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Best over-ear headphones 2021: the ultimate music listening experience

Best over-ear headphones 2021: the ultimate music listening experience
(Image credit: Getty)

The best over-ear headphones are an excellent choice for anyone who wants to take a deep dive into their music collection and hear their favourite albums in a more immersive way. These beefy cans put the muscle into your music listening sessions, and they’re made by many of the world’s top audio brands too, including Sony, Sennheiser and Grado. Don’t go thinking we’re about to rinse your bank account either, as there are a couple of impressive over-ear headphones here for less than £100.

One thing you’ll notice straight away is how chunky these cans are compared to something like in-ear headphones. Well, that’s because the best over-ear headphones are stuffed with tech to help ’em dish out a sensational sound, whether you’re into rock, metal, prog or something else entirely. They might be heavier too, but over-ear headphones are where it’s at for getting the most out of music. That’s why many of the best audiophile headphones are over-ear models; this isn’t a coincidence, folks.

Oh, and don’t go thinking that 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 for music, 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 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, which are fun to wear and deliver an impressive sound.

Our old-school over-ear headphones hero is the Phillips Fidelio X3. 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's Angel Of Death on the gramophone and we’ll wager you won’t much care.

The best over-ear headphones: Product guide

Best over-ear headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Sony WH-1000XM4

AI audio processing makes Sony's legendary ANC over-ears even better

Price: £350/$349 | Features: Bluetooth, Active Noise Cancelling, Speak-to-Chat | Battery Life: 30 hours | Connector: USB-C

Superb noise cancelling technology
Musical presentation
Battery life
May be unnecessary smart for some

While the price means you won't find these in any budget noise-cancelling headphones 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

Best over-ear headphones: Philips Fidelio X3 in black

(Image credit: Philips)

2. Philips Fidelio X3 Over-Ear Headphones

A powerful performance at a price that won’t shrink your bank balance...too much!

Price: £299/$289 | Features: Open back design, Kavdrat fabric. | Battery Life: N/A | Connector: USB-C

Sublime, studio grade performance
Premium build
Open back design may be a bit antisocial

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

Best over-ear headphones: Marshall Major IV Wireless Bluetooth headphones

(Image credit: Marshall)

3. Marshall Major IV

These big brand Bluetooth wireless over-ear headphones are mad value

Price: £129/$179 | Features: Bluetooth | Battery Life: 80 hours | Connector: 3.5mm

Bold, dynamic performance
Classic Marshall styling 
Can sound a little sharp

The 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 shredding, and drop deep when Black Sabbath’s church bells toll. 

Brilliant fun, terrific value.

Best over-ear headphones: Apple AirPods Max in Green

(Image credit: Apple)

4. Apple AirPods Max

The best over-ear headphones for Apple fans

Price: £549/$549 | Type: Over-ear | Features: Bluetooth 5.0, active noise cancellation | Battery Life: 20 hours | Connector: USB-C

Top-rated audio performance
Stunning build quality
Cinematic spatial audio
The case design sucks

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?).

Best over-ear headphones: Grado SR325e

(Image credit: Grado)

5. Grado SR325e Over-Ear Headphones

Incredible hi-fi over-ear headphones for luxurious at-home listening

Price: £299/$295 | Type: Open | Bluetooth: No | Noise-cancelling: No | Mic: No | Controls: No | Battery life: N/a | Connector: 3.5mm, 6.3mm

Gloriously open, detailed sound
Hard-wearing
Not suited for portable use
Don’t look like premium cans

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: Urbanista Miami in red

(Image credit: Urbanista)

6. Urbanista Miami

The best over-ear headphones for style and sound

Price: £129/$149 | Type: Closed-back | Features: Bluetooth 5.0, active noise cancellation | Battery Life: 50 hours | Connector: USB-C

Big style and sound for less
Decent ear-cup padding
Intuitive playback controls
Audio lacks a little detail

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.

Best over-ear headphones: Bowers & Wilkins PX7

(Image credit: B&W)

7. Bowers & Wilkins PX7

These noise-cancelling over-ear headphones use next-gen Bluetooth

Price: £350/$399 | Type: Closed | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Mic: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 30hr | Connector: USB-C

Classy, classy, classy!
Fun and detailed sound
Expensive
Don’t fold for storage

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.

Best over-ear headphones: AKG K72

(Image credit: AKG)

8. AKG K72 Over-Ear Headphones

The best over-ear headphones if you're skint

Price: £40/$49 | Type: Closed | Bluetooth: No | Noise-cancelling: No | Mic: No | Controls: No | Battery life: N/a | Connector: 3.5mm

Awesomely affordable
Really comfortable
Not very portable

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.

Best over-ear headphones: Sennheiser Momentum Wireless

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

9. Sennheiser Momentum Wireless

Third-generation Momentum Wirelesses are noise-cancelling kings

Price: £349/$399 | Type: Closed | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Mic: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 17hr | Connector: USB-C

Fab sound
Great features
Battery life could be better
Expensive

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.

Best over-ear headphones: Shure SRH1540

(Image credit: Shure)

10. Shure SRH1540 Over-Ear Headphones

The best over-ear headphones for serious musos

Price: £379/$499 | Type: Closed | Bluetooth: No | Noise-cancelling: No | Mic: No | Controls: No | Battery life: N/a | Connector: 3.5mm

Big, beautifully balanced sound
Fantastically comfortable
A wee bit pricey for wired cans

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.

Best over-ear headphones: JBL Club 700BT in black

(Image credit: JBL)

11. JBL Club 700BT

The best over-ear headphones for big, beefy bass

Price: £129.99/$199.95 | Type: Closed-back | Features: Bluetooth 5.0, active noise cancellation | Battery Life: 50 hours | Connector: USB-C

Punchy, impactful sound
50-hour battery life per charge
Balance skewed to bass
Sound lacks a little detail

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 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. 

Best over-ear headphones: Sony WH-CH700N

(Image credit: Sony)

12. Sony WH-CH700N

Another contender for the best over-ear headphones under £100

Price: £100/$198 | Type: On-ear | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Mic: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 35hr | Connector: Micro USB | Price: £100 | Type: Over-ear | Features: Bluetooth, Active Noise Cancelling, Speak-to-Chat | Battery Life: 35 hours | Connector: 3.5mm, 6.3mm

Fab battery life
Detailed and weighty sound
Sonically a wee bit rough
Not the most effective noise-cancelling

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 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.

Best over-ear headphones: Beyerdynamic Amiron

(Image credit: Beyerdynamic)

13. Beyerdynamic Amiron Over-Ear Headphones

Over-ear headphones for wearing at home, and not on the bus

Price: £499/$559 | Type: Open | Bluetooth: No | Noise-cancelling: No | Mic: No | Controls: No | Battery life: N/a | Connector: 3.5mm

Fantastically balanced sound
Lovely to wear
Unsuited for portable use
Definitely on the pricy side

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.

Best over-ear headphones: Buying advice

Best over-ear headphones: A pair of Marshall cans sits on a pile of wires

(Image credit: Marshall)

Finding the best over-ear headphones for you

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 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, 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.

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, the splendidly portable Chord Mojo, or the budget Nobsound headphone amplifier.

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