The good thing about headphones is there are plenty of styles and options to choose from. Earbuds are the most portable, while over-ears usually offer a few more features (and better battery life if they’re wireless). However, if you want the best of both worlds, go for a pair of on-ears. Usually, the best headphones are going to cost you a fortune, but that isn’t the case. These are some of the best on-ear headphones you can get for under $100.
Editor’s note: this list was updated on December 7, 2021, to add the Audio-Technica ATH-S200BT to the Best list, and to add the Monoprice Hi-Fi On-Ear and Sennheiser HD 250BT to the Notable mentions.
Related: The best wireless headphones
The best on-ear headphones under $100 is the Grado SR60e
Grado is a family-owned business that operates out of its warehouse in Brooklyn and makes products well known for sound quality. One of the best on-ear headsets is the Grado SR60e.
Grado SR60eFull Review
For less than $10o USD, the SR60e is one of the best bang-for-your-buck open-back headphones you can get. The foam padding on the ear cups isn’t the most advanced, but it’s comfortable enough. Since the ear cups are open-back you’ll get a great soundstage and the heavy-duty cable won’t break anytime soon.
Of course, it isn’t the most portable set of headphones. The hinges do not fold and it doesn’t block sound due to the open-back construction. As an audio-only set, you don’t get an inline mic or remote to control music on portable devices. But if you just want good sound, this one ranks as one of the best on-ear headphones you can get.
What you should know about the best on-ear headphones under $100
Get a headset that’s not too tight, but just right
Getting the proper fit is just as important for on-ear headphones as in-ear or over-ear models. Unfortunately, since on-ears sit, well, on the ear, it’s more difficult to achieve this. Often, we consumers run into one of two issues: either the headset is so tight that it hurts to wear for longer than 20 minutes, or it’s so loose that it falls forward when we go to tie our shoes. Bespectacled listeners should jump ahead to over-ear headsets like the Shure AONIC 50 or even the AKG K371, or stick to the Koss Porta Pro. Once you get it right, the benefits of proper isolation will allow for optimal bass response and clarity.
Start here: Ultimate headphone buying guide
Bluetooth audio or wired audio?
If you’re looking at any of the wireless models, bear in mind that wired still trumps Bluetooth with regards to audio quality. Of course, sometimes you just can’t put a price on the convenience of cutting the cord. If you’re a die-hard Bluetooth fan, keep an eye out for high-quality codec support. Android users should look out for aptX or LDAC headphones, while iPhone users will benefit most from AAC headsets. See, Android doesn’t play well with AAC across devices and iOS doesn’t support aptX or LDAC.
Become an expert: Bluetooth codecs 101
If you’re streaming from a basic music service like YouTube Music or Spotify, high-quality codec support is still important for connection quality and reduced latency, but it won’t turn crappy headphones that happen to support aptX into an audio miracle. You still want to make sure you’re using a well-engineered headset to get the most out of your music.
What about open-back headphones?
Open-back headphones aren’t meant for travel since they leak noise like crazy, and allow external noise in. That said, it’s really more of a feature than a drawback since it facilitates a more realistic perception of sound. Sure, it’s not quite 3D sound, but it’s better than traditionally closed cans. We recommend relegating your Grado headset to the home and picking up something more sealed off for travel.
Stay aware of your surroundings with the Koss Porta Pro
Looking for the best on-ear headphones with the most portability? The Koss Porta Pro is a classic pair of headphones, and the new limited editions add important features along with their new color options. The retro design hasn’t changed since its first release, and it’s just as practical now as it was then.
Koss Porta Pro Limited EditionFull Review
The headphones have a thin, lightweight frame and plastic ear cups that fold down to a more compact size for travel. It has a switch on the side that adjusts the firmness of the ear cups for a more comfortable fit. The unique adjustable design with ear pads and then a space with another set of padding on the side of the wearer’s head makes it one of the best on-ear headsets for individuals who wear glasses. Unfortunately, it isn’t the most durable pair of headphones but it comes with a hardshell case for protection during transport. What’s more, the limited edition models have a small mic and remote for use with mobile devices.
One thing to note is that the Porta Pro is an open-back headset, so you’re probably not going to want to use them during your commute unless you want everyone to hear what you’re listening to.
The Jabra Elite 45h has the best battery life
The Jabra Elite 45h rocks an attractive minimalist design. The buttons can be a bit difficult to differentiate, but you can always activate the Google Assistant button to then make basic voice-directed playback controls and perform simple tasks.
Jabra Elite 45hFull Review
The Elite 45h has one of the best battery capacities in the business, permitting an insane 54 hours of constant playback before requiring a recharge via the included USB-C cable. It supports AAC and Bluetooth multipoint, but the multipoint connection is a little dubious.
Assuming you’re able to get a proper fit with the on-ears, the neutral leaning frequency response adapts well to a variety of music types. Unfortunately, external noise attenuation isn’t great, but that’s the case for nearly all on-ear headphones. The mic quality is good on the Jabra Elite 45h, and Jabra offers a nifty two-year dust and water damage warranty.
Cut the cord and add features with the Sony WH-CH510
One of Sony’s newer additions to its line of headphones, the WH-CH510 wireless on-ear headphones continues the company’s streak of great products with terrible names. The sleek headphones come equipped with swiveling hinges, so it can lay flat on a table or around your neck when you’re not using it.
The WH-CH510 connects to your device using Bluetooth 5.0 and NFC to provide fast and expansive control. The WH-CH510 works with Siri and Alexa Assistant, and supports hands-free calling. There are also volume and playback control buttons. Unfortunately, the headset only supports SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs, so no aptX for those who really want it.
Inside the headphones sit 30mm dynamic drivers and a battery that can last up to 35 hours. The headset charges through USB-C and it even sports a quick charge function, where 10 minutes of charging will get you 90 minutes of playback.
All told, it’s a reasonably priced on-ear headset packed to the gills with useful features.
The Audio-Technica ATH-S200BT wireless headphones have premium features on a budget
The Audio-Technica ATH-S200BT does not have the newest technology, as evidenced by the microUSB port. It does have a decent neutral leaning sound from the 40mm drivers, which is a more common size for over-ear headphones. The headset folds flat, which is nice when you leave it around your neck but doesn’t have articulating arms to make it more portable.
Build quality seems about the same as most Audio-Technica gear in this price range, so it has a lot of plastic but is well padded. The ATH-S200BT is a strictly Bluetooth situation, so no optional headphone jack here, but it has dedicated buttons for playback and answering calls. Fortunately, the headset has a 40-hour battery life which should to survive whatever trip you throw at it. Bonus, you can pick from one of several colorways from the stealth black to a more eye-catching white with gold.
The best cheap on-ear headphones: Notable mentions
- Jabra Move Style: This funky and compact wireless headset has a very durable build. The battery is alright, topping out at around 13 hours and it sounds good. Due to the on-ear fit, it’s not great for exercise, but you’ll be the most stylish pedestrian wearing it.
- Monoprice Hi-Fi Lightweight On-Ear: Headphones for $15? Heck yes. Build quality may leave something to be desired, however, the sound surprisingly delivers.
- Puro Sound Labs PuroQuiet: Whether you want headphones for your kid or you just have a smaller head, this is a great-fitting pair of cans. It also has active noise cancelling and a volume limiter to help protect those precious ears.
- Sennheiser HD 250BT: For around $50 you get a wealth of codec options including aptX and the even less common, aptX Low Latency, which is great for anyone who streams video. It is pretty utilitarian, however, without any padding on the crown so it may not feel super comfortable over long periods.
- Sennheiser HD 25 Light: Sennheiser is known for its top-tier audio quality, and that reputation holds true with the HD 25 Light. The cord is detachable so you can easily replace it rather than buy a new headset.
- JBL TUNE 500: For around $30, fanciness probably isn’t as important. The TUNE 500 brings that pedigree to a bargain-level price.
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Frequently Asked Questions
For $20, the Sony MDRZX110 are not bad. These wired headphones have decent audio quality which pumps through their 30mm drivers. They’re lightweight and fold at the hinges, so they can be thrown in your backpack easily. These headphones are no-frills and have no microphone or onboard controls, but if all you care about is listening to your music, this should be no issue.
No! The Beats Solo 2 are a pretty old pair of wired headphones, and they’re not worth $100. The sound quality isn’t very good and you can definitely find a better pair of on-ear headphones in this price range.