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Top 5 most comfortable over-ear headphones for 2024

Plus: Crutchfield's comfort ratings and "Fit Factors" explained

In this article: Crutchfield's list of the top 5 most comfortable headphones...

  1. Most comfortable overall — Meze 99 Classics
  2. Most comfortable headphones for work — Sony WH-1000XM4
  3. Most comfortable headphones for flight/travel — Bose QuietComfort headphones
  4. Most comfortable wired audiophile headphones — Sennheiser HD 660S2
  5. Most comfortable wireless audiophile headphones — Focal Bathys

...based on our extensive in-house comfort testing and grading of various "Fit Factors."

This seems obvious, but it's often overlooked — if you're wearing something on your head for long periods of time, it needs to feel good. I’ve auditioned hundreds of headphones over the years, and how they fit and feel always plays a big part in how much I enjoy them.

But everyone has a different opinion on what feels comfortable. And when you’re shopping online, it is hard to determine how a set of headphones will fit. So we developed a system for displaying important fit-and-feel characteristics, all based on our extensive in-house testing of headphone comfort.

A few years ago, we gathered a group of headphone enthusiasts here at Crutchfield to help us determine which over-ear models fit best for different uses and situations. That testing now informs how we present details on fit and use cases today — and it helped me choose our current picks for the most comfortable headphones.

How did we test comfort?

We invited a group of 20 Crutchfield employees to try on more than 50 over-ear headphones, over the course of several sessions.

Testing headphones

We invited Crutchfield employees like Jenny from IT one at a time to test and grade over-ear headphones.

“The idea is to match people with the right pair of headphones for them,” said our strategic research manager Olivia — who ran point on this project. “So we wanted participants with different head sizes and shapes, and different levels of familiarity with headphones.”

It took us a few trials to refine the process. We were surprised to find that head size didn’t affect the results as much as expected. It was more important to cut down on outside distractions, noises, and discomfort that did seem to influence results.

We graded enough headphones — by enough people — to give us meaningful data. And to inform our criteria for comfort and our exclusive "Fit Factors" going forward.

How did we grade comfort?

Our participants rated each set of headphones by assigning a separate score for five different fit and comfort elements, or “Fit Factors”:

  1. Perceived weight
  2. Ear pad softness
  3. Headband softness
  4. Clamping force and pressure
  5. Security and stability during head movement
Headphone testing

We rated each set of headphones on comfort alone by scoring a series of key "Fit Factors."

Our testers were given their own space and a limited number of headphones to test at a time.

We decided not to play any music. There was actually a bit of a debate on this, because obviously most people play music when they're wearing headphones. But we really wanted to focus in on fit and feel as much as possible — and didn't want sonic preferences influencing that.

Also of note: we tested wireless headphones without the cable. But we kept the cable on headphones that needed to be connected by wire. Even if the cable was detachable.

Headphone testing

Britney from Marketing tests "security and stability" by moving her head around and noting how well the headphones stay in place.

Results of our comfort testing

After we completed all of our tests, we crunched some numbers. By tallying the scores, we came up with an overall measurement of comfort for each set of headphones.

That allowed us to look at the correlation between the overall comfort score and the fit factor scores. We were able to determine that security and stability mattered most to our testers when it came to comfort.

Where to find the Fit Factors

If I've tried a set of over-ear headphones — and I've tried a lot of them — I'll list the three most prominent Fit Factors on the product page.

Fit Factors screenshot

If I've worn a set of headphones, you'll find Fit Factors on the Crutchfield product page.

And I learned from our initial testing just how subjective comfort can get. For example? While most people preferred a relaxed fit, there are some who liked something more form-fitting or snug. And for every few testers who complimented a set of soft ear pads, there was someone who wanted something a little more firm.

It's much like the fit of a pair of shoes, or the feel of a mattress I suppose. So, I just list the key Fit Factors — no need to editorialize on whether those attributes are a positive or negative.

Poking the soft headphone pads

Audeze's extra-large planar magnetic headphones deliver world-class sound, but feel heavy and clamp tightly to stay in place. So they use soft, super-sized memory foam ear pads to provide much-needed cushioning.

Our most comfortable headphone picks

Here are our current top picks for comfort. I’ve included the most comfortable for different use cases and categories. Something cool to note: you can trace the lineage for all of these picks back to the top-rated headphones we tested years ago.

Meze 99 Classics over-ear headphones

Most comfortable overall — Meze 99 Classics

The Meze 99 Classics were our most comfortable headphones coming out of the user testing. All these years later, they are still ranked number one. These wired ‘phones scored big for their lightweight build, relaxed fit, and butter-soft ear pads.

And it wasn't by accident — I’ve interviewed Antonio Meze, the company's founder and lead designer. He comes from an engineering background, and has always been hyper-focused on functional design. He wanted these real-walnut headphones to feel and perform as gorgeously as they look.

A flexible headband design just seems to sink into place with very little adjusting. It’s one-and-done. They also manage to fit securely and remain stable for all different head sizes and shapes.

And you’ll likely be testing them out with a head nod or two. Few headphones in this price range sound as lively and refined.

Fit factors

  • lightweight
  • relaxed fit
  • soft padding (earcups)

Other details

  • over-the-ear, closed-back wired headphones
  • solidly constructed with smooth, real walnut (wood) earcups
  • magnesium alloy frame with zinc alloy hardware
  • spring steel suspension headband system for easy adjustability
  • 40mm mylar diaphragms and neodymium magnets deliver clear sound with tight, strong bass
  • weight: 9.3 oz.

Open-back alternative — Meze 109 PRO

At first glance, you might assume the Meze 109 PRO are the open-back "version" of 99 Classics. They use the same spring-suspension headband system — and they definitely have a similar look and vibe.

But the breathable open-air earcups are physically larger and house higher-grade drivers made of premium materials. That adds cost and weight, but I find the headband still distributes the weight evenly, so they feel pleasant for long periods of time. And the refined, yet never buttoned-up sound adds to the delight of wearing them.

Sony WH-1000XM4 wireless noise-canceling headphones

Most comfortable for work and office — Sony WH-1000XM4

The Sony WH-1000XM4 are some of the best-selling headphones we've ever carried, and comfort has played a big part in that. These headphones earn the highest marks in the all-important "security and stability" category. That, and Sony's adaptive noise cancellation make them a great choice for canceling distractions at work.

They aren't the latest over-ears in Sony's popular "XM" series, but they're the closest in design to the model that won our 2019 testing. The newer Sony WH-1000XM5s sport a complete makeover — and take a leap forward in overall performance. But if we're soley talking about comfort, I give the 'XM4s a slight edge because their wider headband puts less pressure on the crown of my head.

Fit factors

  • stays in place
  • feels lighter than most over-ears
  • roomy earcups

Other details

  • closed-back, over-the-ear wireless headphones with noise cancellation
  • Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity for wireless music listening and phone calls
  • form-fitting headband with relaxed, breathable earcups
  • generous cushioning on headband and earpads
  • Adaptive Sound Control uses mics and sensors to adapt noise cancellation
  • built-in rechargeable battery offers up to 30 hours of wireless use with noise cancellation
  • weight: 8.9 oz.

Bose QuietComfort Headphones

Most comfortable for flight/travel — Bose QuietComfort Headphones

Speaking of "popular," the Bose QuietComfort headphone line is about as iconic as it gets. And "comfort" is in the name for a reason. The latest version boasts the same relaxed fit and lightweight design that have helped make Bose QC headphones ubiquitous at the airport for decades.

You also get custom control over Bose's legendary noise cancellation — capable of silencing the loudest plane engines and voices alike. That's why the picks for "office" and "flight/travel" were basically a toss-up. The Bose QC headphones and Sony 'XM4s were a close first and second to each other in both categories.

They are practically in a dead heat when it comes to comfort.

Fit factors

  • ultra-light
  • relaxed fit
  • soft padding (earcups)

Other details

  • over-the-ear wireless noise-canceling headphones
  • Bluetooth® 5.1 for wireless music listening and phone calls
  • durable, lightweight glass-filled nylon frame and cast-metal hinges
  • plush synthetic leather headband lining and ear pads for a relaxed, yet secure fit
  • Bose's "full-spectrum" noise reduction cancels noise across a wide-frequency range
  • rechargeable battery provides up to 24 hours of wireless use
  • weight: 8.5 oz.

Sennheiser HD 660 S2 headphones

Most comfortable wired audiophile headphones — Sennheiser HD 660S2

Sonically focused audiophile headphones can be larger and bulkier — all to accommodate larger, more sophisticated drivers. But even those of us willing to sacrifice a little comfort for better sound are still human!

The Sennheiser HD 660S2 features larger, open-back earcups than most “general purpose” headphones. But the weight is distributed nicely, and they feel lighter than other large audiophile headphones. The velvety cloth ear pads fit snugly but press gently on the side of your head, and give your ears plenty of room to breathe.

It’s interesting that these scored so well, considering you can trace their lineage back to the early '80s with the HD 600 series. While the drivers have been upgraded, and the materials are different, the design has largely gone unchanged for over four decades.

Fit factors

  • feels lighter than most over-ears
  • soft padding (earcups)
  • roomy earcups

Other details

  • over-the-ear, open-back wired headphones
  • open-air, metal mesh covered ear cups for spacious and transparent sound
  • snug, cushioned fit
  • generous velour ear pads and soft headband padding
  • intimate, layered soundstage with precise imaging
  • weight: 9.2 oz. (without cable)

Focal Bathys wireless noise-canceling headphones

Most comfortable wireless audiophile headphones — Focal Bathys

The Focal Bathys represent a relatively new breed of noise-canceling Bluetooth headphones built with a primary focus on sound quality. Their design is based on Focal’s higher-end wired offerings. Those models all sport the same shape, frame, and general make-up of their deluxe flagship Utopia (which scored high in our 2019 comfort testing).

Focal headphones are large and heavy-duty for sure, but the weight is nicely distributed. And the Bathys have been further streamlined for on-the-go listening. Still, Focal product manager Mégane Montabonel explained to me that their famous “M”-shaped drivers require space to move — and move quickly.

So, they went with lighter materials, like durable plastic in places where they usually use metal. That allowed them to keep the same geometry, reduce the size of the earcups, and still hold the full-size drivers. Thick padding keeps the Bathys firmly secure, so you can enjoy lush Focal dynamics anywhere.

Fit factors

  • large earcups
  • snug, secure fit
  • soft padding (earcups and headband)

Other details

  • over-the-ear, closed-back headphones with adaptive noise cancellation
  • Bluetooth 5.1 connectivity for wireless music listening and phone calls
  • made of high-grade materials like leather, aluminum, and magnesium
  • secure, snug fit with oversized, plush earpads and headband padding
  • 40mm dynamic drivers with specially designed "M-shaped" aluminum/magnesium domes
  • fast, uniform driver motion for well-balanced sound and low distortion
  • weight: 12.32 oz.

Need more help? Contact us!

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  • Jason from Greenfield

    Posted on 5/2/2022

    I have to agree with the commenter, Dan. This is a great upper-ish range of cans, the write-up and methodology are actually some of the best reviewing I've come across for any audio product. Just really need something in the lower range too. I hope you revisit the study and review, update it with a lower price range (around 100.00) and expand the breadth of products. It'd be nice to see some sidenotes with regards to how they wear out over time as well. Thank you.

  • Dan Hawkins from Eden Prairie

    Posted on 3/13/2022

    Thanks for the extensive write-up! For me, cost is always a factor, so it's a bit annoying to not have even an MSRP listed here and forcing me to follow the link to each of the individual headphones.

    Commenter image

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 3/15/2022

    Good suggestion, Dan.
  • Frank Diuguid from Bracey

    Posted on 1/25/2022

    I will be buying a Tivoli radio 1-25-22 & am still undecided on Wired Headphones vs Ear Buds - - I will need price info. I read all the test results & have settled on Meze 99 Classics or Sony MDR-1AM2, or Bose Quiet Comfort 45. But again, I need dollar costs, which I will get on tel tomorrow. I understand prices change & that is why u did not list selling prices. * 95 % of use of Wired Headphone or Ear Buds is for In Bed 10 PM at night listening to radio while I wind down. The Tivoli radio Item # 582M1CLA lists " Mini Jack Headphone output ? ? so I hope I can plug in Wired Headphone or Ear Buds there. Thanks for all the lay out info, testimonials, research, etc. on everything above. I have purchased different products for 40 + years from Crutchfield by mail or at Charlottesville store & have always been very happy with your products, professional personnel & garage vehicle installation services. Thanks Frank Diuguid

  • Brad from Russell

    Posted on 7/28/2021

    Sony WH-1000XM3 highly disappointed me and malfunctioned after 3 uses. One side got extremely ear piercing loud and they started making noices. I didnt like the function buttons. I went with the 3s over the 4s because they supposedly more water proof. Well after 2 days of cutting grass and sweating in them they started acting up. Thankfully they refunded me my money. They were quiet, sounded great and were comfortable.

    Commenter image

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 8/24/2021

    Man, that's unfortunate Brad. I've had such a good experience with both of those. Glad to hear we were able to take care of you.
  • Michael J Myers from Homosassa Springs

    Posted on 7/13/2021

    I've found the headphone design which is most comfortable for me is the AKG style. The tensioned, self-adjusting headband means it fits perfectly every time.

  • Constance Wallach from Rancho Santa Margar

    Posted on 6/3/2021

    Great analysis

  • constanza from New York

    Posted on 2/21/2021

    I've been researching Headphones for a few days now and I think I may just have to purchase 2 pairs. It seems that if you want high quality sound you have to sacrifice a bit of comfort and convenience and vice versa. Also, I feel like it may be necessary to have an open back pair and a closed back pair. For me comfort is the most important factor because if they are uncomfortable at all, I simply won't wear them. My head is on the larger side and I am sensitive to pressure. Sound quality is 2nd. Price 3rd. Other factors like noise cancelling, portability, battery life etc. are less important. Ideally, I would love to find a pair of headphones that can be used both wirelessly and wired. What would be your recommendations for one audiophile, open back, wired pair for at home use and one closed back, wireless, mic'd pair for on the go? Over ear only. Thanks in advance. You guys are amazing btw.

    Commenter image

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 2/23/2021

    I think in your case, I would go with the Sony WH-1000XM4s mentioned in this article, which I found lightweight and extremely comfortable. They also sound good both wired and wireless (here's my hands-on review).

    Another choice would be the Sennheiser PXC 550-II headphones, which I found those have a lighter touch against the head. But they are a little more snug around the ears than the 'XM4s, and sounds like you would prefer a more relaxed fit.

    The PXC 550-IIs feature a more balanced sound out of the box, versus the Sonys that lean more toward the bass. Both feature apps that allow you to adjust the sound.
  • Sergei from Riverwoods

    Posted on 9/5/2020

    Did you look at the Shure 1540? I cannot imagine a headset more comfortable.

    Commenter image

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 9/7/2020

    Hi Sergei,

    The 1540s weren't included here, but here's what our testers concluded about the Shure 1840s: "Lightweight, relaxed fit, soft earcups."
  • Scott Coon

    Posted on 7/27/2020

    My biggest problem with over the ear headphones and hearing protection is my glasses. Having something press on the arms gives me a headache every time.

    Commenter image

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 7/28/2020

    Hi Scott -- I have the same problem with a lot of over-ears. That said, I was able to wear all of the headphones on this list pretty comfortably, both during testing and extended listening sessions. I think of all them, the Sony WH-1000XM3s do the best job at avoiding those pressure points that come with wearing glasses.
  • Rhonda Price from Kimberly

    Posted on 6/15/2020

    Are any of the wireless headphones made for TV watching or I guess I should say listening for TV.

    Commenter image

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 6/16/2020

    Yes there are, Rhonda. Here is an article about choosing the best wireless headphones for TV watching.
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