Best over-ear headphones 2023 Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best over-ear headphones you can buy in 2023.
If you’re looking for some headphones to deliver the most immersive performance, you only really have one choice: a pair of over-ears.
Not only do over-ear headphones sit around your ears, with the earpads enclosing them fully for a more isolated listening experience, their larger size also allows engineers to fit bigger drivers inside with more room to move. That means it’s possible to deliver a much more accomplished performance than you’d get from a pair of on-ear headphones or earbuds, allowing you to truly lose yourself in the music.
Whether you are after a pair of wired over-ear headphones to indulge in private listening sessions at home or to help you focus while working at your desk, or wireless over-ears to take out and about without clogging up your body with cables, the very best over-ear headphones will deliver great sound and design to immerse you in your music in comfort, regardless of their style.
The quick list
Best cheap over-ear headphones
A great, affordable pair of wired headphones for those on a tight budget, these studio-style cans put more street-ready pairs to shame.
Best wired over-ear headphones
An exceptional pair of closed-back headphones that deliver premium sound quality in an affordable package.
Best premium wired
Best premium wired over-ear headphones
Grado’s SR325x might not look luxurious but feed them a high-quality signal and they’ll deliver a suitably premium performance.
Best wireless over-ear headphones
With top-notch noise cancelling, a hugely entertaining sound, tonnes of features, and a thoroughly modern look, these are unbeatable wireless cans.
Best premium wireless
Best premium wireless over-ear headphones
Focal blends Bluetooth into its high-end headphones recipe to deliver compelling performance in a premium package.
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The best cheap over-ear headphones
Looking for a bargain? These quality closed-back wired headphones are among the best out there for the money. The solid build means these are going to last – AKG bent the cable 80,000 times during production 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
The best wired over-ear headphones
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 closed-back 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.
If you'd prefer an open-back alternative, give Grado's SR80x a listen.
Read the full Austrian Audio Hi-X15 review
The best premium wired over-ear headphones
The Prestige range of wired open-back 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 better.
Looking for a closed-back pair instead? Try Beyerdynamic's DT 900 Pro X.
Read the full Grado SR325x review
The best wireless over-ear headphones
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
See our pick of the best Sony headphones
The best premium wireless over-ear headphones
Focal’s entrance into this burgeoning premium Bluetooth noise-cancelling 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.
For a wireless headphone performance, it’s among the most engaging we have heard at this level. 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.
If you're an Apple addict, the AirPods Max are worth considering too.
Read the full Focal Bathys review
The best home over-ear headphones
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.
Note too that the wireless versions of the Amiron – fittingly called the Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless – are among the best Bluetooth headphones we have heard and perhaps the pair of choice if you intend to listen wirelessly at home as much as outdoors.
Read the full Beyerdynamic Amiron review
The best high-end over-ear headphones
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. For anyone with more cash to spend, Sennheiser's HD820 and the Focal Stellia should be on the shortlist, while those who want the very best of the best regardless of the price should consider the Yamaha YH-5000SE and Focal Utopia.
Read the full Beyerdynamic T1 (3rd Generation) review
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How to choose the best over-ear headphones for you
These days, the best over-ear headphones come in many styles. You have wired models with open-back (which leak sound) or, more typically, 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!) You can read all about the closed-back vs open-back headphones differences here.
Then there are wireless pairs, which are the most convenient for portable, on-the-go listening, many of which nowadays throw in active noise cancellation (ANC) for more privacy with your music – a Godsend for listening in particularly noisy environments.
Our pick of the best over-ear headphones below spans all of these types mentioned above, as well as a range of budgets from below £100/$100/AU$150 to ten times that.
If you know which style you want already, you can visit our dedicated best wired headphones, best wireless headphones and best noise-cancelling headphones Best Buy guides instead. Want a pair of high-end headphones to plug into your desktop or component hi-fi system? As well as the best pairs featured below, we also have a definitive list of the best audiophile headphones too.
But 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 full five-star rating, wears our stamp of approval as among the best over-ear headphones out there.
Are over-ear headphones better than 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.
Can over ear headphones cause headaches?
If your over-ear headphones are causing headaches or head pain, it's likely down to one of two reasons: you're playing music too loudly for too long, or the headband is putting too much pressure on the top of your head. Fit is important when it comes to over-ears – you want the headband and earpads to clamp securely enough so that they don't move around on your head and leak sound. But if the earpads clamp too tightly, they can be uncomfortable and cause your ears to overheat. A headband that puts too much pressure on the crown of your head may be due to insufficient headband padding.
Heads come in all shapes and sizes, of course, which is why more than one reviewer at What Hi-Fi? always tests the fit of every pair of over-ear headphones we review.
Are over-ear headphones noise cancelling?
As over-ear headphones clamp around your ears, they are generally the best type of headphones for 'noise isolation', which is a physical thing; a term used to describe headphones that block out external sounds – and reduce the amount of sound leaking into your ears – achieved purely through build quality and design. So yes, many over-ears will block out some external sound when worn.
'Noise-cancelling', however, often refers to the technology – active noise cancellation (or ANC). It's an electrical feature that requires power to work and uses two tiny microphones on the outer housing of the headphones that "listen" to the noise around you and quickly create a mirror image of the compression and rarefaction of the air (i.e. external sound). It essentially blocks out external noise far more effectively than a headphones' physicality alone can.
Most wireless Bluetooth over-ears have ANC these days, though it's far less common to have it on wired over-ears.
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 their comfort and build to features and performance. And while one single reviewer at What Hi-Fi? writes the review, all verdicts are agreed upon by the team as a whole, 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 be rest assured 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.