Best on-ear headphones 2019: 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. And with Black Friday around the corner, it’s a good time to be keeping an eye out for bargains.

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

2. 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 wireless headphones 2019: the best Bluetooth headphones you can buy

3. AKG N60NC Wireless

Attractive portable noise-cancellers with a punchy, balanced sound.

SPECIFICATIONS

Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Battery life: 30hr | Charging: Micro USB | Built-in mic and controls: Yes

Reasons to Buy

Clear, punchy sound

Musical; balanced

Smart design

Reasons to Avoid

Nothing of note

One of the most compact and convenient pairs of noise-cancelling headphones we’ve ever tested, the AKG N60 NCs deliver a superb performance for the money. They’re a good-looking pair of on-ears with an excellent fit. Battery life is 15 hours with the noise-cancelling and Bluetooth engaged and this ramps up to 30 hours when the noise-cancelling is turned off.

Bass delivery is powerful yet transparent with crisp, detailed vocals, soaring highs and convincing dynamics. You’d be perfectly content to wear these all day and for the money, they’re extremely tough to beat.

Read the full review: AKG N60NC Wireless

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 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

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

(Image credit: Eric Jones at Jones Studio Ltd)

8. Grado GW100

Open-backed and wireless? Sounds like an odd combination but it works

SPECIFICATIONS

Style: open-backed | Cable length: No | Wireless: Yes | Noise-cancelling: No | In-line remote and mic: No | Connector: No | Weight: 170g

Reasons to Buy

Fast and exciting sound

Great with rhythms

Excellent detail

Reasons to Avoid

Open-back design means plenty of sound leakage

No isolation from environment

The combination of wireless headphones and an open-backed design doesn’t sound too clever, and there are times when we’re out and about with Grado’s GW100s that they don’t make sense.

Yet, away from planes, trains and cars we’re impressed by the GW100’s excellent sound. They’re more articulate and insightful than just about any closed alternative. If you can cope with the open-back compromises there’s just so much to like here.

Read the full review: Grado GW100

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

(Image credit: Beyerdynamic)

9. Beyerdynamic Amiron

Premium priced headphones that have an exceptional sound to match

SPECIFICATIONS

Style: open-backed | Cable length: 3.0m | Wireless: No | Noise-cancelling: No | In-line remote and mic: No | Connector: 3.5mm | Weight: 340g

Reasons to Buy

Neutral and detail presentation

Expressive dynamics

Subtle bass

Comfort

Reasons to Avoid

If price isn’t an issue, nothing

Beyerdynamic’s Amirons aren’t the kind of headphones that grab your attention on a short listen, but give them a bit of time and their impressive transparency and resolution is sure to please.

They’re comfortable too, with nicely-judged earpads and sensible weight. You’ll need a good quality source and recordings to hear them at their best though, so don’t be tempted to skimp. 

Read the full review: Beyerdynamic Amiron

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Best Bluetooth headphones

Best over-ear headphones

Best in-ear headphones