Large over-ear headphones have taken a bit of a backseat in recent years, overshadowed by the success of Apple’s AirPods and other pocket-size earbuds (sometimes referred to as true wireless stereo headphones, or TWS). Larger over-ear headphones do still have some important advantages, though, and they’re starting to make a bit of a comeback – as shown by Apple’s July 2023 launch of the Beats Studio Pro over-ear headphones.
There are a lot of low-cost over-ear headphones that only use Bluetooth to provide wireless audio, but the best over-ear models also tend to provide one or more wired connections via a USB-C interface or a 3.5mm audio connector (or both). That was the surprise with the Beats Studio Pro, as Apple has always focused purely on Bluetooth for wireless audio, ignoring the fact that you really need a wired connection to play the high-quality lossless and high-res audio formats that are now available on Apple Music and other streaming services.
That was a terrible weakness with the expensive AirPods Max, which relied on Bluetooth alone, and couldn’t even play the best audio formats provided by Apple’s own streaming service. And, with the Beats Studio Pro costing just $349.99/£349.99 that leaves the AirPods Max looking even more overpriced at $549/£549. Apple has plenty of competition too, including traditional hi-fi manufacturers, such as Bowers & Wilkins, who have decades of expertise producing over-ear headphones that can meet the demanding standards of audiophiles and hi-fi buffs.
These larger headphones have other advantages too, most obviously starting with the fact that they can use larger drivers–the mechanism inside the earpiece that produces the sound you listen to–providing a more powerful and detailed sound. Larger earpieces can also provide longer battery life, with many of Apple’s rivals providing far more than the 20-24 hours of the Beats and AirPods range. So here’s our guide to some of the best over-ear headphones currently available for use with your Mac, iPhone or iPad.
Here we are concerned with over-ear headphones, also known as on-ear, cans or full-sized headphones. We cover the different styles of headphones separately, see: Best earbuds and Best wired and USB-C headphones.
Best Over-Ear Headphones for iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple TV
1. Beats Studio Pro
Good compatibility with Apple and other devices
3.5mm and USB-C audio input
Excellent battery life
Clean and balanced audio
Headband is a little stiff
No ear detection
Price When Reviewed:
While Apple’s AirPods Max are now more than two and a half years old and in need of an update, Apple’s subsidiary, Beats, has launched a set of over-ear headphones that cost less, deliver better sound and offer most of the AirPods features, including one-touch pairing, iCloud pairing (although not instant switching!), Handoff to Apple Watch, hands-free “Hey Siri” support, and Find My support. They even support personalized Spatial Audio and head tracking. You’ll find all the necessary controls built natively into iOS, as you would expect from of a product from an Apple-owned company.
There are a few missing Apple features, such as ear detection (which would stop them playing when you took them off) and they don’t feature Apple’s H-series headphone chips (even though some Beats products do). Instead, they offer a proprietary Beats processor which allows them to more easily support Android features.
The Beats Studio Pro sound really good. The low end has the clarity and punch of AirPods Max, but the high frequencies are noticeably crisper. The built-in DAC supports hi-res and lossless audio up to 24-bit/48KHz. Adaptive noise canceling quality is excellent, though perhaps not as good as the 2nd-gen AirPods Pro. Noise canceling is not supported in USB-C wired mode. The headphone’s mic can be used as mic input on your Mac or PC (though the quality is not up to the standard of a good dedicated headset).
They are less comfortable to wear than the AirPods Max. The ear cushions don’t have the soft velvety feel of AirPods Max, and the headband is much stiffer, but they are lighter (260 grams compared to 384 grams). They fold up to easily fit in a bag and come with a real carrying case.
On the left cup, you’ll find integrated controls concealed by the b. These are standard play/pause/advance/back control buttons. You’ll also find a standard headphone jack with audio input fully supported without any dongles or adapters.
On the right cup you’ll find the power button which is also used to enter pairing mode, or you can double-click it to change noise canceling modes between Signature, Entertainment and Conversation. There is also a USB-C port for charging that can also be plugged any supported audio source for audio input.
We got around 4 hours of playback time from a 10-minute charge. A full charge takes around 2 hours. Beats claims 40 hours of battery life with ANC off and 24 hours with ANC on. That’s about 20 percent better than AirPods Max.
Even if they weren’t $200 cheaper, we’d recommend these over the AirPods Max. The lack of ear detection is a bummer, but Beats Studio Pro delivers betters sound, battery life, controls, and compatibility, and they weigh a lot less too.-Jason Cross
Read our full
Beats Studio Pro review
2. Bowers & Wilkins Px8
Hi-fi sound quality
Bluetooth with AAC, aptX
USB-C and 3.5mm wired connections
A little heavy (320g)
Price When Reviewed:
Apple surprised a lot of us when it (finally) added USB-C and 3.5mm wired inputs to the Beats Studio Pro. However, hi-fi specialists Bowers & Wilkins have been using USB-C to provide lossless and high-res audio with their PX range of headphones since 2017.
It’s a little pricey – at $699/£599 it’s even more expensive than the AirPods Max – but the design and sound quality are impeccable. Available in black or tan, the padded headband and earpieces feel absolutely luxurious (although the leather covering might not suit everyone). The adjustable cast-aluminum armatures look very smart and are sturdy enough to cope with life on the road when you’re traveling, and there’s a hard-shell carrying case included as well.
The 40mm drivers support Bluetooth with support for both Apple’s AAC and aptX Adaptive for Android users. As mentioned, there’s a USB-C interface for wired connections and lossless audio, and a 3.5mm adaptor is included for good old-fashioned analog audio as well. The sound quality is as good as you’d expect from a company with B&W’s hi-fi heritage. There’s an icy clarity to the steel guitar on You Can’t Trust Violence by Low, and the band’s harmonies are smooth as silk, even as they repeat the chilling chorus of “no, you can’t trust violence…”. There’s a nice bass sound too, bouncing along with a firm, infectious rhythm on Bad Guy by Billie Eilish, and contrasting well with the sharp, precise finger snaps that set the pace and drive the track forward.
The noise-cancellation features work very well too, and with 30 hours of battery life when using Bluetooth and noise-cancellation the Px8 is a great option for frequent fliers or commuting on a train. The luxurious design and sound quality of the Px8 are worth every penny, but if you’re on a tight budget then you can still find the previous Px7 S2 model available online with a recent price cut to £299, which makes it a real bargain. –Cliff Joseph
Read our full
Bowers & Wilkins Px8 review
3. Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless
Impressive battery life
Supports AAC, aptX Adaptive
Good carrying case and accessories
2.5mm line-in connector
Some users may require a USB-C adaptor
Price When Reviewed:
The first set of headphones that I ever bought in my student days was made by Sennheiser, but the company isn’t trading on nostalgia with its Momentum 4 Wireless, which provides excellent sound quality and features at a competitive price.
This fourth-generation Momentum is a bit more compact and streamlined than its predecessors, with the weight now reduced to just 293g in order to ensure that it’s light and comfortable to wear for long periods of time. Even so, Sennheiser has still managed to squeeze an impressive range of features into the headphones, starting with 42mm drivers that are larger than those used by most of its rivals. These also provide an impressive frequency response of 6Hz – 22KHz, which again beats most rival headphones in this price range.
Unsurprisingly, the Momentum 4 provides excellent sound quality. It digs deep and delivers a taut, menacing bass pulse on You Should See Me In A Crown by Billie Eilish. The higher frequencies work well too, capturing Billie’s whispered vocals with great clarity, and picking out the edgy ticking of percussion that gives the song its manic energy.
The digital features are right up to date as well, with Bluetooth 5.2, and support for both AAC for Apple devices and aptX Adaptive for Android. The USB-C port on the right earpiece can be used for charging, but also supports USB audio for wired connections, and there’s a 2.5mm analog line-in connector too (with cable provided). However, the USB cable provided by Sennheiser is USB-A-to-USB-C, so you’ll need to provide your own USB-C adaptor for Macs and iPads that only have USB-C.
The noise-cancellation features work very well, and Sennheiser’s Smart Control app lets you adjust the level of noise-cancellation manually, by using a slider control, or you can just select the ‘adaptive’ option which allows the Momentum to monitor background noise and adjust the noise-cancellation automatically.
But, even with all those features, the really outstanding feature of the Momentum 4 Wireless is its battery life – lasting for around 60 hours even when using Bluetooth and noise-cancellation together. There’s a good set of accessories too, with a hard-shell carrying case and airline adaptor provided for when you’re traveling. And, with a competitive $379.95/£309.99 price, the Momentum 4 Wireless even manages to undercut the price of the new Beats Studio Pro as well.
4. Master & Dynamic MW75
Price When Reviewed:
Master & Dynamic is a relatively young company, having been founded in New York barely a decade ago, but it quickly developed a reputation for the impressive craftsmanship and sound quality of headphones such as the MW75. Priced at $599/£549, and available in a variety of colors, the MW75 oozes quality, constructed out of lightweight aluminum and tempered glass, and with a padded headband and earpieces wrapped in soft leather (although, of course, the choice of leather may not be to everyone’s taste). The earpieces are relatively small for an ‘over-ear’ headphone, though, and some people might find the fit a bit snug. The little control buttons on the earpieces are also rather small as well.
It’s got a classy design on the inside too, with 40mm drivers that are constructed out of Beryllium – a very rigid material used in many high-end hi-fi systems in order to reduce vibration and distortion that might affect the sound quality. The MW75 supports Bluetooth with both AAC for Apple devices and aptX Adaptive for Android, and there’s a USB-C port for wired connections with support for lossless and high-res audio formats up to 24-bit/96KHz. There’s also a USB-A adaptor included for older computers, a 3.5mm adaptor for analog input, and a 6.3mm adaptor for use with high-end hi-fi equipment. Travelers will also appreciate the smart, fabric-covered hard-shell carrying case and airline adaptor, as well as healthy battery life that lasts for 28 hours when using Bluetooth and noise-cancellation together (or 32 hours without noise-cancellation).
The noise-cancellation features are very effective and, like most headphones these days, the MW75 includes an ambient mode that lets in some of the background noise when required. However, there’s also an additional ‘voice’ mode that helps to pick out people’s voices if you’re in an office or perhaps waiting for a flight announcement in an airport.
But, as always, the sound quality is key, and the MW75 provides excellent clarity and detail right across the spectrum. It provides a deep, ominous rumble for the electronic bass on Max Richter’s Shadow Journal, but it doesn’t allow the bass to overwhelm the piercing clarity of the violin, or the gentle ambient sound-cloud of electronic loops that swirl lightly through the air.
5. Yamaha YH-E700B
Strong sound quality
Bluetooth with AAC and aptX Adaptive
3.5mm audio connector
Good app for customizing sound
No USB audio
A little heavy (335g)
Price When Reviewed:
Yamaha has decades of experience producing musical instruments and audio equipment for professional musicians, and it brings that audio expertise to its YH-E700B headphone.
Yamaha gets all the basics right, with large 40mm drivers that are designed to reduce distortion and provide an impressive 8Hz – 20KHz frequency response. The YH-E700B uses Bluetooth 5.2 for wireless audio, with support for both AAC for Apple devices and the latest aptX Adaptive for our Android-toting friends. There’s also a 3.5mm connector to provide a wired connection, although it’s disappointing that the USB-C connector on the headphone is only used for charging, and doesn’t provide USB audio input too. And, since the YH-E700B is an update for Yamaha’s older YH-E700A headphone, it also provides improved noise-cancellation features – which are very effective – and an ambient mode that lets you listen out for background sounds when you need to (but watch out, as the original YH-E700A is still on sale online, so make sure you buy the correct model).
The internal mics used for noise-cancellation also work with Yamaha’s Listening Optimiser technology to scan the inside of your ear canal to create a personalized sound ‘profile’. And, if you want to fine-tune the sound even further, then Yamaha’s Headphone app includes a five-band equalizer with a variety of presets and the ability to create two custom presets as well.
That set of features ensures that the YH-E700B provides excellent sound quality. The headphone’s 8Hz low-end digs really deep for the slinky bass guitar riff on Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker, and Cohen’s own voice has a terrifically deep and world-weary tone. But the YH-E700B handles higher frequencies well too, with a crisp, sharp stab on the percussion that sets the pace, and a smooth velvet tone on the choir that joins in on the chorus. And, with an impressive battery life of 30 hours when using noise-cancellation – or 32 hours if you switch it off – you can enjoy that high-quality music even on the longest journeys.
6. Logitech Zone Vibe
Affordable Bluetooth headset
Adjustable boom mic with mute
Supports AAC for Apple devices
No noise-cancellation for music
No spatial audio
No wired inputs
Price When Reviewed:
Most headphones just focus on the music side of things, with features such as spatial audio or noise-cancellation to enhance the listening experience, but Logitech takes a different approach with its Zone Vibe range of headphones. It’s more affordable than many of its rivals and focuses mainly on office use, for people who may work in call centers or customer support, or perhaps need a headset for video calls when working from home.
There are currently two versions of the Zone Vibe available from Logitech, with the Vibe 100 being a basic Bluetooth headset that costs $99.99/£109.99. There’s also the Vibe 125, priced at $129.99/£129.99, which uses the same headset but also includes a USB wireless adaptor for use in busy offices that may have a lot of Bluetooth devices that could potentially cause interference and affect call quality (there’s a third model as well, although this is designed for large corporate users and is only available from specialist business suppliers).
The headset weighs just 185g, which is very light for a large over-ear headset such as this, as it’s designed for people who may have to wear it all day long while they’re at work. It also has a boom mic for voice calls, which can be folded up out of the way in order to quickly mute the mic as well.
There are no fancy audio features – there’s a noise-canceling filter on the microphone to keep your voice clear for calls, but the earpieces don’t provide active noise-cancellation (ANC) for listening to music. However, the headset supports Apple’s AAC codec for Bluetooth audio and provides good sound quality for both calls and music. It delivers a clear, detailed sound for the dense production on Kate Bush’s The Big Sky, and manages to balance the song’s huge avalanche of drums and percussion very well, without overlooking more delicate details such as the gentle tambourine that shimmers away in the background.
Battery life is good too, with 20 hours of listening time, or 18 hours of talk time for voice calls. And, paying good attention to detail, Logitech’s Tune app is available for Macs and Windows, as well as Android and iOS mobile devices, so you can easily get the Zone Vibe set up when you’re preparing to take voice or video calls at work.
7. Austrian Audio Hi-X25BT
Price When Reviewed:
Austrian Audio makes high-end headphones and microphones for musicians and audiophiles, and they also make more affordable headphones, such as the Hi-X25BT, which provides impressive sound quality for a very affordable $179/£135.
As the name suggests, the Hi-X25BT does include Bluetooth to provide a wireless option when required, with an impressive 30 hours of battery life in Bluetooth mode. It’s not at its best with Bluetooth, though, as it doesn’t support either Apple’s AAC or AptX for Android, relying on the more basic SBC codec for wireless audio.
The emphasis, therefore, is more on using the Hi-X25BT as a set of wired headphones via its USB-C connector. Austrian includes two cables with the headphones, with a USB-C-to-3.5mm connector that provides standard analog audio, or a straightforward USB-C cable that provides digital audio from an iPad, Mac or other devices that have USB-C. There’s also a USB-A adaptor included too, and I had no trouble using the Hi-X25BT with both USB-A and 3.5mm connections on my aging office iMac. I also found a Lightning audio adaptor from Belkin in my desk draw, which allowed me to use the Hi-X25BT with a Lightning connection on my iPhone as well – although, of course, this isn’t included with the headphones, so you’d need to provide your own adaptor for an iPhone.
And, as you’d expect from a company with Austrian’s Hi-Fi background, the sound quality is great, thanks to 40mm drivers with impressive 12Hz – 24KHz frequency response. The cymbal crash that starts Blondie’s Rapture rings out crisp and clear, with a loose relaxed feel on the jangling rhythm guitar. The song’s bouncing bass line works a treat too, and never gets lost in the mix as can sometimes happen with less precise headphones.–Cliff Joseph
8. Apple AirPods Max
Price When Reviewed:
The AirPods Max are quite comfortable, despite their heavy weight of 384 grams. They also look better than any other headphones you’ve used thanks to their smooth matte finish on the aluminum closed-back earpieces, the stainless steel rods in the band, the fine mesh of the ear pads and canopy headband. The headband and soft, deep, breathable ear pads are comfortable enough to wear that the weight isn’t too much of a bother (although if you run with them on you’ll feel the bulk).
The controls are simple, intuitive, and unobtrusive. There’s a digital crown like that on the Apple Watch along and a single button on top of the right earpiece. The crown controls volume and playback (skip forwards and backward, press and hold for Siri, etc). The button toggles between noise-canceling and transparency mode and turns noise-canceling on.
Audio reproduction matches other high-end premium wireless Bluetooth headphones. Apple has tuned the AirPods Max to boost bass and mid-high frequencies a bit, which most listeners will probably find quite pleasing. The bass has kick when it’s called for, and it’s clean with no distortion.
The active noise canceling is perhaps the best we’ve heard, excelling at clearing away irregular sounds like traffic, general office disturbances, or background talking. Apple’s transparency mode, which allows you to have a conversation while still listening to the music, sounds more clear, natural, and normal than any other noise-canceling headphones.
The AirPods Max charge only with a Lightning connector and have no 3.5mm headphone jack input. To listen to lossless audio, or if you’re editing video and want to eliminate the latency of Bluetooth, you’ll need an adapter to plug them into anything other than an iPhone (which itself soon be getting a USB-C port) which seems like a bit of an oversight (especially as the EU has forced Apple to adopt USB-C for the iPhone).
Another thing we aren’t keen on is the not-so-smart Smart Case that the AirPods Max ship with. It’s a case that hardly covers the headphones and doesn’t do anything to protect them. The case does evoke a low-power mode to save battery, but that’s about it. As we said in our review, it’s “Really awful. Ill-conceived and poorly executed”. Apple promises a battery life of 20 hours of listening time with noise canceling enabled, which isn’t quite as good as the competition. Charging is fast: just 15 minutes on a basic 5-watt power adapter took us from 20 to 44 percent
But, the biggest problem is the price. At $549/£599 it’s difficult to recommend AirPods Max when the competition costs $200/£200 less. You do get what you pay for though: build quality is unmatched and there are some clever design flourishes. But there are all the compromises we’ve mentioned above.
The main reason to get AirPods over other headphones is their seamless integration with your Apple ecosystem. They pair just by holding them near your iPhone, switch easily to your Mac or iPad, and you can change settings and get firmware updates within Settings instead of requiring a separate app. One of the coolest features of the AirPods Max (and AirPods Pro) is Spatial Audio, whereby Dolby surround is massaged into a sort of faux-3D sound stage. Initially only available on the iPhone and iPad, Spacial Audio now works on Apple TV and (Apple silicon) Macs too.
Apple’s high-end headphones look, sound, and feel great, but two and a half years on from the launch they lack too many key features. They also cost way more than is justified, although we often find them at a discount. See Best AirPods deals.–Jason Cross
Read our full
Apple AirPods Max review
Full-size headphones fall into two categories: closed and open. Closed models block out some degree of external noise (and also keep your music from disturbing others), while open models, which some people prefer sonically, let more noise in and out. Note that to reach their potential, many full-size models (open or closed) require more juice than others.
For the most part, the main differences between models relate to comfort and sound quality, but not all full-sized headphones are equal and there are some other features that may interest you. To help you find the perfect set of over-ear headphones, here’s what to look (and listen) for.
Noise-Canceling: If you’re not a fan of in-ear-canal ‘phones, but you want something that can filter out external noise such as airplane engines, train rumblings, or the hum of a crowd or noisy office, consider investing in a good set of noise-canceling headphones. These headphones sample outside sound and then pipe in an inverse audio signal to “cancel out” a good deal of monotonous noise. (For more on the technology and its limitations, see my review of noise-canceling models from a while back.) Although they don’t usually sound as good as comparably priced in-ear-canal headphones, noise-canceling models are easier to put on and take off, and they let you hear what’s going on around you. Noise-canceling headphones are available in canalbud, lightweight, and full-size models, but full-size models tend to provide the best noise isolation and audio quality.
Wireless/Bluetooth: If you think being tethered to your Mac, iPhone, iPad, or iPod is a drag—or, for the gym rats, an equipment-snagging hazard—consider going wireless. You can stream audio to stereo Bluetooth headphones from Macs; iPad; and iPhones. Most Bluetooth headphones also double as headsets, letting you seamlessly switch between music and voice features.
Specs and sound quality: As I noted in our speakers buying guide, you should generally ignore manufacturers’ specifications—especially frequency-response numbers. There’s no standard testing methodology for headphone frequency response, and many vendors exaggerate their specs for marketing reasons. Even if specs were accurate, they wouldn’t tell you much about how a particular set of headphones actually sounds.
Instead of reading specs, use your ears. (If you can’t audition a product in person, read reviews from a source you trust.) As with speakers, a quality set of headphones reproduces audio with good balance between the treble (upper), midrange, and bass (lower) frequencies, producing full, rich sound while preserving detail. However, because of their especially small drivers (speakers), headphones present a unique challenge when it comes to bass response: Unlike huge speaker woofers that you can not only hear, but feel, the drivers in most headphones can’t reproduce the visceral impact of low bass—you may be able to hear the lowest frequencies, but you probably won’t be able to feel them.
We point out this bass issue because some vendors address it by emphasizing certain bass and upper-bass frequencies to give their headphones more “kick.” This helps the headphones stand out from other headphones in the store, and some people—especially those who use their headphones when exercising or for beat matching—really want that visceral impact. But such headphones often become fatiguing to listen to over time. If you’re interested in accurate audio reproduction, be careful not to be wowed by emphasized bass. (The same goes for exaggerated treble detail.) The best approach is to audition a set of headphones for several hours—or, even better, several days—with a variety of music. If the headphones still sound great at the end, there’s a good chance they’ll satisfy you over the long run.
Headset functionality and inline control modules: Many current headphone models include, right on the cable, an inline module with a microphone and one or more remote-control buttons. At the minimum, the remote features a single multi-function button for controlling media playback; making, taking, and ending phone calls; and taking advantage of iOS’s Siri and Voice Control features. You may also find dedicated volume-up and -down buttons, as well. The module’s microphone can be used to talk on the phone, make voice recordings, and give Siri and Voice Control commands.
Fit/comfort: Unlike most consumer-electronics devices, you actually wear headphones. So how well a set of over-ear headphones fits your head plays a significant role in your long-term satisfaction (or lack thereof). We include a few comfort-related tips below when describing the different headphones, but reading about a particular style is no substitute for actually giving a product a test drive (or a test run, as the case may be).