Headphones are available in a wide range of designs and styles and they come in four very distinct categories that include:
- Over-Ear Headphones
- On-Ear Headphones
- In-Ear Headphones
Depending on your personal preference, you may look at each of these styles of headphones for their advantages and disadvantages.
You may not like sticking earbuds in your ears yet you love on or over-ear headphones.
On the other hand, you might not like having your ears completely covered so over-ear headphones won’t work, yet earbuds are a great compromise because they let your ears breathe.
Today we’re going to look at the differences between over-ear headphones versus on-ear headphones.
Use this information to determine which style is best to meet your personal preferences.
The Major Differences Between Over-Ear and On-Ear Headphones
There are two popular ways that most people wear headphones. They either pick the ones that go directly over their ears or they choose the option that goes on top of their ears.
Choosing either style of headphone comes down to your personal preferences because there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to which one you should choose.
A Brief Description of Over-Ear Headphones
You’re the type of person to use over-ear headphones if you like to really focus on the music or the audiobook or talk radio program that you happen to be listening to at the time.
Over-Ear headphones block out all of the noise from the outside world and keep you focused directly on the audio by eliminating other noises and distractions from the outside world. You’re the perfect candidate for over-ear headphones if you want complete background noise isolation from entering into your awareness.
A Brief Description of On-Ear Headphones
You’re the type of person to use on-ear headphones if you prefer lighter headphones that do not cover up your ears in their entirety.
They will rest on top of your ears but there is still open space for air and outside sound to enter into your ear canal as well as your awareness. You’ll truly appreciate on-ear headphones if you like a lighter touch and still want to remain aware of everything going on around you including the background noise and chatter taking place in your presence.
These headphones are a great choice if you plan to listen to audio at work but still need to remain aware of everything going on in the office or the job site.
On-Ear Headphones and Over-Ear Headphones Compared
- Over-Ear headphones are large and cover your entire ears while wearing them.
- On-Ear headphones only cover a portion of your entire ear while wearing them.
- Over-Ear headphones typically weigh more than On-Ear headphones
- On-Ear headphones typically weigh less than Over-Ear headphones
- Over-Ear headphones are an extremely effective choice to block out all of the background noise from your surroundings.
- On-Ear headphones are an ineffective choice to block out all of the background noise from your surroundings.
- Over-Ear headphones are large, bulky, and usually heavy which makes them difficult to bring with you outside of the house, studio, or office.
- On-Ear headphones are smaller, more compact, and sometimes foldable which makes them easier to bring with you outside of the house, studio, or office.
An Overview of On-Ear Headphones
The most important thing of all to know regarding on-ear headphones is that the ear pads will sit right on top of your ears and they will stay directly against them. In all honesty, the on-ear headphones do not possess any major advantages and they aren’t any better than over-ear headphones by any means.
But they do tend to have greater levels of portability than their counterparts. So if you’re looking for a more portable design, because you like to bring headphones with you while you commute, during work, or for other reasons, then you’ll absolutely appreciate these headphones even though they do not stack up to over the ear headphones as far as sound quality is concerned.
To help you get a better feel for these headphones, we’ll answer three pertinent questions for you below.
Are On-Ear Headphones Portable?
As mentioned, the biggest benefit of using this type of headphone is that they were designed with traveling in mind when they were created. Since the ear cups are much smaller than over the ear headphones, they’re simply much easier to carry around with you.
You can stick them in your pocket or carry them around your neck or throw them in a duffel bag without any inconvenience because they’re small, compact, and transport very easily.
Even better, many of the on-ear headphones that I’ve used throughout the years are actually foldable. You can fold them up into a more compact device and stick them in their convenient carrying case as part of a much smaller package.
Even if they do not come with a carrying case, the foldable portable headphones are still very easy to stick in your pocket, your pocketbook, or your backpack and you’ll hardly even notice they’re there.
The smartest thing to do is find on-ear headphones with a hard shell casing.
Since you’ll be taking them with you wherever you go, you’ll potentially damage them tossing them in your backpack, or stuffing them in your pocket or you can damage them in many other ways.
If you drop them on the hard concrete or tough asphalt, they could potentially break so ensuring that your headphones have a hard plastic shell prevents unnecessary damage because you’re being careful and considerate.
Are On-Ear Headphones Comfortable?
I guess that comfort is subjective in many instances and it really comes down to your personal preferences to decide whether or not you find on-ear comfortable or not. But in my personal opinion, I actually really love one aspect of these headphones that I’ll go into greater detail about right now.
Since on-ear headphones do not cover up your entire ear, your ears aren’t going to get as hot as they would when using over the ear headphones. Now I’m at a bit of a disadvantage because I love one aspect of over-ear headphones that I’ll go into greater detail about a little later, but I also hate it when my ears get really hot and sweaty.
My whole body tends to heat up when my ears get hot and it becomes really uncomfortable to put it mildly since I happen to sweat a lot. Maybe you have the same problem or you feel uncomfortable when your ears get really hot and sweaty.
So having headphones that do not cover your entire ear means you aren’t going to get as hot because there will be air coming in and lots of room to breathe. If you’re particularly sensitive to the heat, you’ll probably prefer using on-ear headphones as opposed to their over the ear counterpart.
Because you’ll prefer the lack of heat and sweat since you’ll feel a lot more comfortable without feeling overheated or too scorching and dripping with perspiration.
Do On-Ear Headphones Deliver an Excellent Audio Performance?
I briefly mentioned the potential downside of on-ear headphones above that really interferes with their overall performance. By not covering up the entirety of your ears, these headphones do not necessarily deliver the best as far as noise isolation is concerned.
Since your entire ear isn’t covered, it’s very possible and highly probable for background noise to bleed into your awareness while wearing headphones of this type.
For some people, this really isn’t going to be a big deal. They don’t mind when background noise enters into their awareness. In fact many people prefer to have some background noise coming through so they know everything that’s going on around them.
I happen to like complete isolation whenever possible so I can zone out and get comfortable while listening to my favorite music or talk radio shows. It just helps me think clearer when I don’t have background noise distracting me. You may not care at all which is why all of this information is subjective anyway.
Determining if your on-ear headphones deliver great sound usually comes down to the product more than the headphone style itself.
But on-ear headphones have bigger drivers than in-ear headphones, and over the ear headphones often have bigger drivers than on-ear headphones, so these headphones are good but they may not be as good as their over-ear counterpart.
An Overview of Over the Ear Headphones
The beautiful thing about over the ear headphones is they were specifically designed with audio enthusiasts in mind.
These are the people that really love their headphones and they’re willing to spend a small fortune to get the perfect pair that has ample bass, the perfect level of treble, clear highs, lows, and mids, and all of the other bells and whistles that go along with a phenomenal pair of headphones.
Do you know what else you can expect from over the ear headphones?
You can expect to buy a pair of headphones that are really big, completely cover up the entirety of your ears, and are extremely clunky as well. And if you love headphones the way that most owners of these headphones do, you will not mind their hugeness and clunky exterior whatsoever.
In fact you’ll appreciate it because it delivers the maximum amount of comfort and the best sound quality possible when choosing a pair of headphones to meet your audiophile needs.
Are Over the Ear Headphones Portable?
You likely know the answer to this question already, but if you haven’t figured it out, over-ear headphones are not necessarily considered the most portable headphones on the planet at this time.
Simply put, the headphones that completely cover your ears are really large, very clunky, and for the most part they’re designed to stay at home, in the office, or in the studio where they belong. Occasionally you’ll find a pair that comes with a handy carrying case for traveling.
Or other times you’ll find a pair of headphones that go over the ears and yet they have a foldable design. But try not to get your hopes up if you’re looking for these headphones because they aren’t as popular or as available as the regular kind that does not fold at all.
Overall, if you plan on going on a trip or taking a long bus or train ride in the near future, you’d be better off packing your on-ear or in-ear headphones. They’re much more portable than these bad boys, but if you love your large over the ear headphones then you should go for it and bring them along too.
Are Over the Ear Headphones Comfortable?
As far as comfort is concerned, I truly believe that over the ear headphones are the most comfortable type of headphones you could ever buy. When you put them on your ears, the oversized cups envelope them and it feels like your ears are resting on a cloud because it’s so soft, cushiony, and incredibly comfortable.
Wearing earbuds to listen to music can lead to sore inner ears. On-ear headphones aren’t as soft and cushiony so they can also feel uncomfortable after a while as well. But with over the ear headphones, you get the extra-large ear cups with maximum softness and padding.
The headband is always fully padded as well with the softest material you can ever find. It really is the most comfortable way to listen to music or digital audio you can ever think of.
Do Over the Ear Headphones Deliver an Excellent Audio Performance?
These headphones are all about performance. They have large drivers and the widest frequency ranges you can get for your money. The audio highs sound silky smooth and tight, the bass is always deep, and the treble is always just right with these large headphones that go directly over your ears.
You’ll love the audio quality, the excellent noise isolation, and the wide soundstage that creates an amazing sound experience that you do not get with earbuds and other smaller types of headphones.
The Bottom Line
Before I go, I’d like to reiterate one more time that everyone has their own particular preferences when it comes to choosing headphones. One person may love on-ear headphones because it checks off all of their boxes and meets their personal specific needs.
Others may prefer over the ear headphones for the very same reasons and no one is ever wrong as long as you choose the ideal headphones to meet your needs, wants, and desires.
Please use this guide to help you decide whether or not you should buy a pair of on-ear headphones or over-ear headphones the next time you’re shopping online.
Trent is a music lover, musical instrument player and passionate audio afficionado.