There’s a bewildering selection of headphones out there, from bling, bulbous, fashion-focussed ones to altogether more serious, audiophile propositions. If you want a pair, you'll need to take into account the fact that many larger headphones are open backed.
We've indicated if that's so here. Open backs leak sound like a sieve, which means that wearing them on public transport may lead to you being assaulted. And deservedly so, if we may say so.
To reduce the effort involved, T3.com has done the hard listening for you and whittled down the competition to bring the finest over ear and on ear headphones available, without spending huges sums of money. Our favourite picks included the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 and the Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7 that aren’t too expensive while offering up a great, comfortable design alongside phenomenal sound quality.
Take your pick from a host of gorgeous designs and price points and rest easy knowing no matter how pretty a pair, there’s always as much substance on show here as style. And in a number of cases, considerably more. Read on below to see all of our choices for the best over ear headphones - just be sure to read them all to make sure it's the most approriate purchase for you.
1. Sennheiser Momentum 2.0
T3's own favourite
Sennheiser Momentum 2.0
They’ve been around for a while now but the Momentum 2.0s remain the perfect trade off between looks, performance and long lasting value.
Thanks to the double-hinged headband the Momentum 2.0, despite being full-sized, is highly portable and unless you go for some Active Noise Cancelling (and pay the premium) you’ll be hard pushed to find something that sounds better on public transport. Build quality is faultless, the leather is plush, the memory foam ear pads supremely soft, and the metal suitably brushed.
As for sound quality, they cudgel Beats into submission with a seriously impressive, and unexpectedly hefty bass performance, the over-ear design cocoons the listener creating a wide soundstage really giving individual instruments the chance to shine. Energetic, precise and hugely enjoyable.
2. Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7
Audiophile performance without the price
Despite costing just £30 more than the (excellent) Sony MDR-100A, these cans from Japanese audio ninjas Audio-Technica are made with premium materials and verge on the luxurious.
In fact, they’re a class act in every respect, and while a bit conservative, the sound generated from the 45mm True Motion Drivers makes up for the lack of bling. Performance is controlled but the result is a natural and well balanced delivery that your ears will love.
In short: audiophile performance without the audiophile price.
3. Bowers & Wilkins P5 Series 2
Bowers & Wilkins P5 Series 2
B&W's P5 Series 2 is a huge improvement on the original, and brings the trademark audio quality and premium design associated with the recently-bought-out British hi-fi brand.
The sound here is warm, with excellent clarity and a great middle range. Unlike the first incarnation, while heavy bass may be lacking, they don't by any means lack oomph.
If you're looking for a pair of headphones you can wear on your commute as well as at home, the P5 Series 2 has been the on-ear king for the last few years.
4. Kef M500
Delivers on sublime sound promise
These on ears are still big enough to reduce ambient interference and sound leakage to a minimum, making them a near perfect mix of convenience and aural quality, for those who prefer to listen outside rather than whilst umbilically linked to the home hi-fi.
The big, enveloping audio space presented lets you enjoy every instrument in exceptional detail, and there's plenty of bass, but no sense of everything else being overpowered by it.
Visually, the combination of black faux leather and precision-milled brushed aluminium puts them a class apart. Sure they’ve been around a while… But hey, so have The Beatles.
5. Philips Fidelio X2
Richly rewarding listen
Philips Fidelio X2
At launch the Fidelio X2 cost £300 and still felt like a bargain. The combination of luxe build quality, leather headband, velvety soft, memory foam ear pads and exceptional performance proved high-res wasn’t just for the big spenders.
Being open backed, naturally they leak sound spectacularly, so keep them for home listening. At least with a generous 3m cable, you’re not glued to the chaise.
Whether you’re playing a basic MP3, plugged into a DAC or pumping 24-bit uncompressed studio masters into your ears, you’ll be treated to a richly rewarding, hugely entertaining listen.
6. Grado SR125e
Great for home use
The design won’t suit everyone – T3 is rather fond of Grado’s retro aesthetic but prefers something more modernist, as a rule – and the open backed design makes them completely unsuitable for wearing out the house, but don't worry about that, just sit back in your comfiest chair, plug into a decent hi-fi, turn up and enjoy.
Vivid detail, deeply enjoyable bass, engaging mid-range and a huge soundscape make the most of any genre.
7. Oppo PM-3 Classic
Great for home use
You don't need to know what planar magnetism means, but trust us, it sounds good, and unlike many audiophile headphone technologies, it means these can be closed backed… Although they're still not exactly ideal for wearing down the high street or on the tram.
If you can stretch your budget to the Oppo PM-3, you’ll be treated to something close to a sonic master class with remarkably balanced and instinctive performance. The sheer warmth of these things is like easing into a big audiophile bubble bath.
Gorgeous looks too although please note, you’re paying for the sound quality, not real leather.
8. Master & Dynamic MH40
For those who like retro design
Master & Dynamic MH40
With a steampunky design, the Master & Dynamic MH40 is built to last. Hand assembled from lambskin, leather, steel and aluminium, no corner has been cut in the manufacturing process which gives these headphones a high-end feel that makes the price seem a bit of a steal.
More importantly than turning heads, even, the 45mm Neodymium drivers present a big, rich and enveloping sound perfectly suited to pop, rock and 'da beats', as young people call them.
9. Denon AH-MM400
They may have a walnut finish, but these sound far from wooden. Ho ho!
Snug fitting, noise eliminating comfort allows these neutral, reference headphones to do a fine job recreating a huge stereo soundscape, whatever the material. Don’t expect lobe flapping bass, just enjoy the tunes. And the walnut.
The audio may be the main draw, the wood inlay detail really is superb on these headphones-cum-sideboard, offering a tactile tweak to the usual black and silver.
10. Sennheiser Urbanite
Many colours to choose from
If you’re on the look out for some Sennheiser cans, but aren’t a fan of the more staid, rigid Momentum series, then the Urbanites might be right up your alley.
They’re foldable, durable thanks to stainless steel hinges and pump out large amounts of bass. They're clearly targeted at the Beats audience, but for our money sound better and offer a much more sophisticated, European kind of cool.
11. Bose SoundTrue II
Headphones for your commute
Bose SoundTrue II
It may not look especially luxurious, but the sound quality is typically Bose with a well-defined, really enjoyable performance and tight – not overbearing – bass helped significantly by the super noise isolating ear cups.
Similar in build quality to the Sony MDR-100A below, with a blend of matte plastic and marshmallowy leatherette, the Bose SoundTrue II is lightweight and extremely comfortable. With folding ear-cups, it's a very solid choice for commuting.
12. Sony h.ear on MDR-100A
Bold headphone choice
Sony h.ear on MDR-100A
The name might not exactly trip off the tongue, but these are a great choice if you’re after a big sound and bold looks without busting your budget.
They’re don’t offer an especially complicated listen, but everything we played sounded fun and fresh, with plenty of low-end thump.
The MDR-100A is not for lovers of acoustic live performances or madrigals, but it is perfect for pop, as befits its vibrant, pop-art tones and lovably cartoonish appearance.