The 3 best headphones for college and uni students – as tested by a tech expert

Heading back to class? You'll want awesome earphones! It's my job to test them – here are 3 picks I most recommend

T3 Back to Class 2023 - student wearing headphones while using a laptop on a desk
(Image credit: Oscar Wong / Getty Images)

It's summertime, the sun is (hopefully) shining, and you're having the time of your life. But it's also approaching back to class time – and T3's Back to Class month will help you find the classiest products across a wide range of categories – so it's time to get that thinking cap on and gear up for your next term or semester.

As part of my job I review headphones for a living, so I've got the expertise and market knowledge to know when a product is best-of-the-best. But you're not made of money, of course, so on this page I've pored over the very many best headphones and best earphones options to pick ones that are top quality specifically for students, not just the best cheap headphones going. 

I've picked out a trio of headphones that I think are highly commendable: from affordable in-ears, to the best over-ears (and best-balanced price-to-performance ratio right now), and the very best active noise-cancelling (ANC) earbuds to drown out external sound. In all cases I've picked a far cheaper option and an Apple product alternative for each, so all tastes and wants are catered for. 

Without further ado, here are the best three headphones and earphones options for students – whether you're going to school, college or university – that will solve your in-ear and over-ear purchase conundrums. They're all available for the best possible prices, too, as you can see from the shopping widgets positioned next to each product to add pricing context. 

1. Best affordable in-ears: Nothing Ear (2)

Nothing Ear 2 black and white lifestyle promo image

(Image credit: Nothing)

An easy selection to make: Nothing's second-gen in-ears won the 2023 T3 Awards 'Best True Wireless Headphones' gong. That's because, price irrelevant, they hold their own when it comes to distinct style and distinctive audio quality, including decent active noise-cancelling (ANC) to keep the outside world at bay. 

As stated in T3's Nothing Ear (2) review: "[these earbuds] build on the brand's position as a fashionable start-up to offer a genuine knockout product. ANC earbuds don't come more complete than this, with excellent sound quality, a top-notch app interface and great battery life." Can't say better than that. 

But the key reason me picking these is that the price isn't out of this world, especially compared to some of the best true wireless earbuds alternatives out there. Nothing makes products that are affordable, while ensuring decent longevity, and a features list that won't let you down. I think these are well worth snapping up at this price, but if you want even more powerful ANC then look at my third pick from Bose further down page in this article. 

  • Want a much cheaper alternative? The JLab Go Air Pop ditch the ANC, but are a fifth of the price – and come highly recommended by our sister site TechRadar
  • Apple more your thing? The original AirPods Pro are a similar price and the perfect match to Apple ecosystem products

2. Best over-ears: Sony WH-1000XM4

Sony WH-1000XM4 review

(Image credit: Sony)

Now the Sony WH-1000XM4 aren't the newest over-ears on the market by any means. Indeed, I recall their release date being not far from three years ago at the time of writing. So why pick these Sony headphones rather than the even newer WH-1000XM5 replacement? That's easy: a great price, without impacting superb comfort, sound and active noise-cancelling (ANC). 

Indeed, these over-ears won the 2021 T3 Awards for Best Noise Cancelling Headphones, which tells you just how classy these cans are. As said in T3's Sony WH-1000XM4 review at the time: "Sony's WH-1000XM4 are the best noise cancelling headphones you can buy. By keeping the sound as good as it always was to satisfy music lovers and adding some extra features tech heads wanted, Sony manages to keep its nose just in front of Bose, Bowers & Wilkins and Beats by Dr. Dre."

It's testament to just how good a product these over-ears are that they still stand up today – and you're best off saving those student pennies in buying these instead of the newer model or an alternative brand in my view. They'll last you for years to come, too, so think of them as an investment. If you want Sony's comfort at a cut of the price then the non-ANC WH-CH520 alternative is a good shout, too, as it's much cheaper. 

  • Want a much cheaper alternative? The Sony WH-CH520, which ditch the ANC, cost a fifth of the price and come highly recommended by our sister site TechRadar
  • Apple more your thing? You'd best spend your student loan in one then, as the only Apple over-ears are the twice-as-pricey (yet twice-as-nicey) AirPods Max

3. Best noise-cancelling: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2

(Image credit: Bose)

While I'm obviously not suggesting that you're going to spend all your time in class wearing headphones, there will still be those times when you want peace and quiet, or to just get lost in a world of your favourite tunes, podcasts or audiobooks so you can focus on study. Which is where the most powerful active noise-cancelling (ANC) comes into play. 

That's why this Bose product is the only selection I could consider making: because the QuietComfort Earbuds 2, which won the 2023 T3 Awards gong for Best Noise Cancelling Headphones, are second to none when it comes to making the outside world's sounds obsolete. That's the foremost reason to consider buying these earbuds.

In T3's Bose QC Earbuds II review, we described the in-ears as having "noise-cancelling that's out of this world", continuing that the 'buds are "in a league of their own". Bose makes Sony eat its own hat when it comes to ANC, really, so if you're looking for a sound experience that's like floating in a vacuum, this is the pick for you (but the cheaper Sony WF-1000XM4 will be in with a shout for many people, given the even lower price). 

  • Want a much cheaper alternative? The Earfun Air are an eighth of the price and highly recommended by our sister site What Hi-Fi
  • Apple more your thing? The AirPods Pro 2 are a similar price and the perfect match for Apple ecosystem products – plus they sound great
Mike Lowe
Tech Editor

Mike is the Tech Editor at He's been writing about consumer technology for 15 years and, as a phones expert, has seen hundreds of handsets over the years – swathes of Android devices, a smattering of iPhones, and a batch of Windows Phone too (remember those?). But that's not all, as a tech and audio aficionado his beat at T3 also covers tablets, laptops, gaming, home cinema, TVs, speakers and more – there's barely a tech stone unturned he's not had a hand on. Previously the Reviews Editor at Pocket-lint for 10 years, he's also provided work for publications such as Wired, The Guardian, Metro, and more. In addition to his tech knowledge, Mike is also a flights and travel expert, having travelled the globe extensively. You'll likely find him setting up a new mobile phone, critiquing the next MacBook, all while planning his next getaway... or cycling somewhere.