Best on-ear headphones Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best on-ear headphones you can buy in 2021.
The best on-ear headphones are a good middle ground between in-ears and over-ears, they don't burrow in your ears like the former and tend to be more portable than the latter. As the name suggests, they sit on your ears rather than covering them completely, which is a look you might prefer or find more comfortable.
As with any headphones, when choosing the best on-ear headphones for you, there are a few things to keep in mind. What features do you want? Bluetooth? Active noise-cancelling? What style are you after? An open-backed pair will give superior sound, but they leak the music like nobody's business. They're strictly for at-home use only. Using them on the bus? A closed-backed pair will avoid annoying your fellow passengers.
You should also consider how portable they are. Most pairs fold up to fit in a pocket or small bag, and some are so light you could forget you have them on you. Check them out in a shop if you can. Finally, you'll need to decide on a budget. Thankfully, our pick of the best on-ear headphones contains something for everyone...
The Y400s are a little smaller than the previous model (the splendid Y500s), with smaller drivers and they come with a cable complete with in-line controls and mic, for when you don't want to run down the battery with a wireless connection.
They're colourful, too, coming in shimmery pink, green, blue and goldish-yellow finishes.
There's no noise cancelling, but we wouldn't expect it at this price. There is Ambient Aware mode, however, which lets in outside noise like dogs barking and car engines. Handy if you want to avoid being bitten/run over. They automatically detect when you take them off and pause the music, too, saving you precious battery life.
The sound has much to like. It's spacious and three-dimensional. There’s impeccable timing throughout and the headphones deliver bass weight and power in spades. It's zealous to the point that some might prefer a slightly leaner listen, but in our eyes (and at this level) the Y400s get the balance just about right.
Read the full review: AKG Y400
This is one of the few pairs on on-ear headphones in this list that are open-backed, meaning sound leaks like water through a sieve. But the upside is a more open, spacious soundstage - indeed, at this price, the dynamics, detail and clarity are all but unmatched.
They sound fast and nimble, able to jump between genres with ease, and the bass is clean and punchy. Some may find them a little tiring to listen to for long periods at high volumes and the design won't suit everyone, but you can't argue with the overall sound quality.
Read the full review: Grado SR80e
One of the most compact and convenient pairs of noise-cancelling headphones we've ever tested, the AKG N60 NCs deliver a superb performance for the money. They're a good-looking pair of on-ears with an excellent fit. Battery life is 15 hours with the noise-cancelling and Bluetooth engaged and this ramps up to 30 hours when the noise-cancelling is turned off.
Bass delivery is powerful yet transparent with crisp, detailed vocals, soaring highs and convincing dynamics. You'd be perfectly content to wear these all day and for the money, they're extremely tough to beat.
Read the full review: AKG N60NC Wireless
These wireless on-ears are some of the best value headphones at this price. They combine the bass boost of a street headphone with the kind of smoothness that should appeal to audiophiles.
They're tuned for impact rather than neutrality, with plenty of low-end thump, but if that's your thing they will do you proud. And it's not all bass: the mids are unexpectedly smooth and the treble pleasingly sweet. A very appealing all-rounder, and not just because of the price tag.
Read the full review: Urbanista Seattle Wireless
Be warned: these are open-backed, which means they leak sound like anyone's business. Which is great for home listening (as the sound is more open and spacious), but not so great for your daily commute. Unless you want everyone knowing your guilty pleasures include Kylie and Black Lace.
A sturdy solid build meets superb sound quality, with an expansive sound space really letting every instrument breathe. If you’re serious about sound quality and they fit your budget, what are you waiting for?
Read the full review: Grado SR325e
Part of Sennheiser's hugely successful Momentum range, these wired on-ear headphones don't disappoint. The sound boasts body and warmth, plus texture and detail in spades. This all makes for an effortless, enjoyable listen.
Bass is weighty without being invasive but these particular Momentums don't have quite enough clarity in the midrange for a five star recommendation. Having said that, they're still hugely capable for the money.
Read the full review: Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 On-ear
Sound quality for these wireless on-ears is clear, with the kind of insight that makes it easy to tell the calibre of the talent on hand. There's none of the hiss and whine you sometimes get with some wireless headphones. Detail levels are excellent, while their sense of rhythm is spot on. And when charged, they'll give you 20 hours of play time - which is ample in anyone's book.
Read the full review: AKG Y50BT
The combination of wireless headphones and an open-backed design doesn't sound too clever, and there are times when we're out and about with Grado's GW100s that they don't make sense.
Yet, away from planes, trains and cars we're impressed by the GW100's excellent sound. They're more articulate and insightful than just about any closed alternative. If you can cope with the open-back compromises there's just so much to like here.
Read the full review: Grado GW100
Beyerdynamic's Amirons aren't the kind of headphones that grab your attention on a short listen, but give them a bit of time and their impressive transparency and resolution is sure to please.
They're comfortable too, with nicely-judged earpads and sensible weight. You'll need a good quality source and recordings to hear them at their best though, so don't be tempted to skimp.
Read the full review: Beyerdynamic Amiron