Over Ear: Over ear headphones - often called "full size" headphones - are fairly large and will fit around the entire ear on most wearers. Many of the world's best headphones are the over ear type.
Properly called circumaural, meaning "around the ear," full size over ear headphones are what people traditionally picture when headphones are mentioned. Over ear headphones may be open-back, closed-back (sealed), noise-cancelling, and wireless types. Many big over ear headphones are easy to drive and will reach a satisfactory volume from a smartphone or tablet. Some high-end audiophile over ear headphones will sound better with a dedicated headphone amplifier.
On Ear: Sometimes referred to as "Earpad" headphones, on-ear designs are one of the most common headphone types due to a very wide array of styles and prices.
On Ear / earpad headphones have earpieces that rest on the ear. Some have pads that sit directly on the ear, while others have earcups that look almost like full size headphones, but still rest on the outer part of the earlobes. Generally, on ear headphones can be lower in cost, but they appear in all price ranges. A few on ear headphones can sound as good as some over ear/full size headphones at a similar cost.
On Ear headphones are available in open, closed, and noise-cancelling types. They usually have a normal headband and some fold for more compact transport or storage. Closed back/sealed on ear headphones can isolate from some ambient noise, but typically not quite as well as full size closed headphones due to their smaller earcup dimensions.
In Ear: In ear headphones offer the most ambient noise isolation [noise blocking] of any headphone type.
In ear headphones (also called in-ear monitors, IEMs or earphones) are miniaturized headphones that fit into and 'seal' the ear canal much like earplugs. In ear headphones can sound significantly clearer than traditional over ear or on ear headphones at the same price, and work well with any device. Smartphone owners: check our microphone headset in-ear selection if wanting take phone calls too. In ear headphones are commonly used by performers and musicians to monitor sound mixes, thus minimizing feedback issues from loud stage monitors while isolating the artist or mixer from distracting audience noise.
Some in-ear headphones fit deep into the ear canal and thus provide the best isolation and reduction of ambient noise. Some fit shallower into the ear delivering less but still solid noise-blocking ability. It may be counter-intuitive, but in-ear headphones help to ensure lower listening levels - they block out ambient noise so thoroughly, you won't have to turn the music up loud just to overcome noisy listening environments.
Most in-ears come with a variety of different sizes/types of eartips. It's important to try all the provided eartips to find the set that works best for your ears. To get good bass response from any in-ear headphone, it is CRITICAL that you have a tight eartip seal within your ear canal.
Earbud: Everyone knows earbuds are convenient, but is there such a thing as good sounding earbuds? Earbuds are the small headphones that commonly come with portable devices. They seat in the concha (the cupped area around the ear canal in the center of your outer ear) and are usually highly efficient to work with smartphones or tablets. Many earbuds sound less than stellar and, because of their small dimensions and no seal in the ear canal, earbuds are often woefully lacking in bass.
Clip-On: Cool little headphones that clip to your ears, typically geared for active use and sport activities. Clip-on headphones attach to the flap of your ear (pinna) with a small hooks or ear stays. Despite their appearance, clip-on headphones can sound decent and feel secure and comfortable to wear. Clip-on headphones are good for outdoor sports activities because they do not seal the ear so you can hear ambient noise in your surroundings - provided you don't play your music too loud. They can also be worn under most bicycle, skating and some ski or snowboard helmets.
In our next Headphone 101 series, we'll be discussing the various feature sets of headphones. Hope to catch you on the other side!