We decided to make a dedicated list of the best on-ear headphones just because so many other sites usually mix them in with a general headphone classification. On ears have their own following and their own unique properties which makes us think they deserve a top 10 all of their own.
There are a lot of people that prefer On-Ear headphone design and we want to put forward the advantages and disadvantages before giving you our pick for the 10 best on-ear models. We will be covering a wide range of styles and price points so let's get into it. As always if you have any specific questions about these styles of headphones or want to know our thoughts on models that aren't mentioned, please feel free to ask via email or facebook and we will get back to you ASAP.
On-ear headphones vs over the ear headphones?
Let's get right into a simple explanation of what on-ear headphones are. As you might have guessed these headphones sit on top of the ear instead of an encompassing it. You may also see the latter referred to as circumaural or full-size headphones but the simplest explanation is the one above.
Why are On-ear headphones better?
There are a few unique advantages to using an on-ear headphone that we want to discuss. Bigger does not always mean better and if you are someone who likes to travel or doesn't like the oversize look then this style of headphones could be right for you.
- Smaller Size - That's right with less space having to be dedicated to the earcups this means that on-ear headphones are usually far more compact. This makes them perfect for traveling and better suited to cases where you don't want to be carrying around a large set of cans.
- Lightweight - Whilst not always the case (a lot depends on the material choices) it is fair to say that on-ear headphones are generally a bit lighter than over-ear models. This is down to less material being needed to fully encase the ear and also due to smaller headphones using smaller drivers.
- Tuning - Some on-ear headphones have a very unique sound that can't be replicated within a bigger earcup. Many headphones are designed to be on-ear because that is what makes them sound good.
- Good for sports - This ties in with the smaller size but when using headphones for working out they tend to be lighter and less obtrusive during movement.
Disadvantages of on-ear Headphones
Of course, it's not all roses and rainbows when using on-ear headphones. Just as they have some unique advantages over larger models there are also some disadvantages that you need to consider.
- Ears can get sweaty - With the direct point of contact being your outer ear and there being less air underneath each cushion ears can get a little bit hot. This is usually remedied by taking them off for a couple of minutes but its worth considering before buying.
- More pressure - Again because your ear is not sitting unencumbered you will be taking the full clamping pressure of the headphone directly onto your ear. In our experience, this is only an issue for a few days before your body adjusts and any initial discomfort subsides.
- Less Tech - On-ear headphones have, until recently, been neglected in many companies headphones lines. Yes, its true that bigger headphones have been the focus in the past but more and more companies are putting a lot of work in on their on-ear models in the past few years.
Some things to consider when buying headphones
On-Ear and Over-ear aside there are a few key areas that you should consider before making any headphone purchase. Many people fall into the trap of going all out and seeking the best-looking headphone, or the best sounding headphone or the cheapest headphone. All of these can be fallacies in unto themselves.
The most important thing I tell anyone when looking to buy headphones is first looking at how you intend to use your headphones then organize your other priorities around that. There is no point in having the best sounding set of headphones if they are completely impractical to wear. There is no point in having the best-looking set of headphones if the sound like junk. Get the point?
So with that said what are the key areas that make up a good set of headphones?
- Sound Quality - To me, this is the most important. I want something that sounds good. Not all headphones sound the same and as such some work better with certain genres of music than others. Therefore think about what genres of music you listen to and search out the appropriate headphones sound wise.
- Build Quality - Build is incredibly important when choosing headphones. You don't want to be putting down a lot of money only to find out they fall apart after a year. Thankfully companies have started to pay real attention to the construction of their headphones and as such are offering longer warranties.
- Comfort - Lets face it, you are going to be wearing these for hours on end so why would you want to wear something that doesn't fit or causes irritation. You wouldn't do it with your clothes so why do it with the headphones. In best case you should look to try them on before purchase and if that isn't possible look for a retailer with a simple (preferably free) returns process.
- Styling - A lot of audiophiles don't care about the style of the headphones, they wear to them its a means to an end. They will endure in the pursuit of all out fidelity. While I tend to agree for a home setup that looks don't matter on ear headphones are most likely going to be used by people on the go. Appearance is important to me and many others so I do appreciate a good clean aesthetic when choosing a set of portable headphones.
Open Back vs Closed back headphones
Open back and closed back headphones are yet another area you should be aware of when making a purchase. Closed back simply means that the driver is enclosed inside the housing whereas on open back headphones the driver is heavily vented and open to the outside world.
As I mentioned above, the people who usually use on ear headphones do so when out of the house so open back headphones aren't going to be as well suited due to ingress of external noise through those vents. I have however included a couple of open back headphones in this list just because the sound so good. As a general rule of thumb open back headphones (those with an exposed driver) are best suited for when you are alone and closed back is best for nosier listening environments.
The Top 10 best On-Ear Headphones
1. 1More Triple Driver Headphone
We kick of the list with 2018s hottest on ear headphone release. 1More are known for their incredibly good value in ear monitors (IEM's) and they have now turned their attention traditional style headphones.
The Triple Driver are their first offering and its a cracker. A great looking headphone with excellent build quality and outstanding sound quality.
The sound is immersive, detailed and articulate. The bass is absolutely spot on with its tight punchy speed which is complemented by the low down hard hit of its dynamic driver. This is how hybrid headphones should be done.
Even though the triple is listed as an over ear headphone the small circumference sat better with us as an on ear model
2. Bang & Olufsen H2
B&O are well regarded for their premium line of audio products and the H2 has a lot of features of their more premium full size models but in a smaller package.
Build quality is exceptional and they are a very good looking headphone on the head thanks to their low profile earcups.
Sound is suited to rock and acoustic with smooth tones and a focus on the midrange.
3. Noontec Zoro 2 Wireless.
Nootec started life as a low rent Beats style knock off but then one day keen eared audiophiles had a listen and realized that, unlike many of the other similarly styled Chinese headphone knockoffs they sounded really good.
The Zoro 2 is an updated wireless version and is tremendous value for money. You get a well balanced sound profile with no emphasis on one frequency over the other and of course they are Bluetooth enabled with solid battery life.
It started with humble beginnings and developed a real cult following in the headphone community.
4. Master & Dynamic MH30
One of my personal favorite on ear headphones. Master & Dynamic make some very special headphones.
The design is simply stunning and the build quality is best on test. These are ultra premium headphones but strangely at the same time still feel like good value for money. Sound is detailed and a focus to smooth and engaging mids. The bass is hard when it needs to be and the top end never produces sibilance.
Whats more to say? I love these headphones and I own and use a set in day to day listening.
5. Koss Porta Pro
The Koss Porta Pro are legendary headphones. Seriously can you name any other headphones that have remained on the market for over 25 years without needing to be changed?
The Koss Porta pro were one of the best on ear headphones of their day and they still hold their own in 2018. I love the small for factor and the retro styling but I love the price even more.
Crystal clear sound and a rather open soundstage with lots of detail make them a joy to listen to and you have the ability to mod them and tune them to your own preference thanks to so many frugal audiophiles provideing DIY modding guides online.
6. Beyerdynamic T51i
They Beyerdynamic T51i are a special headphone that is very highly regarded among audio purists.
The sound is balanced and crystal clear and it is an on ear headphone that is very hard to pick any flaws with.
They are small and surprisingly comfortable and have the build quality of a tank to make sure they are up to the task of professional music monitoring for which they were designed for.
More than just a studio monitor I also think that these are a really classy alternative to some of the more garish fashion headphones available on the market today.
7. Sennheiser HD-25
Its hard to talk about the T50p without also managing to bring up Sennheisers legendary HD-25.
You want to go for one of the original designs because this headphone is a serious contender for best headphone of all time.
It has been used by almost every major DJ in the past 20 years and produces unbelievable clear and crisp notes.
Tuning is balanced with top notes able to shine and bass remaining tight and focused.
Should anything ever go wrong be happy to know that almost every part of this headphone is replaceable.
8. Grado SR80e
Another classic is the Grado SR80e. Its had some mild revisions over the past few decades yet its design essentially remains the same.
This is one headphone that has probably introduced people to a higher level of fidelity that any other and if clean and crisp neutral sound is what you are after then these are a great option.
Sound however is the main reason to buy them but just know that not everyone gets on with the fit.
Oh and they are of the open back headphone variety, so just like the Koss Porta Pro, they are best used in solitude so as not to disturb people around you.
9. KEF M500
British brand KEF are still fairly unknown outside audio circles. They are a very well respected speaker maker but tend to not market their headphones as aggressively as other companies.
This is a shame because in our tests they were every bit as good if not better that most of the mainstream luxury brands.
Build quality gets top marks from us and the earpads are incredibly comfortable thanks to the memory foam padding.
Sound wise its slightly warm with good bass but it is oh so smooth.
We also found during our review that the sound displayed a slightly larger soundstage than most of the other closed back headphones on this list.
10. Bower & Wilkins P5
Not content with letting Bang & Olufsen get all the attention, Bower & Wilkins really stepped up its game and is putting together a very competitive and comprehensive lineup of excellent sounding headphones.
These are one of my personal favorite headphones to travel with because the not only sound good and have exceptional build quality but their styling and the way they look on the head is super classy. The price is high but it definitely stands out as being worthy of its tag as a luxury goods headphone.
11. Master & Dynamic MW50 - The Wildcard... 2-in-1 Headphone
We just finished our review of the Master &Dynamic MW50+ headphones and were mightily impressed. The 50 are a set of convertible headphones in that they can be used in either on ear or over ear configurations by switching out the included earpads.
This makes them incredibly versatile. The MW50 aren't just a gimmick though they are one of the best built and best looking headphones on the market in 2018 and despite the high price tag we think they are a great buy.