What kind of headphones do you want?

Headphones cover a wide range of different shapes and sizes, with different connection types and features. The most basic breakdown of headphones includes over-ear headphones, on-ear headphones, in-ears, and true wireless earbuds. We cover the pros and cons of each headset type, and where we think they should be used to help narrow your search.

the ultimate headphones buying guide over ear headphones

Over-ear headphones

Over-ear headphones are the largest of the headphone types. Over-ear headphones are probably what you think of when someone says “headphones”.

Why should you get over-ear headphones?

Due to their size, over-ear headphones have an easier job reproducing accurate sounds. Large drivers, which make the sound, can move more air at once. This means loud, clear bass notes which is something that smaller headsets like earbuds struggle with.

Over-ear headphones also do a better job of making more audio space, colloquially referred to as “soundscape”. The way the ear pads rest around the ear means that the sound waves hit your ears and use their natural shape to funnel the soundwaves down to your ear canal. This is how we’re used to experiencing sound, and it helps to create a more open sound.

Another advantage of the larger size: greater comfort and better battery life than smaller options. The  ear cups distribute weight more comfortably around the ear, and across the headband.

Why you might not want over-ear headphones

Although the size makes for much better sound quality and battery life, it also makes them less portable. Headphones take up a lot more room in your bag than a pair of wired or true wireless earbuds, and they can’t quite fold down the same way as on-ears can.

Check out these lists of our favourite over-ear headphones:

the ultimate headphones buying guide on ear headphones

On-ear headphones

Another popular type of headphone are on-ear headphones. Unlike over-ear headphones, these sit directly on top of your ears.

Why should you get on-ear headphones?

On-ear headphones are great for listeners who want many of the benefits of over-ear headphones, without all the larger size. On-ears are still not as pocketable as in-ear headphones or true wireless headphones, but they typically collapse and fold for better storage.

Why you might not want on-ear headphones

Sound isolation (the ability to block out background sounds) is difficult for on-ear headphones. Generally, the better the sound isolation, the better the quality of the music is.

Even though they’re smaller and easier to carry in a bag than over-ear headphones, they’re still not as convenient as earbuds and true wireless headphones.

Check out some of our favourite on-ear headphones:

the ultimate headphones buying guide earbuds and in ear monitors


An audio mainstay. Every MP3 player and early smartphone used to come with a pair of wired earbuds to get you started.

Why should you get earbuds?

Wired or wireless earbuds are incredibly portable. You can shove them into a pocket or purse and go about your day. Sound isolation is typically very good with earbuds, unlike on-ear headphones, as they seal to the ear. The silicone or memory foam ear tips create a tight seal that blocks out background sounds, and when fitted properly, it can be almost as effective as some noise-cancelling options.

A good pair of earbuds is easy to find on almost any budget.

Wireless earbuds are ideal for fitness lovers. There are plenty of earbuds that feature water and sweat proof ratings, which is a must-have for the gym and outdoor workouts. Another benefit of earbuds: they’re affordable.

Why you might not want earbuds

Cables break—whether it was you or your pet—and earbuds don’t come with replacements.

Good sound is harder, but not impossible, when it comes to the small size of in-ear headphones.

Check out these lists of our favourite earbuds:

the ultimate headphones buying guide true wireless earbuds

True wireless earbuds

Like in-ear headphones, true wireless headphones rest in your ear, and are extremely portable. These are the newest entry for personal audio, and generally the smallest.

Why should you get true wireless earbuds?

True wireless earbuds are the most portable option available. All models include a case that doubles as a charger for the earbuds, offering all-day battery life in most cases. Since they’re wire-free, they’re perfect for athletes.

True wireless earbuds offer plenty of user control—you can usually reconfigure the touch or button controls—to make them yours.

Why you might not want true wireless earphones

True wireless earphones don’t offer the best battery life, on their own. Most earbuds fall somewhere between 4-6 hours of battery before you have to charge them, but as we mentioned above you can use the case to keep them topped up when you’re not using them.

Check out these lists of our favourite true wireless earbuds: