Top five best over-ear headphones for 2020
By Oliver Trebilcock
Article 3 of 3
We round up the best over-ear headphones to help you find your ideal pair for the best sound and comfort, and even extra features like noise cancelling.
Over-ear headphones are the largest style of headphones, completely encasing your ears for the ultimate in comfort and sound. Many pairs also feature active noise cancelling – perfect for peace and quiet when commuting by bus or train, or for frequent flyers to cut out plane noise. They can often be more costly than other headphone types, so it's important to choose well. We round up the very best pairs available.
Below we've listed the best over-ear headphones on the market this year, so you can get great sound and stay comfortable whether you're on the go or at home.
See the top headphones to buy by checking out our guide to the best headphones.
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Best over-ear headphones
These over-ear headphones are a landmark launch, becoming the highest-ever scoring wireless headphones at our expert lab. The industry-leading active noise cancelling is the best we’ve yet seen, they’re superbly comfortable, and the 27-plus hour battery life goes the distance. They’re foldable and there’s even a detachable cord if you forget to charge them, plus a whole host of optional settings in the accompanying smartphone app.
These stylish noise-cancelling Bluetooth over-ear headphones offer fantastic sound, which is enjoyable and natural to listen to. You can even adjust the sound to your taste with the accompanying smartphone app. The battery lasts for an astonishing 30 hours before you have to recharge them and you can activate your smartphone’s voice assistant (such as Apple’s Siri or Google Assistant) for hands-free control of your device. They’re among the best we’ve ever tested.
These are fantastic-sounding Great Value over-ear noise cancelling headphones – they’re so good they’ve even beaten many pairs double their price in our tests. It’s a real challenge to find a pair with effective noise cancelling in this price range, and these really do deliver.
If you’re looking for exceptional build quality headphones, few beat the robust, premium feel of these headphones. They’re packed with features, including Siri and Google Assistant voice control support, an extensive equaliser to adjust the sound to your tastes and a handy detachable cable. Noise cancelling and sound quality are excellent, and there’s even an ambient sound mode for more awareness of your surroundings when crossing the road.
Pricing, recommendations and test scores correct at February 2020.
Not found the product for you? Browse all of our headphone reviews.
And here are three over-ear headphones to avoid
Over-ear headphones are expensive, so it's important you make the right choice first time rather than wasting money on a dud. The worst models we've seen are uncomfortable around your ears and sound terrible – one even adds a background hiss to everything you listen to. You'll definitely want to avoid the models we've listed in the table below.
Over-ear headphones to avoid
You'll want to steer well clear of these headphones. They're actually meant for use in the home, so you can listen to your hi-fi or TV late at night without disturbing others. Unfortunately though, you're the one that will end up being disturbed if you buy these headphones. The sound is rotten - a distracting hiss swamps everything you listen to.
Beware being lulled into a false sense of security by big brand names. These big-brand headphones are one of our worst-ever scoring pairs of headphones in our expert lab tests. Sound is thin and sibilants in speech are so harsh they're painful. Our listening panel found they were hot and tight, clamping round your head, and heavy as well.
These budget over-ear wireless Bluetooth headphones are a shining example of ‘too good to be true’. At a rock-bottom price, they’re barely more expensive that some of the cheapest in-ear wired headphones. They seem to have all the useful features, including a mic and controls to answer and control calls, as well as volume and music controls, and the earcups swivel flat for easy storage. However, sound quality is appalling. Bass is boomy, but also thick and dull; sound is muffled and lifeless, lacking articulation and excitement, and highs are tinny and harsh.
Advantages of over-ear headphones
They may take up more space in your bag, but the biggest advantage of over-ear headphones is comfort. It can be hard to find a pair of in-ear headphones that will fit your ears properly, and for longer listening periods in-ear headphones can become irritating. On-ear headphones put pressure on your ears and can start to hurt over long periods, and aren't quite as good at blocking out external noise as over-ear pairs. A solid pair of over-ear headphones provides a physical barrier between your ears and the outside world, which is why active noise cancelling is a feature most often found in over-ear headphones.
Sound quality is slightly less clear cut. Technically it is possible for in-ear headphones to sound just as good as over-ear ones, but in practice this is completely dependent on how they fit inside your ear, making sound quality of in-ear headphones more temperamental. Small movements inside your ear will have a big effect on the levels of bass and treble that you experience, so it's far easier for a manufacturer to produce a consistent-sounding over-ear model, and easier for you to be confident you'll get a fit that'll deliver the best sound the headphones offer so you don't lose out.
Wireless over-ear headphones
Many prefer wireless headphones to free themselves from tangled wires and to not have to worry about accidentally yanking the cable out if you step away from your computer for a second. In addition, many smartphones now lack a dedicated headphones socket, so you either need an adaptor or to buy Bluetooth wireless headphones.
Over-ear Bluetooth models benefit from a generally longer battery life compared with in-ear and on-ear wireless models. This is simply because they're big enough to fit bigger batteries in, giving you more listening time even when they add in extra features such as active noise cancelling. A good pair will give you over 20 hours of listening time – more than enough to get through even the most intensive day of use.