TL;DR – These are the Best Over Ear Headphones:
- Audio-Technica ATH-M50x
- Tascam TH-02
- Sennheiser’s HD 800S
- Sony WH-1000XM3
- Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2
- Mpow H5
- HiFiMAN HE-400i
- Sennheiser HD 600
- Sony MDR-7506
- Razer Opus
1. Audio-Technica ATH-M50x
Best Over Ear Headphones
If you’ve ever dipped your toe into the headphone pool before, you’ve probably heard of Audio-Technica’s long-revered ATH-M50x. There’s a good reason these $150 cans come so highly recommended: they’re great for a first foray into high-quality headphones, with terrific build quality, fantastic sound, and a price tag that doesn’t break the bank.
While they’re billed as studio headphones, they do have a bit of oomph in the bass and treble department, making for a really fun sound signature that appeals to fans of rock, rap, electronic, and other high-energy genres. (They also do a good job of isolating outside noise, which is great if you’re in a room with other people.)
2. Tascam TH-02
Best Budget Over Ear Headphones
Over-ear headphones don’t come much cheaper than this, but the Tascam TH-02 come from a reputable brand in the audio industry. With the TH-02, you’ll be getting a large, 50mm driver in each ear for a full sound. The frequency response from 18Hz up to 22kHz means the headphones will be able play back everything you’ll want to hear.
The closed back design can help you block out external sounds, so you just hear your music when you’re on the go. And, the low impedance will let you easily power the drivers with the headphone jack on a laptop, tablet, or smartphone.
3. Sennheiser HD 800 S
The Ultimate Audiophile Experience
Headphones can range in price from $15 to $1,500, and if you have money to burn, the higher end of that spectrum gets you a real treat for your ears. While there are a few incredible sets of headphones on the high end, Sennheiser’s HD 800S are often seen as the high-water mark of consumer audiophile cans.
They have an insanely open soundstage, giving you some of the most natural sounding audio you’ll ever hear, and adhere to a flat sound signature better than the vast majority of headphones out there. They aren’t cheap, you’ll need an amplifier to drive them, and many people probably won’t even like the way they sound, but for true purists, it doesn’t get much better. And hey, the price could be worse—Sennheiser makes a $60,000 set, too.
4. Sony WH-1000XM3
Best Noise-Cancelling Over Ear Headphones
While many over ear headphones can isolate you from outside noise, some include extra circuitry for active noise cancellation. This allows you to truly drown out the world around you, listening to your music as if you were in a quiet room. And while there are lots of noise cancelling headphones out there, Sony’s WH-1000XM3 is the current champion when it comes to sound quality and noise cancelling power.
Not only that, but they’re also wireless, come with touch controls, allow for voice controls, and even have a cool feature where you can hear the outside world by putting your hand over the right ear cup. For $300, that’s a pretty incredible package.
They do, however, have a problem in very cold weather with false touch inputs. If you live in a cold climate, former reigning champions Bose offer a good alternative with the similarly priced QuietComfort 35 II. Or you can go with increasingly rare Sony WH-H900N, which doesn’t suffer from cold weather problems, but has weaker noise cancelling.
5. Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2
Best Wireless Over Ear Headphones
Most of the headphones on this list are wired, because when it comes to straight-up audio quality, you get more for your money with a wired headphone (since it’s cheaper to manufacture than wireless).
But if you’re diving headfirst into this brave new headphone jack-less world, there are some great wireless options out there too. The Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 are a great choice for under $150, with a bit of extra bass and convenient on-ear controls—and without a bunch of extra features that inflate the price. They do have active noise cancelling, though, and while it isn’t quite on the level of the Sony WH-1000XM3 mentioned above, it’s a nice bonus.
If noise cancelling is your prime concern and you have the money, Sony’s offering is a good step up, but if you just want a pair of wireless cans that offers great value for your money, Planatronics has you covered.
6. Mpow H5
Best Budget Wireless Over Ear Headphones
For an even more affordable wireless option, Mpow has an entire line of budget-oriented headphones, with the Mpow M5 coming in as one of the most popular wireless sets around. They feel surprisingly nice for $50 headphones, and while they don’t have quite sound quality, battery life, or noise cancelling quality of the BackBeat Pro 2, they’re still better than a lot of headphones in the $50 price range.
Like the BackBeat Pro 2, they also allow you to plug in a 3.5mm cable if they run out of battery, so you can keep listening in wired mode until you get a chance to charge up. Again, they aren’t going to sound as good as similarly-priced wired headphones, but there’s a convenience factor that some people just can’t pass up, and I get that.
7. HiFiMAN HE-400i
A Planar Magnetic Option
All the headphones on this list thus far use “dynamic” drivers: a small coil receives a signal from your computer, phone, or other device, which creates a magnetic field that reacts with a magnet to vibrate a diaphragm and create sound. Planar magnetic headphones use a different driver design, with magnets on either side of the thin, flat diaphragm. Without getting insanely technical, this allows for more natural bass extension and less harmonic distortion. However, these types of drivers are more expensive to produce, so there’s less variety than there is in dynamic driver-based headphones, and planar magnetic cans tend to be a big bigger and heavier.
Planars are becoming more popular, though, with the $190 HiFiMAN HE-400i a common entry point. It’s one of those things you kind of have to hear to understand, so if you just haven’t found a pair of headphones that fits your tastes, give some planar magnetics a listen. You might become a convert.
8. Sennheiser HD 600
Flat and Open-Backed at a Reasonable Price
If you want audiophile-grade sound but don’t want to spend a thousand dollars (or more) for something like the HD 800 S, Sennheiser’s HD 600 are one of my personal favorite headphones of all time, priced at $300.
You get a natural-but-not-huge soundstage, along with a comfortable fit and that signature high-quality sound Sennheiser is known for. Note, however, that you probably will need an amplifier to drive these 300 ohm headphones to get the most out of them, so factor something like the JDS Labs Objective2 or Schiit Magni 3 into your total cost.
It’s also worth mentioning the HD600’s siblings, the HD 599 (which is a step down at $150), HD 650 (which sound slightly warmer for a similar price at $320), and the new HD 660 S (which has a brighter sound for $500). And that’s not even to mention Sennheiser’s Drop.com models, the HD 58X and HD 6XX, which are roughly equivalent to the 660 S and 650, respectively, at much lower prices (when they’re available). There are rumors circulating that the HD600 and HD650 have been discontinued, but multiple Sennheiser reps confirmed to me that they’re still alive and kicking.
9. Sony MDR-7506
More Natural Sounding
If you walk into a recording studio, radio station, or other professional audio environment, there’s a good chance you’ll see Sony’s $90 MDR-7506 on someone’s head. It’s been a staple in professional audio for decades, and there’s a good reason why: for a remarkably affordable price, you get a solidly built pair of headphones with fantastic sound quality. The Sony MDR-7506’s “flat” frequency response will also allow you to hear the music close to the way it was originally recorded, rather than with extra slammin’ bass or super-sparkly treble.
However, they don’t isolate quite as well as the M50x, and they aren’t exactly fashionable, but they’re very comfortable and sound great. You really can’t go wrong with these.
10. Razer Opus
Wireless THX Sound
The Razer Opus headset will check a lot of boxes for headphone shoppers, and support for true THX sound is one of them. The headset was built to THX specifications, and it delivers on frequency response, minimal distortion, and noise isolation. It goes even further to cut down on external sounds with active noise cancellation. Of course, when a headset does this much to erase your surroundings, you can easily toggle on and off ambient sound mode to hear what’s around you.
You’ll find plenty of memory foam cushioning inside the Razer Opus, so you can stay comfortable even if you want to wear it for a long time to truly test the 24-hour battery life. When it comes time to charge the battery back up, you can do so with a modern USB-C cable. And for connectivity, you can enjoy the best of both worlds with both Bluetooth and wired audio.
What to look for in a pair of Over Ear Headphones
You might think narrowing your search down to “over ear headphones” would help make the decision process easier, but there are still a ton of things to consider when buying a pair for yourself. A few of the most important include:
Sound: First, and most importantly, you want a pair of headphones that sounds good. Some aspects of sound are subjective, like the sound signature, which refers to how balanced the bass, midrange, and treble are. Some people may prefer a “flat” signature that’s closer to the artist’s intention, while others may prefer heavy bass, or a “v-shaped” frequency response that boosts the bass and treble for a livelier feel.
Other things about sound quality are more objective. It’s possible, for example to have bass-heavy headphones with low-quality sound (where the bass is overly boomy) or high-quality sound (where the bass is tight, punchy, and doesn’t completely drown out the rest of your music). If things sound distorted, harsh, or muddy, that’s usually an indication of lower quality headphones. Higher quality headphones sound better, but also cost more, so it’s all about balancing your ears with your budget.
Comfort: Some headphones feel like a cloud on your head, with plush ear pads and a headband that you barely notice is there. Others clamp down hard, squeezing your brain like it’s in a vice and putting undue pressure on the top of your skull.
Most are somewhere in between.
If you plan on wearing your headphones for long stretches—like multi-hour gaming sessions—you’ll want to make sure you get something that stays comfortable long-term. There are a few things that can help—for example, you can replace pleather ear pads with velour-style pads to keep your ears from getting hot—but sometimes you just have to try a pair for yourself. Make sure you put a set of headphones through its paces within that return period, so you don’t end up with a headache and buyer’s remorse.
Open-backed headphones sound more natural and airy but leak sound both ways…
Open- or closed-backed: The ear cups of your headphone can either be open, allowing air to pass through them, or closed, creating a more sealed housing. Open-backed headphones have a more natural, airy sound, but leak sound both ways—you can hear everything going on around you, and people sitting next to you can hear your music. That makes them less than ideal for commuting, offices, and libraries, but makes them great for critical listening at home.
Closed-backed headphones, on the other hand, tend to have a more limited soundstage, but are great for emphasizing bass. (That’s not to say all closed-backed headphones are bass monsters with limited soundstages, but you get the idea). Most importantly, closed headphones keep other people from hearing your music and isolate you from outside noise. Both types of headphones can be great, so buy what sounds good to you and fits your use case.
Closed-backed headphones tend to have a more limited soundstage, but emphasize bass
Wired or wireless: Mobile device manufacturers may be trying to slowly pummel the headphone jack into submission, but wired headphones are still around and kicking. All other things kept equal, wired headphones will be cheaper than their wireless counterparts, and don’t come with some of the connection problems and none of the battery life limitations that wireless headphones come with. Still, wireless headphones can be mighty convenient if you’re out and about, as long as you can charge them regularly—just be prepared to shell out a bit more for a quality pair.
Active noise cancellation: If closed-back noise isolation isn’t enough for you, some headphones also come with active noise cancellation, which uses clever frequency trickery to cancel out noise around you.
It doesn’t work for all sound—it’s better with consistent noise like the drone of an airplane—but it can be mighty useful. That said, it can also make some people uncomfortable or give them headaches, so you may have to experiment with different headphones and levels of cancellation to find something that works right for you.
Impedance: Most of the headphones on this list have an impedance of 32Ω (ohms) or less, meaning they’ll work great with a laptop, phone, or tablet—just plug it in and press play. Once you get into audiophile-grade stuff over a couple hundred dollars, though, you’ll start to see more high-impedance headphones at 64Ω, 250Ω, or even 600Ω.
Higher-impedance headphones need a headphone amplifier to supply more power to drive properly
Higher-impedance headphones need more power to drive properly, so you may find them too quiet when plugged straight into a phone or laptop—to get them at the proper volume, you’ll need a headphone amplifier to supply more juice. That’s a completely separate topic with its own list of best products, but the JDS Labs Objective2 and Schiit Magni 3 are good starting points at a decent price.
Headphones are one of those products that are sometimes hard to describe using words alone, and they can be incredibly subjective. So, your best bet when shopping is to order a pair and try it out for yourself—just be sure to buy from a store with a good return policy in case they don’t fit your tastes. You can always send them back and try something else.
Whitson Gordon is a writer, gamer, and tech nerd who has been building PCs for 10 years. He eats potato chips with chopsticks so he doesn’t get grease on his mechanical keyboard.
Mark Knapp is a regular contributor to IGN and an irregular Tweeter on Twitter @Techn0Mark