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On-ear vs. Over-ear headphones – Which to choose?

In the last decade, the headphones market has grown constantly, and the tech behind it has also improved a lot. Headphones are now a must-have peripheral for many people in different segments, including work, gamers, music, communication, etc. However, one of the most common questions to determine your next purchase is if you want to get a pair of over-ear or on-ear headphones, as the design is slightly different, and each has pros and cons.

There are also other types of headphones, such as in-ear or the so-called earbuds. The greatest presenter in this category is the Apple AirPods nowadays, with a vast market that competes with many big brands such as Netflix or Spotify.

Over-ear vs. on-ear headphones – The dilemma

If you want a good pair of headphones to listen to high-quality music, in-ear headphones aren’t enough, and your choices are over-ear or on-ear headphones. Let’s talk about them today and help you make the best decision.

The reality is both headphones can give you excellent sound quality for your price, and the portability is similar. However, you want to consider a few pros and cons before buying a new headset.

On-ear headphones – Pros

On-ear headphones sit directly against your ears, which means they provide better sound than earbuds and aren’t as big as over-ear headphones. They tend to be less expensive, and they’re a balanced decision between in-ear and over-ear headphones if you’re looking for portability.

Other than that, we believe on-ear headphones have no other advantages besides providing a more straightforward acoustic seal, which allows you to hear more of what’s happening around you. This could be good if your job requires attention and not total isolation.

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On-ear headphones – Cons

There are some disadvantages to this design, though. On-ear headphones might pack a punch if you compare them against regular earbuds, but because they don’t seal in your ears completely, the quality might be just OK, and in terms of sound isolation, they tend to leak a lot.

So, if you’re looking for something discrete in a library or a quiet office, on-ear headphones aren’t your best choice.

In terms of comfort, every person will have a different feeling, but because on-ear headphones sit exactly in your ears, some people have headaches after prolonged use. If you can’t stand having anything in your head for more than 20 minutes, or if you suffer from sweaty, hot ears, on-ear headphones are not for you.

Over-ear headphones – Pros

If you’re an audiophile, over-ear headphones are probably your best shot. They’re common for every audio enthusiast due to their quality and isolation.

One of the most common advantages of having over-ear headphones is the ability to have noise cancellation. Some in-ear headphones also provide this technology, but it isn’t prevalent and doesn’t work as well as with an over-ear headset. On-ear headphones typically don’t offer noise cancellation because the sound leaks from the outside easily.

In terms of comfort, over-ear headphones are like using a warm cushion around your ear that protects you from the outside. The cups cover your ears entirely, and you don’t get sore or sweaty. Many brands sell individual earcups in case you wear off the included ones but you should also clean them every now and then.

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However, over-ear headphones tend to be heavier than any other type of headphones, and if you’re not a fan of wearing anything in your head or you hate having a headset dent, you won’t be able to use them for prolonged sessions.

Finally, in terms of performance, you can be sure you’ll get the best. Due to the design allowing the biggest drivers, over-ear headphones can reproduce a broad spectrum of frequencies and punch some deep bass. Also, as we mentioned above, you can get pretty good noise cancellation, and even if you don’t, over-ear headphones naturally cancel exterior noise to some extent.

on-ear vs. over-ear headphones

Over-ear headphones – Cons

Portability is the weakest point of over-ear headphones. Some brands handle it quite well by implementing folding designs and whatnot but remember; they will always be bulkier and heavier than other types of headphones. There’s no way around that. In many cases, you’ll need a case to carry them around unless you can always keep them in your head.

Other than that, I’d say the only disadvantage I can think of is the price. Because the performance and sound quality are the best with over-ear headphones, the price tends to go up. However, you can find some fantastic models without breaking the bank if you do your diligence.

How long should you wear headphones per day?

The recommended duration for wearing headphones per day depends on the volume level. Lower volume levels allow for longer listening sessions, with one rule suggesting that listening at 60% volume allows for 60 minutes of headphone usage. However, as the volume is increased, the recommended listening time should be shortened.

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Are over-ear headphones safer for hearing?

Over-ear headphones are considered to be a safer option for your hearing compared to other types of headphones. This is primarily due to the fact that over-ear headphones produce a fuller sound quality, allowing for a rich listening experience at lower volumes. As a result, the need to increase the volume to potentially harmful levels, as one might with in-ear or on-ear headphones, is significantly reduced. By not having to crank up the volume, over-ear headphones help to minimize the risk of damaging your hearing and promote a safer listening environment.

On-ear vs. Over-ear headphones – Summary and conclusions

To conclude this post, let us summarize the strengths and weaknesses of each type of headphone.


  • Portability: on-ear, but not by much
  • Comfort: over-ear
  • Performance and sound quality: over-ear
  • Noise cancellation: over-ear
  • Leakage: over-ear
  • Pricing: on-ear?

Buy over-ear headphones if you’re looking for a great performing, comfortable pair of headphones and don’t mind the size. Or if you need the best noise cancelation and isolation to avoid disturbing people around you.

Buy on-ear headphones if you want a decent sound quality and comfort level, but portability is essential, and you don’t mind leaking/blocking noise. Or if your budget is tight but you don’t want a pair of in-ear headphones or already have those.

Always remember comfort, as a cheaper but more comfortable pair of headphones will often be used more than high quality but uncomfortable pair of headphones that sit in your drawer for months.