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 tightly 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 450 pairs of 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 headphones we've reviewed so far are the Beats Solo Pro Wireless. These wireless on-ears look and feel very premium, with a dense plastic and metal construction that draws heavily on the company signature aesthetic flair. Fashionistas will be pleased to note that these headphones are available in a wide range of eye-catching colors. They have an intuitive physical control scheme that places all essential functions within easy reach, as well as great 24-hour battery life, so they should easily last a couple of days on a single charge.
Their sound profile is quite neutral overall, with a touch of extra punch in the low-bass range that’ll give your favorite EDM and hip-hop tracks a tad more kick without completely overwhelming vocals or delicate instruments. They do a great job of blocking out background noise, with an ANC system that does a good job of reducing everything from the low rumble of plane engines to the high-pitched hum of an AC unit.
Unfortunately, these headphones aren’t the most comfortable due to their tight fit, and their limited range of adjustment makes them ill-suited for people with big heads. Their app support is also poor, as the software only allows for activation of the ANC system and enabling talk-through mode. With that said, these are a good choice if you’re looking for a pair of well-built, stylish on-ears.
If you like the more compact form of on-ear headphones but tend to find them uncomfortable, then get the Bose SoundLink On-Ear. They don't have an active noise cancellation (ANC) feature like the Beats Solo Pro Wireless, but they're much more comfortable and lighter. They have a great 21-hour battery that will last you a few days without the need to charge, and you can also connect them to two devices simultaneously. Their sound profile is very accurate and well-balanced, and, unlike the Beats, they come with an audio cable so you can use them wired as well.
Get the Beats if you're looking for something to help block out the noise of your daily commute, but if you're listening in quiet environments and want something more comfortable, go with the Bose.
The best on-ear headphones for working out we've tested so far are the JBL Live 400BT. They have a stable, secure fit that stays in place quite well while running. Their on-ear design is breathable, and their controls are decently easy-to-use. They fold into a more compact format to take up less space in your workout bag and their wireless design ensures there are no cables for you to trip on.
Like many on-ears, their sound profile depends on how well they fit. If the ear cups fit snugly against your ears, you should find they have a well-balanced sound with a kick of extra bass to help get you pumped on your run. They have outstanding 30-hour battery life, and they even have an auto-off timer to help them last even longer. They can even connect to two devices at the same time, which is handy if you have a separate MP3 player for running.
While their tight fit helps keeps them securely on your head while running or working out, it does make these on-ears less comfortable than some of the other options on this list. They also don't have the best build quality, so if they do happen to fall off your head during a sprint, they could suffer some damage. That said, if you're just looking for something to wear while jogging around the neighborhood, you shouldn't have any issues.
The best on-ear headphones with a wired connection that we've tested so far are the Audio-Technica ATH-M60x. They feel reasonably well-built, with dense plastic ear cups and metal hinges. They're also relatively lightweight and don’t squeeze your head too tightly, which makes them decently comfortable to wear even during long listening sessions.
Like the rest of the ATH-M lineup, they have an exceedingly well-balanced sound profile that’s fairly good for studio work, though a slight dip in the mid-range makes some vocals sound just a tad recessed. An added perk comes in the form of the included selection of three audio cables that can be swapped out depending on your needs.
On the downside, they lack any sort of mic or in-line remote and do a poor job of passively blocking out ambient noise, so they aren’t especially well-suited for long commutes or frenetic office environments. That said, these are still a great choice if you're looking for a pair of on-ear headphones that deliver a well-balanced listening experience without any audio latency.
If you use your headphones for taking a lot of phone calls and want something with a microphone, get the Beats EP. They have a boomier sound profile than the Audio-Technica ATH-M60x, and their cable isn't detachable, but their in-line microphone makes them a more versatile option for casual use. Despite their sound reproduction being fairly boomy, they're still versatile enough for most genres as the rest of their ranges are quite well-balanced and flat. They feel more stable on the head than the Audio-Technica, which is great if you need to run for a bus or like to use your headphones at the gym, and their microphone's recording quality is very good. Unfortunately, they're a bit tighter on the head, meaning that they may be uncomfortable during longer listening sessions, and their in-line remote doesn't work with Android devices.
Overall, if you don't need a microphone and just want headphones for listening to music, go with the Audio-Technica. However, if you want a more versatile pair of on-ear headphones for casual use, 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 thanks to their lightweight design and soft ear cups. Their controls are simple, and they feel decently well-built considering their price. Their battery lasts 15 hours off a single charge, which is pretty good, and they come with two different audio cables, one with an in-line mic and remote, and one without.
While many Skullcandy headphones have very an overemphasized and boomy bass range, they're surprisingly well-balanced and bright. The amount of bass you get will depend on how snugly they fit, but most people should find they sound quite neutral and natural. Some higher frequencies may sound a bit harsh and piercing, though this likely won't be too noticeable for everyone, and they're versatile enough for most genres and content.
Unfortunately, these headphones don't block out much background noise at all, though this is common with on-ear headphones, especially without an ANC feature. They also don't have a dedicated companion app to make any changes to their sound profile, though again, this is to be expected at this price point. Overall, they're surprisingly decent for their price and are a good choice for those on a budget.
07/22/2020: Minor changes to text for accuracy and clarity, no change in recommendations.
06/22/2020: Updated text for clarity and accuracy; added the JBL CLUB 700BT to Notable Mentions.
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.