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The 6 Best On-Ear Headphones - Fall 2018
Reviews

Best On Ear Headphones
285 Headphones Tested
  • Store-bought headphones; no cherry-picked units
  • Retest after major updates
  • Easily comparable results
  • No ads; unbiased reviews
Learn more about our approach to product reviews here.

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 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 283 headphones and below are our recommendations for the best on-ear headphones to buy in 2018. See also our recommendations for the best over ear headphones and the best Bluetooth headphones.

  1. Best On-Ear Headphones: Marshall MID ANC

    Usage Ratings - Version 1.2

    Test Benches:

    • 1.2: Winter 2018
    • 1.1: Summer 2017
    • 1.0: Winter 2017
    • 0.9: Winter 2016
    7.0
    Mixed Usage
    What it is: This is the combination of the different use cases to evaluate how versatile the headphones are. Therefore an everyday headphone should be well-rounded enough to adapt to most situations and environments without significant losses in sound quality, design ergonomics or isolation.
    Score components:
    7.6
    Critical Listening
    What it is: The level of audio fidelity a headphone can reproduce. Therefore a balanced and true representation of bass, mids, treble, soundstage and imaging, as well as a comfortable listening experience, is essential for critical listening.
    Score components:
    7.0
    Commute/Travel
    What it is: How well the headphones handle the loud environments involved in commuting or traveling. Therefore your listening experience should be comfortable, hassle-free and as isolated from noise as possible.
    Score components:
    7.2
    Sports/Fitness
    What it is: How well-adapted the headphones are, to use while doing sports or strenuous exercise. Therefore the headphones should not be too cumbersome and deliver a stable and comfortable listening experience.
    Score components:
    7.0
    Office
    What it is: How well the headphones can deliver a comfortable and isolated listening experience in an office-like environment. They should not leak much and should block the noise of a busy office.
    Score components:
    6.0
    TV
    Score components:
    5.7
    Gaming
    Score components:
    Type : On-ear
    Enclosure : Closed-Back
    Wireless : Yes
    Noise-Cancelling : Yes
    Mic : Yes
    Transducer : Dynamic

    The best on-ear headphones we've tested so far are the Marshall MID ANC. They deliver a versatile experience for most use cases, with a well-balanced sound that makes them a good choice for more critical listeners that prefer on-ear designs. They're also noise-canceling headphones so they do better in loud environments compared to typical on-ears. They have a good wireless range, decent battery life and a well-made design that feels more premium than some of the other Marshall headphones we've tested. They also have an excellent control scheme that's efficient and easy to use.

    However, they won't be the ideal travel or commuting headphones since their noise isolation is not that strong. They are not as well built as the B&W P5 Wireless, they can sound a bit sharp on some tracks, and do not automatically turn-off to conserve power, even when inactive, which is a bit disappointing.

    Overall, if you like on-ears and want a versatile headphone for most of your use cases, then the MID ANC are a great choice.

    See our review

  2. Longer Lasting Alternative: Beats Solo3 Wireless

    Type : On-ear
    Enclosure : Closed-Back
    Wireless : Yes
    Noise-Cancelling : No
    Mic : Yes
    Transducer : Dynamic

    If you want a longer lasting headset that you do not have to charge as often as the Marshall MID ANC, then get the Beats Solo3 Wireless. They are not noise-canceling like the Marshall, so they will be a bit worse in louder environments. They're also slightly tighter on the head which is not as comfortable for everyone and are a bit less balanced in their frequency response. On the upside, the Beats Solo3 have an excellent 42-hour battery life that will easily last you a weekend of heavy continuous use. They do not take long to charge and have a quick charge feature that delivers up to 2 hours of battery life from a 10-minute charge.

    Their sound quality is also a bit less treble-heavy than the MID ANC so they won't sound as sharp on some tracks but may also sound a bit darker overall. The Solo3 are a great choice if you're an iOS user that wants a long lasting headset that's also easy to use and versatile enough for most activities.

    See our review

  3. Best Mid-Range On-Ear Headphones: Bose SoundLink On-Ear

    Usage Ratings - Version 1.2

    Test Benches:

    • 1.2: Winter 2018
    • 1.1: Summer 2017
    • 1.0: Winter 2017
    • 0.9: Winter 2016
    7.0
    Mixed Usage
    What it is: This is the combination of the different use cases to evaluate how versatile the headphones are. Therefore an everyday headphone should be well-rounded enough to adapt to most situations and environments without significant losses in sound quality, design ergonomics or isolation.
    Score components:
    7.5
    Critical Listening
    What it is: The level of audio fidelity a headphone can reproduce. Therefore a balanced and true representation of bass, mids, treble, soundstage and imaging, as well as a comfortable listening experience, is essential for critical listening.
    Score components:
    6.9
    Commute/Travel
    What it is: How well the headphones handle the loud environments involved in commuting or traveling. Therefore your listening experience should be comfortable, hassle-free and as isolated from noise as possible.
    Score components:
    7.1
    Sports/Fitness
    What it is: How well-adapted the headphones are, to use while doing sports or strenuous exercise. Therefore the headphones should not be too cumbersome and deliver a stable and comfortable listening experience.
    Score components:
    7.1
    Office
    What it is: How well the headphones can deliver a comfortable and isolated listening experience in an office-like environment. They should not leak much and should block the noise of a busy office.
    Score components:
    6.2
    TV
    Score components:
    5.9
    Gaming
    Score components:
    Type : On-ear
    Enclosure : Closed-Back
    Wireless : Yes
    Noise-Cancelling : No
    Mic : Yes
    Transducer : Dynamic

    If you want a more comfortable on-ear design that's not as expensive as the Marshall MID ANC or the Beats Solo3 Wireless, then get the Bose SoundLink On-Ear. They are not noise-canceling like the MID ANC, so they won't do as well in loud environments. They also won't last as long on a single charge as the Beats although they do have better power saving features.

    On the upside, they have a much more comfortable on-ear fit that's better than most of the on-ears we've tested. They’re easy-to-use, with a good build quality, decent battery life, and wireless range as well as a well-balanced sound that caters to all genres.

    Overall, the Bose SoundLink are the most comfortable on-ears we've tested so far and they deliver a good sound quality that will satisfy most listeners.

    See our review

  4. Cheaper alternative: JBL E45BT

    Type : On-ear
    Enclosure : Closed-Back
    Wireless : Yes
    Noise-Cancelling : No
    Mic : Yes
    Transducer : Dynamic

    If you want a cheaper alternative to the Bose SoundLink On-Ear, then get the JBL E45BT. They're not as comfortable as the Bose or even the Skullcandy Grind which are a bit more budget-friendly. Their build quality is also not the most durable.

    But on the upside, the E45Bt are versatile on-ears for most use cases, with a decently well-balanced sound that caters well to all genres. They have an excellent 26-hour battery life and you can also use them wired when the battery dies which means you will rarely be without music. They're lightweight and stable enough design for the occasional jog and they're decently comfortable but a bit tight on the head which may not be ideal for all listeners.

    See our review

  5. Best Budget On-Ear Headphones: Skullcandy Grind

    Usage Ratings - Version 1.2

    Test Benches:

    • 1.2: Winter 2018
    • 1.1: Summer 2017
    • 1.0: Winter 2017
    • 0.9: Winter 2016
    6.5
    Mixed Usage
    What it is: This is the combination of the different use cases to evaluate how versatile the headphones are. Therefore an everyday headphone should be well-rounded enough to adapt to most situations and environments without significant losses in sound quality, design ergonomics or isolation.
    Score components:
    7.2
    Critical Listening
    What it is: The level of audio fidelity a headphone can reproduce. Therefore a balanced and true representation of bass, mids, treble, soundstage and imaging, as well as a comfortable listening experience, is essential for critical listening.
    Score components:
    6.2
    Commute/Travel
    What it is: How well the headphones handle the loud environments involved in commuting or traveling. Therefore your listening experience should be comfortable, hassle-free and as isolated from noise as possible.
    Score components:
    6.8
    Sports/Fitness
    What it is: How well-adapted the headphones are, to use while doing sports or strenuous exercise. Therefore the headphones should not be too cumbersome and deliver a stable and comfortable listening experience.
    Score components:
    6.6
    Office
    What it is: How well the headphones can deliver a comfortable and isolated listening experience in an office-like environment. They should not leak much and should block the noise of a busy office.
    Score components:
    5.8
    TV
    Score components:
    5.5
    Gaming
    Score components:
    Type : On-ear
    Enclosure : Closed-Back
    Wireless : Yes
    Noise-Cancelling : No
    Mic : Yes
    Transducer : Dynamic

    If you want the best budget on-ears we've tested, then get the Skullcandy Grind. They do not have the foldable frame of the JBL E45BT so they won't be as portable. They also won't be the most stable on-ears for sports, unlike some of the other options on this list.

    On the upside, they offer one of the best value for your money thanks to their surprisingly great build quality and balanced sound for their price range. They're the second most comfortable closed-back on-ear we've tested, just behind the Bose SoundLink On-Ear and they're an easy to use headset with a great control scheme and a decent battery life. 

    Their slight lack of portability and isolation might be an issue for some, especially if you commute and travel a lot but overall, if you want a comfortable and budget on-ear for your daily routine, you can't do much better than the Grind at this price.

    See our review

  6. Open-Back Alternative: Koss Porta Pro

    Type : On-ear
    Enclosure : Open-Back
    Wireless : No
    Noise-Cancelling : No
    Mic : Yes
    Transducer : Dynamic

    If you want a more portable on-ear headset than the Skullcandy Grind and care about sound quality, then get the Koss Porta Pro. They have an open-back design, so they isolate less than the Skullcandy and most on-ears on this list. They also have a weaker build quality that does not feel as durable. On the upside, they deliver a decent audio reproduction that feels a bit more immersive than the Grind, thanks to the open-back earcups. 

    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. If you want an on-ear design for critical listening, that's also portable, stable and breathable enough for running outdoors, then the Koss are a good choice.

    See our review

Notable Mentions

  • B&W P5 Wireless. A well designed and premium looking wireless on-ear with great battery life. A bit too pricey for what they have to offer and not as comfortable to wear for long periods of time. See our review
  • Koss PortaPro Wireless. A wireless variant of the Koss Porta Pro. Decently balanced open sound and a stable breathable design for outdoor sports but not as good as the wireless options in their price range. See our review 
  • Beats EP On-Ear. A simple well built on-ear with a well-balanced sound but a bit too pricey for its lack of features. See our review
  • Sennheiser HD1 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

All Reviews

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.

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