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Best over-ear headphones
There are no two ways about it: those who value sound quality and comfort above all else should get over-ear headphones. There are some sacrifices that you make with over-ears compared to earbuds or even on-ear headsets, but the sonic payoff is worth it for many of us. In this list of the best over-ear headphones, we include wired and wireless options to accommodate most prospective buyers’ needs.
As always, price is considered a factor and you can be sure that the best value products will shine through.
Editor’s note: this list was updated on June 30, 2022, to add the Sony WH-1000XM5, HiFiMan Sundara, Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, and Shure AONIC 50 to the Best list. We also expanded the Buying guide, and updated the Notable mentions section and article format.
Why is the Sony WH-1000XM5 the best pair of over-ear headphones?
Sony has built a solid reputation for active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones, and the Sony WH-1000XM5 takes the cake as one of our favorite headsets to date. With top-end ANC and microphone performance, this is an office jockey’s dream and is a great pair of daily headphones. Compared to the WH-1000XM4, the default sound quality is better than before and you get similar premium features like 360 Reality Audio optimization, speak-to-chat functionality, transparency mode, and more.
Diverging from its predecessor, the WH-1000XM5 has a supremely clean design with a new friction rod headband. While not everyone loves the new look, it makes for an even more comfortable headset thanks to the improved ear pad shape that can better fit larger ears. Unlike the older WH-1000X headphones, the XM5 headphones only rotate to lay flat and cannot compact further for transport. That’s fine seeing how Sony provides a nice carrying case.
Although Sony boosts the bass response on these headphones more than what our SoundGuys consumer curve suggests, it still sounds quite good out of the box and takes less effort to EQ than before. You can equalize the sound through the Sony Headphones Connect app or by downloading a preferred third-party EQ app. Regardless of your desire to tweak the sound, you’ll want to get Sony’s app anyway to access firmware updates and other options like the ability to prioritize streaming quality or connection stability.
Additional notable features include automatic on-ear detection, Bluetooth multipoint connectivity (up to 2 devices), support for multiple Bluetooth codecs (SBC, AAC, and LDAC—but no aptX), stellar mic quality, and USB-C fast charging. Although these headphones cost $499 USD, for many, the expense is worth it as this is a true jack of all trades.
Remote workers or those taking calls on the go can rejoice because Sony’s flagship headset has mics that can handle nearly any environment.
Sony WH-1000XM5 microphone demo (Ideal):
Sony WH-1000XM5 microphone demo (Wind):
How does the microphone sound to you?
The pair of value over-ear headphones is the Drop x Sennheiser HD 6XX
Okay, so you only have a couple hundred dollars to spend and want to get the best sound possible without sacrificing comfort. Well, hooray: the Massdrop x Sennheiser HD 6XX is here for you and costs anywhere from $199-240 USD. For all intents and purposes, the HD 6XX is really just an HD 650 with Drop’s (formerly Massdrop) branding.
There are a few minor differences between the HD 6XX and the HD 650, but most are cosmetic in nature. Like other Sennheiser headphones, the performance of the HD 6XX is top-notch and this is much lighter than it looks at 260g. If you’re the kind of listener who spends a lot of time at the computer, this is the headset you should get. Just be aware that the open-back is a double-edged sword: it allows for better sound quality and clarity, but it also lets in all the outside noise around you.
The Shure AONIC 50 connects to any device with ease
Those whose lives are filled with all sorts of operating systems and hardware should seriously consider the Shure AONIC 50. This set of noise cancelling headphones is much cheaper than the Sony WH-1000XM5 and also offers more connectivity options. With Shure’s headphones, you can stream high-quality reliable Bluetooth audio from any device, connect to multiple devices at once, and even enjoy wired playback through a standard 3.5mm connection or USB-C audio passthrough.
Connection options aside, you get other premium features with Shure’s headphones like removable ear pads and a replaceable 2.5-to-3.5mm cable. The leather band and ear pads make this a no-go for vegans, but you have plenty of other ANC headphones to choose from. For those who don’t mind or desire leather, you’ll find that this is one of the more comfortable headphones around, even with the 334g weight.
Although the Shure AONIC 50 has pretty good noise cancelling, it can’t compete with Bose or Sony’s flagships. That’s right, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 and Sony WH-1000XM5 are in a league of their own. What Shure does have over these two brands is a great, audio-focused app that offers one of the more granular EQ modules around. On-the-go audiophiles will love the AONIC 50, but stationary ones may want to look at our next pick.
The microphone sounds okay, but this really isn’t anything mind blowing.
Shure AONIC 50 microphone demo (firmware 0.4.9):
How does the microphone sound to you?
What makes the HiFiMan Sundara a great pair of over-ear audiophile headphones?
The HiFiMan Sundara is an absolute gem with its planar magnetic drivers that reproduce great audio no matter the genre. Yes, you could spend well over $1,000 USD for a pair of fancier headphones but if you’re willing to embrace a sparse feature set, you’ll love these open-back headphones.
Although the planar magnetic drivers are the Sundara’s greatest strength, they also literally weigh it down. At 372g, you’re bound to notice when you’re wearing the headphones but thankfully, the ear pads and suspension headband do a great job of distributing weight and mitigating hot spots. Velour ear pads keep things extremely comfortable for anyone who wears glasses, making this a go-to recommendation for the bespectacled.
The open-back design looks unique and helps to reproduce the headset’s consistent frequency response, but bass heads may find the quiet sub-bass lacking. Still, you can always equalize the sound. Another thing to be aware of is that this is a power-hungry headset, and most people will probably need an amplifier to get the most out of it (adding to the cost). If you reckon these are all manageable considerations, we highly recommend you get this as your next pair of desktop headphones.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 is a budget-friendly buy
These are all great, but what if you’re not looking to spend so much money? In that case, it’s easy to recommend the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2. While this still isn’t a cheap pair of headphones, it’s considerably more affordable than the others on this list. What we love about the ATH-M50xBT2 is that bundles in all that’s good about the wired ATH-M50X while adding the versatility of wireless playback and on-ear controls.
The foldable, slim build won’t attract too much attention when out in public. At the same time, though, the closed-back design makes these great for use in public as they passively block outside noise. Isolation isn’t quite as good as a pair of active noise cancelling headphones, but good enough.
You can stream high-quality audio to iOS or Android thanks to support for AAC and LDAC, though during our review period, we observed that LDAC doesn’t always work consistently. Worst case scenario, you can always plug these headphones into your phone with the included cable. For listeners who want studio sound that they can take on the go, the ATH-M50xBT2 is a clear winner.
Sound quality is perfectly fine for daily phone calls, but no one is going to think you’re using some kind of dedicated microphone here.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 microphone demo (Non-standardized):
How does the microphone sound to you?
The best over-ear headphones: Notable mentions
We told you there would be a section for all you audiophiles out there, and here it is. If you just want the best you can get, check these out.
- Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO: These are one of Beyerdynamic’s more affordable studio headphones, featuring a consumer-friendly sound signature that appeals to professionals in need of closed-back recording headphones.
- Beyerdynamic DT 900 PRO X: Content creators who are on the move and working from one hotel room to the next, get this headset. It’s comfortable, fairly lightweight, and reproduces excellent audio quality.
- Beyerdynamic DT 1990 PRO: Designed for serious audiophiles, these cans deliver a wide soundstage and relatively flat frequency response for professional studio applications. As an added bonus, its plush ear pads provide maximum comfort during long mixing sessions.
- Focal Utopia: We actually got a chance to review the Focal Utopia headphones, and it’s great. We don’t recommend the Utopia to the average person because it’s mega-expensive. That said, if you have the money to blow, go crazy.
- Sennheiser HD 58x Jubilee: These large, open-back, over-ear headphones are a Massdrop exclusive and feature an ever-so-slight emphasis on bass reproduction.
- Sennheiser HD 600: If you think spending that much money on headphones is ridiculous, no one will blame you. This is why the HD 600 headphones are another solid option from Sennheiser for way, way less money.
- Sennheiser HD 660S: These open-back cans are popular amongst higher-end home studio musicians, sporting aluminum voice coils that deliver a balanced and accurate sound reproduction. If you’re looking to invest in a reliable pair of reference-quality headphones, these belong on your wishlist.
- Sennheiser HD 820: Priced at almost $2,000, these cans aren’t for the faint of heart. Touting a closed-back design that still delivers a natural, wide soundstage, these headphones represent Sennheiser’s quest for innovation within the audio tech industry.
- Sony MDR-7506: If all of these options are way too expensive, then go with the Sony MDR-7506 headphones. These are far from new, but they’re still an industry standard for audio production.
- Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless: The Amiron Wireless is worth checking out if for nothing other than the great sound quality.
- Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700: The NCH 700 is a great option if you have money to blow and want one of the best noise cancelling experiences around. You can now create a custom EQ for the headset straight from the Bose Music app, which is a nice plus.
- Bose QuietComfort 35 II: Yes, the QC 35 II headphones are years-old, but they keep up with the best of them—we promise. If you want a boom mic and volume control dial to go with it, consider the Bose QuietComfort 35 II Gaming Headset.
- Bose QuietComfort 45: This pair of active noise cancelling headphones sounds good, though you’ll want to EQ to account for the treble boost, and has some of the best ANC around. Comfort is a given here too.
- Sony WH-1000XM4: The newer WH-1000XM5 wouldn’t have been possible without these cans. The last-gen WH-1000XM4 is still available for a slightly lower price than its successor and is still considered one of the best ANC headphones on the market.
- Sony WH-CH710N: Admittedly, this headset isn’t going to knock your socks off, but it’s still a solid pair of ANC cans for $200 USD.
If you’re working with a limited budget, don’t forget to check out some of our other lists, which include headphones at more affordable price points.
Who is the Apple AirPods Max for?
There are two reasons why this hasn’t made our list: firstly, it’s really expensive. Maybe perceptions have shifted regarding the price of consumer electronics since Apple’s flagship handheld devices sell for over $1,000 USD. But here in the real world, walking around with headphones that cost $549 USD doesn’t seem like a great idea, especially if you want to keep them.
Secondly: many of their coolest features are available exclusively to those who have a (recent) Apple device to pair them with. And that includes getting the best out of the Bluetooth link. Since most people fall outside that category, the price is an even bigger hurdle to overcome.
If you’ve got cash to burn, and are already invested in Apple’s ecosystem/walled garden, go ahead and check out the AirPods Max. They sound fantastic, and like the popular AirPods Pro, the AirPods Max features impressively effective noise cancelling technology. Additional features include a bold yet comfortable design, Transparency Mode, Adaptive EQ, Spatial Audio, and the inclusion of Apple’s H1 Chip for seamless connection with Apple devices.
What else you should know about over-ear headphones
What is isolation?
Isolation refers to the ability of your headphones to block outside noise from reaching your ears. This might sound like active noise cancellation, but it isn’t. Active noise canceling uses microphones to pick up the sounds that are going on around you and then uses clever processing to cancel it out. In physics, it’s called destructive interference and you can learn more about that here, but that isn’t what isolation is.
Isolation is simply having a physical barrier between your ears and the outside noises. Every time you stuff your fingers in your ears, you’re isolating yourself. You might hear certain loud noises going on around you, but for the most part, sounds are blocked out. A good pair of over-ear headphones can do something similar. They’ll cover your ears and block noises that would otherwise interfere with the music you’re listening to.
Do Bluetooth headphones have the same sound quality as wired headphones?
Nope, while Bluetooth has become way better and more convenient in the last few years it still can’t compete on a technical level with wired over-ear headphones. Sure, we might be a little biased against removing the headphone jack, but even our objective testing of the LDAC codec (which is arguably one of the top transfer methods currently available) revealed that Bluetooth falls short. Of course, you probably won’t have to worry about it too much if you’re over the age of 24 because our hearing tends to go a lot sooner than you might realize, but it’s still something you should be aware of. At least for now, wired headphones still reign supreme.
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Frequently asked questions about over-ear headphones
Both the Bose QuietComfort 35 II and Sennheiser PXC 550-II offer great sound and impressive active noise cancelling for their sub-$300 price tags. However, which headphones you choose entirely depends on your needs. Be sure to check out our versus article, which explores each product’s pros and cons, which will hopefully help guide you towards a final decision.