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Difference Between On-Ear and Over-Ear Headphones

Convenience is highly preferred these days, whether it’s a car you’re driving or a pair of headphones you use to listen to your favorite music, podcasts, news, or just anything. Headphones or you could say earphones or earbuds, come in all kinds of fits and styles, depending on your preferred style or convenience. So, if you’re in the market looking for a new pair of headphones, you can choose between on-ear and over-ear styles. The small distinction in the name makes a big difference in how you choose to listen to music.

What is On-Ear Headphones?

One of the few different styles of headphones is the on-ear types. The term ‘on-ear’ is self-explanatory; they have smaller earpads or earcups that sit on top of your ears. Contrary to the in-ear earphones, which are one of the most common types of earphones out there, on-ear types are pressed onto your ears and the ambient noise is still audible to a limited extent. These are not as portable as the in-ear types which actually go all the way in touching your eardrums and fit easily in your pocket. Although on-ear headphones sit directly against on top of your ears, they do not have any unique features or advantages over their counterparts. The on-ear types are a balance between portability and sound quality.

What is Over-Ear Headphones?

The over-ear is yet another type of headphones which fall over your ears, and they typically have thick headbands that fully cover the ears. They fit around your ears encompassing them completely achieving a comfortable fit. The high-end over-ear headphones actually cancel the ambient noise to an extent where the outside world is almost inaudible. Therefore, the over-ear type is the most common among musicians and music enthusiasts. They provide the most coverage over your ears and typically have the best sound quality compared to other types. The over-ear styles are probably the most comfortable and the best fit headphones. They have the largest drivers, so they usually reproduce the widest range of frequencies, providing a crisp, crystal-clear listening experience.

Difference between On-Ear and Over-Ear Headphones


– This is one of the most common factors when it comes to finding the best pair of headphones. Portability is something everyone, except the hardcore music enthusiasts, seek in a good pair of headphones. Although, both on-ear and over-ear are the less portable types compared to their in-ear counterparts, the on-ear types have smaller earcups or earpads that sit on top of your ears. The over-ear types, on the other hand, have relatively bigger earcups and thicker headbands that fully encompass the ears. So, on-ear types win this one.


– Comfort is yet another big decision-impacting factor that is very important when it comes to finding the right pair of headphones. On-ear headphones are typically more compact with smaller earcups, but they are moderately comfortable. Because they sit directly on the ears, if you wear them for a long time, the ears start to hurt from the applied pressure. They can get quite uncomfortable after a few hours and may cause listening fatigue. Over-ear headphones are typically the most comfortable pair of listening devices because they are easy to wear and the oversized earcups cover your ears entirely, allowing for a warm snuggly fit.


– The performance of a good pair of headphones is usually gauged in terms of their sound quality – the highs and the lows, the bass, etc. Well, the sound preference is almost subjective because there are quite a few categories of sound quality that people prefer. Some prefer bass-heavy while some like it perfectly balanced. And sound quality also depends on the quality of the headphone, the drivers, the earcups, etc. That being said, on-ear types do not create a seal around your ears like those over-types do, so on-ear types are a little less desired when it comes to noise cancellation or reduction.

On-Ear vs. Over-Ear: Comparison Chart


We just looked at the two very common styles of headphones on the market today. Which one you choose will be up to your individual requirements and preference. On-ear headphones provide a good balance between portability and sound quality. These headphones sit directly on the ears, so they might hurt the ears because of the constant pressure applied on the ears. Over-ear headphones, on the contrary, encompass the ears completely and seal your ears inside oversized earcups, eliminating any ambient noise and providing a good quality listening experience. But then, the performance of a good pair of headphones depends on many factors, like the brand, price, noise isolation level, sound quality, etc.

Which type of headphones is best for the ear?

It mostly depends on your individual requirement and preference. Some like it portable, so they would go for the in-ear types while true music enthusiasts would probably prefer over-ear headphones. Over-ear headphones are by far the most comfortable ones because they cover the ears entirely, making up for a comfortable, snuggly fit.

What is the difference between on-ear and in-ear headphones?

In-ear, as the name suggest, goes inside your ears all the way into the ear canal and are high-quality earphones. In-ear types of more portable than the on-ear types. On-ear, on the other hand, sits on top of your ears and has smaller earcups.

Are on-ear headphones uncomfortable?

On-ear headphones are pressed onto your ears, so when you wear them for a long time, our ears start to get hurt because of the applied pressure, which might cause listening fatigue. Typically, on-ear types are not as comfortable as their in-ear and over-ear counterparts.

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References :

[0]Sauls, Sam and Craig Stark. Audio Production Worktext: Concepts, Techniques, and Equipment. Abingdon, United Kingdom: Focal Press, 2013. Print

[1]Borwick, John. Loudspeaker and Headphone Handbook. Abingdon, United Kingdom: Taylor & Francis, 2012. Print

[2]Ranj, Brandt. “How to Decide Between On-Ear vs. Over-Ear Bluetooth Headphones.” Rolling Stone, 13 Mar. 2021, www.rollingstone.com/product-recommendations/electronics/on-ear-vs-over-ear-headphones-1026398.

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