On-ear headphones are without any shred of a doubt the ideal solution for commuters and those looking for a comfortable pair of everyday headphones that wouldn’t require an in-ear style of wear. Unlike their full-sized cousins, on-ear headphones often weigh practically nothing and can be folded into a very compact package. Despite the high portability, their sound can be very impressive. This article will help you get the best pair for you. Not all on-ear headphones are created equal, and some models will be much more suited for your particular taste in music and situation.
How to Choose On-Ear Headphones
Let’s start by going over the most important aspects of on-ear headphones. Depending on your needs, it’s likely that some aspect will be more important to you than the rest. For example, we usually don’t pay as much attention to sound quality when it comes to selecting gym headphones. On the other hand, headphones for evening relaxation and careful, analytical listening should sound absolutely fantastic, as your senses are going to be working at their maximum capacity. Think about how you really going to use your headphones and choose accordingly. That’s the easiest way how to maximize the return on your investment and get something you will be extremely pleased with.
Don’t let anybody fool you into thinking that design doesn’t matter. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that you like to own beautiful things. This becomes even more accurate if you intend to use your headphones outside. Luckily, these days, it’s very easy to select a pair of headphones that will completely match your taste. Companies like Skullcandy or Beats make a very contemporary looking headphones aimed primarily at young people, while Sennheiser, Beyerdynamic, or Bose are known for their modern approach to headphone design and constant innovation. If it still doesn’t sound like you, then perhaps you would prefer something more traditional. Marshall and Bowers & Wilkins make many retro-inspired on-ear headphones that will surely appeal to the vintage lover in you.
Of course, any good design is also very functional. Your headphones should be comfortable and highly portable. Pay special attention to the headband construction and the softness of earpads. Not only you shouldn’t feel any discomfort or painful sensations, but your ears also have to stay cold and not get sweaty. It’s always a great plus if the headphones have built-in hinges that allow them to fold into a small package.
Unfortunately, these hinges are frequently a cause of various problems. It’s not uncommon for them to make distracting sounds as you move with the headphones on your head. Because, problems like this will often show up only after some time of use, you should always consult online reviews and opinions of others.
Besides the already mentioned potential issues with hinges, other common sources of problems are earpads and the quality of finish. Cheaply made pleather has a tendency to fall apart after some time of use. Besides purchasing headphones with quality velour or leather pads, there’s really not much you can do about it. Your best option is to check whether the manufacturer sells replacement earpads. If not, chances are that they could be available for purchase from many third-party manufacturers on sites like eBay and Amazon.
The quality of finish doesn’t affect the performance of your headphones, but it’s the key ingredients in maintaining their look and protecting from scratches and blemishes. It always helps to store your headphones inside a soft or hard-shell pouch.
Wireless vs Wired
Before we look deeper into potential audio quality differences between wireless and wired headphones, let’s first consider the audio source. Wireless headphones transmit audio signal via Bluetooth connection. That means that your playback device must have Bluetooth chip built into it. However, most dedicated portable MP3 players have only a regular 3.5mm output. People who use wireless headphones commonly use their smartphone or iPad as a source of the audio signal. Wired headphones don’t have this problem, thanks to the widespread use of 3.5mm audio jack.
When it comes to sound quality differences between wireless and wired headphones, it’s safe to say that there are basically none. We have seen huge improvements in wireless headphones during the past few years. Some of these include the release of Bluetooth 4.0 and aptX audio codec. Technologies like these enable high bit-rate data transmissions and very effective audio compression. The resulting sound is essentially indistinguishable from what you would get from wired headphones. The only real negative is the increased cost of wireless headphones.
Open vs Closed
On-ear headphones are commonly subdivided based on their construction. Open headphones are designed to allow air to freely pass through. This often leads to improved clarity and more natural sounding sound signature. Music also tends to sound more open and spacious. What would otherwise be very akin to a smaller club experience, will resemble a larger concert hall.
The biggest downside to the open-back headphone construction is that everyone can hear your music, and you can just as easily head everything that goes on around you. This fact makes open headphones unsuitable for office or library use, but this also makes them preferable for gym and outdoor use. It’s entirely possible to have a conversation with your gym buddy without feeling the need to take your open-back headphones off, and when you are jogging outside, you will appreciate that you can clearly head incoming cars and traffic.
Closed-back headphones are the exact opposite of open headphones. They fully isolate your ears form outside noise and give you a private listening space. Additionally, closed-back headphones frequently provide superior bass reproduction when compared to open ones.
Sound quality is, without doubt, the one thing that can elevate great headphones into legendary ones. The best example are the famous Koss Porta Pro. They are probably the most iconic and popular pair of on-ear headphones every made. But surprisingly, their construction leaves a lot to be desired. What makes them so special is their signature sound. It’s musical, warm, easy to listen to and the bass just makes your head bob to the rhythm. This is exactly what you should be after when you are selecting and testing your next on-ear headphones.
We recommend you think about what type of music you most frequently listen to, and pick your headphones accordingly. Those who listen to bass-heavy music genres will most likely enjoy the extra low-end punch provided by many closed headphones. But if the bass isn’t your thing, open-back headphones have the advantage of larger soundstage and greater instrument separation.
A special attention should be paid when it comes to selecting the best on-ear headphones for use in the gym. When you are in the middle of your last set, there’s rarely enough space for the appreciation of small details. What you want is a pumping bass that will get you through the set. On-ear headphones with larger drivers are known for their ability to reproduce sub-bass sounds, which are essential for that distinct raw impact.
A good pair of on-ear headphones can cost you as little as a few dozen dollars, or the price can exceed thousand dollars. If you shop around, you are sure to find a good deal that fits your budget. Don’t let anybody fool you into thinking that you absolutely have to spend at least a few hundreds of dollars just to get something half-decent. You simply don’t.
That being said, not all headphones are created equal, and the price reflects this reality. Supper budget headphones such as the Koss SportaPro, the Sentey Headphones or the Panasonic RP-HT21 are built entirely from plastic materials. Their construction is functional but doesn’t feature any advanced construction elements that can be found in more expensive headphones. Nonetheless, the sound quality is still more than good enough for casual listening. The Panasonic RP-HT21 are perfectly suited for audiobooks and the SportaPro are definitely in our top 10 list of favorite gym headphones.
If you have more money to spend, you can look into more expensive headphones such as the AKG Y50, the Sennheiser Urbanite or the Bose SoundTrue. The difference in quality should be obvious even from a distance. The AKG Y50 feature an exceptional foldable construction, and the Bose SoundTrue feature super-comfortable memory foam padding and headband cushioning.
Those who are lucky enough to afford it can look into something like the Bowers & Wilkins P5 Series of on-ear headphones. These headphones feature a striking retro design, very comfortable earpads, built-in audio controls for iOS devices and, above all, supreme sound quality with powerful bass and accurate highs.
As you can see, there is something great to be found no matter how much money you can afford to spend on your headphones. The best models may not necessarily be the most popular ones, and we strongly advise you to do a proper research before you spend any money.
What On-Ear Headphones Should I Buy?
Now that we went over the most important aspects of on-ear headphones, it’s time to introduce some of the most popular brands and manufacturers of on-ear headphones. Each manufacturer has its own distinct style and sound signature. Knowing what to expect can help you narrow your research and ultimately select the best model for your own particular needs.
Headphones from Beats by Dre and Skullcandy are known for their powerful low-end and exciting sound signature. They are best suited for those listeners who don’t seek the most accurate sound representation, but who demand their music to be stimulating and fun. Headphones from these brands also come in a wide variety of different styles and finishes. It’s very easy to pick something that will suit your taste and represent what you like.
Companies like Koss, Creative and Philips produce affordable headphones known for their quality. They are the best example of high-value that you can find, with the cheapest models don’t cost more than your average latte. The only negative is the sheer quantity of different models that these companies produce. It’s very easy to get lost in the large see of obscure names and models that come and go.
If you want your headphones to do a little bit more, Bose and Plantronics are the companies to go with. Their headphones feature some of the most advanced electronic components that you can find in headphones of any price. From noise canceling to intelligent audio pause functionality, these two companies are constantly introducing new ways how to make our listening experience even better. Of course, all this technology adds something to the final cost, but we believe that it’s well worth the price.
It would take a long time to list all companies that produce high-quality headphones. But Sony, Sennheiser and AKG are some of the best-known manufacturers of high-end headphones on the market. What you get is a great mix of supreme build quality, expressional sound and price that isn’t beyond the reach of us mere mortals. The best thing about this category of headphones is the wide range of models and their respective prices. If you shop around, you will sooner or later stumble upon a fantastic deal and get an incredible value for your money. All it takes is a little bit of patience and luck.
Those who are lucky enough to afford it should consider looking into what companies such as Grado, and Bowers & Wilkins have to offer. They specialize in development and manufacturing of premium headphones suitable for the most demanding listeners out there. You can expect the best sound quality money can buy, unique design, high attention to details and build quality. It should go without saying that the price is going to reflect the overall quality.
What Are The Best Budget On-Ear Headphones?
Audio-Technica ATH-RE700 On-Ear Headphones
Audio-Technica is known for their distinct style and experience in designing some of the best high-fidelity headphones in the world. The ATH-RE700 high-fidelity on-ear headphones have an attractive retro look and large 40 mm drivers. Continue reading to find out if they are really as good as they seem to be.
The Audio Technica ATH-RE700 On-Ear Headphones feature a beautiful retro design that seems as contemporary as it is timeless. The high use of soft leather and real aluminum adds to the premium feel of these headphones. Both the headband and earpads are soft enough not to…
Sound Intone CX-05 On-Ear Headphones
The Sound Intone CX-05 headphones may not be well known, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worthy of your attention. The company behind them, Shenzhen Nanruirun Technology, has created over 200 different headphones over the last 20 years, and they continue their relentless pursuit of innovation and customer satisfaction. Sound Intone is one of their younger brands, created to meet the growing demand for affordable headphones that combine style with excellent sound quality.
Despite the affordable price of the Sound Intone CX-05 headphones, the earcups are made from zinc alloy, which is a highly durable yet lightweight material. The headband features a special construction that prevents deformation and ensures maximum comfort. A layer of fabric hides memory foam and helps with air circulation.
The foldable hinge design makes it easy to pack the headphones in any backpack or pouch. The hinges seem to be rugged and well built. We dig the professional look of the headphones—something we would love to…
Monster NTUNE On-Ear Headphones
New generations put a different set of demands and consumer expectations about what exactly constitutes a good sound quality. The Monster NTUNE On-Ear Headphones were designed specifically to meet this demand and work well with bass-heavy music genres. With a very large number of color to choose from, customers have a lot to look forward to. Let’s see how these headphones do when we put them to a test.
These headphones will be love by people who pay attention to style and matching accessories with their clothes. Amazon lists 21 different colors and color combinations to choose from. All versions are made from a…
Klipsch Image ONE Gen 2 Bluetooth On-Ear Headphones
The Klipsch Image One II bring noticeable improvements to the already solid design. Klipsch went the way to make these headphones even more attractive than they’ve already been. However, not everything has been upgraded, and this review will uncover if there is something left to be desired.
First off, these are some of the lightest and most comfortable Bluetooth headphones that you can buy for under $100. They use special flat earpads that are not 100% sound isolation, but they still mute enough surrounding noise to allow you to concentrate on your work or immerse yourself in a game. The earcups fold flat, allowing for a convenient way how to…
Harman Kardon CL Precision On-Ear Headphones
The Harman Kardon CL headphones are a true premium product with the the equaly premium design. Their striking features and sleek curves suggest a high attention to details and quality aimed at the most demanding users out there. Is this just about appearances, or are these headphones also worthy being called an audiophile-grade product? Continue reading to find out.
The Harman Kardon CL Precision headphones are closed back, on-ear headphones with a unique look and durable construction. The headband is made out of sandblasted steel, which gives them plenty of robustness and strength. Despite this, their weight has remained on the low side, and we had no problems with…
Grado Prestige Series SR80e On-Ear Headphones
The SR80e are the next generation of Grado’s popular SR80 open-back headphones. It replaces the SR80i and we have no reasons to doubt that these headphones will sound just as great as the previous model.
The one thing that many people love about Grado headphones is how the company stays firmly faithful to their roots. The design of these headphones is basically the same as previous models. The simple leather band and open earcups with mesh-wire on the outside evoke 80s Lo-fi audio gear aesthetics. This simple design results in a…
Skullcandy Uprock On-Ear Headphones
Skullcandy is known for their trendy headphones that appeal to the younger demographics and people who like to draw attention to themselves. They are, however, also known for their fun sound signature and a strong emphasis on bass. When you also factor in the low price, it’s no wonder why their headphones are as popular as they are.
These on-ear headphones are designed to be used in many different situations, ranging from home use to everyday commuting. Their cable measures 1.3 meters and has a flat profile, which makes it highly resistant to tangling. It’s just about the right length for portable use with a smartphone or dedicated MP3 player. The cable also includes a handy in-line remote with your standard set of controls. Behind the closed-back of these headphones is a…
Sennheiser PX 100-II Mini On-Ear Headphones
The Sennheiser PX 100-II are highly recommended headphones that offer in impressive sound quality despite the fact that they don’t look like much. They feel most at home at the gym, where their powerful bass gets the opportunity to truly shine. They are a prime example of a pair of budget on-ear headphones that accomplish a lot with relatively little.
These headphones are a great example that big sound can come in a small package. Their open, on-ear cups provide natural sound that doesn’t fail to…
Sony MDR-XB400 On-Ear Headphones
The Sony MDR-XB400 On-Ear Headphones have been designed with travelers and commuters in mind. Sony went their way to give customers an all-in-one package that mixes a sleek, folding design with comfort. Let’s see how Sony used their years of experience, and whether they truly managed to offer a better deal than what is already available on the market.
It doesn’t take too much to notice that Sony went for something a little bit extraordinary this time around. Their MDR-XB400 headphones are available in 7 color variants, giving users plenty of choices to pick the one that matches their style and taste. The headphones are built out of…
Bose SoundTrue On-Ear Headphones
Bose is renowned for their excellent active noise-cancelling headphones that are popular among travelers and people who need to concentrate on their work in what would otherwise be an unacceptably loud environment. Although many customers come for the noise cancelation ability, it’s the amazing sound that turns them into lifelong customers. Bose SoundTrue On-Ear Headphones are made for those who would like to have the familiar sound of Bose QuietComfort 25 in a much smaller package.
Bose SoundTrue headphones can be broken down into two part. There is the very comfortable memory foam padding on the headband and around your ears. The padding is soft, sweat-resistant, and feels very nice on the skin. We did not notice any…
Monster DNA On-Ear Headphones
DNA from Monster continues the established tradition of bold design combined with the recognizable sound signature. These supra-aural (on-ear) headphones feature an advanced noise-isolating design and a price tag that is more than inviting. This in-depth review contains everything there is to know about this stylish addition to Monster’s line of headphones.
Let’s start with the unique design that is sure to appeal to all people who are not afraid to stand out from the crowd and attract some attention. Monster DNA on-ear headphones use a combination of sleek, glossy surfaces with simple, triangular ear cups. This combination creates a sense of…
Koss PortaPro On-Ear Headphones
There is hardly a more legendary and well-known pair of headphones than Koss PortaPro. First manufactured in 1984, these lightweight on ear-headphones have entered not one hall of fame thanks to their refined sound, unique design, and sensible price tag.
Lightweight construction, a timeless retro design, and foldable construction. Those are the key components that make Koss PortaPro a great pair of portable headphones. They feature a unique, adjustable ear rest that greatly reduces the pressure on your ears and distributes it on your…