Klipsch Reference On-Ear II review

An excellent sounding pair of headphones without any frills

TechRadar Verdict

The Klipsch Reference On-Ear II are well built, sound great and offer unmatched comfort for on-ear headphones. However, their high price makes them hard to justify amidst tough competition that offers more features and similarly excellent sound.


  • +

    Wonderfully balanced sound

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    Excellent build quality

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    Unmatched comfort


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    Cable noise

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    Polite highs

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The Klipsch Reference On-Ear II is the follow up to last year’s excellent Reference On-Ear model. Klipsch's latest pair of cans don’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. But for everyone else, the Klipsch Reference On-Ear II are possibly too expensive for what they offer, especially when the original On-Ears are going for just $50 in the US.

At $199 (about £177, AU$256), only diehard audiophiles will even consider this wired-only headphone. But those who value sound and comfort above all else will be happy with the Klipsch Reference On Ear II. 


The Klipsch Reference On-Ear II look nearly identical to last year’s Reference On-Ear. Instead of the black and silver color scheme, however, Klipsch went with a black-on-black design this year. That said, if that look isn’t for you, there’s also a white version available with brushed silver accents. 

For what it’s worth though, we found the minimalistic styling with brushed metal accents and black-on-black color scheme to be handsome with a stealth-like quality that’s great for those who want to fly under the radar. 

We loved the original for its incredible comfort and that’s retained in this year’s model. The headphone features some of the softest leather padding we’ve ever experienced from on-ear headphones. This means we could wear the Reference On-Ear IIs throughout an entire workday without feeling any uncomfortable pressure. 

There is one trade off with the Klipsch’s unmatched comfort, however, and that’s how loose the headphones fit over your head. The minimal clamping force is great for comfort but annoying if you’re moving your head around as they can slide off easily. We had the Reference On-Ear II nearly fall off our heads when we leaned back in our chair for a stretch. 

New for this year is the inclusion of a detachable 2.5mm to 3.5mm headphone cable. Some folks were disappointed by the lack of a removable cable in last year’s model so it’s nice to see Klipsch listening to its customers’ input for the new model. 

The detachable cable includes an in-line remote for Apple devices that lets you control music playback and take phone calls. We wish Klipsch would release a version of the headphones for Android, as the in-line remote’s music playback features only work with Apple devices, but performance-wise voice quality over the mic is exceptional. 

Beyond comfort and a detachable cable, the Klipsch Reference On-Ear II remain compact and portable. The headphones feature foldable hinges that feel extremely robust and exhibit a satisfying click when unfolded. Size adjustment is controlled via stepped arms so you can get a precise fit every time. It’s not as convenient as friction arms but the mechanism feels bulletproof. 

Klipsch includes an excellent hard case to protect the headphones during transport. Other headphones usually ship with a soft fabric pouch so it’s nice to see an included hard case. 


Klipsch has always put tremendous effort into the sound quality of its products and that trend continues with the Reference On-Ear II. Overall, the headphones provide a neutral sound that works well with just about every genre of music – though, it has the typical Klipsch mid-centric sound signature with taught bass and slightly rolled off highs. 

While most mainstream headphone companies like Beats focus on providing earth-shaking bass, Klipsch puts more of an emphasis on balanced sound. The Reference On-Ear II certainly provides great bass depth and control, but listeners who are looking for that overwhelming bass slam may be disappointed. Audiophiles, however will be pleased with the sound. 

The only part of the sound signature we feel could be improved are the headphone’s polite highs. The treble presentation is rolled off to prevent sibilance and strident highs, but it also takes away the sparkle and resolution at the top end. It’s not bad, though, and the rolled off highs have the benefit of preventing the Reference On-Ear IIs from being fatiguing to listen to. 

Because of the neutral sound signature, the Klipsch Reference On-Ear II are a pair of headphones that can do everything. They’re great for listening to music for hours, taking calls and even gaming. 

In terms of amping, the Reference On-Ear II perform great directly from smartphones. They’re efficient and sensitive enough that just about any device can drive them to its fullest potential. We tried the headphones with a headphone amp and the sound didn’t change much, though bass impact improved slightly. This is good as you won’t need to carry around a separate amp to get the most out of these headphones. 

One worry with most on-ear headphones is the lack of sound isolation. Since on-ear headphones don’t envelop your ears with padding, it can be quite a challenge to block out external noise. However, the Klipsch Reference On-Ear II do an excellent job of keeping out noise. They won’t be as effective at drowning out the roar of a jet engine as active noise cancelling headphones, but the sound isolation is very good for an on-ear pair of cans. 

We liked

The Klipsch Reference On-Ear II live up to the “reference” moniker with its balanced sound – every part of the audio spectrum is well represented and bass isn’t overwhelming like mainstream headphones. Its highs are a little too polite for those who want the utmost in treble energy and resolution, but this trade off makes the Reference On-Ear II comfortable to listen to for hours.

Speaking of comfort, the On-Ear IIs are unmatched in this area and the soft padding lets you wear the Reference On-Ear II for hours without feeling pressure on your ears. They’re not ideal for active listening though, so don’t expect that these are the pair of headphones you’ll be taking to the gym. 

Finally, like the last year’s version, build quality is excellent. The headphones are made from metal, leather and robust plastic. Its hinges let you fold the headphone for easy storage and easily snap into place. Klipsch listened to its users and added a detachable cable, which means you won’t need to toss the headphones if the cable gets damaged.

We disliked

With a price tag of $199 (about £177, AU$256), it’s hard to justify spending this much on the Reference On-Ear II when the original On-Ear goes for a fraction of the cost. The minimal updates to the design and sound mean the original On-Ear may be a better buy. 

The Reference On-Ear II are an old school pair of wired headphones and those looking for the latest audio tech will be disappointed. There’s no Bluetooth or active noise cancelling, but Klipsch does offer a more expensive wireless version of the On-Ear if you’re looking for something with all the options. 

Final verdict

The Klipsch Reference On-Ear were an undeniably attractive on-ear headphone last year. We loved it for its unrivaled comfort, reference sound and excellent build quality. All of that is still here with the new Reference On-Ear II, but the minor changes this year mean the competition is pulling ahead. 

For the price, it’s hard to justify the cost of the On-Ear II when competitors are cramming in similarly excellent sound quality and wireless tech into the headphones at the same price. For example, the Audio Technica ATH-SR5BT sound great, are wireless and have insane battery life. They can also be used in wired mode for better sound quality. 

Audiophiles will be pleased with the sound, comfort and portability of the Klipsch Reference On-Ear II, but listeners who want more features will be left wanting and looking elsewhere. 

Lewis Leong
Lewis Leong is a freelance writer for TechRadar. He has an unhealthy obsession with headphones and can identify cars simply by listening to their exhaust notes.