On-Ear Headphones Vs. Over-Ear: Which’s Better?

Eric Chan

Most new phones come with earphones, but unfortunately, they leave a lot to be desired regarding sound quality, comfort and stability. Also, the internal speakers on the phone are incapable of producing the sound we want. Quality headphones are essential for enjoying high-quality sound everywhere you go, especially if you are an audiophile. So, between on-ear headphones vs. over-ear models, which one do you prefer?

Headphones come in different designs, classified into four types: on-ear, over-ear, earbuds, and in-ears. Each type has pros and cons that influence how well they will perform in certain situations and conditions. Your listening habits and preference determine the type of headphones ideal for you.

Now that we understand there are different categories of headphones let's check out the on-ear headphones vs. over-ear headphones differences and which one is better.

On-Ear Vs. Over-Ear Headphones: What is the Difference?

The size of the earcups and earpads is the most noticeable difference between these two types of headphones. This is because on-ear headphones sit on your ears, whereas over-ear headphones typically sit around your entire ear. So, although both types of headphones have a similar structure ( a headband frame that links two earcups), the difference in ear cups is significant.

Besides, over-ear headphones often have thicker cushioning on the headband. Since on-ears are not as heavy, lighter headphones usually require less padding. Nonetheless, that small design variation results in a different user experience.

On-Ear Headphones Vs. Over-Ear Headphones: Which to Choose?

1. Comfort

The comfort of the headphones varies depending on the earpads' thickness and softness and the frame's weight.

  • On-ear headphones

The compact size of these headphones contributes to their lightweight nature. And since the weight isn't forcing them down, they don't require as much cushioning on the headband. Conversely, the on-ear fit might still exert pressure on your earlobes, which can cause pain. The hurting might strike after a few hours or within a few minutes. Therefore, choose on-ear models with plush padding and a medium clamping force.

  • Over-ear headphones

If your headphones have more room for your ears, the headphones are more comfortable, especially if the earpads have extra-soft memory foam inside. Besides, the clamping force is better dispersed when the earpads completely cover your ears. Plus, over-ear pads can cover your ear, providing a secure fit even wearing glasses.

Although most over-ear headphones are reasonably light, more high-end versions use sophisticated materials that increase weight. So, when shopping for big headphones, look for those with a well-padded headband or those with a suspension headband.

In conclusion, over-ear designs are more comfortable headphones than on-ear models.

2. Sound quality

  • On-ear headphones

The earcup size usually plays a big role in sound perception. Unfortunately, these on-ear headphones don't provide the optimum noise isolation necessary for attaining full bass response. However, that doesn't mean there are no great-sound on-ear headphones. On the other hand, smaller earcups and a lack of good isolation eventually prevent manufacturers from producing on-ear versions that sound close to over-ears.

  • Over-ear headphones

More oversized earcups mean larger drivers and better isolation. The isolation ensures there is deeper and more pronounced bass response. Additionally, the sound from over-ear models is more apparent and more realistic, particularly in open-back versions. So it's no surprise that they are the closest option to room speakers. Also, bigger headphones can be more complex, with larger drivers pushing more air.

Therefore, when comparing the on-ear headphones vs. over-ear headphones differences in terms of sound quality, these models are the best headphones for toddlers and adults.

3. Battery life

Both on-ear and over-ear models can output outstanding battery life. Nonetheless, more room inside the earcups results in better performance.

  • On-ear headphones

Generally, most on-ear models offer a good battery life, with about 40 hours of playtime. But enabling other features cuts the overall duration in half. For instance, the Beats Solo Pro has a battery life of 40 hours without ANC and 22 hours with ANC.

  • Over-ear headphones

Large ear cups can accommodate larger batteries. So as a result, over-the-ear headphones have the longest battery life, lasting up to 95 hours on a single charge. That's more than twice what the best on-ear models have to offer, making over-ears the best in terms of battery life.

4. Portability

The portability of a headphone is usually determined by its size, weight, and other features such as foldable ear cups and carrying bags.

  • On-ear headphones

On-ear The good thing with an on-ear design is its size. They need less material to manufacture, resulting in a lightweight structure. Furthermore, most wireless headphones fold their earcups to fit inside a bag or a larger pocket.

  • Over-ear headphones

Over-ears are thicker and stiffer than on-ears. As a result, they take up lots of space, especially if they don't fold. Besides, the carrying bag adds to the weight, though it does protect the headphones. Only the most consumer-oriented versions feature a folding mechanism that makes them portable. So, with this feature, they take up less space together with a carrying case. Nonetheless, they are larger than on-the-ear headphones and hence not the ideal solution for maximum portability.

5. Stability

If you want to use full-size headphones for sports, good stability means you won't have to worry about them slipping off your head during a workout. Besides, sweating because of obstructed airflow is worth mentioning. Since the ear canal helps cool your head, earbuds will make you feel slightly hotter.

  • On-ear headphones

On-ear models have a lightweight design making them a superior option for sports. Besides, you don't feel them as much on your head; therefore, they irritate you less during exercise. Furthermore, earpads with a reduced surface area prevent you from overheating your ears. And since headphones don't impede as much airflow, you sweat less. Though you still sweat while using on-ear headphones, not as much. Though in-ear headphones are the most stable, on-the-ear headphones are a close second.

  • Over-ear headphones

Since there are several excellent over-ear models, you can use them for exercise. However, they are heavy to feel safe. So, since these headphones are heavier, you can feel them more during exercise when they bounce on your head. And though they cover a larger surface, earpads prioritize comfort over high grip force. As a result, they can easily slide off your head as you lean back.

Furthermore, if you use leather earpads, they provide an airtight seal, resulting in heat accumulation. Plus, your skin begins sweating, which is never pleasing. Sweating also makes headphones more slippery.

6. Noise isolation

  • On-ear headphones

On-ear models usually run the board in terms of noise cancelling. In addition, some models have active noise cancellation. However, these are usually more expensive, and you will need to power them with a battery. Besides, for on-ear models without active noise isolation, you can adjust them to achieve natural isolation with a closed-back design. Also, they can improve the environment for individuals who like a more open phone and do not intend to use it in a warehouse full of machines.

  • Over-ear headphones

Closed-back over-ear headphones provide a high level of natural noise isolation, although this varies by model. The concept is that natural sound radiates into your space, and eliminating the tone and atmosphere might make the experience less authentic. Besides, these models are the most popular active noise canceling platform (NC). These products usually reject external noise by sampling the surroundings with a pair of external microphones and then playing that noise back out of phase. Then the inverted waveform successfully reduces noise, allowing you to enjoy your music and a much wider dynamic range.

On-ear models are the best noise cancelling headphones to count on in terms of noise cancellation.

When Should You Pick: On-Ear Headphones Vs. Over-Ear Headphones

1. On-ear headphones

i). For outdoor use

Smaller on-ear headphones are ideal for outdoor use because they are portable and lightweight. They fold up, occupy less space, and provide adequate performance when required.

ii). For sports activities

Sportspeople who dislike in-ear models should go for on-ear headphones, which provide the second-best stability. In addition, there are types with breathable or washable earpads and a tighter clamping force to hold them in place.

2. Over-ear headphones

i). For commuting

Though better passive noise isolation is important, larger headphones use more advanced technology than on-ear headphones. As a result, over-ear headphones may still lower ambient noise more effectively than on-ear headphones and are ideal for frequent travelers.

ii). For comfort

The over-ear design doesn't strain your earlobes, allowing for an extremely comfortable listening experience. More high-end over-ears have plusher earpads or are dressed in more fine materials.

iii). Longer battery life

Generally, these models feature longer-lasting batteries. For example, some well-known manufacturers' over-ear devices last approximately 40 hours per charge, while other inexpensive models can last up to 95 hours on a single charge.

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