Nothing can beat the best over-ear headphones in terms of soundstage, audio quality, and comfort. Plus, if keeping your ears healthy long into your twilight years is just as important to you, these headphones also tend to be better for your ear health overall, because you don’t need to amp up the volume to get a great audio performance and noise-cancellation.
These formidable head-cannons often have the biggest drivers and come in both open-back and closed-back variations, the former of which offers an almost concert hall-like feel to your favorite music. There’s wireless models like the Philips PH805, the Bowers & Wilkins PX7, and the Sennheiser PXC 550-II, however old-school cool is still very much in – just check out the brilliant Audeze LCD-1 and Cleer Next for proof that wired headphones are still among the best you can buy.
2020 could be the year we’ll see the first-ever pair of over-ear Apple headphones, too – and that could really shake up the competition, just as the Apple AirPods have taken over the world of in-ear headphones.
You’ll find a number of wired models in this guide because of their more consistent sound quality but if you’re looking for other cool features, make sure you check out our dedicated guides to the best noise-cancelling headphones and the best wireless headphones, too.
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.
Read the full review: Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro
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.
There’s a pair of Fidelio headphones on the scene – the Philips Fidelio X3 come with an audiophile-friendly open-back design that allows for a wide soundstage. Stay tuned to see if the new cans make it onto this round up.
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.
Read the full review: Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pro
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 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.
Read the full review: Sony WH-1000XM3
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.
Read the full review: Sennheiser HD 800
With the LCD-1 open-back headphones, Audeze has brought its uncompromising technology down to a real-world(ish) price. As long as you are prepared to do your listening in splendid isolation – that design will generate some sound leakage – there’s just no reason to overlook these headphones.
The LCD-1s’ overall presentation, no matter the material you’re listening to nor the volume at which you’re listening, is composed, engaging and entirely believable. Listen to music you’ve never heard before and you’ll never doubt you’re being given the full picture.
Listen to music you’ve heard a thousand times before and there’s every chance the LCD-1’s will find some nuance in there you’ve never really heard before.
Read the full review: Audeze LCD-1
If you’re looking for class-leading wireless, noise-canceling headphones and you’re not put off by the $399 / £349 / AU$600 price tag, the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 are well worth considering.
With sophisticated noise-canceling, much-improved sound quality, a honed aesthetic, the PX7 could give any of the headphones on this list a run for their money.
Plus. they’re packing aptX Adaptive for improved stability and latency between the headphones and your device, as well as high-quality (24-bit) streaming aptX HD brought to the table.
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.
[Update: We’ve been informed that the last pair of P9 Signatures have been shipped to retailers, so if you want to get your hands on these cans, you’ll need to snap them up quickly.]
Read the full review: B&W P9 Signature
At $199 / £160 (around AU$290) the Philips PH805 offer exceptional value for money. These are wireless headphones, using Bluetooth 5.0 for connectivity – so high-resolution audio playback should be achievable.
Using a single Lithium-Ion cell for up to 30 hours of playback time from a single charge, the Philips PH805 have active noise cancellation on board, administered by a couple of mics on each earcup.
Read more: Philips PH805 review
Billed as audiophile headphones by the company, these high-spec cans feature Cleer’s patented motor design, which uses “20 strategically layered rare earth magnets” in place of the usual iron magnets.
It’s impossible not to be impressed by the sound quality offered by the Cleer Next headphones; they sound incredibly detailed, with all the clarity (and then some) you’d expect from cans with such a high price tag ($699 / £699 / about AU$1040).
The industrial design is undoubtably an acquired taste, and they are a little heavy at 395g – saying that, the Cleer Next feel well built, with lots of attention to detail in their construction and presentation.
Read more: Cleer Next review
In terms of audio quality, these Sennheiser over-ear headphones sound fantastic, with high levels of detail, warm bass, and natural-sounding highs.
Customizable noise cancelation is a great touch, but it doesn’t quite reach the class-leading standards set by Sony and Bose. Battery life also doesn’t compete with the Sony WH-1000XM3s, and they’re more expensive to boot.
So, why buy the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless (2019)? Well, if built-in Tile tracking appeals to you, and you like the industrial design and premium materials of the Momentum Wireless, that could be reason enough – and if you do opt for them over the Sony model, you won’t be missing out on any audio quality. In that respect, they’re truly matched.
Read the full review: Sennheiser Momentum Wireless (2019) review
The build, battery life, and sound quality of the Sennheiser PXC 550-II are all very impressive, upgrading the previous PXC 550 model with the latest Bluetooth standard and enhanced audio and smart capabilities.
The PXC 550-II headphones are a bit cheaper than the Momentum Wireless, a bit more sober in appearance and definitely not as big, with a sophisticated sound.
Read more: Sennheiser PXC 550-II review
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.
Read the full review: Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless
They may not beat the Sony WH-1000XM3’s battery life and price, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are still a fantastic pair of over-ear headphones.
By applying noise cancelation on both music and phone calls, they offer class-leading technology, and well as a vibrant, lively sound and wide, well-balanced soundstage.
If you’re trying to decide between buying the Sony WH-1000XM3s and the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, we’d recommend going for the former because of that lower price and better battery life.
That being said, you wouldn’t be making a mistake if you opted for the Bose cans instead (and we wouldn’t blame you if you did) – they sound great, look stunning, and the noise-cancelation is out of this world.
Read the full review: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
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.
Read the full review: JBL Live 650BTNC review
The Focal Stellias sound absolutely fantastic. Their wide-open soundstage and detailed, accurate sound treatment means 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.
If you like the sound of these luxury headphones but can’t justify the price, check out our initial hands-on review of the new Focal Elegia. They may not sound quite as breathtaking as the Focal Stellia – at least that’s what we gathered from a short listening session – but the Focal Elegia headphones are still very impressive.
Read the full review: Focal Stellia review
Over-ear headphones: what to look for
To make things easier for audiophiles, this guide will focus on sound quality above all else.
When buying over-ear headphones, sound quality is the most important feature to look out for – the more expensive, the better your cans tend to sound, although there are quite a few impressive exceptions to this rule.
How you define good sound quality depends on your personal taste. Do you like a warm, well-rounded sound, or do you prefer ultra high-fidelity that allows you to hear every single detail of your music? Are you a dedicated bass head or a classical music junkie?
If you’re all about that bass, you’ll want to look out for dynamic drivers that displace lots of air, leading to a bassy soundstage. If detail is everything, look for large frequency ranges – 20Hz to 20 kHz is the standard, so anything larger than this may allow for more detail in the highs and lows.
It’s also important to consider the soundstage as a whole; if you love a wide, open sound, try a pair of open-back headphones. Worried about sound-leakage when you’re in the company of others? Try a pair of closed-back cans with a secure fit to stop your tunes bothering the people around you.
As we mentioned, there are a few wireless and noise-canceling headphones in this list – that’s because the sound quality of these models is exceptional. Many over-ear headphones come with these quality-of-life features these days, although they’re often pricier than their wired counterparts – if you can’t live without these modern conveniences, make sure you’re buying headphones with the latest Bluetooth technology and active noise cancelation.
Design is also hugely important, as a good pair of over-ear headphones need to be comfortable for long listening sessions – look out for padded earcups and headbands in materials like memory foam for ultimate comfort.
Best over-ear headphones at a glance
- Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro
- Philips Fidelio X2
- Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pro
- Sony WH-1000XM3
- Sennheiser HD 800
- Audeze LCD-1
- Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Wireless Headphones
- Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature
- Philips PH805
- Cleer Next
- Sennheiser Momentum Wireless
- Sennheiser PX 550-II
- Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless
- Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
- JBL Live 650BTNC
- Focal Stellia