Page 1 – Open-Back vs Closed-Back Headphones
Page 2 – In-Ear, On-Ear and Over-The-Ear Headphones
Page 3 – Active Noise Cancellation and Wireless Headphones
Page 4 – About Headphone Impedance, Amplifiers and DACs

On this page, I’m going to explain the differences between in the ear headphones, on the ear headphones and over the ear headphones.

In-Ear Headphones

Also called earbuds.  Most people know these as the ones you get for free with your smartphone or portable music player.  And as everyone knows, these do not give you the most inspiring music experience.  However, you can buy ones of higher quality.  And some can even come close to rivaling their big brother.  Since they are very compact and lightweight, these are extremely useful for outdoor activities like jogging, running and biking.  They also provide great noise isolation, because you stick them in your ears.

General sound signature

Because of their size, they’ll have a hard time matching the sound quality of full-size headphones.  Although they can sound great, don’t expect a wide soundstage out of them.


Compact and lightweight they are ideal for most sports activities.  Great noise isolation.


Can cause discomfort over time and also not everyone likes the feel of something sticking in their ears.



Different in-ear models from Koss

On-Ear Headphones

The most used headphones out there!  And there’re plenty of reasons for this.   They are more portable and travel-friendly than over-the-ear headphones.  Some of them even have folding mechanisms.  They are very power efficient and can be used to their full potential with portable devices.  This means you don’t need a dedicated amp to drive these headphones.

Since people are wearing these outside, they have also become a fashion item.  Which means they are available in all kinds of colors and styles.  Probably the most known on-ear headphones come from Beats.

So what does on-ear mean?  Simply put, the ear cups will press against your ear.  Important to remember is that most on-ear headphones have a closed-back design.

General sound signature 

Due to the smaller ear cups, they’ll not have the biggest soundstage.  Can sound a little (or a lot; Beats) elevated in the bass area.  Which makes them great for certain genres of music (EDM, Hip Hop, R&B).  They are tuned like that by the manufacturer since most people tend to like a lot of bass.  However, this can compromise the rest of the sound signature: less detail, clarity and instrument separation.


Attractive, portable and travel-friendly makes it the best choice for people constantly on the move.


Can cause discomfort over time due to the ear cups pressing against the ears.



Bowers & Wilkins P3. Super comfortable headphones!

Over-The-Ear Headphones

The big brother of the on-ear headphones, the earcups seal around the ears.  They can be found equally with closed-back or open-back designs.  Generally speaking, they are not as portable and travel-friendly as their little brother, and should only be recommended for home listening.  Tend to use more power, so they may need a dedicated amp to sound their best.

General sound signature

Because of the larger ear cups, they can produce a more expansive and natural sound.  The extra size allows manufacturers to implement bigger and better drivers, which also increases the overall sound quality.


Can give the best sound quality and comfort of all headphones.


Really only useful for home listening.  May need a dedicated amp.


Sennheiser HD 800. Sennheiser’s flagship model!


Continue to Page 3 – Active Noise Cancellation and Wireless Headphones