The name on-ear 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 lots of space in your bag. But they're also bigger and most people find they're often more comfortable to wear for long periods than in-ear headphones.
The reason you'd pick this style of headphones over the other two is if you travel a lot, commute and like to listen to music and podcasts while you do or you're a home listener who needs just a bit of noise cancellation 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 in 2021? Check out our roundup of the best headphones for our overall winners in every category.
- Check out our Apple AirPods Max review
What are the best on-ear headphones?
The best on-ear headphones 2021
For your money, you can't do any better than Jabra Elite 45H. 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.
For just $79 / £69/ AU$99, 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 overtly 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.
As far as we're concerned, they are the best on-ear headphones in 2021.
Read more: Jabra Elite 45H review
After a well-received update to the Powerbeats in-ear range via this year's Powerbeats Pro, Apple has turned its attention back to the extremely popular over-ear Solo range, with the Beats Solo Pro the result. 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.
Priced at $299.95 (£269.95 / AU$429.95 / NZ$499.95), the Solo Pro will likely appeal most to users who want a great pair of Beats cans 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.
Apple has also addressed user concerns regarding Beats' sound profile and build quality, and significantly improved and upgraded both aspects for the Solo Pro.
Adding new features like Pure ANC on top of that easily makes this the most well-rounded and capable set of Beats on- or over-ear headphones in years – and are, without doubt, one of the best on-ears iPhone owners can buy.
Read more: Beats Solo Pro review
Looking at the Sony WH-CH510, it’s mind-blowing that wireless on-ear headphones could cost this little, not to mention a pair that has decent sound, a USB-C port, and 35 hours of battery life.
If you’re looking for headphones at this price point, you’re likely already willing to make a few sacrifices. Thankfully, most of the compromises Sony has made with the WH-CH510 haven’t been too crucial – the lack of analog input mirrors the loss of the 3.5mm port on most modern smartphones while the lightweight, plastic construction improves their portability and comfort.
While they won’t have the superb clarity, balance, and sense of space that their WH-1000XM3 siblings boast, the sound these on-ear headphones produce definitely belies their size and price. You’ll find most genres perform well here, although tracks that already have low mids and bumped treble might get uncomfortably exaggerated.
Read more: Sony WH-CH510 review
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. In our view, they're among the best on-ear headphones for traveling with.
They're best suited for frequent travelers 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 on-ear 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 the full review: AKG N60NC Wireless
Bowers & Wilkins PX5 Wireless on-ear headphones are aimed at users that want the immersive sound of over-ears without the bulk.
Kitted out with Qualcomm's aptX Adaptive audio codec, which is designed to deliver low latency Hi-Res Audio, they're among the first headphones to sport the technology.
Battery life is very good, and while noise cancellation could be stronger, it’s pretty adept for on-ear cans that don’t have the same passive noise-canceling abilities as their over-ear peers.
If you’re looking for compact on-ear headphones that will suit your commute, without skimping on audio fidelity, the Bowers & Wilkins PX5 could be a fantastic choice.
Read the full review: Bowers & Wilkins PX5 Wireless Headphones review
The V-Moda XS are the perfect travel buddy for audiophiles. Their balanced and detail-rich sound is a pleasure to listen to, plus, they're 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 on-ear headphones 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
The Klipsch Reference On-Ear II are the follow up to the previous year’s excellent Reference On-Ear model, a previous resident of the best on-ear headphones round up. 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 GW100 on-ear headphones 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.
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
You, like everyone else, probably wants a set of on-ear headphones that nail 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. Pro tip: 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
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 wireless 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.