The best over-ear headphones for 2024: top cans for any budget

The best over-ear headphones completely immerse you in sound. It’s no secret that by design, they’re more tuned for audiophiles, who often favor wired models where there’s more room for large, powerful drivers to deliver detailed, high-definition audio and immense soundstages. 

The best over-ear headphones have and advantage over the best earbuds out there, in that they encapsulate your ears completely, which has an outsized effect on the listening experience – larger earcups means larger drivers and space for real acoustic work to happen. They also tend to be more comfortable, which makes them perfect traveling companions, especially given that many are wireless and come with additional features such as active noise cancellation. 

We rank over-ear headphones highly among the best headphones you can buy, so it may not be surprising to learn that they even have added health benefits. That’s right, an over-ear design can be better for your hearing health compared to in-ear headphones, because the drivers don’t sit right up close to your delicate eardrums, pushed down into your ear canal. The passive sound isolation provided by a good pair of padded ear cups also means you won’t need the volume so high.

The quick list

Want to cut to the chase and find out which over-ear headphones are the best? Below, you’ll find a roundup of our choices. You can also jump to a more detailed review of every pick, along with our price comparison tool to help you find the best deals.

Written by
Written by

Becky Scarrott

I’ve reviewed over 150 audio products since becoming a tech journalist, ranging from super-budget earbuds to high-end Hi-Res Audio music players. Before joining TechRadar, I spent three years at What Hi-Fi? testing everything the world of audio had to offer; before that, I was a professional dancer. My love of music ties it all together.

July 5 2024
Added the Sonos Ace the best over-ear headphones for movies, based on our testing and comparison with other headphones in the list.

The best over-ear headphones for 2024

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The best over-ear headphones for most people

(Image credit: Future)

The best over-ear headphones for most people

Specifications

Acoustic design: Closed

Weight: 253g

Frequency response: 4Hz to 40kHz

Drivers: 1.57-inch dome-type

Battery life: 30 hours

Reasons to buy

+

Excellent noise cancellation

+

Great rich audio

+

Light and comfortable design

Reasons to avoid

Not water-resistant

Better noise cancellation now available

The WH-1000XM4s may not be Sony’s flagship headphones anymore – that title has since been passed onto the Sony WH-1000XM5, which are at #8 in this list – but we still rate these as being the best for most people, because of their impressive sound quality and features balanced with the lower prices you can now find them for. You can do better in most individual areas, but not as a complete package for this price, and we think they’re all the headphones that most people will need.

Aside from clear, well-realised and deep sound, there’s also highly effective noise cancellation. You’ve got useful extra features too, including multi-point pairing for switching between two devices instantly, DSEE Extreme upscaling of lower-quality audio (such as from Spotify), auto-pausing when you remove them, Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format, plus LDAC higher-quality wireless tech for compatible phones. 

They’re also lightweight and comfortable, with a folding design that’s convenient for travelling. Now that they’ve had a price drop – and especially if you get them for the extra discounted price they’re regularly available for – these are just unbeatable value, which is why they’re still at the top of this list years after their release.

Read our full Sony WH-1000XM4 review 

The best budget over-ear headphones

(Image credit: Future)

The best over-ear headphones on a budget

Specifications

Acoustic design: Closed

Weight: 268g

Frequency response: Up to 40kHz

Drivers: 40mm

Battery life: 55 hours (ANC on)

Reasons to buy

+

Incredible battery life

+

Solid build quality

+

Admirable sound for price

Reasons to avoid

Takes a little too long to turn off

Fiddly ANC control

Only one color option

The Earfun Wave Pro are an affordable pair of over-ears that are packed with features, proving you don’t need to spend more than $100/£100 for a solid pair of noise-cancelling headphones.

The Earfun Wave pro are a very standard looking pair of over-ears, but we were happy to find during our testing that you can adjust the headband and cans a little to suit all head sizes and fold them up so they fit into their carry case that we commented is “surprisingly premium-feeling” in our review. Fit-wise, they’re among some of the most comfortable headphones we’ve tested thanks to the memory foam in the cups – which is saying something considering how many the TechRadar team has trialled. 

The Earfun Wave Pro obviously can’t compete with the sonic performance and features of the higher-end headphones in this list, but they sound truly impressive compared to budget rivals, and the active noise cancellation is pretty decent, too. You can also tweak the sound a little thanks to EQ settings within the app. The reason they perform so well is likely due to the fact their specs are surprisingly good, including 40mm drivers, a Hi-Res Audio certification (both for wireless and wired music) and a Lossless Digial Audio Codec (LDAC) for improved Bluetooth streaming from compatible devices.

Overall, this is a great value pair of over-ears that tick all of the boxes. They sound good, look understated, feel extremely comfortable and offer up to a long-lasting 80 hours of battery life (with ANC off). We haven’t found a budget pair of headphones that are such all-rounders.

Read our full Earfun Wave Pro review

The best premium over-ear headphones

(Image credit: Peter Hoffmann)

The best over-ear headphones for premium features and sound

Specifications

Acoustic design: Closed

Weight: 293g

Frequency response: 6Hz-22,000Hz

Drivers: 42mm dynamic

Battery life: 60 hours

Reasons to buy

+

Excellent sound quality and great ANC

+

Best-in-class battery life

Reasons to avoid

A little plain aesthetically

Design doesn’t fold up into the headband

Sennheiser’s flagship wireless over-ear headphones have a few key advantages over the very hot premium competition. With an incredible 60-hour battery life, intuitive app, extensive feature set, easy on-ear controls, talented adaptive noise cancellation and an energetic-yet-accurate sound, the Momentum 4 really are the complete package. 

They’re not the most interesting in terms of looks, though their fabric headband does stand out a little while being deliberately quite neutral-looking, and they don’t fold down for easy portability – but these are basically the only flaws we can muster up about these headphones, and they’re not exactly dealbreakers.

There are features here that are especially smart, such as Sennheiser’s ‘Sidetone’ option, which passes your own voice into calls more clearly (and adjustably), so you you’re not wondering if you’re yelling, and it makes the conversation feel more natural. Smart ‘sound zones’ enable you to customize both the noise cancellation and EQ depending on your location, with the switch happening automatically, which is a really nice experience. Nothing else offers such smart control.

But beyond all this, the sound quality remains the star here. We said in our review that “whatever genre we throw at the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless, we find ourselves remarking at the open, detailed, expansive, neutral and crisp performance. Never is it overly warm; never is it congested or muddied through the bass.” The noise cancellation is a little weaker than the Sony WH-1000XM5, and definitely a step down from the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones – but it’s on-par with the Sony WH-1000XM4, and is highly effective overall.

Read our full Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless review 

The best over-headphones for noise cancellation

(Image credit: Future)

The best over-ear headphones to silence the world

Specifications

Acoustic design: Closed

Weight: 250g

Frequency response: N/A

Drivers: 35mm

Battery life: 24 hours

Reasons to buy

+

The best noise cancellation you can get

+

Fantastic sound quality

Reasons to avoid

Battery life is weak

A very premium price

If you need the best noise cancellation that over-ear headphones offer right now, you need Bose’s Ultra Headphones. The noise-blocking power is a step up from basically anything that’s been available before, and we’ve never heard the sound of a busy city centre so strong quietened, or the speech of others in an office or around the house. We called it “mind blowing” in our review. 

This power comes at a very premium price (higher than the likes of the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless), but it also comes with absolutely glorious audio quality, so it feels very much worth its price. Our review said that the Ultra Headphones “deliver some of the most alive, exciting, textured, finely resolved, deeply engaging music I’ve ever heard from a pair of wireless headphones. It’s the kind of sound I would expect to pay 50% or even twice as much for.”

They also have a very premium feel, while being light and comfortable – and have a travel-friendly folding design, which is always welcome. They’re not flawless – it’s a shame they lack USB-C audio and general aptX support (they do have Snapdragon Sound, though), and the 24-hour battery life is the lowest here by a long way – but these things are easy to forgive if wonderful sound and active noise cancellation in equal measure is what you want. Though if you want to spend a little less, the ANC in the Bose QuietComfort Headphones is practically as good, though the sound quality is weaker.

Read our full Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones review

The best over-ear headphones for affordable sound

(Image credit: Future)

The best planar magnetic over-ear headphones

Specifications

Acoustic design: Closed

Weight: 329g

Frequency response: 20Hz-40KHz

Drivers: 70 x 89mm planar magnetic

Battery life: 80 hours (we actually got 90)

Reasons to buy

+

Detailed, expansive, engaging and zealous listen

+

Light, comfortable, foldable design

+

Incredible battery life

Reasons to avoid

No active noise cancellation

App is acceptable rather than comprehensive

For the casual listener, planar magnetic headphones might go over their head. But for the audiophiles out there, this type of speaker driver is highly sought after and very rarely comes in wireless (or reasonably affordable) forms – but the Edifier does both. Planar magnetic drivers have a larger, flat and super-thin diaphragm in a magnetic field in each earcup, which offers more exciting and distortion-free sound.

And following hours of testing, we rate the Edifier Stax Spirit S3 as the best planar magnetic headphones you can buy right now, and with their price being competitive with the Sony WH-1000XM5 and Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless, they’re the best-sounding headphones at the level too – you have pay around twice as much for the likes of the Bowers & Wilkins PX8 to match them. What you’re getting here is beautifully detailed and expansive audio quality, a light comfortable folding design, and an incredible 80 quoted hours of battery life (we noted in our review that this even pushed up to 90). 

But there are some things missing from the package, most notably active noise cancellation. And while they do have app support, there’s nothing like the level of smart features you get compared to Sennheiser or Sony, and the app isn’t as slick. But maybe that doesn’t matter – at a price that’s premium but still mainstream, no other wireless headphones can touch them for sound.

Read our full Edifier Stax Spirit S3 review

The best open-back wired over-ear headphones

(Image credit: Future/TechRadar/Henry St Leger)

The best open-back over-ear headphones

Specifications

Acoustic design: Open

Weight: 260g

Frequency response: 8Hz – 41,500Hz

Drivers: 38mm

Battery life: 30 hours

Reasons to buy

+

Open-back design and comfortable fit

+

Consistent, neutral sound

+

Various cable options

Reasons to avoid

Lack of smart features

Needs a separate amp to get the most out of them

If you love a natural, open sound, then a pair of wired open-back headphones are the way to go and the Sennheiser HD-660S2 are our favorite pair. These boast an immensely impressive and expansive soundstage, but being open-back means they don’t block out the outside world, so they need to be used in quiet spaces – and they’re wired only as well.

They’re as at home in the mixing booth as they are at, uh, home for general listening – they have an air of superiority to them. They feature magnificent sound recreation that’s more powerful and convincing that basically anything else here, especially when paired with one of the best portable DACs or hi-res music players, though they can be powered just by a laptop without extra equipment. We said in our testing that while they do leak sound, it’s not too bad – but you may not be popular in the office if you use them, still. 

They have premium ear cup cushioning and a durable headband to prevent vibration and make sure you can get lost in your music for a long time. These are bound to delight anyone looking to have the delights of open-backed cans.

Read our full Sennheiser HD-660S2 review

Visit our Sennheiser coupon page for our latest deals and discounts.

The best mid-range wired over-ear headphones

(Image credit: Future)

The best mid-tier over-ear headphones

Specifications

Acoustic design: Closed

Weight: 280g

Frequency response: 20Hz-20KHz

Drivers: 50mm dynamic

Battery life: 50 hours

Reasons to buy

+

Strong sound across the frequencies

+

Look fantastic

+

Light and comfortable build

Reasons to avoid

Better for smaller heads

A little light on bass for some

No wireless or ANC

Sivga is not a very well-known brand but you’ll find its Oriole headphones hard to forget once you see them. The striking wooden ear cups aren’t just for looks either and are capable of delivering decent sound across varying frequencies – all for a reasonable mid-range price.

At this mid-tier price level, there are lots of competing wired over-ear headphones to choose from but the Sivga Oriole, which are the costlier alternative to the company’s Robin, are the best you can buy considering the step-up in sound quality thanks to large 50mm dynamic drivers.

They don’t have active noise cancellation or Bluetooth like many of the other options here, but the full suite of core components are here though. The Sivga Oriole comes with a 1.8m long cable, a 3.5mm to 6.3 adapter and a hemp carry case. The lightweight design is another advantage here.

Read our full Sivga Oriole review 

The best premium Sony over-ear headphones

(Image credit: Peter Hoffmann)

The best over-ear headphones for high-end Sony fans

Specifications

Acoustic design: Closed

Weight: 250g

Frequency response: 5-40,000Hz

Drivers: 30mm carbon fibre composite dome

Battery life: 30 hours

Reasons to buy

+

Excellent noise cancellation

+

Wonderful sounding performance

Reasons to avoid

New design is less portable

Not a huge upgrade over WH-1000XM4

Sony’s flagship headphones do a huge amount of stuff incredibly well. In our review, we were deeply impressed with their sound quality, and until recently, we rated their active noise cancellation as being the best you could get. However, as things stand now, they’re beaten in key ways by competitors that means they’re not the slam dunk pick that might’ve been.

The rich, well-balanced music quality, for example, is beaten by the even more expansive and alive sound from the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless, which are also not far off matching the noise cancellation quality too. The Sennheisers also offer double the battery life of the Sony headphones, and even more great smart features – plus better hi-res support.

And the noise cancellation is fantastic, has been beaten by the Bose QuietComfort Ultra, so if your focus is the best noise-stopping power possible, those are the best buy. 

And when it comes to all-round value, there’s a reason the Sony WH-1000XM4 are still top of this list – the newer XM5 are better, but only by a little way, and they regularly cost a lot more, especially because the XM4 frequently have extra discounts. These are fantastic headphones, they’re just in an especially cut-throat world – but if you’ve loved Sony’s stuff in the past and want its latest and greatest new headphones, we’ll happily recommend them.

Read our full Sony WH-1000XM5 review

The best over-ear headphones for design

(Image credit: Peter Hoffmann)

The best over-ear headphones for ultra-luxe looks as well as sound

Specifications

Acoustic design: Closed

Weight: 320g (without carry case)

Frequency response: Not listed

Drivers: 40mm

Battery life: 30 hours

Reasons to buy

+

Agile and detailed sound

+

Classy build and finish

Reasons to avoid

Noise cancellation is average

Expensive

If you like the finer things in life, the Bowers & Wilkins PX8 are fantastic. They’re refined in every sense of the word, from their beautiful design that’s a cut above the rest, to their phenomenal sound quality. Yes, this comes at a high price, but there are good reasons for that, as we explained in our review: “a new carbon cone 40mm drive unit replaces the bio-cellulose driver in the more affordable Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 and the die-cast aluminum arms, diamond-cut bright metal detailing and Nappa leather trim elevates the build to high-end territory.” 

The sound quality here is just fantastic, ranking among the best you can get from wireless headphones. Compared to the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless, which are high in this list because they’re so good musically, we said in our review that the PX8’s “extra energy, depth, emotional oomph and overall immersion in excellent-quality music place the PX8 in a different league” beyond the Sennheisers.

But we’ve chosen these for their design as well as their audio quality, and in our review we said “the PX8 would look right at home around the neck of a bright young thing on a business-class flight to Milan” – they’re smart and they stand out from the crown, but without being ostentatious. They’re extremely comfortable too, and they feel premium every time you touch their materials or slide the headband.

The noise cancellation is far more average than the sound, so if that’s a priority you might be better off with the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones. Anyone who wants super-sleek headphones that are also top-tier for sound will be happy with these, though.

Read our full Bowers & Wilkins PX8 review

The best over-ear headphones for movies

(Image credit: Future)

The best over-ear headphones for Dolby Atmos movie sound

Specifications

Acoustic design: Closed

Weight: 312g

Frequency response: Not listed

Drivers: 40mm

Battery life: 30 hours

Reasons to buy

+

Powerful sound with clear speech

+

Head-tracked Dolby Atmos from Bluetooth or from Sonos Arc soundbar

Reasons to avoid

Not as great with music

Battery life connected to Sonos Arc is only 10 hours

Sonos’ first headphones were highly anticipated, and a little disappointing: they don’t work with the overall Sonos Wi-Fi multi-room system (even though they do support Wi-Fi), and their music quality is merely very good, not the kind of excellent audio we’d expect for headphones that come with such a high-end price.

However, they still managed to win us over with their fantastic performance with movies. They support head-tracked Dolby Atmos spatial audio from any device that supports Atmos over Bluetooth – which includes iPhones, iPads and Samsung phones, so no shortage – and it’s absolutely fantastic. It’s weighty, it’s convincingly directional and doesn’t sound like the audio is being pushed right into your ears, and dialogue is elevated super-clearly out of the mix while still feeling natural. Having directly compared it to the spatial audio on the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones and AirPods Max, the Sonos were our favorite option.

And they do have a Sonos ecosystem trick: if you have a Sonos Arc soundbar (and support will come to all Sonos soundbars in the future), you can connect the headphones to them over Wi-Fi, and use a button on the headphones to instantly switch from listening over Bluetooth to streaming the sound from your soundbar instead – so you can listen to anything that plays on your TV with privacy, and zero latency.

It all worked fantastically well for us, and the headphones also offer very strong active noise cancellation, wired listening over USB-C (lossless) or 3.5mm jack, and a 30-hour battery life over Bluetooth with ANC on – though when listening to sound from your soundbar, this battery life dropped to around 10 hours based on our testing.

For music lovers wanting premium ANC headphones, we would steer you towards the Bose Ultra or the B&W PX8. But if you want something heavily focused on provided a personal home theater experience, we really recommend these.

Read our full Sonos Ace review

The best over-ear headphones for Apple fans

(Image credit: TechRadar)

The best over-ear headphones for Apple devotees

Specifications

Acoustic design: Closed

Weight: 350g

Frequency response: N/A

Drivers: 40mm dynamic

Battery life: 20 hours

Reasons to buy

+

Superb audio performance

+

Excellent spatial audio

Reasons to avoid

No 3.5mm jack or hi-res support

Limited features for Android

The AirPods Max are the best-sounding headphones made by Apple, and the company’s first over-ears. They have very strong active noise cancellation, superb sound quality, the best spatial audio available so far, and a striking look with a premium feel. There’s a ton to enjoy with them, and they have way more special features if you’re deep in the Apple ecosystem, including auto-switching between devices and Find My support if they’re misplaced. Very few of these work on Android (basically just music and noise cancellation), so they’re very much for the Apple-heavy crowd, especially at this high a price.

And at this high price, their lack of hi-res audio support really grates, but a lot of people will probably be able to forgive it. They have a natural, dynamic and detail sound that we enjoy a lot, though the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones are at the same level of quality and are cheaper. However, the nothing matches the Dolby Atmos 3D spatial audio that you get from these when watching a movie on an Apple device – it’s so good.

If you’ve already bought into the Apple ecosystem, if the price isn’t a concern, and you’ve got lots of Apple tech, then the extra features you get from these may put them above a lot of the competition. But we think most people will be better served by spending less on the Bose Ultra Headphones.

Read our full Apple AirPods Max review

Other over-ear headphones to consider

The Earfun Wave Pro headphones have entered our guide as the top budget pick, knocking the the Sony WH-CH720N off the list. Sony’s over-ears are still a solid choice, but the Earfuns are cheaper and offer a range of excellent features, including a huge battery life and comfortable fit. They also sound good, with well-balanced audio. In short, you can’t go wrong with either, but the Earfun Wave Pro are so affordable and such solid all-rounders that they have the edge for us.

We’ve just reviewed the Sony ULT Wear headphones and highly recommend them as an excellent mid-range choice, they fit between the brand’s premium Sony WH-1000XM5s and the budget Sony WH-CH720N. They deliver a great experience with rich sound quality and a sturdy design. However, we weren’t impressed with call quality, an over-zealous bass feature, and a frustrating sound profile setup, which is why they don’t quite make our list of the best over-ears – but if you’re looking to spend under $200/£200, do give our Sony ULT Wear review a read.

We also took a look at the JLab JBuds Lux ANC recently, but they didn’t hit the affordable headphone sweet spot as well as the Earfun cans did. We liked the great battery life, rich bass and lightweight fit, but the weak treble and poor Ambient mode are stumbles that stop them being great cheap headphones. Here’s our full JLab JBuds Lux ANC review.

And stepping away from over-ears a little, we’ve also tested the latest Beats Solo 4 headphones. These are on-ear headphones, but we’ll mention them here for those who like the colors and iconic design of Beats products. Unfortunately, they fall short compared to much of the competition these days in terms of their sound quality – which was a little hit and miss – and lack of ANC. Here’s our full Beats Solo 4 review if you want to get in-depth with them, because they do have some features (including Hi-Res Audio over USB-C and Apple Spatial Audio support) to recommend them.

How to choose the best over-ear headphones

When buying over-ear headphones, sound quality is the most important feature to look out for – the more expensive they are, the better your cans tend to sound, although there are quite a few impressive exceptions to this rule.

But if you’re specifically choosing over-ear headphones, we assume you also have an eye on comfort. The type of padding and the cover material on the earpads makes a difference, as does the headband – if you’re going to maximum comfort, you want a broader headband where your actual skull won’t make any contact with any hard parts of the band.

People also often choose over-ear headphones with active noise cancellation, because the around-ear pads are great at passive noise isolation, so when combined with ANC they’re especially effective. The majority of our choices on this list include active noise cancellation, but it’s not the case that spending more on ANC automatically gets you better results. That’s true to a point, but the most elite headphones here actually have weaker ANC than some that cost less, so keep that in mind when weighing everything up.

On the other end of things, it’s possible to buy over-ear headphones with ‘open backs’, which means they allow air to flow right through the earcup. This leaks to an expansive, powerful and dynamic sound usually, but it also means audio leaks in and out of the headphones. Great for listening in a special room at home, less good on the subway. Here’s our in-depth explanation of open-back vs closed-back headphones.

The really big question connection to a lot of this is whether you want to do wired or wireless. Most of our suggestions are wireless, but with the option of going wired – but we have a couple of dedicated wired options here. Wired-only headphones tend to offer better sound bang for your buck, but don’t usually come with all the smart features.

There are also different kinds of wireless to take into consideration, such as whether you’re happy with regular Bluetooth, or whether you want higher-quality options such as Snapdragon Sound, aptX or LDAC. These are all CD-quality options, but your devices must also be compatible with them.

Don’t forget to look at weight of headphones too – 250g is fairly lightweight for advanced wireless headphones; 350g is about the maximum you’ll want for longer wear, but can be very comfortable if the fit is good.

How much should I spend on headphones?

That really depends on your budget – you don’t need to overstretch yourself to prices you can’t really afford in your quest for great sound. 

You can find over-ear options among the best cheap headphones under $100 / £100 / AU$150 – check out brands like Jabra and JBL if you want to keep costs down.

The best noise-cancelling headphones and higher-spec options tend to cost more than this. For wireless headphones, the flagship models start around $250 / $250 / AU$450. 

When you get to true audiophile headphones for analytical listening, the prices really start to shoot up – but these cans will last you decades if you look after them.

Is it worth getting over-ear headphones?

Choosing over-ear headphones over earbuds is a personal choice. There’s no wrong option here but over-ear headphones typically provide better battery life and better sound quality. 

Thanks to being larger, they can pack in a better battery along with more advanced features like superior drivers. By their very nature, they tend to provide better noise cancellation too as they cover your ears more comprehensively than earbuds. 

However, some of your decision making process needs to come down to what you feel more comfortable with. Earbuds are easier to store away, but not everyone likes the feeling of them in their ears. Alternatively, headphones can feel more secure over your head but are heavier and require more thought when storing them.

What are the benefits of over-ear headphones?

The two biggest differences are comfort and sound quality. Many people find over-ear headphones much more comfortable to wear than in-ear ones, and because they’re much bigger they can accommodate much larger and more powerful drivers. Unlike earbuds, they’re not limited by having to fit into the very limited space of your ear canal.

Because over-ear headphones have bigger drivers, they can potentially deliver a wider frequency range than earbuds, especially at the low end where the bass lives. For example, our current favourites, Sony’s WH-1000XM4 go down to 4Hz and top out at a very high 40kHz. By comparison Sony’s closest equivalent earbuds, the WF-1000XM4, still reach 40kHz but the low end only reaches 20Hz.

There’s another crucial factor here. According to the Hearing Health Foundation, over-ears are less likely to damage your hearing. Once damaged, hearing doesn’t repair itself so it’s really important to look after it. Over-ears don’t sit so close to your eardrums so they’re less dangerous over long periods – provided of course you don’t run them too loud.

Another advantage of over-ears, albeit a horrible one, is that they don’t end up covered in ear wax like in-ears do, so you don’t have to read our how to clean wireless earbuds guide. And on a more cheerful note, they’re also considerably harder to misplace. 

Is over-ear better than in-ear for noise cancelling?

There’s not really a simple answer to that one. Some earbuds are very good at passive noise cancellation, which is when the headphones simply block out a lot of external audio by being stuck in your ear canals. But over-ears can do much the same by enclosing your entire ears, so there’s huge variation here.

Where things generally do differ is when active noise cancellation is involved. That’s when your headphones analyze the sound around you and produce additional waves to cancel the sounds you don’t want. As with the drivers that can deliver better sound quality, the larger size of over-ears means there’s more room for tech in there. 

In our many hours of testing and casual listening we’ve found that over-ears such as Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones and Sony’s WH-1000XM5 deliver even better noise cancelling than the same firms’ best earbuds. And they generally sound better too.

How we test the best over-ear headphones

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We have tested all of the headphones in this guide extensively, spending lots of time analyzing the sound, fit, design, specs, and value for money – and comparing to the competition, of course, to make sure we’re giving you advice that’s rounded and contextual.

We allow all headphones a running-in period, to make sure the drivers are working at their best. We listen to audio from a range of sources, including both high-quality and more basic music services, as well as movies, online video, and podcasts or audiobooks. We’re looking for all kind of elements here, including how deep the bass can go, whether that bass feels controlled and precise, whether the balance is right between different frequencies, whether the mid-range is able to communicate lots of detailed sound, whether treble frequencies stand out, whether treble is natural or too harsh, how spacious and natural the sound is, how dynamic the headphones between loud and quiet moments, and much more nuance.

We test all additional features in headphones, including spatial audio support or active noise cancellation – we will test the latter in real-world situations, including public transport and walking around a city. 

We’ll test any smart features, including making sure that multi-point Bluetooth works seamlessly, or testing EQ-changing options and customization of active noise cancellation. We also monitor battery life ourselves, testing the depletion of the battery from full over time.

With wired headphones, we’ll use a suitable amp where necessary to make sure they get the chance to perform at their full potential.

Latest updates to our over-ear headphones guide

July 5 2024
Added the Sonos Ace the best over-ear headphones for movies, based on our testing and comparison with other headphones in the list.

June 6 2024
Swapped Sony WH-CH720N for Earfun Wave Pro as our budget pick, based on our review, and current prices.

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