Best on-ear headphones 2023 for all budgets

the best on-ear headphones, with models from Beats, AKG, and more
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The best on-ear headphones in this guide are a great choice if you don't like the bulk of over-ear headphones but want an option with a cushioned headband – you won't get that from the best earbuds. They may not be the most popular style of headphones, but you'll find a range of on-ear headphones to choose from made by the top names in audio tech. 

On-ear headphones have cushioned ear cups that sit on and not over your ears. This means they're more compact than over-ears but still deliver a quality audio experience. We think they suit a lot of people and recommend them if you don't like putting true wireless earbuds into your ear canals. They tend to be more comfortable than other options, which makes them ideal for commuting and good workout headphones, thanks to their cushioning and stability. They're also good for at-home listening, as you get some noise isolation but can hear ambient sounds when you need to. 

We’ve reviewed many on-ear headphones over the years and this guide is packed with our top picks of the best on-ear headphones you can buy today. We've included cheap headphones to cater to those on a budget, as well as wireless headphones for anyone keen to ditch annoying cables. Read on the find the best on-ear headphones for you. 

Best on-ear headphones overall

The Jabra Elite 45H wireless headphones in black pictured on a pale surface

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The best on-ear headphones overall

Specifications

Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 160g
Frequency response: 20Hz-20,000Hz
Drivers: 40mm dynamic
Battery life: 50 hours

Reasons to buy

+
Very comfortable
+
Impressive definition for the price

Reasons to avoid

-
Leak sound somewhat
-
Iffy call quality

For your money, you can't do any better than the Jabra Elite 45H on-ear headphones. A replacement for the company’s Move Style wireless on-ears, the Elite 45H's combination of colossal battery life, fully competitive specification, and decently realized sound quality puts them at the top of the class for best on-ear headphones. 

Jabra has wrapped Bluetooth 5 connectivity, 40mm full-range dynamic drivers and a smattering of physical push-button controls in a wireless on-ear frame. Faux leather and memory foam, combined with winningly un-creaky plastic, make for a comfortable fit (even if the earpads themselves absorb ear-heat quite quickly and then give it straight back). 

There’s voice control available from Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri. Jabra’s Sound+ control app even walks you through a brief hearing test to establish exactly how the EQs should be set to best suit your ears. By the standards of fairly affordable headphones, the Elite 45h are feature-packed.

And who’s about to argue with 50 hours of battery life from a single charge? There are very few headphones around, at any price, that can challenge that figure – and the Jabras will go for another 10 hours after just 15 minutes of USB-C charging.

Read our full Jabra Elite 45H review

You could save on Jabra headsets with our Jabra promo codes.

The best budget on-ear headphones

Sony WH-CH520 headphones on a wooden table

(Image credit: Future)
The best budget on-ear headphones

Specifications

Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 147g
Frequency response: 20Hz-20KHz
Drivers: 30mm
Battery life: 50 hours

Reasons to buy

+
Very well-balanced sound
+
Audio customization in the app works great
+
Bluetooth multi-point pairing
+
50-hour battery life

Reasons to avoid

-
On-ear design isn't for everyone
-
Noise isolation isn't the best
-
No 3.5mm jack

The Sony WH-CH520 are a pair of super-affordable on-ear headphones in Sony's wireless lineup, coming in at only $60 / £60 / AU$99. They're on-ear Bluetooth headphones, and while, as you might expect at this price, you're not getting active noise cancellation or Hi-Res Audio support, their focus on sound (and a few useful tricks) means they're still fantastic value.

The bass underpins things well, adding depth while staying controlled, and letting you have some fun with electronic or dance music. The mids are capable of letting vocals stretch their legs, and giving dense instrument mixes a chance to stand out, although obviously more detail is lost here than in higher-end models. And trebles elevate out of the mid-range well, feeling like they have enough room to breathe.

Compared to the Sony CH510 that the Sony CH520 replace, there's more cushioning, which is always appreciated in the best on-ear headphones as their design means their earpads sit directly on your ears, which not everyone loves. 

It's a shame there's no 3.5mm jack, but app support, multi-point pairing and 50 hours of battery are great. At this price, they're a superb buy.

Read our full Sony WH-CH520 review

The best on-ear headphones for Apple lovers

A photo of someone holding the Beats Solo headphones in blue.

(Image credit: Future)
The best on-ear headphones for Apple lovers

Specifications

Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 267g
Frequency response: N/A
Drivers: Dynamic
Battery life: 22 hours

Reasons to buy

+
Impressive ANC performance
+
Stunning design
+
Surprisingly sturdy

Reasons to avoid

-
Lightning port only
-
Lacks 3.5mm Aux port

After a well-received update to the Powerbeats in-ear range via the Powerbeats Pro, Apple turned its attention back to the extremely popular over-ear Solo range, with the Beats Solo Pro. 

With a far more balanced sound profile that gives equal attention to lows, mids and highs alongside an enormous upgrade in general sturdiness, the Beats Solo Pro are also the company's first on-ear cans to offer pure adaptive noise cancelling (or Pure ANC), easily earning its newfound 'Pro' status.

The Solo Pro will likely appeal most to users who want a great pair of Beats headphones without committing to Apple's bulkier, pricier over-ear option, the Beats Studio 3 Wireless. Luckily for them, the Solo Pro basically outclasses the latter in every single way.

Read more: Beats Solo Pro review 

[Update: The Beats Solo Pro have actually been discontinued, in the wake of the Beats Fit Pro being released. You can currently still buy these Beats headphones, but stocks may not last very long.]

The best on-ear headphones for sound

The sennheiser hd 250bt on-ear headphones in black pictured on a white surface

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The best on-ear headphones for sound

Specifications

Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 125g
Frequency response: 20Hz-22,000Hz
Drivers: Dynamic
Battery life: 25 hours

Reasons to buy

+
Open, revealing and engaging sound
+
Some EQ adjustment available

Reasons to avoid

-
Not what you’d describe as ‘plush’
-
Bass could sound heftier

Not luxurious, and not exactly stacked with features – but the Sennheiser HD 250BT have it where it counts. The fact that the HD 250BT don’t look, or feel, any more costly than they are is more than compensated for by the sound they make. Yes, the headband is unpadded, but the soundstage is wide open and properly defined – and that's what counts.

They're lighter and more comfortable than you might think, and a 25-hour battery life is decent, if not class-leading. Overall, the HD 250BT are a very reasonably-priced pair of headphones that sound far better than they ought to at such a budget-friendly price.

Read our full Sennheiser HD 250BT review

Check out out Sennheiser discount codes for our latest deals and savings.

The best on-ear headphones for ANC

The AKG N60NC on-ear headphones pictured on a dark surface

(Image credit: Future)
The best on-ear headphones for ANC

Specifications

Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 199.4g
Frequency response: 10-22,000Hz
Drivers: N/A
Battery life: 15 hours

Reasons to buy

+
Great sound
+
Compact design
+
Good battery life

Reasons to avoid

-
Initially confusing controls

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 on-ear noise-cancelling headphones the company appears to be stepping out of its comfort zone a little. The aluminum 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 our full AKG N60NC Wireless review

The best open-back on-ear headphones

Grado GW100x headphones close up

(Image credit: Future)
The best open-back on-ear headphones

Specifications

Acoustic design: Open
Weight: 188g
Frequency response: 20Hz - 20kHz
Drivers: 44mm
Battery life: 46 hours

Reasons to buy

+
Poised, entertaining and faithful sound
+
Light and comfortable
+
Good battery life

Reasons to avoid

-
Open back leak sound freely
-
Don’t look or feel anything special
-
Short on features

The Grado GW100x replace the outgoing GW100 and they compete with the best wireless headphones from Bose, Sennheiser and Sony. But this is Grado – a company we usually cover for no-nonsense, affordable wired headphones so don't expect all the bells and whistles.

The sound quality here is excellent. Being the very rare open-backed wireless and on-ear style headphones means the expression and expansiveness of the sound is peerless – although it does mean they leak sound in both directions.

The Grado GW100x use Bluetooth 5.2 for wireless connectivity, with SBC, AAC and aptX Adaptive codec compatibility, and feature multi-point pairing. They’re equipped with big (44mm) full-range drivers from Grado’s latest ‘X’ series, and promise a frequency response of 20Hz - 20kHz – the full extent of human hearing, in other words. 

As long as you’re not really pressing on in terms of volume, battery life is an impressive 46 hours. And these are comfortable enough to wear over long periods,  at just 188g.

Read our full Grado GW100x review

The best mid-range on-ear headphones

Becca's hand holding the Grado SR80x headphones against some grass

(Image credit: Becca Caddy/TechRadar/Future)
The best mid-range on-ear headphones

Specifications

Acoustic design: Open
Weight: 240g
Frequency response: 20Hz - 20kHz
Drivers: 44mm dynamic
Battery life: N/A

Reasons to buy

+
Fantastic sound quality
+
Light and comfortable to wear
+
Distinctive, classy design

Reasons to avoid

-
Sound leakage
-
Won't suit all environments
-
Wired design

The Grado SR80x headphones are the latest version of the brand’s classic (and more expensive) designs, which makes them the most budget-friendly option after the Grado SR60x.

We found them comfortable to wear thanks to their padded ear cups. Their aesthetic is a little unusual, which is refreshing but not enough to look weird when you're wearing them. They have an open-back design, which means there’s sound leakage, which is bound to be off-putting to some but no bother to others depending on where you plan to use them.

Their 44m dynamic drivers deliver a balanced, clear and detailed sound. It's a performance that'll make you genuinely enjoy using them. During our testing, we were desperate to listen to our favorite tracks, noticing new details and levels of precision every time.

You’d usually have to pay more for a pair of audiophile-grade headphones like these, but they cost only $125 / £130 / AU$179. You'll have to make compromises, of course. There's no noise cancellation, and you'll need to make peace with a wired connection and sound leakage. But after spending a few weeks with them, we believe they deserve a place in our best on-ear headphones guide.

Read our full Grado SR80x review

The best on-ear headphones for sports

The Adidas rpt-01 on-ear headphones in black against a grassy surface

(Image credit: TechRadar)
The best on-ear headphones for sports

Specifications

Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 209g
Frequency response: N/A
Drivers: N/A
Battery life: 40 hours

Reasons to buy

+
Rugged design
+
Simple controls

Reasons to avoid

-
Design is an acquired taste
-
Not as comfy as competition

Adidas won't be the first name that comes to mind when you're thinking of buying new headphones, even if you're the sporty type. Despite that, the Adidas RPT-01 running headphones shouldn't be overlooked. 

They're part of a collaboration between the sportswear company and Zound Industries, best known for working with Urbanears and Marshall to develop headphones and Bluetooth speakers.  

That's a pretty strong pedigree for these unique-looking on-ear headphones. They don't quite have the sound quality of a Marshall speaker, but for running headphones they're a pretty solid option. 

We gave them a whirl while going about our activities, and were impressed by the results.

Read our full Adidas RPT-01 Wireless Bluetooth Sport Headphones review

Best on-ear headphones: FAQs

Which brands make the best on-ear headphones?

On-ear headphones may not be as ubiquitous as their over-ear and in-ear counterparts, but plenty of top audio brands make headphones in this style.  Our favorite on-ear headphones companies include Beats, Jabra, Sony, Grado, and AKG, all of which offer high-spec cans at good prices. If you're more of an audiophile, you may want to look at brands like Sennheiser and Bowers & Wilkins – though you won't get the immersion that a pair of over-ear headphones can offer, on-ear headphones from these brands still come with some serious audio props.

Will on-ear headphones hurt my ears?

They shouldn't, though we can see why the idea of ear cups squashing your ears might come to mind when you think of on-ear headphones. As long as you choose a pair with generously padded earcups and the clamping force on your ears isn't too tight, you shouldn't experience any discomfort. In fact, many people find the lightweight build of these headphones more comfortable than over-ear models, and they work great for anyone who's squeamish about in-ear headphones. 

How we test the best on-ear headphones

We've tested all of the best on-ear headphones in this guide. As we put each model through their paces we were first and foremost looking for certain criteria that make an excellent pair of headphones more generally, like good quality sound and ease-of-use.

However, we also got more specific. Because when it comes to a pair of on-ears, we're looking for comfort – no one likes that squashed ear feeling – and stability provided by the headband. As on-ears are our top recommendation for portability, we also wanted to ensure all of the headphones in this guide can be easily folded down or transported.

We were also looking for a certain level of noise isolation, but can't possibly compare the best on-ears to the best over-ears in that regard. For wireless options we were keen to put the battery life to the test and for wired options we checked the material of the wire to ensure it doesn't get tangled after an hour of listening.

We've included a variety of price points for you to consider, but we were mostly looking for value above all else. That means you'll find cheaper options and some high-end choices that we think represent quality and solid value, whatever your budget.

Ultimately, we only included on-ears that do everything we expect a good pair of on-ears to do, bring us comfortable and reliable sound rolled into a design that's a great middle ground between on-ears and over-ears. 

Matt Bolton
Managing Editor, Entertainment

Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Entertainment, meaning he's in charge of persuading our team of writers and reviewers to watch the latest TV shows and movies on gorgeous TVs and listen to fantastic speakers and headphones. It's a tough task, as you can imagine. Matt has over a decade of experience in tech publishing, and previously ran the TV & audio coverage for our colleagues at T3.com, and before that he edited T3 magazine. During his career, he's also contributed to places as varied as Creative Bloq, PC Gamer, PetsRadar, MacLife, and Edge. TV and movie nerdism is his speciality, and he goes to the cinema three times a week. He's always happy to explain the virtues of Dolby Vision over a drink, but he might need to use props, like he's explaining the offside rule.

With contributions from