphones on 24/7 like I sometimes do either, and it’s always good to take off your headphones for a quick break anyway (something that usually happens when you finally peel yourself away from your laptop — which your eyes certainly appreciate). Plus, if you’re used to round ear cups from popular brands like Beats, then the Microsoft headphones will certainly feel comfortably familiar.
Considering that Microsoft’s headphones are only $245 at full price (whereas my Sony headphones were originally more than $300), they’re certainly worth every penny for the average listener who wants a good noise-canceling headset that comes with extra smart device perks. Using the Surface Headphones 2 as my work headphones for a week, I found them to be an easy-to-use device and a great accessory that fulfills many basic requirements.
The Surface Headphones 2 are currently available on Amazon, where you can get them in both gray and black. Shop these WFH-approved headphones below.