On-ear headphones offer a more compact design than their over-ear counterparts and have smaller ear cups that rest on the ears instead of around them (see our article about over-ear vs on-ear headphones). They can apply a lot of pressure on the ears, but they allow your ears to breathe and to hear your surroundings better than over-ear headphones. The best on-ear headphones offer a blend of portability, comfort and high-quality sound.
We've tested 33 on-ear headphones and below are our recommendations for the best ones to buy in the early months of 2018.
Best On-Ear Headphones: Beats Solo3 Wireless
Of the 33 on-ear headphones we've tested, the best ones are the Beats Solo 3 Wireless. Design-wise, they are almost identical to the Beats Solo 2, but they have a better-balanced sound quality that’s good for both casual and critical listeners.
They have a solid build quality, an excellent battery life and they’re decently portable. They can be a bit tight on the head and lack enough isolation for really noisy environments, but they’re comfortable and stable enough to take to the gym. If you’re looking for a well-rounded pair of headphones to use every day, we recommend the Beats Solo3.
Better-Built Alternative: Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless
If you want a more high-end pair of headphones and do not plan on using them at the gym, then get the Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless. They don't sound as good as the Beats Solo3 wireless, but they deliver a sufficiently balanced audio reproduction to please most listeners.
They’re also better-built than the Beats, with premium materials that give the headphones a durable and luxurious appeal. They're decently portable although they don't fold into a more compact format like the SoundLink on-ear. On the upside, they have an excellent battery life, a decent wireless range, and an elegant design that will be worth the additional cost for some.
Best Mid-Range On-Ear Headphones: Bose SoundLink On-Ear
For a mid-range option, we recommend the Bose SoundLink On-Ear. Most on-ear headphones are a bit tight on the head, which causes fatigue when using them for a while. However, these Bose headphones are one of the most comfortable on-ears we’ve reviewed so far. If comfort is a big priority for you, then the Soundlink On-Ear should be your first choice.
They’re easy-to-use, wireless and have a good battery life. They won’t be ideal for loud, noisy environments, but they have an above-average sound that should satisfy most listeners. They're also a bit better built than the Samsung Level On Wireless and feel more durable.
Best Budget On-Ear Headphones: Skullcandy Grind
The best budget on-ear headphones are the Skullcandy Grind. They are an amazingly affordable alternative to the Bose Soundlink On-Ear. They're almost as comfortable as the Bose, with a simple and sturdy on-ear design that's well padded and not too tight on the head.
The Skullcandy Grind don't fold, so they're not as portable as some of the other on-ears on this list. At their price point, they will not sound as good or feel as premium as the Bose Soundlink On-Ear or the Beats Solo 3. On the upside, they are lightweight and have a surprisingly well-balanced sound.
Open-Back Alternative: Koss Porta Pro
For a better sounding alternative, we recommend the open-back Koss Porta Pro. They deliver a surprisingly good and immersive sound quality at for their price.
They're lightweight and comfortable enough to wear for hours without feeling any fatigue which is relatively rare for an on-ear design. They're also compact enough to fit in some pockets, unlike the Skullcandy Grind. Their open ear cups means they leak a lot and don't block much ambient noise but it gives the Koss Porta Pro a more spacious soundstage than most on-ears.
Cheaper Alternative: AmazonBasics Lightweight On Ear
If you're looking for an even cheaper pair of headphones than the Koss Porta Pro, then get the Amazon Basic on-ear. They're not as portable as other on-ears since, like the Skullcandy Grind, they do not fold but these headphones are lightweight, easy-to-use and have a surprisingly decent sound for their price range.
- Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 On-Ear. Sturdy and durable for an on-ear design. Decent sound quality but struggles in loud environments and they're a bit leaky. See our review
- Samsung Level On Wireless. Good versatile on-ear headphones with an above average sound but a flimsy build and weak isolation. See our review
- Grado SR60e. Good and open audio reproduction. Leaky and the audio quality suffers in loud environments due to the open design. See our review
- BÖHM B-66. Versatile on-ear headphones with an above-average sound. Slightly too tight on the head and inconsistent battery performance. See our review
- Philips Fidelio NC1. Good build quality, decent sound and noise cancellation. Too expensive for what they have to offer. See our review
- Beats EP On-Ear. Good sound, sturdy and easy to use design. Slightly pricey and not as portable also a bit tight on the head. See our review
- Bowers & Wilkins P5 S2. Stylish and sturdy design. A bit too pricey for what they have to offer and not as comfortable to wear for long periods of time. See our review
- Marshall Major II. Decent sound and lightweight design. Flimsy build quality. See our review
- Sound Intone CX-05. Sturdy durable design but poor sound isolation and portability. See our review
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best on-ear headphones to buy for most people in each price range. We factor in the price (a cheaper headphone wins over a pricier one if the difference isn't worth it), feedback from our visitors and availability (no headphones that are difficult to find or almost out of stock everywhere).
If you would like to choose for yourself, here is the list of all our reviews for on-ear headphones. Be careful not to get caught up in the details. There are no perfect headphones. Personal taste, preference and listening habits will matter more in your selection.