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The 8 Best On-Ear Headphones for 2024: Sony, Beats, Sennheiser and More

Are tiny earbuds or full-size over-ear headphones not your vibe? Here are the best on-ear headphones for 2023. We found the best, wired and Bluetooth models.

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
6 min read
$58 at Walmart
Image of Sony WH-CH520
Sony WH-CH520
Top budget on-ear headphones
$32 at Amazon
Image of Soundcore by Anker H30i
Soundcore by Anker H30i
Best budget on-ear headphones for less than $40
$30 at Amazon
creative-sound-blaster-jam-v2
Creative Sound Blaster Jam V2
Top on-ear headphones for under $40
$70 at Amazon
sennheiser-hd-250bt
Sennheiser HD 250BT
Affordable Sennheiser on-ear headphones
$41 at Amazon
skullcandy-riff-wireless-1
Skullcandy Riff Wireless
Solid budget on-ear headphones
$329 at Amazon
Beats Solo Pro
Beats Solo Pro
Best noise-canceling on-ear headphones
$100 at Amazon
beats-ep-08
Beats EP
Best wired on-ear headphones under $100
$25 at Amazon
Image of Edifier WH500
Edifier WH500
Budget on-ear wireless headphones for less than $30

Even though around-ear or over-ear headphones tend to deliver the best sound and listening experience, not everyone wants to walk around wearing full-size headphones, which can sometimes be a little bulky. Though headphones that sit on top of one's ears aren't everyone's thing, on-ear models with smaller ear cups are more compact and travel-friendly, and they tend to cost less (several models on this list are under $50). They're also good for folks with smaller heads, including kids. Note that the majority of on-ear headphones don't offer active noise canceling, though there are some that do.

I've tested all the models on this list, evaluating their design, comfort level, sound quality, voice calling performance and quality of their noise canceling if they offer that feature. They're all wireless headphones except for the Beats EP, which offer a wired connection. I'll updated this list as new worthy on-ear headphone candidates hit the market -- I recently added the Soundcore by Anker H30i to the list -- and if none of these models piques your interest, you can check out CNET's other headphone best lists, such as our best wireless earbuds list and best noise-canceling headphones list.

David Carnoy/CNET

Like

  • Affordable
  • Lightweight and relatively comfortable for on-ear headphones
  • Excellent battery life
  • Good sound for their price

Don't like

  • Entry-level look and feel
  • Limited feature set with no wired option

Sony released its new entry-level CH-720N noise-canceling headphones in 2023. They're quite good, but if you can't afford them (they list for $150), the company's new budget on-ear WH-CH520 headphones are an intriguing option for only around $50.

They lack noise canceling and are pretty no-frills, but they feature good sound for their price, are lightweight and pretty comfortable for on-ear headphones, and also have excellent battery life (they're rated for up to 50 hours at moderate volume levels. Additionally, they have multipoint Bluetooth pairing, so you can pair them with two devices simultaneously (such as a smartphone and computer) and switch audio. Voice-calling performance is decent, though not up to the level of what you get with the CH-720N. 

Note that there's no wired option -- this is a wireless Bluetooth-only headphone. The CH-520 offers overall balanced sound with decent clarity. The bass has some punch to it but doesn't pack a wallop, and you're not going to get quite as wide a soundstage as you get from Sony's more expensive over-ear headphones. But these definitely sound better than Sony's previous entry-level on-ear headphones and sound better than I thought they would. I tried the white color but they also come in blue and black. 

Like

  • Inexpensive
  • Attractive design
  • Decent sound
  • Excellent battery life

Don't like

  • Voice-calling performance could be a little better

The Soundcore H30i are inexpensive on-ear wireless headphones that compete with the Sony CH-520 and JBL Tube 510BT (the Tune 520BT is its new-for-2024 successor). There's no active noise-canceling and the headphones are pretty no frills, but they do feature decent sound quality with ample bass for their low price and you can pair them to two devices simultaneously (multipoint Bluetooth). I'm slightly more partial to the Sony CH-520, which are slightly more comfortable and sound slightly better (they have a tad more clarity). That said, the H30i have a folding design, and while they don't come with a carrying pouch, they do include a headphone cord for wired listening (the Sonys are wireless only).

Battery life is impressive -- the H30i are rated for up to 70 hours of listening at moderate volume levels. And while you shouldn't expect great voice-calling performance, it is acceptable in quieter environments. I also appreciated that you can tweak the sound profile in the companion Soundcore app for iOS and Android.

David Carnoy/CNET

Product details

I was a fan of Creative's original Sound Blaster Jam headphones that came out in 2015 and had a decidedly retro look and feel with good sound for the money. Now the headphone is available in a 2.0 version that has some key upgrades, including Bluetooth 5.0, USB-C charging, improved call quality and multipoint Bluetooth pairing that allows you to pair it to two devices simultaneously. Battery life is rated at up to 22 hours.

I was able to pair the headphones with a Mac Mini and an iPhone and then switch audio between them. Often when pairing Bluetooth headphones with Mac and Windows PCs, one can encounter some issues, but once I got the headphones paired with both my PC and phone, they made a good pair of work-from-home headphones. Also, the price is right for parents looking for a decent set of kids' headphones for remote learning and everyday use.

Comfortable for on-ear headphones, the Jam V2 are lightweight and have nicely balanced sound with good detail and bass that's ample but not overpowering. Call quality was good in my tests with callers saying they could hear me well even on the noisy streets of New York. No carry pouch is included, but you do get an extra set of foam ear pads, which is good because they will wear out over time.

The headphones have physical buttons for controlling volume and playback and there's aptX support for devices that support the wireless streaming codec.

Read our Creative Sound Blaster Jam review.

David Carnoy/CNET

Product details

The last few years I've written up a fair number of new Sennheiser headphones, most of which have had more premium price tags. But now the company has released a new $70 on-ear wireless model, the 250BT, that should appeal to those on a tighter budget. Equipped with Bluetooth 5.0, its features seem pretty basic, but it does have 25-hour battery life, as well as support for the AAC and aptX audio codecs, and it also taps into Sennheiser's Smart Control app, allowing you to customize the sound a bit. 

Sennheiser describes the 250BT as having club-like sound, and that's a fairly apt take. There's lots of energy in the bass and some sparkle in the treble. This is what I like to call an exciting headphone -- dynamic, fun. I can't say it's got premium build quality (it looks and feels like a more of a budget model). But it's lightweight and comfortable for an on-ear model, though it lacks any padding on the inside of the headband so I occasionally had to make adjustments to relieve a little pressure on the crown of my head. 

You can use the 250BT as a headset for making calls -- it works reasonably well for that -- but Sennheiser doesn't really talk up the call quality, mentioning only that the headphones have a built-in microphone. The noise-isolating ear pads cut the background noise, giving you a better listening experience. This headphone is more about the sound and it did grow on me over time. 

Amazon

Skullcandy's Riff is the spiritual successor to the Grind Wireless, which I liked for the money. Available in multiple color options, it retails for around $50 and has puffy, pillowlike ear cups that make these comfortable headphones for an on-ear model. It also has great sound for its price, with open, detailed sound quality and plump bass that's relatively well-defined. My only gripes about its ear cup design are that the top doesn't feature a padded headband (at the crown of your head) and it feels a little cheap, with no metal parts. That said, it's nice and light and has a dual-hinge that allows the headphone to fold up and fold flat. No carry pouch is included. Battery life is rated at only 12 hours, but a fast charge feature lets you get 2 hours of juice from a 10-minute charge (this has micro-USB charging not USB-C).

Sarah Tew/CNET

Product details

The Solo Pro has technically been discontinued by Apple (yes, Beats owns Apple), but you can still find it at a discount. It was first Beats on-ear headphone to feature active noise cancellation and the first full-size Beats wireless headphone to charge via Lightning. It remains a very good on-ear headphone but just didn't catch on as Beats had hoped, partially because of its high list price of $300 (and like with the AirPods Max, the Lightning-to-3.5mm is an optional Bluetooth headset accessory that costs $35, which is ridiculous).

The noise-canceling headphone is equipped with six microphones, two of which are beamforming mics designed to hone in on your voice when you're making calls or talking to your voice assistant (Apple's H1 chip is on board for always-on Siri). 

Read our Beats Solo Pro review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Product details

Beats makes plenty of Bluetooth headphones with high price tags, but its entry-level EP wired headphones are a surprisingly good listening experience value. The list price is $100, but you can find it online for closer to $90 and sometimes less. The EP is an on-ear model that isn't as swanky as Beats' somewhat forgotten on-ear Mixr, as well as the over-ear Executive and Pro models. But thanks to its reinforced metal frame, it reminds me of low-frills versions of those headphones. By low-frills, I mean it isn't incredibly flashy and it doesn't fold up or fold flat for travel (it has no hinges).

I liked the way they sounded and so did Steve Guttenberg, who once wrote CNET's Audiophiliac blog. These open back headphones exhibit the traits of a good headphone: They're clean and open-sounding, particularly for an on-ear headphone, and there's enough treble detail to give them some sparkle. (In other words: They're not incredibly dynamic.)

The bass is a little accentuated -- this is Beats after all -- but it's not bloated or boomy. There's enough bass here to satisfy a low-end audiophile headphone lover but not so much to turn off someone who's looking for a more balanced, neutral-sound quality in a headphone.

David Carnoy/CNET

Available in three color options, there's nothing terribly fancy about the Edifier WH500 on-ear headphones. But they're lightweight and relatively comfortable for on-ear headphones and sound decent for the money. These do have a companion app, so you can upgrade the firmware and customize their sound (there are some EQ settings to play around with). Battery life is rated at up to 40 hours, and the headphones work just fine as a headset for making calls (they work well, just not exceptionally so).

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