Precious little rivals the sound quality of the best over-ear headphones, making them the headphones of choice for anyone who's serious about listening to their favourite tunes as the artist intended... or as damn close to it as possible. While we love the easy-breeziness of in-ear headphones for commuting or, god forbid, when we're exercising, over-ear cans are where it's at for high quality sound – from digital tunes through to getting the best out of your vinyl collection.
These beasts are chunkier than other types of headphones because they house bigger drivers to create a fuller, more sonically rich sound. That said, the best over-headphones do their best to keep the weight down and offer welcome touches to enhance your comfort during hours of listening.
But with a seemingly endless number of over-ear headphones choices on the market, how do you know which ones are the best for you? Well, that's where we come in. So grab a cuppa, sit back and let us take the stress out of helping you make the right choice. We’ve included some useful buying advice too. Just hit the button above to head straight there.
And if you don't find quite what you're looking for here, please take a look at our guides to the top budget wireless headphones, budget noise-cancelling headphones, headphones for music and the loudest headphones money can buy.
Best over-ear headphones: Louder’s Choice
If you’re hunting for a shortcut to the very best over-ear headphones you can buy, 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 headphones 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 huge fun to wear.
Our old-school hero is Philips Fidelio X3. These sumptuous open-back cans are 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
Sony’s fourth generation noise-cancelling 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, 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 the headphones to adapt the noise-cancelling to the environment.
The exhaustive battery life, 30 hours, means that even the longest of long-haul flights (remember such things?) is covered. They 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.
We think they’re fantastic. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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, with the new pair boasting the energy of an excited puppy with the delicacy and eye for detail of a diligent Bonsai artist, but 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, the Sennheisers are a great option.
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.
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 brand’s WH-1000XM4s, 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 and it’s as if you’re not listening to headphones at all, but a brilliant pair of perfectly set-up hi-fi speakers.
And 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 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
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.
- Best wireless headphones
- Check out the best headphones for vinyl
- The best bluetooth speakers you can buy right now
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.