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You may wonder how the circumaural vs. over-ear headphones debate stacks up if you’re shopping for premium headphones. After all, your headphone design affects how sound waves travel through your ear canal. For example, top-rated over-ear headphones offer excellent sound quality and passive noise isolation due to cup-shaped earpads. So, if you’re curious about the circumaural vs. over-ear headphone debate, stick around.
Aside from volume levels and sound quality, users in the market for headphones should consider noise cancellation effects. An over-ear pair of headphones should offer passive noise isolation, but comparing over-ear headphones vs. earbuds should illuminate how they limit external noise.
Finding comfortable headphones is important, but different ear designs might offer varying health effects. Read our guide to in-ear vs. over-ear headphones’ health effects to learn which types of headphones offer the most benefits.
Pick full-size headphones with a padded and wide headband to stay comfortable while listening for extended periods.
Over-ear and circumaural models are both full-size headphones known for their larger size and potentially clunky form factor. These models limit background noise and distractions with large ear cups covering the ear completely. Both models provide larger audio drivers than in-canal phones, but they are clunkier headphones than earbud models.
Over-ear and circumaural headphones both provide a decent audio soundscape due to the tight seal around a user’s ear. Both models should offer larger drivers than earbud headphones, and you should enjoy extensive frequency ranges for music, podcasts, and audio dramas.
Either headphone type should provide acceptable noise cancelation because of the tight seal of the ear pads. That said, circumaural headphones typically offer active noise cancelation that blocks background noise with built-in microphones.
Closed-back models with complete noise isolation aren’t a good idea for driving or walking through the city because you will not hear oncoming traffic and dangers.
Circumaural headphones usually feature ellipsoid earpads with thicker foam than general over-ear models. While either type of headphone can provide a comfortable form factor, circumaural models typically offer thicker headbands and better adjustment features.
Unless you choose a foldable design, neither model is particularly portable compared to wireless earbuds. That said, you can find lightweight models in either over-ear or circumaural designs.
STAT: A 2019 Noise Health survey found that the preferred listening level for circumaural headphone models was 73 decibels. (source)