There are a ton of headphone choices out there, and trying to nail the perfect pair for either you or an audio lover close to you can be overwhelming. Tack on new features from an ever-growing market, and there’s quite a bit of needed research. So to help, we’ve put together a list of the top headphones out there right now. Whether you’re an at-home audiophile or looking for a great sounding portable headset, we’ve got you covered.
This list is for over-ear headphones specifically. If you’re looking for the best on-ear, best noise cancelling or best in-ear solutions, head over to those respective lists. Let’s get to it!
- 1 Best Over Ear Headphones 2016
- 2 #1 Pick Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 – Editor’s Choice
- 3 View on Amazon
- 4 #2 Pick Sony MDR-1A
- 5 View on Amazon
- 6 #3 Pick Philips Fidelio X2
- 7 View on Amazon
- 8 #4 Pick V-MODA Crossfade Wireless – Best Over-Ear Headphones for Running
- 9 View on Amazon
- 10 #5 Pick Audio Technica ATH-M50x
- 11 View on Amazon
- 12 #6 Pick HIFIMAN HE400S
- 13 View on Amazon
- 14 #7 Pick Bose SoundTrue Around-Ear II
- 15 View on Amazon
- 16 #8 Pick Sennheiser HD 598
- 17 View on Amazon
- 18 What to look for in the Best Over-Ear Headphone
- 19 Mistakes to Avoid
- 20 Most Important Features
- 21 Which Over-Ear Headphones are Right For You?
Best Over Ear Headphones 2016
Price: $349 | Weight: 190g | Back: Closed
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: The Momentum 2.0 does so many things right and the stylish design is quite a sight.
Sennheiser is a German audio manufacturer that has been around for a while (since 1945!), giving it a high-caliber expertise. It introduced the Momentum line when the market began asking for signature, stylish headphones. Sennheiser ensured that the sound quality backed the premium looks, making the Momentum series a success among audio lovers (despite its not-so-friendly price tag).
That means that a sequel was imminent – debuted as the Momentum 2.0 Over-Ears. The beloved design from the original was maintained – stainless steel headband and lightweight construction – but Sennheiser generously enhanced portability. The earcups can now fold down, allowing the footprint of the included carrying case to be more compact.
Additionally, the earpads were slightly enlarged for a better fit. Some folks complained that the ear openings on the originals were too small. Otherwise, you’ll still looking at leather wrappings and sweet color accents. On that note, you can choose among three bas colors: Black, Ivory, and Brown.
There was nothing notably changed in the sound (there wasn’t need). The Momentum outputs Sennheiser’s excellence – balanced sound signature, smooth delivery, and satisfying clarity. The cable has an in-line 3-button remote (make sure you choose the correct OS compatibility among iOS and Android), and it’s detachable from the earcup for flexibility. The large, leather-wrapped cushion earpads means that you’ll get superb sound isolation and comfortable listening sessions.
View on Amazon
Price: $299 | Weight: 225g | Back: Closed
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: Attractive design, comfy fit, and solid sound – the MDR-1A has it all.
Sony is another manufacturer that knows what it’s doing in the audio scene. Its latest signature, over-ear series is the MDR-1A. There’s a lot to like about the design. It’s sleek, stylish, and ergonomic.
Sony paid close attention to the materials. The cushion-y, leather headband tightly connects to the metal stems that support the earcups. On the right side, you’ll find an easy way to detach the removable cable. The headphones don’t have a fold-able design, but the earcups can at least swivel.
There’s more than meets the eye with the earpads. Sony was very cognoscente about sound isolation. The leather-wrapped cushions have an enfolding design, to make sure that the audio output is sealed and external distractions don’t interfere. They’re also considerately sized and comfy.
Bass is big on the MDR-1A, but in a controlled-manner. You’ll love both the impact and definition. The 40mm drivers are tuned with a crazy wide frequency range (3Hz – 100kHz); so the rest of the audio spectrum is nothing to scoff at. Sony aims for music purity and precision in the details, making sure that you don’t miss a beat.
Price: $299 | Weight: 380g | Back: Open
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: Exceptionally designed open-back over-ear that makes for an encompassing audio experience.
Some say that Philips hit it out of the park with the Fidelio X2. This pair of cans has gained quite a fanbase on Head-Fi.org and rave reviews around the web. However, before going further, it’s important to know that the X2 aren’t made for taking out and about. They’re bulky and open-back (which lets sound in and out). Philips made the X2 all about audio excellence and comfort.
So you’ll get a functional design rather than one that’s stylish. That meshed hammock underneath the headband makes sure the fit is always adequate. The earpads are substantial, with breathable memory foam. It molds to your head’s shape and counters sound leak.
Powering the HiFi reproduction are 50mm neodymium drivers. It’s a consensus among users that neutrality of the sound gives a transparent trueness to music. And the open-back architecture allows the output to freely move about, which translates to a spacious and expansive soundstage.
Price: $299 | Weight: 292g | Back: Closed
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: V-MODA’s killer sound and engineering is brought to the wireless era.
If you were a fan of V-MODA’s popular M-100 over-ears, then you’ll be happy to hear that they’re gotten even better. V-MODA has recently introduced the Crossfade Wireless as the next step in the flagship’s story. You can think of them as an enhanced M-100, because this new pair can do both wired and wireless.
That gives some nice flexibility to the user. For instance, if the battery runs out, the headphone doesn’t just turn into a paperweight (as long as you have the cord nearby). Also, it’s a known fact that wired sound is better than wireless, because of the compression through Bluetooth. So the user can choose between superior sound quality or convenience; not that the wireless mode sounds bad whatsoever.
One downer is that V-MODA had to cut the fold-ability in the design when bringing in the wireless-enabling components. But everything else about the original design is maintained. And we now have a lot more metal plate customization options for adding your own standout style. The wireless capabilities mean that there are now playback controls on the earcup.
You can think of the sound as a matured M-100 reproduction. The M-100’s sound signature was slightly V-shaped (pushed back mid-range). The Crossfade Wireless balances out the spectrum while still hitting hard with the bass. Treble details comes through satisfyingly and imaging is done well to portray a 3D space.
Price: $239 | Weight: 285g | Back: Closed
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: The best balance between price and audio quality; you can’t go wrong with the M50x.
Audio-Technica struck it big with the ATH-M50x headphones. It may just be the best bang-for-your-buck over-ear out there. No, the styling doesn’t appeal like with some of the others on our list, but that doesn’t mean that the M50x can’t keep up. Functionality is the name of the game here.
The physical package of the M50x is pretty standard. It’s a mostly plastic (but sturdy) build, with leather on the most important parts – the headband and earpads. The design works and there’s plenty of cushioning to take care of comfort. The earcups are able fold into a compact size or swivel, and the cable is detachable.
The audio output is powered by 45mm, large aperture drivers that provide an exceptional frequency range. Audio-Technica claims a “professional” grade reproduction, so expect some accurate tunes. However, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t fun. The bass is punchy and engaging, and details are crisp and distinct.
Price: $299 | Weight:350g | Back: Open
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: Top-notch drivers and build at a reachable price.
HIFIMAN has captured the heart of many audiophiles. Unfortunately, its offerings have been out of reach for many audio lovers, due to considerable price tags. The company is trying to fix that, and the HE400S is part of the effort.
Despite the tightened up pricing, the HE400S still boast the manufacturer’s use of Planar Magnetic drivers. And they’re efficient at that. Unlike typical Planar headphones, you don’t need extra equipment to drive the audio signal. The HE400S can play directly from a mobile device.
So why go Planar? These drivers are more efficiently control the diaphragm’s dynamics (the conductors are spread more thoroughly across the diaphragm). This results in significantly less distortion compared to dynamic drivers.
Design-wise, we have a very thin headband (supplemented with a hammock support) and metal earcups. Although it may not look it, the build is lightweight, at 350 grams. And the plush earpads provide all the comfort your ears need.
Soundwise, the HE400S knocks sound quality out of the park. The well-balanced tuning is aims for a natural reproduction and smooth delivery. HIFIMAN is known to provide a delicious low-end, and the HE400S is no exception. The open-back design also makes the sounds airy and spacious (but bear in mind that sound will get in and out easily).
Price: $179 | Weight: 184g | Back: Closed
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: Tried and true – Bose is a sure bet for an all-around quality over-ear.
You expect a certain amount of audio fidelity when you buy a Bose product, but style isn’t something that they’re known for. Bose is gradually up’ing its design. The newest SoundTrue headphones are slightly redesigned with a slimmer profile and a new colors.
But you’ll still be able to tell that it’s a Bose headphone, and that’s okay. It works. The SoundTrue gives a nod to portability. It can collapse and fit in a compact carrying case (included). The cable is detachable for flexibility and it has an in-line remote/mic (make sure you choose the correct OS compatibility). And those earcups are tried and true for comfort on your noggin.
We know that Bose delivers a full and clean sound, and the SoundTrue II are no exception. Bose slightly refined the sound in this update, pushing for more natural sounds and a deeper low-end. You really can’t go wrong here.
Price: $249 | Weight: 270g | Back: Open
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: Probably the best valued open-back headphone on the market.
There’s another fantastic Sennheiser over-ear that should be a serious consideration. The HD 598 technically falls in the middle of Sennheiser’s entire lineup, but that really means that it brings the best value. Word of mouth from users backs that up.
The HD 598’s design is fairly basic, but functional. There’s ample cushioning for upper head support, and the earpads are considerably sized and cushioned. You’ll be wrapped in comfort as you’re slipped away by your favorite tunes.
However, note that they’re not made for portability. The grating on the earcups means that they’re open-back, allowing the audio to leak through. Sennheiser incorporates an Ergonomic Acoustic Refinement (E.A.R.) technology that more efficiently directs audio into your ears. This, coupled with the open-back spaciousness, gives the listener an encompassing “in room” experience.
What to look for in the Best Over-Ear Headphone
Comfort/Fit: If a headphone isn’t comfortable, it doesn’t matter how good it sounds. Manufacturers try different approaches to earpads, trying to find the best balance between sound isolation and comfort. The most common materials are leather or plush wrappings. Be mindful of the fit and cushion. Thicker pads will isolate better. Also, memory foam materials mold to your head’s shape and help eliminate gaps where sound can escape.
Light weight: You’ll want to be cognoscente about the manufacturer’s build and resulting weight. All those feature may be neat, but if they pack considerable heft, you may end up with an annoying pressure on the top of your head. Some manufacturers may realize that and supplement the headband with a considerable cushion.
Fold-ability: A fold-able design isn’t as common with full-size headphone than with on-ears, because of the size. This makes it more appealing when a manufacturer generously works it in. Over-ears these days play nice with mobile sources, so if you plan on taking the headset with you, you’ll want to keep an eye-out for this design feature (and a nice case included in the packaging).
Removable cable: Having the ability to pop the cable out of the earcup gives some good flexibility to the user. The biggest advantage is probably, if the cable fails, then that doesn’t mean that you have to buy a new pair of headphones. Additionally, if you don’t like the stock cable for some reason, you’re open to finding a third-party solution that tickles your fancy.
Mistakes to Avoid
Hard to drive: Full-size headphones vary quite a bit. When you start to go up the price chain, be conscious about the impedance rating. The powerful technology in many high-end headphones can come with considerable resistance, meaning that you may need a dedicated amp to drive the signal to an audible level. If you want to steer clear of that, make sure the impedance rating on the headphone’s spec sheet is low.
Closed vs Open back: Over-ear headphones come in open or closed-back forms (some can be semi-open). Make sure that you mean to buy them. Open-back is as implied; the earcups are open to letting sound come in and go out. They’re only suited for listening in a quiet space, with no one around (because people next to you will hear it). Folks buy open-back headphones because the sound is more airy/spacious.
Remote Compatibility: An easy mistake to make is buying a headphone with the wrong in-line remote. Many headphones these days come with a 3-button remote on the stock cable. However, because the two most popular mobile operating systems function differently, manufacturers have to create two versions of the remote. Make sure you buy the appropriate iOS or Android headphone model.
Most Important Features
- The earcup ergonomics and over-ear fit should be thought-out. You don’t want pressure-point discomfort over a listening session.
- Earcup materials can vary between leather, synthetic leather, plush fabric, or memory foam. The manufacturer should make it considerably soft.
- A light weight build reduces the chance of discomfort, or if not, considerable cushioning on contact points with your head.
- Isolation is key. If sound leaks, then the audio quality will not be as good as it can be. The earpad fit/material largely determines this.
- Substantial earpad cushioning helps keep the sound in. Memory foam pads are also efficient, as they can change shape and minimize gaps.
- An open-back architecture provides superior sound qualities that closed-back headphones have a hard time producing. But closed-back headphones keep the music to themselves and can be used in public.
- Light weight in a headphone is always a plus. It will need less cushioning and be more portable.
- Fold-able frames are convenient if you plan to use the headphone on the go. It’s nice to be able to collapse a headphone down into a small-footprint carrying case.
- Most likely, you’ll be using your smartphone as the music source for your headphones. Therefore, look out for an in-line 3-button remote and mic on the cable.
Which Over-Ear Headphones are Right For You?
Audio lovers have a variety of choices with over-ear headphones. Think about how you mostly use them when deciding. For instance, an open-back headphone wouldn’t be the best choice if you listen on the move. You’ll also have to ponder if a wireless solution is worth the extra dough.