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Best Over-Ear Headphones: Balancing Cost, Comfort, And Clarity

June 12, 2023 
Last Updated on January 8, 2024

Going for an over-ear headphone can be a smart choice if you’re keen on getting a snug fit and decent noise isolation, but the drawback is usually the hefty size.

The question here is: Is there a model that offers crisp-clear sounds and is comfortable enough to wear for hours? While this is a tough balance, it’s doable.

To help you choose, we’ve done in-depth research and crafted a list of the best over-ear headphones on the market today. Let’s dive into our top five picks!

1. Sennheiser HD 280 Pro

Top Pick
Sennheiser HD 280 Pro

Interested in getting these headphones? Click the link below.

Sennheiser is a global market leader that has been in the audio business for over 75 years. The company’s product range caters to everyone, from recording professionals to joggers.

Yet, the HD 280 Pro remains one of our favorite picks from Sennheiser’s over-ear collection. It runs on a closed dynamic transducer, comes with synthetic leatherette pads, and works like a charm for live monitoring.

One thing that took us by surprise about the headphone’s performance was the isolation. Although it doesn’t support Active Noise Cancellation (ANC), it does shockingly well in blocking outside hubbub with up to 32 dB of passive attenuation.

It’s not a new launch, either. The HD 280 Pro has been on the market since 2003, but Sennheiser revamped the design. Both the new and old models of the HD 280 Pro are available for sale.

While the specs and inner works on both models are the same, we’d recommend going for the newer version. It’s just more comfortable on the head and comes in more accessory package options.

Key Specs

Connectivity: Wired

Mics: N/A 

Weight: 10.05 oz (without the cable)

  • Ear cushions, headband padding, and cables are fully replaceable
  • Rotatable ear cup for easier storage
  • Budget-friendly
  • Basic design and one color option only
  • The build quality is mediocre at best

2. Shure Aonic 50

Top Pick
Shure Aonic 50

Interested in getting these headphones? Click the link below.

The Shure Aonic 50 is a fairly new product and it supports both wired and wireless connections. This makes it great for studio professionals and avid listeners.

Right off the bat, the first thing you’ll notice is the circular carry case, which we have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it’s quite eye-catching. However, it’s bulky—there’s only so much convenience that the case can add when the headphone folds flat but not inwards.

Yet, it’s fair to say the Shure more than made up for it with a durable build and high sonic quality. After all, the Aonic 50 is made from an anodized aluminum frame, premium faux leather pads, and a closed neodymium magnet transducer.

We still believe that the highlight of the set’s performance is the ShurePlus PLAY app. Its four-point parametric EQ is super convenient. The in-app EQ works with the ANC, too.

Speaking of ANC, you’ll get up to 30 dB reduction when the slider is set to full max. Still, even without ANC, the headphones can filter out up to 25 dB on passive isolation. 

One drawback here would be that RTINGS found that the ANC isn’t ideal for blocking bus engines. This could a downer for your daily commute if you plan to use these out-and-about. Plus, the in-depth review found that it would be better for a wired gaming setup than a wireless one, provided that you won’t need the mics.

That said, on the wireless mode, you get around 4 hours of operation from a 15-minute charge period, up to 20 hours on a full charge, and 35 hours on standby.

Key Specs

Connectivity: Wireless (Bluetooth 5)

Mics: 6 (2 beamforming, 2 more for feedback ANC, and 2 on top of the ear cups)

Weight: 11.8 oz

  • Flexible listening modes, Active Noise Canceling and Environment
  • Versatile connectivity, Bluetooth 5 and a 3.5mm audio jack
  • Fingertip controls for easy call management and music playback control
  • Carrying case for protection and convenience
  • Active Noise Canceling feature needs improvement
  • Bulky and heavy design

Related Article: Shure Aonic 50 Review | Are These The Best Headphones 2024?

3. Sony WH-1000XM5

Top Pick
Sony WH-1000XM5

Interested in getting these headphones? Click the link below.

If you’re looking for a set that looks minimalistic, but is chock-full of features, the WH-1000XM5, with its 30-mm precision driver, could be the perfect fit.

There’s so much to love about this flagship headphone, and it all starts with the soft-fit leather pads and lightweight design. Overall, the set feels comfortable even if you use it for extended periods, which you’ll likely do, thanks to the 30-hour battery life and quick charging feature.

However, the stars of the show are the instant play/pause sensor and the impressive ANC capabilities. The former does exactly what you’d expect: automatically start and stop the playback when you put the headphones on or take them off.

But that’s the only convenience booster that Sony added to the WH-1000XM5. This model can actually detect if you’re chatting with someone, then it pauses the track and readjusts the ambient noise until you’re done with your conversation!

To add some portability (and elegance) to the hands-free experience, Sony sends the sets with carry cases that match the headphone colors: Black, midnight blue, and silver.

The cherry on top is that the headphones come in plastic-free packaging. So, they sound good, feel great, and check some sustainability boxes along the way!

Key Specs

Connectivity: Wireless (Bluetooth 5.2)

Mics: 8

Weight: 8.82 oz

  • Instant play/pause via capacitive sensors
  • Built-in Alexa voice control
  • Sustainable packaging materials
  • Real-time up-scaling using Edge-AI, DSEE Extreme technology
  • Doesn’t fold completely
  • Not much of a step up in the sound quality from the predecessor (the WH-1000XM4)

4. Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700

Top Pick
Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700

Interested in getting these headphones? Click the link below.

With nearly 60 years of experience in the world of acoustics, Bose is a force to be reckoned with. We couldn’t craft a list of the best over-ear sets without adding one of its products into the mix, and the Bose 700 seemed like an obvious multi-use choice.

Remember how we said the Aonic’s ANC can be a bit disappointing if you’re on the road? Well, the Bose 700 is excellent for tackling those low rumbles. Overall, its isolation is quite impressive in most environments.

Don’t just take our word for it; you can listen to a sample of cafe ambient noise on three presets of NC and see the difference for yourself. Now picture an adjustment scale of 11 levels at your fingertips!

In terms of design, Bose kept things sleek with two color options (black and silver luxe) and just a few luxurious details that make all the difference in the comfort level. For instance, you have a soft, gel-like foam covered with silicone on the headband.

On the cups, you get plush leather cushions. Meanwhile, the cups themselves are slightly tilted to conform to the head shape, so you can wear them on a long flight with no issues.

The battery life isn’t as long as the Sony WH-1000XM5, but it still gets the job done for most trips (around 20 hours). Even a quick 15-minute charge will keep those bad boys going for 3.5 hours!

Key Specs

Connectivity: Wireless (Bluetooth 5)

Mics: 8

Weight: 8.96 oz

  • Anti-stick coating on the ear cups to prevent smudging
  • Optimized for Alexa and Google Assistant
  • Supports the Bose Music app and Spotify Tap
  • TriPort acoustic structure vents the ear cups to create big and bold sounds
  • Doesn’t fold up completely
  • Missing spatial audio

Related Article: Tuning Out The World: Top 5 Best Noise-Canceling Headphones (2024)

5. HIFIMAN HE1000 V2

Top Pick

Interested in getting these headphones? Click the link below.

If you’re an audiophile searching for a comfortable set with remarkable clarity, you won’t have to look further than the award-winning HE1000 V2.

This beast of a headphone boasts a 40 mm planar magnetic driver and nanometer-thickness diagram. Although the ultra-thin diaphragm is the first of its kind on the market, HIFIMAN used it on the original HE1000 headphones, too.

Compared to the older version, this one is 12.5% lighter and has an improved band that fits more head sizes. Even the ear cup was slimmed down from 14 mm to 11 mm to keep the whole set sleek.

Yet another design aspect that HIFIMAN changed in the updated version is the ear pad material. On the original HE1000, it used to be velour and pleather. To boost sound transparency, the company opted for polyester instead of velour on the V2 model.

Key Specs

Connectivity: Wired

Mics: N/A

Weight: 14.8 oz

  • Patented “Window Shade” system protects the driver on the open-back design
  • Creates detailed highs
  • Comes with three replaceable connectors (6.35 mm, 3.5 mm, and a 4-pin XLR)
  • Unique design with CNC milling
  • Very pricey
  • Might need cable upgrades

3 Golden Tips For Choosing Over-Ear Headphones

Here are some handy tips if you’re feeling overwhelmed with the options:

  • Consider the back design. Closed-backs are more practical. Meanwhile, open-backs (like the HE1000) win more points in comfort and sound quality, but they could leak out.
  • Match the connectivity to your usage patterns. While all our top picks are fantastic for streaming music and taking calls, the latency could be annoying for wireless gaming. If you want to reduce latency and don’t mind a hit to portability, go for a wired model.
  • Check the driver size. A ton of factors go into shaping the audio quality, but as a general rule, larger drivers (like the one on the Aonic 50) can create deep bass responses.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, finding the perfect over-ear headphones can be a challenging task, given the plethora of options available in the market today. Our exploration of various models in this post was aimed at helping you navigate this vast landscape, considering essential factors such as cost, comfort, and clarity. We hope that our analysis and insights have provided valuable guidance for you to make an informed choice.

Remember, the best over-ear headphones are not necessarily the most expensive, but those that meet your unique listening needs and preferences. Whether you're a dedicated audiophile, a gaming enthusiast, a frequent traveler, or someone who enjoys a good tune while working out, any of these 5 picks will get the job done. Happy listening!

If you found the information in this article helpful, please considering subscribing to our blog for more music production product reviews, tips, and advice.

"Some of the links within this article are affiliate links. These links are from various companies such as Amazon. This means if you click on any of these links and purchase the item or service, I will receive an affiliate commission. This is at no cost to you and the money gets invested back into Audio Sorcerer LLC."

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