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If you’re in the market for a new pair of headphones, the sheer abundance of options can prove to be a little overwhelming. They also come in a variety of shapes of sizes, complicating things even further. However, when it comes to sound quality, over-ear headphones can be generally considered the best. Also known as “circumaural” headphones, these cans completely enclose the ears with their large earcups. This not only makes them comfortable enough to be worn for extended periods of time, but helps in blocking out surrounding noise(s) too.
While that’s all great, choosing a set of over-ear headphones isn’t easy. From modestly-priced wired options with passive noise isolation to top-tier wireless offerings having advanced codec support, the choices are innumerable. But don’t worry, as we’ve rounded up some of the best over-ear headphones currently available to help you out.
Best in class noise cancellation
Great battery life
Well positioned controls
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
Comfy, ergonomic design
Fast charging, 30-hour battery life
Excellent sound quality
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
Great noise cancelling
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
Premium look and feel
Incredible battery life
Eight separate microphones
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
Excellent Bluetooth connectivity
Sleek and attractive
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.
Incredible sound quality
Rich, accurate bass
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.
MicroUSB charging port
Packed with tons of features, the Anker Soundcore Life Q20 is both affordable and functional. These over-ear headphones support high-resolution audio, and come with custom oversized 40mm dynamic drivers that provide a rich listening experience. Using four built-in Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) microphones and a digital noise cancellation algorithm, they can reduce a wide range of ambient noises (e.g. airplane engines) by up to ninety percent.
The Q20 also features Anker's "BassUp'' technology, which analyzes low frequencies in real-time to instantly enhance the bass output. You get Bluetooth 5.0 for easy wireless connectivity, and there's even a 3.5mm audio port that can be used for wired listening in case the battery runs out. Speaking of which, the headphones deliver a continuous playback time of forty hours (at sixty percent volume, with ANC turned on) and can be used for up to 4 hours after being charged for just 5 minutes. The Anker Soundcore Life Q20 includes memory foam earcups and rotating headband joints for a comfortable fit, and are backed by an 18-month warranty.
“Featuring everything from hybrid ANC to wired and wireless connectivity, Anker’s Soundcore Life Q20 offer a lot more than their humble price would have you believe.” — Rajat Sharma, Tech Writer
Multiple connectivity cables included
No Active Noise Cancellation
Part of Audio-Technica's hugely popular M series, the ATH-M50x are undoubtedly one of the best wired over-ear headphones you can buy today. Although primarily intended for studio monitoring purposes, they work great for casual usage as well. Their proprietary 45mm large-aperture drivers are made from rare-earth magnets and copper-clad aluminum wire voice coils, resulting in superior audio quality over an extended frequency range.
These headphones feature a deep and accurate bass response, and their circumaural design contours provide improved noise isolation even in loud environments. You also get ninety-degree swiveling earcups for convenient one-ear monitoring, and their collapsible construction makes for easy storage and portability. The headband and earpads are made from a professional-grade material that's not only durable, but also ensures comfort when the headphones are used for extended periods of time. The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x weighs about 285g and includes three (two straight and one coiled) interchangeable cables. Also included with the package is a protective carrying pouch and a 6.3mm screw-on adapter. To top everything off, these magnificent headphones are backed by a two-year warranty.
Top-notch build quality
Non-standard USB-C to 3.5mm cable for wired audio
Take one look at Master & Dynamic's MH40 Wireless and you're bound to be smitten. Having a body made from anodized aluminum and coated canvas, and memory foam earpads wrapped in magnetic lambskin, these headphones are indeed a work of art. However, there's a lot more to the MH40 Wireless than just good looks. They boast custom 40mm high-performance Neodymium drivers with a warm and detailed sound signature.
Wireless connectivity is handled by Bluetooth 5.0, with support for both AptX and SBC codecs. The headphones' integrated battery provides a playback time of eighteen hours and can go up to 9 hours after being charged for thirty minutes. Interestingly, the USB-C charging port can also be used for wired listening via the included USB-C to 3.5mm audio cable. Master & Dynamic MH40 Wireless come with a dual beam-forming microphone array that not only filters out ambient noise, but improves call quality as well. The headphones weigh around 275g and are available in a variety of color schemes, such as Silver Metal/Brown and Gunmetal.
“Crafted from premium materials, Master & Dynamic’s MH40 have a vintage-themed design that’ll turn heads everywhere.” — Rajat Sharma, Tech Writer
Excellent audio clarity
Great weight distribution
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.
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.
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.
As a technology editor with more than six years (and counting) of experience in the field, Rajat Sharma has reviewed a lot of headphones (among other gadgets) so far. Prior to joining Lifewire, he worked as a senior technology correspondent with The Times Group and Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited, two of India’s biggest media houses.
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.
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.