Not many people are aware of the on-ear vs. over-ear headphones debate, but today for those who were scratching their head like we were for a while, we wanted to help out. Choosing which headphones to buy can be a daunting and personal experience. It’s an investment in both time and money, attempting to get exactly what you want. With so many different brands, colors, styles and options to choose from, it’s very easy to lose yourself in all of the fancy commercials and ads. In our context today, the type of headphones you’ll be looking at will definitely be a decision you come across, and aside from budget, is in our opinion the most important factor when sifting through the rubble, aside from perhaps being more knowledgeable on headphones specifications. Once you’ve established you don’t need in-ears or earbuds, you’re most likely going to find yourself looking for the traditional ear cups and headband headphones. In even more detail, the on-ear vs. over-ear headphones debate will now be important to know about.
The difference between over-ear and on-ear headphones?
On-ear headphones are a relatively popular style of headphone. They are smaller in size compared to their larger over-ear counterparts, and literally press against your ears. The small compact design can be easily stowed in a purse or backpack. They don’t completely cover the ear however, and this comes in handy when you want to have high quality sound, combined with the ability to carry on a conversation with people around you.
Over-ear headphones are the old reliable. They cover your entire ear and press against your skull, offering a complete, immersive experience. As the outside world melts away, you can simply close your eyes be transported to wherever you want to go. Over-ear headphones are usually much larger than on-ear headphones, and this can create logistical problems when transporting them from place to place. Although larger, they offer comfort that is difficult to match with on-ear headphones.
Wired or Wireless, Which is Better?
On-ear Bluetooth headphones or over-ear Bluetooth headphones is essentially the same debate as what this entire article is about. Both styles offer wired and wireless models. This is really a personal preference decision. The wireless style offers mobility, and with today’s Bluetooth technology, gives you freedom that your parents and grandparents could only dream of when they were young. This freedom, like all freedom, comes at a price. Wireless can be somewhat buggy at times. In the modern households of today, where there are several wireless devices with several people attached to those devices, accidents happen. While you’re listening to your favorite song or audiobook, and just reaching the crescendo or dramatic story point, it suddenly cuts out. A sibling or child, who has been trying to connect their wireless device, have found your headphones on the list, and mistakenly selected it. While this is a minor inconvenience, it still points out one of the limitations of wireless technology.
As for the wired headphones, it’s as straightforward as it gets, plug it in and listen. However, you will be limited to the few feet the wire will allow you to travel. Not to mention, never having to charge them. Besides, nowadays with so many companies offering wireless headphones that you can also plug in, the choice really is yours, many times depending on your budget.
What are the Pros of On-Ear Headphones?
To begin with, sound quality of on-ear headphones is only limited by your budget. If you want noise cancelling, deep bass, full frequency response sound, you can have it. If you want true surround sound, you can have it. Noise cancelling for on-ear headphones has finally caught up to the over-ear style of headphones. With recharge capabilities through a USB plug, the music never has to stop, and you can drown out the ambient sounds of the world as you focus on your homework or just relax. The on-ear style is very comfortable and lightweight, with the ability to fold up and be tucked away neatly in a bag or backpack. The fit is snug and won’t slide off of your head on a windy day.
They come in a variety of styles and the ear pads are typically either faux leather or velour. Actual leather or lambskin is an option, but that is a personal and budget decision. Velour ear pads are soft and spongy, which means you can wear them for hours. The faux leather ear pads have a very natural feel, and you can almost forget you have them on. Not to mention, they are quite durable. On-ear headphones offer the portability and convenience to go wherever you desire, and bring great sound with you. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a train or plane, in the local coffee house or studying at the library. If you’re an “on the go” person, and always need to pack up and leave in a hurry, on-ear headphones might be a good choice for you.
What are the Cons of On-Ear Headphones?
What on-ear headphones give you in comfort and portability, they also take away in comfort and portability. The smaller size of on-ear headphones means that you can hide them almost anywhere, which is great, until you forget where you put them. Being an “on the go” type of person means you don’t have time to go searching around for them when you have to be at the airport in an hour. The ear pads are comfortable for a short duration, but when you have been sitting on a plane for 5 hours, having that hard plastic with thin foam pressing on your ears is really going to catch up with you. Going to the gym with these can also create some problems. Although they may stay on your head, when they get saturated with sweat they tend to start slipping off your ears. That might not be such a big deal when you’re on the treadmill, but having them start to slide off when you’ve got a few hundred pounds on your shoulders can be distracting, and who really wants to be distracted at that moment.
Durability is also one of the hallmarks of on-ear headphones. Depending on your budget, the low-end versions and even some of the mid-range can easily snap above the ear, leaving you with the options of buying a new pair, or breaking out the duct tape. Wiring on this type of headphone is also hit and miss. The ability to fold them up and put them in your bag also means that the wiring will be stretched a bit every time you do. After a while the wires may break or fray inside, turning them from headphones to headphone.
What are the Pros of Over-Ear Headphones?
With over-ear headphones, comfort is a big factor. They cover the entire ear, and can be worn for hours on end. Long trips and grinding gaming sessions are a breeze with over-ear headphones. The larger size of the big, soft ear pads also means that you are completely immersed in whatever it is you are listening to. Most models offer 7.1 Dolby surround sound, so you can easily hear the distant explosions behind you in your favorite movie, or the footsteps on your enemies sneaking up behind you in your favorite game. The noise cancelling ability of over-ear headphones is also a big plus. After all, the screaming baby in the row in front of you doesn’t care if you’ve had a long day. Over-ear headphones also offer open back styles. This means that your ears won’t be covered with sweat and your hair won’t look like you just ran a marathon when you take them off. You can read our closed-back vs. open-back headphones article if you’re set with over-ear and need further guidance when it comes to the “back” design.
Over-ear headphones also offer something else that is convenient, they are incredibly difficult to lose track of. Durability is not a huge concern with over-ear headphones. With actual leather or lambskin ear pads, they should last a very long time. The wiring is usually thick, and won’t snap or fray if they get pulled on as you stand up and walk away. Your laptop or desktop however, may not be as lucky. In days past, over-ear headphones had a long cord, some as long as 15 feet, so you could wander around your room and still listen to your tunes. That was great, but you always had to be wary of tripping over the cord. Nowadays with Bluetooth wireless headphones, you can practically go outside and still not lose your signal to your device.
What are the Cons of Over-Ear Headphones?
Aside from the obvious (their large size), over-ear headphones are not exactly travel friendly. They will take up a lot of space in your carry-on, hand bag or backpack. Closed-back ear pads have a tendency to become very hot and sweaty when worn for long periods of time. Some styles of over-ear headphones only come with a 3.5” plug, leaving you out in the cold when your device only accepts USB, and vice versa. The fact that they are built like tanks means that the faux leather or velour ear pads will tend to wear out long before the headphones do. This will leave you in a situation where little flakes of fake leather, or tiny balls of velour can end up stuck to your face. The full coverage of your ears may also be a problem if someone is trying to get your attention. Looking down at your phone while you’re crossing the street is a good example.
On-Ear vs. Over-Ear Headphones Final Word
Ultimately, it all depends on your lifestyle. Both on-ear and over-ear headphones offer premium sound at an affordable price. If you’re an “on the go” person, portability might be just what you need. If you’re at home just relaxing or playing games, over-ear headphones may just do the trick. With Bluetooth, noise cancelling and surround sound available for both types of headphones, the decision really comes down to how much you want to spend.