Best on-ear headphones: budget, premium, wireless and noise-cancelling

Best on-ear headphones Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best on-ear headphones you can buy in 2019.

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.

As with any headphones, when buying a pair of on-ears, 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-ears covers a wide range of prices from under £50 to close to £250.

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Best Bluetooth headphones

Best over-ear headphones

Best in-ear headphones

Best on-ear headphones: wireless, noise-cancelling, budget and premium

1. AKG Y50

These punchy and dynamic-sounding on-ears are the business - and don't cost the earth.

SPECIFICATIONS

Style: Closed-backed | Cable length: 1.2m | Wireless: No | Noise-cancelling: No | In-line remote and mic: Yes | Connector: 3.5mm | Weight: 191g

Reasons to Buy
Detailed audio
Great timing
Dynamic
Reasons to Avoid
Quiet
Hot on your ears

These on-ears have a bold, striking design, and fold up small so are eminently portable. They're well made, with sturdy aluminium ear cups and a strong (though wafer thin) stainless steel headband. The sound is fantastic too - it's balanced and insightful, with a welcome amount of bass weight. And there's plenty of detail to get your teeth into. The design might be a bit 'wannabe Beats' for some, but there's no mistaking a quality pair of headphones.

Read the full review: AKG Y50

Best on-ear headphones: wireless, noise-cancelling, budget and premium

(Image credit: AKG)

2. AKG Y500 Wireless

A hugely appealing pair of wireless headphones from AKG at a decent price.

SPECIFICATIONS

Style: Closed-backed | Cable length: 1.2m | Wireless: Yes | Noise-cancelling: No | In-line remote and mic: Yes | Connector: 3.5mm | Weight: 230g

Reasons to Buy
Refined audio
Buttery presentation
Brilliant build quality
Reasons to Avoid
Lack energy

A quick glance at this list will tell you that AKG makes some of the best on-ears around. And the Y500s are some of the firm's finest work to date. The design is suitably premium, with a cushioned, adjustable headband and memory foam earcups. They fold up small enough to fit in a pocket, and pair wirelessly to your device over Bluetooth. Want to hear what's going on in the outside world? Activate the Ambient Aware feature and you'll subdue the music enough to hear background noise. Sound quality is superb, and they support your phone's voice-activated personal assistant too. Hugely appealing on-ears.

Read the full review: AKG Y500 Wireless

Best on-ear headphones: wireless, noise-cancelling, budget and premium

3. B&W P3 Series 2

A real step up from the Beats of this world.

SPECIFICATIONS

Style: Closed-backed | Cable length: 1.2m | Wireless: No | Noise-cancelling: No | In-line remote and mic: Yes | Connector: 3.5mm | Weight: 130g

Reasons to Buy
Detailed treble
Lightweight
Great design
Reasons to Avoid
Lacks attack

With earpads clad in sheep leather, there's no doubt these B&Ws are quality headphones. They're small and lightweight, and fold down to make them even more portable. But the performance is anything but lightweight - bass is rich and full, with a finely handled tonal balance that shows off the best of any track. The only downside is a slight lack of attack. Still, if you’re after an easy listen from a pair of ultra-compact headphones, the P3s are a great portable option.

Read the full review: B&W P3 Series 2

Best on-ear headphones: wireless, noise-cancelling, budget and premium

4. Urbanista Seattle Wireless

Excellent value wireless headphones that sound lovely for the price.

SPECIFICATIONS

Style: Closed-backed | Cable length: 1.2m | Wireless: Yes | Noise-cancelling: No | In-line remote and mic: No | Connector: 3.5mm | Weight: 172g

Reasons to Buy
Engaging audio
Perform well wirelessly
Reasons to Avoid
Bass could be better
Lacks aptX

These wireless on-ears are some of the best value headphones under £100. 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

Best on-ear headphones: wireless, noise-cancelling, budget and premium

5. Grado SR325e

The open-backed design might divide opinion, but sound quality is excellent.

SPECIFICATIONS

Style: Open-backed | Cable length: 1.7m | Wireless: No | Noise-cancelling: No | In-line remote and mic: No | Connector: 3.5mm | Weight: 358g

Reasons to Buy
Balanced tonally
Transparent across frequencies
Dynamic and expressive
Reasons to Avoid
Divisive styling

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

Best on-ear headphones: wireless, noise-cancelling, budget and premium

6. Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 On-ear

Not a perfect pair of headphones, but still an enjoyable and effortless listen.

SPECIFICATIONS

Style: Closed-backed | Cable length: 1.4m | Wireless: No | Noise-cancelling: No | In-line remote and mic: Yes | Connector: 3.5mm | Weight: 210g

Reasons to Buy
Weighty bass
Great detailing
Very covetable
Reasons to Avoid
Timing could be improved
Slightly bass-heavy

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

Best on-ear headphones: wireless, noise-cancelling, budget and premium

7. AKG N60NC Wireless

Comfy, balanced wireless headphones with fantastic noise-cancellation.

SPECIFICATIONS

Style: Closed-backed | Cable length: 1.2m | Wireless: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | In-line remote and mic: No | Connector: 3.5mm | Weight: 199g

Reasons to Buy
Ace noise cancellation
Comfortable
Beefy bass
Reasons to Avoid
Nothing at this price

These impressive AKGs boast a 15-hour battery life with Bluetooth and noise-cancelling turned on, and can stretch to 30 hours if you turn off the former. They're comfy enough to wear all day, and the earcup-mounted controls are more intuitive than a lot of pairs we've tested. Trust us, it makes a real difference. The sound is bursting with detail and precision, with a delicate balancing act of bass, midrange and treble. A handsome pair of on-ear headphones.

Read the full review: AKG N60NC Wireless

Best on-ear headphones: wireless, noise-cancelling, budget and premium

8. Grado SR80e

An exceptional and exceptionally odd pair of headphones.

SPECIFICATIONS

Style: Open-backed | Cable length: 2m | Wireless: No | Noise-cancelling: No | In-line remote and mic: No | Connector: 3.5mm | Weight: 231g

Reasons to Buy
Great detailing
Lively audio
Tight bass
Reasons to Avoid
Sound could be more mellow

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

Best on-ear headphones: wireless, noise-cancelling, budget and premium

9. AKG Y50BT

A winning pair of Bluetooth headphones.

SPECIFICATIONS

Style: Closed-backed | Cable length: 1.2m | Wireless: Yes | Noise-cancelling: No | In-line remote and mic: No | Connector: 3.5mm | Weight: 213g

Reasons to Buy
Clear sound with lots of detail
User-friendly
Comfy
Reasons to Avoid
Nothing of note

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

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Best headphones 2019: in-ear, on-ear, over-ear