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Whether you’re working out or running errands, listening to music has been shown to have a largely positive effect. “Music doesn’t just affect your body; it affects your brain and it can have a positive impact on your mood, washing you with strong emotions,” explained Cathy Spencer-Browning, VP of programming and training at MOSSA, which provides programming to health clubs and also has an at-home streaming platform. A 2018 survey by staffing company Accountemps also found that 39 percent of employees who listened to music at work felt much more productive, while 32 percent felt somewhat more productive.
But when you’re forced to listen to music (or anything else) against your will, it’s called noise — good headphones can both block out this outside noise and prevent your own audio from becoming that inconvenience. “Headphones help in decreasing the noise pollution around you so others can listen to what they wish without competing volumes of sound,” explained Jerry Bailey, a chiropractic and functional medicine physician at Lakeside Holistic Health (and also a musician/drummer in his spare time). “When you compete for sound with those around you, ear fatigue becomes a big factor — this causes you to increase your volume to hear your preferences and the others around you to increase theirs [as well].”
To help you find a pair of headphones to fit your needs, we spoke to experts about how to shop for headphones — specifically, over ear headphones — and rounded up some top-rated options to consider based on their advice.
Popular over ear headphones to consider
Based on the 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 most closely align with expert advice, all of which I’ve personally tried in my years as a tech expert.
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.
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
When I was younger, I used to grab either the best looking or the cheapest headphones I could find — but as a tech and commerce writer, I’ve since learned that’s a recipe for disaster. These are some of the factors that you should consider when choosing the best over ear headphones.
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, a clarinetist and composer and 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. On the other hand, if you’re going to be sitting at a desk or performing some other type of stationary activity, a wired connection may be the best choice.
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, Salazar said that most people won’t notice the difference in quality between wired and wireless headphones. “Unless you are listening to high-quality file types, the difference is negligible — if you listen through streaming, you are already receiving a condensed version of the digital file over Wi-Fi and a $300 pair of headphones won't noticeably improve the quality,” he explained. However, if you have hi-res audio files on your computer or phone (for instance, lossless audio files like FLAC or large WAV files), he said you should opt for wired over ear headphones.
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 also 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.
Noise cancellation modes
Noise cancellation features are another factor to consider when choosing the best headphones. “Adaptability in the sound is crucial, and there are brands that allow you to adjust noise cancellation to suit your needs,” said NYC-based musician Joshua Hinck.
Some headphones offer active noise cancellation to block out all exterior sounds, while others have ambient sound control, which lets you hear only essential sounds.
Over ear versus in ear headphones
Though many people think all headphones with ear pads and headbands are the same, there are actually two main types: over ear headphones and on ear headphones. Both have a headband and an ear cup on each side — however, over ear headphones have larger ear cups that completely surround each ear, whereas on ear headphones have smaller ear cups that sit on your ears instead of enveloping them.