Anyone can appreciate a good set of over-ear headphones, especially music fans, students, and couples who are stuck working at home. But shopping for cans is pretty overwhelming thanks to fancy new features like Bluetooth and ANC. Worry not—we’ll explain the features that matter and help you buy a set of over-ear headphones.
Headphone Features to Look Out for
You shouldn’t have to worry about whether a set of headphones sounds good or not. So to make things as easy as possible, we’re only looking at fantastic-sounding headphones from reliable brands. We’re also dividing the headphones by features instead of sound-quality, so you can quickly pick out a good pair of wired, wireless, or ANC cans without fussing between a bunch of options.
Need to get up to speed on fancy headphone features? Here’s a quick rundown:
- Wired VS Wireless: Wired headphones are cheaper and offer (generally) better sound-quality-per-dollar than Bluetooth headphones. Just keep in mind that some phones and laptops don’t have headphone jacks anymore, and wireless headphones are more comfortable than their wired counterparts.
- ANC (Active Noise Cancellation): Want to eliminate background noise? ANC headphones use inverse-phase waves to cancel out ambient sounds like the hum of an engine or the churn of a dishwasher. They’re ideal for people who live in noisy environments or who travel a lot.
- Microphones: Most Bluetooth over-ear headphones have built-in microphones. Headphones with high-quality mics are good for Zoom meetings and phone calls.
- Open-Backed: Open-backed headphones allow your music to leak out for everyone to hear. Yeah, say goodbye to privacy, but the open-backed design provides a clear sound that’s similar to freestanding speakers—a serious perk for music fans and musicians who don’t want to disturb their neighbors with full-sized speakers.
Without further ado, let’s look at the best over-ear headphones for Christmas 2020!
Best Wired Headphones: Sony MDR7506
You can’t go wrong with the legendary Sony MDR7506 headphones. Sony introduced the MDR7506s back in 1991 as a professional studio product, and they’re still one of the best-sounding, most comfortable over-ear headphones available today. Heck, some people still use their original MDR7506 headphones from the ’90s, thanks to the durable design and replaceable ear cushions.
Want something cheaper? Pivot to the AKG Pro Audio K72 headphones. They’re a bit bulky, but the AKG K72s offer sound quality and comfort that’s comparable to the Sony MDR7506s. They also look cool, which is always a plus.
Best Budget ANC: Skullcandy Venue
Why overpay for ANC? The Skullcandy Venue Bluetooth headphones pack a fantastic bass response, a 24-hour battery, and ANC that rivals brands like Sony and Bose. Skullcandy’s Venue headphones also have onboard controls to adjust volume or skip tracks, microphones for phone calls, and a built-in Tile tracker that helps you find your headphones when they’re lost at home or in the wild.
For a set of Bluetooth cans without ANC, consider the Skullcandy Hesh 3 headphones. It sports a 2-hour battery life, a comfortable fit, and a deep bass-heavy sound. Like the Venue, Skullcandy’s Hesh three headphones also have onboard controls and microphones.
Best Premium ANC: Sony WH-1000XM4
You can’t beat Sony’s WH-1000XM4 headphones. By all measurements, they’re one of the absolute best Bluetooth headphones available today. They have everything—fantastic sound quality with audio upscaling, class-leading ANC, and a comfortable lightweight build. The Sony WH-1000XM4s have a 30-hour battery life and can connect to two devices at a time so you can quickly jump between listening to music on your laptop and taking a call on your phone. Don’t have time to charge the battery? Sony WH-1000XM4 also works over 3.5mm cable.
A common alternative to the Sony Wh-1000XM4 is the similarly priced Bose QuietComfort 35 II headphones. These headphones are (arguably) on equal ground in terms of ANC performance and sound quality. Thing is, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II are easy to find on sale because they still use the old Bluetooth 4.1 audio standard, which is a little laggy when compared to the Sony WH-1000XM4’s Bluetooth 5.0 system.
Best for Gamers: SteelSeries Arctis 1
Don’t buy basic headphones for hardcore gamers. The SteelSeries Arctis 1 is a high-quality gaming headset that brings 3D sound to any console. It also has a detachable microphone for high-quality in-game voice chat (or Zoom calls), a proprietary receiver for lag-free wireless listening, and an included 3.5mm cable for wired gaming. Plus, with its 20-hour battery life, the SteelSeries Arctis 1 outlasts even the most intense gaming sessions.
Want something less expensive? The BlueFire headset is a solid little headset that connects to consoles via 3.5mm cable. Its durable teen-friendly design can withstand any abuse, and its microphone is perfect for online school or in-game voice chat.
Best for Musicians: Audeze LCD-1
There’s nothing better than a pair of open-backed headphones—so long as you aren’t worried about noise isolation or noise bleed. The Audeze LCD-1 are some of the most reasonably priced open-backed headphones available today, and provide a crisp and clean sound that’s comparable to freestanding speakers.
Open-backed don’t have the intense bass of many close-backed headphones. Combine that with their lack of privacy or noise-canceling features, and you have a pretty niche product! I suggest buying these for a musician who already has a good pair of close-backed headphones, or someone who prefers to use freestanding speakers but doesn’t want to disturb family members or neighbors during certain hours of the day.