Between two extremes, there's usually a middle ground. Between small and large is medium, and in the case of headphones, on-ear headphones exist between over-ear and in-ear headphones.
While similar to over-ear headphones in appearance, they fit to your head a little differently. Instead of enveloping your ears with a soft cushion, on-ear headphones create a light, breathable seal around your ear. Thus, the noise isolation is much less effective than in-ear or over-ear options but in exchange they breath a bit better than over-ears and sound better than in-ears.
On-ear headphones are also usually more portable than their over-ear brethren, and as such they appeal to travellers and the fitness crowd. Taking a walk or a jog around town is also safer, as you can hear traffic go by and be aware of potential hazards, and some find them more comfortable, too.
That said, we've corralled our top-rated on-ear headphone reviews, so that you can do all your research and make a purchase in one place.
Here's our current Top 10 list, ordered by audio performance-to-price ratio:
- Check out TechRadar's exhaustive guides to the to buy today including the , the and the .
- For some more specialist pairs, take a look at our guides to the and the .
- Looking for some headphones you can take in the pool? Check out our guide to the .
1. Grado SR60e
Truly excellent sound performance for a stellar price
Acoustic design: Open | Weight: N/A | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: 20Hz-20,000Hz | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: 99db | Impedance: 32 ohm | Battery life: N/A | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: N/A
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. Its open-backed ear cup design makes them a more breathable experience than what most on-ear headphones can deliver. In a few words, it's 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
2. Urbanears Plattan II
An exceptional sequel to an already-exceptional pair of headphones
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 130g | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: 10 - 20,000Hz | Drivers: 40mm | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: 99db | Impedance: 34 ohm | Battery life: N/A | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: N/A
While the original Plattan headphones were just fine, Urbanears wasn’t satisfied with being mediocre. The company took customer feedback to heart and addressed many complaints about comfort, sound quality and isolation. For the most part, Urbanears succeeded, making the headphone a great value buy.
The ability to fold up the headphones into a small package make them easy to transport in your backpack or purse and Urbanears’ decision to go with a thicker ear pad means you’ll be able to listen for hours without painful pressure on your head. They may not have the best soundstage, but the Urbanears Plattan II are a great value for those looking for a fun sounding pair and stylish pair of headphones that won’t break the bank.
3. Plantronics BackBeat Sense
Street-wise wireless headphones with smart features
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: .30 pounds | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 18 hours | Wireless range: +300 feet | NFC: No
Plantronics' BackBeat Sense is a home run on nearly all accounts. The design yields comfort and appeal. Its sound performance, battery life and features all deliver without a hitch. Usually, there are a few things that I'd like to see fixed in a set of headphones. In the case of the BackBeat Sense, we wish that the ear cups could fold into the headband to be ultra-portable ... but for a set of headphones that gets so much right, we can't nitpick.
These cans are worth every penny for someone looking to leap for a classy-looking set of wireless headphones.
Read the full review: Plantronics BackBeat Sense
4. AKG N60NC Wireless
Wireless noise-cancellation from the mid-range master
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 199.4g | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: 10-22,000Hz | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: 111dB SPL/V@1kHz | Impedance: 32 ohms | Battery life: 15 hours | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: No
If you're browsing this list then we're willing to bet you've already decided that you want a pair of on-ear rather than over-ear headphones.
This more or less makes our main complaint about the AKG N60NC Wireless headphones, namely that they sit 'on' rather than 'over' the ear, redundant.
With that choice made you can focus on the benefits of this form-factor, which makes these headphones beautifully compact and stylish.
But beyond this these are a great performing pair of headphones, with sound quality and noise-cancelling performance that is far better than you'd usually expect from a pair of headphones at this mid-range price point.
5. Noontec Zoro II Wireless
Affordable wireless headphones that put the beatdown on Beats
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 210g | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: 13-26KHz | Drivers: 40mm | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: 108dB | Impedance: 32 ohms | Battery life: 35 hours | Wireless range: 30 feet (10 meters) | NFC: No
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 $99 Noontec Zoro II Wireless offer a warm and fun sound signature. With a 35-hour battery life and multipoint Bluetooth, these headphones offer an impressive value against more expensive competition.
Read the full review: Noontec Zoro II Wireless
6. Bowers and Wilkins P5 Series 2
These raise the bar for design and performance
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: .42 pounds | Cable length: 3.9 feet | Frequency response: 10Hz-20kHz | Drivers: Two 1.5" drivers | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: 108db | Impedance: 22 ohm | Battery life: N/A | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: N/A
The Bowers and Wilkins P5 Series 2 isn'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. These audiophile-grade headphones are a must-buy for anyone serious about hearing music the way it was intended. So long as you have the money, there's not much else in the on-ear market that can match this package at this price point.
Read the full review: Bowers and Wilkins P5 Series 2
7. Samsung Level On Pro Wireless
Samsung crashes the wireless noise-cancelling party
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: .7 pounds | Cable length: 3.6 feet | Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz | Drivers: 40mm Dual-Layered Diaphragm | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 8 hours | Wireless range: 30 meters (98ft) | NFC: Yes
The Samsung Level On Pro Wireless are one of the few headphones we've tested that feel like they're meant as a package deal for another device. Yes they'll work with every Bluetooth and 3.5mm jack-equipped handset on the market, but you're better off sticking to a Samsung device in order to squeeze every ounce of aural goodness from the UHQ audio codec.
But it's one of the comfiest pair of cans on the market, and one of the best noise-canceling, too. If it had a better sound quality for the vast majority of cell phone users it would be an easy recommendation but it really makes the most sense at checkout when purchased alongside Samsung's Next Big Thing.
Read the full review: Samsung Level On Pro Wireless Headphones
8. Master & Dynamic MW50
Luxurious feeling – and sounding – headphones for discerning listeners
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 240g | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: 5-30,000Hz | Drivers: 40mm Beryllium Diaphragm | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: 32 ohms | Battery life: 16 hours | Wireless range: 30 meters (98ft) | NFC: No
If you can afford the steep price, the Master & Dynamic 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.
9. Klipsch Reference On-Ear II
An excellent-sounding pair of headphones without any frills
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: .44 pounds | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: 20HZ-20kHz | Drivers: Two 1.5" drivers | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: 110db | Impedance: 32 ohms | Battery life: N/A | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: N/A
The Klipsch Reference On-Ear II is the follow up to last 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
10. Beats Solo 3 Wireless
Fashion-focussed cans that cater to bass lovers
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 215g | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 40 hours | Wireless range: 30+ feet | NFC: No
The Solo 3 Wireless appear almost identical to the Solo 2 headphones from a quick glance. That being said, 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 $299 (£249/AU$399.95) 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