In Ear, On-Ear, or Over Ear Headphones – Which is the Best?

Not every headphone is exactly right for your own requirements, because the differences between the different types of headphones are enormous. We explain what types of headphones there are and what advantages and disadvantages they have.

Thanks to modern streaming services such as Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz, Deezer and its peers, as well as high-performance smartphones, listening to music on the go is easier than ever. Whether on the subway, on the plane or in the gym, most people now enjoy music (almost) everywhere. But headphones are also omnipresent at home, on stage and in the recording studio. But headphones are not the same as headphones – the musician has completely different demands than the athlete, the connoisseur or the commuter. It is important to know the differences to find the right headphones for your own purposes.


In-Ear On-Ear or Over-Ear Headphones What types of headphones are there?

There are two different headphone designs.

First, the design distinguishes between shell headphones with a headband to which the earcups are attached, and earbuds placed directly in the ear. All headphone types are also available with Bluetooth,i.e. in wireless variants and Active Noise Cancelling.


Shell headphones are the classics

Shell headphones are the classics

When people think of headphones, they will immediately see a shell headphone with a headband in front of the inner eye – this design is the “classic” type of headphones. The shell headphones are divided into two subspecies, namely over-ear and on-ear cops. There are three different types of constructions for both types of headphones that have a massive effect on the sound.

The Onkyo A800 is an open headphone with a permeable backplate.

Open headphones are designed so that the sound generated in the headphones can also penetrate outwards through a permeable rear panel. The sound is usually a little more natural and plastic than with closed headphones.

Since they are not shielded both externally and internally, they are especially suitable for enjoying music in peace at home and mixing and mastering in the recording studio. In addition to the sound, open headphones have the advantage that good heat exchange occurs and that you keep a cool head even during long listening sessions. Open headphones are not recommended if you want to listen concentrated in noisy surroundings or feel harassed by the music.

The Meze 99 Classics is a closed headphone. Its headphone shell is made of wood throughout.

Closed headphones are designed so that they do not allow sound to the outside or inside. Closed headphones are ideal for use on the go or in the recording room of a recording studio. Due to the closed air volume inside the headphone shell, a little more pressure is built up in the bass area, so that closed headphones are often perceived as slightly more bass-stronger than the open version. The sound is usually a little less plastic than with open headphones because the sound cannot unfold so freely. A disadvantage of closed headphones is the lack of heat exchange on the ear, which allows it to become slightly warm under the headphone shells with long hearing, depending on the model.

Semi-open headphones want to offer the best of both worlds as a medium-sized thing, i.e. shield incessant to the outside rather than open headphones, but at the same time enable a little more heat exchange than the closed models. To achieve this, insulation materials are usually used within an actually open construction.


Over-ear headphones are popular at home and in the studio

Over-ear headphones

The Hifiman HE1000 V2 is an over-ear headphone with extra-large headphone shells.

With over-ear headphones, also called ear-enclosing headphones, the headphone shells completely enclose the ear. This type of headphones is generally perceived as very comfortable, as the cushions do not touch the ear in the best case, but are attached to the head. Due to the size of the headphone shells, they are often slightly heavier than on-ear headphones. Besides, over-ear headphones are usually a bit more unwieldy overall and therefore only partially suitable for travel. They are often used for music enjoyment at home and in recording studios, where a comfortable seat is required for long periods of time. Sound-like, they have long been considered the non plus ultra, because the space between the ear and headphone shell provides plenty of room for sound development – especially for open over-ear headphones. However, there are also models in the in-ear and on-ear sector that can match the sound of good over-ear headphones.


On-ear headphones are a good choice on the go and for DJs

On-ear headphones

The headphone shells of the on-ear headphone Audeze Sine are on the ear. On-ear headphones, also known as ear-mounted headphones, had been out of fashion for a while, but have been making a comeback for a few years. In this type of headphone, the headphone shells are on the ear. In general, the sound of on-ear headphones is slightly less plastic than the ear-enclosing version, because the sound can spread less. Some people find on-ears a little more uncomfortable on the ear due to the slight pressure on the ear than the over-ear version. Depending on the ear, on-ear headphones can also sit slightly looser than ear-enclosing models. They are usually lighter, more compact and often even foldable. This makes on-ears perfect for those looking for ironing headphones on the go. They are also often used as a portable tool of DJs because they can be easily removed from the head and fit well into the DJ case.


Earphones are handy when .travelling

Earbuds inserted directly on or into the ear canal are widely used because they are extremely light and fit into any pocket. In addition to the very cheap models, which are usually included with smartphones and MP3 players, there are also first-class high-end models. A distinction is made between in-ear headphones and



In-ear headphones are omnipresent.

In-ear headphones

In-ear headphones such as the RHA T20 are particularly secure in the ear.

In-ear headphones are the type of headphone you see most often on the go for various reasons: the usually very compact earbuds are inserted directly into the ear canal. As a result, they are very tight and suitable for use in sports, for example. To offer an optimal fit, various silicone and sometimes foam upholstery are usually supplied. Also, the shielding to the outside is excellent due to the closed ear canal. However, they are therefore less suitable for road traffic, because ambient noise is hardly noticeable with in-ears. However, there are also special forms here, which penetrate easily into the ear canal, but in principle rather sit like buttons in the ear and shield a little less. The best-known example is probably Apple’s EarPods or wireless AirPods.


Earbuds are comfortable but a little bass-poor

Earbuds are comfortable but a little bass-poor

Earbuds are rarely seen today, although many people find them very comfortable.

Whereas Earbuds used to be very widespread, as they were with almost every phone and MP3 player (for example, the white earphones that Apple supplied to its iPods), they are more likely to have outsider status headphone users these days.

Since Earbuds aren’t as tight in the ear as in-ears, they deliver significantly weaker bass reproduction than any other headphone type. When it comes to sports, they have the disadvantage of falling out of the ear a little more easily than in-ear headphones.

An advantage is that earbuds are much better suited in road traffic than in-ear headphones, as more outside noise penetrates. They are also perceived by many as a little more comfortable in the wearing feeling, as they do not penetrate the ear canal.



The different types of headphones all have clear advantages and disadvantages. Knowing them, it is easy to find the right headphones for your own wishes. For example, if you want slightly dusty ironing headphones that allow you to relax on the subway on your way to work, you are well-advised with closed on-ear headphones with Active Noise Cancelling, if you want to switch off properly while playing sports, it should be a light, firmly seated in-ear headphones. If you like to listen to music in the best quality at home in the evening, a comfortable open over-ear headphone is the right choice. With this knowledge, finding optimal headphones is much easier.

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