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On-Ear vs. Over-Ear vs. Earbuds: What to Wear Exercising

Navigating the vast selection of headphones with top-notch sound quality for workouts can be daunting. Choosing between on-ear, over-ear, or earbuds for your gym routine is a significant decision.

I’ve worn a lot of them, especially during workouts, so I’m well aware of the advantages and disadvantages of each.

This article jumps into the specifics of workout headphones, comparing their suitability for different exercises. What’s perfect for intense cardio may not suit a yoga session. Whether you’re a seasoned gym-goer or a beginner, this guide aims to help you find the ideal headphones for your workout needs.

On-Ear vs. Over-Ear vs. Earbuds: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to workout headphones, there are three main types to consider: on-ear, over-ear, and earbuds. Each type has its own features and benefits, so let’s take a closer look at what sets them apart.

On-Ear Headphones

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If you’re looking for a way to wear headphones and jam out on the go without feeling like a giant spaceship surrounds your ears or something is in them, on-ear headphones might be for you.

These sleek and often colorful headphones sit snugly on top of your ears, held in place by a usually pretty comfortable headband that lightly grips your temple. They’re light and compact, so you can easily toss them in your bag or purse and go about your day. Plus, they’re super breathable, so you don’t have to worry about them getting all nasty when you sweat on your morning run.

Remember, though, that you might not be able to fully tune out ambient noise from the outside world with these bad boys, and they might get a little uncomfortable if you’re rocking them for extended listening sessions (something we will discuss later in the article).

Over-Ear Headphones

Introducing over-ear headphones, the on-ear headphones’ slightly bigger (and usually heavier) brother.

These headphones offer some serious sound quality and noise isolation compared to their on-ear counterparts thanks to completely covering your ears (hence the name), so you can immerse yourself in the audio world of whatever you’re listening to. Plus, they tend to be more comfortable for more extended periods of use – which is important if you’re going to be wearing them for hours on end.

The downside? They can be a little bulky and less portable than on-ear headphones, but if you don’t mind carrying them around, they can be a great investment in your listening pleasure. Just remember there are plenty of styles of over-ear models to choose from, whether you want something classic and understated or bold and flashy.


Check out our article where I ranked the best over-ear headphones for working out on Amazon HERE.

Wired or Wireless Earbuds

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These pint-sized headphones pack a punch, sliding effortlessly into your ear canal and easily offering up all your favorite jams. Whether you prefer to keep things tethered with a trusty wire or go wireless for true freedom, an earbud option is right for you.

Slip them in your pocket or slip them on for your morning jog – either way, earbuds are the perfect companion for any active lifestyle. Just be warned: while they may be compact and comfy, they may not deliver the same audiophile experience as their larger counterparts.

And if you’re not a fan of the in-ear sensation, you might want to look for something a little roomier. All in all, though, earbuds are a great choice for anyone who’s always on the go – so why not try a pair today?

Comparing the Features of Each Type of Headphone

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When it comes to the best headphone features, many of these questions will be answered by a person’s specific needs, personal preferences, requirements, and personal goals. But, we still want to discuss how the main features of each of the three types of headphones compare to each other.

So, let’s answer a few basic questions so that you can more easily figure out which is the right type of workout headphones for you.

Which Sound Better?

So many headphones are now equipped with great features such as active noise cancellation, which helps to eliminate background noise, unwanted sound, and outside noise. These noise-canceling features, combined with the ever-increasing levels of bass response and EQ, make all three of these types of headphones formidable opponents to each other.

However, the design of each type actually plays a very important part in which sounds better. For example, because the on-ear models don’t seal the ear completely, it’s possible that outside noise can be heard easier than over-the-ear headphones, which completely and oversized ear cups cover the entire ear, or earbuds, which fit directly into the ear canal and reduces unnecessary ambient noise.

Which is More Comfortable?

When considering comfort, each type of headphone has its unique advantages and disadvantages.

Over-ear headphones tend to be bulkier and heavier. While I appreciate the heft and size for stability, some might find them too cumbersome.

Earbuds are a lightweight option that can feel almost imperceptible when worn. The key is finding a pair that fits snugly without causing discomfort inside the ear. A well-fitted pair offers the advantage of being unobtrusive, though a too-tight fit can be irritating.

On-ear headphones strike a balance between the two, typically being lighter and more compact than over-ear models without the risk of inner ear discomfort. While they may not match the sound quality of other types, their overall comfort makes them a standout choice in this category.

Which is More Portable?

Portability is a no-brainer as to which set of headphones gets the nod: the in-ear headphones. First, most earbuds come with a carrying case that also doubles as a portable charger, so in case you run out of battery life while on the go, you have a quick way to recharge.

But, they are also quite small and light, easy to throw in your pants or jacket pocket and carry around. Of course, losing small headphones is more dangerous, but that’s for a different article.

Which Has a Longer Battery Life?

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Hours of battery life is a bit harder to judge “which is the best” because battery life tends to have more to do with how much a person uses the headphones rather than the battery itself.

Most of the new headphones have excellent battery life with plenty of hours of listening available, and having used all three types of headphones, I can tell you that they will be quite similar in this regard.

Which Headphones Look the Coolest?

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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so this is tough to answer.

For those who are really into their appearance at the gym (I’m raising my hand over here, too), then the style of the headphones, along with the colors, might be something you want to learn about.

All I can say is this: no one will see your earbuds and on-ear headphones look almost the exact same as over-ear headphones.

Remember, some over-ear and on-ear headphones don’t come in various color options, so you may need to shop around a bit for the color you want if black isn’t in the cards for you.

What Are the Price Differences?

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This might surprise many people, but when it comes to pricing between the headphone models, there isn’t any specific leaning one way or another towards any specific design.

You can find all three types priced at all sorts of different price points. So when doing your shopping on Amazon (don’t forget about their free shipping with Amazon Prime) or whoever you shop, specifically targeting a design because you think it will be easier on the pocketbook won’t work. There are pricey brands and options for each and budget headphones for each.

Features to Consider In Your Workout Headphones

Wireless Headphones vs. Wired Headphones

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Wireless headphones are gaining popularity for workouts due to their numerous benefits over wired options.

Comfort: Wireless headphones offer greater freedom of movement, eliminating the risk of getting tangled in cords. This enhances workout enjoyment and focus. They’re also designed for a secure fit, which is important during high-intensity activities.

Safety: Wireless headphones do not have cords, which reduces the risk of accidents, such as getting caught on equipment or tripping, enhancing workout safety.

Convenience: The cordless design simplifies exercise transitions. Built-in controls for volume, track selection, and calls add to their convenience.

Active Noise Cancellation (ANC): ANC technology in headphones helps block out gym noise, creating a more focused environment. It works by using microphones to counteract ambient noise. While it doesn’t eliminate all external sounds, it significantly improves the listening experience during workouts.

Bass Boost: Some headphones, like the Beats Studio3 Wireless Over-Ear Headphones, offer bass-boosting features for those who prefer intense bass. This enhances the auditory experience, especially during energetic workouts.

Different Exercises Might Fit Different Headphones

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When looking to make a headphones purchase, what types of exercise or working out do you do? And, based on what we discussed above concerning the features of each, what kind of headphones would work best for you?

For example, the over-ear headphones are heavier and bigger than other options, so they might not be a good option for you when going for a run (even though I use them for that, some might not want that weight).

If you are doing CrossFit or HIIT cardio with a lot of quick movements, over-ear headphones or on-ear headphones might not be what you want for the risk they could fly off your head.

So when it comes time to figure out which pair of headphones is right for you, consider the pros and cons of each and what you want to use them for.

Why Headphones Are So Important to Gym Goers

On-Ear vs. Over-Ear vs. Earbuds: Best Headphones for Working Out

When it comes to working out, many exercise enthusiasts and gym-goers consider a good pair of headphones more than just a luxury; they are an absolute necessity.

But why are headphones so important when exercising? There are three main reasons for this. Those reasons are

  1. Motivation: Music isn’t just good for your ears; it’s good for your body too. Listening to your favorite tunes or motivational speeches allows you to easily push through the toughest of workouts, increase your endurance, and even boost your mood. Athletes have been relying on music for ages to get into the zone and perform at their best. So throw on some high-energy pop or pump-up hip-hop, and let the music push you to the next level.

  2. Focus: Are you tired of feeling like you’re in the middle of a circus while working out? Don’t let the clanking of weights, horrible house music, and the chit-chat of fellow gym rats derail your fitness goals. By blocking out external noise with some headphones, you’ll be able to fully engage with your workout routine, crush your personal records, and come out feeling like a boss.

  3. Looks: While the functionality of headphones is important, many people also consider their appearance when choosing a pair. For some, a good-looking set of headphones is a practical accessory and a fashion statement. Whether you prefer sleek and minimalistic earbuds or bold and colorful over-ear headphones, there’s no shortage of stylish options on the market.

Whether you’re motivated by music, need to stay focused, or want to look good while working out, the right pair of headphones can make all the difference. In the following sections, we’ll explore the pros and cons of different types of headphones to help you find the perfect fit for your workout routine.

Final Thoughts on Over-Ear vs. On-Ear vs. Earbuds

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There are various options for finding the best headphones for working out. Each type of headphone offers its benefits and drawbacks, from the compact and comfortable on-ear headphones to the immersive sound of over-ear headphones and earbuds’ portability.

However, the right pair of headphones should ultimately be chosen based on the individual’s needs, preferences, and budget. Whether you’re motivated by music, must stay focused, or want to look good while working out, the right pair of headphones can make all the difference.

So, before making your purchase, consider your specific workout needs and preferences to ensure that you choose the right headphones for you.

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