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.
Editor’s note: this list was updated on March 2, 2020, to account for price changes.
The best on-ear headphones are the Beyerdynamic Aventho Wireless
The Beyerdynamic Aventho Wireless supports aptX HD and is expensive, but it isn’t costly for the sake expense alone. No, these headphones feel premium and durable, with a metal-reinforced headband and matte finish. Unlike alternatives, their clamping force isn’t headache-inducing, nor is it loose enough to 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 in lower frequencies like bass and male vocals, but female vocals sound excellent.
What you should know about the best on-ear headphones
As with any product, there are a few things to know before diving into your wallet to surrender your card to the store clerk. Whether you’re diving into an expensive pair of headphones or reaching for something more affordable, we’re here to cover what you need to know in brief.
Bluetooth codecs to pay attention to
Bluetooth codecs matter if you’re buying wireless on-ear headphones, and AAC is really only good for iPhone users. Right now, there’s no standardized process for how Android encodes and decodes the AAC codec. Since it’s one of the most power-hungry wireless codecs available, this leads to marked differences in performance depending on what Android smartphone is used. With that said, if you’re an Android user, keep an eye out for aptX or aptX HD and be aware that LDAC isn’t hi-res.
How does noise cancelling work?
We have a full feature covering this topic, but basically noise cancelling headphones use what’s called destructive interference to counteract environmental noise. The microphones in ANC headphones emit an inverted signal which essentially cancels the noise. Although it can’t completely silence your world, it will lessen the sound of a plane’s engine or surrounding chatter.
Isolation is paramount if you want optimal sound quality
On-ear headphones biggest drawback is their inability for them to cover the whole ear (hence on rather than over-ear headphones). This lack of isolation grants a more portable design, but can be at the detriment to audio quality. If you wear glasses and are invested in ensuring you get the most out of your headphones, you may need to look into studio headphones.
Related: Why I’m sticking to wired headphones
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, look no further than the Bose SoundLink On-Ear Wireless. Bose gets a lot of flack for exaggerated treble emphasis, but time and again the company produces the most comfortable headphones out there.
Bose SoundLink On-Ear WirelessFull Review
As enthusiasts have grown to expect with Bose, the mids and treble are emphasized, but that’s fine. If your ears favor pop music, you’ll probably enjoy the prominent vocals and feigned clarity due to the overemphasized highs.
Battery life 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 superglue holding things together in one of the hinges. That said, the main reason these are so comfortable is their lightweight plastic build. You win some, you lose some, even with the best on-ear headphones. 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 N700NC. Luckily for us, though, AKG has a pair of standout on-ear, active noise cancelling headphones: the AKG N60NC.
AKG N60NC WirelessFull Review
Sure, the bass occasionally masks the midrange frequencies, but it’s not a deal breaker. Ultimately, it’s the noise-canceling feature that makes this one of the best on-ear headphones. The N60NC does 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 they 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 headphones are open back, meaning the ear cups are open to the environment, rather than closed like all the other options listed. 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
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 intend to use your on-ears for commuting, these are probably the least appropriate option. That said, if you 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. The SR60e model is on the entry-level end of Grado’s headphone lineup, and it provides some the best sound you can find for the price.
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, you’ll be happy to know the Hi-Fi On-Ear are just $17. Monoprice is widely respected for producing high-quality products at very reasonable prices. Whether you want daily headphones on the cheap because you’re 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 127.6 grams. 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 dynamic 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 on-ear headphones 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.
- Plantronics BackBeat 500 Fit: look identical to the BackBeat 500 but feature a P2i water-repellent nano-coating. Though they didn’t quite make it as one of the best on-ear headphones, they are an incredible value with some of the best Bluetooth connectivity available.
- Beyerdynamic Aventho Wired: 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.
- Grado GW100: These headphones are nearly identical, physically, to the Grado SR60e except they’re wireless. You can always opt for wired listening too with the included 3.5mm cable.
- Jabra Move Wireless Style Edition: Comfortable on-ear headphones are hard to come by, which is why these cans are unique: they’re both stylish and easy to wear. Unfortunately, high-quality codecs aren’t supported but sound quality is notable given the sub-$75 price.
Related: Best headphones of 2019
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. Each hands-on review conducted here includes a slew of charts that we use to explain frequency response, isolation, and microphone performance. If you’re interested in learning how to better understand the data, click here.
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 enjoy the music.
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