The right pair of headphones can make or break your musical journey. They help improve the audio that comes from your media player, smartphone or gaming device, so you’ll want to make sure you’ve got the right sound and the right fit.
With so many styles to choose from, shopping for headphones can be more difficult than you might think. The two most important factors to consider are sound and fit: if your music doesn’t sound good, you probably won’t enjoy it as much, and if the headphones are too big or too small, then it’s unlikely that even great sound will make your experience better.
One way to determine which headphone style is right for you is simply by trying on as many as you can while listening to your tunes. Doing so will help you find what’s most comfortable and determine what sounds best. Before rushing out to your nearest Best Buy, it might help to consider what you’ll be using your headphones for so you can narrow down the types that are available.
Types of Headphones
Earbuds are the headphones that usually come packaged with your new music player. This type is inexpensive and lightweight, which is great for music listeners on the go. They’re designed to sit on the outside of your ear canal which can make them prone to falling out. Plus, they’re not ideal for blocking out sound and audio can often be “tinny” sounding.
Ideal for: People on-the-go, who aren’t too concerned about sound
To bring out the full potential of your digital tunes, in-ear headphones are a great choice. Typically, they’re more expensive than earbuds but are capable of producing powerful, bass-rich audio that can rival full-size headphones but without all the bulk. They’re designed to fit snugly in your ear canal, just like a pair of earplugs, which helps to block out external noise.
Ideal for: People on-the-go, who want to rock out while blocking out ambient noise
Supra-aural, or on-ear, headphones have earpads that sit on top of your ears as well as either a headband or behind-the-neck design. They are usually smaller and more lightweight than circumaural headphones, and offer high-quality sound with a design that won’t overheat your ears. Some models are also foldable making them completely portable. And with prices that span the entire spectrum from low to high, there’s a selection of styles for every budget.
Ideal for: Audio producers/monitors and audiophiles on the go
Circumaural, or over-ear, headphones are most commonly denoted by large pads that cover your entire ear. They’re designed to fully seal against your head and effectively block out external noise, while large drivers deliver pristine highs and lows, and deep, head-rattling bass. These bulky beasts are also outfitted with a beefier cord, and are typically at the higher end of the price range.
Ideal for: Gamers, DJs, and audio producers/monitors
Open and closed back designs
On-ear and over-ear headphones can also be broken down into two types of earcups:
Open-back headphones have the back of the earcups open, which tend to leak sound out and let ambient sound in. However, they are known for producing crisp audio that sounds natural with a spacious soundscape that gives you a more speaker-like feeling.
Closed-back headphones have the back of the earcups closed, which helps to block out external noise. And while they also offer incredible sound reproduction, this closed design creates a smaller soundscape so sound feels like it’s coming from within your head.
Features to Consider
Active noise-cancelling is a battery-powered technology in some in-ear and over-ear headphone models. By using built-in microphones and electronic circuitry, it can create an “anti-noise” signal that stops outside noise from getting in. Headphones with this technology are perfect for when you’re on the bus, at the library, or anywhere you want to listen with uninterrupted bliss.
The great thing about noise-cancelling headphones is that they can also help reduce ear fatigue, since you can listen to your audio at lower levels. Even low-level detail will be heard with pristine clarity. Keep in mind though that anti-noise can often create a pressure feeling (think of how it feels when you’re on an airplane) that might be uncomfortable for some people.
1. Ambient sound (plane, bus, car, etc.)
2. Built-in mic and electronic circuitry pick up sound
3. "Anti-noise" is created
4. Noise-cancellation occurs
When you want the freedom to move around without being tethered to your device, wireless headphones might be your best match. Most models feature radio frequency (RF) transmission and a recharging base station, so you can enjoy your movies, games and music without bothering others from up to 30 feet away or more.
Control and Talk
With smartphones slowly becoming the go-anywhere, do-everything device, headphone manufacturers have responded with headphones that let you make and take calls. So no matter where you are, when a call comes in your music will automatically pause so you can manage your calls with a microphone and handy controls that are built right into the cable.
Sport and Fitness
Ideal for anyone who likes to work out to a beat, sport and fitness headphones are the perfect companion. Most feature an in-ear design that’s sure to stay put no matter how much you move, while other models offer a durable, water-tight construction so you can run in the rain or work up a serious sweat without worry.
Frequency response, usually listed in Hertz (Hz), is the range of sound that headphones can play. The human ear is sensitive to a frequency range of 20Hz to 20KHz, so the ideal pair should reproduce as much of this range as possible for the most realistic sound.
Magnet type, also known as the "driver", is most often comprised of neodymium or ferrite. When an audio current is passed through a moving coil driver the coil reacts against the magnets in order to move air and produce sound.
Impedance, usually measured in Ohms, denotes how much power your headphones can handle. Typically the lower the impedance, the easier it is to get a higher volume from a standard headphone jack. Keep in mind though, that this isn’t a guarantee and other factors can still limit loudness potential.
Cord Length is usually measured in metres, and while it might not seem like something you should consider, it is an important factor. Think about how you’ll be using your headphones; a cord that’s too long will need to be repeatedly wound up and unravelled, while one that’s too short might keep getting yanked out of your ears every time you move.
A 3.5mm to ¼-inch adapter will give you the option to use your headphones with everything from an iPod to your home theatre setup. Most high-end audio receivers feature a ¼-inch headphone input, so if you want to listen, you’ll want to find a pair that comes with an adapter or pick one up separately.
A splitter will give you the power to share your audio with anyone who wants to listen. No more sharing one set of earbuds between two people; a splitter lets two or more headphones get connected and enjoy audio from a single device.