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 in 2019. 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 tested so far are the Marshall MID ANC Wireless. As the name suggests, these headphones have active noise cancellation. Although the performance can be a bit of a mixed bag, it's overall decent. In terms of design, they're fairly stylish, with a rugged texture material covering both the ear cups and the headband.
The sound profile can be characterized as a bright sound with a well-balanced, consistent bass and a mid-range that's a bit recessed. Although the imaging is great, the soundstage can feel rather small, which is somewhat expected of closed-back on-ear headphones. Bluetooth connection has a good range, but without any low-latency codec, there's simply too much lag to recommend them for movies or gaming.
Battery life on these headphones is good, lasting around 17 hours with active noise cancellation on. If you prefer to use them wired, Marshall provides both a USB and a 3.5mm cable. Overall, they perform fairly well and are a good choice for those looking for versatile on-ear headphones.
If you’re looking for on-ear headphones that have stronger active noise cancelling, then get the AKG N60NC Wireless. They don’t reproduce vocals and instruments as clearly as the Marshall MID ANC Wireless and sound a bit boomier overall, but they isolate more noise while leaking less sound, making them the best on-ear noise cancelling headphones we’ve tested so far. Their battery doesn’t last as long as that of other wireless on-ears we’ve tested and they don’t feel as well-built, but they charge quickly and are easy-to-use. They also support multi-device pairing, which is a nice addition.
Get the Marshalls if you’re looking for headphones with a more premium design and prefer a brighter sound profile, but if you care more about noise cancelling and love bass, you’ll want to go for the AKG.
If you're looking for something more comfortable than the Marshall MID ANC Wireless, the Bose SoundLink On-Ear Wireless 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 is 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 Marshall are better, but for a comfortable pair that you can wear for a long time, the Bose are decent.
If you like to wear on-ear headphones while working out, then get the Beats Solo3. They aren't noise cancelling like the Marshall MID ANC Wireless nor are they as comfortable as the Bose SoundLink On-Ear Wireless, but they have a more stable, breathable fit that’s better suited to light exercise. Their physical controls are decently easy-to-use and they benefit from Apple’s W1 chip for seamless pairing with iOS.
These headphones have deep, thumping bass that’s great for fans of EDM or hip-hop. They have an excellent 42-hour battery life that will easily last you a whole weekend of heavy continuous use and don’t take very long to charge. They even have a quick charge feature that delivers up to 2 hours of battery life from a 10-minute charge.
While the Beats sound less sharp than the Marshall, their bass can be a bit overpowering. Their battery also doesn’t have an auto-off timer, so although it'll take a while to deplete completely, it'll continue to drain if you forget to turn the headphones off. That said, they’re a solid choice for fans of deep bass who like to keep charging to a minimum and are looking for on-ear headphones with a good, secure fit.
If you want a less expensive pair of on-ears with a more stable fit for running or working out, get the JBL Live 400BT. They feel a bit cheaper than the premium-built Beats Solo3 Wireless but offer a more balanced sound that you can also customize through their companion app. While their battery life isn't quite as good as the Beats, they still offer a great 30-hour battery and, unlike the Beats, feature an auto-off timer that helps them conserve even more power. Unfortunately, they aren't the most comfortable, though their tight fit does help them stay more securely on your head.
Get the Beats if you want wireless on-ears for working out that feel more premium, but if you don't mind a more plasticky feel and want something cheaper that still perform well, go with the JBL.
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 is no option for Bluetooth connection nor is there any active noise cancellation feature. Audio-Technica does provide three cables of different lengths along with two 1/4 inch 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 prefer wired on-ear headphones with a cooler, more casual look, then get the Beats EP. They sound a little boomy compared to the Audio-Technica ATH-M60x, but their design is more versatile for casual use thanks to the inclusion of an in-line remote and microphone on their cable. They feel fairly well-built overall, but their cable isn’t detachable, so if it breaks, you’ll need to replace the headphones entirely.
Get the Audio-Technica if you don’t need headphones with a mic and just want something for uninterrupted listening, but if you like being able to control your music and take calls directly from your headphones, you’ll prefer the Beats.
The best budget on-ear headphones we've tested are the Skullcandy Grind. They’re not as well-built as some of the more premium options on this list, but this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise considering their price. They’re very comfortable for on-ear headphones and have a simple control scheme that’s reasonably easy to use.
They have a fairly balanced sound that lends itself well to most music genres. Their 15-hour battery life is decent and they come with two audio cables, one of which has an in-line mic so you can even use them passively when the battery runs out.
Unfortunately, their frame doesn’t fold into a more compact format and their noise isolation performance is quite poor. Their lack of portability and isolation might be an issue for some, especially if you commute and travel a lot. That said, if you want comfortable and inexpensive on-ear headphones to use casually, you can't do much better than the Skullcandy Grind at this price.
If you want more compact on-ears than the Skullcandy Grind Wireless, then get the Koss Porta Pro KTC. They isolate even less than the Skullcandy, but this also results in a slightly more immersive listening experience. They’re very comfortable and have a foldable design that's compact enough to keep on you while you’re out and about, but don’t feel as durable as the Skullcandy. Although they’re stable and breathable enough to wear while running, you’ll want to make sure they don’t get caught on anything that could yank them off your head.
Get the Skullcandy if you prefer headphones that feel more durable, even if they’re less compact, but if you want something more portable that’s just as comfortable, then go for the Koss.
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.
11/20/2019: Minor text and structure changes, no change in recommendations.