Best over-ear headphones Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best over-ear headphones you can buy in 2020.
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For the best headphone audio experience, which shuts out the outside world and envelops you in music, you need over-ear headphones. In-ear headphones have a time and a place but if you really want to lose yourself in sound, a pair of over-ear headphones is the way to go.
With options to suit all listening styles and budgets, there's bound to be something that fits the bill. We've picked wired and wireless headphones, plus noise-cancelling designs for extra noise isolation. Some of our recommendations even have a smart assistant built in for hands-free operation.
As if panning for gold, we've painstakingly sieved through our over-ear headphones reviews and ended up with 15 sensational pairs. Whether they'll set you back a few notes or a few month's rent, you know there will be a decent pair that won't disappoint.
How we choose the best over-ear headphones
Here at What Hi-Fi? we review hundreds of products every year, including more than our fair share of headphones. So how do we come to our review verdicts? And why can you trust them?
We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London and Bath, where our team of expert reviewers do all our testing, spending time with the products to ensure every aspect is reviewed thoroughly.
All products are tested in comparison with rival products in the same category, and all review verdicts are agreed upon by the team as a whole rather than a single reviewer, again helping to ensure consistency and avoid individual subjectivity.
The What Hi-Fi? team has more than 100 combined years of experience reviewing, testing and writing about consumer electronics, and What Hi-Fi? has been delivering expert reviews since 1976.
From all of our reviews, we choose the products to feature in our Best Buys, such as this one. That's why if you take the plunge and buy one of the products recommended below, or on any other Best Buy pages, you can rest assured you're getting a What Hi-Fi?-approved product.
These are the third generation of Sony's fantastic WH1000 wireless headphones, and we're pleased to say they're the best yet. They're lighter than previous generations, and more comfy thanks to the softer cushioning on the thicker headband. Tap 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. Unbeatable.
Read the full review: Sony WH-1000XM3
The B&W PX7 headphones combine proprietary driver technology and Qualcomm’s new aptX Adaptive Bluetooth codec. The battery has been upped to 30 hours, there's USB-C connectivity and 15 minutes of juice will deliver five hours of playback.
The PX7s look and feel a little cheaper than previous B&W headphones, but we’d take them for their extra comfort. Ultimately, they’re still one of the more striking pairs of headphones on the market. They're clever, too, with the PX7's proximity sensor pausing the music when you lift an earcup – return it to your ear and the music restarts. The PX7s’ inability to fold into a more compact form for slinging in a bag is a shame, but there is a carry case.
Sonically, the PX7s retain their predecessor’s solid, balanced sound, but the gains they make in terms of clarity and detail are obvious. They reveal more enthusiasm and drive than their peers, even if the Sonys have a more grounded disposition and sound more authentic in the way they convey music. If you value an upbeat, entertaining sound from a smart pair of headphones, these are a fine bet.
Read the full review: Bowers & Wilkins PX7
The Sennheiser Momentum Wireless headphones are also a superb option. The third-generation Momentum Wireless cans follow in the footsteps of two models that knocked it out the park and this new pair continues the trend.
The finish is still great, with the familiar oval-shaped earcups, sheepskin leather earpads and stainless steel sliders. The on-ear controls have been improved, giving you more control of your music. Available in all-black, there's a 'sandy white' model on the way.
These headphones fold-up, so are ideal for commuting or as travel companions. In addition to aptX, AAC and SBC Bluetooth, the Momentum Wireless support aptX Low Latency, which aims to improve the synchronicity of audio and video content.
Crucially, these are noticeably better than their predecessors in the sound department, promising an energetic, timely and hugely insightful listen you've no choice but to be entertained by. That sonic success is backed by enhanced usability features too, although be aware that battery life is only 17 hours next to the above Sony's 30-hour claim.
Read the full review: Sennheiser Momentum Wireless
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. And the sound? Expansive, with the width, scale and bass you'd expect to find on a far more expensive pair of headphones. Snap them up now.
Read the full review: AKG K72
These are the wireless version of the stellar N60NCs, and you'll be glad to hear they don't disappoint. Tunes sound clear and striking. The AKGs deliver lashings of bass without compromising detail or precision. This is only enhanced by the addition of noise-cancelling tech: with no background murmurs to muddy the sound, tracks really get a chance to shine. Add in a comfortable design and sensible controls, and you've got a great pair of wireless noise-cancellers.
Read the full review: AKG N60NC Wireless
With these Shures, 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 night long. Those 40mm neodymium drivers make for an utterly superb sound with impressive dynamics and an awesome amount of detail. These are truly fantastic headphones for the money.
Read the full review: Shure SRH1540
Grado is known for its retro styling, but in this case it's for function as much as form. Their open-backed design lets a lot of noise through, so they're not ideal for public use (unless you want the whole train carriage sharing your love of K-Pop), but they help deliver a nimble and pacy sound with clean and punchy bass. The result is a pair of over-ear headphones whose clarity, detail and dynamics are unmatched for the price. Retro looks, thoroughly modern performance.
Read the full review: Grado SR80e
Beyerdynamic’s Amiron headphones are extremely comfortable thanks to Alcantara micofibres and microvelour used in the earcups and headband. The open back design means some sound leakage but the design also 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.
Read the full review: Beyerdynamic Amiron
If you like - or even just don't mind - retro looks, but don't want to compromise sound, and have around £300 to spend on a pair of over-ear headphones, these Grado SR325es are the best use of your money. The open back provides a clearer and lighter sound than the SR325es mentioned above with distinctive, well-organised layers and a naturally cohesive arrangement. But be warned - the sound will leak. A lot. One for the home rather than your commute.
Read the full review: Grado SR325e
The B&W P9 Signature headphones were created to commemorate 50 years of Bowers & Wilkins and they certainly do the British brand justice. The sturdy Saffiano leather is comfortable yet hardy and the memory foam headband enhances that comfort. Housed in the ears are 40mm driver units, angled for more natural listening. After the first 50 or so hours these really loosed up for peak performance meaning a sense of space with vocals and perfectly layered instruments. They can grab a rhythm and hold it perfectly no matter what else is going on. The result is precision and enthusiasm with a perfect balance of pace and attack.
Read the full review: B&W P9 Signature
Sony has a great pedigree when it comes to wireless headphones, and this pair slots right into that legacy. At just £100, they're great value, packing wireless and noise-cancelling tech into a package that's plenty stylish. Bass is taut but still very punchy, while the timing isn't half bad at all. Overall, £100 well spent.
Read the full review: Sony WH-CH700N
In the here and now, Bose says these Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 on-ears are ‘the biggest leap forward in headphones since the iconic QuietComfort’ – a bold claim considering the success of that range. But if anyone can push the boundaries of wireless noise-cancelling again, surely Bose can. The 700s mirror their siblings’ familiar sonic character – bold, clear and upfront. For all the clarity, they lack a little when it comes to weight and punch. But if you can cope with that, there's no arguing with the design and features.
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. Low frequencies have plenty of authority, with punchy bass. There's a high level of agility and precision too - the organisation is on point. At around £2,000, these over-ears aren't cheap, but for the serious home listener, they come highly recommended.
Read the full review: Sennheiser HD 820
Connect them to the right source and these Sonys could be the best headphones you'll ever hear. The unique drivers feature a two-piece 70mm diaphragm made of a magnesium dome sitting in an aluminium-coated liquid crystal polymer ring. With an impressive frequency response that reaches to 120kHz and sensitivity of 100db/mW no expense has been spared on these high-end over-ears. It all adds up to a pair of headphones capable of seismic bass, immense dynamic reach, a perfect tonal balance and a spacious yet detailed sound.
Read the full review: Sony MDRZ1R
Aspirational. That's the word that describes these headphones. At nearly three grand, 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. There's meaty bass too, all of which justifies the price, even if few can afford them. Time to start saving...
Read the full review: Focal Stellia
AKG has produced a solid pair of studio headphones with an engaging sound, though they occasionally stray a little towards the aggressive. What’s the difference between a pair of professional studio headphones and one made for people who just want to listen to music on the way to work?
In some ways, the AKG K175s seem perfect for casual use. They look good, they don’t cost the earth and they have a punchy enthusiasm you might not expect from a studio monitor pair. A few design elements should make you think twice, though, and while it's engaging, the sound’s up-front presentation and uncompromising midrange will start to wear after a while.
Read the full review: AKG K175 review