Whether you use headphones to listen to music, for a phone call or for a Zoom meeting that really could have been an email, getting high-quality sound can make all the difference when it comes to creating a good experience. And when it comes to comfort and audio quality, over-ear headphones rise above other types.
Part of this is the fact that these headphones tend to be bigger, fully covering both ears and often having some sort of cushioning for comfort. This can make it easier to hear the audio source clearly and provides more space for larger and higher quantities of audio drivers, increasing the frequency range and bass response over smaller, cheaper alternatives. Not to mention, quality picks come equipped with built-in technologies like touch controls or active noise cancellation.
In the days of both remote working and busy open-plan offices, it’s crucial to have an audio solution that shuts out background noise effectively – and the humble headphone has become a crucial tool, controlling what you do and don’t have to hear, whether you’re in the office or not. A 2018 survey by staffing company Accountemps also found that over 70% of employees who listened to music at work felt more productive doing so.
There may even be some health benefits to this type of listening device: Non-profit medical center Cleveland Clinic states that over ear headphones are generally better for ear health as “the better sound quality allows you to listen at a lower volume,” reducing the risk of damaging your hearing.
To help you find a pair of headphones to fit your needs, we spoke to experts about how to shop for the best over ear headphones – and rounded up some top-rated options to consider based on their advice.
Popular over ear headphones to consider
Based on shopping guidance given to us by our experts, we looked at and tried dozens of high-quality, well-designed over ear headphone models that deliver excellent sound, are easy to operate, have some level of noise cancellation, are comfortable to wear for long periods of time and have a notable battery life (if they’re wireless).
Below, we rounded up 10 over ear headphones models that closely align with expert advice, all of which have also been personally tested by our gadget experts.
Best overall over ear headphones: Sony
Superior audio quality is just one reason the Sony WH-1000XM4 is our top pick for the best over ear headphones. They can be used both wirelessly and for wired listening, and the active noise cancellation feature includes ambient sound control to let you hear the sounds you need to. The headphones also allow for hands-free calls, and the music intuitively pauses when you start speaking or when you remove the headphones.
Touch controls are used for controlling the volume, as well as playing, pausing and skipping tracks. According to Sony, the headphones have a 30-hour battery life and can be used with the Sony Headphones Connect App to control settings.
The newer WH-1000XM5 model is a bit more plush and comfortable, but isn’t quite as travel friendly as its predecessor – which folds up neatly into a compact carry case – so the extra cash for Sony’s upgraded headset isn’t necessarily worth it.
Best for luxury: Master & Dynamic
Master & Dynamic excel as making luxury over-ear headphones, and the MW75s are no exception.
Coming in at 338g, the MW75s are considerably heavier than the MW65s also featured in this guide. You’re getting the same premium materials, though, with lambskin leather and even plushier earcups for excellent passive noise cancellation.
Compared to the MW65s, you’ll also get 8 more hours of battery life, more advanced Bluetooth, and twice the number of microphones for better call quality. However, their size and weight – as well as the correspondingly high price point – means the MW75 headphones aren’t very travel-friendly. They come in a very hefty hard case and are probably the bulkiest headphones in this guide, but the audio quality is truly solid, and the first few moments inside these over-ear headphones should be enough to convince you of their merit.
Best for travel: Bose
The name says it all when it comes to Bose’s QuietComfort range – as active noise canceling (ANC) headphones, these cans excel at blocking out background noise, with a lightweight design (just 240g) to ensure comfort listening for very long periods of time.
Bose is a market leader in active noise cancellation, and for good reason: the audio specialist first introduced commercial ANC headphones to the market several decades ago. You could accuse Bose of resting on its laurels in this respect, especially given the QC45s still rely on physical buttons instead of the sleeker touch controls of some other models in this guide.
But for the combination of lightweight comfort, 24 hours of battery life, top-tier ANC, and truly excellent audio, the QC45s are still a great bet. We’re partial to the White Smoke model, but you can also buy them in Black, Midnight Blue, or Eclipse Gray.
Best noise cancellation features: Bose
The Bose QuietComfort 45 headphones are a popular pick, but we think the Bose 700 are an even better choice. These headphones feature 11 noise canceling levels, ranging from full noise cancellation to full transparency mode to hear the outside world. The headphones are wireless, but they also include an audio cable for wired listening. They’re also adjustable, so you can move the earcups up and down to find the most comfortable position.
Using a combination of buttons, touch controls and voice assistance, you can skip tracks, control the volume and more. The headphones, which come with a carrying case, provide 20 hours of battery life on one charge, the brand says, and they can also be connected to the Bose Music App.
Best open back design: Sennheiser
Headphones with an open back design can provide more natural and realistic sounds, and I’ve found that the Sennheiser HD 599 wired headphones do this exceptionally well, making them a great choice for audiophiles. The headphones are versatile and include two cables (6.3mm and 3.5mm) for connecting to home entertainment systems, as well as smartphones and laptops. They’re also padded with velour ear cushions, making them comfortable to wear for longer periods of time.
Best water-resistant over ear headphones: Jabra
If you plan on using your over ear headphones while working up a sweat, the Jabra Elite 85h are certified rain- and water-resistant, according to the brand. (This is not to be confused with “waterproof” — we don’t advise immersing the headphones in a bathtub or swimming pool.) The headphones have active noise cancellation as well as passive noise cancellation and connect via Bluetooth or through a 3.5mm audio cable. Battery life is rated for up to 36 hours, Jabra says, and you can touch a button to access voice assistance. The headphones come in a carrying case, and the Jabra Sound+ app provides customization features.
Most comfortable over ear headphones: Shure
If you tend to avoid headphones because your noggin is bigger than most, the Shure Aonic 50 wireless headphones — which feature larger padded ear cups — may be the answer to your problem. The headphones use Bluetooth 5 technology to provide a range of up to 30 feet, the brand says, and the noise cancellation is adjustable. The headphones have a 20-hour battery life, Shure says, and they come with a 3.5mm input for wired sound as well as a carrying case.
Most iconic over ear headphones: Marshall
The Marshall Monitor II A.N.C. headphones are an iconic pair of over ear headphones — I love them so much that I actually own two pairs. They connect wirelessly via Bluetooth and provide over 30 hours of battery life – though, if you prefer, there’s also a 3mm audio cable for wired sound. A simple control knob moves in various directions, depending on whether you’re trying to adjust the volume, pause or play music or manage phone calls. There’s also an active noise canceling button, which can be toggled between ANC and monitoring mode or turned off entirely. The lightweight headphones are adjustable and remain comfortable after being worn for several hours — when not in use, they collapse to fit into the canvas carrying bag.
Most durable over ear headphones: Bowers & Wilkins
I’ve never torn up a pair of headphones, but the team at Bowers & Wilkins anticipates that not everyone is as fortunate. In fact, the woven carbon fiber composite arms on the headphones were based on the design used in racing cars, according to the brand. The earcups also lay flat, which makes them easy to fit in the accompanying storage case. Adaptive noise cancellation blocks out unwanted sounds based on your environment, the brand says, and the Bowers & Wilkins App provides even more control. The headphones are wireless, but they have a 3.5mm input for wired sound.
Best design: Master & Dynamic
Master & Dynamic’s MW65 wireless headphones feature a retro design with anodized aluminum and memory foam ear pads that are covered in lambskin leather. Audiophiles will appreciate that the headphones are lightweight and comfortable — in my experience, they might even sound better than they look. The various ANC modes (high power, low power and passive noise cancellation) provide a noise isolation choice, and the battery life lasts up to 12 hours, according to the brand. A 3.5mm cable is included for wired connections, and a canvas carrying pouch is provided to take the headphones on the go.
Best splurge: Bang & Olufsen
If you’re looking for high-end over ear headphones and money isn’t a huge factor, consider the Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H95s. They provide excellent audio for music and phone calls, with a battery life that lasts up to 38 hours. The headphones are made of aluminum, with memory foam earcups covered in soft lambskin. They use adaptive ANC and can automatically adjust depending on the environment. The wireless headphones are foldable and come with an aluminum carrying case and a 3.5mm audio jack for wired connections. You can also customize the sound EQ via the Bang & Olufsen App.
Best for audio editors: Beyerdynamic
I was a video editor (and by default, an audio editor) in a previous life, and the Beyerdynamic DT 700 Pro X headphones would have come in quite handy during those days. The closed-back headphones do an excellent job of monitoring audio and blocking distortion. In addition, the headphones are comfortable — they’re made with replaceable velour ear pads and a replaceable headband pad, which can help prevent ear fatigue after long periods of time, according to the brand. The cable is also detachable, which makes the headphones easy to store in the included bag.
How to shop for the best over ear headphones
Not all headphones are created equal. If you are only focused on a good value buy, you might be condemning yourself to years of scratchy sounds, throbbing ears, and infuriating controls. That’s why it’s crucial to know what you’re looking for, and review the best options out there for you to choose from.
The recommendations in this guide were all hand-tested by gadget specialists, who have also put together their top tips for choosing the right over-ear headphones for you.
Wireless versus wired
Over ear headphones are available as either wired (with a physical cord) or wireless, and our experts believe this may be the most important factor to consider, depending on your needs.
“Many people favor wireless headphones these days, and if you are interested in being active while you listen to music they are an excellent choice,” said Eric Salazar, director of community engagement at Classical Music Indy. “Wireless headphones that connect via Bluetooth are perfect for listening to music with headphones while cleaning the house, going for a walk and doing other types of exercise, or traveling by car/bus/airplane,” he added, noting that your range of motion is unhindered without a wire.
One thing to keep in mind is that wireless headphones tend to be less powerful than wired headphones. “This is because information is being sent via Bluetooth, and Bluetooth has a limited capacity on the amount of information it can send,” Salazar explained. “In other words, the audio quality is typically lower with wireless headphones because Bluetooth can't send all of the information with certain file types.”
However, most people won’t notice the difference in quality between wired and wireless headphones, unless they’re listening to hi-res audio files like FLAC or large WAV files, in which case a wired connection would be better.
Just keep in mind that wired over ear headphones are increasingly rare these days, as manufacturers and shoppers alike tend to opt for the convenience of wire-free models.
It’s important to make sure that the headphones you buy are comfortable. “Some headphones can have a squeezing effect on your head over time, so if you suffer from tension headaches as well, then maybe earbuds are a better option,” said Allen Conrad, a chiropractor at Montgomery County Chiropractic Center. Belinda Niling Stohner, violinist and founder of Baby B Strings, added that adjustability is an important consideration, especially if multiple people will be using the same headphones (for instance, in a recording studio).
Conrad warned that wearing over ear headphones for 6-8 hours while sitting at your computer can have an accumulative effect on neck pain. “Some of the old-style headphones may not seem like they weigh that much, but some can weigh over 1 pound, which can have a cumulative effect on neck pain and posture,” he said. For longer periods of time, earbuds may be a better choice.
It’s very important to consider where you’ll be using your headphones. If you need them for a long commute, or even long-haul flights to different offices and event locations, then having comfortable padding, a hefty battery life, and a way to transport your tech on the go becomes crucial.
Many over ear headphones come with a dedicated carry case, though a hard case is generally better for protecting it against knocks and scratches in your luggage. Headphones that can be folded into a smaller, tighter shape are also useful – as with the Sony WH-1000XM4s – though some higher-end models are a little more rigid in their shape and construction.
Wired connections are generally less of an issue if you’re in the same spot for an extended period of time. That said, wires can still get in the way as you reach for your water or try to move from one side of your desk to the other. Plus, a Bluetooth connection will likely be easier for travel in general.
Noise cancellation modes
Noise cancellation is a key feature in the best over ear headphones. Each headphone offers a varying amount of passive protection against background noise, thanks to the padding and materials used in the earcups. But using something called ANC (active noise cancellation) can take this even further, effectively recording outside sound with a microphone and neutralizing the wavelength in the audio played through the headphones. This means the sound you want to listen to is clearer, without outside distractions.
This digital solution will drain the battery faster – but generally you should still get a day’s worth of use, even if ANC is running constantly in the background.
Many over ear headphones also offer a ‘transparency mode’ to do the opposite of ANC, allowing outside sound to pass through the headphones and keep you aware of your surroundings – useful if you’re crossing the road, or need to listen to a coworker for a passing moment.
Over ear versus on ear headphones
There are three main kinds of headphones: over ear, on ear and in ear. The over ear headphones described in this guide are designed to encompass the ear entirely, creating an enclosed space that helps to isolate outside noise – while the larger size of the earcups generally allows for more drivers, microphones, sensors, and premium technologies to improve the quality of the sound.
On ear headphones are the Goldilocks option, following the same basic design principles of over ear cans, but with slightly smaller earcups, allowing the headphones to sit on your ears without covering them entirely. They are generally a little cheaper because of this.
In ear headphones – better known as earphones, or earbuds – take the sound directly to the destination, being inserted inside your ear canal without any padding or headband. Drivers tend to be smaller to fit inside such compact housing, but some in ear models do offer high-quality audio and premium tech such as ANC; just keep in mind that the very best of these will cost pretty much the same as over ear models.