If you want to get closer to your music, then exploring the best over-ear headphones is a great way to do just that. Kicking back with a good pair of wireless or wired headphones and immersing yourself in the music is a great way to spend an evening – and all the top brands are on board, including Apple, Sony, Bose, Sennheiser and more.
And as you'll see from our guide below, you don't have to spend a fortune to get stellar audio, with some sets of headphones going for brilliant prices. Sure, some of the best over-ear headphones 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 they all boast an excellent audio experience.
And don’t go thinking that just because they’re bulkier they must be uncomfortable, as all of the cans featured in our best over-ear headphones list are designed with comfort in mind. This includes thick padding to protect your ears during a three-hour Maiden playback. Like other headphones, over-ears come in a range of prices, with some wired and some wireless so you can move around easily as you rock out.
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 Sony WH-1000XM4 (opens in new tab) headphones, arguably the most advanced wireless, closed-back, noise-cancelling cans you can buy right now.
For pure rock'n'roll style and value though, it’s difficult to argue with the Bluetooth Marshall Major IV (opens in new tab), which are fun to wear and deliver an impressive sound.
Our old-school over-ear headphones hero is the Phillips Fidelio X3 (opens in new tab). These sumptuous open-back cans are built for high-end home listening and feature crisp, dynamic 50mm drivers able to create huge sonic images. They’re not wireless or portable, but pour yourself a wee dram, put Slayer (opens in new tab)'s Angel Of Death on the gramophone and we’ll wager you won’t much care.
Best over-ear headphones: Product guide
While the price means you won't find these in any budget noise-cancelling headphones (opens in new tab) guides, Sony’s fourth generation noise-cancelling over-ear headphones are brilliant. Not only do they block out more noise than practically any rival, they sound better too. Super-soft ear-cups coupled to 40mm Liquid Crystal Polymer drivers, deliver superb fidelity and a hammering bass.
There’s an app that you can use to tweak the amount of noise-cancelling provided by the Sony WH-1000XM4s, 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 exhaustive battery life (30 hours) means that even the longest of long-haul flights (remember such things?) 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.
If you want the best over-ear headphones with top-notch active noise cancelling, look no further than the Sony WH-1000XM4.
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, they’re not suitable for listening in polite company, but 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. 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 cans.
Sonically, they’re 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 (opens in new tab) shredding, and drop deep when Black Sabbath (opens in new tab)’s church bells toll.
Read the full Marshall Major IV review
While they aren’t the most expensive cans 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 they are firmly on our wishlist. There’s a lot going on under the hood here too, making them a stellar choice for folks with fat bank balances who want oodles of comfort and knock-out sound.
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, your ears have never had it so good - you 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 we 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 ’em in – Green, Sky Blue, Space Grey, Pink, and Silver – but don’t look at the quite frankly ridiculous case they come in (seriously, Apple, what were you thinking?).
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. Ok so they lack a little crispness and detail compared to powerhouse cans like the Apple AirPods Max, but they will make a decent fist of rock, metal and punk. Pop and hip hop too, if they’re your bag.
The battery life is better than on 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 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.
Few companies can boast the hi-fi heritage of Bowers & Wilkins, and so any new B&W product is worth getting excited about. The PX7 noise-cancellers are even more exciting than most as not only are they the successors to the brilliant PX pair from a couple of years ago, but they also boast a brand new type of Bluetooth.
This new 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 they also 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 just brilliant.
Read the full Bowers & Wilkins PX7 review
The AKG K72s are proof that you can get a great pair of headphones on a tight budget. These simple, big, wired cans are built for comfort and longevity – you could easily wear them all day, every day, and they would 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 three metres long, so it's perfect for listening at home. And while the size of the headphones makes them relatively unsuited to outdoor use, they are closed-back so won’t irritate everyone around you if you're out and about for your daily constitutional.
The sound is far, 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 K72s.
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.
The new pair balances the energy of an excited puppy with the delicacy and eye for detail of a diligent Bonsai artist. There are new 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 the 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.
If you like bass in your face and you’re on a tight-ish budget, the JBL Club 700BT are hands-down the best over-ear headphones for you. 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-ears, dishing out 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 (opens in new tab) 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 (but don’t go chucking them down the stairs just to prove us wrong, ok?). 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.
While they don’t hit the bargain basement price of the AKGs, the JBL Club 700BT are regularly on sale for under £100. If you see them discounted and you love bass-heavy listening, grab them and don’t look back.
Sony’s 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 (opens in new tab) cans, the entry-level WH-CH700Ns could be for you.
As you might expect, the sound quality isn’t as accomplished and the noise-cancelling is a bit less effective, but for the money this is a really accomplished pair. There’s a slight skewing towards the bass end of the spectrum, but not in a bad way. The overall balance is natural, there’s plenty of detail, and everything ticks along at a good lick.
On top of all that, this is a really comfortable pair of headphones to wear and the battery life is amazing. If £100 is your upper limit, you could do a heck of a lot worse, and the good news is they're often on sale.
Open-backed headphones aren’t for use out-and-about as they tend to be big and they leak noise like a sonic colander. But there are benefits to the open-backed 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.
OK, they might look a bit dated – more like the sort of headset a 1950s telephone exchange operator might use than a pair of luxury headphones, but these Grados are unbeatable at this fab price.
The 325es are open-backed and leak noise like a sieve leaks water, so are completely unsuited to use on a train or bus – but since none of us are going anywhere for a while, that doesn't really matter. For music listening on the sofa, these are perfect as they deliver an open, airy and spacious sound that’s more akin to listening to a great pair of hi-fi speakers.
And we really are talking great. The sound here is transparent, detailed, rhythmic and downright glorious. If you take your music listening seriously, this is the pair to get.
Best over-ear headphones: Buying advice
Finding the best over-ear headphones for you
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Once you've settled on a budget, 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 (opens in new tab) 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 – 5.0 is the most recent, widely available iteration – 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 cans often come with oodles of cutting edge technology, including Active Noise Cancelling and built-in support for Google Assistant and such like. Wired cans are rather 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 (opens in new tab), 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?
The other big thing to consider is whether you want open or closed-back headphones. Closed-back models are way 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 – not such a wise choice if you spend a lot of your time on public transport.
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. Ok, so it's super-nerdy stuff, but if you want a jaw-dropping way to hear your go-to albums, that's what you need. We'd recommend the compact desktop Zen Can from iFi Audio (opens in new tab), the splendidly portable Chord Mojo (opens in new tab), or the budget Nobsound headphone amplifier (opens in new tab).
Read more on how we test products and services at Louder.
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