Buying yourself a pair of the best over-ear headphones is still hands-down the best way to listen to music, audiobooks or podcasts if you value audio quality, comfort and an impressive soundstage above all else.
Which headphones style is best for you?
Yes, many of the best earbuds on the market might be ultra convenient and their audio quality is (for the most part) great too. However, if you take listening to music seriously – or get easily distracted by ambient sounds – there are clear benefits to a more substantial pair of headphones that cover your whole ears, thus blocking out all external distractions that could interrupt your focus.
Perhaps even more importantly, over-ear headphones could also be a much better option for your ear health than in-ear headphones. That’s because they put a bit more distance between loud sounds and your eardrums and by blocking out a lot of ambient noise (or all ambient noise if they have ANC), you often don’t need to have the volume turned up quite so high. If safeguarding your hearing is important to you (and it should be for all of us), that’s another reason to look for a pair of over-ears.
When it comes to audio performance, it’s hard to beat the best over-ear headphones too. The reason for that is because the best over-ear headphones you can buy right now have the largest drivers and come in both open-back and closed-back variations – the former offers an almost concert hall-like feel to your favorite music that’s as close as you’ll get to watching it live.
But just because over-ears win in terms of performance doesn’t mean they’re not stylish. Sure they tend to be much bigger than other models, but there are wireless options to choose from too, like the Philips PH805, the Sony WH-1000XM4, the Bowers & Wilkins PX7, and the Sennheiser PXC 550-II. However, old-school cool is still very much in too. Take a look at the brilliant Audeze LCD-1 and Cleer Next for proof that wired headphones are still among the best you can buy for both sound quality and looks these days.
Below we’ve selected a number of over-ear headphones for our guide, which includes wired models too for those that don’t want to cut the cord. Looking for something more specific? Make sure you check out our dedicated guides to the best noise-cancelling headphones and the best wireless headphones, too.
Our top picks
While Beyerdynamic may not be as well known as its German brother, Sennheiser, the audio company has a history of creating some of the best-sounding audio gear on the market – the company’s DT770, DT880 and DT990 over-ear headphones were renowned for their excellent build and sound quality.
Above them all, however, stands the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro, an open-back version of the Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pro, a headphone which won our Editor’s Choice for its imaging, design and value for the money. Both headphones are priced the same ($599, £589, AU$1,159), so you won’t find a deal picking up one over the other. The difference here comes down to sound.
As they’re open-back, the DT 1990 Pro are meant to be used at home or in the studio for serious analytical listening. Sound is able to get in and out but the good news is that the open-back design gives you the DT 1990 Pro a great sense of space. Soundstage is quite wide, too, allowing even the most lackadaisical listener to pinpoint the exact location of where each instrument is playing.
The DT 1990 Pro are the best over-ear headphones, in our opinion, but be sure to check out our review of the Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pro too for a closed-back version that’s a little more socially friendly.
Read more: Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro review
It’s almost unfair to stick them in the same category as the more critical listening-focused over-ear headphones, but the Sony WH-1000XM4 are the best all-around headphones we’ve heard since, well, the Sony WH-1000XM3.
Not only do they sound great and pack excellent noise cancellation, but they manage to do this all wirelessly.
Other over-ear headphones on our list offer superior sound quality, sure, but the WH-1000XM4 manage to offer the best balance of features and performance.
While they don’t look significantly different from their predecessors, a number of new features including multipoint pairing, DSEE Extreme upscaling, conversational awareness and auto-play/pause using a built-in sensor all help the WH-1000XM4 claim the title of best headphones in 2021.
Offering all of this without a serious price-premium over the competition means the Sony WH-1000XM4 are a great all-around choice for on-the-go music listeners.
Read more: Sony WH-1000XM4 review
The fourth entry on our list of the best over-ear headphones could hav easily been the first if they didn’t cost well over $1,000 / £1,000. The Sennheiser HD 800 are, hands down, some of the best-sounding pairs of over-ear headphones on the planet, affectionately praised by inner circles of audiophiles the world over. When paired with the proper hardware, they sound absolutely excellent – balanced in every way.
Unfortunately, they’re supremely expensive and require more audio equipment than the average consumer is ready to buy. Should you find yourself in need – or, let’s be honest, in want – of amazing over-ear headphones, these are them.
Read more: Sennheiser HD 800 review
With the LCD-1 open-back headphones, Audeze has brought its uncompromising technology down to a real-world(ish) price. As long as you are prepared to do your listening in splendid isolation – that design will generate some sound leakage – there’s just no reason to overlook these over-ear headphones.
The LCD-1s’ overall presentation, no matter the material you’re listening to nor the volume at which you’re listening, is composed, engaging and entirely believable. Listen to music you’ve never heard before and you’ll never doubt you’re being given the full picture.
Listen to music you’ve heard a thousand times before and there’s every chance the LCD-1’s will find some nuance in there you’ve never really heard before.
Read more: Audeze LCD-1 review
If you’re looking for class-leading wireless, noise-cancelling headphones and you’re not put off by the $399 / £349 / AU$600 price tag, the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 are well worth considering.
With sophisticated noise-canceling, much-improved sound quality, a honed aesthetic, the PX7 could give any of the over-ear headphones on this list a run for their money.
Plus. they’re packing aptX Adaptive for improved stability and latency between the headphones and your device, as well as high-quality (24-bit) streaming aptX HD brought to the table.
The Sennheiser HD 560S are to be used as a tool, in the most literal sense. If you want to be able to look deep into the details of a mix, or to make A/B comparisons with absolute certainty, these are exactly the sort of headphones you need. If you want to be entertained, energized and invigorated by your music, though, they’re less than ideal.
Sonically, the Sennheiser HD560S are a ruthlessly revealing listen. Sure enough, the soundstage they describe is big in all directions, and individual elements of a recording appear on the stage in an absolutely solid area of space. Detail levels – whether concerning instrument timbre, vocal technique or any other aspect of a recording – are absolutely sky-high, and the HD560S maintain an even, neutral balance from the very bottom of the frequency range to the very top.
Read more: Sennheiser HD 560S review
At $199 / £160 (around AU$290) the Philips PH805 offer exceptional value for money. These are wireless over-ear headphones, using Bluetooth 5.0 for connectivity – so high-resolution audio playback should be achievable.
Using a single Lithium-Ion cell for up to 30 hours of playback time from a single charge, the Philips PH805 have active noise cancellation on board, administered by a couple of mics on each earcup.
Read more: Philips PH805 review
In terms of audio quality, these Sennheiser over-ear headphones sound fantastic, with high levels of detail, warm bass, and natural-sounding highs.
Customizable noise cancellation is a great touch, but it doesn’t quite reach the class-leading standards set by Sony and Bose. Battery life also doesn’t compete with the Sony WH-1000XM3s, and they’re more expensive to boot.
So, why buy the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless (2019)? Well, if built-in Tile tracking appeals to you, and you like the industrial design and premium materials of the Momentum Wireless, that could be reason enough – and if you do opt for them over the Sony model, you won’t be missing out on any audio quality. In that respect, they’re truly matched.
Read the full review: Sennheiser Momentum Wireless (2019) review
The build, battery life, and sound quality of the Sennheiser PXC 550-II are all very impressive, upgrading the previous PXC 550 model with the latest Bluetooth standard and enhanced audio and smart capabilities.
The PXC 550-II over-ear headphones are a bit cheaper than the Momentum Wireless, a bit more sober in appearance and definitely not as big, with a sophisticated sound.
Read more: Sennheiser PXC 550-II review
The Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless are the best-sounding wireless headphones you can buy, period. Sound is spacious, detailed, and makes you want to rediscover your music library. Their bulky design and average noise isolation make them terrible for travel but if you’re looking for the best sound from a pair of over-ear headphones, this is it.
Read the full review: Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless
They may not beat the Sony WH-1000XM3’s battery life and price, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are still a fantastic pair of over-ear headphones.
By applying noise cancelation on both music and phone calls, they offer class-leading technology, and well as a vibrant, lively sound and wide, well-balanced soundstage.
If you’re trying to decide between buying the Sony WH-1000XM3s and the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, we’d recommend going for the former because of that lower price and better battery life.
That being said, you wouldn’t be making a mistake if you opted for the Bose cans instead (and we wouldn’t blame you if you did) – they sound great, look stunning, and the noise-cancelation is out of this world.
Read the full review: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
The Apple AirPods Max were the most hotly-anticipated headphones for quite some time, having been the subject of rumor and speculation for two years, and come with active noise cancellation, superb audio quality, and a design that sets them apart from most noise-cancelling headphones on the market.
While their exceptional audio performance and class-leading ANC impresses, they’re let down by their eye-watering price, baffling carrying case, and lack of support for Hi-Res Audio codecs.
Despite their high price, the AirPods Max aren’t exactly aimed at the audiophile crowd, owing to their lack of 3.5mm audio port; instead, these cans are squarely targeted at card-carrying members of the Apple ecosystem, with nifty features for iOS users and an unmistakably ‘Apple’ design.
For Android users, the AirPods Max are simply a high-performance pair of noise-cancelling headphones with an unusual design, as fantastic as they may sound – and for these users, we can’t see how the high price is justified.
But, if you’ve already bought into the Apple ecosystem, you have a lot of money to burn, and you don’t care about Hi-Res Audio, you won’t find headphones that sound better or are easier to use than the AirPods Max.
Read more: Apple AirPods Max review
The V-Moda M-200 is the apex of what wired headphones can be. Although it’s 2021 and wireless headphones are much more convenient, there are still those who prefer a corded experience. That includes professionals like music producers, DJs, and video editors. Even some audio enthusiasts and gamers prefer a wired headphone for its reliability.
The design of the M-200 is classic V-Moda: the earcups retain the brand’s signature hexagonal, angular design and the build quality is excellent with a mix of plastic, aluminum, and sweat-resistant PU leather.
Yes, the M-200 are expensive but they’re worth it for its sound quality, resolution, build quality, and unique customizable plates.
Read more: V-Moda M-200 Studio Headphones review
JBL is a popular name in the world of headphones and Bluetooth speakers, and rightly so. Solidly dependable, consumers know what to expect from the brand – decent sound quality for a decent price.
That’s what we found with the JBL Live 650BTNC last year – and now, ready to take their place are the JBL Tune 750BTNC, a superior successor to the 650BTNC’s as a high-spec and well-priced set of over-ear headphones.
The JBL Tune 750BTNC sound great, look great, and they fit well. Reliable and easy to use, you might miss waterproofing and a few minor features – but at this price, it feels foolish to complain too readily.
Read more: JBL Tune 750BTNC review
The Focal Stellias sound absolutely fantastic. Their wide-open soundstage and detailed, accurate sound treatment means they make any genre of music sound brilliant.
If you listen to songs you think you know inside out, the Stellias’ precise separation of the frequencies means that you will probably hear details you’ve never noticed before.
So why didn’t they make the list? Well, we included them as a bonus option because they’re incredible. But they’re very, very expensive.
They’re $3,000. And as good as they are, therein lies the problem: the Focal Stellias are prohibitively expensive for most people, at 10 times the price of our current favorite headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM3s.
If you like the sound of these luxury headphones but can’t justify the price, check out our initial hands-on review of the new Focal Elegia. They may not sound quite as breathtaking as the Focal Stellia – at least that’s what we gathered from a short listening session – but the Focal Elegia headphones are still very impressive.
Read the full review: Focal Stellia review
The Shure AONIC 50 sport a wireless, active noise-cancelling over-ear design, selling at a premium price to compete with the likes of the Sony WH-1000XM3 and Bose NC 700 Headphones.
Ultimately, while you won’t find every feature under the sun here, the Shure AONIC 50 are laser-focused on delivering the best sound-quality of almost any noise-cancelling headphone – securing them a place among the best over-ear headphones for audiophiles.
Read more: Shure AONIC 50 review
The Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 are the tech giant’s second pair of noise-cancelling headphones, and they offer a ton of great improvements over the original Surface Headphones, while retaining some of their best qualities.
In spite of those improvements – which includes a longer battery life and a more comfortable design – the Surface Headphones 2 are considerably cheaper than their predecessors, making them the obvious choice if you’re trying to choose between the two.
That lower price also makes them a great alternative to the best headphones of 2021, the Sony WH-1000XM3, especially as they’ve retained the winning design features of the original Surface Headphones, with built-in dials on each earcup to control your music and the active noise cancellation.
Read more: Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 review
Urbanista’s first over-ear noise-cancelling headphones are an easy recommend for those on a budget, who don’t want to sacrifice style or sound performance. Noise cancellation itself isn’t the best on the market, and while the audio could be more detailed, an extended bass response makes the Urbanista Miami ideal for pop and RnB.
Battery life and connectivity are also decent for the price, making these a great alternative to pricier models like the Sony WH-1000XM4 or the Apple AirPods Max.
Read more: Urbanista Miami review
What to look for
Over-ear headphones: what to look for
To make things easier for audiophiles, this guide focuses on sound quality above all else.
When buying over-ear headphones, sound quality is the most important feature to look out for – the more expensive, the better your cans tend to sound, although there are quite a few impressive exceptions to this rule.
How you define good sound quality depends on your personal taste. Do you like a warm, well-rounded sound, or do you prefer ultra high-fidelity that allows you to hear every single detail of your music? Are you a dedicated bass head or a classical music junkie?
If you’re all about that bass, you’ll want to look out for dynamic drivers that displace lots of air, leading to a bassy soundstage. If detail is everything, look for large frequency ranges – 20Hz to 20 kHz is the standard, so anything larger than this may allow for more detail in the highs and lows.
It’s also important to consider the soundstage as a whole; if you love a wide, open sound, try a pair of open-back headphones. Worried about sound-leakage when you’re in the company of others? Try a pair of closed-back cans with a secure fit to stop your tunes bothering the people around you.
As we mentioned, there are a few wireless and noise-canceling headphones in this list – that’s because the sound quality of these models is exceptional. Many over-ear headphones come with these quality-of-life features these days, although they’re often pricier than their wired counterparts – if you can’t live without these modern conveniences, make sure you’re buying headphones with the latest Bluetooth technology and active noise cancelation.
Design is also hugely important, as a good pair of over-ear headphones need to be comfortable for long listening sessions – look out for padded earcups and headbands in materials like memory foam for ultimate comfort.
Best over-ear headphones at a glance:
- Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro
- Sony WH-1000XM4
- Sennheiser HD 800
- Audeze LCD-1
- Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Wireless Headphones
- Sennheiser HD 560S
- Philips PH805
- Sennheiser Momentum Wireless
- Sennheiser PX 550-II
- Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless
- Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
- Apple AirPods Max
- V-Moda M-200 Studio Headphones
- JBL Tune 750BTNC
- Focal Stellia
- Shure AONIC 50
- Microsoft Surface Headphones 2
- Urbanista Miami