What is difference between on-ear, over-ear, and in-ear headphones?

One of the most popular devices used in today’s day and age is headphones. Since it is so very liberating and amazing to immerse ourselves into the world of music to escape the hustle-bustle of life, a good pair of headphones have not only become important but also a game-changer.

This is where knowing the different types of headphones and choosing the right one for yourself comes into play. With the vast range of headphones available in the markets these days, it can be tough to zero down on a good pair of headphones.

Thus, one needs to learn the specifics, pros, and cons of each type. In this article, we bring to you the differences between on-ear, in-ear, and over-the-ear headphones. Before we compare them and discuss their pros and cons, let’s delve deeper into their definitions.

Difference Between On-Ear, Over-Ear And In-Ear Headphones

On-ear headphones

What is On-ear headphones

These kinds of headphones are the most popular kind of headphones used by people these days. Also, these headphones are small in size which makes them compact and easy to carry around, especially if you are someone who stays on the go.

Easy to store in compact locations that their other counterparts, on-ear headphones work by not completely covering the ears and instead by sitting directly on your ear, as the name suggests. They have very excellent and high sound quality without you having to halt a conversation with others.

On-ear headphones are the ultimate choice when it comes to balancing all your listening needs without having to compromise on the portability or quality of the audio.

Over-the-ear headphones

What is Over-ear headphones

Over-the-ear headphones work by staying on top of your ears, covering them whole, as the name suggests. These kinds of headphones are super popular among audiophiles and they have a big and chunky appearance.

This bulky build of these headphones makes these headphones not very travel-friendly. They are not meant for people on the go or who are not a fan of engaging with bulky devices for a long period of time.

However, these headphones are the most comfortable, give excellent sound quality, and are highly reliable. By covering your entire ear and part of your skull by pressing against it, these headphones give the maximum immersive experience to listeners.

It is easier to block out the world with and the additional comfort is just the cherry on top of the cake!

In-ear headphones

What is In-ear headphones

These types of headphones are also called earbuds or earpods or AirPods or earphones or other names. However, they work by staying inside your ear canal and play music loud enough for the ear to pick it up but not leak out into the surroundings.

They are perhaps the most common type of listening devices used these days as they are super portable and compact. As for sound quality, it depends on the money you spend on it as they are available in a range of sound qualities for everyone.

These headphones come in a charging case usually if they are wireless and a wire if they are connected via wires. Today, these are a must-have accessory for traveling and comfort purposes, and almost everyone awns a pair of these.

Now that we know the basic definitions of each type of headphones, let us compare these types of headphones on a more detailed level. Just knowing how they work is not enough knowledge to make a decision.

Comparing on-ear headphones, over-the-ear headphones and in-ear headphones in terms of:


The level of comfort offered by a pair of headphones is measured by the pair’s ability to provide a pleasant listening experience to the listener but physically. This ensures that the listener does not experience any aches or soreness in their body due to the device.

Comfort is subjective and varies from user to user. However, there is enough consensus that over-ear headphones are the most comfortable headphones out there. Being easy to wear with a lot of padding that feels comfortable and gentle on even the most sensitive ears, these headphones are great.

In-ear headphones apply pressure on the ears and can even fall off while on-ear headphones are moderately comfortable and can also put pressure on the outer ears, causing fatigue.


Portability is the ease of a device to be carried around with you when you are on the go. It also refers to the device’s storage and volume of space the device occupies. The smaller and lighter the device, the more portable it is.

In terms of headphones, over-the-ear headphones are the least portable due to their bulky sizes and heavy padding which make them not very easy to carry around. In-ear headphones, on the other hand, are the most portable headphones as they come in tiny sizes.

However, wired in-ear headphones are not usually preferred by people as the long wires tend to get tangled up when they are stored in small spaces. As for on-ear headphones, they are moderately portable as they are not as bulky as over-ear headphones but also not as lightweight as in-ear ones.

Noise isolation

This is the ability of a pair of headphones to cut out background noises so as to isolate you from the outside distractions. They do so by canceling out ambient noises that can distract you by seeping into the audio you are listening to.

In-ear headphones provide the most passive noise isolation via the seal that helps in blocking high frequencies but they cannot provide active noise cancellation. Also, with passive noise cancellation, the earphones might not be very comfortable to wear for longer periods of time.

After in-ear headphones, over-ear headphones provide the best noise isolation. This is as the extra padding helps in effective sound absorption as well. On-ear headphones, however, fail at providing a good sealed in environment for listening.

Sound leakage

Sound leakage refers to the sound that escapes from the seals of the device you are listening to the audio on. This sound is audible to people around you and is bad as it can distract them at high volumes and create a nuisance.

In this area, in-ear headphones perform the best. There is minimal sound leakage due to the sealed-in feature these headphones have. They also have small drivers that do not allow sound to travel very far away.

Over-ear headphones provide moderate leakage of sound at loud volumes due to their big drivers but on-ear headphones provide the maximum leakage. What you have to keep in mind is that the design of the headphones greatly affects the noise isolation capabilities.

Sound quality

This aspect is the most important when it comes to listening devices. Sound quality depends on a lot of things and does not really have any connection to the type of headphones you choose. It depends on the model, quality of drivers, and other things irrespective of the type.

A good and expensive pair of earphones will have better sound quality than a cheap over-ear headphone and vice versa. However, that is not to say that the design of headphones does affect the soundstage and frequency response which are also an important part of the listening experience as a whole.

Since open-back headphones no matter whether they are over-ear or on-ear have more space for soundstage, they provide a better quality of sound than in-ear headphones due to bigger driver space.

Battery life

Some people might assume that since over-ear headphones are bulkier and larger, they would have better battery life. However, this is not the case entirely. These headphones require a lot of power to operate so even if they come with better batteries, it gets used up.

Thus, on-ear headphones last longer generally. But if both types of headphones’ active noise cancellation are turned off, they stand at par with each other in terms of battery life. You usually get 20 hours of playback time which is pretty good but the volume level also impacts the battery life.

As for in-ear earbuds, they usually come with 5-7 hrs of playback which could last more after you charge it via the case they come in. If they are expensive, they might last longer.

Wireless facilities

Bluetooth headphones are all the rage these days as no one wants the hassles wires to bring along with them, especially people who stay on the go due to their busy lifestyles. Wireless earphones have become highly popular and almost everyone owns a pair due to their excellent portability.

Headphones, be it on-ear or over-ear, allow more movement and flexibility when they are wireless so if you hate wires, go for wireless headphones for more mobility.

So, which type of headphone wins the game?

This is a very grey area and depends largely on the needs of the customer more than anything else. If the listener wants a very portable listening device that also fits in the ear comfortably then they will definitely go for in-ear headphones as there is no other choice.

Listeners who want a comfortable fit and do not mind the large size of headphones can go for over-ear headphones with improved noise isolation. On the other hand, listeners preferring a comfortable as well as compact device will go for on-ear headphones.

Some best on-ear headphones

  1. Jabra Elite 45h
  2. Status Audio BT One
  3. Marshal Major III headphones
  4. JBL T460BT Wireless On-Ear Headphones
  5. Fire-Boltt Blast 1200 On-Ear Wireless Bluetooth Headphones

Some best over-the-ear headphones

  1. Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Over-Ear Professional Studio Monitor Headphones
  2. Tribit Wireless Bluetooth Headphones
  3. Sennheiser HD 280 PRO ideal Over-Ear Headphones 
  4. OneOdio Over Ear Headphone, Wired Bass Headsets 
  5. boAt Rockerz 550 Over-Ear Wireless Headphone 

Some best in-ear headphones

  1. boAt BassHeads 225 in-ear headphones
  2. JBL C200SI Super Deep Bass in-ear headphones
  3. Realme Buds 2 in-ear headphones
  4.  Sony MDR-XB55AP wired in-ear headphones
  5. Sennheiser C X 180 in-ear headphones

Now that we know a lot about on-ear, over-the-ear, and in-ear headphones, we are sure that it is easier for you to make a decision as to which one suits your needs. Remember, purpose and budget are equally important before you buy anything. We hope this article helped!

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Mayank Patel Author At Gadgetrates

About Mayank Patel

Mayank is a tech product expert at GadgetsRates. He is frequently written about computers, laptops, smartphones, and other gadgets.

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