Monday, August 8, 2022

Best Over Ear Headphones 2021: Over-the-Ear Headphones Audiophiles will Love

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Bluetooth earbuds may be all the rage right now when it comes to cool and convenient audio devices, but when you really want to dive deep into an audio experience, it’s got to be over-ear headphones. A good set of cans will blow earbuds out of the water with the sound they can deliver. While earbuds can fire the audio directly into your ears, the bigger space of over-ear headphones can start to create a proper soundstage, surrounding you with the audio your listening to.The effect of a good pair of over-ear headphones will extend to just about everything you listen to. Whether you’re gaming and listening for approaching enemies, chilling out with some tunes, or enjoying a movie marathon, over-ear headphones are ready to maximize your enjoyment. And, thanks to their bigger size, these headphones tend to be among the most comfortable, spreading out their weight and pressure across a wide surface area and padding that with luscious memory foam. We’ve picked out some amazing headphones that can deliver whether you want ultra-premium, highly affordable, wired, or wireless.

TL;DR – These are the Best Over Ear Headphones:

1. Audio-Technica ATH-M50x

Best Over Ear Headphones

Our Pick

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x

On Amazon

If you’ve ever dipped your toe into the headphone pool before, you’ve probably heard of Audio-Technica’s long-revered ATH-M50x. There’s a good reason these $150 cans come so highly recommended: they’re great for a first foray into high-quality headphones, with terrific build quality, fantastic sound, and a price tag that doesn’t break the bank.

While they’re billed as studio headphones, they do have a bit of oomph in the bass and treble department, making for a really fun sound signature that appeals to fans of rock, rap, electronic, and other high-energy genres. (They also do a good job of isolating outside noise, which is great if you’re in a room with other people.)

If $150 is a bit more than you’re willing to spend, Audio-Technica’s ATH-M40x and ATH-M30x are steps down in the same line, for $100 and $70, respectively.

2. Tascam TH-02

Best Budget Over Ear Headphones

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Over-ear headphones don’t come much cheaper than this, but the Tascam TH-02 come from a reputable brand in the audio industry. With the TH-02, you’ll be getting a large, 50mm driver in each ear for a full sound. The frequency response from 18Hz up to 22kHz means the headphones will be able play back everything you’ll want to hear.

The closed back design can help you block out external sounds, so you just hear your music when you’re on the go. And, the low impedance will let you easily power the drivers with the headphone jack on a laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

3. Sennheiser HD 800 S

The Ultimate Audiophile Experience

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Sennheiser HD 800 S

On Amazon

Headphones can range in price from $15 to $1,500, and if you have money to burn, the higher end of that spectrum gets you a real treat for your ears. While there are a few incredible sets of headphones on the high end, Sennheiser’s HD 800S are often seen as the high-water mark of consumer audiophile cans.

They have an insanely open soundstage, giving you some of the most natural sounding audio you’ll ever hear, and adhere to a flat sound signature better than the vast majority of headphones out there. They aren’t cheap, you’ll need an amplifier to drive them, and many people probably won’t even like the way they sound, but for true purists, it doesn’t get much better. And hey, the price could be worse—Sennheiser makes a $60,000 set, too.

4. Sony WH-1000XM4

Best Noise-Cancelling Over Ear Headphones

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Sony WH-1000XM4

On Amazon

Sony has once again pushed noise cancelling further. The new Sony WH-1000XM4 took what was already a great pair of headphones and made them just that little bit better. The new model connects to devices over Bluetooth 5.0 for a stronger, more stable connection, but Sony leaves the door open for wired connections as well.

You might not feel the need to use the wired connection often, though, as these headphones offer a 30-hour battery life. And, with support for the high-quality LDAC codec, they carry a fairly robust audio signal even over Bluetooth. With a closed-back design and some of the active noise cancelling in the industry, you’ll get to tune everything out and really dig into what you’re listing to. When you do need to hear the outside world, you won’t even have to take off the headphones. Just put a hand over your one ear cup, and the Sony WH-1000XM4 microphones will temporarily disable the noise-cancelling feature, so you can hear the world around you.

5. Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2

Best Wireless Over Ear Headphones

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Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2

On Amazon

Most of the headphones on this list are wired, because when it comes to straight-up audio quality, you get more for your money with a wired headphone (since it’s cheaper to manufacture than wireless).

But if you’re diving headfirst into this brave new headphone jack-less world, there are some great wireless options out there too. The Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 are a great choice for under $150, with a bit of extra bass and convenient on-ear controls—and without a bunch of extra features that inflate the price. They do have active noise cancelling, though, and while it isn’t quite on the level of the Sony WH-1000XM3 mentioned above, it’s a nice bonus.

If noise cancelling is your prime concern and you have the money, Sony’s offering is a good step up, but if you just want a pair of wireless cans that offers great value for your money, Planatronics has you covered.

6. Wyze Headphones

Best Budget Wireless Over Ear Headphones

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There is no shortage of cheap wireless over-ear headphones you can pick up on the market right now, but if you want premium features at the budget price point, you’re going to want the Wyze Headphones. For just $50, you’re getting a pair of Bluetooth headphones that include active noise cancellation. That feature alone sets them apart from the competition in their price ballpark. But, they go even further.

The Wyze headphones use Bluetooth 5.0 and can connect with two devices at once, letting you easily switch between audio sources. You can also use them as wired headphones with a 3.5mm audio cable, which also lets you tap into their extended frequency response range. The mics used for noise cancelling serve a second purpose, as the headphones can let ambient sound in with Quick Conversation mode, in case you need to hear what someone is saying but don’t want to constantly be taking your headphones off. Roughly 20 hours of battery life and quick charging over USB-C ensure the standout capabilities of these headphones hold up throughout the day.

7. HiFiMAN HE-400i

A Planar Magnetic Option

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HiFiMAN HE-400i

On Amazon

All the headphones on this list thus far use “dynamic” drivers: a small coil receives a signal from your computer, phone, or other device, which creates a magnetic field that reacts with a magnet to vibrate a diaphragm and create sound. Planar magnetic headphones use a different driver design, with magnets on either side of the thin, flat diaphragm. Without getting insanely technical, this allows for more natural bass extension and less harmonic distortion. However, these types of drivers are more expensive to produce, so there’s less variety than there is in dynamic driver-based headphones, and planar magnetic cans tend to be a big bigger and heavier.

Planars are becoming more popular, though, with the $190 HiFiMAN HE-400i a common entry point. It’s one of those things you kind of have to hear to understand, so if you just haven’t found a pair of headphones that fits your tastes, give some planar magnetics a listen. You might become a convert.

8. Sennheiser HD 600

Flat and Open-Backed at a Reasonable Price

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Sennheiser HD 600

On Amazon

If you want audiophile-grade sound but don’t want to spend a thousand dollars (or more) for something like the HD 800 S, Sennheiser’s HD 600 are one of my personal favorite headphones of all time, priced at $300.

You get a natural-but-not-huge soundstage, along with a comfortable fit and that signature high-quality sound Sennheiser is known for. Note, however, that you probably will need an amplifier to drive these 300 ohm headphones to get the most out of them, so factor something like the JDS Labs Objective2 or Schiit Magni 3 into your total cost.

It’s also worth mentioning the HD600’s siblings, the HD 599 (which is a step down at $150), HD 650 (which sound slightly warmer for a similar price at $320), and the new HD 660 S (which has a brighter sound for $500). And that’s not even to mention Sennheiser’s models, the HD 58X and HD 6XX, which are roughly equivalent to the 660 S and 650, respectively, at much lower prices (when they’re available). There are rumors circulating that the HD600 and HD650 have been discontinued, but multiple Sennheiser reps confirmed to me that they’re still alive and kicking.

9. Apple AirPods Max

Best Hi-Fi Over Ear Headphones

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Apple AirPods Max

On Apple

Apple just got in on the Hi-Fi game with the release of the new, premium AirPods Max. These over-ear headphones offer Apple’s custom-made dynamic drivers in large, closed-back ear cups. The headphones are about as Apple as a device can get, aesthetically, with a smooth metal exterior and even Apple’s Digital Crown for adjusting volume, controlling audio playback, taking calls, and bringing up Siri. These are rather heavy headphones, but Apple has designed a mesh band at the top that should distribute the weight evenly.

The AirPods Max come at a high price, but you’ll be getting active noise cancellation through eight microphones as well as a transparency mode to allow you to keep enjoying your tunes while still being able to hear the outside world. You’ll also get spatial audio with Apple’s head tracking feature on supported iPhones and iPads. The head tracking is powered by an Apple H1 chip in each ear cup. The AirPods Max connect wirelessly over Bluetooth 5.0 and have a 20-hour battery life, though you can also use a wired connection with a 3.5mm-to-Lightning cable.

10. Razer Opus

Wireless THX Sound

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The Razer Opus headset will check a lot of boxes for headphone shoppers, and support for true THX sound is one of them. The headset was built to THX specifications, and it delivers on frequency response, minimal distortion, and noise isolation. It goes even further to cut down on external sounds with active noise cancellation. Of course, when a headset does this much to erase your surroundings, you can easily toggle on and off ambient sound mode to hear what’s around you.

You’ll find plenty of memory foam cushioning inside the Razer Opus, so you can stay comfortable even if you want to wear it for a long time to truly test the 24-hour battery life. When it comes time to charge the battery back up, you can do so with a modern USB-C cable. And for connectivity, you can enjoy the best of both worlds with both Bluetooth and wired audio.

What to look for in a pair of Over Ear Headphones

You might think narrowing your search down to “over ear headphones” would help make the decision process easier, but there are still a ton of things to consider when buying a pair for yourself. A few of the most important include:

Sound: First, and most importantly, you want a pair of headphones that sounds good. Some aspects of sound are subjective, like the sound signature, which refers to how balanced the bass, midrange, and treble are. Some people may prefer a “flat” signature that’s closer to the artist’s intention, while others may prefer heavy bass, or a “v-shaped” frequency response that boosts the bass and treble for a livelier feel.

Other things about sound quality are more objective. It’s possible, for example to have bass-heavy headphones with low-quality sound (where the bass is overly boomy) or high-quality sound (where the bass is tight, punchy, and doesn’t completely drown out the rest of your music). If things sound distorted, harsh, or muddy, that’s usually an indication of lower quality headphones. Higher quality headphones sound better, but also cost more, so it’s all about balancing your ears with your budget.

Comfort: Some headphones feel like a cloud on your head, with plush ear pads and a headband that you barely notice is there. Others clamp down hard, squeezing your brain like it’s in a vice and putting undue pressure on the top of your skull.

Most are somewhere in between.

If you plan on wearing your headphones for long stretches—like multi-hour gaming sessions—you’ll want to make sure you get something that stays comfortable long-term. There are a few things that can help—for example, you can replace pleather ear pads with velour-style pads to keep your ears from getting hot—but sometimes you just have to try a pair for yourself. Make sure you put a set of headphones through its paces within that return period, so you don’t end up with a headache and buyer’s remorse.

Open-backed headphones sound more natural and airy but leak sound both ways…

Open- or closed-backed: The ear cups of your headphone can either be open, allowing air to pass through them, or closed, creating a more sealed housing. Open-backed headphones have a more natural, airy sound, but leak sound both ways—you can hear everything going on around you, and people sitting next to you can hear your music. That makes them less than ideal for commuting, offices, and libraries, but makes them great for critical listening at home.

Closed-backed headphones, on the other hand, tend to have a more limited soundstage, but are great for emphasizing bass. (That’s not to say all closed-backed headphones are bass monsters with limited soundstages, but you get the idea). Most importantly, closed headphones keep other people from hearing your music and isolate you from outside noise. Both types of headphones can be great, so buy what sounds good to you and fits your use case.

Closed-backed headphones tend to have a more limited soundstage, but emphasize bass

Wired or wireless: Mobile device manufacturers may be trying to slowly pummel the headphone jack into submission, but wired headphones are still around and kicking. All other things kept equal, wired headphones will be cheaper than their wireless counterparts, and don’t come with some of the connection problems and none of the battery life limitations that wireless headphones come with. Still, wireless headphones can be mighty convenient if you’re out and about, as long as you can charge them regularly—just be prepared to shell out a bit more for a quality pair.

Active noise cancellation: If closed-back noise isolation isn’t enough for you, some headphones also come with active noise cancellation, which uses clever frequency trickery to cancel out noise around you.

It doesn’t work for all sound—it’s better with consistent noise like the drone of an airplane—but it can be mighty useful. That said, it can also make some people uncomfortable or give them headaches, so you may have to experiment with different headphones and levels of cancellation to find something that works right for you.

Impedance: Most of the headphones on this list have an impedance of 32Ω (ohms) or less, meaning they’ll work great with a laptop, phone, or tablet—just plug it in and press play. Once you get into audiophile-grade stuff over a couple hundred dollars, though, you’ll start to see more high-impedance headphones at 64Ω, 250Ω, or even 600Ω.

Higher-impedance headphones need a headphone amplifier to supply more power to drive properly

Higher-impedance headphones need more power to drive properly, so you may find them too quiet when plugged straight into a phone or laptop—to get them at the proper volume, you’ll need a headphone amplifier to supply more juice. That’s a completely separate topic with its own list of best products, but the JDS Labs Objective2 and Schiit Magni 3 are good starting points at a decent price.

Headphones are one of those products that are sometimes hard to describe using words alone, and they can be incredibly subjective. So, your best bet when shopping is to order a pair and try it out for yourself—just be sure to buy from a store with a good return policy in case they don’t fit your tastes. You can always send them back and try something else.

More Expert Tech Roundups

Whitson Gordon is a writer, gamer, and tech nerd who has been building PCs for 10 years. He eats potato chips with chopsticks so he doesn’t get grease on his mechanical keyboard.

Mark Knapp is a regular contributor to IGN and an irregular Tweeter on Twitter @Techn0Mark


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