On-ear vs. Over-ear headphones – The right choice

In the last decade, the headphones market has grown constantly and the tech behind it has improved a lot as well. 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 there are pros and cons to each.

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 market so huge it alone 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 great sound quality for your price and the portability is similar, however, there are a few pros and cons you want to consider 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 they aren’t as big as over-ear headphones. They tend to be less expensive and in fact, 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 simpler 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 to use perhaps 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 end up having headaches after prolonged use. If you’re one of those who 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 the 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 very common and it doesn’t work as well as it does with an over-ear headset. On-ear headphones normally 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 sweat. Many brands sell individual earcups in case you wear-off the included ones.

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, 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 of the best. Due to the design that allows having the biggest drivers of them all, over-ear headphones can reproduce a wide spectrum of frequencies and they 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.

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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 keep in mind they’re always going to 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 keep them in your head at all times.

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 awesome models without breaking the bank if you do your diligence.

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

To conclude this post, let us summarize the strengths and weaknesses from 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 you 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 level of sound quality and comfort, but portability is important for you and you don’t mind leaking/blocking noise. Or if your budget is a bit tight but you don’t want a pair of in-ear headphones or you already have those.

Always keep in mind 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.

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