A quick guide to headphones... Over-Ear? On-Ear? ANC? TWS? - By Luusama
Over-Ear vs On-Ear
Over-ear headphones simply mean they are built to go over your ears. By going around the ear, these create a seal around them leading to a passive noise canceling experience, as the materials of the headphones physically block out some noise.
Over-ear cans usually have ample padding — generally memory foam on higher-end options — that create a comfortable experience. The plushness allows the headphones to rest softly around the ear. Also, the hardware setup in over-ear cans are often a bit more powerful thanks to more physical space to work with, though sound quality will be similar across a manufacturer’s fleet of headphones.
The core difference between over-ear and on-ear, though, is noise leakage and retention. Over-ear headphones allow you to keep the noise in and block some noise out. On-ear cans simply rest on the ear itself, so it’s more common to have whatever you’re rocking out to leak out a bit. There’s also not much passive noise canceling with on-ear.
While shopping for over-ear headphones, you’ll obviously want to look at some of the crucial aspects — namely battery life, connectivity, and sound quality — but a comfortable design is also important, as these headphones are built with the aim of blocking you off a bit from the world. You’ll also want the padding to make sure these don’t apply too much pressure to your face or head either.
As we’ve already hinted at, on-ear headphones simply rest on your ears. Padding and comfort levels are crucial with these headphones as they can add a lot of pressure to your ears and head. And as a result, these generally perform better with people with smaller heads.
The sound experience with on-ear headphones won’t have any passive noise cancelation out of the box. Since the earcups don’t create a seal around the ear, but rather rest on it (generally with a circular design), the sound won’t be blocked out and generally leaks out a bit at higher listening volumes. It’s a trade-off, but generally, these don’t look as bulky and are a bit cheaper.
Noise-canceling headphones (also known as ANC headphones)
When it comes to ANC headphones, you get your pick. ANC or Active Noise Cancellation is essentially a microphone-powered experience that blocks out environmental noises, leading to a kind of vacuum-like listening experience. ANC headphones can fall anywhere on the spectrum — on-ear, over-ear, or true wireless earbuds.
In addition to the ability to block out the world around you, many of these feature a transparency mode, which pumps in some sound like conversations and other lower-end sounds. This allows the user a more immersive listening experience coupled with the ability to hear what’s going on around them — perfect for when you’re walking around to hear traffic and the like.
True wireless (TWS)
When you look at the chapters of personal audio listening, you first had wired earbuds. Then Bluetooth earbuds that had a cord connecting the left and right earbuds. And then someone thought of a way to cut the cord completely, ushering in true wireless earbuds.
Depending on the design, some earbuds will sit flush in your ear while others wrap around the ear with a hook, and some others will stick out a bit with stems. The latter is likely the most iconic design that Apple ushered in with AirPods. It also got us on the track of these just work.
While these pack a smaller design than headphones, there are plenty of true wireless earbuds that pack a considerable punch.When picking a pair for yourself, you’ll likely want something that plays nice with all devices, but also one that adds some magic for your most-used device. Equally as important is the design, after all these sit in your ear and you’ll want something that won’t fall out but is still comfortable.