The best over-ear headphones deserve to be your first port of call when shopping for a durable, long-lasting pair of cans — especially if you want one with active noise cancellation (ANC). Over-ear designs form a seal around your entire ear, not just your ear canal, so are usually better at blocking out outside noise than even the very best wireless earbuds.
Indeed, most of our favorite noise-cancelling headphones are of the over-ear variety, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t more affordable models as well. Whether you’re looking for a luxurious pair of high-end headphones or something cheap, light and portable, we’ve got you covered with our picks of the best over-ear headphones we’ve tested.
- The best wireless headphones you can buy
- Check out the best cheap headphones right now
- We've found the best headphones with a mic for voice and video calls
Editor's Note: The Tom's Guide Awards 2021 for audio have been announced, and the Sony WH-1000XM4 has won the Best over-ear headphones award! Head to the audio awards page to see all the winners and recommended runners-up.
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
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.
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.
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.
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; it's a cheaper alternative to the Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless.
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.
With exceptional battery life and full noise cancellation, complete with an Ambient mode, the Cleer Enduro ANC is a stone-cold bargain. Sure, its ANC tech isn't on the same level of the Bose 700, but for well under $200 there aren't many pairs of over-ear headphones that offer such a complete package.
It's even got support for the high-quality aptX Adaptive Bluetooth codec, and if you instead connect using the bundled 3.5mm cable, you can listen to Hi-Res Audio as well. You can manually adjust the EQ too, using the companion app, though we liked the default, bass-heavy sound signature.
Read our full Cleer Enduro ANC review.
Few over-ear headphones come as finely crafted as the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Carbon Edition. And it's not all style and no substance, either: sound quality is genuinely on par with the very best, and its ANC technology is pretty good as well.
It's expensive, costing much more than the Bose 700 or Sony WH-1000XM4, but there's definitely a sense that it's earned that price. The soundstage is strikingly wide, adding drama to the songs that need it, and while there are no EQ customization options the sound is well-balanced enough not to need them. There's also a unique and enjoyable "Soundscapes" feature that can mix in nature sounds to help you relax.
See our full Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Carbon Edition review.
Replacing the widely popular QC35 II is the QuietComfort 45, an updated take on the model that revolutionized the noise-cancelling category. Bose equipped these over-ear headphones with a six-mic array that blocks out a vast number of ambient noises, much like the flagship 700, and produces crisp-sounding calls in most environments. The minimalist, cozy design remains mostly untouched, though these cans are lighter and sturdier than their predecessor. Sound quality has been improved to produce richer, more detailed audio. A lengthier playtime (24 hours on a single charge) also gives this version an advantage over other Bose models.
It’s a shame that Bose didn’t offer an option to turn off ANC mode for power conservation. These headphones don’t come with some software perks found on older Bose headphones either. Still, this is a top-tier noise canceller that is sold for a reasonable price.
Read our full Bose QuietComfort 45 review.
When it comes to 3D sound on headphones, the AirPods Max had that market locked down until the Yamaha YH-L700A showed up. These large wireless cans pump out category-leading spatial audio, creating a listening experience that can be enjoyed with any stereo audio content from “virtually any source.” Yamaha’s head-tracking technology makes it so that music and movies change with how you turn your head, automatically adjusting the output on each channel to hear details and effects accurately in a 360-degree soundscape. You get several 3D modes for different content, along with strong noise cancellation and wireless performance.
Being one of the heavier models out, it’s unlikely that you’ll be wearing these on commutes. The uneven playtimes when enabling and disabling 3D Sound Field also presents an issue for anyone jumping on an international flight. But if you’re planning to use spatial audio headphones for at-home listening, the YH-L700A is the way to go.
Read our full Yamaha YH-L700A review.
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.
The idea of solar-powered headphones just screams gimmicky, but the Urbanista Los Angeles is far from it. These wireless cans boast Powerfoyle solar cells on the headband that capture solar energy when exposed to light, allowing you to recharge on the fly, as long as it's exposed to sunlight outside or any other powerful light source. You can even gauge how much power the headphones are gaining or draining when in use through the companion app. Once achieving a full charge, up 80 hours of use (50 hours with ANC on) is available, which is the longest-rated playtime in the category. Sound is also bass-forward and brings an energetic presence to most songs.
Bear in mind that the clamp force on these headphones is incredibly tight, making them uncomfortable to wear after an hour. ANC is also weak compared to other noise-cancelling models. Nonetheless, the Los Angeles deserves recognition for its ingenuity.
How to choose the best over-ear headphones for you
Take a look at Tom’s Guide’s comprehensive guides for the best headphones and earbuds you can buy, per category and price point.
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.