Over-Ear Vs On-Ear: What’s The Best Headphones?

December 12, 2023 – 3 min read

A good pair of headphones is the third most important piece of personal technology you can own, after your computer and phone. The form they take – earbuds, in-ear, on-ear or over-ear, true wireless headphones – comes down to personal preference and comfort. If you are looking for headband-style headphones, you need to choose between on-ear and over-ear. Here is everything you need to consider, along with our best product picks.

A girl lays on the couch and listens to music with her headphones.

What Are Over-Ear Headphones?

Over-ear headphones are the most common style of headband headphones: they’re better at both passive and active noise cancellation, and they tend to be a more comfortable fit for more people. These headphones have ear cups that go around the whole ear and form a seal to block out other sounds. Because of the larger size and cupping style, it’s easier for manufacturers to get a fuller sound and more bass with larger drivers and bigger batteries. There also tends to be less audio bleed (people sitting around you are less likely to hear what you’re listening to).

Best for commuting, noise cancelling and Zoom meetings. If you want to tune out the rest of the world and focus on what you’re listening to, this is the style for you.

Shop Over-Ear Headphones

  • The Sony XM4 Noise Cancelling Headphones are hands down the most commonly recommended headphones, and are what technology journalists who review headphones for a living use on their commutes. They’re extremely comfortable, have some of the best noise cancelling you can get for under $500 and have crisp, detailed audio.
  • The other very popular over-ear headphones for commuters and business travellers are the Bose QuietComfort 45 Wireless NC Headphones. These have really soft ear cups, but a less firm seal which some glasses-wearers find more comfortable. Bose’s default equaliser tends to skew a little more towards being bass heavy than the Sony XM4, so they’re perfect if you like rock or dance music. There is an app that allows you to adjust the equaliser to suit any style of music or spoken word content.
  • On a budget? The Audio Technica M50XBT2 Studio Headphones sound much more expensive than they are. Many professional musicians choose these as their everyday headphones, and with 50 hours of battery life and brilliant audio clarity, it’s easy to see why.

What Are On-Ear Headphones?

On-ear headphones are like a scaled-down version of over-ear headphones. Instead of the ear cup surrounding the whole ear, it sits on the ear shell to provide a slightly more open listening experience. Some people with certain piercings or glasses shapes prefer this style because they find it more comfortable. They also tend to be more affordable than over-ear headphones because they are smaller and don’t have as many bells and whistles.

Because on-ear headphones don’t have that natural seal around the ear, they’re better suited for situations where you need to be more aware of your surroundings, like at the gym. Although there are some really good active noise-cancelling models now.

Best for fitness fans who don’t like earbuds, and people wanting a more affordable headband-style pair of headphones.

Shop On-Ear Headphones

  • The most iconic on-ear headphones are easily the Beats Solo3 Wireless Headphones. They have the classic Beats sound that prioritises bass, and an Apple W1 chip for seamless connection to Apple devices (they are also compatible with Android phones).
  • The Sennheiser HD 350BT Wireless Headphones are a great choice for budget-conscious people who still want great Bluetooth headphones. The 30-hour battery life and rich quality sound make them perfect for students.
  • Shopping for kids? On-ear headphones are the ideal design. Case in point: the JBL JR310 BT Kids On Ear Headphones, which are volume limited to keep kids’ hearing safe, come in fun colours, and are a great way to keep children entertained in the car.
“The most important thing, though, is that your new headphones are comfortable. Take the time in store to try on different styles and see what works for you.”

Over-Ear Vs On-Ear Headphones: What’s The Difference?

The biggest difference between on-ear and over-ear is how well the headphone cups seal on your ears to block out outside noise. Good, well-fitted, over-ear headphones should block out a fair bit of background noise, while on-ear headphones will allow you to stay more aware of your surroundings (unless they’re a model with active noise cancelling, which will give you the option). Over-ear headphones will give a more audiophile experience, while on-ear headphones tend to be more affordable.

How To Choose The Best Headphones

Before buying headphones, consider what you’ll be using them for: are you taking them to a gym and need breathable fabric ear cushions and sweat resistance? Or if it’s for Zoom meetings, then a beam-forming microphone is a priority so your colleagues can hear you. The most important thing, though, is that your new headphones are comfortable. Take the time in store to try on different styles and see what works for you.

Are you ready to buy your perfect headphones? Visit us in-store or online for expert advice, the biggest range and the best prices.

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