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Best Over-Ear Headphones

(Image credit: Nura)

Over-ear headphones may not be as popular as they once were but they still have a place in the market. They're great for when you want the best sound quality you can possibly get from a headphone. Portable, and especially wireless (Bluetooth) headphones have exploded over the past decade and that's why the Sony WH-1000XM3 have taken our top spot as the best overall headphone you can buy right now. 

(Image credit: Sony)

No surprise here. Sony still remains king of active noise-canceling (ANC) headphones, and Bluetooth headphones in general, with its WH-1000XM3. Not only does it have class-leading ANC, it tries to shove every possible feature you might want in a headphone into it while still retaining a great 30 hours of battery life on a single charge. When the WH-1000XM3 are dead, you can plug the included USB-C cable in and get a quick charge. Ten minutes of charge nets you five hours of listening time. Unfortunately, during that time you wont be able to actually use your headphones.

Sound quality is decent out of the box if you're a fan of a bass-heavy, dark sound signature. However, that won't really matter much as the companion smartphone (available on both Android and iOS) can adjust this. 

You can also enable an ambient sound mode by using your palm to cover the right ear cup. This lets you hear the environment around you without having to remove your headphone. Arguably this could be implemented better since holding your hand over the right ear cup for more than 15 seconds can get fatiguing, fast. 

The WH-1000XM3 are also comfortable. It's not optimal (personally I get a pain on the crown of my head after several hours), but definitely better than most other headphones I've tried. The ear cups and headband are super soft.

(Image credit: Amazon)

 

Without a doubt, if you're looking for the best over-ear headphones around, you'll want to check out the open-back Sennheiser HD650. These headphones are probably the most comfortable headphone on the market. The ear cups and headband feel like absolute pillows — no complaints when it comes to comfort or fatigue. Since they're open-back you don't have to worry about your ear getting warm.

If we had to have a gold standard for sound quality, the HD650 takes the cake. The soundstage is super wide thanks to the open-back design. Mid- and upper-bass, along with the mid-range and treble, is super smooth and neutral. Nothing is elevated or overpowering. The HD650 brings that low-bass in and punches it hard.

There are two major downsides to the HD650. The open-back design means your audio will leak no matter what environment you're in, so, you'll probably want to use them at home. The other major downside is these headphones require an amp to get the most out of them. You can try plugging them into your phone but you'll most likely need to max out the volume to even get any sort of sound out of them. Fortunately, the HD650 doesn’t need that much amplification so most if not all amps will work. Also, it uses a proprietary cable on the headphone end. Fortunately, the cable is detachable and Sennheiser seems to be pretty good at keeping the cable in stock. 

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Mixcder E9 Wireless

Best Value

If you're looking for the best bang for your buck, look no further than the Mixcder E9 Wireless. First and foremost, comfort on the E9 Wireless are superb. The ear cup and headband design resemble the Bose QC35 IIs quite a bit and this means in terms of comfort the E9 Wireless are only a smidge worse than the QC35 IIs. 

In terms of sound, the E9 performs quite well here, especially for the price. The bass, and midrange response is flat and neutral, while the low-treble is only slightly recessed while the rest of the sound signature is equally as flat and neutral.

Battery life is equally as great with up to 30 hours of battery life on a single charge with ANC enabled. The headphones charge over Micro-USB, and the ANC feature can be used even when wired, which is a bonus. The ANC performance on the E9 Wireless is okay at best. It does a great job at reducing sound all across the board but doesn't particularly block out any one sound. For example, it'll reduce the sound of an engine but you'll still be able to hear it. 

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

The Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3 offers some of the best sound in a Bluetooth headphone to date. While it doesn't compare to any wired options, the Momentum Wireless 3 feature boosted bass overall, a slightly recessed but flat midrange, and a neutral treble overall. Soundstage is excellent for a closed-back Bluetooth headphone, and dynamic range is equally as great. 

Comfort is pretty good here too with big, soft ear cups, and an equally as soft headband. The ear cups are attached to a sliding mechanism on each side of the headphone and extend far enough to that even people with big heads will fit them just fine. You won't have an issue with discomfort or fatiguing and you'll easily be able to wear them for extended periods of time.

The biggest weakness of the Momentum Wireless 3 is its battery life. The headphone is only capable of up to 17 hours on a single charge with ANC enabled. This is much less than the Sony WH-1000XM3 which feature 30 hours of battery life on a single charge. Fortunately, the Momentum Wireless 3 charge over USB-C, however they do not feature fast charging of any sort. This means you'll be waiting around 2 hours for them to charge it the headphone dies at all.

ANC performance is superb. It's not on the level of the Sony WH-1000XM3, but it's good enough. If we had to rank headphones by ANC performance, the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3 would comfortably be in second place behind the WH-1000XM3. 

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Tribit XFree Tune

Best Budget Wireless

Want wireless headphones with really long battery life? The Tribit XFree Tune are the right headphones for you. They last up to 40 hours on a single charge, which will get most people through the week. Sure, they charge over Micro-USB, which is outdated at this point, but this isn't a huge deal if you have a ton of older gadgets around.

In terms of sound quality, the XFree Tune perform well. The bass is elevated but isn't too overwhelming. The mid-range is neutral and smooth, and the treble has an emphasis, making some tracks sound overly bright. The sound can be defined as V-shaped, which some may like over a completely flat and neutral sound.

For comfort, the XFree Tune are excellent. There's no ear fatigue and the headphones are relatively light, so there shouldn't be any issues with the headband crushing your head. The ear cups and headband are made out of leather as well, which gives you a nice cushion.

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Mpow H10

Best Budget Noise Canceling

The Mpow H10 are definitely the best budget pair of wireless over-ear headphones around, especially for its price. 

In terms of sound quality, the H10 are above-average. The bass overall is flat and neutral. It's not over- or under-emphasized, nor is there too much or too little boomy-ness. The mid-range is great, only being slightly recessed in the mid-mids while the lower- and upper-mids are neutral and flat. The treble is okay as well. They may sound sibilant, piercing, and sharp for some users. 

Battery life is excellent with up to 30 hours of usage on a single charge. Usually, headphones at this price range get somewhere between 10-15 hours of usage on a single charge, and this is with ANC enabled. Yes, the Mpow H10 have ANC and, fortunately, the ANC doesn't effect the sound quality in any major way so you can just keep it on 24/7. The ANC itself is good for its price — great for commutes and office environments, although it struggles quite a bit while flying. 

Comfort is surprisingly good here, too. There are no issues with fatigue, pain, or any sort of soreness over several hours of usage. The ear cups use a pleather material, which is fine, and the rest of the headphone is made of a mostly plastic design, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The plastic allows the H10 to be super light which makes them even more comfortable.

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HiFiMan Sundara

 Best Planar Magnetic 

 

Most headphones available on the market use dynamic drivers and that's for good reason. They're easy to manufacture, sound good, and can be used in anything as small as truly wireless earbuds up to large stadium speakers. However, there are other driver types out there, including planar magnetic. This is where the HiFiMan Sundara comes in — a set of planar magnetic headphones meant for people who care deeply about sound quality.

The sound quality here is good. The bass is neutral and flat, while the mids are relatively even with some marginal dips and elevation below and above neutral, respectively. The treble is where they fall short. The treble is fairly uneven with big dips and elevation throughout the entire range making the treble sound a bit odd. This is normal for planar magnetic headphones since they're typically great at reproducing bass and mids but suffer quite substantially with treble.

Comfort is decent. The ear cups and headband are fairly large. If you have a smaller head, the ear cups may actually extend past your jaw making them super uncomfortable for smaller headed people. Aside from the ear cups, the headphones themselves are fairly heavy thanks to the planar magnetic driver.

Bottom line

Over-ear headphones are getting smaller, more compact, and wireless. If that's what you're looking for, look no further than the Sony WH-1000XM3, which are the pinnacle of wireless headphone innovation. Stand out features include great portability for an over-ear headphone, excellent comfort, and ridiculously long battery life at 30 hours.

The WH-1000XM3 also currently offers _the best_ active noise cancelation (ANC) performance of any headphone by a mile. If you need ANC headphones, go with the WH-1000XM3. However, the biggest downside with them is that you can't charge and listen to them at the same time. Yes, they do feature quick charging, but as soon as you plug them in to charge, audio playback gets disabled whether you were listening over Bluetooth or through the 3.5mm connection.

How to choose the best over-ear headphones

While many people are ditching their over-ear headphones for more portable ones, they still play an important role in the headphone market, especially if you care about sound quality or soundstage. You have to consider comfort as well. These headphones will be over your ear, on your head, and possibly squishing the top of your head for several hours at a time. 

Of course, there's also impedance. While it's not that important when it comes to portable or wireless headphones, it's absolutely crucial when looking at high-end headphones. This is amplified when looking at open-back headphones.

Sound Quality

We're going to be honest here. If the sound quality wasn't great, headphones wouldn't have made our list, period. The number one thing that attracts people to over-ear headphones is sound quality. Nobody would knowingly choose to use over-ear headphones that sound like garbage. While we have a numerical list here, all of them sound really good and you can't go wrong with any of them.

Our top picks, the Sennheiser HD600 and the HiFiMan Sundara, are both solid for those who want the most accurate sound you can get. Both sets can essentially replicate neutral sound without much issue and if there are any inconsistencies can easily be EQ'd to fix any minor variations in sound.

Comfort

Comfort is easily the second most important thing when it comes to over-ear headphones. If they're not comfortable and you can't wear them for long periods of time, why have them in the first place? 

Easily the number one pick for over-ear headphone comfort are the Sennheiser HD650. Those things feel like absolute pillows on your ears and on your head. The clamping force isn't too strong so they don't add a ton of pressure on your head either. 

The next best is, unsurprisingly, the Sony WH-1000XM3. While not as comfortable as the HD650, they're comfortable enough and that's super important in the case that you need to use them for extended periods of time, perhaps while flying. When it comes to traveling, you'd want the most comfortable headphones you can find.

Impedance

In an attempt to not get overly technical, impedance indicates how much power and sound a headphone may require. The higher the impedance, the more power your headphone requires and the more likely you'll need an amp. Generally speaking, the lower the impedance the better. 

The magical number for mobile devices is typically 32 or lower. Anything higher means you'll probably need an amp of some sort to drive your headphones. That number isn't universal, however, as smartphones such as the LG V30 can theoretically drive headphones with an impedance of roughly 600. 

It's not like plugging in high-impedance headphones into a low-impedance device will result in no sound, either. That combination will likely work. However, you'll likely need to max out your phone's volume level to get some sound out of it, if at all. 

To nobody's surprise the Mpow H10 are our top pick in this regard. They're relatively inexpensive headphones designed for portable use. The Sony WH-1000XM3, Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3 and Mixcder E9 Wireless are our next obvious choices since they were all designed for wireless use.