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Do you know somebody who doesn’t have at least one pair of headphones? Probably not, especially if that person uses a smartphone. Headphone use is widely spread all over the planet and at least once in our lives, we get to the point where we want to buy headphones so that we can listen to music when commuting, traveling, working out, etc. Headphones are used in many professions by musicians, radio presenters but they can also be used by ordinary people who work in crowded places and want to work in peace.
Although we have numerous kinds of headphones on the market we still have problems finding the perfect pair for ourselves. The wider choice should make the process easier but this is true only in theory. In reality, we spend too much time searching for the new pair of headphones. This can be caused by the fact that there are so many different and attractive models of headphones with different useful features but it can also mean that we are quite unsystematic or that we don’t plan our purchases.
Because of all the previously mentioned reasons, we have decided to write this article and help you plan the whole process. We are going to tell you what are the most important things you should pay attention to before making the final choice. Stay with us and we guarantee you a fast and successful purchase.
The Most Important Steps to Follow When Choosing New Headphones
Think about the budget you have
We are not sure how many people even think about the price before they start searching for some product. Somehow, we manage to spend a lot of time just checking the ads for the products we can’t afford because they look good. Well, this is wrong. Why do we waste our time on reading about the products we won’t buy? Maybe we like to fantasize about having them but this time could be spent on some quality activities like working out, walking, having fun with our friends or family.
This is why we strongly recommend defining the budget limitations even before you start searching for your new headphones. You should define the lowest price that, in your opinion, ensures at least the basic quality of the product as well as the highest price that you are able or simply willing to spend on a pair of headphones. After that, you simply filter your search list and cut the search time in half. Doesn’t it sound better? This could make your search last only a few hours tops instead of a few days.
Don’t forget there are many types of headphones
The first model that you see in an online store is not the best you can buy. There are many models of headphones out there and if you dig a bit deeper, you will be surprised with the things you can find. They are often not even expensive and they offer many useful features for the money. You get to choose the size, the weight, shape, and features but you have to think carefully about the models that would fit you best. In the text below we will present all the basic types of headphones along with their differences, advantages, and disadvantages.
Full-size, on-ear headphones or earbuds
When they say “headphones”, different people usually think about different types of headphones. They are all called headphones but they are grouped by size and shape into three main groups: full-size (over-ear) and in-ear (earbuds) headphones.
Over-ear headphones are the largest headphones on the market and usually the heaviest ones. Their main characteristic is that their cups are so large and spacious that they cover human ear completely. They go around the ear protecting you from the great part of the ambient noise. Most of them have thick padding on their extendable headband and thick cushions on the cups. If they aren’t too heavy, they can be quite comfortable. They are also the safest type of headphones because they don’t go into our ear canal nor they lay on the ears. They go around the ear leaving enough space and causing less pain and pressure.
On-ear headphones are also quite large but definitely smaller than over-ear headphones. They also have extendable, thickly padded headbands but their cups are relatively small as they are supposed to lay on our ears. This way they isolate us from a certain amount of ambient noise, they sound good but they can put more pressure on ears than over-ear headphones because they lay on the edges of our ears so it is normal to feel pressure in this situation. However, thanks to their size, they can be much lighter than over-ear headphones.
Earbuds (in-ear headphones), as their own name says, are inserted in the ear canal (in fact, the tips on their housings are inserted into the ear canal), which implies they are much smaller than the previously mentioned types of headphones. They are extremely lightweight, easily transported in a pocket or bag and always near when you need them. They provide a decent amount of noise isolation considering the fact that they are inserted in the ear canal, which means they physically close the canal and isolate the noise. They are widely popular and they can be found in many different colors, designs, etc.
Open, semi-open and closed
By the cup design, headphones can be divided into three groups: open, semi-open and closed-back headphones.
Open-back headphones are full-size headphones with specifically designed cups that have mesh or grill on the front side of the cups. Through the holes, we can see the drivers and the inside of the cups. This also means the sound can both enter and go outside the headphones, which makes them great for indoor listening and quite bad for outdoor use because you will be able to hear almost all the noise around you. These headphones deliver specific kind of sound as it reminds us of the music coming from a home speaker.
Semi-open headphones have partially opened cups but they are more similar to open-back than closed-back headphones. They are made mostly for indoor and professional use.
Closed-back headphones have completely closed cups with a piece of plastic or metal. This makes them able to isolate you from a great part of the ambient noise and leak less noise because of the cup design.
Wired or wireless (Bluetooth)
We have decided to pay attention to these two types of headphones because many people are trying to avoid cable use as much as possible.
Wired headphones still deliver better sound than wireless and, so far, no matter how much the technology has developed, Bluetooth is not powerful enough to ensure the same sound quality as wires can. This is mainly caused by the file compression that can’t be avoided whenever we are using Bluetooth technology.
On the other hand, Bluetooth headphones ensure increased mobility because you can do other things while listening to music without annoying cables disturbing you. They also make headphone transport and outdoor use much easier because you don’t have to worry about tangled cables in your bag or pocket. They are more stylish and modern, and this is why so many people love them.
Bluetooth headphones have limited signal range and battery life. This also limits your movements and the time you spend using the headphones. Wired headphones limit your movements with the cable length and their time of use is limited to your phone battery life.
Noise-cancelling and noise-isolating headphones
Noise cancellation is a very important feature because it can save you from many hearing problems and annoying ambient noise. Noise cancellation prevents turning up the volume to the max and keeps your ears healthy. There are two types of noise cancellation and we will explain them thoroughly.
Active noise cancellation is actually a technology that eliminates ambient noise by creating sound waves opposite to the sound waves coming from the outside world. They exclude each other inside your cups and, as the result, you hear almost no ambient noise. This technology enables you to enjoy your music no matter where you are (in the streets, on a bus, etc.) and keep the volume at a reasonable level.
Passive noise cancellation (noise isolation) is not a technology. It is more like the physical ability of your headphones to shut out a certain amount of ambient noise thank to their cup design. Full-size and on-ear headphones have large cups that cover the whole ear or most of it, while the earbuds are inserted deep into the ear canal.
ANC headphones are better but they are usually much more expensive than the noise-reduction headphones. However, they are prone to deliver strange hissing sounds usually when the music is off or rarely even when the music is on.
Define the headphones’ main purpose
By defining when, how and where you will be using your new headphones, you will make the search process much easier because you will know exactly what kind of headphones you need. If you are constantly in action, you probably want Bluetooth closed-back ANC headphones (maybe even earbuds because of their light weight and ease of use) while semi-open or open-back wired full-size headphones would come in handy in a studio.
Analyze headphones’ specifications
Specs are usually found on the back of the headphone packaging and many people forget to read them before and after the purchase because they don’t know they hide the biggest secret. Specs are usually listed even in the online ads, so there are no excuses for not reading them.
Frequency range is the range of frequencies your headphones can deliver. Human ear can hear frequencies from 20Hz to 20kHz. If your headphones have wider range, it means they are great but you won’t be able to register the frequencies that go beyond the previously mentioned ones.
Impedance refers to the amount of electrical signal that goes through your headphones and it is measured in Ohms. Low-impedance headphones will require less power for normal performance than the high-impedance headphones. This is why the low-impedance headphones are preferable for everyday casual use while the high-impedance headphones are used by professionals in studios.
Sensitivity is measured in dB and it refers to the headphone loudness. More decibels mean louder headphones. However, be careful because volumes higher than 85 dB can be devastating for your hearing.
Try the headphones out before you buy them
In the end, there is the last advice – try the headphones before you buy them. We don’t doubt most of the sellers and manufacturers send you exactly what they advertise but if you have an audio equipment store in your neighborhood, take a walk and try some models. This is the best way to find out if certain headphones really fit you.
Hello, my name is James Longman.
I’m a writer and editor at AudioReputation. I disassembled my first portable AM/FM radio when I was only 8. At the age of 11, I burned the circuit board on my old boombox cassette player. I’m not going to explain how but it was reckless and stupid.
Since then, I have become much more careful around radios, boomboxes, and other audio devices (at least, I like to think so) but I have never lost the passion for audio equipment. Throughout 20 years of my professional career, I’ve been working for various audio equipment manufacturers and even started building speakers on my own in my little workshop.
I love the work we do here at AudioReputation. Testing, comparing, and evaluating all kinds of audio devices (speakers, soundbars, headphones, home theater systems, etc.) is something I truly enjoy. I try to be unbiased and give you my honest opinion on every piece of equipment I test. Still, you should take my reviews with a pinch of salt and always be just a little bit skeptical. The fact that I liked some speaker or soundbar doesn’t mean that you are going to love it. If you have the opportunity, you should test it/hear it before buying it.