Many people find on-ear headphones to be a good compromise between the portability of in-ears and the comfort of over-ears. They have smaller ear cups that fit directly on your ears, which makes them generally more compact and breathable than over-ears without needing to have earbuds sticking inside your ear. They do tend to fit tighter than over-ears, which can put an uncomfortable amount of pressure on your ears depending on the design. The best on-ears have a fit that works for you, along with a sound profile that suits the type of music you listen to. The best models even have additional features like Bluetooth support and active noise cancelling (ANC).
We've tested over 65 pairs of on-ear headphones, and below are our recommendations for the best on-ear headphones. Also, make sure to check out our recommendations for the best headphones, the best over-ear headphones, and the best on-ear wireless headphones.
The best on-ear wireless headphones that we've tested are the JBL Live 460NC. These well-built headphones have a neutral sound profile out-of-the-box with a touch of extra thump and rumble, so they're suitable for listening to a wide range of audio content. If you prefer a different sound, you can use the parametric EQ and presets in the JBL Headphones app to customize them.
Thanks to their continuous battery life of over 29 hours, these headphones are well-suited for long days on the go. You can pair them with up to two devices at once, making it easy to switch between audio sources. They also have an ANC feature that can block out some background noises, especially higher-frequency sounds like the hum of AC units.
Unfortunately, even with their ANC feature turned on, these headphones still struggle to block out some bass-heavy background noise like bus and plane engines, so they may not be ideal for your commute. They also aren't stable enough to wear to the gym since they can fall off your head during intense movements. That said, if you're looking for versatile on-ear wireless headphones, they're a solid choice.
If you're looking for wireless on-ear headphones with impressive build quality, consider the Beats Solo Pro Wireless instead. While they aren't as comfortable or customizable as the JBL Live 460NC Wireless, these headphones have a high-end feel thanks to their solid build and metal alloy headband. Their sound profile is pretty neutral, but there's a little extra thump and punch in the bass range that fans of bass-heavy genres may enjoy. They last for around 24 hours off of a single charge, which is great for listeners who want wireless headphones that can last through long days of travel. Their ANC feature also does a better job than the JBL's overall, meaning that you can block out higher-frequency ambient sounds like chatter from people nearby as well as the hum of computer equipment. You may still hear some bass-heavy sounds like bus engines, though.
If you want more comfortable headphones with a parametric EQ and presets for sound customization, check out the JBL. However, if you prefer better-built headphones with better noise isolation, consider the Beats instead.
The best on-ear headphones for working out that we've tested are the JBL Live 400BT Wireless. These headphones have a tight, stable fit on your head, so they shouldn't slip around too much during a run. Their wireless design means you don't need to worry about a cable getting in your way or snagging on something.
They don't trap very much heat against your ear, so they shouldn't make you sweat much more during exercise sessions. Their default sound profile is very neutral and suitable for many genres and types of content. However, if you prefer a different sound, you can customize it with a parametric EQ and presets in the companion app. Their long continuous battery life of roughly 30 hours should suit long-distance runners as well.
Unfortunately, they don't have an ANC feature, so they may not be ideal if you want headphones that block out distracting noise at the gym. Their small ear cups also put a bit of pressure on top of your ear, which may be uncomfortable over long periods. That said, if you're a runner who favors headphones with an over-ear design, these are worth considering.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M60x are the best on-ear headphones with a wired connection that we've tested. These headphones are decently comfortable, and they're designed for neutral listening. They're pretty well-built, too, and they even come with three different audio cables so you can connect them to lots of different devices.
They offer a very neutral, balanced sound profile that makes them suitable for listening to a wide range of audio content. They have an extended low-bass, so they can reproduce the deep thump and rumble in bass-heavy genres like hip-hop while vocals and lead instruments stay present in the mix. That said, there are some peaks and dips in the treble range, so sibilants like S and T sounds may be a bit uneven.
Unfortunately, they don't have a very versatile design, as they don't come with a microphone or a battery. These headphones don't offer any sound customization features, and they have poor noise isolation, so they aren't suitable to wear at a crowded office or during your commute. That said, if you like on-ears with a neutral sound, they're a solid choice.
If you tend to make calls on the go, check out the Beats EP. While they're more prone to inconsistencies in their audio delivery than the Audio-Technica ATH-M60x, they have an in-line mic. The mic offers a good recording quality, so your voice sounds present and natural. They also have in-line controls, and although it's fairly simple in design, you can still manage your calls and music without pulling out your device. These headphones are decently well-built and comfortable. Their bass-heavy sound profile adds extra warmth and boom to your mixes. However, they lack sound customization features like an EQ, so you can't adjust their sound to your liking. They struggle to block out ambient noise like the low rumble of bus engines around you.
If you want more neutral-sounding headphones that come with extra accessories like a coiled audio cable, go for the Audio-Technica. However, take a look at the Beats if you're looking for wired on-ears with a mic.
The JBL Tune 510BT Wireless are the best budget-friendly on-ear headphones that we've tested. These headphones can be paired with up to two devices at a time, which is nice if you want to stay connected to your laptop and smartphone simultaneously. They also have over 38 hours of continuous battery life, so you can use them for a couple of days at a time without worrying about having to recharge them.
Thanks to their slightly v-shaped sound profile, your mixes have extra thump, body, and boom, which fans of EDM and hip-hop can enjoy. Their mid-range is very flat, and a bump in their treble range ensures that vocals and lead instruments are bright and detailed. They have a fairly comfortable fit, and their controls are easy to use. If you take a lot of calls, their integrated mic does a decent job of capturing your voice so that you sound clear and natural.
Unfortunately, they have mediocre build quality as they're very plasticky and cheap-feeling. They can also fall off your head with low-intensity movements, and they don't block out much ambient noise around you, which can be annoying during your commute or day at the office. However, even though they're somewhat simple in design, they offer solid performance at an affordable price point.
Sep 21, 2021: Checked out picks for product availability and accuracy. There hasn't been a change in our recommendations.
Aug 25, 2021: No changes in product picks after verifying their accuracy and availability.
Jul 30, 2021: Checked that picks still represent the best recommendations and that the products are available.
Jul 02, 2021: Checked that picks represent the best recommendations and that the products are in stock. Added the Beats Solo3 2018 Wireless to Notable Mentions.
Jun 03, 2021: Replaced the Beats Solo Pro Wireless with the JBL 460NC Wireless as 'Best On-Ear Wireless Headphones' and added the Beats as 'Alternative With Better ANC Performance'. Also replaced the Status Audio BT One Wireless with the JBL Tune 510BT Wireless as 'Best Budget On-Ear Headphones'.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best on-ear headphones for most people to buy. We factor in the price (cheaper headphones win over pricier ones 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.