Best over-ear headphones Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best over-ear headphones you can buy in 2022.
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 wireless over-ears to take out and about, the very best over-ear headphones, regardless of type, will deliver great sound to immerse you in your music.
While the best earbuds have a time and a place, if you really want to lose yourself in your tunes, over-ear headphones will truly envelop you in your favourite tracks...
How we choose the best over-ear headphones
These days, over-ear headphones come in many styles. You have wired models with closed- or open-back designs for predominantly home use, though wearing wires out and about is fine too. Then, of course, there are wireless pairs for portable, on-the-go listening, some of which throw in noise-cancelling functionality for more privacy with your music in 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.
If you are still on the fence as to what sort of pair to punt for, this general list will give you a comprehensive overview of what's on offer. Every pair below 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.
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.
Read the full review: Apple AirPods Max
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 a new pair of wireless noise-cancelling headphones, your auditioning should start here. The older XM4 (below) 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
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
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 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
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 XM4 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
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
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
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 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
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 – pretty much until you get to the asking price of the Grado SR325x above.
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
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
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
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
If you feel this is the time to invest in a serious pair of wired home headphones, you will find plenty to entice you with the Philips Fidelio X3.
Comfort has to be a priority for home listening, too – those hour-long train journeys are nothing compared to whole afternoons lost listening to music at home – and Philips has certainly succeeded here. The Fidelio X3 are light but substantial, like a good winter duvet.
And with a little running in, these Philips headphones prove they don’t only look and feel luxurious – they sound it as well. The presentation is predictably more open than any closed-back pair around this price, but that doesn’t mean you need lose solidity or a full-bodied presentation. We use our pair with the Chord Hugo 2 DAC, and they make good use of the incredible detail on offer. They’re happy organising big arrangements, too, whether that’s a dense pack of snarling guitars or an orchestra in full swing
We’d love a more open treble and a bit more life but, even so, the Fidelio X3 should appear on your audition list.
Read the full review: Philips Fidelio X3
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
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How we test the best over-ear headphones
Here at What Hi-Fi? we review hundreds of products every year, including the latest over-ear headphones that hit the market from Sony, Bose, Apple, Sennheiser and other renowned brands (plus pairs from lesser-known brands that catch our eye). 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 does our testing. We have price-appropriate DACs to help us test wired headphones, and put wireless noise-cancelling pairs through the ringer out and about too. We spend time with every pair to ensure every aspect is reviewed thoroughly, from performance and features to comfort and build, 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 compare each pair we review with the current class leader in its type and price field 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.