In the world of headphones, on-ear headphones (also called supra-aural headphones) are the middle child between bulky over-ear headphones and diminutive in-ear earphones. For most folks, they're just right.
Their name comes from the fact that their cushions sit on, rather than over, your ears. This means they're more compact and can travel with you without taking up a ton of room in your bag. Conversely, they're bigger and more comfortable to wear for long periods than in-ear headphones.
The reason you'd pick this form factor over the other two, is that you're a traveler, a commuter or a home listener who needs a bit of noise cancelation without the bulk of over-ears. It's a winning combination, honestly, and a form factor that we've tested extensively over the years.
To that end, and to help you pick out a great pair of on-ear headphones, we've put together a list of our top-rated on-ear headphone reviews, so that you can do all your research and make a purchase in one place.
Looking for a list of the finest cans you can buy? Check out our roundup of the best headphones for our overall winners in every category.
For your money, you can't do any better than Grado's SR60e. The third-generation of the Brooklyn, NY-based company's Prestige Series is its best and most refined yet.
The SR60e in particular is a smart choice if you're looking for an entry-level set of headphones that sounds like it should cost you way more than it does.
Their open-backed ear cup design makes them a more breathable experience than what most on-ear headphones can deliver, although this does mean that they're not ideal for use in loud environments where sound can 'leak' in and disrupt your listening.
That said, in terms of pure sound quality, they're our gold-standard when it comes to on-ears.
(Our review is for the SR60i, but the newer SR60e headphones are largely similar in design and performance)
Read the full review: Grado SR60e
There is a lot to love about the Philips Fidelio NC1 headphones: Not only are they a joy to wear and offer up great sound reproduction, but they're also one of the lightest and most compact ANC headphones around. They're best suited for frequent travellers who don't want to lug massive cans around with them all of the time but also don't want to compromise on sound quality. To that end, they offer superb sound that's balanced and warm and while I would love to see a wireless range, the cable offered in the mix is dextrous enough to not worry about it.
Read the full review: Philips Fidelio NC1
In recent years AKG has dominated the budget and mid-range headphone space. While most other headphones at these price points chase after the bass-addicts, AKG has been content to stick to what it knows best; namely headphones that offer a balanced, refined sound you'd normally find in more expensive cans. With the AKG N60NC Wireless headphones the company appears to be stepping out of its comfort zone a little. The aluminium accented design is more flashy than AKG’s usual fare, and the noise-cancellation combined with wireless operation pushes the N60NCs to the upper end of the company’s normal price points.
Read the full review: AKG N60NC Wireless
The V-Moda XS are the perfect travel buddy for audiophiles. It’s balanced and detail-rich sound is a pleasure to listen to, plus, it’s built like a tank. While the bass could use a little more impact, we had little complain about the sound. However, that said, the XS has a loose fit on the head and barely blocks out any sound, which isn’t ideal for working out or for commuters. If you're a sedentary listener, however, these are great. In terms of competition, the Klipsch Reference On-Ear II are an excellent alternative that can block out more external sound. However, the trade off is the extended and exciting highs of the V-Moda XS as the Klipsch has more high frequency roll-off.
Read the full review: V-Moda XS
If you can afford the steep price, the Master & Dynamic MW50 – and newer MW50+ – will not disappoint. These headphones are a simply work of art and feel every bit as expensive as their price commands. They sound great with all types of music and are one of the most comfortable on-ear headphones we’ve ever tested. Those looking for value, however, will want to look elsewhere.
Read the full review: Master & Dynamic MW50
The Klipsch Reference On-Ear II is the follow up to the previous year’s excellent Reference On-Ear model, a previous resident of this list. Admittedly, this year's model doesn’t change much in terms of design or sound – but why fix something that’s not broken?
That said, Klipsch kept it simple with the Reference On-Ear II, concentrating on sound, comfort and portability that will please audiophiles. Only diehard audiophiles will even consider this wired-only headphone after looking at the price tag, but those who value sound and comfort above all else will be happy with the Klipsch Reference On Ear II.
Read the full review: Klipsch Reference On-Ear II
The Grado GW100s sound absolutely stunning; they boast an immersive, wide soundstage, clear highs, smooth mids, and extended bass frequencies. They also look great, with a kitsch, retro design that recalls Grado’s humble beginnings in 50’s Brooklyn – but, that said, that vintage-style look won’t appeal to everyone, and they do feel a little flimsy.
Although the Bluetooth connection works very well, we are struggling to understand the need for a wireless pair of open-back headphones; particularly if the design makes them unsuitable for commuting or listening in communal areas. Still, having the option to listen wirelessly is undeniably convenient when you’re pottering around the house, and audiophiles can use them with an AUX cable if they prefer.
Overall, we feel the Grado GW100s are designed for a fairly niche market of audiophiles who crave a wide, natural sound, and who do the majority of their music listening at home. If that sounds like you, you will probably love the Grado GW100s. If not, you may want to look at closed-back models instead.
Read the full review: Grado GW100 Wireless headphones review
The Bowers and Wilkins P5 Series 2 aren't the most feature-rich option, but in terms of sheer sound and build quality, they easily raise the bar for the competition to follow.
They look fantastically stylish, and sound just as good. So long as you have the money, there's not much else in the on-ear market that can match this package.
Read the full review: Bowers and Wilkins P5 Series 2
You, like everyone else, probably wants a set of headphones that nails the tricky blend of design, useful features and incredible sound. You might think that you need to flush your savings to enjoy such a pair of cans. Protip: you don't.
The Audio-Technica ATH-S200BT are a well-built, great-sounding, long-lasting pair of headphones. Their features constantly outweigh their modest price and we can’t get enough of that 40-hour battery life. While technological advancements usually mean a premium price, that's just not the case with the Audio-Technica ATH-S200BT.
Read the full review: Audio-Technica ATH-S200BT
While the Samsung Level On Pro Wireless are best paired with a Samsung Phone, these Beats headphones come into their own when paired with an iOS device thanks to its W1 chip that makes for excellent wireless connectivity.
At first glance, the Solo 3 Wireless appear almost identical to the Solo 2 headphones that proceeded them. The majority of the changes Apple made to its class-leading cans come internally, baking its mobile phone know-how into these headphones to ramp-up their wireless skills and maximise battery life.
In terms of wireless performance, these headphones are as reliable as any out there. However, you can get significantly better sound quality at the price. (See: entries one through nine.)
Read the full review: Beats Solo 3 Wireless