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 we've tested so far are the Beats Solo Pro. These well-built headphones have a decent battery life, making them a great choice for those abandoning wired connections.
Thanks to their well-balanced sound profile, they're suitable for all audio content, although fans of EDM and hip-hop will especially enjoy the extra touch of thump in the bass range. The active noise cancelling of these headphones is great, too. Since they've also got a 24-hour battery life, you'll be able to use these headphones to weather even the longest of international flights. While these headphones don't come with an audio cable, they can still be used wired if you have a Lightning to 3.5mm cable. Apple users will appreciate the embedded H1 chip that makes it easy to pair these headphones with their other Apple products.
Unfortunately, while the ear cup padding is thick and soft, some people might find the fit tight. The headband isn't very adjustable, either, so those with larger or wider heads might not be able to find a more comfortable fit. Despite issues in their fit, these headphones produce a good sound and have a long enough battery life to please most users.
If you're concerned about comfort and want something with a less restrictive fit that you can wear all day, then get the Bose SoundLink On-Ear. They don't feature active noise cancelling like the Beats Solo Pro Wireless, but they're a lot more comfortable. The ear cups have a more oval shape that fits better and the drivers are completely covered with a very dense, plushy padding that feels great on your ears. The headband feels less tight and they're a lot more lightweight, too. Unfortunately, they don't pair as seamlessly with Apple devices and their control scheme feels a bit cramped, but they do feature an auto-off timer to help preserve battery life.
Get the Beats if you have a noisy commute and want something that won't let in as much disruptive noise, but if you're worried about their fit and want something more comfortable, then go for the Bose.
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.
These headphones have a deep and powerful bass that'll help keep you pumped up at the gym. While they're great for bass-heavy music, they're also well-balanced enough to be suitable for most genres. If you like to run outdoors, their passive noise isolation lets in enough ambient noise to help you to stay aware of your surroundings. They also feel quite stable on your head and likely shouldn't fall off even during mildly strenuous workouts. Their battery life is excellent and will last over 30 hours from a single charge, and they can even be used wired if your battery does run out. If you forget to turn them off, they'll power down after ten minutes, thanks to their auto-off feature.
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.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M60x are the best on-ear wire headphones we've tested so far. If you don't want to worry about battery life or you don't mind the corded look or feel, then these on-ear headphones are a great option.
These headphones produce a well balanced sound. Although they may sound slightly thinner when compared to their predecessor, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, they still have good detail and clarity, making them well-suited for both casual and critical listening. They're also decently comfortable and lightweight. Their thin headband has metal hinges that look sleek and more in line with other studio headphones.
On the downside, they don't have any controls, and despite Audio-Technica offering three cables with different lengths, none of them have an in-line remote or microphone. However, if all you're doing is listening to audio, then these are good, wired headphones with a well-balanced sound suitable for most people.
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 budget on-ear headphones we've tested so far are the Skullcandy Grind. Their comfortable, minimalist design, range of colors, and lightweight but sturdy frame make them a stylish accessory at a reasonable price.
These headphones have a surprisingly well-balanced sound profile and while a bit bright, they should be suitable for most genres of music. Thanks to their long battery life of 15 hours, they'll easily last throughout your 9-5 or gym session. They also take only 1.5 hours to charge, which is great when you're on the run. If you can't go a minute more without your audio, you can use them passively, even when you don't have battery life.
Unfortunately, these headphones don't have a lot of extra features like an auto-off timer or multi-device pairing; this is somewhat common for budget headphones. Still, these headphones are a great option for an affordable price and are among the best Skullcandy headphones we've tested.
03/25/2020: Verification for accuracy; minor updates to the text but no recommendation changes.
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.
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.