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The word “circumaural”’ is derived from the Latin phrase, “around the ears”. Circumaural headphones are just that–headphones that completely enclose your ears. 

Circumaural headphones are excellent choices for just about any avid music listener. However, they are especially useful for serious music enthusiasts. 

Differences between circumaural headphones and over-ear headphones

Circumaural headphones shouldn’t be confused with over-ear headphones. Although they look very similar in terms of design, there are many characteristics that set the two apart. 

Both circumaural headphones and over-ear headphones belong to the category of “full-sized headphones”. They are bulky and large, with a distinctive design that eliminates external noise and prevents sound leakage. 

The most notable difference is that circumaural headphones are designed to envelop your ears. In contrast, over-ear headphones rest on the surface of the ears without surrounding them completely. 

Why choose circumaural headphones? 

Circumaural headphones are popular all-rounders for several reasons. They offer excellent background noise isolation, powerful bass and treble, and are a preferred choice for professional studio use. 

The unique design and form factor of circumaural headphones provides many advantages that give them an edge over other headphones. They are comfortable to wear even for long periods and generally offer excellent sound quality. They also offer superior noise rejection thanks to their large circular or ellipsoid ear pads.

The earpads of most circumaural headphones are crafted from high-density foam. They are extremely thick and can block out most background noise, regardless of the environment. 

On the downside, circumaural headphones are a bit cumbersome to carry around. If you’re looking for a portable set of headphones, there are many other better options available. But if you prioritize comfort and noise cancellation above all else, circumaural headphones are hard to beat. 

How to use circumaural headphones

1. As with all headphones, check to see which the left and right ear cups are so you can put them on correctly. Each ear cup will be marked with an “L” or an “R” to indicate the proper orientation. Keep in mind that these markings may be missing or worn in some headphones, particularly cheap models. 

2. After determining the proper orientation, put on the headphones with the headband over the middle of your head. Position the headphones with both cups covering your ears completely.

3. Adjust the headphones as needed for optimum sound quality and comfort level. 

Circumaural vs. Supra-aural

Supra-aural is another form factor that is slowly gaining traction in the headphone segment. How do they compare to circumaural headphones?

Supra-aural or earpad headphones are designed for placement over the ears. However, they don’t enclose or envelop your ears as circumaural headphones do. 

Even so, supra-aural headphones are an ideal choice for budget-conscious music lovers. Their lower price tags and comparable performance make them a feasible and more cost-effective alternative to circumaural headphones. 

Most supra-aural headphones are considerably smaller than circumaural models. However, they don’t provide nearly the same noise-cancellation benefits. 

A notable advantage of supra-aural headphones is that they let you hear background sounds and voices. If you don’t want to be completely isolated from your surroundings, consider picking up a pair of supra-aural headphones. 

Will circumaural headphones hurt my head? 

Circumaural headphones rest over your head, so they can hurt if they don’t have high-quality headbands or proper cushioning. This is often the case with cheap circumaural headphones. 

Some circumaural headphones can hurt your head when you wear them too tightly. This is why it is necessary to adjust them for comfort, as we mentioned earlier. 

Circumaural headphones are best worn right over your head. Avoid wearing them over hats or other accessories to prevent external compression headaches. 

Most circumaural headphones will feel tight right out of the box, just like a new pair of sneakers or baseball gloves. If you think that your headphones are too tight, you can break them in by stretching them on their box overnight. 

Alternatively, you can add more padding to your circumaural headphones to increase the cushioning effect. If you can’t get suitable padding material, you can glue some memory foam to the top of the headband. Keep in mind that memory foam tends to wear off quickly, so you will probably have to repeat the process in a few months. 

Open-back vs. closed-back

When shopping for the best circumaural headphones, you will likely come across the terms “open-back” and “closed-back”. Each design has its advantages and disadvantages, so your choice will depend on your particular needs and circumstances. 

Open-back circumaural headphones essentially allow air to pass through their ear cups to the speaker element. Some of the best circumaural headphones are open-back designs, resulting in more natural and transparent sound reproduction. 

On the other hand, open-back circumaural headphones aren’t as effective at blocking outside noise. This makes them less suitable for situations where sound leakage is unacceptable. 

Closed-back circumaural headphones are completely sealed, so very little sound escapes. All factors being equal, closed-back circumaural headphones block out sound better than open-back circumaural headphones. 

The tradeoff is that closed-back circumaural headphones may not sound as natural as open-back models. Even so, they are excellent choices for recording and mixing in a studio environment, as well as casual music listening at home or in the office. 

Best circumaural headphones

1. Focal Elegia High-Fidelity Closed-Back Circum-Aural Headphones

Number one on the list is the award-worthy Focal Elegia. These open-back headphones boast superb performance when connected to a portable audio player. 

The Focal Elegia headphones are remarkably lightweight, weighing in at just 4 lbs. The ergonomic design makes them extremely comfortable, even for prolonged listening sessions.

The Focal Elegias offer excellent sound isolation and are fitted with an innovative M’-shape aluminum/magnesium dome speaker driver. This driver improves high-frequency response and produces a noticeably dynamic sound.

Focal Elegia circumaural headphones come equipped with plush ear cushions. They are made from 20 mm memory foam and are covered with lambskin leather. 


  • Memory foam ear cushions 
  • ‘M’-shape aluminum/magnesium dome
  • Excellent ambient noise soundproofing 
  • Comfortable and ergonomic
  • Comes with a carrying case 


  • Only one color option

2. Audio-Technica ATH-M50X Professional Studio Monitor Headphones

The Audio-Technica ATH-M50X Professional studio monitor circumaural headphones are classics for a reason. Durable and hard-wearing, they are also noted for their exceptional sonic performance.

ATH-M50X headphones are available in a few different colors, including white, black, and gunmetal. They are fitted with proprietary 45 mm large-aperture drivers, each with rare earth magnets and copper-clad aluminum wire voice coil. 

The ATH-M50X headphones feature 90° swivel ear cups. Combined with the professional-grade earpads and headband material, you get top-notch comfort and durability.


  • Has 45 mm, large-aperture drivers 
  • 90° swiveling cups 
  • Excellent sound isolation in loud environments 
  • Backed by 2-year manufacturer warranty 


  • Battery not included 

3. Sennheiser HD 280 Pro Circumaural Closed-Back Monitor Headphones

If you don’t want to splurge on a premium pair of circumaural headphones just yet, the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro is an attractive budget-priced option. These circumaural headphones feature a closed-back design and are equipped with thick padded, leatherette ear cups. 

The HD 280 Pro offers an impressive 32dB of acoustic isolation. They are embedded with neodymium magnets that provide extended dynamic range and high output. They also boast robust and rugged construction and weigh just a little over 3 lbs. 


  • 32dB of acoustic isolation
  • Has thick, padded leatherette ear cups and an adjustable padded headband
  • Neodymium-magnet drivers
  • Package includes hardshell case, headphone hanger, and cleaner 


  • Doesn’t have noise cancellation properties

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