Best over-ear headphones Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best over-ear headphones you can buy in 2020.
Such is the situation around the world for many of us right now, some time spent enveloped in our favourite music probably sounds like an even better idea than usual. That's where the best over-ear headphones can help.
In-ear headphones have a time and a place but if you really want to lose yourself in your tunes, a pair of over-ear headphones are the ideal choice.
With options to suit all music types, budgets and styles, there's bound to be something that fits the bill. We've picked wired and wireless headphones, plus noise-cancelling designs for extra noise isolation. Some of our recommendations even have a smart assistant built in for hands-free operation and a mic for calls. You can even use some of the more comfortable models for running and exercise.
We've whittled down our over-ear headphone reviews and ended up with these sensational pairs. Whether you're looking for a cheap pair or to spend some serious money, you're guaranteed a five-star pair of over-ear headphones that has been through the rigorous What Hi-Fi? testing process.
How we choose the best over-ear headphones
Here at What Hi-Fi? we review hundreds of products every year, including more than our fair share of headphones. So how do we come to our review verdicts? And why can you trust them?
We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London and Bath, where our team of expert reviewers do all our testing, spending time with the products to ensure every aspect is reviewed thoroughly.
All products are tested in comparison with rival products in the same category, and all review verdicts are agreed upon by the team as a whole rather than a single reviewer, again helping to ensure consistency and avoid individual subjectivity.
The What Hi-Fi? team has more than 100 combined years of experience reviewing, testing and writing about consumer electronics, and What Hi-Fi? has been delivering expert reviews since 1976.
From all of our reviews, we choose the products to feature in our Best Buys, such as this one. That's why if you take the plunge and buy one of the products recommended below, or on any other Best Buy pages, you can rest assured you're getting a What Hi-Fi?-approved product.
These are the third generation of Sony's fantastic WH1000 wireless headphones, and we're pleased to say they're the best yet. They're lighter than previous generations, and more comfy thanks to the softer cushioning on the thicker headband. The touch-sensitive and voice controls are neat features, while the microphones have been improved making these great for calls.
Even the noise-cancelling for these Sony headphones has been improved. Bluetooth sound quality is fantastic with a more open and spacious delivery than their predecessors, while still offering sensational levels of detail and enhanced dynamics. Bass is rich and weighty – but not overpowering.
The quick-charge battery is extremely useful, too. The XM3s go from empty to full in three hours, while a ten minute charge gives you a whopping five hours of use. If you're looking for over-ears that are suited to both long-haul travel and daily commutes, these What Hi-Fi? Award-winners are unbeatable (until the WH-1000XM4 get released, at least).
Read the full review: Sony WH-1000XM3
The Sennheiser Momentum Wireless headphones are also a superb option. The third-generation Momentum Wireless cans follow in the footsteps of two models that knocked it out the park and this new pair continues the trend.
The finish is still great, with the familiar oval-shaped earcups, sheepskin leather earpads and stainless steel sliders. The on-ear controls have been improved, giving you more control of your music. Available in all-black, there's a 'sandy white' model on the way.
These headphones fold-up, so are ideal for commuting or as travel companions. In addition to aptX, AAC and SBC Bluetooth, the Momentum Wireless support aptX Low Latency, which aims to improve the synchronicity of audio and video content.
Crucially, these are noticeably better than their predecessors in the sound department, promising an energetic, timely and hugely insightful listen you've no choice but to be entertained by. That sonic success is backed by enhanced usability features too, although be aware that battery life is only 17 hours next to the above Sony's 30-hour claim.
Read the full review: Sennheiser Momentum Wireless
The B&W PX7 headphones combine proprietary driver technology and Qualcomm’s new aptX Adaptive Bluetooth codec. The battery has been upped to 30 hours, there's USB-C connectivity and 15 minutes of juice will deliver five hours of playback.
The PX7s look and feel a little cheaper than previous B&W headphones, but we’d take them for their extra comfort. Ultimately, they’re still one of the more striking pairs of headphones on the market. They're clever, too, with the PX7's proximity sensor pausing the music when you lift an earcup – return it to your ear and the music restarts. The PX7s’ inability to fold into a more compact form for slinging in a bag is a shame, but there is a carry case.
Sonically, the PX7s retain their predecessor’s solid, balanced sound, but the gains they make in terms of clarity and detail are obvious. They reveal more enthusiasm and drive than their peers, even if the Sonys have a more grounded disposition and sound more authentic in the way they convey music. If you value an upbeat, entertaining sound from a smart pair of headphones, these are a fine bet – and certainly the best over-ear headphones B&W has made.
Read the full review: Bowers & Wilkins PX7
Looking for a bargain? These quality closed-back wired headphones are among best out there for the money. The solid build means these are going to last - AKG bends the cable 80,000 times just to test longevity. The padding is comfy, while the three-metre cable offers more than enough play for listening comfortably at home. This is a classic studio headphone design. While you could just about get away with wearing these out on the street, they’re not really designed for it. The long cable provides further proof.
And the sound? It’s expansive, with width and scale just not heard in the kind of headphones found on the high street at this sort of price. They opt for a neutral presentation, as favoured by pro audio brands, sounding smoother than similarly-priced Sennheiser HD201 and with better controlled bass. The midrange isn't quite as clean as we'd like but for the money, these really are the best over-ear headphones if you're on a budget.
Read the full review: AKG K72
These are the wireless version of the stellar N60NCs, and you'll be glad to hear they don't disappoint. The main difference between these headphones and the wired N60NCs is aptX Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity. However, if you want a wired connection or the battery dies, you'll find a 3.5mm cable in the box.
When streaming music wirelessly, tunes sound clear and striking. The AKGs deliver lashings of bass without compromising detail or precision. This is only enhanced by the addition of decent noise-cancelling tech: with no background murmurs to muddy the sound, tracks really get a chance to shine.
Battery life is impressive, too. You get up to 15 hours of wireless playback with noise-canceling on, or 30 hours when wired with noise-cancelling on. Some of the pricier models on this list offer plusher padding, but with a compact design and sensible controls, these wireless noise-cancellers are a top buy.
Read the full review: AKG N60NC Wireless
Grado is known for its retro styling, but in this case it's for function as much as form. Their open-backed design lets a lot of noise through, so they're not ideal for public use (unless you want the whole train carriage sharing your love of K-Pop), but they deliver a nimble and pacy sound with clean and punchy bass. Dynamics, detail and clarity are all-but-unmatched at this price.
The foam earpads can be a bit scratchier than leather but on the upside, they keep your ears nicely ventilated. Build-quality is good and the bits that need to be metal are metal, rather than plastic. There's no carry case and no in-line remote for use with phones, which underlines the fact that these headphones are not pitched at commuters.
Despite their unorthodox nature, the SR80es are some of the best 'affordable audiophile' headphones around. They might look retro, but their performance is thoroughly modern.
Read the full review: Grado SR80e
Beyerdynamic’s Amiron headphones are extremely comfortable thanks to Alcantara micofibres and microvelour used in the earcups and headband. The open back design means some sound leakage but the design brings an awesome spacious quality to your music. That sound is superb with a good grip on high frequencies, a clear midrange and fantastic sense of rhythm.
They sit on your head nicely, without feeling heavy, and the pads around their 45mm drivers allow plenty of space for larger ears. Connecting the cans to your amp is a 3m long cable, with a 6.3mm jack that unscrews to reveal a 3.5mm connection.
While open-backed headphones don't offer the same depth of bass as their closed-back cousins, there's no question that the Amirons serve up some solid, taut low-end. If you're after a pair of cans that are so comfy you could almost fall asleep in them, the impressive Amirons could be just the ticket.
Read the full review: Beyerdynamic Amiron
If you like - or even just don't mind - retro looks, but don't want to compromise sound, and have around £300 to spend on a pair of over-ear headphones, these Grado SR325es are the best use of your money. The open back provides a clearer and lighter sound than the cheaper SR325ises, with distinctive, well-organised layers and a naturally cohesive arrangement. But be warned - the sound will leak. A lot. One for the home rather than your commute.
Build quality is sturdy, the headband is flexible and the earcups rotate 360 degrees without any annoying creaking. Foam earpads hang over, rather than hug, your ears. Some might prefer a tighter grip but Grado's approach has the advantage of keeping your ears airy and cool. Features are thin on the ground, but you do get a 6.3mm adaptor.
Despite having given many rivals the once over, the musical SR325es remain unbeaten at this price and are still the go-to cans for those who are serious about sound quality.
Read the full review: Grado SR325e
These great-sounding, comfortable over-ears are another Shure-fire hit. Large but surprisingly light (286g), it's clear that no corners have been cut on the design front. They're made of aluminium and carbon fibre, and their Alcantara earpads are comfy and light enough to wear all day.
Inside the plush earcups, 40mm neodymium drivers make for an utterly superb sound with impressive dynamics and an awesome amount of detail. The dual-exit cable – one wire connected to each earcup – has a 3.5mm end for portable devices. Also in the box is a 6.5mm gold-plated adapter for use with higher-end systems.
Although their size means they're not especially suited to travel, they come with a hard-shell case. You also get a spare cable and a set of earpads, should the others start of wear. It all adds up to a very appealing package. If you're looking for sparkling sound and all-day comfort, these are truly fantastic headphones for the money.
Read the full review: Shure SRH1540
We are very familiar with Grado headphones and rarely disappointed. You'll see two other pairs on this list, both of which are What Hi-Fi? award-winners, but it's for true high-end headphones such as this pair that the company is really known. And Grado claims these are the finest wooden-cased headphones it has ever made.
So, no compromise audio quality, albeit with some compromises elsewhere. We like the distinctive, unique styling, and we understand the open-back, sound-leaking design. In fact, as we said in our full review, these headphones really require a listening room. They not only leak out lots of sound but they let in everything too. Voices, traffic noises, kettles boiling, you name it – all will intrude on your listening experience to varying degrees.
Sonically, they're agile, involving and just great fun to listen to. Make sure you have a serious source system, and they deliver a composed sound, which is organised but far from routine - powerful dynamics ensure that. The wood design helps add a richness to the sound, that's more forgiving of bright treble notes than some Grado designs, while still delivering oodles of detail. If you can deal with the style and open-back design, then this is as good as it gets.
Read the full review: Grado GS3000e
The B&W P9 Signature headphones were created to commemorate 50 years of Bowers & Wilkins and they certainly do the British brand justice. The sturdy Saffiano leather is comfortable yet hardy and the memory foam headband enhances that comfort. Housed in the ears are 40mm driver units, angled for more natural listening.
After the first 50 or so hours these really loosened up, meaning a sense of space with vocals and perfectly layered instruments. They can grab a rhythm and hold it perfectly no matter what else is going on. Precision and enthusiasm are perfectly balanced with pace and attack. No matter the genre of music, they sound accurate, detailed and entertaining.
They're built for on-the-go use and come with an inline remote and microphone cable for use with phones, plus a regular 5m option for using at home. They may be pricy, the talented P9s deliver more than enough performance to justify the outlay. Fantastic flagship 'phones.
Read the full review: B&W P9 Signature
Sony has a great pedigree when it comes to wireless headphones, and this pair slots right into that legacy. At just £100, they're great value, packing wireless and active noise-cancelling tech into a stylish package. Bass is taut but still very punchy, and the timing isn't half bad for a pair of wireless cans.
The WH-CH700Ns offer playback via Bluetooth with NFC pairing, a built-in microphone for hand-free calling and support for Siri/Google Assistant voice controls. Battery life is an impressive 35 hours. In a hurry? A ten minute quick-charge will breathe an hour's life into the battery.
Once run in, a pair of 40mm neodymium drivers dish up a balanced and even sound that's neither too rich nor too brittle. They're an easy listen and you can adjust the EQ settings via the Sony Headphones Connect App. If you're prepared to spend more, you can get better noise-cancelling tech. But if your budget's tight, these are £100 well spent.
Read the full review: Sony WH-CH700N
In the here and now, Bose says these Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 on-ears are ‘the biggest leap forward in headphones since the iconic QuietComfort’ – a bold claim considering the success of that range. But if anyone can push the boundaries of wireless noise-cancelling again, surely Bose can. The 700s mirror their siblings’ familiar sonic character – bold, clear and upfront. For all the clarity, they lack a little when it comes to weight and punch, but the noise-cancelling is excellent.
The slender build, modern styling and beautifully-integrated earcups gets a thumbs up, too. Touch controls mean you can adjust the volume with a swipe of your finger, or answer a phone call with a tap. Alexa and Google Assistant can be activated with a press of a button, so you can ask the 700s to play specific songs or read out messages and notifications.
Packed cutting-edge features and superb noise-cancelling, the 700s are class-leaders in lots of ways. However, the Sony WH-1000XM3s (currently top of this list) cost less and are even better sonically.
Read the full review: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
Sennheiser has tried to get around the usual reverberation issues of closed-back headphones by using Corning Gorilla Glass over the drive units on the HD 820s. And it works a treat. Low frequencies have plenty of authority, with punchy bass and there's a high level of agility and precision too. Dynamics shifts are rendered with skill, while organisation is on point.
Exceptional sonic abilities aside, the HD 820s are typically Sennheiser. They’re classy and well made, built sturdily enough to return years of enjoyment. It's obvious someone has thought carefully about the materials, from the plastics on the earcup to the metal on the headband and microfiber earpad. As you may have guessed from the price tag, they're intended for home use and come with a range of cables including one with an XLR4 connection on the amp end.
At around £2,000, these over-ears aren't cheap, and you'll need a high quality source and a DAC to hear them at their best. But for the serious home listener, they come highly recommended.
Read the full review: Sennheiser HD 820
Connect them to the right source and these Sonys could be the best headphones you'll ever hear. The unique drivers feature a two-piece 70mm diaphragm made of a magnesium dome sitting in an aluminium-coated liquid crystal polymer ring. With an impressive frequency response that reaches to 120kHz and sensitivity of 100db/mW no expense has been spared on these high-end over-ears. The result being a pair of headphones capable of seismic bass and immense dynamic reach.
Part of the Signature range released in honour of Sony's 70th birthday, there's really nothing to dislike. Assuming your budget stretches to £1700 / $1800 / AU$2000, you'll be treated to obsessive craftsmanship and exceptional comfort courtesy of sheepskin leather earcups. In the box – a satin-lined hard case – there's a choice of 3 metre cables including a balanced option with a 4.4mm jack (the connection found on Sony’s TA-ZH1ES desktop DAC).
These premium headphones certainly come at a premium price, but they are capable of a stunning performance that justifies raiding your piggybank.
Read the full review: Sony MDR-Z1R
Aspirational. That's the word that describes these headphones. At £2800 / $3000 / AU$4500, they're out of the reach of most of us, but if your budget can stretch this far, they deliver performance in spades. Sound is incredibly dynamic, with a spacious presentation and plenty of drive.
Essentially, the Stellias are the closed-backed version of the Utopias – one of the finest-sounding pairs of headphones on the planet. As you'd expect, build quality is superb. High-quality leather and beautifully-machined metal pieces give the Stellias an aura of luxury.
Inside the classy box, you'll find an a carrying case and a choice of two cables: a 1.2m lead with a 3.5mm jack (plus 6.3mm adaptor) and a 3m lead with a 4-pin XLR plug. While use with phones may not have been at the forefront of Focal’s mind, it would have been nice to see an in-line remote and microphone.
In absolute terms, the open-backed Utopias sound more transparent and subtle. But if you prefer a closed design and a bit more portability, the Stellias are arguably the best we’ve heard. Start saving.
Read the full review: Focal Stellia
The AKG K175s look good, don’t cost the earth and have a punchy enthusiasm. However, there're not really made for commuting as they come with a weighty, coiled cable rather than the usual straight type. They also let in a lot of sound – wear them on a busy street and you’ll hear plenty of external noise.
Still, provided you avoid packed trains these studio monitor-style headphones offer a lots of comfort and an engaging, energetic performance. Bass is deep and assured rather than boomy, while vocals sound vital and close to your ear. On the downside, we found the upper mid-tones a bit raw. That's all very well when listening to heavy metal, but it's not ideal for less aggressive genres of music.
If you're looking for a pair of affordable headphones for use at home, the light, spacious K175s are well worth an audition. Assuming you can live with the uncompromising midrange, they're a great pick.
Read the full review: AKG K175 review