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 let you hear your surroundings better than over-ear headphones. The best on-ear headphones offer a blend of portability, comfort, and high-quality sound. Some even have active noise cancelling (ANC) for better noise reduction when you’re on-the-go.
We've tested over 400 headphones and below are our recommendations for the best on-ear headphones to buy. See also 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 to date are the Beats Solo Pro. These Bluetooth headphones feel very premium and well-built and utilize Apple's H1 chip for seamless pairing to your Apple devices. Like all Beats headphones, they're available in a wide range of colors to best suit your style. Unlike previous versions of these headphones, they now have ANC, and you can get 24 hours of battery with it turned on, which is very good.
The sound profile of these headphones is quite well-balanced and they should be versatile for a wide range of genres and content. They have a slight extra thump of bass that'll likely please fans of EDM or dubstep, but isn't too overpowering. The ANC performance of these headphones is impressive, though unfortunately, they don't do much to block out the low rumble of bus or plane engines. That being said, they do an excellent job at blocking background speech, making them a great choice to help you keep concentrated in the office.
Unfortunately, while Beats does provide a dedicated app for these headphones, it doesn't offer much customization other than turning ANC on/off and there are no EQ customization options. They also may not be the most comfortable option for everyone, as they fit quite tight on the head. The size adjustment range is also quite limited, and they'll likely be too small for people with even slightly larger heads. Overall, they're a versatile pair of on-ear headphones with a premium style and impressively effective ANC.
If you're looking for something more comfortable than the Beats Solo Pro Wireless, the Bose SoundLink On-Ear are the most comfortable on-ear headphones we've tested. These headphones are made to be worn for hours: they're light, with soft padding on the ear cups and a comfortable clamping force. Unfortunately, as with most on-ears, isolation is pretty poor and there's no active noise cancellation feature. The overall sound is well-balanced, with good extension in the bass, slightly recessed mids, and a warm treble, suitable for most genres of music.
If active noise cancellation is a must, the Beats are better, but for a comfortable pair that you can wear for a long time, the Bose are decent.
The best on-ear headphones for working out that we've tested so far are the JBL Live 400BT. They're decently comfortable and breathe quite well so you shouldn't sweat too much more than usual while working out. They also feel quite stable on your head, and likely shouldn't fall off even during mildly strenuous workouts. Their passive isolation also lets you stay aware of your surroundings, great if you want to use them for outdoor jogs.
These headphones have a deep and powerful bass that'll help keep you pumped up and motivated at the gym. While they're great for bass-heavy music like EDM or hip-hop, they're well-balanced enough to be suitable for most genres. Their battery life is excellent as well and will last over 30 hours from a single charge, and they can even be used wired if your battery does run out. Their auto-off feature means that they'll turn themselves off after ten minutes if you forget to power them down.
Unfortunately, their frequency response consistency isn't great, meaning their sound profile will come across differently depending on their fit on your head. They also feel less well-built than some other options, with a slightly plasticky and cheap feeling design. Overall, if you prefer the fit of on-ears and want something for the gym or to wear on jobs, these are a decent choice without breaking the bank.
If you haven't jumped on the Bluetooth bandwagon yet or don't want to worry about battery life, a basic wired pair like the Audio-Technica ATH-M60x is a great choice. The ear cups have a similar design to their ever-popular Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, with some slight differences in the construction of the headband, which is thinner but should still be fairly durable.
Although they don't sound as full as the M50x, these headphones can still deliver a deep, punchy bass, suitable for bass-heavy genres like hip-hop or EDM. The mid-range and treble are very well-balanced, but vocals can sound a bit thin. The positioning of the headphones can also affect bass performance and the poor isolation of on-ears doesn't help.
Being a wired pair, there's no option for Bluetooth connection or any active noise cancellation feature. Audio-Technica does provide three cables of different lengths along with two 1/4" adapters. Unfortunately, none of the cables have an in-line remote or microphone for calls. All things considered, though, they’re still among the best-sounding on-ears we’ve reviewed so far.
If you want a pair of wired on-ear headphones with a more casual and stylish design, go with the Beats EP. Their sound profile is a bit more bass-heavy and boomy than the Audio-Technica ATH-M60x, but their design is better suited to casual use thanks to the in-line remote and microphone on their cable. They're fairly comfortable headphones, but they may feel a bit tight on the head, and their somewhat compact form factor may be too small for people with larger heads. On the upside, their microphone's recording quality is very good, making them a good option if you take a lot of phone calls.
If you prefer a more neutral sound profile and don't use your headphones for phone calls, get the Audio-Technica, but if you want a more casual pair of headphones that have a microphone built-in and don't mind a bit of extra bass, get the Beats.
The best on-ear headphones in the budget category that we've tested so far are the Skullcandy Grind. These Bluetooth headphones are quite comfortable for on-ears thanks to their lightweight design and soft padding. As is common with Skullcandy headphones, the price varies based on color, so depending on the color you want, these can often be found for impressively cheap. Their build quality is quite decent considering their price point, and they may even be stable enough to wear during light workouts or jogs, though more strenuous workouts will likely cause them to slide off your ears.
Their sound profile is surprisingly well-balanced and they should be suitable for a wide variety of music. Unfortunately, they may sound a bit sibilant and piercing to those with sensitive ears. On the upside, their 15-hour battery life is good and they only take 1.5 hours to charge, which is also good. Unfortunately, they don't support extra features like an auto-off timer or NFC or multi-device pairing, though this is somewhat common for budget headphones.
While they may not be the best headphones on this list, these are a surprisingly decent pair of on-ear headphones for the price and are one of the best pairs of Skullcandy headphones that we've tested. If you want a comfortable pair of on-ear headphones that won't break the bank and come in a multitude of colors to best match your style, these are a great option.
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.
01/23/2020: Only minor updates to the text and verification for accuracy; no changes in product picks.
12/24/2019: Replace Marshall MID ANC Wireless with Beats Solo Pro; removed AKG N60NC. Replaced Beats Solo3 Wireless with JBL Live 400BT. Removed Koss Porta Pro KTC.
11/20/2019: Minor text and structure changes, no change in recommendations.