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.
Check out our favorite picks below – you're sure to find something for every budget and style requirement.
1. Bang and Olufsen H2
Posh headphones with grand sound and comfort
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: .34 pounds | Cable length: 3 feet | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: Two 1.5" drivers | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A
When you wear the B&O H2, people will look at you with intrigue, desperately trying to figure out who makes it so they can buy their own later online. I should know: it's how I found out about them.
The H2 sounds as good as it look. The sound performance should please even picky listeners with its warm, evenly-balanced sound. We're trained to assume that good looks are a guise, but the H2's slick design complements the sound performance quite nicely.
Read the full review: Bang and Olufsen H2
2. 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 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.
(Our review is for the SR60i, but the newer SR60e headphones are largely similar in design and performance)
Read the full review: Grado SR60e
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, I 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, I 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. 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
5. Klipsch Reference On-Ear
A near-perfect blend of comfort, performance and style
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
Klipsch has delivered on making a set of on-ear headphones that are perfect for music lovers looking for true, unbiased sound reproduction of their music. Not to mention that this is the most comfortable pair of on-ear headphones I've worn yet.
While their design may not offer the most amount of flexibility, the awesome sound reproduction of the Klipsch Reference On-Ear make them one of the more versatile options for headphones and a fantastic value at that.
Read the full review: Klipsch Reference On-Ear
6. 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 better sound quality at the price and, for just a little more, the Bose QuietComfort 35 offer much better comfort and active noise cancellation to make your work commute about 95 per cent more relaxing.
Read the full review: Beats Solo 3 Wireless
7. 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
- Interested in a different sort of headphone? We've got you covered
8. Samsung Level On Pro Wireless Headphones
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 I'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.
It's one of the comfiest pair of cans on the market, and one of the best noise-cancelling, too. If it had a better sound quality for the vast majority of cell phone users it would be an easy recommendation but, as it stands, 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