On-ear vs Over-Ear Headphones: What Is The Difference?

One of the most popular tech gadgets that people of all ages enjoy using is headphones. I mean you can see them everywhere, in schools, malls, cafes, in the park, in your commute by the bus in the morning—they’re literally everywhere. 

On-ear vs Over-ear headphones

But did you know that there are two types of headphones? Well embarrassingly, I didn’t. Until recently when I went out to buy one for myself to use for work a few months back. 

There are two choices when it comes to buying headphones and our topic for today is all about the On-ear vs Over-ear headphones: What is the difference? We’re going to answer all that and settle the real score between them. 


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On-ear vs Over-Ear Headphones: What is the Difference?

Originally, headphones were simple and utilized as an auditory device without sophisticated circuitry, and were first manufactured by the US Navy. 

A set of small speakers used to listen to audio from a desktop, media player, or other electronic device is known as headphones. It used to be made up of two speakers, one for each ear, attached by a band around the head. 

Headphones now allow users to listen to music and converse from any place at any time which makes them convenient and great for privacy reasons as you don’t have to force everyone in the room with you to hear what you’re listening to. 

The use of headphones in education helps emphasize learning as it helps students focus more and help enrich their overall educational experience—better hearing means better learning as well. 

And it’s not just the students, teachers can greatly benefit from headphones too because with online learning being implemented teachers can take advantage of headphones to help them hear their students better and for students to hear them loud and clear and vice versa. 

There are 4 types of headphones: Over-Ear, On-Ear, Closed-Back, and Open-Back. All four have their advantages and disadvantages, but today we will differentiate and focus on the two most used types of headphones which are the Over-Ear and On-Ear Headphones.

1. Sound Quality

Sound quality is a subjective measure that can vary from person to person, but there are rather some factors that are generally agreed upon.

In contrast, it’s generally agreed upon that Over-ear headphones sound better than On-ear headphones due to the way they seal around the ears. Over-ear headphones also win when it comes to blocking external sounds.

So if you’re looking for something that offers the best possible sound experience whether it’s for listening or watching movies, your best bet would be the Over-ear headphones as they tend to have a better bass response and overall audio fidelity when compared to their on-ear counterparts.

Regardless of your preferences, it’s important to remember that while some brands may be known for high-quality sound reproduction (like JBL and Bose), others do not prioritize this aspect in their overall product design at all that why it’s important for you to do your research and thread through your options carefully before making the decision to purchase.

2. Comfortability

One of the most notable differences between Over-Ear Headphones and On-Ear Headphones is their comfortability when being used. Headphones that cover your ears are known as over-ear headphones, while headphones that rest on your ears are called On-ear headphones.

Over-Ear Headphones are larger compared to On-Ear Headphones, that is because they cover your whole ear. 

Thus, headphone manufacturers are able to add features such as foam pads on the rim of the earmuffs; this is to fully immerse the users to the Over-Ear Headphone’s most prominent feature of guaranteed no sound leaks and noise cancellation.

This is great especially if you really want to improve focus and increase your productivity as well. It also works as an ergonomic feature that users will be able to enjoy as the headphones will be able to sit comfortably on the ears. 

The only drawback is Over-ear headphones are much larger which might take up more space in your bag or workspace, and you might not hear others when they are calling you, so it’s good to mind that. 

On-Ear Headphones are relatively smaller compared to Over-Ear Headphones, and the earmuffs are not as big as Over-Ears that is why they can rest only on the ears. 

However, this is the On-Ear Headphones’ disadvantage, you can only use the headphones for a limited amount of time without your ears hurting. If you leave it for long enough, you will feel the strain on the ears and it may lead to uncomfortably.

The bottom line is if you’re only to use a headphone for a few hours and you would like something more compact and portable, it’s best to go for an On-ear headphone. 

But if your work requires you to wear headphones for 4-5 hours or for any period longer than that then the Over-Ear headphone is your best bet to avoid any pain from the ear muffs pressing onto your ears. 

3. Sound Leaks

Sound leaking refers to noise that can be heard outside of the area where we want it to be heard. Sound is captured in a contained setting with headphones, where it cannot escape outside and sound leakage is limited.

Over-Ear Headphones are capable of limiting sound leakage because they have big earmuffs to help contain it in a certain area, which is the user’s ears. 

Additionally, sound engineers have a lot of room to add bits and processors to make sounds sharper because of the standard size of headphones. Over-ear headphones are therefore the preferred choice for people who place a high value on sound quality. 

Audio from Over-Ear Headphones is more appreciated and maximized than in On-Ear Headphones.

The latter is prone when it comes to sound leaks. This is due to the small area of the earmuffs which have small gaps that the audio can leak through, resulting in other people hearing what you are listening to in your headphones.

Even though it is common for headphones to leak sounds, Over-Ear Headphones guarantee that no sounds will be leaked which may cause annoyance to other people. Moreover, users will be able to enjoy listening to better audio quality when using Over-Ear Headphones.

4. Portability

There are many scenarios in using headphones wherein portability is an important aspect when choosing headphones. 

And for teachers, portability is always a key factor in helping them choose what certain item they should go for when buying because we all know how full-packed a teacher’s bag is already and every bit of space is considered essential. 

They are widely used for activities, such as online teaching, watching movies, listening to music while working out, jogging, commuting, and other activities where a need for a headphone might arise. And that means you’ll be bringing them along with you most of the time.

The more portable headphones are, the smaller the volume they take up. Portable headphones usually contain hinges that allow them to be folded into a smaller size or tilting ear cups that lay flat to take up less space

Between the two On-ear headphones are more superior this round because the Over-ear headphones’ drawbacks stem from their enormous construction since they will always be bigger in size compared to On-ears. 

Over-ear headphones are also the heaviest of all headphones, so they may not be ideal for persons on the go. On the other hand, on-ear headphones are smaller in size and are made for people who always bring their headphones anywhere.

Although over-ear headphones are heavy, it does not mean that they cannot be brought anywhere. Some Over-ear headphones are sold with special cases to keep them safe and secured in your bag and for them to be kept neatly as well. 

5. Noise Cancellation

Noise cancellation allows you to listen to audio without having to crank up the volume. And this means you don’t have to turn up the volume and damage your ears just to clearly hear what you need to listen to even with persistent background noise present. 

This is very useful in the classroom especially for students in high noise classrooms as this will help them focus better and lessen the distractions when their task needs their sole attention uninterrupted. 

Noise cancellation features can also help alleviate jetlags and travel fatigue as they can help you sleep and rest more comfortably while flying as they reduce ear fatigue caused by long periods of noise from airplanes and trains. 

So if you’re a frequent flyer or traveler by train, this feature is definitely a must-have. 

Noise-canceling headphones improve the frequency ratio substantially higher than inactive noise-attenuating headphones and no headphones in the aviation environment, making it possible to hear crucial information such as safety alerts.

Over-Ear Headphones have the most potential to isolate incoming noise from the outside because it is designed to cover the whole ear with thick foam lining that helps block the noise. Add all the processing chips and bits, over-ear headphones are perfect for people who want to indulge themselves in what they are listening to without any disturbance.

Meanwhile, On-Ear Headphones are not designed to be noise-canceling. Although some are designed to be, there are still instances where outside noise can be heard through the headphones. 

But do not fret, since on-ear headphones are made for people who want to listen to audio output who still want to be aware of their surroundings, so it is a perfect headphone to use when you’re outside and still want to know what’s going on around you.

6. Effects On Your Hearing Capabilities

Did you know that prolonged use of headphones while listening to high volumes can take a toll on your health? Specifically your ear health. If not, then it’s high time for you to take action and know how to prevent damage to your ears when using headphones. 

Most audiologist recommends using headphones compared to earbuds as headphones provide a more appropriate distance making the sound travel farther and not directed to your eardrums, compared to earbuds that are directly prompted into your eardrums that can damage essential hair cells in your ear at a much higher rate. 

But which one of the two is better? The On-ear or the Over-ear headphone? Most audiologists recommend Over-ear headphones because of their design which increases the distance between the speaker of the headphones to your eardrum. 

And since most Over-ear headphones have better noise-canceling features you don’t have to raise the volume higher just to drown out external noises that can be distracting you during your listening. 

But On-ear headphones are still a great option if you prefer their portability and design as well, as long as you follow the rule of thumb which also applies to Over-ear headphones known as the 60-60 rule. 

Never use headphones for more than 60 minutes at a volume higher than 60%. It’s best if you can take a 5-minute break every 60 minutes if you really have to use headphones for longer periods of time. 

In Essence 

Both headphones have their pros and cons, it all boils down to personal preference. 

In my opinion, If I can, I would always go with the Over-ear headphones since it provides the best comfortability and noise cancellation which can help prevent damage to my ears when using headphones. 

But if I’m on the run and for people who are always on the go, then on-ear headphones are the perfect fit. 

Ultimately we all love using headphones, they’re convenient, fun, and super easy to use. Whichever one you pick just know how to use them responsibly and weigh the pros and cons to know which one is the best fit for you and your needs. 

Hope this helps! Au Revoir!