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 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 350 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. They’re well-rounded headphones with a well-made, premium design and an efficient control scheme. They have a decent ANC feature and are among the best on-ear noise cancelling headphones we’ve reviewed.
These headphones have a bright yet balanced sound that makes them a good choice for music enthusiasts who prefer on-ear headphones. They have a very good 42-ft wireless range, a decent 17-hour battery life, and even come with two cable options if you prefer to use them wired.
On the downside, their noise isolation is also not very strong, so they’re not the best choice for super noisy commutes, but they do better in loud environments than most on-ears. 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. They don’t reproduce vocals and instruments as clearly Marshall MID ANC Wireless and sound a bit more boomy 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 touch.
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 want a more comfortable on-ear design, then get the Bose SoundLink On-Ear. They’re not noise cancelling like the Marshall MID ANC Wireless or the AKG N60NC Wireless, but they’re the most comfortable on-ear headphones that we’ve tested so far. They’re well-built with plush, supple ear cup padding and can be worn for hours without issue. They sound good and feel durable, but won’t be ideal for use in noisier environments, like on the subway, since they don’t isolate much noise.
Get the Marshalls if you’re looking for good-sounding on-ears that are also noise cancelling; however, if you’d rather have more comfortable headphones, even if it means they don’t block out very much noise, you’ll prefer the Bose.
If you like to wear on-ear headphones while working out, then get the Beats Solo3. They’re not 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 will take a while to deplete completely, it will 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’re looking for on-ears that have a stable fit for running or working out but are less expensive, consider the JBL Live 400BT. Their battery doesn’t last quite as long as that of the Beats Solo3 Wireless, but they have a more balanced sound that’s also customizable. They still provide over 30 hours of battery life, which is excellent, and also feature an auto-off timer to help conserve even more power. Unfortunately, they feel a bit cheap, and while their tight fit helps keep them securely on your head while working, it’s also not the most comfortable.
If you’re looking for wireless on-ears to wear while working out that feel like more premium headphones, you’ll want to get the Solo3. However, if you don’t mind more plasticky headphones in exchange for something cheaper that still performs well overall, then go with the Live 400BT.
If you don’t like dealing with a battery at all and prefer the latency-free experience of wired headphones, get the Audio-Technica ATH-M60x instead. They’re fairly comfortable and don’t fit quite as tightly as other on-ear headphones we’ve tested. They have a simple studio design and come with 3 different cable options to suit your different critical listening needs.
They have great, deep bass that’s heavy enough to be suitable for bass-heavy genres like hip-hop and EDM without overpowering the qualities of brighter, more vocal-centric pop, rock, or classical music. Their no-fuss wired design is great for watching videos on your phone or playing mobile games, since you won’t have to worry about latency or battery life.
Although they have good audio reproduction in general, their bass is a bit sensitive to the way they’re positioned on the head and whether you wear glasses or not. They also don’t really manage to create a seal around your ears to help reduce ambient noise, which makes them less suitable for use at the office or while commuting. 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 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 M60x 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 EP.
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. 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 Grind 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 Porta Pro.
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.