There’s nothing like a good pair of over-ear headphones to shut out the world. They’re like a big, wearable ‘do not disturb’ sign.
If you’d like yours to also sound good, we’ve consulted the experts at What Hi-Fi and TechRadar to compile a list of the very best, from the super affordable to the money-no-object.
We’ve used ‘over-ear’ here as a catch-all term to differentiate them from in-ear headphones, but this list also includes on-ear headphones. The clue’s in the name, but if you don’t quite know the difference, you can read our full explainer here.
If you want the techiest headphones on the market, look no further than Sony’s WH-1000XM3. Completely wireless, with noise-cancelling, touch-sensitive controls and support for Google’s Assistant, there’s plenty for that 30-hour battery to power – and that’s before they’ve even played a note of music. Fortunately they excel there too, with a natural, roomy sound that’ll almost make you feel like the band is playing all around you. There’s also more detail and an extra dollop of bass compared to the previous model. The only downside is that they dig up so much detail they’ll expose bad recordings for what they are, but don’t hold that against them, eh?
Beyerdynamic is best known for making professional audio gear such as microphones, which is why its Amiron headphones are designed to reproduce a live music experience as accurately as possible. Capable of articulating the entire frequency range without breaking a sweat, they’ll make songs you’ve heard a thousand times before sound fresh, with particularly impressive bass detail. They’re designed to be worn at home, so there’s none of the fancy tech you get with the latest wireless pairs, but in terms of comfort they’re hard to beat. As long as what you put in sounds good, that’s exactly what you’ll get out.
If you’d prefer a pair of noise-cancellers that might turn a few heads, look no further than B&W’s PX (and the navy and gold finish in particular). Solidly built with ear cups that twist for slightly easier transportation, they don’t have quite as many party tricks as the Sony WH-1000XM3 but there is a sensor inside that can tell when you put them on or take them off and automatically play or pause your music in response. Handy. They also sound suitably sophisticated, with punchy bass and truckloads of detail, although you will get the best performance out of them with the noise-cancelling turned off.
Grado’s SR60e on-ear headphones have been around for ages, although perhaps not quite as long as you might think based on the way they look. If you can get onboard with their unashamedly retro, World War 2 radio operator vibe, they sound anything but old-fashioned. The open-back design means they leak quite a bit of sound, so you might be on the receiving end of some dirty looks if you use them on your commute, but they offer impressive definition considering the price, plus they’re supremely comfortable to wear. All that, and when you’re sure nobody’s looking you can pretend to be a pilot.
Koss Porta Pro
Koss designed the Porta Pro headphones in the mid-eighties, and, as you might be able to tell, the design hasn’t changed since. That’ll immediately put some people off, but if you dig their Back to the Future vibe, you’ll be rewarded with a pleasantly energetic performance that makes music infectiously fun to listen to. That might make you want to pump the volume up but doing so could well disturb anyone around you. Given their price and fragile-looking build there’s a surprising amount of bass weight, with good dynamic range and detail to boot. For anyone on a strict budget with portability top of their most-wanted list, these are definitely worth auditioning.
Philips Fidelio X2
When Philips launched the Fidelio X2 they would’ve set you back nearly £300 and even back then they were great value. Now they’re down to half that, which makes them something of a bargain. Their 3-metre long cable and large, open-back design means they’re better suited to the sofa than the Circle line but the memory foam ear pads and self-adjusting headband mean you can wear them for ages without your ears needing a break. Audio performance is brilliant too, with clear mids and a nice balance of bass and treble that makes them really easy to listen to.
If you’ve got less than £50 to spend you might not expect much from the pair of cans that the postman places in your hands a couple of days later, but AKG wants to defy those expectations. The K72 are a little on the large side, so perhaps not ideal for wearing out and about, but they’re comfortable and the 3-metre long cable means you can plug them into your laptop and not have to worry about tugging it off the desk every time you turn your head. Sound quality is the real headline feature here, though, and you’ll have a real job finding anything better for less.
Audio-Technica has made a bit of a name for itself when it comes to battery life and the ATH-SR5BT are no different. You’ll get around 40 hours out of these neatly designed over-ear headphones, which means you might actually struggle to get into the habit of charging them. Sound is well balanced, with a decent thud to the bass and plenty of detail, but there’s no active noise-cancelling, and while connecting them over Bluetooth is obviously more convenient, they do sound better when plugged in using the supplied cable. Even with their long life, you never have to worry about battery when they’re tethered either.
B&W P9 Signature
Retailing at around £700, B&W’s P9 Signature headphones probably cost more than most people would spend on the phone they’d plug them into, but doing that would be to miss the point. These are designed to be worn while sitting in a comfortable chair, in a darkened room with nothing to distract you from the music. Made to commemorate the company’s 50th birthday, the level of detail they offer is superb, while the bass is weighty and the mid-range is stunningly clear, something that lots of headphones struggle with. Plug these into a suitably high-quality source (not your phone, basically) and you’ll never want to take them off.
As reliable, no frills, everyday headphones go, you can’t go wrong with a pair of AKG Y50. You’ll need to choose the black ones to prevent yourself looking too much like a walking AKG advert, but these are lightweight, portable on-ear headphones that fold up neatly when they’re not being used. That bold branding might make you think they’d be all bass and no subtlety but if anything they’re a touch on the quiet side. Detailed, balanced and insightful, they’re also available in a Bluetooth configuration if you’d prefer to keep wires to a minimum (or Apple has stolen the headphone port from your mobile).