9 of the most notable over-ear headphones

From the Ace to the Max, via Audio-Technica, Sonos, Sony and Apple, here are nine excellent headphone designs that are deserving of your ears and eyes

Sonos Ace Headphones
The new Sonos Ace Headphones
(Image credit: Sonos)

Sonos’s new Ace over-ear headphones are the new challenger in a sector that fights hard for your ears. We preview the wireless audiophile specialist’s latest product, and round up eight other sets of contemporary cans, both wired and wireless, which range from high-end craft to premium mass market design.

Meze LIRIC 2nd gen headphones

Meze LIRIC 2nd gen headphones

(Image credit: Meze Audio)

1. Sonos Ace

Sonos Ace Headphones

(Image credit: Sonos)

For its first venture into the over-ear headphone segment, Sonos has come out swinging with a premium product. The new Sonos Ace is on a par – physically and financially – with the Apple AirPod Max and follows a now familiar premium playbook of leather and stainless steel. 

Naturally there’s advanced noise cancelling, as well as a unique new spatial audio mode that Sonos calls TrueCinema, which is a form of advancing processing that replicates the scale and natural reverb of your listening environment, be it a front room or a vast hall. The catch is that this’ll only work in tandem with Sonos’s Arc soundbar for now. Head-tracking sensors are paired with Dolby Atmos spatial audio for a completely immersive experience. 

Sonos Ace, £449, Sonos.com

2. Audio-Technica ATH-WBLTD

Audio-Technica ATH-WBLTD

Audio-Technica ATH-WBLTD

(Image credit: Audio-Technica)

Audio-Technica’s two newest wired headphone models feature hand-polished wood. First up is the ATH-WBLTD, which offers earpieces overlaid with layers of flame maple, walnut, and mahogany. The earpads are clad in sheepskin and the main material is magnesium alloy, making these a light and elegant offering. The limited model is designed to fold flat for easy stowage.

Audio-Technica ATH-WBLTD, £,1599, Audio-Technica.com

3. Audio-Technica ATH-AWKG

Audio-Technica ATH-AWKG

(Image credit: Audio-Technica)

The company’s other new wired wooden model is another step up. The Audio-Technica ATH-AWKG are handmade at Audio-Technica’s Tokyo HQ with a highly crafted Kurogaki wood enclosure, a prized timber for traditional Japanese craft thanks to its age and rich, complex grains.

Audio-Technica ATH-AWKG, £3,000, Audio-Technica.com

4. Sony ULT WEAR

Sony ULT WEAR Headphones

(Image credit: Sony)

As part of Sony’s ULT line, the WEAR headphones place the focus on high levels of bass performance, which are paired with a clean-lined enclosure and a revised noise cancelling algorithm. Other neat touches include the ability to automatically pause the music when the headphones are taken off and start up again when you put them back on, as well as the legendary Sony build quality and reliability. 

Sony ULT WEAR, £149.00, Sony.co.uk

5. Apple AirPods Max

Apple AirPods Max

(Image credit: Apple)

For many people, AirPods Max continues to define what they consider high-end headphone. While they’re certainly a step up from any form of earbuds or even AirPods, the Max model won plaudits for its attention to detail, from the knitted mesh canopy to the innovative textiles and the Digital Crown control, a holdover from Apple Watch that translates well to the personal audio space. 

Just as computational photography transforms the iPhone’s camera in to a pro-level powerhouse, the Max’s focus on computational audio shows the manufacturer’s mastery of hardware and software. As a result, Apple’s category killer brings the expected levels of Cupertino class and makes it the model everyone wants to 

Apple AirPods Max, £499, Apple.com

6. Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones

(Image credit: Bose)

Another explicit AirPods Max challenger, the QuietComfort Ultra from Bose ticks all the feature boxes required of the premium set; noise cancelling, immersive audio, transparency mode and sound personalised to your ear shape. Total immersion is combined with a transparency mode that doesn’t block out your entire surroundings, and Bose quotes a maximum battery life of 24 hours.  

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones, £449.95, Bose.co.uk

7. JLab Studio Pro ANC

JLab Studio Pro ANC Headphones

(Image credit: JLab)

JLab’s Studio Pro ANC sits towards the lower end of the wireless over-ear headphones market. Perhaps because it costs a fraction of the price of the Sonos, Apple or Bose offerings, JLab’s newest offers a rather more straitened feature set. These days that still means active noise cancellation and four different noise control modes, with a promised 45-hour playback time over Bluetooth. The Studio Pro ANCs can also be run as wired headphones via the included USB-C to 3.5mm cable. 

JLab Studio Pro ANC, £99.99, UK.JLab.com

8. Meze LIRIC 2nd gen headphones

Meze LIRIC 2nd gen headphones

(Image credit: Meze Audio)

The second-generation version of Meze’s LIRIC closed-back headphones emphasises the elements that make this audiophile brand stand out. That includes a striped ebony wood finish, premium hand-braided copper cable, and a solid, crafted appearance. Meze’s designs are modular, allowing elements like the detachable magnetic earpads to be easily replaced or upgraded. 

Meze LIRIC 2nd Generation, £1,850, MezeAudio.com

9. Focal Hadenys

Focal Hadenys Headphones

(Image credit: Focal)

French manufacturer Focal has launched its Hadenys open-back headphones. Designed for home listening, with a lightweight but large frame and a pleasingly different brown colourway. Focal’s in-car audio collaborations are becoming more prominent, working with key French brands like DS, Peugeot and Alpine. The Hadenys headphones parlay some of this Gallic verse into an elegant functional object that’s also a pleasing alternative to the established brands. 

Focal Hadenys, £599, Focal.com

Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.