Best over-ear headphones 2023: wired and wireless over-ears for all budgets

Best over-ear headphones Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best over-ear headphones you can buy in 2023.

Whether you want a pair of wired over-ear headphones to indulge in a private listening session at home or to help you focus while working at your desk, or a wireless over-ear pair to take out and about, the very best over-ear headphones will deliver great sound to immerse you in your music, regardless of their style. 

Unlike on-ear headphones, whose earpads rest 'on' your ears, the earpads of over-ear headphones sit around your ears, enclosing them fully for a more isolated listening experience. While on-ear and earbud designs certainly have a time and a place, it is over-ear headphones that will truly allow you to lose yourself in music.

How we choose the best over-ear headphones

Why you can trust What Hi-Fi? Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

These days, over-ear headphones come in many styles. You have wired models with open-back (which leak sound) or closed-back (which don't) designs predominantly for listening at home when portability isn't a priority, though wearing wires out and about is fine too, of course. Then there are wireless pairs, which are the most convenient for portable, on-the-go listening, and some of them throw in active noise cancellation for more privacy with your music – a Godsend for particularly noisy environments.

Our picks of the best over-ear headphones below span all types and budgets and include the best wired headphones and best wireless headphones, plus the best noise-cancelling headphones. Want a pair of high-end headphones to plug into your desktop or component hi-fi system? We have a definitive list of the best audiophile headphones too.

So if you are still on the fence as to what sort of pair to punt for, this list will give you a comprehensive overview of what's on offer. Every pair on this list has been through the rigorous What Hi-Fi? testing process and, badged with a four- or five-star rating, wears our stamp of approval as among the best over-ear headphones out there.

Best wireless headphones: Sony WH-1000XM5

Can't afford the AirPods Max? The latest Sonys are the best-value Bluetooth over-ears. (Image credit: Sony)
What Hi-Fi? Awards 2022 winner. New design, same result for Sony’s latest premium noise-cancelling headphones.

Specifications

Bluetooth: SBC, AAC, LDAC
Noise-cancelling: Yes
Battery life: 30hr
Charging: USB-C
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Transparency mode: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Sensational sonic clarity
+
Nice to use
+
Punchy and precise, agile bass

Reasons to avoid

-
Build seems a little less premium than before
-
Don’t fold away completely

It can be tricky for a manufacturer to push the sound performance of a product consistently from generation to generation, but that is what Sony has managed to do with the WH-1000XM5 wireless headphones (just like it did with the jump from the XM3 to the XM4, and the generational jumps before that in fact).

Not only that, it has been achieved while executing a major redesign. When we saw the official pictures of the Sony XM5, we were more than a bit surprised. We wondered whether it was a wise move to give one of Sony’s biggest success stories in recent memory a major redesign. But it's paid off.

The new Sony XM5 headphones might feel a little less premium to hold than before, but the jump in sound quality from the previous generation is a big one, and rivals could once again have their work cut out. If you are looking for the best over-ear noise cancelling headphones, your auditioning should start here. The older XM4 were already the best around and should still be a go-to for those with tighter budgets, but the XM5 are undoubtedly better for those who can afford to pay the premium.

Read the full Sony WH-1000XM5 review

Best Sony headphones

Best over-ear headphones: Grado SR325x

Open-back over-ear headphones with typically excellent Grado sound. (Image credit: Grado)
What Hi-Fi? Awards 2022 winner. These open-backed wired headphones are the ones to beat at this level.

Specifications

Bluetooth: No
Noise-cancelling: No
Battery life: N/A
Charging: N/A
Type: Open-back
Cable length: 1.8m

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent detail and dynamics
+
Hugely entertaining performance
+
Rugged build

Reasons to avoid

-
Open-back design leaks sound
-
New earpads won’t suit all

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

Best headphones: Austrian Audio Hi-X15

Entertaining and insightful wired over-ear headphones that don't cost the earth. (Image credit: Austrian Audio)
What Hi-Fi? Awards 2022 winner. Talented and affordable budget wired headphones for the home.

Specifications

Bluetooth: No
Noise-cancelling: No
Battery life: N/A
Charging: N/A
Type: Closed-back
Cable length: 1.4m

Reasons to buy

+
Clear, open presentation
+
Dig out plenty of detail
+
Impressive sense of timing

Reasons to avoid

-
Need plenty of running in
-
Require partnering with suitable electronics

Austrian Audio, born out of ex-AKG employees, has hit the ground running with its first-ever range of wired headphones, Hi-X. 

We’d consider the Hi-X15 an analytical pair of budget headphones, but they still manage to make music entertaining with it – they extract bags of detail but keep the soul of your music intact. Throughout the frequency range, these headphones deliver consistently high detail levels and fantastic dynamics. There isn’t an ounce of fat on any track played through the Austrian AudioHi-X15 headphones. But at the same time there’s enough weight and substance to low frequencies that you don’t feel as though you’re missing out. 

We wouldn't insist on you partnering them with a suitable DAC/headphone amplifier, but do so and you’ll be rewarded with a mature-sounding pair of headphones that go above and beyond at the money.

Read the full Austrian Audio Hi-X15 review

Best over-ear headphones: Focal Bathys

In addition to aptX Adaptive Bluetooth support, they also have a USB-DAC mode that supports 24-bit/192kHz through their USB-C port. (Image credit: Focal)
Focal blends Bluetooth into its high-end headphones recipe with great success.

Specifications

Bluetooth: SBC, AAC, aptX Adaptive
Noise-cancelling: Yes
Battery life: 30hr
Charging: USB-C
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Transparency mode: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Compellingly big, spacious, clear sound
+
Pleasingly full-bodied balance
+
Gorgeous and solidly built
+
USB-C wired listening bonus

Reasons to avoid

-
Plasticky buttons

Focal’s entrance into this burgeoning premium Bluetooth headphones market isn’t surprising considering its presence at the premium end of the wired space. And nor is the success of its first effort. The gorgeous-looking Bathys are highly recommendable for anyone after the convenience of portability in a premium pair of headphones at this price, who can stretch their budget above the B&W Px8 but not to the heights of the Mark Levinson No5.909.

For a wireless headphone performance, it’s among the most engaging we have heard. And if you want them to double up as home headphones for longer listening stints, which they are more than comfortable enough to wear for, know that going wired via the built-in DAC/USB-C port does add a degree of refinement and tightness to the delivery.

Noise cancellation is fairly non-intrusive to the performance, too, and if you need it – as we did on two flights during testing – it does a decent job of diminishing distracting outside world noise from your music listening in ‘Silent’ mode.

Read the full Focal Bathys review

Best over-ear headphones 2022: AirPods Max

The best wireless over-ears at this price, especially for iPhone users. (Image credit: Apple)
Simply superb over-ear headphones (especially for iPhone users).

Specifications

Bluetooth: Yes
Noise-cancelling: Yes
Battery life: 20hr
Charging: USB-C
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Transparency mode: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Superb sound and noise-cancelling
+
Cinematic spatial audio
+
Exceptional build quality

Reasons to avoid

-
Near-pointless case
-
Audio cable not included
-
Practically Apple-only

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've made it high up on this list of some of 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 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.

Read the full Apple AirPods Max review

9 features we'd like to see on the AirPods Max 2 headphones

Best over-ear headphones 2022: AKG K72

On a tight budget? These quality closed-back wired headphones are among best out there for the money.
The best budget over-ear headphones.

Specifications

Bluetooth: No
Noise-cancelling: No
Charging: N/A
Battery life: N/A
Type: Closed-back
Cable length: 3m

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent value
+
Very comfortable

Reasons to avoid

-
Coloured, boxy mids
-
Not the most portable design

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 AKG K72 review

Best over-ear headphones: Mark Levinson 5909

The best wireless over-ear headphones performance we have ever heard, as the asking price demands. (Image credit: Mark Levinson)
Mark Levinson manages to justify the No. 5909’s huge price tag with benchmark wireless performance

Specifications

Bluetooth: aptX Adaptive, AAC, LDAC
Noise-cancelling: Yes
Battery life: 34hr
Charging: USB-C
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Transparency mode: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Benchmark wireless performance
+
Active noise cancellation
+
Quality construction

Reasons to avoid

-
Inaccessible price for most
-
Basic on-cup controls

The Mark Levinsons enter our test room doors as the most expensive wireless pair we’ve tested and therefore do so with a weight of expectation on their shoulders. Can wireless performance ever be so good as to justify such an expense? You bet it can.

If we hadn’t unboxed the Levinsons and gone through the simple Bluetooth pairing process ourselves, we would be tempted to check for any wires dangling from the earcups. While the No. 5909’s performance is still short of the best available from similarly priced wired headphones, it’s easily the best wireless headphones performance we’ve come across.

Anyone who is after the convenience of wireless without sacrificing too much sound quality to get it, and lucky enough to afford such a best-of-both-worlds solution, the Mark Levinsons are highly recommendable.

Perceived value may not get top marks (they don't look as bling as they could), but sonic value certainly does – and that’s really what matters here. Mark our words, these wireless headphones really wow.

Read the full Mark Levinson No. 5909 review

Best over-ear headphones: Røde NTH-100

The Røde NTH-100 are outstanding value and deliver .  (Image credit: Røde)
These wired over-ears outperform most rivals at this price.

Specifications

Wireless: No
Noise-cancelling: No
Connector: 3.5mm
Charging: N/A
Built-in mic and controls: No
Weight: 350g

Reasons to buy

+
Eloquent, revealing sound
+
Well made and almost good-looking
+
Comfortable for hours at a time

Reasons to avoid

-
May sound analytical to some ears
-
Wired configuration isn’t fashionable
-
Will heat your ears eventually

Røde is a big name in the world of pro recording gear, but the NTH-100 are the brand's first headphones. And impressive first attempts they are too.

Initial impressions are not hugely promising – the NTH-100 are fairly unremarkable to look at and reasonably heavy (350g). However, things improve when we slip them on. The soft headband is incredibly comfortable and locks in place when you've found the perfect position. Genius.

It is with their audio quality that they really shine, though. Dual 40mm full-range drivers deliver a great sense of rhythmic expression and plenty of detail, and the midrange is the real star of the show, picking up even the slightest variations in tone or timbre.

The downsides? The ‘CoolTech’ gel in the memory foam earcups only stays cool up to a point and Austrian Audio's Hi-X15 (above) offer a cleaner sound. But all in all, the detail-heavy NTH-100 are a superb debut.

Read the full Røde NTH-100 review

Best over-ear headphones 2023: Beyerdynamic Amiron

So comfy you could almost fall asleep in them – and their performance is just as pleasing.
What Hi-Fi? Awards 2022 winner. Multi-talented, comfortable and Award-winning all-rounders.

Specifications

Bluetooth: No
Noise-cancelling: No
Battery life: N/A
Charging: USB-C
Type: Open-back
Cable length: 3m

Reasons to buy

+
Nice bass detail
+
Clear and organised
+
Handles treble well

Reasons to avoid

-
Nothing of note

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 Beyerdynamic Amiron review

Best over-ear headphones: Grado SR80x

Grado's entry-level open-back headphones are the best around this price for home use. (Image credit: Grado)
What Hi-Fi? Awards 2022 winner. Detailed and articulate wired open-back headphones that are great for home use.

Specifications

Bluetooth: No
Noise-cancelling: No
Battery life: N/A
Charging: N/A
Type: Open-back
Cable length: 1.8m

Reasons to buy

+
Punchy, musical performers
+
Class-leading insight
+
Light and comfortable

Reasons to avoid

-
Very leaky

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.

Read the full Grado SR80x review

Best over-ear headphones 2023: Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X

You can't go wrong with these effortlessly musical, detailed wired over-ears. (Image credit: Beyerdynamic)
The Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X brilliantly combine analysis with entertainment, and are superbly made.

Specifications

Bluetooth: No
Noise-cancelling: No
Battery life: N/A
Charging: N/A
Type: Open-back
Cable length: 1.8m, 3m

Reasons to buy

+
Impressive insight
+
Expressive and controlled nature
+
Articulate and musically cohesive presentation

Reasons to avoid

-
Demanding of partnering electronics and recording quality

Beyerdynamic refers to the DT 900 Pro X as premium studio headphones. That had us scratching our collective heads. After spending some considerable time with them we still can’t figure out what makes these open-back over-ear headphones less suitable for home use. They’re well made, comfortable and sound great, so whether they are intended for the studio or not, we really like them.

Ultimately, these Beyerdynamics fulfil their 'studio' brief by delivering all the resolution, stability and control required to dissect a recording, but at the same time manage to convey the emotional impact of the music as well as anything we’ve heard at this level. If you’re looking for a quality pair of headphones at this price, put these at the top of your shopping list. Once you have a listen you’ll be glad you did.

If you prefer closed-back (non-leaky) designs, the closed-back siblings to to this pair, the Beyerdynamic DT 700 Pro X, are just as recommendable.

Read the full Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X review

Best over-ear headphones: Focal Utopia (2022)

Focal's new Utopias are wonderfully transparent and ruthlessly explicit about the differences in recording and production quality between our various test tracks. (Image credit: Focal)
Without question one of the finest pairs of headphones money can buy.

Specifications

Bluetooth: No
Noise-cancelling: No
Charging: N/A
Battery life: N/A
Type: Open-back
Cable length: 1.5m, 3m

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent value
+
Very comfortable

Reasons to avoid

-
Coloured, boxy mids
-
Not the most portable design

Focal has given its range-topping open-back headphones a gentle revamp. Not that they needed much work given that the original Utopia were right up there with the very best money could buy.

By headphone standards these are hugely expensive and are priced well beyond most of the top moving coil driver alternatives. But it is important to note that these Focals outperform them too. In fact, you would have to spend many times the Utopia’s hefty price to get speakers that can even approach the level of insight and resolution on offer here.

In our opinion these new Focal Utopia sit comfortably among the very best headphones money can buy. Feed them with a system of suitable quality and you’ll experience one of the finest sounds we’ve yet heard.

Read the full Focal Utopia (2022) review

Best over-ear headphones: Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2

B&W's latest wireless over-ears combine competitive sound quality with best-in-class features and a stylish design. (Image credit: Future)
Wireless noise-cancelling headphones that supply style with substance.

Specifications

Bluetooth: aptX Adaptive, aptX HD, AAC, SBC
Noise-cancelling: Yes
Battery life: 30hr
Charging: USB-C
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Transparency mode: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Insightful, clean, focused sound
+
Taut bass
+
Premium build

Reasons to avoid

-
Not class leaders
-
No mini jack input

The Px7 S2 wireless ANC over-ear headphones are a clear step forward for B&W, offering a more sophisticated, neutral and detailed sound compared to the 2020-released PX7. These are headphones that really prompt the listener to dig in and analyse their music. Some of the best wireless headphones competition, such as the leaderboard-topping Sony WH-1000XM5, are arguably more engaging, but the Px7 S2 are still an excellent and stylish alternative for those who enjoy attentive listening.

Generally, the Px7 S2 put in a strong noise-cancelling performance, too, with consistency and minimal sound colouration across the different settings. The 30-hour battery life is welcome, as is fast charging. And support for aptX Adaptive and aptX HD are big ticks in the box for those who own sources that also support these higher-quality Bluetooth codecs. 

Note that the Px7 S2 don’t support passive audio, though, so must be charged up and powered on even for cabled listening. 

Read the full B&W Px7 S2 review

Best over-ear headphones 2023: Focal Stellia

Aspirational. That's the word that describes these fabulous closed-back over-ear headphones.
These high-end headphones have a quality sound to match.

Specifications

Bluetooth: No
Noise-cancelling: No
Battery life: N/A
Charging: N/A
Type: Closed-back
Cable length: 3m

Reasons to buy

+
Refinement, insightful sound
+
Powerful bass
+
Excellent build and finish

Reasons to avoid

-
Some practical issues with cables

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 Focal Stellia review

Best over-ear headphones 2023: Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless

The wireless versions of the Amiron above cut the cord without compromising too much on quality. (Image credit: Beyerdynamic)
The best wireless Bluetooth headphones we’ve come across for home use.

Specifications

Bluetooth: Yes
Noise-cancelling: No
Battery life: 30hr
Charging: USB-C
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Transparency mode: No

Reasons to buy

+
Fast, agile sound
+
Premium feel and build
+
Control system

Reasons to avoid

-
No noise-cancelling
-
Not very portable

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

Best over-ear headphones 2023: Austrian Audio Hi-X55

Austrian Audio is quickly becoming a go-to brand for wired headphones – and the excellent Hi-X55 show why. (Image credit: Austrian Audio)
These wired over-ears head towards the top of the class.

Specifications

Bluetooth: No
Noise-cancelling: No
Battery life: N/A
Charging: N/A
Type: Closed-back
Cable length: 3m (1m optional)

Reasons to buy

+
Precise, analytical sound
+
Premium build and finish
+
Detachable, replaceable lead

Reasons to avoid

-
Shorter lead is an optional extra

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

Over-ear headphones: Austrian Audio Hi-X65

Open-back over-ear headphones that deserve a spot on your shortlist. (Image credit: Austrian Audio)
Austrian Audio’s range-topping open-back headphones aim high and don’t miss.

Specifications

Bluetooth: No
Noise-cancelling: No
Battery life: N/A
Charging: N/A
Type: Open-back
Cable length: 1.2m, 3m

Reasons to buy

+
Insightful and clear presentation
+
Composed and controlled delivery
+
Well-made, sturdy, comfortable desgin

Reasons to avoid

-
No great isolation from environmental noise
-
Sound lacks the exuberance of some rivals

The Hi-X65 are comfortable, well made and sonically capable. If you’re looking for a pair of quality wired home headphones at this level, you really should put these on your shortlist.

The Hi-X65 have an open-back design, meaning they leak a certain amount of sound out as well as letting a fair amount of environmental noise in. These headphones are nowhere near as leaky as the likes of Grado’s otherwise brilliant SR325x (above), but it’s still something to be aware of if you’re going to use them when in the company of other people. 

Open-back designs tend to have sonic advantages over their closed-back cousins, of course. All things being equal, they tend to sound more spacious and articulate with a notable extra dose of expressiveness when it comes to dynamics. And that's the case here. We listen to a wide range of music in our time with these headphones – from the grand classical works of Stravinsky to the abrasive hip-hop of Eminem, with the likes of Nick Cave and Lana Del Rey taken in along the way – and these headphones never disappoint. 

Read the full Austrian Audio Hi-X65 review

Best over-ear headphones 2023: Sennheiser HD 820

Exceptional sonic abilities aside, the HD 820 are typically Sennheiser – classy and well made.
These manage to overcome the limitations of closed-back headphones.

Specifications

Bluetooth: No
Noise-cancelling: No
Battery life: N/A
Charging: N/A
Type: Closed-back
Cable length: 3m

Reasons to buy

+
Full-bodied, detailed sound
+
Powerful, agile bass
+
Solid build

Reasons to avoid

-
Pricey
-
Design limits absolute performance

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 820. 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 820 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 Sennheiser HD 820 review

Best over-ear headphones 2023: Beyerdynamic T1 (3rd Generation)

The third-gen model keeps the T1 legacy alive. (Image credit: Beyerdynamic)
Beyerdynamic refines its winning open-back formula.

Specifications

Bluetooth: No
Noise-cancelling: No
Battery life: N/A
Charging: N/A
Type: Open-back
Cable length: 3m

Reasons to buy

+
Clean, balanced presentation
+
Even-handed, informative nature
+
Comfortable and well made

Reasons to avoid

-
Needs top-class partners

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 a 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 open-back 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.

Want closed-back versions? See the Beyerdynamic T5 (3rd Generation) review

Read the full Beyerdynamic T1 (3rd Generation) review

Best over-ear headphones: Focal Clear Mg

Come for the exotic looks, stay for the expressive and entertaining sound. (Image credit: Focal)
Exceptional open-back headphones with an informative, refined and entertaining sound.

Specifications

Bluetooth: No
Noise-cancelling: No
Battery life: N/A
Charging: N/A
Type: Open-back
Cable length: 1.2m

Reasons to buy

+
Expressive and entertaining presentation
+
Excellent comfort
+
Terrific build and finish

Reasons to avoid

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Standard cable is just 1.2m long
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Lots of sound leakage
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Lack of isolation from noise

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

How we test the best over-ear headphones

Here at What Hi-Fi? we review hundreds of products every year, including bucketfuls of over-ear headphones. After all, the likes of Sony, Bose, Apple and Sennheiser often update their pairs fairly regularly, and that isn't even taking into account all the other renowned headphones brands. 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, Bath and Reading in the UK, where our team of expert reviewers, who have a combined 100 years of experience, carries out our testing. We have price-appropriate DACs to help us test wired headphones, and put wireless noise-cancelling pairs through the wringer in working offices, out and about on city streets, and on public transport too.

We spend weeks with every pair to ensure every aspect is reviewed thoroughly, from comfort and build to features and performance, and all verdicts are agreed upon by the team as a whole rather than a single reviewer, helping to ensure consistency and avoid individual subjectivity.

As over-ear headphones come in multiple forms – wired or wireless, noise-cancelling or not, open-back or closed-back – and naturally span a wide price spectrum, we keep hold of class leaders of every type and budget to compare with each pair we review to determine its star rating and position in this eminent list.

Indeed, 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 above, or on any other Best Buy pages, you can rest assure you're getting a What Hi-Fi?-approved product.

You can read more about how we test and review products on What Hi-Fi? here.

What is better, over-ear or on-ear headphones?

If you consider that on-ear headphones have smaller earpads that sit 'on' your ears, and over-ear headphones have larger earpads that sit around and cover your ears, the former is somewhat of a dying breed. They have their advantages: they are often lighter, inherently less obtrusive and isolating, and usually more physically compact and portable. But there is more choice of over-ear headphones, period, and they tend to accommodate more isolated and immersive listening. 

Over-ear is where you'll find the very best-sounding headphones too.

Are over-ear headphones good for working out and at the gym?

Due to their innate bulk compared to earbuds, over-ear headphones aren't typically designed for exercise. They are more likely to move around on your head while running, for example, and for outdoor exercise in general, their isolating physical design could block out more external sound than is safe. That said, wireless pairs can be suitable fitness buddies, especially for use in the gym – though think about what your gym routine is. If you are doing weights in a horizontal position, over-ears are likely to slide around or, worse, slide off. We'd look out for ones that are lightweight, water resistant and preferably have a fit that clamps on the tighter side.

On-ear headphones would likely tick these boxes, though they aren't as common nowadays so choice is fairly limited.

Do over-ear headphones have mics?

Regardless of whether they are wired or wireless, most over-ear headphones have microphones integrated into the earcups (or the in-line cable) to facilitate voice and video calls. Nowadays, wireless pairs especially tend to complement that with some sort of voice clarity technology to help reduce wind and other external noise and put your voice in the limelight so it can be heard clearly on the other end.

If you want a pair with a mic solely for gaming, however, you might be better off with a gaming headset that has a dedicated boom mic.

Becky Roberts

Becky is the managing editor of What Hi-Fi? and, since her recent move to Melbourne, also the editor of Australian Hi-Fi magazine. During her eight years in the hi-fi industry, she has been fortunate enough to travel the world to report on the biggest and most exciting brands in hi-fi and consumer tech (and has had the jetlag and hangovers to remember them by). In her spare time, Becky can often be found running, watching Liverpool FC and horror movies, and hunting for gluten-free cake.

  • Guapito1973
    The AKG N60s are on-ear headphone, not over-ear.
    Reply
  • doifeellucky
    This list is the headphone equivalent of saying the world is flat.
    Reply
  • Natan90NL
    I honestly would like to know if there is a substantial difference between AirPods max vs same priced wired headphones using lossless (and extra with a dec). Like the Grado SR325x with 3,5 mm to lightning or even with an ifi zen dec for example. Does this really sound better or is the AirPods max so good with the computational audio that it’s not a substantial difference. Many thanks for any replies!!
    Reply
  • iFi audio
    doifeellucky said:
    This list is the headphone equivalent of saying the world is flat.
    wait, since when is the world not flat?
    Reply
  • chichaz
    iFi audio said:
    wait, since when is the world not flat?
    Dang, yet another reason to like iFi! :)
    Reply
  • chichaz
    doifeellucky said:
    This list is the headphone equivalent of saying the world is flat.
    Nearly a year later I agree. What Focal and Sennheiser are doing on the same list as Sony and Apple is beyond me. These are clearly different markets.
    Reply
  • chichaz
    Paul9115 said:
    Sponsored by Apple Inc ©®™
    🤣🤣
    Reply