If you want to get closer to your music, then exploring the best over-ear headphones is a great way to do just that. I've been reviewing tech for many years and I really enjoy kicking back with a good pair of wireless or wired headphones and immersing myself in the music. It's a great way to spend an evening – and all the top brands are on board, including Apple, Sony, Bose, Sennheiser and more.
As you'll see from my guide below, some of my choices can be a bit on the chunky side – especially when you compare them to the range of sleek in-ear designs available – but don't let their robust look put you off as all of my favourite picks deliver excellent audio.
And don’t go thinking that just because they’re a little bit bulkier that they must be uncomfortable, as all of the headphones featured in my guide are designed with comfort in mind - and this includes thick padding to protect your ears during long listening sessions. Like other headphones, my selection of the best over-ear headphones features a range of prices, with some wired and some wireless to give you more choice when making a purchasing decision.
Finally, I've also included some older models simply because they still perform beautifully - and they're cheaper too.
Best over-ear headphones: Louder’s Choice
If you’re hunting for a shortcut to the very best over-ear headphones you can buy today, you have two different ways to go: high-tech or old-school. The high-tech option is the wireless Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones, which still cut the mustard even though the range has been updated to include the WH-1000XM5. These closed-back headphones sound great and the noise-cancelling is top drawer.
For pure rock'n'roll style and value though, it’s difficult to argue with the Bluetooth Marshall Major IV, which are fun to wear and deliver an impressive sound - as you would expect from a product bearing the Marshall name.
My old-school over-ear headphones hero is the Phillips Fidelio X3. These sumptuous open-back wired headphones are built for high-end home listening and feature crisp, dynamic 50mm drivers able to create huge sonic images.
Best over-ear headphones: Product guide
Sony’s fourth generation of noise-cancelling over-ear headphones are simply brilliant. Sure, the Sony WH-1000XM5 may be newer, but the jury's still out whether the extra financial outlay on them is worth the upgrade. The WH-1000XM4 not only block out a whole heap of outside noise, they also sound fantastic. Super-soft ear-cups coupled to 40mm Liquid Crystal Polymer drivers, deliver superb fidelity and a hammering bass.
There’s also the Sony Headphone app where I was able to tweak the amount of noise-cancelling provided by the Sony WH-1000XM4, from, "I don’t want to hear anything but my own heartbeat", to "I’d quite like to know if a car is about to run me over." You can even set these over-ear headphones to adapt noise-cancelling to the environment you're in.
The battery life of around 30 hours means that even the longest of long-haul flights is covered. The Sony WH-1000XM4 also use AI processing to maximise audio quality, whatever your streaming source, with features like ‘Speak To Chat’ in which the headphones automatically pause when you start a conversation.
Read our full Sony WH-1000XM4 review
These flagship Fidelio X3 Hi-Fi reference headphones offer formidable fidelity. With Kvadrat fabric backing helping to disguise their open backed design, I don't think they're ideally suited for listening in polite company, but I found the soundstage is akin to listening to music from loudspeakers.
Soft velour ear pads give the X3 a welcome glam rock aesthetic, and inside each there’s a powerful 50mm driver with a three-layer design that ensures stability and musicality.
The headphones have a rich low end that’s tight and rewarding, while the midrange glistens with detail. The X3 are an almost perfect blend of performance, design and value. They’re well worth auditioning.
Read the full Philips Fidelio X3 review
The Marshall Major IV are hands down the best value Marshall headphones you can buy right now in my opinion. Stylish, raunchy, and with a ridiculous battery life of 80 hours, you’ll probably wonder why you should spend more on your next set of headphones.
Sonically, I found them wonderfully dynamic, seemingly tuned with guitars in mind. Doing the heavy lifting are a pair of 40mm dynamic drivers, able to handle the wild excesses of Dragonforce shredding, and drop deep when Black Sabbath’s church bells toll.
Read the full Marshall Major IV review
While they aren’t the most expensive headphones in our best over-headphones guide, the Apple AirPod Max aren’t far off. Not everyone will want to pony up for these beauties, but are they worth it? Well, there's a lot going on under the hood here which makes them a stellar choice for those with an Apple Music subscription.
The Apple AirPod Max offer a detailed, super-crisp, spacious audio quality that does justice to a range of genres, with drivers fitted to deliver high-fidelity audio. There’s impressive active noise cancellation tech here too, so you can block everyone else out as often as you need.
In terms of comfort, my ears have never had it so good - and I can thank Apple’s knit mesh canopy and acoustically engineered memory foam cushions for that. Yep, these over-ear headphones offer the same comfort material as a plush mattress.
So, why do I recommend them for Apple fans? Because while Bluetooth 5.0 means you can use them with Android phones, the AirPod Max work best with an iPhone, as you can then mess around with the spatial audio (for theatre-like sound) app feature and put Siri to work.
Do drool over the five different colours you can buy them in – Green, Sky Blue, Space Grey, Pink, and Silver – but don’t look at the quite less than impressive case they come in.
Read the full Apple Airpods Max review
The Urbanista Miami are the first set of noise-cancelling headphones from the brand, and while the active noise cancellation isn’t good enough to rival the Apple, Bose or Sony over-ear headphones in this list, it’s decent for the lower price.
And anyway, if you’re searching for over-ears you’re probably more concerned with how they sound - and the Urbanista Miami are pretty decent. I found that they lacked a little crispness and detail compared to powerhouse headphones, but they make a decent fist of rock, metal and punk. Pop and hip hop too, if they’re your bag.
Battery life is better than some other over-ear headphones, with a reliable 50 hours of playback per charge, but the Marshall Major IV further up this guide offer 80 hours of battery for around the same price.
Still, if you like to inject a little style and personality into your audio wear, the Urbanista Miami’s trump the Marshalls thanks to a greater range of colours, including red, white and green.
Here's another slightly older model that are still well worth a closer look - and that's especially true when you're dealing with a name as renowned in the audio world as Bowers & Wilkins. The PX7 noise-cancelling headphones may have been superseded by the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2, but these remain a pretty exciting option.
AptX Adaptive Bluetooth allows for the wireless transmission of hi-res music and reduces lag so that audio and video are perfectly synchronised – great for when you’re surfing YouTube for music videos. There are three levels of noise-cancellation, too, so you needn’t block out everything if you don’t want to.
The icing on the cake is the stunning sound. Solid, fast and punchy as anything, they’re a great choice for a bit of thrash metal, but I also discovered they have the luxury of detail and delicacy for those gentle acoustic moments. Other than the higher price and lack of folding, these B&Ws are solid choice and come highly recommended.
Read the full Bowers & Wilkins PX7 review
The AKG K72 over-ear headphones are proof you can get a great pair of headphones on a tight budget. This simple, big, wired unit is built for comfort and longevity – you could easily wear them all day and they'd never irritate and wouldn’t fall apart. AKG actually bends the cable 80,000 times to ensure it’s as durable as possible.
That cable is an impressive three metres long so it's perfect for wired listening at home if there's distance between your system and your sofa. And while the size of the headphones makes them relatively unsuited to outdoor use, they're closed-back so won’t irritate everyone around you if you're out and about for your daily constitutional.
I found the sound was far better than the price would suggest – and much more grown-up than that of most similarly priced rivals. Open, airy and spacious, with plenty of punchy bass, you really can’t go wrong with the AKG K72.
Sennheiser’s Momentum Wireless headphones have been hugely successful over the last few years, and this MkIII version takes the range to brand new heights. The sound has been vastly improved over that of the already excellent Momentum 2.0 model.
These balance the energy of an excited puppy with the delicacy and eye for detail of a Bonsai master. There are cool features too, including automatic pairing when the headphones are unfolded and automatic pause when removed from your head.
The only slight blot on the otherwise crisp, white paper are the high price and relatively short battery life, but if neither of those puts you off, these Sennheisers are a great option for over-ear headphones.
Read the full Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3 review
Thanks to its ubiquitous microphones and on-stage in-ear monitors, Shure is intrinsically linked to live music and pro-audio production. Their over-ear headphones are less well known but still an excellent choice, and the long-standing SRH1540s are my pick of the bunch.
The large, classic, wired design is really intended for home – or studio – use, but the closed-back cups mean you can use them while out for a walk without fear of instantly becoming public enemy number one.
Sound is brilliant – all of the detail you’d expect from a professional-grade pair of headphones, the tonal neutrality to let your music do the talking, and brilliant, dramatic dynamics. Serious headphones for serious listening.
Read the full Shure SRH1540 review
If you like bass in your face, the JBL Club 700BT are hands-down the best over-ear headphones for you in my opinion. They’re particularly good for dance music, but we’d also recommend them for hip-hop, hard rock and rock-pop. Bands like Muse (give Hysteria a spin on them), Paramore and Foals sound particularly righteous on these over-ear headphones, delivering a punchy, impactful sound.
The JBL Club 700BT are designed with DJs in mind so they get surprisingly loud, though certainly not enough to rival the behemoths featured in our loudest headphones guide. You can listen for longer too, with 50 hours of battery life per charge (Bluetooth range is 10m). That puts the JBL Club 700BT on a par with the Marshall Major IV and the Urbanista Miami over-ears. If you drain them dry, they’ll recharge fully in two hours.
There’s built-in Alexa and Google Assistant voice support too, plus a more rugged build to survive some rough and tumble. One of the neatest design aspects is that the JBL Club 700BT are folding over-ear headphones, making them better suited for travel than others here.
Sony is the dominant force when it comes to noise-cancelling headphones, and if you want a taste of what the company can do but don’t have the wedge to buy the Sony WH-1000XM4 or Sony WH-1000XM5, their entry-level WH-CH700Ns could be for you.
I found the sound quality isn’t as accomplished, while the noise-cancelling is a bit less effective, but for the money they remain a solid purchase. There’s a slight skewing towards the bass end of the spectrum, the overall balance is natural, there’s plenty of detail, and everything ticks along at a good lick.
On top of all that, they are a really comfortable pair of headphones to wear and the battery life is amazing.
Open-backed headphones aren’t for use out-and-about as they tend to be big and leak noise like a sonic colander. But there are benefits to the open-back design, namely a spaciousness that closed-back headphones usually can’t match.
Listen to a great pair of open-backed headphones, such as the Beyerdynamic Amiron, and it’s as if you’re not listening to headphones at all, but a brilliant pair of perfectly set-up hi-fi speakers.
Well, the Amirons are a great pair of open-backed headphones. The soundstage they produce is vast and airy, and the impression of listening out-loud is enhanced by the fact that the headphones are so comfortable that you’re barely aware you’re wearing them.
The Beyerdynamic Amiron's sound is also brilliantly balanced and deliciously detailed, and really rewards those who plug in to a proper hi-fi with a turntable or hi-res streamer.
Best over-ear headphones: Buying advice
Finding the best over-ear headphones for you
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Once you've settled on a price range, the next thing you'll need to do is decide whether you want to go with wireless headphones or are happy being tethered to your home Hi-Fi with a cable.
There are plenty of really good wireless headphones available, and they often don’t cost the earth – our best budget wireless headphones round-up is proof of that – but it's worth bearing in mind that both wireless sound quality and battery life can vary greatly. Looking for a pair with a more recent version of Bluetooth – 6 is the most recent but most headphones at the moment run between 5.0 and 5.2 – can help in both regards, but isn’t a guarantee. And if you can find a pair with the audio-focused aptX codec, you know that sound quality has at least been a factor in the design.
Wireless on-ear headphones often come with oodles of cutting edge technology, including Active Noise Cancelling and built-in support for Google Assistant and such like. Wired headphones are simpler and often trade smart connectivity for premium components and audiophile design.
It’s worth checking whether the connector is the more common 3.5mm type, now falling out of favour on smartphones, or the more hi-fi-specific 6.3mm type. The good news is that premium hi-fi pairs often include an adapter, although buying one separately won’t set you back much at all.
Open or closed-back?
Open or closed-back headphones?
The other big thing to consider is whether you want open or closed-back headphones. Closed-back models are more common, as they keep the audio more or less confined to your noggin, while open-backed headphones generally leak enough noise that anyone in the vicinity will feel as though they’re listening to the world’s worst radio.
Conversely, open-back headphones generally sound more open and spacious – more like listening out-loud to a full-sized hi-fi than two little drivers strapped to your head – so if you need to listen quietly but not silently, and take your music enjoyment seriously, they can be the way to go.
Want to take your music listening experience to another level again? Think about drafting in a portable headphone amp, as one of these can make a big difference to how your music sounds.
It might sound like super-nerdy stuff but it really can make a difference. My old and (sadly discontinued) Oppo PM-3 over-ear headphones still sound great, but audio is elevated considerably when I pair it with my sleek Oppo HA-2SE headphone amp.
How we test over-ear headphones
When I put the best over-ear headphones in our guide through their paces, I took a look at every aspect of the headphones – everything from the audio quality, design, comfort, along with other details including as if they're open-back or closed back, and if they're wireless or wired.
To get the most from the headphones, they were tested listening to a variety of musical genres and styles, including rock and metal, prog, punk, alt and acoustic. Battery life, where appropriate, was also taken into consideration as it's an important factor when choosing a new pair of wireless headphones.
At the end of the day, I wanted to give you all the information you need when deciding what to buy – after all, the world of headphones is a crowded one.