Nothing can beat the best over-ear headphones if you value good quality sound and best-in-class performance when it comes to listening to music. It's a fact: 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, 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.
To make things easier for audiophiles, this guide will focus on sound quality above all else – if you're looking for other cool features, make sure you check out our guides to the best noise-canceling headphones and the best wireless headphones.
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.
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
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
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.
Read the full review: 1MORE Triple Driver Over-Ear
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
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
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 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.
Read the full review: Audio-Technica ATH-SR5BT
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 SXFI Air 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.
Read the full review: Creative SXFI Air headphones 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 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.
UPDATE: 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
- Sennheiser HD 800
- 1More Triple Driver Over-Ear
- Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature
- Sony WH-1000 XM3
- Audio-Technica ATH-SR5BT
- Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless
- Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
- JBL Live 650BTNC
- Creative SXFI Air headphones
- Sennheiser Momentum Wireless
- Focal Stellia
Source: TechRadar - All the latest technology news
By: Nick Pino,Olivia Tambini