The 9 Best Over-Ear Headphones of 2020

Rock out with these top-of-the-line over-ear cans

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Finding the best over-ear headphones can be a challenge given the staggering amount of diversity in modern headsets. Over-ear headphones range from isolating models that almost completely eliminate noise from outside sources (like the best noise-canceling headphones) to open-backed cans designed to help share whatever you're listening to with those around you. Quality also runs the gamut, from inexpensive models that feel nearly as disposable as the $5 earbuds you can pick up in any bodega, to some of the best studio headphones that deliver flawless audio but can run in excess of $500.

We tested and filtered a ton of options to find the best headset for a wide range of users, to ensure that regardless of your use case there's something on our list to suit your needs. So whether you're looking to shield your ears from a noisy workspace or during a loud subway commute, or you just want something cozy to take phone calls, our list has something to accommodate you.

Most Popular: Bose QuietComfort 35 Series II

What We Like
  • Best in class noise cancellation

  • Great battery life

  • Well positioned controls

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

If you are looking for the best noise-cancellation on the market, then the Bose QuietComfort 35 Series II are the headphones for you. Bose has long been the market leader in noise-cancellation technology and these don't disappoint. Available in black or silver, the design is minimal yet comfortable. All of the controls are housed on the earcups, where you will be able to manage calls, access the Alexa virtual assistant, and adjust the level of noise cancellation. The headphones will last on wireless for 20 hours, while the built-in microphone (with built-in noise-rejecting technology) allows you to take calls when you are paired with a phone.

As far as noise-cancellation goes, expect the loud rattle of a plane or crowded train to disappear when in use. Bose has also upped their game in the audio department, using a volume-optimized EQ for consistent and balanced performance that takes outside elements into account. Plus, the fact that they're Alexa-enabled allows you to voice-control your music and get answers to questions as you would with any virtual assistant. Our tester Don loved this integration with digital assistants, as well as the incredible sound quality and market-leading noise canceling.

"A well-designed pair of noise-canceling Bluetooth headphones with excellent audio quality, a useful app, and the ability to interact with voice assistants." — Don Reisinger, Product Tester

Best Overall, Wireless: Sony WH1000XM3 Wireless Headphones

What We Like
  • Comfy, ergonomic design

  • Fast charging, 30-hour battery life

  • Excellent sound quality

What We Don't Like
  • Clunky controls

The Sony WH1000XM3 may be the last wireless over-the-ear headphones you’ll ever need to buy. The ergonomic design ensures that you can wear these headphones for hours in total comfort — a slim profile reduces pressure on the ears, as does the overall lightweight build quality. The headband was also built to properly fit the arch of the head and add some additional padding. And they're made for long-term wear: these headphones have a 30-hour battery life and can run wirelessly for up to five hours after just 10 minutes of charging. That's great news for travelers.

Speaking of traveling and loud places, the Sony’s noise-canceling capability is, in a word, exceptional. Knocking out sound from planes to trains to automobiles, they can even reduce the volume of your chatty cubicle mate. All of this is key considering the sound quality will make you want to use the Sony’s again and again. With 40mm drivers and hi-res audio capability, these headphones can make any kind of music sound great. Our reviewer Jason was wowed by their incredible noise cancellation, killer sound, and comfy construction.

"The best sound quality, excellent noise cancellation, and super-comfortable construction." — Jason Schneider, Product Tester

Best New Release: Bose 700

What We Like
  • Great noise cancelling

  • Intuitive controls

  • Amazing soundstage

What We Don't Like
  • Subpar companion app

In the consumer audio space, Bose's namesake alone makes people take notice. Whenever it drops a new pair of headphones, audiophiles and ordinary music listeners alike are inclined to reconsider the landscape. The Bose 700s, in particular, are stylish, noise-canceling, and offer all the bells and whistles we've come to expect. Held together by a stainless-steel headband, Bose's signature high-end soundstage projects through soft leathery, earcups that both look and feel premium. After extensively testing them, our reviewer Andy called them "the perfect wireless headset."

Keep in mind, however, that because Bose is tight-lipped about its sound research, you won't find a lot of information about how it's produced. Then again, the best secrets are the most hidden, or something like that. Inside the 700s, Bose packs some interesting smart features. For starters, a smart assistant call button, along with intuitive touch controls, expand their capabilities beyond music playback alone.

Be that as it may, the coolest modern feature is called "Bose AR." This protocol uses motion sensors to determine the angle of your head, then pairs that with location data obtained via the Bose Sound app to augment the sound you're hearing. It sounds complicated on paper, but in practice, it's effortless. And used with certain apps, it can greatly enhance your listening experience, thus improving your quality of life as a result. We're excited to see how third-party apps use this technology to their advantage.

"Very nearly the perfect wireless headphones."Andy Zahn, Product Tester

Best for Phone Calls: Jabra Elite 85h

Jabra Elite 85h
What We Like
  • Premium look and feel

  • Incredible battery life

  • Eight separate microphones

What We Don't Like
  • Limited availability

For years now, Jabra has been developing something of a reputation for itself putting out smartphone peripherals and Bluetooth headsets of the highest caliber. More recently, it's been focused on Bluetooth headphones for recreational audio consumption, led by its Elite 65t in-ear Bluetooth earbuds. But, clearly, phone calls are still important, especially when your job (or life) necessitates a multi-microphone array. Enter the Jabra Elite 85h over-ear headphones, which our reviewer found attractive, durable, and capable of delivering incredible audio quality.

Put them on your ears and you'll hear a broad range of sounds at various frequencies, anywhere from 10Hz all the way to 20kHz. But Jabra has also included what it calls SmartSound, powered by eight separate microphones. This technology aims to optimize sound response based on your environment. In combination with the active noise-canceling technology, the end result is cutting-edge isolation and beautiful sound response. Another standout feature is the 36-hour battery life, almost double that of even the longest-lasting competitors. Plus, the look and feel are premium, and a one-touch control summons the voice assistant of your choice.

"Great sound, effective noise cancelling, and attractive modern design." — Andy Zahn, Product Tester

Best Bass: Sony WH-XB900N

What We Like
  • Powerful bass

  • Excellent Bluetooth connectivity

  • Sleek and attractive

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

Often requiring a cryptologist to decipher its model names, it's admittedly difficult to cull through Sony's headphone lot and determine what's the right fit for you. The WH-XB900Ns might seem like they compete directly with the 950Ns, and in many ways they do. At their core, the 900Ns are bass-centric headphones, offering a “bass duct” in their construction that seems to operate much the same way a bass port would on a larger speaker. There’s also a pretty solid seal between the padding and your head which, in conjunction with the 1.57-inch drivers, gives a lot of power on the bottom end of the spectrum.

By the numbers, that spectrum spans from 20Hz to 20kHz, meaning you’ve got coverage of the entire human hearing range, including the bottom end. Where the newer 900Ns diverge from the 950Ns is in their modern feature stack. The 900Ns offer Bluetooth 5.0 for stability in connection and sound quality, NFC for easy pairing with compatible devices, touch controls, and even smart assistant compatibility. The battery life is impressive, too, offering 30 hours of listening on a single charge, depending on your usage. It all comes in a sleek package that looks more like the WH-1000X line than it does the 950N. It’s a bit on the pricey side, in our opinion, but if you can afford it, you’ll be happy.

Best Wired: Sennheiser HD 599 Headphones

What We Like
  • Incredible sound quality

  • Very stylish

  • Rich, accurate bass

What We Don't Like
  • Exclusively wired

Universally regarded as the best-wired headphones around, the Sennheiser HD 599 is a superb combination of style and sound. With a name that’s synonymous with quality, the HD 599 is also beautifully designed, offering satin textured ear cushions for extra comfort even after hours of wear. Making them even more comfortable is the exceptional padding around the headband. They are leather wrapped for quality and, from a design standpoint alone, these headphones are worth every penny.

Fortunately, there’s more to the Sennheiser HD 599’s than looks. The audio is just as good, if not better than their design. Premium components are expected with all Sennheiser headphones, and the 599 does not disappoint. Running proprietary tech, they deliver a solid low end, awesome mids, and richly-detailed highs. The bass straddles the line perfectly between not too much and not too little. As a wired headphone, you also never need to worry about battery life — just plug them in and start listening.

Best Budget: JBL E55BT Wireless Headphones

What We Like
  • Very affordable

  • Excellent audio clarity

  • Great weight distribution

What We Don't Like
  • Lacking bass depth

Finding a pair of great-sounding wireless headphones that don’t cost a fortune isn’t easy, but the JBL E55BT is a rare exception. Offering a warm and balanced sound that feels more premium than the price tag, JBL hit a homerun with this headphone. The 50mm dynamic drivers add a wide range of frequency response with terrific clarity. Low and high sounds are detailed and crisp. Mids hit just the right amount of response without sounding unnatural. Bass isn’t terribly deep but it’s more than satisfactory. Everything from metal to movie soundtracks sounds great.

Good sound isn’t the only aspect worth bragging about. Sound isolation is good enough to reduce plenty of ambient noise. Only when compared to a higher-end pair will you really notice a difference. The plastic build quality helps keep the price low, but they do squeak a bit while moving as a result. The fabric headband is comfortable even if it provides a minimal amount of padding. Weight is ergonomically distributed around the headphone so no one point of the head ever feels heavy.

Best Design: Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature HiFi Headphones

What We Like
  • Cool retro style

  • Angled drivers improve listening experience

  • Superb detail

What We Don't Like
  • No active noise cancellation

Over the course of more than 50 years, Bowers & Wilkins has been a leader in the audio field. Their P9 signature HiFi wired headphones are no exception. Standing out from the more traditional black headphones, the P9 opts for a unique retro brown style that’s very 1970s. The good news is it works and feels as good as it looks. The leather on the ear cups and headband is comfortable and looks luxe. The rest of the headset consists of an aluminum design that’s both sturdy and stylish. It also adds the benefit of reducing vibrations that could affect the audio experience.

Inside each ear cup rests 40mm drivers, each angled slightly inwards for a more natural listening experience. Once you place the headphones on your head and turn on the sound, you’ll find a superb level of detail. Bass never overwhelms while highs, lows, and mids all sound very natural. If there’s one thing the P9 could add to make it the perfect headphone, it would be active noise cancellation. However, as an over-the-ear headphone, most ambient noise is naturally reduced.

Best Splurge: Focal Elegia Reference Headphones

What We Like
  • Incredibly comfortable

  • Rich, detailed sound

  • Light frame

What We Don't Like
  • Slightly underwhelming bass

While it’s not your typical high-end headphone, Focal’s Elegia is a hidden gem in its price range. As a closed-back headphone—a rarity in the premium market—Focal has set the bar for audio quality. It allows the wearer a little more privacy than an open-back headphone so you won't distract your neighbor with your music. The secondary benefit of a closed-back design is the boosted noise isolation, which limits ambient noise from the world around you. It’s true that closed-back can get hotter than open-back over lengthy listening, but that’s really not a factor with the Focal.

This headphone, which is manufactured in France, has extremely comfortable leather wrapping all over it. The headband is soft and comfortable as are the suede-like microfiber ear cups. They’re not too heavy thanks to an aluminum frame, and the design does a great job of hiding the 40mm angled drivers. Across the board, for highs, lows and mids, Focal pushes out a richly detailed sound. Bass is as good as you would expect, hitting the sweet spot of just enough without being overwhelming.

Final Verdict

The Bose QuietComfort 35 headset proves why that company has been an established market leader for so long, delivering the best all-around over-ear experience available, with excellent noise-cancelling and audio quality. Sony's WH1000XM3 isn't far behind, an incredibly comfortable, high-quality headset that also produces amazing, accurate sound.

How We Tested

Our expert testers and reviewers evaluate over-ear headphones the same way we evaluate most headphones, with a large focus on sound quality and comfort. We start by looking at the build material, fit, and comfort of the headphones, and try to judge their durability, waterproofing, and if they'd be comfortable to wear for hours at a time. In the case of Bluetooth headphones we also consider ease of pairing, range, and battery life as important factors.

The most important element we consider is sound quality. We look at frequency response, bass, and the overall audio profile by playing audiobooks, music, streaming shows, and playing games.If they support noise cancellation, we enable the feature and see how much noise they block out in loud environments. Finally, we compare each headphone and its price to a similar competitor to help make a final judgement. All of the over-ear headphones we review are purchased by Lifewire; none are provided by the manufacturer.

About Our Trusted Experts

David Beren is a tech writer with over ten years of experience in the field, and has written and managed content for a number of mobile companies, including T-Mobile, Sprint, and Tracfone Wireless.

Jason Schneider has been covering tech and media for almost ten years, and is an expert in audio equipment and headphones. He's also written marketing copy for a number of industries, including e-commerce and consumer electronics.

Don Reisinger is a tech journalist who's been covering the industry for top publications for more than 12 years. He specializes in consumer technology, including headphones and other wearables.

What to Look for in Over-ear Headphones

Wireless or wired - You’re ready for your next pair of headphones, but do you know if you want them wireless or wired? Wireless headphones are an excellent option for those who can’t stand a mess of wires; additionally, they are compatible with many modern smartphones that don’t include headphone jacks. However, wired headphones can be more reliable and don’t need their batteries to be recharged continuously.

Noise-canceling - Looking to escape the world around you when you put on headphones? Search for headphones that offer active noise-cancelation. Great for those who travel on planes or work in busy environments, noise-canceling headphones can reduce the noise around you to help you focus on what you’re listening to.

Materials - While some headphones are produced from plastic, others can be crafted from metal or even beautiful wood. Plastic headphones are typically less expensive and are lighter on the head, but metal construction can offer more stability, leading to a long lasting pair of headphones.