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 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 headphones we've reviewed so far are the Beats Solo Pro. They combine the sleek, fashion-forward on-ear design of the company's iconic Solo line-up, with a premium active noise cancelling feature and well-balanced sound. They feel impressively well-built, and are very easy-to-use, especially if you have an iPhone.
Beats have come a long way in recent years with respect to audio quality, and these Bluetooth on-ears are a great example. They have a surprisingly neutral sound profile that's even slightly bright - a far cry from the boomy, bass-heavy sound the brand is commonly associated with. They isolate an impressive amount of noise, especially for on-ears, and their 24-hour battery life is great. They can also be used wired with a Lightning audio cable, but they don't come with one, unfortunately.
While their balanced sound signature makes them suitable for a wide range of genres, those with particularly sensitive ears might find they sound a bit sharp on brighter tracks. They also clamp down quite tightly on the head, which can get uncomfortable after a while, though you might not notice this much if you have a narrower head. All things considered, they deliver the best overall performance out of the on-ears we've reviewed to date.
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 might not have an active noise cancellation feature like the Beats Solo Pro Wireless, but they're noticeably 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. Also, unlike the Beats, they come with an audio cable to use them wired.
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 more quiet environments and need something more comfortable, the Bose might be the better option for you.
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 wired on-ear headphones we've tested so far are the Audio-Technica ATH-M60x. They have a fairly well-built studio design, which makes them a solid choice if you prefer on-ears for mixing or recording. They aren't as tight as some other options on this list, which can make them a bit more enjoyable to wear for long periods.
Their sound profile is quite well-balanced, and they come with multiple cables and 1/4" adapters to suit all your needs. They keep an overall high-end look that's common to the lineup but they're a bit more compact than other models.
Unfortunately, there's a noticeable dip in the mid-range, which mainly pushes back the vocals and lead instruments to the back of the mix. Also, while they keep a similar look to other ATH headphones, they feel a bit more plasticky and don't feel as durable as the over-ear Audio-Technica ATH-M50x. Nevertheless, if you're looking for on-ears for your studio that offer good audio reproduction, these are a good option.
If you like being able to take calls with your headphones when you're on-the-go, but still want something wired, then get the Beats EP. They sound a bit boomier than the Audio-Technica ATH-M60x, but they can be a better option for casual, everyday use thanks to their in-line microphone. Even though they pack quite the punch, they still sound quite well-balanced overall. They fit more tightly on the head, which helps keep them more securely in place if you need to run to catch your bus, but can be uncomfortable after a while. Their in-line remote also doesn't work with Android devices, so you'll have to start and end calls from your phone directly if you don't have an iPhone.
Get the Audio-Technica if you don't need a mic and want something that fits less tightly; however, if you're looking for something with a more casual design for daily use, you'll want to consider the Beats.
The best on-ear headphones in the budget range we've tested so far are the Skullcandy Grind. These wireless headphones are surprisingly comfortable thanks to their smooth material covering their ear cups and lightweight design that doesn't fit too tightly. Their controls are simple and very easy-to-use, and they feel fairly well-built overall, especially for the price.
While Skullcandy makes lots of headphones with heavily overemphasized bass, these actually have a brighter sound profile. The amount of bass you get will depend on how snugly they fit, but most people should find they sound quite neutral. They can be a bit harsh on the higher frequencies, like during a guitar solo or on the crash of cymbals, but this might not bother everyone. They have a very good 15-hour battery life and can be used wired with one of their two provided audio cables, one of which has an in-line mic and remote.
While these Bluetooth on-ears still provide great value for the price, they would be even better if they had some additional features, like an auto-off timer or a companion app to customize their sound. That said, these features are quite rare at this price point in general, and shouldn't hold you back from getting these otherwise very well-rounded headphones. The biggest thing that could be a deal-breaker is the fact that they can't fold up into a more compact format, but even then, it's a fairly minor issue considering the performance they provide.
05/22/2020: No changes to product picks; text refresh to keep things up-to-date.
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.