Best over-ear headphones Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best over-ear headphones you can buy in 2021.
Whether you need to focus while working from home, want some sonic company while walking in the park or need to block out noise on the train, the best over-ear headphones deliver great sound and noise isolation. Many now offer a mic for voice and video calls, plus noise-cancellation for particularly noisy environments.
The best earbuds have a time and a place but if you really want to lose yourself in your tunes, over-ear headphones will truly envelop you in your favourite tracks. We've picked the best wired and wireless headphones, plus the best noise-cancelling headphones designs for extra noise isolation. Some of our recommendations even have a smart assistant built in for hands-free voice operation and a mic for calls.
We've sorted through all our headphone reviews and ended up with this list of the best over-ear headphones you can buy. Whether you're looking for a cheap pair or to spend some serious money, you're guaranteed a five-star pair of 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 over-ear 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.
Yes, they're expensive (prohibitively so for many). Yes, they come with an ugly, arguably pointless case. And yes, their packaging omits an audio cable and wall charger. Yet they sit atop this highly competitive Best Buy page as the best over-ear headphones on the market.
Why? Because for Apple fans they're quite simply the best performing wireless headphones you can buy – and not by a small margin. In fact, their authenticity, detail, crispness and spaciousness elevate their audio quality so far above the previous best in the wireless noise-cancelling class (the Sony WH-1000XM4, below) that the comparison starts to become a little redundant, and you instead begin to consider them alongside proper hi-fi products.
Unsurprisingly, you do need an iPhone or iPad in order to get the best out of the AirPods Max. They will work with non-Apple products using standard Bluetooth 5.0, but you’ll miss out on many of their unique features, such as spatial audio and Siri voice control.
There’s no denying that they cost a lot more than typical products in this class but, if sound quality is king, we think they’re worth it. Now all you need to do is find some AirPods Max stock.
Read the full review: Apple AirPods Max
The most eagerly-anticipated headphones of recent times, the Sony WH-1000XM4 succeed the Bose-baiting, Sennheiser-slaying, What Hi-Fi? Award-winning XM3s, one of the most popular pairs of headphones on the planet. They are quite a big deal and the good news is, they live up to the hype.
They’re as comfortable as ever, making them perfect for long video calls; they introduce useful features that elevate the user experience; and, most importantly, you’re getting a serious hike in sound quality for the money.
The XM4s sound musical and entertaining. They're confident and composed, especially when handling lower frequencies, and dig up more detail than their predecessors.
And when you really need to focus, there's an impeccable noise-cancelling feature that uses a new algorithm and new System on Chip (SoC). Excellent audio performance, class-leading noise-cancelling and a comfortable design, make them tough to beat unless you're an iPhone user who's prepared to stump-up for the AirPods Max.
Read the full review: Sony WH-1000XM4
See the latest Sony WH-1000XM4 deals
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
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. They're available in all-black, or there's a 'sandy white' model also 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 number-one-spot 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 at least 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
These are the third generation of Sony's fantastic WH1000 wireless headphones, and while the XM4 has raised the bar, they remain a great set of headphones - and you may now find a great deal.
These XM3s are 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, and you can't stretch to the XM4s at the top of the page, these remain a good bet.
Read the full review: Sony WH-1000XM3
See the latest Sony WH-1000XM3 deals
The Prestige range of headphones has been at the core of Grado’s output since it was first introduced three decades ago. While the series has developed over the years, Grado has always done so in small evolutionary steps. The story remains the same for this new ‘x’ generation.
Put the range-topping SR325x next to its immediate predecessor (the What Hi-Fi? Award-winning SR325e), and there’s little to separate them, apart from the new flatter foam earpads, updated cable and lighter coloured stitching on the firmly padded headband. Still, the difference is in the listening: the SR325x sound notably cleaner and clearer than their predecessor.
These headphones have always been detailed and articulate performers, and that hasn’t changed, but the ‘x’ generation sounds that bit more precise and insightful.
These Grados once again prove that evolution is arguably a more reliable way of making things better than a headline-grabbing design revolution. The best just got that bit better.
Read the full Grado SR325x review
The SR80 have spawned many variants within the company’s Prestige Series in the three decades since, and the fact that they are still a part of the all-new Prestige X Series makes them the longest-running Grado model. The all-new SR80x succeeds the 2014-released, multi-What Hi-Fi? Award-winning SR80e from the previous Prestige E Series.
Everything we like about their predecessors – their nimble-footedness, expressive, rolling dynamics, and insight across well-defined frequencies – has been inherited, and the punch and panache that have made the Prestige models such born entertainers are very much also part of the SR80x’s sonic signature. These are far from rich or even warm in tone, but an extra generous sprinkling of refinement this time round has made their forward, clinical presentation all the more palpable.
Grado hasn’t torn up its own rulebook and revolutionised its legendary headphones, because it hasn’t needed to. But the tweaks made to the SR80x have certainly added value in the right direction. At this money, the SR80 model remains the finest in the market.
Read the full Grado SR80x review
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
These wireless versions of the wired Beyerdynamic Amiron above are among the best Bluetooth headphones we have heard, period.
Providing you get a pair that properly fits (our first review sample had issues, but our second one didn't), we’re happy to say that you'd be hard-pushed to find better wireless performance for this premium amount of money. We listen to a variety of music, from classical to pop with much in between, and the Amiron Wireless are consistent in their performance. And that is to say, very good indeed. The sound is punchy and rhythmic with the clean, crisp midrange and treble complemented by a snappy well-timed bass. The lower registers are relayed confidently while not being overbearing, too.
While these Beyerdynamics do block out plenty of external sound, there is no active noise-cancelling, which less expensive rivals offer, and indeed this is a bulky, non-folding headset. But if you want the best sound you can get from a pair of wireless headphones for home use, you should look no further.
Read the full Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless review
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’re impressed with the wired Austrian Audio Hi-X55. They are nicely built, and relay a track faithfully. They won’t be for everyone – they aren’t as easy a listen as some rivals, and will certainly be unforgiving with some recordings. This character trait is where the fine Austrian Audios differ from their most obvious rivals, the Sennheiser Momentum or Philips Fidelio X3. Those other pairs provide warm, comfortable listens, where the Austrian Audios are far more analytical and more ‘professional’ in their presentation.
But if you want to hear what is truly in a track or recording, you won’t find better analysts at this price. Definitely worth an audition.
Prefer an on-ear fit? The Austrian Audio Hi-X50 are just as impressive.
Read the full Austrian Audio Hi-X55 review
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.
These over-ear headphones 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
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 10-year-old, original T1 models are something of a touchstone for us as far as premium headphones go. The main change between this third-generation model and its predecessor is that the new pair is easier to drive for laptops and mobile devices. The old model had a 600ohm impedance, while this new one takes that down to 32ohms.
The results are sound that's very similar to the originals but cleaner and clearer if anything, slightly less bright and a little more rounded in the treble too, making them a bit more forgiving of aggressive electronics and recordings. There's that same delivery of music with a palpable sense of power and authority, and vocals come through with nuance and clarity, too.
They’re comfortable enough for long listening sessions thanks to a nicely shaped, partially Alcantara-covered headband and generous velour-trimmed earpads.
These aren’t the kind of headphones that impress on a short listen. However, given a few days or even weeks, it’s hard not to fall under their spell. We certainly have.
Read the full review: Beyerdynamic T1 (3rd Generation)
Beyerdynamic makes some of the best closed-back headphones in the world, so these were very eagerly anticipated indeed. Like lots of open-backed headphones, they're designed for home use, but they won't leak sound, so someone else can sit in the same room without hearing an inferior version of whatever's on your playlist.
They're suitably luxurious too, with brushed, lacquered aluminium housings, complemented by matching, anodised yokes, a classy strip of Alcantara on the headband, and replaceable ear pads made from protein-coated leatherette. Very swish.
But they don't just look the part – they feel it, too. The pads clasp just right, providing decent noise isolation, while the headband is cushioned to take the relatively modest burden of the headphones’ 360g weight. If you are determined to venture into the outside world with the T5, they are relatively compact as high-end over-ears go.
On the audio front, it's a remarkably spacious presentation for a closed-back design. While you don’t get quite the breadth of sound as you do through the T1 (3rd generation), we’d still describe it as ‘expansive’, with a pleasing tonal neutrality and engagingly punchy temperament.
Music isn’t boldly shoved in your face, nor is it overly distant, instead being given room to evolve. The result: a comfortable and engaging listen.
Read the full Beyerdynamic T5 (3rd Generation) review
Any headphones at this level are likely to be highly revealing performers, so don’t let the inclusion of a 3.5mm jack and relatively short lead here tempt you into using your phone as the primary source. While the Clear Mg have a relatively gentle impedance of 55 ohms and generous 104dB/W/m sensitivity, which means they will produce decent volume levels in most set-ups, you really need quality electronics to justify their expense.
Fed a decent music signal from a decent music source and the Clear Mg sound fantastic. Focal has done a terrific job with the Clear Mg. They’re talented performers that stay comfortable over extended listening sessions. Add excellent build and finish into the equation and we think they're right up there with the best at the price. Highly recommended.
Read the full Focal Clear Mg review
The dwindling number of wired over-ears compared to a decade ago means there aren't many models around today that we’d recommend at this price point. But the 99 Classics are one of them.
While we ultimately prefer the greater transparency and liveliness of the wired Austrian Audio Hi-X55 or long-time favourites Grado SR325e (both of which feature above), these Mezes are easy to find favour with. Their appealing combination of natural warmth and good insight, all-day comfort and classic looks make them an appetising option.
Read the full Meze Audio 99 Classics review
Sony has a great pedigree when it comes to wireless headphones, and this pair slots right into that legacy. They're great value, packing wireless and active noise-cancelling tech into a stylish package, at a low-low price. 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 money well spent.
Read the full review: Sony WH-CH700N
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
Like bass? You'll love these JBL over-ear headphones. The JBL Club 700BTs are the entry-level headphones of an over-ear series made with touring DJs in mind. But with built-in Alexa and Google Assistant support, a long battery life and a durable build, there’s plenty for everyone at this affordable price.
We've reviewed more comfortable headphones but they feel solid and durable, and fold-up neatly to make them ideal for taking outside or on holiday. Wireless Bluetooth range is around 10m and battery life is a healthy 50 hours of playback before you’ll need to reconnect the included USB-C charge cable. Recharging is rapid too, taking under two hours to reach full power from empty. Smart voice assistants and the addition of a mic make them easy to use.
And they offer a good standard of audio too, which is best-suited to dance and electronic music, thanks to a solid, bass-heavy but still punchy and impactful sound. Maybe not for everyone but with good features and a durable design, they might just be an ideal choice for some people.
Read the full JBL Club 700BT review
While they may lack the outright transparency and simplicity of the very best headphones out there, there really is plenty to like in the HD 450BTs – not least in the way of top-notch features, such as the excellent, 30-hour battery life and aptX Low Latency support, which are far from given in headphones of this price. They're wireless and deliver decent noice-cancelling, too. If battery and bass are up there on your list of priorities, they're a fine choice.
Read the full review: Sennheiser HD 450BT review