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. They can apply a lot of pressure on the ears, but they allow your ears to breathe and 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 331 headphones and below are our recommendations for the best on-ear headphones to buy in 2019. See also our recommendations for the best over ear headphones, the best on-ear noise cancelling headphones, and the best Bluetooth headphones.
The best on-ear headphones we've tested so far are the Marshall MID ANC. They’re versatile, noise cancelling headphones with a well-made, more premium design than some of the other Marshall headphones we've tested.
The Marshall MID ANC have a bright, balanced sound that makes them a good choice for critical listeners who prefer on-ear headphones. They have a very good wireless range, a decent 17-hour battery life, and a great control scheme that's efficient and easy to use.
Unfortunately, they don’t automatically turn off to conserve power, even when inactive, which is a bit disappointing. Their noise isolation is also not very strong, so they’re not the best choice for super noisy commutes, but they do better in loud environments than most on-ears. That said, if you like on-ear headphones and want something versatile enough for most situations, then the MID ANC are a great choice.
If you’re looking for on-ear headphones that have stronger active noise cancelling, then get the AKG N60NC. They sound a bit more boomy than the Marshall MID ANC and they don’t reproduce vocals and instruments as clearly, but they have better noise isolation performance and they leak less sound. They’re fairly comfortable, feel reasonably well-built, and fold up in a more compact format.
Unfortunately, the AKG N60NC aren’t as well-built as the other recommendations in this article. Their battery also doesn’t last as long as other wireless on-ears we’ve tested. Thankfully, it charges quickly, and the AKG N60NC also support multi-device pairing, which is a nice touch. They’re decent headphones overall and are worth looking at if you want something with reasonable active noise cancelling.
If you want a more comfortable on-ear design, then get the Bose SoundLink On-Ear. They’re not noise cancelling like the Marshall MID ANC or the AKG N60NC, so they won't do as well in loud environments, but they have plush, supple earcup padding that makes them the most comfortable on-ears we’ve tested so far. They’re well-built, easy-to-use wireless headphones with a well-balanced sound that caters to all music genres.
Unfortunately, the SoundLink On-Ear don’t support NFC for easier pairing with mobile devices, or the Bose Connect App like the Bose SoundLink Around-Ear II do. However, they’re still a good choice for those looking for comfortable on-ears that sound good.
If you don’t like having to always keep an eye on your headphone’s battery life and want to keep charging to a minimum, then get the Beats Solo3 Wireless. They’re not as versatile as the noise cancelling Marshall MID ANC nor are they as comfortable as the Bose SoundLink On-Ear, but they have an excellent 42-hour battery life that will easily last you a whole weekend of heavy continuous use. They don’t take long to charge and even have a quick charge feature that delivers up to 2 hours of battery life from a 10-minute charge.
The Beats Solo3 Wireless have deep, thumping bass that is great for fans of bass-heavy genres like EDM or hip-hop but can be a bit overpowering. They sound less sharp than the Marshall MID ANC but are a bit dark in comparison and may not be ideal for more vocal-centric music like jazz or pop. That said, the Solo3 are a solid choice for fans of deep bass who who value battery life.
If you don’t like dealing with a battery at all and prefer the latency-free experience of wired headphones, get the Audio-Technica ATH-M60x instead. They may not be as convenient or as versatile as the wireless recommendations in this list, especially if you often find yourself fumbling with tangled cables when you’re rushing out the door, but they sound good and are a decent no-frills option.
Although they have good audio reproduction in general, their bass is a bit sensitive to the way they’re positioned on the head and whether you wear glasses or not. They also don’t really manage to create a seal around your ears to help reduce ambient noise, which makes them less suitable for use at the office or while commuting. All things considered, though, they’re still among the best-sounding on-ears we’ve reviewed so far. If you prefer the more spacious sound of open-back headphones, consider the wireless Grado GW100.
If you want a cheaper option, the best on-ear headphones in the budget category are the Skullcandy Grind. They’re not as well-built as the Marshall MID ANC, but this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise considering their low price point.
The Skullcandy Gring offer great value for your money thanks to their surprisingly balanced sound and very comfortable fit. They have a simple, efficient control scheme that’s easy-to-use and their 15-hour battery life is decent too.
Unfortunately, their frame doesn’t fold into a more compact format and their noise isolation performance is quite poor. Their lack of portability and isolation might be an issue for some, especially if you commute and travel a lot. That said, if you want comfortable and inexpensive on-ear headphones to use casually, you can't do much better than the Skullcandy Grind at this price.
If you want more portable on-ear headphones than the Skullcandy Grind, then get the Koss Porta Pro. They have an open-back design, so they isolate even less than the Skullcandy, but this also results in a slightly more immersive listening experience. Their lack of isolation also makes them a good choice for outdoor runners who want to remain aware of their surroundings. Their lightweight frame and low tension also make them very comfortable to wear for long listening sessions, even if they aren't as well-padded as the SoundLink On-Ear. They also have a portable and foldable design that's compact enough to carry around on your person.
Unfortunately, they’re not very well-built and they don’t feel super durable. They’re also wired, so although they’re portable, stable, and breathable enough to wear while running, you may want to make sure they don’t get caught on anything that could yank them off your head. If you don’t mind a wired connection, though, they’re a decent option for those who like their open, lightweight design.
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 (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.