Earbuds and other small in-ear headphones may be well-suited for listening to music and podcasts on the go, but if you’re looking for full-spectrum sound and superior noise isolation, a solid pair of one of the best over-ear headphones is the only way to go. Over-ear headphones have comfortable, securely-fitting designs and pack convenient features like noise cancellation, long battery life, and wireless connectivity to elevate your listening experience whether you’re commuting, working, working out, or just relaxing. In this article, I’ll highlight a few of the best over-ear headphones currently available and break down a few things to look for when buying your next pair.
— Best Overall: Apple AirPods Max
— Best Wired: beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro
— Best For Working Out: Beats Studio3 Wireless Headphones
— Best Noise-Canceling: Sony WH-1000XM4
— Best Budget: Soundcore Life Q30
How We Chose the Best Over-Ear Headphones
Over-ear headphones have come a very long way since they first appeared at the turn of the 20th century — now, they’re wireless devices with well-rounded sound and noise-canceling capabilities. When compiling our list, we looked at a few key criteria of modern designs to determine the best over-ear headphones for every type of user.
Sound: The most important aspect of a pair of headphones is the sound that it delivers. This list consists of over-ear headphones that are predominantly oriented for everyday consumer listening; i.e., heavy bass boost and an exciting, present high-end that helps listeners maintain a high degree of immersion and engagement with listening material. Some of the over-ear headphones on this list have exaggerated sound and even user-customizable sound, while others are oriented toward audio professionals and have an almost aggressively neutral and honest sound.
Noise-Cancelling: Noise-canceling tech brings over-ear headphones to new heights of performance by drowning out environmental noise and delivering audio to users’ ears with improved clarity. Nearly every item on this list features an active noise-canceling mode except for the wired choice, the beyerdynamic DT 1990 PRO, which is best suited for studio use rather than use in the outside world.
Battery Life: Wireless over-ear headphones are only as good as the batteries they hold, so we made sure to select over-ear headphones with single-charge battery life of at least 20 hours where applicable. Not only does longer battery life ensure that headphones are more likely to be ready when users need them, but it can also make the difference between a high-performing pair of wireless headphones and a non-functioning paperweight.
Form and Fit: The best over-ear headphones have a snug-yet-comfortable fit that can be adjusted for the needs of a variety of users. When compiling this list, we took care to select over-ear headphones that deliver minimum fatigue to users’ ears and heads while ensuring that each selection maintained a secure fit to prevent sliding during use.
We further explain how we test audio gear here.
The Best Over-Ear Headphones: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: Apple AirPods Max
Why They Made The Cut: The Apple AirPods Max are a feature-rich pair of over ear headphones with a great balance of style and sound quality.
— Weight: 13.6 ounces
— Sound Profile: Flat with scooped highs; adaptive EQ
— Battery Life: 20 hours
— Stylish and comfortable design with five color options
— Balanced and accurate frequency response with a wide soundstage
— Chip-assisted adaptive EQ
— Relatively heavy; not ideal for workouts
— Lacks a 3.5-millimeter wired connector option
Despite sharing a name with Apple’s ubiquitous small-stemmed earbuds, the AirPods Max are an entirely unique pair of over-ear headphones that pack wireless connectivity and a balanced full-spectrum sound in a stylish package. Like their earbud-shaped siblings, the AirPods Max feature Apple’s unique Adaptive EQ feature, which automatically adjusts the headphones’ sound and EQ (equalization) curve according to the particular fit and seal on users’ heads. Along with a 20-hour battery life, dynamic head tracking, and a hear-through transparency mode, the AirPods Max have a flat and neutral sonic profile that makes them one of the most well-rounded and versatile over-ear headphones on the market for every type of listening.
Weighing in at 13.6 ounces, the AirPods Max aren’t exactly the lightest over-ear headphones out there. If you’re looking for a lighter over-ear option that stays snug during workouts, the Beats Studio3 Wireless Headphones may be a better choice. The AirPods Max are also relatively pricey thanks to their build quality, feature set, and style factor, so that’s something to consider depending on how and where you plan to use them. One last limitation to note is the AirPods Max’s lack of 3.5-millimeter audio port, which means that you’ll need some type of Bluetooth bridge to use them with older audio equipment.
Best Wired: beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro
Why They Made The Cut: Comfortable, customizable ear pads and an airy open-back design make the DT 1990 Pro one of the best over-ear headphones currently available for critical applications like mixing and mastering.
— Weight: 13 ounces
— Sound Profile: Present bass and gently lifted highs
— Battery Life: N/A
— Pro-grade, high-spec design for critical audio editing
— Comfortable earpads encourage long-term use
— Very broad and accurate frequency response
— TRS plug requires adapter for use via Lightning and USB-C
— Pricey, though not beyond what you’d expect for pro audio gear
— Open-back design leaks sound despite being more accurate
Audiophiles and professional audio editors looking to get the most fidelity and accuracy from their system will be hard-pressed to find a better choice of wired over-ear headphones than the beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro. While they cost nearly double the AirPods Max and outprice every other pair of headphones on this list, the DT 1990 Pro’s build quality, feature set, and meticulous accuracy make them a relative bargain in the pro audio world.
The beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro headphones come with two sets of swappable earpads: one tailored for critical and analytical listening, and the other tailored to deliver a more sculpted sound that’s ideal for listening to your favorite music. This customizability makes the DT 1990 Pro equally appealing for discerning audio professionals and enthusiasts alike, granting users of every type access to the headphones’ extended and detailed frequency response.
As a pair of wired over-ear headphones, the DT 1990 Pro aren’t capable of connectivity via Bluetooth. In fact, they’re limited to 3.5-millimeter and quarter-inch TRS connections, so you’ll need an adapter to use them with Lightning devices. They’re also designed with open-back construction, which prevents frequencies from building up and resonating within the housing itself. Overall, this makes for a more accurate listening experience, but it means that some sound will inevitably leak into the room, making them less ideal for quiet or shared spaces. This item is available refurbished on Amazon for $499.99 ($50 less expensive)
Best For Working Out: Beats Studio3 Wireless Headphones
Why They Made The Cut: The Beats Studio3 are some of the lightest over-ear wireless headphones in their class and feature a firm grip to keep them secure during strenuous workouts.
— Weight: 9.17 ounces
— Sound Profile: Bass boost with sculpted mids and highs
— Battery Life: 22 hours
— Super lightweight for unencumbered movement
— Long-lasting 22-hour battery life in noise-canceling mode
— Includes 3.5-millimeter cable and hard case
— Good build quality, but feels fragile due to low weight
— Firm fit may become uncomfortable over long periods
— Lacks sound customization options
If you’re looking for the best headphones for working out but crave a more secure alternative to earbuds, the Beats Studio3 are definitely worth a look. Despite being a fully over-ear design with a headband, they weigh in at a paltry 9.17 ounces, making them suitable for use during a variety of activities. They also feature a sculpted wide-spectrum frequency response with boosted bass for a more immersive listening experience and louder volumes. A snug, adjustable fit keeps them secure around your head without limiting your movement, and their 22-hour battery life allows them to stay charged between multiple workouts, too.
The sound of the Beats Studio3 is full-bodied and heavy on the bass, which makes them particularly suited for listening to hip-hop, electronica, and any other style of music that can get you hyped for your workout. The only downside to this is the Studio3’s lack of EQ customization, which means that you’re limited to the native EQ on your streaming app or music device if you want to make any adjustments. The Studio3 is also equipped for fully wireless playback via Bluetooth, but they also include a 3.5-millimeter TRS audio cable for compatibility with older devices if you’re still rocking an older-gen iPod or other MP3 player. This item is available refurbished on Amazon for $499.99 ($50 less expensive)
Best Noise-Cancelling: Sony WH-1000XM4
Why They Made The Cut: The Sony WH-1000XM4 packs a robust combination of stylish design, long battery life, and industry-leading noise cancellation to make a well-rounded pair of premium over-ear headphones.
— Weight: 9 ounces
— Sound Profile: Bass heavy; customizable
— Battery Life: 30 hours
— Lightweight design with quick and easy Bluetooth pairing
— Five internal microphones for high-fidelity noise cancellation and voice capture
— Long 30-hour battery life and automatic wear detection
— Capacitive touch controls can be triggered accidentally
— Heavy reliance on app control
— Speak-to-chat implementation is somewhat unreliable
A dedicated pair of noise-canceling headphones can be indispensable for staying focused during noisy commutes or while working in loud and crowded places, and the Sony WH-1000XM4 delivers some of the best noise-cancelling performance available in the over-ear headphone category hands-down. Available in three matte finishes and featuring a super-light design, the WH-1000XM4 has a long 30-hour single-charge battery life and offers incredibly thorough noise cancellation across the entire sound spectrum thanks to its array of five built-in mics. The headphones can pair to two devices at a time via Bluetooth, making them a good choice for moving between your phone and computer without missing a beat. They also feature a very powerful and bass-heavy EQ curve that’s great for immersive listening, but users can adjust this to taste via the Sony smartphone app too.
One drawback of the Sony WH-1000XM4 is that its heavy emphasis on high-tech features can sometimes get in the way of the user experience. For example, nearly all functions of the headphones — from simple device pairing to EQ customization — must take place within a mobile app on your smartphone. While the interface itself is fairly intuitive and can be great for tech-savvy users, it does make for a clunky workflow, particularly for users who want to use the headphones with a computer. The headphones’ touch controls perform in a similar way, inviting users to interact with a streamlined, button-free interface that’s unfortunately less suited for precise control than a traditional design. Also, the WH-1000XM4’s speak-to-chat function is designed to automatically pause your music whenever you speak, but it can be triggered easily by ambient noise. To be clear, the sound quality and noise cancellation of the Sony WH-1000XM4 is second-to-none — just be prepared for a small learning curve when you’re getting started. This item is available refurbished on Amazon for $257.97 ($90 less expensive)
Best Budget: Soundcore Life Q30
Why They Made The Cut: The only thing more surprising than the Soundcore Life Q30’s impressive battery life and sound quality is its sub-$100 price tag.
— Weight: 9.3 ounces
— Sound Profile: Bass heavy with treble boost; customizable
— Battery Life: 40 hours
— Extended 40-hour battery life
— Best bang-for-your-buck active noise canceling performance
— Customizable EQ via the app
— Build and fit lack premium feel of durability and stability
— Low-fidelity sound from built-in mic
— Transparency mode isn’t very well-executed
If you’re looking to spend under $100 on the best over-ear headphones for your money, the Soundcore Life Q30 are one of the most appealing options available, thanks to their loaded feature set and incredibly long battery life. In active noise-cancelling mode, the Q30 successfully blocks sound from nearly every part of the spectrum including the notoriously difficult bass range, making them a great choice for achieving high isolation performance on a budget. They have a sculpted EQ curve that’s ready-made for dance music and other energetic audio material, but users can customize and fine-tune the headphones’ sound via a smartphone app as well.
While the Soundcore Life Q30 offers incredible value for their price, their somewhat plasticky build quality can leave something to be desired if you’re looking for a more durable or premium fit and finish. Their low cost is particularly apparent when considering the sound of the built-in microphone, which sounds thin and one-dimensional when compared to the full, lifelike sound of a premium set like the Song WH-1000XM4. Also, other advanced features like the Q30’s “transparency mode” often don’t function as intended, resulting in drastic volume changes and erroneous muting in noisy environments. If you’re looking for reliability and durability, you might want to spend a bit more on something like the Beats Studio3 or the Sony WH-1000XM4, but if you’re on a budget, the Soundcore Life Q30 is absolutely the best option on the market in its price range.
Things to Consider Before Buying Over-Ear Headphones
Wired vs. Wireless
Wireless Bluetooth connectivity is more or less the norm these days, but if you’re looking to play music from an older MP3 player, iPod, or even a computer that doesn’t have Bluetooth capability, you’ll need a pair of over-ear headphones with 3.5-millimeter wired capability. Many of today’s best over-ear headphones include 3.5-millimeter cables for optional wired functionality, but some of the market’s leading models like the Apple AirPods Max do not. If you want a mix of Bluetooth and traditional wired functionality, the Beats Studio3, Sony WH-1000XM4, and the Soundcore Life Q30 are all excellent options.
Unlike consumer headphones, which typically alter the sound of audio and other musical material to make it more lively, present, and punchy for the active listener, the best over-ear headphones for audio editing have a balanced, neutral, and unaffected sound that gives listeners the most accurate and unbiased representation of the source material. Over-ear headphones like the beyerdynamic DT 1990 PRO offer a perfect example of a flat and neutral sound that’s ideal for critical listening and editing purposes.
Active noise cancellation, often abbreviated as ANC, is a fairly common feature found in over-ear headphones and some in-ear headphones. By actively listening to the users’ environment and canceling out ambient noise, noise-cancelling headphones elevate the traditional isolating function of headphones to new heights. Not all over-ear headphones feature active noise cancelling, but you can find the feature in every price bracket from the budget Soundcore Life Q30 all the way to the premium Apple AirPods Max.
Q: How much do over-ear headphones cost?
The best over-ear headphones cost anywhere from below $100 to above $500. Surprisingly, there may not be much difference in features like noise-cancellation or battery life between the cheapest and most expensive options; the difference in price is usually reflected in build quality, style, durability, and overall flexibility in real-world use scenarios.
Q: Which headphones have the best sound quality?
Sound quality is a rather subjective concept, but in the case of headphones, sound quality can be broken down into elements like frequency response, EQ customization, noise-cancellation performance, and overall context of use. The Sony WH-1000XM4 has some of the best noise-cancelling performance on the market, which makes their audio clearer and fuller during playback. On the other hand, the Apple AirPods Max features an adaptive EQ design that optimizes the sound quality for each user’s ears, head, and fit shape. If you’re an audio professional, the sound quality of the beyerdynamic DT 1990 PRO is probably more your speed, because it’s incredibly flat and neutral.
Q: Which is more comfortable: on-ear or over-ear headphones?
Over-ear headphones are generally more comfortable than on-ear headphones, simply because over-ear designs cup around and cushion your ears. Like the above question, though, this is a fairly subjective question; on-ear headphones rest somewhat awkwardly against the surface of your ear, but they’re less prone to overheating.
Q: How do you recycle over ear headphones?
Over-ear headphones should be treated the same as any piece of electronic waste and taken to a proper e-waste recycling facility. Some municipalities have dedicated programs for e-waste collection, while other locales may require you to drop off e-waste at a specific location. As a rule of thumb, you should always check the official website of your state or city to find out how to recycle over-ear headphones and other electronic waste.
Q: What are over-ear headphones good for?
Over-ear headphones are good for listening to bass-heavy music and other complex material with a high level of sonic fidelity and high sound levels. They’re the ideal design for noise-cancelling headphones due to their inherent isolating capabilities, and they’re also the design of choice in the pro audio industry due to their dynamic range.
Q: Are over ear headphones safer than in-ear?
All types of headphones deliver high sound volumes directly to your ears, but over-ear headphones are safer than in-ear headphones due to their relative distance from the eardrum and overall more diffused sound delivery. In general, it’s extremely important to limit headphone use to low and medium volumes for short periods to protect your ears. This is more difficult to accomplish with in-ear headphones, which use smaller speaker drivers and higher volumes to deliver a more direct and focused sound to your eardrum and increase the risk of hearing damage.
Q: Can I recycle my old Bluetooth headphones?
You can recycle your old Bluetooth headphones, but determining where will depend on the availability of governmental or community programs near you or whether the company you purchased it from has an in-house recycling program. Here’s more about how to recycle electronics.
Final Thoughts on Over-Ear Headphones
Over-ear headphones are the best design to choose if you’re looking for high-performance sound isolation and audio quality. The Apple AirPods Max is a stylish and well-rounded example of the best over-ear headphones currently available, but if you want something a little less expensive or require 3.5-millimeter connectivity, the Beats Studio3 is a satisfactory alternative. If high-performance noise-canceling is your priority, the Sony WH-1000XM4 are some of the best noise-canceling over-ear headphones currently available thanks to their five-microphone array. Audio editors should look to the beyerdynamic DT 1990 PRO for the best over-ear headphones for audio editing, mixing, and mastering thanks to their incredibly comfortable design and super-flat response. If you’re on a budget but still want some of the best noise-canceling performance available, the Soundcore Life Q30 may be just what you need.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.