Over ear headphones are where serious listeners go when they want big soundstages, immersive audio experiences, and to shut out everyone and everything else. Though the clunky cans aren’t sexy, don’t pack down worth a damn, tend to fall apart when exposed to the elements, and cost enough to feed the entire Eastern Bloc for a week, they’re also the only way to get really deep sound in supreme comfort.
Unlike a set of earbuds that are unlikely to survive from the store all the way to your house without either breaking or getting lost between car seats, over ear headphones are intended to be an investment, even when you aren’t paying very much. They’re supposed to last a long time after being burned in, on top of delivering higher acoustic quality, which necessitates loads of careful engineering that is supposed to be resilient as well as effective. All of this can quickly drive the cost of these headphones up, leaving only the worst choices in the lower reaches.
To combat that unfairness, here’s the brands and models of over-ear headphones who are still giving big audio to the people.
What Makes a Great Set of Headphones
Knowing what is going to help improve and enhance your listening experience, it helps to know what you need to be seeking. Let our fine friends at The Hub tell you all about how to choose headphones. From audio pros who actually know what they’re doing. It was using their help and criteria we reached our conclusions, on top of endless “research” hours listening to Bob Seger.
At less than half the price of the top model, you’re not going to get audiophile-level sound here, but there is an impressive amount of quality all packed into a Bluetooth body that connects well, smartly cutting the cord, and throwing around comfort and battery life like they’re out of season. The sound reproduction is solid, with a slightly limited sound stage and reduced bass, both of which are far less than expected at this price, given the limitations of wireless transmission. We found these were a cost-effective travel companion, suited best to those who like to take good music out for long trips, or like to jet-set with something more substantial than earbuds. Purchase: $100
Bose SoundTrue II
Feather light and built specifically to bring the high-end Bose sound to the people who don’t have hundreds to spend on it, these isolate from ambient noise, and are without a doubt one of the most comfortable over-ear headphones to be had. Bass is a bit on the lean side, but the overall sound is more like that of an open-backed model, though there’s plenty of sound isolation and a nice, tight seal on the ears. They’ll get a little steamy on warm days, but otherwise these are Bose quality through and through, even without the Bose price bump. Purchase: $120
Sennheiser HD 598 Special Edition
A little bit older, but still a maestro when it comes to studio sound quality with an open-backed design, all at a reasonable price, these aren’t good for heading into the fray, since they bleed noise both ways. Rather, they provide the home listener a taste of the good life, bringing sweet sound for private audiences right to your hands without costing as much as a small car. Every spare cent went into giving these as much musical range and clarity as possible, so let them sweep you away. Purchase: $151
Sennheiser Momentum 2.0
You can go with the original Momentum and still be getting a superb headphone, but with the 2.0 you’ll also receive improved earcups, a slick folding design, and a more comfortable build, all of which were major complaints of the original. The big, no-pinch cups also aid in providing a deep auditory sounding chamber around each ear which helps the powerful sound come through more accurately. Bass hits are visceral, vocals are clean and soar over the background morass, and everything has a full-bodied feel that proves these began life retailing for closer to $350 than their current, kindly price. Purchase: $200
V-MODA Crossfade M-100
It’s tough to tell if these are true “over-ear” headphones or a set of on-ears that have been bulking up. Either way, they’re here, they’re great, they’re impossible to kill, and they even look damn dapper in the process. Sound is warm and detailed bearing along a heavy amount of bass that can put many back on their heels. Couple that with a folding frame, a fit that gets comfortable with a little work (flex the headband if it’s too tight), kevlar cables, smart sound with plenty of bump, and even a snappy case, and these nearly indestructible beauties are goers that will get you across the finish line with a strut. Purchase: $210+
When you go into the $250 range for headphones, the best ones often look like a set of basic black cans, because the company is pushing performance rather than swagger. Audio-Technica has managed to do both, creating a traditional, vintage headphone look here that has all the new, digital sound that a real music fan demands. Distortion is tough to find even when you tweak the EQ looking for it, so highs and lows come across without sounding like your cable is dying. Sound is focused onto your ears, producing little bleed and a nice isolation experience that can be taken onto public transportation without causing disturbing noise to sneak in or out. If there are issues to be had, it’s mostly with the snug fit, which is particularly trying on those like us, with giant gourd heads. Purchase: $240
Philips Fidelio X2
An incredible value, the X2 has a striking level of engineering put into them, considering the relatively modest price. The replaceable memory foam on the earcups drifts the headphones up, up and away for relaxed, comfortable listening that can go for hours without causing excessive sweat, aches, or Mashed Ear Syndrome. They’re big, with 50mm neodynium drivers that add density without packing on the ounces, but are held firmly off your head, putting pressure atop your head, where your body is used to it. As for sound, these can go blow for blow with top-tier $800 headphones complete with balanced bass, immersive sound staging, and nuanced audio that captures the sweet background as much as the brassy front side. As to flaws: No carrying case, a little sound leak, virtually no noise isolation, and few features are the only downsides to these otherwise hi-fi headphones wearing the pauper’s price tag. Purchase: $248
Made specifically to go mobile, the Listen from French company Focal are tough customers with a tight fit, burly build, and smoothly detachable cord that’s good to go. Bass is potent without being daunting, and the overall sound is densely packed into the closed back design, giving an intimate feel to each musical piece. Though heavy, the Listen aren’t uncomfortable, and the large frame packs down passably for going on the road. The remote is smart, and answering calls is as clean a transition as you’ll find, making these the pricey choice for travelers who want to take their quality with them. Purchase: $249