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Best on-ear headphones
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 over-ear cans. However, if you’re in need of a Goldilocks in-between option for at-home listening, you may be happiest with a set of on-ear headphones. Sure, the crème de la crème of headphones can cost a fortune, but that always isn’t the case here. We’ve rounded up some of the best on-ear headphones you can buy right now.
- This article was updated on January 23, 2024, to ensure the timeliness of the information within.
Our pick for on-ear headphones is the Marshall Major IV
The Marshall Major IV stands out in the on-ear headphone market for its blend of comfort, simplicity, and versatility. Weighing a mere 165 grams, these headphones are comfortable and portable due to their folding design. Despite their lightweight, they maintain a solid build quality and boast a vintage aesthetic that resonates with Marshall’s guitar heritage.
Feature-wise, the Major IV offers both wired and wireless connectivity, with an intriguing capability to share audio through a 3.5mm cable to another device while receiving Bluetooth audio. The control scheme is unique, using a single multi-function button. However, the headphones are limited by their sole support for the SBC Bluetooth codec, which may not satisfy audiophiles. Additionally, while they offer decent battery life with the convenience of wireless charging and fast charging capabilities, their sound profile is characterized by an overemphasis on bass and treble, which might not appeal to all users. The Major IV also lacks active noise cancelation and advanced features like app support or on-ear detection. Still, its straightforward, no-fuss approach might be appealing to users looking for simple, comfortable, and versatile on-ear headphones.
The Beats Solo Pro is the best on-ear headset for iPhone owners
The Beats Solo Pro is a noise canceling headset, and its ANC works surprisingly well for on-ears. The Solo Pro has a transparency mode feature that 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 get 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.
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. 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.
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. If you can’t find the Beats Solo Pro in your market, the Beats Solo3 Wireless still makes for a fine alternative.
The JBL TUNE 660NC has noise canceling and long battery life
For a hit of ANC and 44 hours of listening, check out the JBL TUNE 660NC. It charges via USB-C, not that you’ll need to do it often. Lightweight at 166g and foldable, you can stow it away in your bag easily. For less than $100, it has quite a few desirable features.
A quick charge of 5 minutes yields 2 hours of audio-transferred AAC or SBC Bluetooth codecs. You can also use the included headphone jack cable for the best audio quality. The Tune 660NC features hands-free voice assistants for people who make liberal use of their smart assistants. It might not have the best frequency response, tending to favor bass emphasis, but it’s straightforward with dedicated button controls and conveniently laid out.
The Grado Labs SR80x is best for quiet environments
The Grado Labs SR80x is a music aficionado’s friend, particularly if high frequencies tickle your ears. Hand-assembled in Brooklyn, NY, these headphones feature 44mm dynamic drivers that accentuate treble, delivering a crystal-clear audio experience. If you’re after pronounced cymbals, high register voices, or simply want to unearth new details in your favorite tracks, the SR80x has you covered.
Comfort isn’t compromised, thanks to its precise clamping force and a reasonable weight of 240g. The ear cups swivel freely, providing an even distribution of force against your ears. Add to that the three-hour wearability, and you’ve got yourself a pair of headphones that not only sound good but also feel good.
These headphones are best enjoyed in a quiet environment, thanks to their open-back design that allows for natural sound but doesn’t block out ambient noise. You won’t get a flashy design or a bag of extras; what you will get is the old-school, unpretentious quality that Grado Labs has been serving since 1953. If your playlist is ready for an upgrade, the SR80x is your go-to.
The Sony WH-CH520 is the best bang for your buck
If you’re seeking unpretentious headphones that won’t break the bank, the Sony WH-CH520 is a top pick. With an impressive battery life of 55 hours and 25 minutes, these are the set-and-forget solution for those who despise frequent recharging. What you lack in active noise canceling, you gain in comfort. Built from lightweight plastic, these on-ears practically disappear once you put them on. They even feature a design that’s merciful on those with long hair.
Let’s talk tech. These headphones are future-proof, supporting Fast Pair and Multipoint. That’s a fancy way of saying they connect quickly to Android, Mac, or Windows devices. However, they only offer basic Bluetooth codecs—SBC and AAC—so don’t expect audiophile-level detail. Now, the sound isn’t going to leave you in awe, but it’s more than acceptable for the price point. Bass and mids are emphasized, making them ideal for pop and hip-hop. They might struggle with acoustic instruments, but hey, these aren’t studio monitors.
Sony’s Headphones Connect app offers some customization but asks for several permissions. If privacy is a concern, you might want to skip it. Either way, you’re not missing much; the sound profile doesn’t dramatically change. In a nutshell, the Sony WH-CH520 delivers a lot of bang for a relatively small number of bucks. It’s not a luxury model, but it’s not trying to be. If you value battery life, ease of use, and straightforward functionality, these headphones are a worthy companion.
The Jabra Elite 45h is good for casual listeners
For less than $100, the Jabra Elite 45h supplies a long 67 hours, 17 minutes of audio over AAC and SBC codecs. At only 160g, it’s a lightweight companion on the go. It sounds pretty bassy and exaggerated in the highs as well, but fortunately, Jabra includes a useful app with a comprehensive equalizer. It has Bluetooth multipoint, although it isn’t totally reliable.
Like a lot of on-ear headphones, the Elite 45h does not have particularly impressive isolation. It could use higher-quality codecs because it lacks a headphone jack, but that’s not a problem for Apple users. One of the best features is its quick charge: 15 minutes equals a whopping 10 hours of audio. You can even customize the sidetone for phone calls. For the price and feature set, the Elite 45h is our pick for best on-ear headphones.
Should you get the JBL Tune 510BT?
However, there are some drawbacks to consider. Aside from having less effective noise isolation, the on-ear design can be uncomfortable, especially for individuals who wear glasses or have ear piercings, as the ear cups tend to press against the ears. Additionally, while the headphones support Bluetooth 5.0, SBC, and AAC codecs, providing decent wireless audio quality, they lack aptX support and a headphone jack for wired listening.
Sound-wise, the JBL Tune 510BT caters to bass enthusiasts, with a notable emphasis on lower frequencies. This makes them suitable for genres like EDM, but it could lead to an overpowering bass in more balanced or vocal-centric tracks. The microphone quality is surprisingly good for the price, handling voice calls effectively, although it’s not ideal for more professional audio recording needs.
The best on-ear headphones: Notable mentions
- AKG N60NC Wireless ($260 at Amazon): If you’re looking for a set of budget active noise canceling headphones that are actually up to the task, AKG’s N60 NC Wireless will get you where you need to go.
- Audio-Technica ATH-S200BT ($69 at Amazon): 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 there is no detachable headphone cable.
- Beats Solo3 Wireless ($129 at Amazon): The Beats Solo3 Wireless holds up well today with just a few features showing its age. iPhone owners will benefit from the W1 chip, and AAC support ensures reliable high-quality streaming on iPhones, iPads, and Macbooks.
- Beyerdynamic DT 240 Pro ($67 at Amazon): This certainly rivals the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x and ATH-M40x. The synthetic earpads are more comfortable and roomier than they appear. It’s definitely aimed toward audio production use.
- Bowers & Wilkins PX5 ($374 at Amazon): 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.
- Grado Labs SR60x ($99 at Amazon): The Grado Labs SR60x is the entry-level option in the company’s lineup, and it’s got a lot going for it.
- Koss Porta Pro ($59 at Amazon): 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 ($74 at Amazon): It features a P2i water-repellent nano-coating that has weathered many Midwest rainstorms. Though it didn’t quite make it one of the best on-ear headphones, it is an incredible value with some of the best Bluetooth connectivity available.
- Puro Sound Labs PuroQuiet ($74 at Amazon): 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 canceling as well as a maximum volume limit of 85 dB. The non-kid-specific design makes these headphones more versatile than something covered in puppy designs, for example. $139 at Amazon.
- Sony MDRZX110 ($25 on Amazon): Another bang for your buck option, this pair of wired headphones are truly no-frills. It is comfortable and, for such a cheap price point, sounds pretty good.
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.
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 to the detriment of 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.
How does noise canceling work?
We have a full feature covering this topic, but basically, active noise canceling (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.
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 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 canceling 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 canceling capabilities are impressive, considering the mid-tier pricing.
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 understand the data better, 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 about the Best on-ear headphones
Consumers and manufacturers alike have realized that isolation is a greater challenge with on-ear headphones, and they sometimes clamp too tightly. Even so, you can’t deny that on-ears are portable compared to over-ear headphones.
On-ear headphones offer a balanced compromise between sound quality and portability. While they don’t provide the same level of immersion as over-ear models, they deliver respectable audio performances suitable for most music genres.
Comfort is subjective and depends on individual preference. Over-ear headphones usually provide a more comfortable fit for extended periods, thanks to their cushioned ear cups that enclose the ears. On-ear models can be lighter but may apply pressure directly to the ears, which some people find uncomfortable over time.