Best Over-Ear Headphones Under $250 of 2019

By Michael Desjardin, TJ Donegan, Julia MacDougall, Brendan Nystedt, and Chris Thomas, Updated January 28, 2019

Finding a pair of over-ear headphones that sound great can be a lot more difficult than you'd expect. Sure, spending more money opens up more options, but the good news is that you don't have to empty your wallet to get audiophile-quality playback.

Our experts have spent countless hours in our state-of-the-art labs testing dozens of pairs of over-ears. Yep, rather than simply rely on a "golden ear," we gather reliable scientific data to back up what we're hearing (don't worry, though, we also try them out ourselves as well).

(If your budget is a bit bigger, be sure to check out our articles on the Best Headphones.)

If you're in the market for a high-quality pair of over-ear headphones, then you've come to the right place. Here's our take on the best over-ears available today for under $250. If you want to learn more about a specific pair of headphones, click through to read our full reviews.

— Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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audiotechnica_msr7_hero Best Overall
Credit: / Nick Schmiedicker

Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7

Product Image - Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7
  • Best of Year 2017

Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7

Best Overall

When headphones are able to balance form and function, we stand up and take notice. Audio-Technica’s ATH-MSR7 do just that by combining thick memory foam padding, an aluminum/magnesium housing, and rich, consumer-friendly sound to create a fantastic overall value. They’re cans that'll please audiophiles and average consumers alike—so long as they don’t mind spending a little to get that high quality.

At this price point, consumers expect to be wowed by the headphones' comfort, sound, and features; the Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7 headphones check all of the right boxes. Read the full review.

How We Test

Credit: / Julia MacDougall

We test all of our headphones on a head and torso simulator (HATS), a model of a human being from the waist upwards that reproduces how we experience music when we listen to headphones.

On our head and torso simulator (HATS), we put these headphones through our usual battery of headphone tests: frequency response, distortion, tracking, leakage, and isolation.

Headphone manufacturers are typically aiming for either a flat or a curved sound profile. A curved profile is most common, and most curved profiles are trying to replicate the Equal Loudness Curve (ELC). The human ear hears higher tones more easily than it hears the bass tones, so for a human to perceive highs and lows at a similar volume, the headphones boost the volume of the lows, and moderate the volume of the highs.

A flat profile is usually found in "studio" headphones; the highs, mids, and bass tones have the same volume. However, as I just mentioned, we don't hear all tones at the same volume, so the bass notes sound softer, and the highs sound louder. Some people prefer studio headphones because of their audio fidelity—they are hearing the music exactly as the producers intended them to hear it. Also, as implied by the name, studio headphones are used in studio recordings to help mixers figure out what, if any frequencies, they should boost or reduce.

In addition to the more scientific testing, we also wear each pair of headphones around town to get a sense for their features (like extra amps or noise cancellation) and short- and long-term comfort.

In-ear vs. On-ear vs. Over-ear

You've probably seen a bunch of different headphones in your every day life, but what you may not realize is that headphones, while they have a number of different selling points, are primarily categorized into three types: in-ear, on-ear, and over-ear.

Credit: Reviewed

Three popular types of headphones: in-ear, on-ear, and over-ear.

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x

Product Image - Audio-Technica ATH-M50x
  • Best of Year 2016

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x

Audio-Technica's reputation for building comfortable, high-fidelity headphones is well-deserved. The Audio-Technica ATH-M50X are high-grade studio headphones that allow you to hear your music exactly as it was intended to be heard, with little to no alteration to your sound. If you're transitioning from regular consumer headphones to studio headphones, you might find that the bass notes sound a little quieter than you're expecting, but that's a feature rather than a bug.

With multiple removable cable options and swiveling earcups, these headphones are both surprisingly durable and portable. While we experienced some heat/sweat build-up, that's pretty typical for larger over-ear headphones. If you're looking for studio-quality sound on a budget, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50X are the cans for you. Read the full review.

V-Moda Crossfade M-100

Product Image - V-Moda Crossfade M-100
  • Editors' Choice

V-Moda Crossfade M-100

Meet the Crossfade M-100, one of V-Moda's top tier offerings. The M-100 look like they belong in a militaristic, dystopian sci-fi movie; the cord is reinforced with kevlar, the headphones' frame is steel, and metal plates (which can be customized to your preferences at V-Moda's website) protect the headphones' ear cups. Even with all of the effort put into its looks and durability, though, these headphones also have cushy, vegan leather cups that help the headphones to rest gently on your head without squeezing your head like a vice. You may experience heat build-up, though, in the ear cups, since, like all over-ear headphones, they fully cover your ears and do not allow for a lot of ventilation.

As for sound, the M-100 headphones have a full-bodied sound profile that helps you to ear bass notes where you couldn't before. If you're worried about portability, don't be; these full-sized over-ear headphones fold up into a small case that's easy to toss in a laptop bag. If you've got some extra cash to spend, the V-Moda Crossfade M-100 won't let you down, either in sound performance or durability. Read the full review.

JLab Audio Omni

Product Image - JLab Audio Omni
  • Best of Year 2015

JLab Audio Omni

JLab Audio has a history of bringing premium features down into a more affordable price range, and that's exactly what they've done with the Omni Bluetooth headphones. These over-ear headphones can be used both wired and wirelessly; for the latter case, they have a battery life of about ~15 hours, which is nothing to sneeze at. They sound like most consumer headphones do (rather than studio headphones); they emphasize the bass notes so that they're not totally overtaken by vocals or instrumentals with higher tones.

While the Omni do fold up, they're not especially portable. Whether they're in or out of the included travel case, they're pretty bulky. It's probably best that you leave these in one place, rather than dragging them all around town with you, as they'll take up valuable real estate in your suitcase or your laptop bag. For the price, though, the JLab Omni give you both wireless and wired functionality that makes them a real steal. Read the full review

AKG K701

Product Image - AKG K701

AKG K701

The AKG K701s are professional-grade, open-backed headphones that see wide use in the DJ and mixer community. "Open-backed" means that, instead of sealing the speakers, in an attempt to block out ambient noise, the K701 headphones purposely let the sound in, so that you can hear how the music sounds against the backdrop of the outside world.

Of course, the down-side of these headphones is that by letting outside noise in, the reverse is true as well: your neighbors can hear everything on your headphones. If you've not going to use these in a DJ capacity, you might want to keep them at home so as to avoid annoying people on public transportation. While they're not especially portable, the K701 have a relatively flat sound profile that helps you to hear your music as the recording artists intended you to hear their songs. The K701 aren't for everyone, but if you like open-backed headphones, these are the most comfortable ones on the market. Read the full review.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2

Product Image - Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2

Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2

We really liked the previous Plantronics Backbeat Pro, so it's probably not surprising that the next edition gets a big thumbs up as well. Like the QC35 and the Flex ANC, the Backbeat Pro 2 also has active noise cancellation (ANC), but it's less robust than the ANC on those headphones. It minimizes lower-pitched train rumbling, but other sounds are still audible. To some extent, this effect is intentional, since the Backbeat Pro 2 boasts an open-back setting that allows you to easily hear ambient noise, in addition to your tunes.

Another unusual feature is sensors that detect when the headphones are being worn, and when they've been taken off. In the latter case, the headphones "auto-pause", and turn back on once the headphones have been returned to your head. Some users were unlucky, however, and had defective units that would auto-pause when the headphones were still on their heads. The Backbeat Pro 2 are ridiculously comfortable; we had no issues with them after hours of use. If you like comfy headphones, a 24-hour battery life, tech-y features, and have some extra cash on hand, then these are the cans for you.

V-Moda Crossfade LP-2

Product Image - V-Moda Crossfade LP-2
  • Best of Year 2012

V-Moda Crossfade LP-2

If you need over-ear headphones that can deal with punishing conditions or rigorous use, and still provide you with great sound, then the V-Moda Crossfade LP-2 are a great contender. Like most V-Moda headphones, they have the signature steel frame, metal ear plates, and kevlar-reinforced cable. They also boost the bass notes somewhat at the expense of the higher tones, so they'll hit all the right notes if you prefer bass-heavy music genres, but might leave you feeling cold if you prefer a clear treble over a solid bass.

Included with the headphones are a removable cable and a sturdy carrying case. While the pads fully cover your ears, the headband tends to squish your head after a couple hours, so you might not be able to wear them all day. If your biggest concern when it comes to headphones is durability, the bass-friendly V-Moda Crossfade LP-2 can take whatever damage you dish out on a day-to-day basis. Read the full review.

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9

Product Image - Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9
  • Editors' Choice

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9

Usually, active noise cancellation (ANC) headphones have difficulty maintaining high audio quality, since, to some extent, your music has to compete with the noise-cancellation algorithm. At this price point, the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9 headphones did a surprisingly good job at that maintaining that balance. The bass notes are definitely boosted, but not at the expense of the higher notes; you should be able to hear both. However, when the ANC is activated, you may notice that all of the tones sound a bit muted.

On the other hand, the active noise cancellation does a really solid job of blocking out the lower frequency tones, which will be really helpful when you don't want to hear trains rumbling or planes humming while you're in transit. If you're curious about ANC, these are a good pair to try out; they'll give you a taste of active noise cancellation without breaking the bank. Read the full review.

Sony MDR-7506

Product Image - Sony MDR-7506
  • Best of Year 2017

Sony MDR-7506

If you're an audiophile looking for a no-frills pair of headphones that will give you the audio fidelity you want, the Sony MDR-7506 are fan favorite for a good reason. Their sound profile slightly favorites the higher notes over the bass notes, but overall, they have a very flat sound profile that studio professionals and audio aficionados will definitely appreciate. The 10-foot long, non-removable cord is also an indication that these are meant to be used in one place, at a computer or mixer, and not taken with you on the go.

We had some concerns about the durability of the plastic frame and the ear pads, but if you treat these headphones nicely, they'll return that treatment back to you in the form of studio-quality music reproduction that doesn't break the bank. Read the full review.

Audeara A-01

Product Image - Audeara A-01

Audeara A-01

The Audeara A-01 is a fascinating new take on headphones. While they work as just regular over-ear wireless headphones, they can also be customized to your exact specifications; the A-01 is the first set of headphones with a built-in hearing test.

The hearing tests, located on the Audeara app (iOS/Android) consists of beeps at certain frequencies; you adjust the volume until you can just barely hear the tones. Once you've done this for a range of frequencies, you can then choose to apply your signature sound to your headphones in 25 percent increments, where 0 percent is not applied at all, 50 percent is half applied, and 100 percent is fully applied.

My whole family tried these headphones, and we all found the same thing: that the volume algorithm was more effective at 50 percent than it was at 100 percent. At 50 percent, we all could hear everything beautifully, and the sound was full and lively. At 100 percent, the bass was noticeably tinny and distracting.

As a regular pair of headsets, without any sound profile applied, the sound is relatively flat, with a slight emphasis on the bass tones. The A-01 has a pretty solid active noise cancellation system, and are very comfortable for the first hour or so. However, much longer than that, and the cushion at the top of the headband starts to dig into your skull.

Whether you have hearing problems or not, these headphones may rock your world, but be sure to explore the sound profiles and its application before you commit to them long-term.

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