Updated on October 15, 2018, to account for price changes
When it comes to headphones, there are infinite options to choose from. For the ultra-portable, a pair of earbuds may be best. On the other hand, if comfort is the end-game nothing beats a good pair of circumaural cans. Though, if you’re in need of a Goldilocks in-between option, you may be happiest with a set of on-ears. Sure, the crème de la crème of headphones cost a fortune, but that isn’t the case here. These are some of the best on-ear headphones you can, period.
The best on-ear headphones are the Beyerdynamic Aventho Wireless
The Beyerdynamic Aventho Wireless support aptX HD and is expensive, but it isn’t costly for the sake expense alone. No, these headphones feel premium. From the metal reinforced headband and matte finish, they’re also durable. Unlike alternatives, the Aventho Wireless clamping force isn’t headache-inducing and it doesn’t cause the cans to fly off either.
Beyerdynamic Aventho WirelessFull Review
The included in-line mic and remote is removable, which means it’s also replaceable. Additionally, while sound quality doesn’t compete with some of the company’s higher-end models like the DT 1990 Pro, it’s more than sufficient for most and enjoyable for commuters. There’s a bit of auditory masking when it comes to lower frequencies like bass and male vocals, but female vocals sound excellent.
What you should know about the best on-ear headphones
- Bluetooth codecs matter if you’re buying wireless on-ear headphones. Keep an eye out for aptX, or AAC if you use an iPhone; these codecs will reduce audio-visual lag and general latency when making playback controls.
- Noise canceling technology uses destructive interference to attenuate environmental din. Even the best noise canceling cans won’t make it sound like you’re living in a vacuum, but they will lessen the sound of a planes engine or indistinct chatter.
- Isolation is key. Since this is a list of on-ear headphones, good isolation is hard to come by as the headphones sit on your ear, not around them like studio headphones. That said, once you do find cans with a good seal, you’ll notice low-end frequency improvements and that you’ll be less tempted to boost the volume.
The Bose SoundLink On-Ear Wireless is as comfortable as on-ears get
That’s right, if you’re chasing the oxymoron that is a pair of comfortable on-ear headphones, well you’ve found them in the Bose SoundLink On-Ear Wireless. It’s true, Bose gets a lot of flack for exaggerated treble emphasis, but time and time again the company produces the comfortable headphones out there.
Bose SoundLink On-Ear WirelessFull Review
As we enthusiasts have grown to expect with Bose, the mids and treble are emphasized but that’s OK. If your ears favor pop music then you’ll probably enjoy the prominent vocals and feigned clarity due to the overemphasized highs. Of course, if you’re a basshead, you’re not going to find these satisfactory. But then again, if you’re a bass head, you’re likely not considering Bose in the first place.
Alright, you can wear these indefinitely but how’s the battery life? It’s pretty good and clocks in at 15 hours, which is enough to get you through about a fortnight of public transit commutes. And topping them up takes a little over 2.5 hours, which is on-par for wireless headphones.
Unfortunately, the plastic seems set to snap if the wrong thing falls on them in a bag and our unit had clear evidence of super glue holding things together in one of the hinges. That said, because these are made from such a lightweight plastic, that’s the main reason why they’re so comfortable. You win some, you lose some; yes, even with the best on-ear headphones. However, even with the few downsides, the Bose SoundLink On-Ear Wireless headphones are the most comfortable cans, no contest.
Keep out ambient noise with the AKG N60NC Wireless
If you’re not well acquainted with AKG, no worries. The company is recognized for its premium circumaural headphones like the AKG K7XX Red. Luckily for us, though, they do have a pair of standout on-ear, active noise canceling headphones: the AKG N60NC.
AKG N60NC WirelessFull Review
At first glance, you may not think they’re anything special; all black with a silver accent and that’s it. And if they look familiar to you, well, the N60NC seem to borrow design elements from Sony’s popular line of XB headphones. That said, these sound great despite the overemphasized low-end.
Sure, the bass can bleed into the midrange every now and then but it’s not a deal breaker, especially considering how many of us prefer bass emphasis like this. But what makes this one of the best on-ear headphones? The active noise canceling abilities. The N60NC do a fabulous job at attenuating low rumbles like an office air conditioner. This is great since doing so makes you less likely to max out the volume, thus preventing noise-induced hearing loss.
As far as on-ear active noise canceling headphones are concerned, the AKG N60NC are the best you can get.
If you’re concerned about these small ANC headphones eating away at battery life, rest assured because the AKG engineering team equipped these with a 15-hour battery life. If these do happen to die on you, you can always fall back on the included 3.5mm cable—so long as your phone manufacturer didn’t ditch the headphone jack.
For the best sound, put on the Grado SR60e
These lightweight, small headphones are open-back, meaning that the ear cups are open to the environment, rather than closed like all the other options listed. You may be wondering, “Why in the world would I want that?” Well, the greatest benefit to open-back headphones is their ability to recreate an open atmosphere. The Grado SR60e replicate sound more realistically and grant a wider soundstage as a result.
Grado SR60eFull Review
Even though the SR60e model is on the entry-level end of Grado’s headphone lineup, they provide one of the best sound quality-to-price ratios out there. Sound aside, it’s worth appreciating the signature Grado design. The headphones’ minimalist, yet retro aesthetic is charming and has held up nicely over the course of 60 years.
The open-back design of the SR60e allows for a more natural soundstage but make it nearly impossible to use these in a public space.
Due to the open-back nature of the SR60e on-ear headphones, ambient noise freely flows in and out. So, if you’re intending to use your on-ears for commuting, these are probably the least appropriate option. That said, if don’t mind that the headphones should be used in quiet environments, you’ll be astounded by the clarity and neutral response of these cans.
Keep things affordable with the Monoprice Hi-Fi On-Ear
If you’ve made it this far and realized that most of these headphones are over $100, then you’ll be happy to know that the Hi-Fi On-Ear are just $12. Monoprice is widely respected for producing high-quality products for a very reasonable price. Whether you want daily headphones on the cheap because your rough on your gear or you just want a reliable backup, the Monoprice Hi-Fi On-Ear is a great value.
Monoprice Hi-Fi On-EarFull Review
What’s more, these are about as light as on-ear headphones get weighing in at just 127.6g (4.5oz). Now, this is done by using all plastic parts, so these don’t have the greatest structural integrity. In fairness though, most features have their drawbacks. Contrary to the compact size, Monoprice managed to fit a 36mm driver into each ear cup.
On top of all that, you even get a multifunction one-button mic and remote for playback control. This won’t allow you to access virtual assistants like Google or Siri, but given that these cost less than a trip to Cracker Barrel, I’d say Monoprice is doing pretty well for us consumers.
Are these good for commuting?
Yes and no. They’re not quite as portable or convenient as earbuds and they don’t typically isolate as well as some of the best over-ear headphones, but dollar-for-dollar, supra-aural headphones are usually a better value than equivalent in-ear models. On-ears are able to take advantage of the ear’s anatomy to reproduce a more realistic sound than their in-ear counterparts.
As if the name didn’t already indicate this, they’re also notably smaller than over-ear headphones. The latter of which are typically cumbersome and a nuisance to save room for in an already tight bag. If you regularly use public transit and are tired of earbuds, we highly recommend testing out any of the options above or below.
A Google search of “on-ear headphones” yields approximately 20 million results. And as you may have guessed, this means that there are more than five on-ear headphones worthy of your ears, which is why we’ve done our due diligence by putting together this notable mentions section. If you weren’t able to find anything that piqued your interest above, we hope that the following products will resonate with you.
- Beyerdynamic T51i: These headphones do a great job at isolating external noise, but the clamping force can be a bit extreme.
- Thinksound On2: Eco-friendly products that sound good are hard to come by, but Thinksound has nearly perfected the art of manufacturing such audio products. The On2 isolate well and reproduce a neutral-leaning frequency response.
- Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless: These headphones isolate well and feature a sophisticated sheepskin leather build for a comfortable fit and timeless look. They support aptX to mitigate latency and improve audio quality.
- Koss Porta Pro: Talk about timeless, the Koss Porta Pro has maintained the same look since 1984. These reliable set of semi-open cans are portable and affordable.
- Beyerdynamic DT 240 Pro: These run just under $100 and certainly rival the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x and ATH-M40x. The synthetic earpads are comfortable and roomier than they appear.
- Plantronics BackBeat Fit 500: Though these didn’t receive an official IPX rating, they’re outfitted with a P2i water-resistant nano-coating that has weathered many Midwest rainstorms.
Why you should trust us
We’ve clocked countless hours working with the best of what audio has to offer, enabling us to pick out the good from the bad. And while we may have our own personal favorite products, we understand that what we love may not be suitable for what most consumers love. Additionally, none of us benefit from directing readers toward one product over another.
This best on-ear headphones list is a living document that we update as often as possible, so if you didn’t see your favorite pair of on-ears listed, make sure to comment below. At the end of the day, we want listeners to be happy with their purchases and try to streamline the research process so you can get to enjoying the music.
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