If you’re looking for good quality sound and best-in-class performance, nothing beats the full immersion you’ll get from a pair of solid over-ear headphones. In terms of soundstage, sound quality and comfort during extended listening sessions, no other form factor can compete with them.
Plus, if keeping your ears healthy long into your twilight years is just as important to you, they also tend to be better for your ear health because you don’t need to amp up the volume to get a good level of audio performance and noise-cancellation.
The pair you go for will be down to personal preference, but before you invest in a pair of the best over-ear headphones, you’ll need to consider what your priorities are. Do you want wireless headphones or do you want noise-cancelling headphones? Do you want something expensive and mainstream like Beats headphones, or you do you want something that’s a bit more generic but overall sounds better like these Sony headphones? There are tons of options out there, so writing out a list of must-have features or brands can be a good starting point.
To make things easier for audiophiles this guide will focus on sound quality above all else. There are a few wireless and noise-cancelling equipped choices in our list, but that’s only because they sound great in addition to packing these new features.
That said, you can expect this guide to be as up-to-date as we can get it on any given day, ensuring that you’re getting out top picks all year round. Without further ado, here’s our guide to getting the most for your money, whatever your budget.
What are the best over-ear headphones?
Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro
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 were renown 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.
If you’ve been searching for a pair of Hi-Fi headphones that are used by some of the world’s leading audio engineers, these are them.
Philips Fidelio X2
The Philips Fidelio X2’s are a superb pair of headphones offering premium comfort and build quality with a sound that rivals even the most vaunted audiophile cans. Perhaps on sheer sound quality, they’re a notch off the likes of the top Oppo or Sennheiser offerings – but the fact that you’d be saving vast amounts of cash by opting for the Philips is just a no brainer.
Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pros
The Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pros are a stunning pair of headphones. Are they expensive? To some no, to most yes; but for the sheer listening experience, they deliver you’d be hard-pressed to take them off after putting them on, even using them with portable HRA players and mobile phones.
That said, they really do push the boundaries of what you can do with a dynamic driver. All praise to Beyerdynamic for putting together such a wonderful product.
Sennheiser HD 800
The fourth entry on our list easily could’ve been the first if it didn’t cost well over $1,000/£1,000. The Sennheiser HD 800 are, hands down, one 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.
1MORE Triple Driver
If you’re looking for a pair of audiophile headphones that won’t break the bank, the 1MORE Triple Driver over-ear is a great place to start. Its build quality and detailed sound really impress and we think bass-lovers will like the slight mid-bass emphasis and control in the lower registers while not sacrificing the mids or highs. The headphone reveals a good level of detail throughout the frequency range and never get harsh in the upper registers.
To that end, it’s hard to fault the $250 (about £190, AU$338) 1MORE Triple Driver Over-Ear, making them an easy recommendation for the price.
B&W P9 Signatures
The B&W P9 Signatures are simply some of the best-sounding headphones we’ve ever used. They have a tight, refined sound that offers an almost unmatched level of detail.
That said, the fact remains that they’re a comparatively feature-light pair of cans. If you want to spend less then you can get a much more portable pair that’ll be better suited to the morning commute or a plane ride thanks to additional features like noise-cancellation and Bluetooth connectivity.
But, if you’re looking to invest in a seriously high-quality pair of headphones to listen to a high-quality music collection, then there are few that can match the P9s at this price point.
It’s almost unfair to stick them in the same category as the more critical listening-focused over-ear headphones, but the Sony WH-1000XM3 over-ear headphones are one of the best all-around headphones we heard last year. Not only do they sound great and pack excellent noise-cancellation, but they manage to do this all wirelessly.
Other headphones on our list offer superior sound quality, sure, but the WH-1000XM3 manage to offer the best balance of features and performance.
And while it’s the noise-cancellation that really sell these headphones, they’ve also got a couple of interesting tricks up their sleeves like built-in Google Assistant and Alexa, plus support for NFC and aptX HD with some Android devices.
Offering all of this without a serious price premium over the competition means the Sony WH-1000XM3 are a great all-around choice for on-the-go music listeners.
Audiophiles typically shun wireless headphones because of poor sound quality. However, Bluetooth audio has improved tremendously over the years. There are now plenty of wireless headphones that can please the music enthusiast, with Hi-Res Audio support being more and more prevalent.
That said, the Audio-Technica ATH-SR5BT over-ear headphones feature some of the best wired and wireless sound quality for a headphone under $200 (£150). They play well with all music genres and offer a near-flat response curve. They’re extremely comfortable for long listening sessions and are well built. Battery life is equally impressive with nearly 40 hours of playback from a charge. And while they lack some features of more expensive wireless headphones like active noise cancelling and multi-device pairing, these are tradeoffs worth making for phenomenal sound.
Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless
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 wireless headphone, this is it.
After cutting the wires off its flagship cans with the Bose QC35 headphones, Bose’s QC35 II are a slightly more minor upgrade. This time the big addition is Google Assistant, which can be summoned with the press of a button.
Otherwise, these are more or less the same headphones that we enjoyed the first time around. The QC35s aren’t the best sounding out there, but their noise-cancellation is class-leading and if that’s your priority then they’re a great choice.
JBL Live 650BTNC
For the money, the JBL Live 650BTNC punch above its weight in terms of sound quality, build, and features. The cons we have listed above – like mapping the assistant to the touchpad and its use of MicroUSB – are simply nitpicks with none of them being outright deal-breakers.
That said, we came away very impressed at the well-rounded package JBL created for the market and would certainly recommend them to anyone in the market for a cheap pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
The SXFI Air over-ear headphones are something of a mixed bag when used in Bluetooth mode, and if you’re mainly planning to use them indoors then it’s tempting to opt for the less expensive wired version instead.
However, the wired mode really shows off the SXFI holographic audio to best effect, adding a dramatic sense of space to music, games and video alike. There’s still some room for improvement when listening to music – but for gaming and video, the SXFI Air is about as good as you’ll get for just over $150.
Overall, Microsoft’s Surface headphones are surprisingly good, with a stunningly warm sound, and generous bass frequencies, which means your music will sound great whether you’re listening to subby hip-hop or acoustic singer-songwriters.
One criticism of this warm sound is that it can take some of the attack away from lower-mid frequencies, which some users may find a bit underwhelming. However, if sharp trebles and mids tend to give you listening fatigue, these could be the perfect headphones for you.
The calling card of these headphones is the active noise cancellation, which we felt worked really well, and we loved how easy it was to control this using the inbuilt dials on each housing.
Although we were initially unconvinced by the high price (particularly when you can buy quality cans from heritage audio brands for less), the features work so seamlessly that it feels justified.
The Focal Stellias over-ear headphones sound absolutely fantastic. Their wide-open soundstage and detailed, accurate sound treatment means that 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.
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