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How does a first-time parent juggle a career, a marriage, a newborn and the global pandemic all at the same time? That’s a question I struggle to answer, even after two years of parenthood. While the experience is more manageable these days, it’s still difficult working a nine-to-five when my toddler is frequently asking Daddy to draw excavators and watch YouTube educators during office hours. Having a loving, supportive wife who adapted to full-time motherhood has helped significantly. You know what else has? Noise-canceling headphones.

I’m sure many work-from-home parents rely on something to increase work efficiency when sharing office space with their spouse and children. For me, it has been using the best noise-canceling headphones to focus on assignments.

Going into the bedroom and closing the door just wasn’t enough to avoid the endless distractions (crying, loud TVs) that seeped through the walls. I needed incredible active noise cancellation (ANC) and patience to reestablish my productive work ethic. But noise-canceling headphones aren’t just about blocking out the world. They’ve also enhanced my communication with clients and the missus as well as boosted my awareness of surroundings and ability to enjoy music peacefully during downtimes.

This is how noise-canceling headphones helped me survive early parenthood.

Silence is golden at work (from home)

Prior to the pandemic, I only used noise-canceling headphones on airplanes or when riding public transportation. Wearing them around the house before bringing a child into the world didn’t seem necessary. Well, hearing a baby cry from the opposite end of a 2,000-square-foot home changed my perspective.

Putting on these headphones felt relieving, and enabling ANC created a soundproof force field. My Spotify Hip-Hop Chillstrumentals playlist acted as the perfect tranquil backdrop, while the noise neutralization from my preferred headphones and earbuds kept outside interference to a minimum without compromising sound. Music and movies sounded more intimate.

My living conditions had already rewired my brain to work faster and more efficiently with the little free time I had. Adding noise cancellation to the mix advanced everything. What normally took eight hours to get done was now being completed in five hours.

Noise-canceling headphones are also the best calling headsets

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I’m not knocking the best work-from-home earbuds and headphones, but the call quality on certain noise-canceling headphones is superior. Category leaders like the Bose 700 and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 made me sound more professional during voice and video calls, no matter the background noise in my home or on the balcony.

The combination of power mics, reliable connectivity, strong speech recognition and terrific ANC produced loud and clear results that callers on the opposite end appreciated. Since I review audio products for a living, I’m bound by commitment to test call quality on all headphones and earbuds. For models that didn’t perform up to par, I sought out underutilized settings like Sidetone, which allows you to hear your own voice while you speak and helps you avoid talking too loudly.

More importantly, noise-canceling headphones have let me bond with my child over the phone when we’re apart. Excellent clarity and vocal capture allow him to hear me clearly and make out words better during calls. Knowing this has been heartwarming as a father.

Transparency is the key to communication

It may sound clichéd, but the key to effective communication is listening, and that’s why transparency mode — which is available in some form on all noise-canceling headphones — has been so clutch around my household. Let’s be honest: No parent is going off the radar when working from home with a child running into every room. That would be irresponsible.

The beauty of transparency mode is that it opens up the soundscape to hear ambient noises and voices clearly. I’ve had conversations with my wife from across the room when making lunch or dinner for my family. The feature has also come in handy for other homely scenarios, such as Amazon and Fresh Direct door deliveries.

Hearing my son cry through the headphones because he got a boo-boo and tending to him before my wife can message me has also strengthened my paternal instincts. That reflex intensifies when working at night and watching the baby sleep via video monitor. I get my work in when I can, and even though much of it is done once the sun goes down, I bear the responsibility of giving my wife necessary rest and doing my daddy thing when the baby needs comfort or a diaper change.

My favorite noise-canceling headphones and earbuds for parents

When it comes to ANC, the Bose 700 headphones are a godsend. Not just because they produce the highest level of noise reduction in their category, but because they also deliver fantastic sound and even better call quality. Our pick for the best noise-canceling headphones, the Bose 700's ability to cancel out incidental sounds at every level is astounding — it took multiple blaring noises (including crying babies, car alarms and sirens) occurring at once to pull me away from work. Smart features like Conversation Mode pause music and amplify sound around you. However, the Bose 700’s calling capabilities deserve as much attention as its ANC. Self Voice adjusts how loud you sound on calls and makes a huge difference during video chats. The business-ready 700 UC adds a USB dongle for stronger connectivity and integration with third-party cloud services (Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Zoom).

Call it Apple bias, but as a freelancer who spends all day keyboard crunching on a MacBook Pro, the AirPods Pro — our favorite Apple earbuds — have been the most convenient and serviceable ANC wireless earbuds while parenting. Their integration with every Apple product is flawless, instantly connecting to all iOS /MacOS devices and carrying over all personalized changes (such as controls and spatial audio). Pairing the buds to my Apple TV at night as my wife and son slept quietly was blissful. Call quality is some of the finest in the true wireless space. 

Apple’s noise-canceling technology continues to grow strong and handles higher frequencies better than before on the AirPods Pro 2. The wireless charging case with built-in Find My (AirPods) support has saved me from spending another $249. My little boy loves playing hide-and-seek with the buds, often necessitating that I use Apple’s tracking location app to pinpoint them. Then there are useful features like Live Listen, which transforms the iPhone into a live mic and picks up sounds that you can then hear on the AirPods; leaving my iPhone 14 in the room my boy naps in has allowed for easy monitoring during trips to Nana’s house.