The best over-ear headphones, Bar None
Best Over-Ear Headphones Buying Guide: Welcome to the best over-ear headphones you can buy in 2018.
When it comes to raw sound quality, nothing beats the sense of scale a pair of decent over-ear headphones can provide.
Over-ear headphones are some of the most diverse headphones out there, and this guide focusses on those with the best sound quality. Features like wireless operation and noise-cancellation are increasingly essential, but we like to address those form-factors specifically with our best wireless headphones and best noise-cancelling headphones guides specifically.
This guide, meanwhile, will focus on sound quality above all else. There are a couple of wireless and noise-cancelling equipped choices in our list, but that’s only because they sound great in addition to packing these features.
1. Oppo PM-3
BEST SOUND: Closed back planar magnetic headphones from the gods
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 0.71 pounds | Cable length: 9.8 ft or 3.9 ft | Frequency response: 10-50,000Hz | Drivers: 55mm | Driver type: Planar Magnetic | Sensitivity: 102dB | Impedance: 26 ohms | Battery life: N/A | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: N/A
- +Stunning sound quality
- +Great isolation
- -Faux leather earpads
- -Less precision than open-back cans
The Oppo PM-3’s are a truly stunning pair of headphones. Make no mistake, we’ve reviewed a lot of headphones in the last 10 years but none have we become more fond of than the PM-3.
Better still, since the headphones were first released they’ve seen continual reductions in price, which has kept them competitive over the years.
Yes, they’re wired, and noise-cancellation is completely absent, but if the best overall sound quality is your aim then the Oppo PM-3’s offer the best performance around.
We really can’t recommend them highly enough, they’re just amazing.
2. Philips Fidelio X2
BEST VALUE: Brilliant headphones for a brilliant price
Acoustic design: Open | Weight: .85 pounds | Cable length: 9.8 feet | Frequency response: 5-40,000Hz | Drivers: Two 1.9″ speakers | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: 100 dB @ 1mW | Impedance: 30 Ohm | Battery life: N/A | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: N/A
- +Brilliant sound
- +Superb value
- -Lacks extras
The Philips Fidelio X2’s are a superb pair of headphones offering premium comfort and build quality with a sound that rivals even the most vaunted audiophile cans. Perhaps on sheer sound quality they’re a notch off the likes of the top Oppo or Sennheiser offerings – but the fact that you’d be saving vast amounts of cash by opting for the Philips is just a no brainer.
3. Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pro
FOR ENTRY-LEVEL AUDIOPHILES: Recording studio pedigree, at a price
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 1.5 pounds | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: 5-40,000Hz | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: N/A | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: N/A
- +Beautifully crafted soundscape
- +Sleek design
- -They’re a bit bulky
The Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pros are a stunning pair of headphones. Are they expensive? To some no, to most yes; but for the sheer listening experience they deliver you’d be hard pressed to take them off after putting them on, even using them with portable HRA players and mobile phones.
That said, they really do push the boundaries of what you can do with a dynamic driver. All praise to Beyerdynamic for putting together such a wonderful product.
4. Sennheiser HD 800
THE GOLD WINNER: The Sennheiser HD800 is the headphones fit for kings
Acoustic design: Open | Weight: 330g | Cable length: 3m | Frequency response: 14 – 44,100 Hz | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: 300 ohm | Battery life: N/A | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: N/A
- +Sounds simply superb in every way
- +Beautifully balanced
- +Incredibly detailed
- +Comfort is excellent
- -Undeniably expensive
The fourth entry on our list easily could’ve been the first if it didn’t cost well over $1,000/£1,000. The Sennheiser HD 800 are, hands down, one of the best-sounding pairs of over-ear headphones on the planet, affectionately praised by inner circles of audiophiles the world over. When paired with the proper hardware, they sound absolutely excellent – balanced in every way.
Unfortunately, they’re supremely expensive and require more audio equipment than the average consumer is ready to buy. Should you find yourself in need – or, let’s be honest, in want – of amazing over-ear headphones, these are them.
5. Focal Listen
THE FRENCH ALTERNATIVE: Some of the best high-end headphones that don’t destroy the bank
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 0.60lb (273g) | Cable length: 4.60ft (1.4m) | Frequency response: 15 – 22,000Hz | Drivers: 137/64“ (40mm) Mylar/Titanium | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: 122dB SPL @ 1kHz – / 1Vrms | Impedance: 32 Ohms | Battery life: N/A | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: N/A
- +Excellent build quality
- +Rich, balanced sound
- +Great noise isolation
- -Awkward remote
Overall, the Focal Listen offer a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience. They offer stellar balance, build quality and understated design – and while they may not be as high resolution as the Pioneer SE-MHR5 and other headphones capable of High-Res Audio playback, their sound-to-dollar ratio is impressive.
At $250 (£150, AU$329), however, they’re not cheap but you actually get a lot for your money (see: sound and build quality). Should Focal continue to pump out cans that provide balanced sound and top-notch build quality at an affordable price, audiophiles might look more and more in the French company’s direction.
6. Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature
ULTRA-PREMIUM: The B&W P9 Signature is all about the sound quality
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 413 g | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: 2 – 30,000Hz | Drivers: 1.6 inch (40mm) Mylar/Titanium | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: 111dB SPL @ 1kHz – / 1Vrms | Impedance: 22 Ohms | Battery life: N/A | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: N/A
- +Exceptional level of detail
- +Clarity across the whole range
- +Comfortable for long periods
- -Premium price tag
The B&W P9 Signatures are simply some of the best-sounding headphones we’ve ever used. They have a tight, refined sound that offers an almost unmatched level of detail.
That said, the fact remains that they’re a comparatively feature-light pair of cans. If you want to spend less then you can get a much more portable pair that’ll be better suited to the morning commute or a plane ride thanks to additional features like noise-cancellation and Bluetooth connectivity.
But, if you’re looking to invest in a seriously high-quality pair of headphones to listen to a high-quality music collection, then there are few that can match the P9s at this price point.
7. Sony MDR-1000XM2
FEATURE-PACKED: Cans that offer the whole package
- +Great-sounding audio
- +30-hour battery life
- -Hinges are fragile
- -Touch controls
An improvement on Sony’s existing flagship, the Sony MDR-1000XM2 sound great, pack excellent noise-cancellation, and manage to do this all wirelessly.
Other headphones offer better sound quality, longer-range wireless connectivity, or better battery life, but the Sony MDR-1000XM2 manage to offer the best balance of features and performance.
It’s also got a couple of interesting tricks up its sleeve like a selective noise-cancellation mode that lets in certain useful sounds, and a shortcut that allows you to quickly hear what’s going on around you.
Offering all of this without a serious price-premium over the competition means the Sony MDR-1000XM2 are a great choice for on-the-go music listeners.
8. Audio-Technica ATH-SR5BT
HEY GOOD LOOKING: These over-ear headphones bring both performance and value
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: .64 pounds | Cable length: 3.9 feet | Frequency response: 5-40,000Hz | Drivers: Two 1.7″ drivers | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: 100 dB | Impedance: 35 ohm | Battery life: 40 hours | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: No
- +Stellar battery life
- +Balanced sound
- +Wired mode sounds even better
- -Highs can be too energetic
Audiophiles typically shun wireless headphones because of poor sound quality. However, Bluetooth audio has improved tremendously over the years. There are now plenty of wireless headphones that can please the music enthusiast, with Hi-Res Audio support being more and more prevalent.
That said, the Audio-Technica ATH-SR5BT feature some of the best wired and wireless sound quality for a headphone under $200 (£150). They play well with all music genres and offer a near-flat response curve. They’re extremely comfortable for long listening sessions and are well built. Battery life is equally impressive with nearly 40 hours of playback from a charge. And while they lack some features of more expensive wireless headphones like active noise cancelling and multi-device pairing, these are tradeoffs worth making for phenomenal sound.
9. Sennheiser Momentum Wireless
WIRELESS CHAMP: Incredible audio fidelity backed by a serious price
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: N/A | Cable length: 4.6 feet | Frequency response: 16-22,000Hz | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: 28 ohms | Battery life: 25+ hours | Wireless range: 30+ feet | NFC: Yes
- +Best-in-class sound
- +Everlasting battery life
- -Finicky multi-function button
- -Terribly pricey
These no-holds-barred wireless headphones are oozing with positive qualities, but for many, they’re almost prohibitively expensive. However, if you’re an audio lover that can spare the expense, do not hesitate on this comfortable, hard-working set of headphones that will likely last for years.
10. Bose QuietComfort 35 II
NOISE CANCELLING WONDERS: Bose cut the wires off its flagship cans with great success
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 0.68 pounds | Cable length: 3.94 feet | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 20+ hours | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: Yes
- +Class-leading noise-cancellation
- +Incredibly comfortable
- -Plain design
- -Not the most detailed sound
After cutting the wires off its flagship cans with the Bose QC35 headphones, Bose’s QC35 II are a slightly more minor upgrade. This time the big addition is Google Assistant, which can be summoned with the press of a button.
Otherwise these are more or less the same headphones that we enjoyed the first time around. The QC35s aren’t the best sounding out there, but their noise-cancellation is class-leading and if that’s your priority then they’re a great choice.