With so may pair of headphones to choose from, getting the right headphones for your needs can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Getting to listen before your buy can be a big challenge, as not too many audio outlets are blessed with demo stock for your to try out before you buy.
Thankfully, we’re here to help make the process a little easier, and all the models in our headphone reviews are thoroughly tested to by our experts. We assess audio quality, comfort, and durability, as well as plenty of criteria in between to help remove the headache of choosing the right headphone.
This guide to the best over-ear headphones we’ve listened to should always be your first port of call when tracking down a pair of comfortable and durable cans with the best sound.
Over-ear designs are known for their high comfort levels, with ear cushions that form a comfortable seal around your entire ear to fill your whole ear with sound and not just your ear canal as with in-ear buds. Over-ear designs also do a good job of reducing the external noise of your surroundings, and our extensive tests show that this kind of passive noise isolation is very effective at minimising disruptive background noise even before you’ve switched in any active noise cancellation (ANC).
Whether you’re looking for a stylish pair of headphones made with luxurious materials and loaded with the latest features, or something a bit more understated for practical portable use, we’ve got you covered with our picks of the best over-ear headphones we’ve tested. All are available to buy right now, with many models significantly discounted from their list price.
Top 3 best over-ear headphones
The best over-ear headphones you can buy right now
Sony’s new flagship headphones improve upon the already great XM4s with better active noise cancellation, call quality, sound, comfort and connectivity. Most of the changes aren’t huge — though the first two are certainly noticeable — but it’s more than enough for Sony to retain its long-held number 1 spot.
The touch controls and battery life (30 hours with ANC on, 40 with it off) are also to be commended, as is the excellent Sony Headphones Control app, which lets you tweak the EQ to your preference. The slightly bland design counts against them, as does the $50 price increase, but the XM4s are still around if you want to spend less, and overall there’s no question that these are the best wireless headphones you can buy. If you’re still not convinced then check out our Sony WH-1000XM5 vs. WH-1000XM4 face-off to see how they compare.
Read our full Sony WH-1000XM5 review.
Nobody does active noise-cancelling quite as well as Bose. The replacement for another top-quality set of ANC cans, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II, the Bose 700 adds a slick new design, useful capacitive touch controls and even better sound quality.
What makes the ANC so great isn’t just its effectiveness, but the amount of control Bose affords you over it. Through the mobile app there are no fewer than 11 different levels to choose from: so you can leave a touch of ambient noise coming in if you want to listen for announcements or stay safe near traffic, or you can turn it up to full and silence even the kinds of noises ANC can have trouble with, like speech.
See our full Bose 700 review.
The Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 over-ear headphones are priced the same as the Sony. They feel good, are beautifully constructed and are either good-looking in an understated way or a bit too understated for their own good — it depends on your taste. They have active noise-cancelation and a control app — but ‘extended functionality’ is not their thing.
They’re designed to deliver the best wireless sound this sort of money can buy, and they do. The entire frequency range hangs together well, with nothing overstated and nothing struggling for representation. Tonality is clean, consistent and entirely convincing. If you want every wireless headphone feature under the sun, you have plenty of choice. If, however, you want headphones that make the most of the digital audio information you give them, the Px7 S2 really needs to be in your thinking.
Read our full Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 review.
As expensive as the AirPods Max is, there’s a sense that you get what you pay for: the aluminium and mesh fabric build is plush and comfortable, while sound quality and ANC effectiveness are up there with the best.
Apple has also loaded the AirPods Max with some rather advanced features, like Adaptive EQ, which tailors the sound output according to how the AirPods Max sit on your head: frequencies are tweaked to account for the fit of the earcups and the size of your ears. There’s also Spatial Audio, a very impressive version of digital surround sound, though as this feature requires a recent iOS or Mac device to work the AirPods Max are best suited to existing Apple fans.
See our full Apple AirPods Max review.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to see audio specialist Sennheiser on our best over-ear headphones list. The HD 4.50 BTNC is a pair of headphones that perfectly exhibits the company’s ear for high sound quality. It’s relatively affordable, too, especially considering it comes with active noise-cancelling; it’s a cheaper alternative to the Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless.
The HD 4.50 BTNC’s noise cancelling doesn’t work quite as that of the Bose 700, but for well under $200 it’s still a great deal. The comfortable, no-nonsense design and intuitive controls also help cement the Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC as an ideal pick if you want to try your first pair of over-ear ANC headphones with a limited budget.
See our full Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC review.
With exceptional battery life and full noise cancellation, complete with an Ambient mode, the Cleer Enduro ANC is a stone-cold bargain. Sure, its ANC tech isn’t on the same level of the Bose 700, but for well under $200 there aren’t many pairs of over-ear headphones that offer such a complete package.
It’s even got support for the high-quality aptX Adaptive Bluetooth codec, and if you instead connect using the bundled 3.5mm cable, you can listen to Hi-Res Audio as well. You can manually adjust the EQ too, using the companion app, though we liked the default, bass-heavy sound signature.
Read our full Cleer Enduro ANC review.
Replacing the widely popular QC35 II is the QuietComfort 45, an updated take on the model that revolutionized the noise-cancelling category. Bose equipped these over-ear headphones with a six-mic array that blocks out a vast number of ambient noises, much like the flagship 700, and produces crisp-sounding calls in most environments. The minimalist, cozy design remains mostly untouched, though these cans are lighter and sturdier than their predecessor. Sound quality has been improved to produce richer, more detailed audio. A lengthier playtime (24 hours on a single charge) also gives this version an advantage over other Bose models.
It’s a shame that Bose didn’t offer an option to turn off ANC mode for power conservation. These headphones don’t come with some software perks found on older Bose headphones either. Still, this is a top-tier noise canceller that is sold for a reasonable price.
Read our full Bose QuietComfort 45 review.
When it comes to 3D sound on headphones, the AirPods Max had that market locked down until the Yamaha YH-L700A showed up. These large wireless cans pump out category-leading spatial audio, creating a listening experience that can be enjoyed with any stereo audio content from “virtually any source.” Yamaha’s head-tracking technology makes it so that music and movies change with how you turn your head, automatically adjusting the output on each channel to hear details and effects accurately in a 360-degree soundscape. You get several 3D modes for different content, along with strong noise cancellation and wireless performance.
Being one of the heavier models out, it’s unlikely that you’ll be wearing these on commutes. The uneven playtimes when enabling and disabling 3D Sound Field also presents an issue for anyone jumping on an international flight. But if you’re planning to use spatial audio headphones for at-home listening, the YH-L700A is the way to go.
Read our full Yamaha YH-L700A review.
Microsoft might not be the first name in audio, but the Surface Headphones 2 is a pleasant surprise. It both sounds better and cost less than its predecessor, the original Surface Headphones, and it makes up for middling battery life with some very fast charging: we went from empty to full charge in well under an hour.
The Surface Headphones 2 might also be a good choice if you use Windows a lot. It requires a Microsoft 365 subscription, but there’s a unique voice dictation feature that uses the onboard microphones to turn your speech into text in Word or Outlook, and makes a very useful tool for anyone working from home.
Read our full Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 review.
How to choose the best over-ear headphones for you
When shopping for headphones, you’ve already narrowed things down massively by deciding on a pair of over-ear cans specifically. But there can still be much variation in the design of individual pairs, so you should still look out for factors like the headband shape or the amount of earcup padding to judge how comfortable they might be. Don’t be afraid to pass on headphones you don’t like the aesthetics of, too.
Sound quality is clearly important. You can read more about how we test this below, but you should consider whether you’d prefer a balanced sound or once that favors a particular part of the frequency spectrum — electronic fans might prefer heavy bass, for example. That said, several over-ear headphones have mobile apps that let you tweak the EQ to your liking.
Think about how much battery life you’ll need as well. Over-ear headphones can deliver anywhere between about 20 and 60 hours of playback so you should never need to recharge too often, though naturally longer is usually better. Keep in mind that ANC will reduce battery life when it’s turned on, as it needs to permanently power the onboard microphones.
How we test the best over-ear headphones
We thoroughly test every pair of headphones based on a variety of factors, and employ a consistent testing approach so any comparisons with other pairs are trustworthy and fair.
In this case, every pair of over-ear headphones has been used over the course of a week for 2 hours at a time. This allows the tester to both gauge the sound quality across a mix of genres and volumes, and to see how comfortable the headphones are when worn for extended periods. We’ll listen to hip-hop, rock, jazz, classical, pop and more to see how each pair performs, and will do the same with movies, podcasts and games, where applicable. Find out how we test and try out demo tracks for yourself in our guide to getting the best headphone sound for you.
We also test the effectiveness of features like noise-cancelling in real-life situations, and will make sure manufacturer claims about battery life and Bluetooth range are accurate. Build quality, the ease of setup and any control schemes — including those involving an app — will also be judged.
We rate over-ear headphones with a 5-point system (1 = worst, 5 = best). Products that excel in one or more particular fields that’s rated 4 stars or above may also receive an Editor’s Choice award.
Next: Fancy headphones that prioritize sound above everything else? Then check out our picks for the best audiophile headphones. Alternatively, if you’re in the market for more discreet earbuds at a range of prices from entry level to high-end, then check out the very best wireless earbuds we’ve tested.
More: We’re looking forward to getting our hands on the next-gen over-ear headphones in the form of the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless announced with Sony-beating battery life when they arrive later this summer. Plus, check out what we made of Dyson’s bizarre air-purifying headphones.