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Best on-ear headphones

Can't decide between in-ears and over-ears? Get on-ear headphones.
By
May 6, 2022
Best All-Around
Jabra Elite 45h
By Jabra
A product render of the Jabra Elite 45h on-ear headphones in black against a white background.
7.4
Check price
Positives
Long battery life
In-app equalizer
Decent mic
USB-C charging
Negatives
AAC and SBC only
Mediocre isolation
Buttons hard to differentiate
The Bottom Line.
This straight forward headset provides a long battery life, a reasonably comfortable fit for on-ears, and a comprehensive app.Read full review...
Best for iPhone
Beats Solo Pro
By Beats
The Beats Solo3 Wireless headphones in black against a white background.
7.3
Check price
Positives
Fast Fuel charging
Great ANC
Bluetooth 5.0, Class 1
Apple H1-chip
Siri hands-free access
Negatives
Microphone
No 3.5mm input
Expensive
Uncomfortable
The Bottom Line.
If you're an Apple device user, you'll want to check out these active noise cancelling Beats cans.Read full review...
Best active noise canceling
JBL Tune 660NC
By JBL
On a white background the JBL Tune 660NC in navy.
9.2
Check price
Positives
ANC
Lightweight
Foldable
Wired or wireless
Negatives
Sound quality is only okay
Tight fit for some
The Bottom Line.
Looking for noise cancelling on-ear headphones can be tricky, but the JBL Tune 660NC is lightweight with optional wired listening at a good price.
Best Sound
Sennheiser HD 25
By Sennheiser
The Sennheiser HD 25 on-ear headphones for DJs and studio mixers in black against a white background.
8.4
Check price
Positives
Excellent sound
Comfortable fit
Isolation
Swiveling ear cups
Negatives
10 foot cable is too long
The Bottom Line.
If sound quality trumps all else in your book, these are the cans for you.
Bang for your Buck
Monoprice Hi-Fi On-Ear
By Monoprice
Best on-ear headphones: Monorpice angled image on white background
8.1
Check price
Positives
Lightweight
In-line remote
Negatives
Build quality
The Bottom Line.
Budget on-ear headphones don't get better than the Monoprice Hi-Fi On-Ear.Read full review...

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.

Editor’s note: this list was updated on May 5, 2022, to add the Jabra Elite 45h and JBL Tune 660NC to the Best list, add FAQ section, and to update formatting.

Our pick for on-ear headphones is the Jabra Elite 45h

For under $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.

Jabra Elite 45h
Jabra Elite 45h
7.4
A picture of the Jabra Elite 45h on-ear Bluetooth headphones on a wooden surface with journals; the left ear cup is rotated so the interior padding is visible to the viewer.A picture of the Jabra Elite 45h on-ear Bluetooth headphones right ear cup to display the onboard button controls and Bluetooth toggle.A picture of the Jabra Elite 45h on-ear Bluetooth headphones next to a Samsung Galaxy S10e smartphone with the Jabra MySound+ application open.A chart depicts the Jabra Elite 45h isolation performance, which is okay but lets in a lot of low-frequency noise.A chart depicts the Jabra Elite 45h (cyan) frequency response relative to the SoundGuys Consumer Curve V2 (pink), revealing the 45h's amplified bass response.
Jabra Elite 45h

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.

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 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 Solo Pro
Beats Solo Pro
7.3
The Beats Solo Pro on-ear noise cancelling headphones folded inward on a black surface and surrounded by sunglasses and keys.A photo of the Beats Solo Pro on-ear noise cancelling headphones headband emerging from a backpack with the cloth carrying pouch hooked to it.A photo of the Beats Solo Pro on-ear noise cancelling headphones lying on a black surface with the Lightning input in focus.The Beats Solo Pro on-ear noise cancelling headphones in profile against a wooden background.A photo of the Beats Solo Pro on-ear noise cancelling headphones folded in the cloth carrying pouch with the included Lightning cable and a PS4 controller (red) in the background.A photo of the Beats Solo Pro on-ear noise cancelling headphones being worn by a woman using the right ear cup controls.
Beats Solo Pro

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.

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.

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 JBL TUNE 660NC has noise cancelling 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.

JBL Tune 660NC
JBL Tune 660NC
9.2
On a white background the JBL Tune 660NC in navy.
JBL Tune 660NC
JBL Tune 660NC
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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 assistant 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.

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
Sennheiser HD 25
8.4
The Sennheiser HD 25 in black lean against a white wall and grey background.A man wears the Sennheiser HD 25 on-ear headphones while he uses a digital turntable.
Sennheiser HD 25
Sennheiser HD 25
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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 some 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-Ear
Monoprice Hi-Fi On-Ear
8.1
Best on-ear headphones: Amazon image of the headphones with the ear cups folded flat.Best on-ear headphones: Monorpice angled image on white background
Monoprice Hi-Fi On-Ear
Monoprice Hi-Fi On-Ear
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See review
See 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.

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.

Best on-ear headphones: Notable mentions

Koss Porta Pro Limited Edition headset resting on a white table.
Try the Koss Porta Pro for a classic set of surprisingly comfortable on-ear headphones.
  • 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 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.
  • JBL Under Armor Sport Wireless Train On-Ear Headphones: It won’t win any awards for succinct naming schemas, but this JBL and Under Armor collaboration provides you with a IPX4 rated workout headset including washable mesh ear cup and ANC. It charges via outdated microUSB, unfortunately, but it makes a good gym companion otherwise.
  • 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.

Hold up! Something’s different:

Some of our picks’ frequency response and isolation charts were measured with our old testing system. We have since purchased a Bruel & Kjaer 5128 test fixture (and the appropriate support equipment) to update our testing and data collection. It will take a while to update our backlog of old test results, but we will update this article (and many others!) once we’re able with improved sound quality measurements and isolation performance plots. These will be made obvious with our new chart aesthetic (black background instead of white).

Thank you for bearing with us, and we hope to see you again once we’ve sorted everything out.

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

The Google Pixel 4a alongside the Apple iPhone SE
iPhones don’t support aptX streaming, and AAC performance isn’t consistent on Android.

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 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.

How does noise cancelling work?

How active noise cancelling actually works
Constructive and Destructive Interference Sound waves of equal amplitude, offset at 1/2 wavelengths result in compression waves with an amplitude of 0—canceling out the sound.

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.

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.

Best on-ear headphones: An image of the Amiron Wireless in the hand
Something like the Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless may be more comfortable than even the best on-ear headphones, but they’re insanely bulky and could benefit from greater clamping force, preventing them from being crowned the best on-ear headphones.

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.

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 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 on-ears are portable compared to over-ear headphones.

Typically you want an authorized dealer with a good return policy if you don’t like the headphones, or receive a dud.