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 buy, period.
Start here: Ultimate headphone buying guide
Editor’s note: this list was updated on June 29, 2021, to add Audio-Technica ATH-S200BT, Bowers & Wilkins PX5, and Klipsch Reference On-Ear II to the Notable mentions, to update links, and to clarify some language.
For the best on-ear headphones, get the Beyerdynamic Aventho Wireless
The Beyerdynamic Aventho Wireless supports aptX HD and is expensive, but it isn’t costly for the sake of expense alone. No, these headphones feel premium and durable, with a metal-reinforced headband and matte finish. Unlike alternatives, its clamping force isn’t headache-inducing, nor is it loose enough to cause the ‘phones 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 listeners and enjoyable for commuters. There’s a bit of auditory masking in lower frequencies like bass and male vocals, but female vocals sound excellent. It comes in both a Bluetooth and wired version to suit your life.
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 active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones use 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 to encompass 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 are invested in ensuring you get the most out of your headphones, you may need to look into studio headphones.
Another thing to note if you have a lot of ear piercings or wear glasses is that on-ears will likely hurt you. Additionally, bulky ear decor can further problematize isolation.
The Beats Solo Pro is the best on-ear headset for iPhone owners
The Beats Solo Pro is a noise cancelling headset, and its ANC works surprisingly well for on-ears. The Solo Pro has a transparency mode feature which allows you to hear the world around you. If you’re to get any pair of Beats headphones, the Solo Pro is your best option because of its effective ANC and portable design.
Beats Solo ProFull Review
Beats gets a lot of flack for exaggerated bass emphasis, but iPhone users will benefit from the H1 chip, which allows for things like hands-free Siri access, and for some people, this will be worth the inaccurate frequency response. If you listen to pop or hip hop, it’s likely that the bass response won’t be an issue, but if you want to listen to less bass-heavy genres like folk, you could run into some clarity issues. Typically Solo Pro headphones run at a premium, but occasionally its less popular colorways can be found on sale for under $200.
The Beats Solo Pro is compatible with the AAC Bluetooth codec, which performs wonderfully with iOS. When paired to an iPhone, the Solo Pro’s battery life clocks in at about 22 hours, which is enough to get you through about a fortnight of public transit commutes. And it supports Fast Fuel charging, which means if you charge your Solo Pro via the Lightning USB for 10 minutes, you get 3 hours of playback time.
Related: Best Beats headphones
Unfortunately, the Beats Solo Pro is not the most comfortable headset we’ve tried. Its clamping force is quite intense, and that makes it difficult to wear it for longer than 45 minutes at a time. In addition, the microphone quality is very poor, so don’t get it if you need to take phone calls.
The AKG N60 NC Wireless is a great set of affordable noise cancelling headphones
The AKG N60 NC is a pair of budget active noise cancelling headphones that can sometimes be found for as cheap as $99 depending on market fluctuations. While the AKG N60 NC is a tad outdated with its microUSB charging, it does last roughly 30 hours on a single charge. The N60 NC supports SBC, AAC, and aptX; you can listen with a wire if you prefer to.
AKG N60 NCFull Review
The noise cancelling of the AKG N60 NC is pretty good, and it does a great job of attenuating low frequencies. This makes it great for taking with you on an airplane. One weird thing about these headphones, though, is that you can’t disable the ANC, something we’ve seen with the Microsoft Surface Headphones 2, too. So if you want to save battery or just simply don’t want to actively cancel noise, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
The sound profile of the AKG N60 NC is consumer-friendly with a slight bass boost and treble boost, but it’s nothing so extreme that it destroys music clarity. While the microphone quality isn’t very good, this remains a strong contender for ANC on-ear headphones.
For the best sound, put on the Sennheiser HD 25
These lightweight DJ headset sounds great and has rotating ear cups that will let you listen with just one ear. It can withstand blasting very loud volumes without distortion kicking in, but we don’t recommend you blow your eardrums out. They’re dubbed as monitoring headphones due to their effective isolation, and the isolation also makes them great for commuters. The cord is detachable, though it is super long (3 meters) for daily use, and you may end up buying a different shorter cable.
Sennheiser HD 25
The Sennheiser HD 25 has a pretty comfortable fit and is lightweight as well, making it great for long listening sessions. This pair of monitoring headphones are intended to be used in louder environments, so if you’re looking for headphones to use exclusively in the studio, we recommend checking out some open-back options where the ear cups are open to the environment. The greatest benefit to open-back headphones is their ability to recreate an open atmosphere.
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 costs just $15. 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, it’s about as light as on-ear headphones get weighing in at just 128 grams. Now, this is done by using all plastic parts, so it doesn’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.
Related: Cheap headphones of 2021
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 it costs 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?
On-ear headphones can be good for commuting but they aren’t quite as portable or convenient as earbuds and they don’t typically isolate as well as some of the best over-ear headphones. Still, 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, on-ear headsets are 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.
Another option is to look for over-ear headphones that have a smaller design, such as the Sennheiser PXC 550-II. While not quite as portable as on-ears, these active noise cancelling headphones are foldable and durable, so they can be easily stored in their carrying case and thrown in your backpack. The PXC 550-II isolates very well and its active noise cancelling capabilities are impressive considering the mid-tier pricing.
Best on-ear headphones: Notable mentions
- Audio-Technica ATH-S200BT: For around $70 this headset offers sizeable 40mm drivers and a 40-hour battery. It folds flat and has onboard controls to boot. The headphones are strictly a Bluetooth situation, so no detachable headphone cable.
- Beyerdynamic Aventho Wired: These headphones do a great job at isolating external noise, but the clamping force can be a bit extreme.
- Beyerdynamic DT 240 Pro: This runs just under $100 and certainly rivals the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x and ATH-M40x. The synthetic earpads are comfortable and roomier than they appear. It’s definitely aimed towards audio production use.
- Bowers & Wilkins PX5: These headphones isolate well and feature a sophisticated sheepskin leather build for a comfortable fit and timeless look. It supports aptX Adaptive and Bluetooth multipoint.
- Jabra Elite 45h: These headphones have a simple and lightweight build that can be folded up nicely to carry on the road. Their battery life tops out at a monster 54 hours and they support quick charging as well. While the clarity of the audio isn’t the best, the headphones have a neutral-leaning frequency response, and the microphone is very good.
- Klipsch Reference On-Ear Reference II: Concentrating strictly on sound above all else, Klipsch’s signature audio knowledge has been applied to the On-Ear II. Unlike the previous model, this one has an optional headphone jack. Find it for cheap and it could be worth it, though at full price there are better options.
- Koss Porta Pro: Talk about timeless, the Koss Porta Pro has maintained the same look since 1984. This reliable set of semi-open cans is portable and affordable.
- Plantronics BackBeat FIT 500: It features a P2i water-repellent nano-coating that has weathered many Midwest rainstorms. 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.
- Puro Sound Labs PuroQuiet: If you’re looking for on-ear headphones for your child, or if you just want headphones suited to smaller heads, these are a great choice. The PuroQuiet headphones have active noise cancelling as well as a maximum volume limit of 85dB. The non-kid-specific design makes these headphones more versatile than something covered in puppy designs, for example.
- Sony MDRZX110: Another bang for your buck option, these pair of wired headphones are truly no-frills. It is comfortable and, for such a cheap price point, sounds pretty good.
Related: Best headphones of 2021
Why you should trust SoundGuys
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 brand 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. 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
In comparison to the Beats Solo Pro, the Beats Solo 3 have longer battery life, running over 45 hours on a single charge. This, and the fact that they are cheaper are largely due to the fact that the Solo 3 don't have active noise cancellation. They still are quite pricey though, and they are becoming outdated with the W1 chip.
Most computers these days support Bluetooth, but even if your computer does not you can always add Bluetooth to it using a USB Bluetooth adapter. Once you've confirmed that your computer supports Bluetooth, you can go into your computer's settings, then the Bluetooth settings, and then pair any Bluetooth device to your computer following the pairing instructions of the device.
Unfortunately, on-ear headphones are uncomfortable more times than not. This is simply because they are squashing down your outer ear for a long period of time. Particularly if you wear glasses or have ear piercings all up and down your ear cartilage, you should opt for a set of over-ears or in-ears to maximize your comfort level. Additionally, the ear pad material makes a difference in comfort, so try and look for memory foam ear pads with fabric or velour coverings. Not only will they be comfortable, but they will help create better isolation in your headset.