Directing our search to the term “over-ear headphones” will still imply some ambiguity, since taking it a step further will entail us figuring out a few other factors we’ll want with our pair of cans. As you can see in the photo above, the traditional “headphones” image will be relevant for us here today — a headband, ear-pads, and an overall fit that fully engulfs our precious ears into the entire listening experience, whatever your choice of audio may be. Over-ear headphones are going to give us a complete surround sound, comfortable fit, and overall pleasing aesthetic style. Before we give you our picks for the top 10 best over-ear headphones however, let’s get into a few details first.
What are over-ear headphones?
As highlighted in our headphone types explained article, over-ear are also known as circumaural, full-size, or even “around the ear”, and are defined as the traditional fit of a larger pair of headphones that surrounds our ears (and are at times larger than our ears to make sure the entire ear is covered and snug). When it starts to get tricky, we’ll start seeing terms such as on-ear headphones (many, and us included once upon a time, were sure these were the same type as over-ear). The over-ear vs. on-ear differences state that these types of headphones are actually smaller than over-ear and our ears in general, so that they actually rest on the ears instead of stemming larger than our earlobe.
A common image you’ll see with on-ear headphones are broadcasters with headsets. They’re smaller circular headphones that don’t fully engulf our ears to allow some sound to leak out or for the individual to hear some of their environment if they need to. We then even have in-ear headphones (which are slightly different from earbuds, because why should it be simple?), which are more portable, versatile and smaller headphones that literally protrude into our ear canals for a close-up listening experience.
If all of these technical terms and definitions get cloudy, let’s highlight who will actually want a pair of over-ear headphones (and why!). Since we couldn’t possibly list all of the uses as they’re some of the most versatile in the game, we’ve seen them applicable stemming from audiophiles, producers, and engineers, to gamers, leisure listeners and workout junkies. Regardless of your intended use, grabbing a pair of over-ear headphones will give you that isolated, personal and private listening experience. So how do you choose the best?
Guidelines for the best over-ear headphones
- Budget – First and foremost, and if you’ve ever read any of our guides, we like to double-check you’re aware of the price steering you towards a particular direction, especially when it comes to shopping for a pair of headphones. Over-ear headphones in our case today give us a very broad range (and we mean very, since some Hi-Fi headphones go up to a thousand dollars!). Even if you aren’t the few who are looking to spend half a month’s mortgage on a pair of headphones, we’ve sound awesome budget-friendly pairs for under $100 or less. Most of our pairs today however will be above that range and somewhere in the middle, but we definitely tried to grab each price-point for options.
- Headphone design – As stated previously, pin-pointing your search to “over-ear” is just one step. The next will have to be the headphone design. What we mean by “design” comes down to three types of over-ear headphones. Two most common you’ll see is closed-back or open-back headphones. However, there is a third right in the middle. Yes, all will be over your ear of course, however there are some slight differences we’ll explain in further detail:
- Closed-back: As some of the most popular types of over-ear headphones, these surround your ear and “close off” the outside environment you’re in from your ears. This allows for sound isolation as well as no noise to leak out into your surroundings, while also eliminating outside noise from coming in to disturb your listening experience.
- Open-back: Preferred by audiophiles, mixers and mastering engineers, open-back are over the ear but allow for some breathing room and space between your environment and ears. The reason? To allow some sound to leak out to prevent build-up of frequencies (typically the lower-end, which is preferred by mixing and mastering users since it doesn’t cloud up their accuracy for completing a song). Many also feel they’re more comfortable since closed-back may cause pain after an extended amount of use.
- Semi-open: As the name suggests, these are a mixture of both closed and open-back, leaving just a small amount of room for your ears to breathe and leak some build up out. They’re definitely more rare than the previous two, but are still out there for those who want the ‘best of both worlds’.
- Wired or wireless? When it comes to wireless headphones, it ultimately comes down to taste and preference. Yes, your budget will have to increase just a bit (depending on what model you look at), as well as your tolerance for having to charge them (we’ll admit we get impatient at times with this factor in our Bluetooth headphones and procrastinate a week until we use them again). Your use will also dictate whether or not you want a wire, considering producers, mixers and merely music recording in general is not recommended to use a wireless pair. Others, such as leisure listeners, travelers and more, may very well benefit from a wireless pair of over-ear headphones. We made sure to find a few wireless pairs to include in here in case you were looking for some, or you can read our entire Bluetooth over-ear headphones guide dedicated to this option.
- Advanced tech? Active noise-cancellation, “sound isolating”, special material for the headband and ear pads, interchangeable cables, collapsible, built-in magnet system (to rid ‘harmonic distortion’ — a lot more advanced), and more. These technical terms will be thrown around a lot when it comes to over-ear headphones, especially more expensive pairs, so keep your eye out in what you feel will be suitable for your needs. We’ll expand upon each pick’s advanced tech to help elaborate if it’s worth it or not.
The top 10 best over-ear headphones
Sennheiser HD 280
To begin our guide with the best over-ear headphones, we start with one of our favorites ever (and many others, as well) — the Sennheiser HD 280. These headphones have a comfortable yet durable design built for professional recording applications. These compact, over-ear headphones (can also be labeled as ‘studio’ headphones), are designed to meet the demands of the professional environment, with their solid construction combined with quality sound and noise isolation which make it a match in any almost any application. Aside from the comfortable and famous Senny build, these have a reputation around the net for their clear and accurate sound quality. The high ambient noise attenuation and clear, linear sound reproduction will have you focused on your applications – providing you an engaging listening experience while doing your work or play. The drivers of this pair feature a solid frequency range (8 – 25,000 Hz), while providing a sound pressure level of up to 113 dB. The HD 280’s also come with soft earpads for a pretty comfortable fit as well as swiveling earcups which offer more flexibility. If you are on a budget, the Sennheiser HD-280 serve as our pick as one of the best over-ear headphones in the market today since they’re quite affordable as well.
Next we take a look at one of our favorite pairs in the middle price-point of our guide, the DT-990 by the beloved Beyer, which are one of the best over-ear headphones for people who are looking for an open-back, Hi Fi model to grab. The DT-990’s over-ear configuration gives it an isolating experience – made for leisure applications, tracking, mixing, or even gaming. They deliver great sound for the price you are paying, spitting out a solid frequency of 5 – 35,000 HZ. They are also built with a soft headband and earpad cushion (plush-like) to give solid support and comfort for longer studio sessions or extended listening of your favorite playlists and albums. The durable design and fairly strong bass (and treble) the DT-990 has to offer makes it solid choice for people who truly value comfort and sound. Finding the right headphones for the right price is often tough, but considering all features the Beyerdynamic DT-990 bring to the table, this choice may very well be worth the money spent if you were in search of an open-back pair of over-ear headphones.
Here we introduce some of the best over-ear headphones for home and studio recording, the SRH440. This pair can reproduce accurate audio over an extended range – essential when trying to catch multiple frequencies throughout your studio sessions. These headphones have a closed-back, circumaural collapsible design and a detachable, coiled cable – making it easier if you want to take these on the road. The SRH440’s supply a maximum power up to 500mW, with a sensitivity of 105 dB. The combination of the impedance, power handling, and sensitivity are all calibrated for professional audio devices for things like DJ mixing, console mixing, or headphone amplifying if you’re really feeling it. The Shure’s also come with a carrying bag for portability and a threaded 1/4” (6.3 mm) gold plug adapter for a safe and secure connection. These are the most affordable headphones in our guide, and if you’re looking for some bang for your buck to go easy on the wallet, then grab a pair of the Shure SRH440.
Sennheiser HD 650
Here we have another Senny appearance and for good reason at that, considering this another one of their famous pairs audiophiles and the like tend to drool over. The HD 650 are an open-back, professional pair of studio over-ear headphones that have more positive reviews than we can count. They’re particularly known for the their extremely accurate sound, especially if you’re going to mix and need some reference-friendly phones. Some have even stated they’re just like listening to studio monitors. You’re getting a trustworthy balance of all frequencies with an embellishment of any. In terms of build, they’re rather lightweight but still sturdy enough to give us longevity if you take proper care of them. The high-quality silver and titanium finish ensures us of just that, and the cable is also detachable in case it ever breaks or you’d like to replace it with a longer or shorter one. The Sennheiser HD 650 are truly a work of art if you can afford them.
V-Moda Crossfade M-100
Up next we have one of our more upscale closed-back models in the best over-ear headphones game, the V-Moda Crossfade M-100. In terms of internal build, they’re packed with a 50mm dual-diaphragm driver with inner and outer rings to help deliver a clean deep bass at all frequencies. These headphones have an “Immersive 3D Soundstage” feature to provide your tunes with a lifelike performance feel, or even a more engaging experience if you chose to use them while gaming. The Crossfade’s are crafted with lightweight metal components for easy mobility and “BLISS” memory foam cushions – built to provide you long-lasting comfort and support. The V-Moda M-100 also comes with multiple detachable cables for different settings such as a SharePlay cable (pretty similar to an audio splitter) which can be used to share music or DJ tandem without any adapters, and an “Optional BoomPro” cable that is a pro-grade mic for gaming, to name a few.
Sennheiser HD1 Wireless
Although very hefty when it comes to the price-tag, the HD1 serve as one of the best wireless over-ear headphones if you love to experience music without being bound down by a cable and have some cash at hand. The HD1’s combine hi-definition sound with a lightweight design, created with materials like real leather earcups for support and a positive listening experience. The Sennheiser’s are equipped with the hybrid active “NoiseGard” technology that attenuate ambient noise, as well as an aptX codec which blocks out aural nuance so you’re able to hear the finer details in your tunes. It also comes featured with an integrated microphone and the standard Bluetooth 4.0 technology which allow for wirelessly listening to music or answering calls at the click of a button. If you like the feeling of being cordless and want something supreme and high-end, then the Sennheiser HD1 will serve as one of the best over-ear headphones for you.
A little past halfway in our guide, we take a look at one of the featured models in the M-Series line by Audio-Technica, the ATH-M50x, which has a professional design and studio quality sound that is moderately priced. We’ve lost count at how many times these have made an appearance in one of our headphone guides, and for a very good reason of course. The M50x feature 45 mm large-aperture drivers composed of earth magnets and copper-clad aluminum wire voice coils that provide relatively stable clarity and a solid frequency range (15 – 28,000 Hz) for a all-frequency response. The 90 degree swiveling ear cups design outline the ears for proper sound isolation in the loudest of environments – making these one of the best options for monitoring, studio tracking, and DJing. The ear cups and headband are composed of pro-grade material, in which they are durable and comfortable enough for your long studio sessions or live shows. They are collapsible for easy storing when traveling, and come with detachable cables in 3 different sizes so you can have the right cable for right setting. The Audio-Technica M50x can be one of the best over-ear headphones for a studio or live setting, and sit in the middle price-point of guide. The user reviews don’t lie.
AKG K 701
Here we get a feel of the K701 by the famous AKG, one of the best and most famous over-ear headphones for studio referencing. These open-back headphones use flat-wire coil technology to give you a true, accurate sound, and AKG’s Varimotion technology two-layer diaphragm which supplies high and precise response – necessities when you are grinding in the studio or really any time you want a true listening experience. The K 701’s have a self-adjusting leather headband with 3D-form earpads for optimal support and comfort. They also come with a bi-wiring, high performance cable for adequate channel separation, while ensuring a flat frequency response from 10 Hz – 39.8 kHz which is well beyond what a human can catch from the naked ear. The headphone’s sensitivity is 105 dB, while the power handling is up to 200 mW – both very strong for the price you are paying. The AKG K 701 is the complete package for studio reference headphones, and if you’re looking for some good return on your investment, grab this pick as the best over-ear headphones and you will not be disappointed.
Sennheiser HD 600
These last two pairs we will talk about happen to be our high-end models in this guide. First is the Sennheiser HD 600, which is one of the best over-ear headphones for the true audiophile. Sennheiser’s HD 600 are composed of high-quality open metal grills which deliver very solid transparent sound, and aluminum voice coils to ensure the transient response gives music a true meaning. The advanced diaphragm design helps prevent any sound leakage, acoustic disturbances, and also eliminates standing waves – all providing crisp audio. These headphones also have a computer optimized magnet system to minimize harmonic distortion on any tracks. The HD 600’s are fairly lightweight, and have a detachable, copper cable for mobility if you were ever to travel with them. Although these Sennheiser HD 600 are for the ultimate hi-fi enthusiast, they can also be used by mastering engineers due to their advanced construction and durable finish. Their sound is unmatched and has been proven after years of use by many audio enthusiasts around the world.
Bose QuietComfort 35
Finally at the end of our guide, we peep a pair of Bose headphones. The Bose QuietComfort 35 are the best over-ear headphones for people who like the wireless and noise cancelling aspects. The QuiteComfort 35 allow you to escape from the world by just clicking the active noise cancelling setting which fades out all outside noise for an isolating experience — which may be necessary if you are ever traveling or studying. These Bose are made to withstand your on-the-go lifestyle; designed with impact-resistant materials, glass-filled nylon, and corrosion-resistant stainless steel. Don’t worry – they didn’t forget to make the headband and ear pads comfy, as they are built with synthetic protein leather for long-lasting comfort and support – nothing worse than having your ears hurt from headphones after a long study session. Bose sets the industry benchmark when it comes to technology and comfort, so if you have a larger budget, get the Bose QuietComfort 35. They’re the hottest ANC pairs of over-ear headphones in the market right now, although a bit high in price.