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The best over-ear headphones in 2021

Sony WH-1000XM4
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The best over-ear headphones are the ones to go for if you want the least compromised listening experience possible. While the best wireless earbuds are much more portable, over-ear headphones have bigger drivers and cups that create a seal around your ears. So it’s likely you’re getting better sound and a less outside noise at the same time. Battery life is pretty much always better too.

Some over-ear cans focus specifically on producing the highest sound quality possible, and will employ active noise cancellation (ANC) to further prevent ambient sounds from interrupting your tunes. Others aim to be more affordable, or to offer smart features like onboard voice assistant support. Whatever you need, we’ve tested dozens of pairs to find the ten best over-ear headphones you can buy right now.

What are the best over-ear headphones?

The title of best over-ear headphones right now goes to the Sony WH-1000XM4. Whether it's crisp sound quality, effortlessly effective ANC or its long battery life, the WH-1000XM4 is a brilliant all-rounder that's not too expensive.

In second place is the Bose 700. This has almost all of the same qualities as the WH-1000XM4 and its noise cancellation tech is even better. However, the Bose tends to be more expensive. 

Then we have the Apple AirPods Max, a very pricey but feature-rich pair of over-ears that combines good old-fashioned sound quality with some highly advanced EQ and surround sound features.

The best over-ear headphones you can buy today

Best over-ear headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

1. Sony WH-1000XM4

The best over-ear headphones overall

Size and weight: 9.94 x 3.03 x 7.27 inches, 8.95 ounces | Battery life (rated): 30 hours (ANC on), 38 hours (ANC off) | Bluetooth range: 40 feet (12 meters) | Special features: Active noise cancellation, customizable EQ, multipoint technology

Excellent sound and noise cancellation
Plenty of features via Sony Connect Headphones app
Stellar touch controls
Call quality could be improved

The Sony WH-1000XM4 is a superlative pair of headphones. It sounds superb, coping very well with a huge range of tracks and genres, and is comfortable to wear for hours at a time. Other highlights include ambient sound control to hear what's going on around you and speak-to-chat for automatically pausing music when you speak.

And, while the ANC may not be the best in its class, Sony’s noise-cancelling still silences more than enough background noise to make enjoying the WH-1000XM4 even easier. Battery life is outstanding, too: we got 29 hours of playback from a single charge, and that was with ANC on. Switch it off in quieter places and it’ll keep going even longer.

Read our full Sony WH-1000XM4 review.

Best over-ear headphones: Bose 700

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

2. Bose 700

The best over-ear headphones for noise-cancelling

Size and weight: 8 x 6.5 x 2 inches, 8.8 ounces | Battery life (rated): 20 hours (NC on) | Bluetooth range: 30 feet (9 meters) | Special features: Adjustable active noise cancellation, customizable EQ, charging case (optional)

Adjustable ANC levels
Slick, attractive design
Excellent noise cancelling on calls and music
Expensive

Nobody does active noise-cancelling quite as well as Bose. The replacement for another top-quality set of ANC cans, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II, the Bose 700 adds a slick new design, useful capacitive touch controls and even better sound quality.

What makes the ANC so great isn’t just its effectiveness, but the amount of control Bose affords you over it. Through the mobile app there are no fewer than 11 different levels to choose from: so you can leave a touch of ambient noise coming in if you want to listen for announcements or stay safe near traffic, or you can turn it up to full and silence even the kinds of noises ANC can have trouble with, like speech.

See our full Bose 700 review.

Best over-ear headphones: Apple AirPods MaxTop Pick

(Image credit: Future)

3. Apple AirPods Max

The best over-ear headphones for iPhone users

Size and weight: 7.4 x 6.6 x 3.3 inches, 13.6 ounces | Battery life (rated): 20 hours (ANC on) | Bluetooth range: 33 feet (10 meters) | Special features: ANC, Spatial Audio, audio sharing, Siri

Luxury design
Excellent noise cancellation
Spatial Audio sounds great
Very expensive

As expensive as the AirPods Max is, there’s a sense that you get what you pay for: the aluminium and mesh fabric build is plush and comfortable, while sound quality and ANC effectiveness are up there with the best.

Apple has also loaded the AirPods Max with some rather advanced features, like Adaptive EQ, which tailors the sound output according to how the AirPods Max sit on your head: frequencies are tweaked to account for the fit of the earcups and the size of your ears. There’s also Spatial Audio, a very impressive version of digital surround sound, though as this feature requires a recent iOS or Mac device to work the AirPods Max are best suited to existing Apple fans.

See our full Apple AirPods Max review.

Best over-ear headphones: Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

4. Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC

Reliable, all-round ANC over-ear headphones

Size and Weight: 10.2 x 7.1 x 3.9 inches, 8.4 ounces | Battery Life (Rated): 19 hours (NC on), 25 hours (NC off) | Bluetooth Range: 30 feet (9 meters) | Digital Assistant Support: : Yes

Sennheiser sound
Attractive and comfortable design
User-friendly controls
ANC doesn’t perform well on airplanes

It shouldn't be a surprise to see audio specialist Sennheiser on our best over-ear headphones list. The HD 4.50 BTNC is a pair of headphones that perfectly exhibits the company’s ear for high sound quality. It’s relatively affordable, too, especially considering it comes with active noise-cancelling.

The HD 4.50 BTNC's noise cancelling doesn’t work quite as that of the Bose 700, but for well under $200 it’s still a great deal. The comfortable, no-nonsense design and intuitive controls also help cement the Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC as an ideal pick if you want to try your first pair of over-ear ANC headphones with a limited budget.

See our full Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC review.

Best over-ear headphones: Anker Soundcore Life Q30

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

5. Anker Soundcore Life Q30

The best cheap ANC over-ear headphones under $100

Size and weight: 7.8 x 7.09 x 3.07 inches, 9 ounces | Battery life (rated): 40 hours (ANC off), 60 hours (ANC off) | Bluetooth range: 50 feet (15 meters) | Special features: Multiple ANC modes, customizable EQ, NFC

Unbeatable battery life
Loaded with special features
Surprisingly good sound and ANC
Extremely limited touch controls
Huge and heavy

Is the Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC still on the pricey side for you? Consider the Anker Soundcore Life Q30 instead. This is another set of active noise-cancelling headphones, complete with extras like a transparency mode and adjustable EQ, but it costs less than $100.

What’s more, your comparatively tiny expenditure also nets you good overall sound quality, a fantastic 40 hours of battery life with ANC enabled (about 60 hours without) and NFC support. The only real weaknesses are a habit of somewhat under-representing treble frequencies and a tight fit. Otherwise, the Soundcore Life Q30 is a big bargain.

Best over-ear headphones: Microsoft Surface Headphones 2

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

6. Microsoft Surface Headphones 2

The best over-ear headphones for productivity

Size: 8.03 x 7.68 x 1.89 inches | Weight: 10.22 ounces | Battery Life (Rated): 20 hours (NC on) | Bluetooth range: 800 feet (243 meters) | Digital Assistant Support: Yes

Adjustable ANC levels
Pairs with 10 devices simultaneously
Smart controls
Lower battery life than competitors
Surface Audio app needs more features

Microsoft might not be the first name in audio, but the Surface Headphones 2 is a pleasant surprise. It both sounds better and cost less than its predecessor, the original Surface Headphones, and it makes up for middling battery life with some very fast charging: we went from empty to full charge in well under an hour.

The Surface Headphones 2 might also be a good choice if you use Windows a lot. It requires a Microsoft 365 subscription, but there’s a unique voice dictation feature that uses the onboard microphones to turn your speech into text in Word or Outlook.

Read our full Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 review.

Best over-ear headphones: Jabra Elite 45h

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

7. Jabra Elite 45h

A long-lasting pair of affordable over-ear headphones

Size and weight: 7.3 x 6.1 x 1.9 inches, 2.3 ounces | Battery life (rated): 50 hours | Bluetooth range: 33 feet (10 meters) | Special features: Customizable EQ, multipoint technology, Soundscapes mode

Personalized sound via Jabra Sound+ app
Small and sophisticated on-ear design
Best-in-class battery life
No noise isolation

There are lots of good reasons to buy the Jabra Elite 45h. There’s the price, which is lower than all but a few on this list; there’s the customizable EQ; and there’s the seriously impressive 50 hours of battery life.

While this is without any kind of ANC, the Elite 45h’s excellent power management continues with its fast-charging capabilities: a mere 15 minutes of charging gave us enough juice for 10 hours of playback time. You can also connect to up to 8 different devices at a time, which helps make up for the lack of a 3.5mm port.

Best over-ear headphones: Bose QuietComfort 35 II

(Image credit: Future)

8. Bose QuietComfort 35 II

Quality Bose ANC at a lower price

Size and weight: 7.1 x 6.7 x 3.2 inches, 8.2 ounces | Battery life (rated): 20 hours (ANC on), 40 hours (ANC off) | Bluetooth range: 30 feet (9 meters) | Special features:: Active noise cancellation, dedicated digital assistant button, Music Share

Stellar noise cancellation
Crisp, wide sound
Can listen in wired mode with ANC on
Google Assistant integration could be improved

Logically, if you want a pair of Bose ANC over-ear headphones you should just buy the Bose 700. And that’s fine, but even though the QuietComfort 35 II has been replaced, it’s still a highly capable set of cans — and is much more affordable than the newer model.

This means it offers a canny route into Bose-quality noise cancellation, comfort and audio quality. It’s far from outdated, too. You still get modern features like integrated Google Assistant support, and the ANC can be toggled between High and Low settings, so you still have a degree of over how strong the silencing effect is.

See our full Bose QuietComfort 35 II review.

Best over-ear headphones: Focal Clear

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

9. Focal Clear

Wired over-ear headphones for serious audiophiles

Size and weight: 4 x 9.7 x 9.8 inches, 15.9 ounces | Battery life (rated): N/A | Bluetooth range: N/A | Special features:: Removable 3.5mm cable

Distortion-free sound
Stunning design
Excellent audio reproduction
Very expensive
Open-back design not ideal for public use

If you’re an audio purist looking for some hi-fi headphones to use at home, the Focal Clear will deliver — provided you can afford it. This ultra-premium set of headphones uses an open-backed design, which prevents pressure from building up in the earcups and adversely affecting the sound.

Like any open-back headphones, anything you listen to with the Focal Clear will be audible to those around you, and likewise there isn’t much in the way of isolation from ambient noise. That’s why it’s a pair of over-ear headphones that’s best kept at home, so you can get lost in its impeccable sound quality without any distractions.

See our full Focal Clear review.

Best over-ear headphones: Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

10. Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless

Over-ear headphones with a classic design

Size and weight: 7.8 x 6.7 x 1.78 inches, 10.6 ounces | Battery life (rated): 17 hours (ANC on) | Bluetooth range: 30 feet (9 meters) | Special features:: Adjustable ANC, transparency mode

Superior sound quality
ANC
Mature design
Durable carry case
Controls can be fussy
Expensive

Keeping the timeless, clean aesthetic of previous Momentum headphones, the Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless are an attractive mix of stainless steel and leather.

Perhaps more importantly, they sound pristine, in a way that Sennheiser headphones often do. There is a stronger bass response than on the Momentum 2 but it’s still nicely balanced, and there’s some highly effective ANC to help preserve this sound quality in noisy environments. The Bose 700 and Sony WH-1000XM4 do a better job at silencing sound without adding the pressurised effect that the Momentum 3 Wireless can exhibit with ANC set to High, but it’s still a very respectable set of headphones.

See our full Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless review.

How to choose the best over-ear headphones for you

PICKING THE BEST HEADPHONES AND EARBUDS STYLES

Take a look at Tom’s Guide’s comprehensive guides for the best headphones and earbuds you can buy, per category and price point.

·      Best Wireless Earbuds

·      Best Noise Cancelling Headphones

·      Best Cheap Wireless Earbuds

·      Best Fake AirPods

·      Best Running Headphones

·      Best Wireless Headphones

·      Best Cheap Running Headphones

·      Best Cheap Wireless Headphones 

·      Best Cheap Noise-Cancelling Headphones

·      Best Cheap Headphones

·      Best Cheap Earbuds

When shopping for headphones, you’ve already narrowed things down massively by deciding on a pair of over-ear cans specifically. But there can still be much variation in the design of individual pairs, so you should still look out for factors like the headband shape or the amount of earcup padding to judge how comfy they might be. Don’t be afraid to pass on headphones you don’t like the aesthetics of, too.

Sound quality is clearly important. You can read more about how we test this below, but you should consider whether you’d prefer a balanced sound signature or once that favors a particular part of the frequency spectrum. Electronic fans might prefer heavy bass, for example. That said, a lot of over-ear headphones have mobile apps that let you tweak the EQ to your liking.

Think about how much battery life you’ll need as well. Over-ear headphones can deliver anywhere between about 20 and 60 hours of playback so you should never need to recharge too often, though naturally longer is usually better. Keep in mind that ANC will reduce battery life when it’s turned on, as it needs to permanently power the onboard microphones.

How we test the best over-ear headphones

We thoroughly test every pair of headphones based on a variety of factors, and employ a consistent testing approach so any comparisons with other pairs are trustworthy and fair.

In this case, every pair of over-ear headphones has been used over the course of a week for 2 hours at a time. This allows the tester to both gauge the sound quality across a mix of genres and volumes, and to see how comfortable the headphones are when worn for extended periods. We’ll listen to hip-hop, rock, jazz, classical, pop and more to see how each pair performs, and will do the same with movies, podcasts and games, where applicable.

We also test the effectiveness of features like noise-cancelling in real-life situations, and will make sure manufacturer claims about battery life and Bluetooth range are accurate. Build quality, the ease of setup and any control schemes — including those involving an app — will also be judged.

We rate over-ear headphones with a 5-point system (1 = worst, 5 = best). Products that excel in one or more particular fields that's rated 4 stars or above may also receive an Editors’ Choice award.

  • ZolaIII
    Just a shot comment on your spousedly "best pick" the Sony WH-1000XM4. After recent detail measurements on ASR I can say how those are absolutely horrible (in the worst possible way) by any standards in a passive mode, ANC one partially compensate that but still not enough. They got a passing judgment there of course not deserved one (headless panther or anything else is only appropriate one).
    Reply