Headphones Buying Guide
The explosion of MP3 players and smartphones has turned headphones into an absolute must-have accessory. You probably rely on them to ease the boredom of your morning commute, to keep pace while you exercise, or to follow the on-field action when you’re watching live sport.
The breadth of experience that headphones now offer is stunning. But with choice can come a hefty amount of confusion. What type of headphone is right for me? What features do I need? How much should I spend?
In order to answer these questions, let’s learn a little bit more about the latest in headphone tech.
Types of headphones
There is perhaps a surprising amount of choice available to audiophiles in how sound is delivered to their ears. There are five main types of headphones:
Over-ear headphones: Completely encapsulating your ear, the over-ear style is the only choice for audiophiles. They are by far the best at blocking outside sound, and allow you to truly immerse yourself in the music. However the lack of awareness that this can create might be a drawback in certain situations, as is the bulkiness of the style.
On-ear headphones: With a soft pad that sits on the outer border of your ear, on ear headphones are an incredibly comfortable choice, while maintaining terrific sound quality. While there’ll be some exterior sound leakage, unlike over-ear headphones they allow your ear to breathe, and some models can fold down quite compactly. On-ears are also a very stylish option.
Earbuds: The most common type of headphone, earbuds are the style that you’ll commonly see supplied with a new phone or music player. They rest at the opening of the ear canal, producing the lowest quality sound of all our options. There is generally a lack of bass and plenty of sound leakage, but they are budget-friendly and particularly easy to transport.
In-ear earphones: In-ear earphones are placed within the ear canal, sealing it off completely. This allows for a far crisper audio experience when compared to earbuds, even generating reasonable amounts of bass. Earphones usually come with a variety of differently sized silicon cushions to allow you to find the ideal fit. Relatively economical and easily transportable, the main drawback is that extended wear can cause discomfort.
Sport: Designed to physically grip onto the outer ear, sport headphones - generally available in on-ear and in-ear styles - feature a plastic clip that grips the ear, allowing you to run, jump and in some cases even swim without interrupting your listening experience. Purpose-built for exercise, these styles perhaps aren’t as comfortable to wear for extended inactive periods (on the train ride home, for example.)
Before you go shopping for your perfect pair, it’s wise to think about what you want from your headphones, and how you’ll be using them. Ask yourself:
Am I going to be using my headphones for exercise? If so, you’ll need something light and firm fitting.
Will I be using my headphones while travelling? In that case a more compact design may be a wiser choice.
How important is sound quality to me? Over-ear headphones or in-ear earphones traditionally offer better quality sound and greater noise cancelling ability.
Which devices will I be using my headphones with? Many headphones now come with a remote control built into the lead – this needs to be compatible with your device in order to work.
What’s my budget? Deciding the amount of points you’re willing to spend before you go shopping will ensure that you don’t instantly fall in love with the most expensive pair in the store!
If pure sound quality is your only concern, then over-ear headphones are by far your best choice. Generally speaking the more you spend, the more accurately the sound will be reproduced.
Humans are able to pick up sound within the range of 20Hz – 20,000Hz. Some top-end headphones, however, will offer an audio range that stretches lower than 20Hz; this produces sound which is no longer heard, but instead felt. This can add another layer to the listening experience, and die-hard music lovers may find it worth the extra points spend.
Useful features and accessories
Once you’ve decided which style of headphone best suits you, consider whether these added features will enhance the functionality of your choice.
Wireless: Sick of untangling your headphone lead or catching it on door handles? Bluetooth-enabled headphones are the answer, although sound quality can be down, and you will need to remember to charge them.
Noise cancellation: If you want to truly tune out, choose an over-ear or in-ear model that has active noise cancellation technology (this analyses exterior sound, and produces soundwaves to nullify it.)
Remote control: Usually a few simple buttons placed on the lead, remote controls allow you to change volume and skip through tracks without digging out your device.
Hard case: Travellers may be wise to invest in a hard case to avoid damage.
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