The best on ear headphones aren’t necessarily the most expensive. In fact, that can be quite the opposite, as some of our top picks are very reasonably priced. Though, for the greater versatility and the right looks you’ll have to push your budget beyond $100. But not by much.
Just make sure to decide what type of on ear headphones suit your needs. Some maybe ideal for every day travel and commuting (closed back). While some are designed for listening in the comfort of your home, as these – open back headphones – won’t block out much ambient noise.
For those who have penchant for exercising, be sure to check out our best bluetooth headphones for working out list. Also, check out our best over ear headphones 2016 and over ear headphone reviews.
- 1 Best On Ear Headphones 2016
- 2 #1 Pick V-MODA XS
- 3 View on Amazon
- 4 #2 Pick Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 On-Ear
- 5 View on Amazon
- 6 #3 Pick Bowers & Wilkins P5 Series 2
- 7 View on Amazon
- 8 #4 Pick Grado SR80e
- 9 View on Amazon
- 10 #5 Pick Sennheiser Urbanite On-Ear
- 11 View on Amazon
- 12 #6 Pick Beyerdynamic T51i
- 13 View on Amazon
- 14 What to look for in the Best On-Ear Headphone
- 15 Mistakes to Avoid
- 16 Most Important Features
- 17 Which On-Ear Headphones are Right For You?
Best On Ear Headphones 2016
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: Best all-around on-ear: durable build, compact size, comfy ear pads, and killer V-MODA sound.
If you haven’t yet caught wind of V-MODA’s headphones, you really should try them out at some point. The company knows how to make an all-around quality headphone. The focus isn’t just on the heart-pumping sound but also a sleek, unique design embellished by leather and metal. It also doesn’t hurt that the XS is built with military-level test standards in mind (MIL-STD-810G).
If you value a foldable design for easy travel, you’ll love how the CLIQFOLD mechanism allows the XS to collapse. V-MODA was especially mindful of any gaps in the design, which gives the XS an extraordinarily small footprint. And generously included in the packing is a robust carrying case and carabiner clip for attaching to a travel bag.
The leather earcups are comfortable and give decent passive noise isolation (for on-ear headphones, at least). For flexibility, the cable is removable, and there’s an integrated mic for an uninterrupted experience. Powering the audio are 40mm dual-diaphragm drivers, which are tuned with a neutral sound signature that produces lush mids and vibrant bass.
The XS comes in two color schemes: Matte Black or White Silver.
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WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: A great marriage of an effortlessly stylish design and high quality sound.
Most likely if you know a thing or two about audio, you’ve heard of Sennheiser. The German audio manufacturer has a long history (and fanbase). Therefore, it should be no surprise that it is on our list.
The Momentum line was Sennheiser’s response to the Beats-era, where consumers began demanding style from their headphones. The Momentum brings a classy style with an equal amount of refined sound. And of course, the lineup includes on-ear offerings.
The 2nd iteration of the Momentum On-Ear introduces a foldable design, while still retaining its stapled stainless-steel frame build. The earcups are made from a soft, cushiony Alcantara fabric, so you should have no problem with comfort even in an extended listening period.
The slimness of the frame means that the Momentum On-Ear is considerably lightweight. Therefore, the leather band up top only needs a subtle cushion. There are also a few color schemes to choose from, among the following colors: Black, Brown, Silver, and Ivory. The cable (detachable) generously has an in-line 3-button remote and mic (however, make sure that you buy the appropriate model for iOS or Android).
Sennheiser is known to deliver an elegant and balanced sound, making sure to honor any music genre. Smoothness and clarity are two things that the Momentum line excels at. The 18-ohm transducers also give an exceptionally wide frequency response (16Hz – 22,000Hz).
There is also a wireless version with active noise cancellation, if you don’t mind putting down the extra dough. You can buy the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 On-Ear Wireless headphones for $399.
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: Solidly built and comfy on-ear option that offers a touch of luxury.
Bowers & Wilkins is a long-running British audio manufacturer. If you’ve ever seen one its headphones, you know from the bat that the company prides itself on quality, and the P5 Series on-ear headphones are no exception. Both the fit and finish portray a passion for elegance.
You’ll find leather all around the headphone, where the metal frame isn’t exposed. The cushion on the headband and earpads is considerable. Your ears are meant to sink in the leather pads, providing good sound isolation for an on-ear. However, that may be a vulnerability for warm/steamy ears.
And the P5 has the sound to back that quality hardware statement. 40mm drivers produce a clean and smooth reproduction. Highs are articulated accurately and detailed, and a pronounced mid-range gives a satisfying fullness to music.
Regarding functionality, the P5 covertly places the detachable cable jack behind the earpad (it’s secured by a magnetic connection you can simply pull away). However, the shape/fit of the jack is proprietary, so you cannot use third-party cables. Generously, Bowers & Wilkins includes an additional cable with an in-line remote and mic.
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: Classic design meets today’s on-ear market, bringing the best of both worlds.
Grado isn’t a household brand name, but the company has been around for a while and is associated with some classics in the audiophile world. More recently, Grado Labs has targeted the affordable headphone market with the SR80e on-ears. It’s an effort to give more folks access to its prowess and expand from the niche perception.
At first look, you get the sense of a timeless classic. It’s a simple design and lightweight. The headband looks simply like a strip of leather and the earpads are just a foam covering. Grado wants the focus to be on sound, not frivolous details. And speaking of the sound, the earcups actually have a grated opening. Yes, these little guys are open-back headphones.
This means that these aren’t really meant for public places, because sound will leak in and out. But it also means that you’ll get some full and spacious sounds. Grado is well known for a superb mid-range and full-bodied and natural vocals. Additionally, the substantial bass hits firmly and the treble delivers rich detail.
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: A subtly attractive design that outputs bigger tunes than it lets on.
We put the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 On-Ear on our list, but there’s another model from the German manufacturer that should be a serious consideration – the Urbanite on-ear headphones. The Urbanite line focuses on great sound with an elevated, deep bass. The design isn’t as premium as the Momentum line, but that also means that it’s much more affordable.
You’re still getting a great build and foldable, travel-friendly design. The aesthetics are simple but have just the right touches. The thin headband is two-part, with a cushion lining as the inner layer and fabric for the outer. You can choose from the following colors: Black, Plum, Sand, Blue (denim fabric), or Nation (red, white, and blue).
The earpads have a similar fabric/cushion design as the Momentum On-Ears, so they should be plenty comfortable over lengthy periods. And the cable has a 3-button remote and mic (but be sure to choose the correct iOS or Android model). Sound-wise, this headphone is targeted at bassheads. However, it’s Sennheiser that we’re talking about, so all the other frequencies in the spectrum deliver great sound.
There’s another German audio manufacturer known to deliver some serious tunes – Beyerdynamic. Among reviewers, the T51i on-ear headphones have a well-received consensus. You really can’t go wrong with them.
The industrial metal design is both head-turning and portrays an elegant quality, while being simplistic at the same time. It’s unfortunately not foldable, but the earcups swivel, which reduces the thickness of the carrying case (included). Another downer can be that although it has an in-line 3-button remote and mic, it’s only compatible with Apple products.
The earpads are made of super-soft synthetic leather (with memory foam within), so comfort should be no concern. The quality isn’t just all on the outside; Beyerdynamic tries to knock the whole frequency spectrum out of the park. So expect to have bass with lovely depth and clear and detailed highs.
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What to look for in the Best On-Ear Headphone
Comfort: Probably the biggest factor to consider when buying a pair of on-ears is if it will remain comfortable over a listening session. Because on-ears rest on top of the ear (rather than over it), there’s a vulnerability for discomfort. Manufacturers have to be very careful in the materials and clamping force in their designs, and you need to be convinced that they did it right. No matter how good they sound, if they’re uncomfortable, then the purpose is defeated.
Sound Isolation: On-ear headphones don’t do as well as over-ears in regard to sound isolation (blocking external sound from coming in). Some do better than others, based on the earcup fit and material. Soft leather (or synthetic) generally perform well with isolation in comparison to typical foam pads.
Light weight: You’ll want to be cognoscente about the manufacturer’s build and resulting weight. All those feature may be neat, but if they pack considerable heft, you may end up with an annoying pressure on the top of your head.
Fold-ability: A plus about on-ear headphones is that they’re smaller and more travel-friendly. Therefore, it’s convenient when their frame can collapse down to a manageable size to take with you or throw into a bag.
Removable cable: Having the ability to pop the cable out of the earcup gives some good flexibility to the user. The biggest advantage is probably, if the cable fails, then that doesn’t mean that you have to buy a new pair of headphones. Additionally, if you don’t like the stock cable for some reason, you’re open to finding a third-party solution that tickles your fancy.
Mistakes to Avoid
Don’t go too cheap: Cheap headphone offerings have to compromise quite a bit to be profitable. Since comfort is a sensitive subject with on-ears, avoid going too cheap and risk regretting your purchase. You also don’t want cheap earpads that let sound escape and ruin audio quality.
Padding: You should watch out for any headband out there that barely has padding. Not saying to avoid them completely (it’s possible that the manufacturer made the headphone so lightweight that it doesn’t need a big cushion). Check the weight specs and make sure it looks reasonable against the competitors.
Closed vs Open back: While the minority, there are some open-back on-ears in the headphone market. Make sure that you mean to buy them. Open-back is as implied; the earcups are open to letting sound come in and go out. They’re only suited for listening in a quiet space, with no one around (because people next to you will hear it). Folks buy open-back headphones because the sound is more spacious.
Remote Compatibility: An easy mistake to make is buying a headphone with the wrong in-line remote. Many headphones these days come with a 3-button remote on the stock cable. However, because the two most popular mobile operating systems function differently, manufacturers have to create two versions of the remote. Make sure you buy the appropriate iOS or Android headphone model.
Most Important Features
- On-ear headphones rest on top of the ear, so if the earcup is not thought-out, it can cause discomfort over a listening session.
- Earcup materials can vary between leather, synthetic leather, plush fabric, or foam pads. The manufacturer should make it considerably soft.
- Clamping force is another factor to consider. There needs to be a good balance between isolation and comfort.
- Some earcup materials isolate better than others (leather is generally better than foam pads). If sound leaks, then audio quality will not be as good as it can be.
- Bass is generally not as strong with on-ear headphones, making them not the best choice for bassheads. However, that makes other frequencies in the spectrum able to shine.
- On-ear headphones should be lightweight and more portable than over-ears. So they aren’t generally heavy on your head and shouldn’t require lots of cushioning.
- Fold-able frames are a common feature in on-ears. Portability is often supplemented by being able to collapse them down into a small-footprint carrying case.
- Most likely, you’ll be using your phone as the music source for your headphones. Therefore, they often have in-line 3-button remotes on the cable and a mic.
Which On-Ear Headphones are Right For You?
There are a lot of compelling on-ear headphone solutions out there, and as manufacturers have refined their designs over the years, there’s less chance that you’ll be left disappointed.
Just be mindful of the earpad material, fit, and sound isolation. If possible, try them out in a store, to make sure that your ears accept them well. And if you’re often mobile, there are plenty of pairs these days with fold-able designs.