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Headphones have become an essential item for me to listen to music, podcasts, audiobooks, gaming, and take work calls. Plus, in the past few months, they've become a street and work-wear statement piece that are actually better for long-term hearing than their popular, pocket-sized alternative: Earbuds. There are many instances in which you can leverage the power of headphones. There is also a suite of options. And with new technology rollouts, such as active noise cancellation (ANC) and voice integration with Google Assistant, Alexa, and Siri, headphones keep getting better and smarter.
In a crowded headphone market, there are lots to choose from. But before you go and spend your hard-earned money on just any pair, make sure that the over-ear cans suit your lifestyle and needs.
To help make that process easier, I've rounded up what our team and other headphone enthusiasts consider to be the best in class for you and your listening preferences.
Also: The best wireless headphones
Sony WH-1000XM5 specs: Form factor: Over-ear, closed-back | Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2 | Battery life: 30 hours (3 hours on a 3-minute charge) | Frequency response: 4Hz-40,000Hz
Sony's WH-1000XM series headphones have been the go-to headphones for active noise cancellation (ANC) technology since their popularity in the 1980s. The WH-1000XM5 headphones have raised Sony's bar even higher, offering the best ANC technology yet, with 30 hours of battery life and a quick charging time of 3 minutes to 3 hours. These headphones provide the perfect sound escape. As we pointed out in our full review, these headphones have also improved on an often overlooked factor that is becoming increasingly important in a video-conferencing world: Superb microphone quality.
Review: Sony's WH-1000XM5 headphones are basically perfect
At a price tag of $400, the advanced tech suite doesn't come cheap. However, for someone who frequently forgets to charge their headphones, the quick charger benefits offer an opportunity cost. Additionally, the comfortable fit, despite controversial aesthetic reviews, makes blocking out surrounding sounds possible and practical. Bottom line, these comfortable headphones are perfect for working professionals who want to spend their headphone time plugging into projects or calls instead of plugging into a charger.
Sony WH-CH520 specs: Form factor: On-ear | Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2 | Battery life: 50 hours (1.5 hours on a 3-minute charge) | Frequency response: 20Hz-20kHz
Are you tempted by Sony's impressive suite, but can't quite justify the traditionally hefty price tag that follows? Well, you're in luck. As reported by ZDNET in February, Sony announced that the WH-CH520 over-ear headphones offer Sony's star quality in a more compact and affordable size. Instead of paying $400 for Sony's multipoint connectivity, Bluetooth 5.2, and sleek aesthetic, you can pay $60 and opt for the WH-CH520 model.
You might be asking yourself if the dramatic drop in price comes with a decrease in quality. However, Sony headphone enthusiasts and customer reviews prove otherwise. While it's still early, these lightweight headphones seem to offer a sound signature that meets Sony's superb standards, custom EQ adjustments, and impressive battery life, all rolled into a breathable design with cushioned ear pads for all-day wear.
Also: The best headphones for workouts and running
I will note, however, that you will be sacrificing Sony's renowned ANC technology. Sony boasts "noise blocking" with this model, but there are no external mics to combat intrusive noise. Nevertheless, if you are a casual listener who doesn't mind external sounds leaking in and values the surround sound of the headphones themselves, then these are a great option.
HyperX Cloud Alpha Wireless specs: Form factor: Over-ear | Connectivity: USB adapter | Battery life: 300 hours | Frequency response: 15Hz-21kHz
Gamers, the last thing you want is for your headphones' battery life to act as a game-defining factor. The HyperX Cloud headphones provide an impressive 300 hours of battery life. If you do the math (which we did), you can game and stream for eight hours a day for over a month before needing to recharge. This is even with the DTS Headphone:X audio drivers enabled. Additionally, the microphone is detachable, so you can remove it depending on the type of gaming you're doing. It's also adjustable, so you don't peak your audio or sound muffled while talking to other gamers.
ZDNET's own Taylor Clemons reviewed the HyperXCloud headphones while streaming, gaming, and making work calls and praised the headset for their robust battery, clean audio, and custom EQ settings.
Review: HyperX Cloud Alpha Wireless: Solid, no-nonsense audio for gaming, music, and more
This headset has excellent audio quality that provides rich, clean sound even at low volumes. The Ngenuity desktop app enables or disables the spatial audio and DTS Headphone:X settings, allowing you to monitor battery life, adjust volume, and create custom equalizer settings. This ensures that no matter what you're playing, it will sound its absolute best.
Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro X specs: Form factor: Over-ear, open-backed | Connectivity: Wired | Battery life: N/A | Frequency response: 5-40,000Hz and nominal impedance of 48 ohms
Even though wireless headphones have dominated the headphone market recently, we can't forget about the roots of headphones -- wires. That's right, wired headphones still exist and are, controversially, still worth it. The Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro X headphones are living proof. This model is a mid-range headphone option for mixing, streaming, or for audiophiles who want to hear every detail in their music. The detachable mini-XLR cable can be changed at will or exchanged with other connection options.
These headphones are open-backed, allowing air and sound to transmit freely through the earcups' grills, resulting in a more natural, speaker-like sound. If you're producing and mixing, you can definitely hear the difference in their natural frequency response and reliable sound. Plus, the included memory foam provides an ergonomic and comfortable fit, making the over-ear fit feel less constrictive.
Review: Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X headphones: Brutally honest sound for under $300
Evident from our 4/5 review rating, these wired headphones are too good to be left out of your consideration, delivering "precisely what it says on the tin: provides you with a relatively affordable, brutally honest audio solution for mixing and audio engineering."
Apple AirPods Max specs: Form factor: Over-ear, closed-back | Connectivity Bluetooth 5.0 | Battery life: 20 hours (1.5 hours on a 5-minute charge) | Frequency response: 10 Hz-20,000 Hz (estimated)
Despite being newcomers in the over-ear headphone market, Apple's AirPods Max have unsurprisingly established quite the Apple-ecosystem fanbase. These over-ear headphones are the only device that combines exceptional sound with all the same benefits that Apple device owners have enjoyed for years with the smaller AirPods earbuds. These features include instant connectivity, multi-device switching, and the ability to tweak settings and view charge levels on any Apple device.
Even ZDNET's Jason Cipriani sings the AirPods Max's praises for their impressive Transparency Mode and Spatial Audio, claiming the cans majorly elevated his viewing of The Mandalorian.
Review: AirPods Max: Stunning sound and performance mean I'm keeping the $550 headphones
The sound quality of the Apple AirPods Max is by far the best of any Apple headphones today, especially with their ANC technology that meets or exceeds what competitors like Sony and Bose currently offer. If you're an avid Apple user and don't mind spending a little more, the Apple AirPods Max are an excellent choice for headphones.
It depends on what you're looking for. We broke down different product categories so that whether you're looking for ANC, wired, or Apple-friendly headphones, there is a top option for you.
|Headphones||Price||Where to Buy||Form Factor||Connectivity||Battery Life||Frequency Response|
|Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones||$398||Sony, Best Buy, Amazon||Over-ear||Bluetooth 5.2||30 hours||4 Hz-40,000 Hz|
|Sony WH-CH520 headphones||$48||Sony, Best Buy, Amazon||On-ear||Bluetooth 5.2||50 hours||20 Hz-20 kHz|
|HyperX Cloud Alpha Wireless||$192||HyperX, Best Buy, Amazon||Over-ear||USB adapter||300 hours||15 Hz-21 kHz|
|Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO X||$259||Amazon, Walmart||Over-ear||Wired||N/A||5-40,000 Hz|
|Apple AirPods Max||$480||Apple, Best Buy, Amazon||Over-ear||Bluetooth 5.0||20 hours||10 Hz-20,000 Hz|
While all of these headphones are excellent picks, it ultimately depends on what type of connectivity you prefer, if noise cancellation is important to you, what kind of battery life they have, and how much you're willing to spend on a pair.
Choose these headphones...
If you want...
Exceptional noise-canceling headphones. With advanced features such as a comfortable fit, ambient sound mode, touch controls, and voice-assistant compatibility, they provide a great listening experience.
Sony WH-CH520 Wireless Headphones
Sony's best-in-class tech with a lighter build and price tag. These headphones are a more affordable version of Sony's flagship WH-1000XM. They still offer Sony's top-notch audio quality, multipoint connectivity, and long-lasting battery life, but in a more compact and lightweight design.
HyperX Cloud Alpha
Long-lasting headphones perfect for gaming. The HyperX Cloud Alpha feature a detachable microphone, 3.5mm audio jack, and comfortable memory foam ear cups. They also have long-lasting battery life and impressive sound quality with DTS Headphone:X audio drivers and spatial audio that provides an immersive audio experience.
Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO X
Wired, open-back headphones for analytic listening. They offer a natural and detailed sound with a frequency response of 5-40,000 Hz. The headphones also come with two detachable cables, one with a standard 3.5mm jack and the other with a mini-XLR connector.
Apple AirPods Max
Sleek, over-the-ear headphones for Apple users. They also come with advanced features such as active noise cancellation, Spatial Audio, and Siri support, providing an excellent listening experience for Apple device owners. The headphones provide an exceptional sound quality, too.
I selected these headphones after conducting thorough research and either using them myself to listen to music and podcasts or I considered the reviews of other ZDNET writers. In order to provide you with a comprehensive guide, I also compared customer ratings and reviews (both positive and negative), standout features, brands, and prices. This was done with the goal of helping you find the perfect headphones to fit your budget, work, and lifestyle preferences.
You'll find brands like Sony, Bose, JBL, and Sennheiser consistently make quality over-ear, durable headphones.
Over-the-ear and on-ear headphones are considered a better option than earbuds for your health since you're not physically sticking anything in your ear. However, regular headphones can still cause hearing issues if you turn up the volume too loud or wear them for more than an hour at a time.
Check out ZDNET's tips for preventing hearing loss caused by headphones for how to listen healthily.
On average, a pair of headphones will last about two to three years before the components start to wear down or malfunction. However, a good quality pair of headphones that are more expensive should last you longer (about four to five years).
Noise-canceling headphones use advanced technology to actively reduce external noise, providing a more immersive and distraction-free listening experience. They're especially useful in noisy environments, such as public transportation or busy offices.
Here are a few other options to look into:
The Razer Barracuda Pros are a great wireless over-ear headphones for gamers who want to ditch latency and upgrade to ANC.
The Bose 700 are great for casual listening, but perfect for taking conference calls thanks to their eight different microphones.
The Bose QuietComfort 45 headphones are sturdy, well-performing, and as the name suggests, comfortable.