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 Master & Dynamic MW50 Wireless
If a premium build is your thing, then the MW50 may be your end-all, be-all pair of best 0n-ear headphones. The detachable lambskin memory foam ear pads and cowhide leather headband and ear cups are stunning. Additionally, the stainless steel accents pair nicely and result in a timeless, understated design. What’s more, as far as on-ear headphones go, these are unusually comfortable. If you wear glasses and are in need of a comfortable pair of on-ear headphones, these are second only to the Bose SoundLink On-Ear Wireless.
Master & Dynamic MW50 WirelessFull Review
If you’re dubious about the sound quality of these Bluetooth headphones, that’s completely understandable. But knowing that the MW50 Wireless are aptX compatible should relieve your worries. This high-bitrate codec allows for CD-like quality, which is more than sufficient for daily use. And if you’re one to take calls with your headset, the dual-mic system is excellent at blocking out ambient noise and low winds.
Of course, there are a few drawbacks to note about the MW50; though, they’re easy to overlook given how well the headphones perform overall. For one, the playback controls are difficult to press. They’re small and our review unit needed to be pressed very deliberately in order to commands to be registered. Additionally, as with many Bluetooth headphones, the real-world connectivity range falls short of the company’s listed range. All that said, these are minor setbacks and the MW50 are still our pick for the best on-ear headphones you can buy.
What you should know about the best on-ear headphones
If you’ve perused the internet for Bluetooth headphones before, you may have noticed something that we lovingly refer to as Bluetooth codec alphabet soup. Things like aptX, AAC, SBC, and LDAC may appear in 8-point on the back of your headphones’ packaging, and they denote the bitrate transfer that your headphones are capable of. If you don’t have the need or desire to take a deep dive, just know that aptX (AAC if you’re an iOS user) is what you should be looking for. It allows for CD-like streaming quality and is compatible with more and more headsets.
Then there’s active noise-cancelling technology. If you have a few minutes learning how this works is easy. But if you’re crunched for time, imagine you have a wave whose amplitude (the height of the wave) equals 1. Now, what happens if you subtract 1? You’re left with nothing. That’s how ANC works. Tiny microphones in the headphones can pick up outside sound and measures it. That information is then sent to the headphone drivers which produces sounds that are more or less the opposite.
In physics, this is called destructive interference. An out-of-phase wave cancels the regular sound wave, and what you’re left with is your favorite song playing into your head with no interruption. Now it’s worth mentioning this isn’t a perfect process by any means, and some headphones are better than others. So don’t expect your next pair of ANC headphones to imitate life in a vacuum. But if you just don’t want to hear the low hum of an airplane engine, modern technology should get the job done.
The Bose SoundLink On-Ear Wireless are 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-cancelling 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 these one of the best on-ear headphones? The active noise-cancelling 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-cancelling 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 fallback on the included 3.5mm cable—so long as your phone manufacturer didn’t ditch the headphone jack. For $299.95, you are making a large investment, but the active noise-cancelling technology is the best in its class.
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.
“So, are these good for commuting or not?”
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.
Unlike less premium on-ear options out there, the T51i do a great job at isolating external noise. This improves the overall sound quality and lowers your risk of noise-induced hearing loss. Though these are great benefits, it seems fitting to mention that the clamping force can be a bit extreme relative to something like the Bose SoundLink On-Ear Wireless. See here
For those looking to do your part by purchasing eco-friendly products, check out Thinksound. All of their products are sustainably made. Aside from looking gorgeous, the On2 isolate well and reproduce a neutral-leaning frequency response. Though, the downside is that there aren’t any features that accompany the headphones. See our full review
Bowers & Wilkins P5 S2
These may not be the newest pair of headphones on the block, but they’ve aged quite nicely. The sophisticated design and sheepskin leather provide a comfortable fit and timeless look. The P5 S2 support the aptX and AAC Bluetooth codecs, which should mitigate lag and improve sound quality for your respective device. See here
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. What more could a consumer want? See our full review
Beyerdynamic DT 240 Pro
If you need to do some audio mixing and prefer on-ear headphones, look no further than the Beyerdynamic DT 240 Pro. These run just under $100 and certainly rival the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x and ATH-M40x. The synthetic ear pads are comfortable and roomier than they appear. Additionally, the straight-coiled cable is useful in tight situations. See our full review
Plantronics BackBeat FIT 500
Are you one of the few who enjoys working out in on-ear headphones? Then, please, let us point you in the direction of the Plantronics BackBeat FIT 500 headphones. 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. See our full review
Why you should trust us
Not only is this site our nine-to-five, but Adam, Chris, and Lily each have multiple years of reviewing consumer audio products. We’ve kept tabs on the ever-changing world of audio, giving us the ability to parse apart the gimmicks from the gems. As frequent visitors of SoundGuys already know, Chris wears his hatred for all things Bluetooth like a lovesick teenager wears his heart on his sleeve. The Bluetooth products listed? They’re damned special.
Adam, a SoundGuy for nearly three years, has heard everything from pristine highs to vacant lows. Then there’s Lily with countless hours clocked in at a radio station working in a professional studio environment and reviewing audio products on her own time prior to joining SoundGuys.
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