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 (see our article about over-ear vs. on-ear headphones). They can apply a lot of pressure on the ears, but they allow your ears to breathe and to hear your surroundings better than over-ear headphones. The best on-ear headphones offer a blend of portability, comfort and high-quality sound.
We've tested 28 on-ear headphones and below are our recommendations for the best ones to buy in the summer of 2018.
The best on-ear headphones we've tested so far are the Marshall MID ANC. They deliver a versatile experience, for most use cases, with a well-balanced sound that makes them a good choice for more critical listeners that prefer on-ear designs. They're also noise-canceling headphones so they do better in loud environments compared to typical on-ears. They have a good wireless range, decent battery life and a well-made design that feels more premium than some of the other Marshall headphones we've tested. They also have an excellent control scheme that's efficient and easy to use.
However, they won't be the ideal travel or commuting headphones since their noise isolation is not that strong. They are not as well built as the B&W P5 Wireless, they can sound a bit sharp on some tracks, and do not automatically turn-off to conserve power, even when inactive, which is a bit disappointing.
Overall, if you like on-ears and want a versatile headphone for most of your use cases, then the MID ANC are a great choice.
If you want a longer lasting headset that you do not have to charge as often as the Marshall MID ANC, then get the Beats Solo3 Wireless. They are not noise-canceling like the Marshall, so they will be a bit worse in louder environments. They're also slightly tighter on the head which is not as comfortable for everyone and are a bit less balanced in their frequency response. On the upside, the Beats Solo3 have an excellent 42-hour battery life that will easily last you a weekend of heavy continuous use. They do not take long to charge and have a quick charge feature that delivers up to 2 hours of battery life from a 10-minute charge. Their sound quality is also a bit less treble-heavy than the MID ANC so they won't sound as sharp on some tracks but may also sound a bit darker overall. The Solo3 are a great choice if you're an iOS user that wants a long lasting headset that's also easy to use and versatile enough for most activities even sports.
If you want a more comfortable on-ear design that's not as expensive as the Marshall Mid ANC or the Beats Solo3 Wireless, then get the Bose SoundLink On-Ear. They are not noise-canceling like the MID ANC, so they won't do as well in loud environments. They also won't last as long on a single charge as the Beats although they do have better power saving features.
On the upside, they have a much more comfortable on-ear fit that's better than most of the on-ears we've tested. They’re also easy-to-use, with a decent battery life, wireless range and a well-balanced sound that caters to all genres.
Overall, they're comfortable headphones with a good sound quality.
If you want an even cheaper alternative to the Bose SoundLink On-Ear for most of your use cases, then get the JBL E45BT. They won't be as comfortable as the Bose on-ears or the cheaper Skullcandy Grind. They also do not have as many features as some of the pricier recommendations on this list. On the upside, they deliver an easy to use control scheme, a more portable design than the Skullcandy Grind and a decent performance in most categories to a be a good mid-range option for most use cases. They have a long 26-hr battery life, they can pair to two devices at once and have an above-average wireless range and latency performance when compared to other wireless on-ears.
If you're looking for a budget on-ear that still delivers a good value to performance ratio, then your best option are the Skullcandy Grind. They do not have a foldable frame like the JBL E45BT so they won't be as portable. They also won't be the most stable on-ears for sports unlike some of the other options on this list.
On the upside, they have the second most comfortable on-ear fit just behind the Bose SoundLink On-Ear. They also have a decently long battery life, a good wireless range and a surprisingly good build quality for their budget price. They're easy to use and sound balanced enough for most genres with decently pronounced bass for more bass heavy genres.
Overall, if you want a comfortable and budget on-ear for your daily routine, you can't do much better than the Grind at this price.
If you want a more open sounding on-ear with a more portable and breathable design than the Skullcandy Grind, then get the Koss Porta Pro. They have an open design, so they're even less isolating than the Skullcandy Grind and most on-ears on this list. They also have a weaker build quality that does not feel as durable. On the upside, they have a lightweight build quality and a portable design that is a lot easier to carry around and will even fit into some pockets. They're very comfortable, although not as well padded as the Bose Soundlink or the Skullcandy Grind. If you want an on-ear design for more critical listening and that's open, portable and stable enough for running outdoors, then the Koss Porta Pro are a good choice that are now also available in a wireless option, although more expensive.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best on-ear headphones to buy for most people in each price range. We factor in the price (a cheaper headphone wins over a pricier one 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.