Headphones Buying Guide: 8 Things to Consider Before Buying Headphones

With the multitude of headphones that are available on the market, it can be hard deciding on one that suits your personal preferences and needs. If you’re not very tech-savvy or have little experience in choosing headphones, the specs and jargon included on a headphones’ product spec sheet can be intimidating and confusing. Lucky for you, we’ve come up with a list of the most important things you need to know to before choosing a pair of headphones.

Headphones Buying Guide

Top 8 Things to Consider Before Buying Headphones!

1. Over-Ear

Also known as circumaural headphones, over-ear headphones go over your whole ear. Due to their bigger size, they come with larger drivers that boost bass sounds and produce louder audio. As they cover your entire ear, these headphones are also good at isolating noise. However, this also makes over-ear headphones less comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. Furthermore, they tend to be a bit bulky which makes them less convenient to bring around.

2. In-Ears

In-ear headphones, or monitors, are the smallest of all the various types of headphones. Each earbud can be fitted inside your ear canal and is equipped with small drivers. Because they are placed near your eardrum, in-ear headphones offer a superb audio experience and great noise isolation. Finding the right-sized in-ear headphones tip is important as ill-fitted ones fall out easily. Listening to music with a tip that’s too big or small for your ear canal can also affect audio performance and quality as well.

3. On-Ear

On-ear headphones, sometimes called supra-aural headphones, sit on top of the ear. As they don’t encase the entire ear or fit directly in the ear canal, on-ear headphones aren’t very good for noise isolation. On-ear headphones are also prone to sound leakage which may disturb those around you. Nevertheless, on-ear headphones still deliver good audio quality and are more comfortable compared to in-ear headphones. If you choose to get on-ear headphones, find one that fits properly. It can get pretty uncomfortable if you wear on-ear headphones that are too tight.

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4. Open and Closed Back

You may have come across the terms ‘open-back’ and ‘closed-back’ headphones. ‘Open-back’ headphones have open earcups while ‘closed-back’ headphones have sealed ones. The main difference between these two types of headphones have to do with noise isolation and sound leakage. Choosing between the two depends on your preference. If you’re looking for headphones that block out external noise, go for ‘closed-back’ headphones. However, if you don’t mind some ambient noise or are planning to use your headphones mostly in private, ‘open-back’ headphones may be more suitable.

5. Drivers

Headphone drivers are responsible for turning electrical signals into sound. Arguably the most important part of any pair of headphones, drivers are made up of 3 components — voice coils, magnets, and a diaphragm. Drivers are usually disc-shaped but come in various sizes to fit different types of headphones.

If you come across the word ‘driver’ when reading information about a pair of headphones, it refers to the diaphragm’s diameter in millimeters. Usually, larger drivers are known to produce better audio quality and bass sounds. As a reference, try to look for on-ear headphones that have a driver that’s 40mm or bigger.

In-ear headphones don’t have large drivers due to their small size. Instead, most in-ear headphones come with two separate drivers — one for mid and high frequencies and the other for bass frequencies.

6. Impedance

Impedance is another feature that’s included on most headphones’ spec sheet. It’s basically a measurement of how resistant a pair of headphones is to electrical current. The higher the impedance, the more power is required while using the headphones. Headphones with low-impedance are usually paired with smartphones while those with high-impedance are typically meant for professional use.

It is important to consider what audio source you’re going to pair your headphones with before choosing a model. If you purchase high-impedance headphones and use them with your smartphone, any audio played might sound very soft. Likewise, you could damage your low-impedance headphones if you pair them with an amplifier.

7. Sensitivity and Sound Pressure Level

You may see the terms sensitivity and sound pressure level (SPL) used interchangeably on a headphone spec sheet. They’re used by headphone developers or manufacturers to show how loud a pair of headphones are at a specific audio level. For example, if a pair of headphones has higher sensitivity, the audio it produces at a specific level will be louder compared to another pair of headphones that has a lower sensitivity.

One thing to note is sensitivity may not be very useful when comparing two different models of headphones, especially if the two headphones you’re comparing come from different manufacturers. This is because there isn’t a universal scale that’s used to measure headphone sensitivity. Bose, for example, may measure sensitivity differently than Sony. Thus, sensitivity shouldn’t be a deciding factor when you’re choosing a pair of headphones.

8. Noise Cancellation

Noise-canceling headphones work by using electronic processing to analyze ambient sounds. Inverse soundwaves are then generated to cancel out external noise. However, contrary to popular belief, noise-canceling headphones can’t cancel out all sounds. They’re great for reducing low-frequency sounds but aren’t as effective with sounds that have higher frequencies. That’s why you may notice that while you may not hear the hum of the airplane engine while you’re on a flight, you’ll still be able to hear the screaming baby in the cabin.

Noise-canceling headphones tend to be on the pricer side as they come with extra electronics to block out unwanted noise. It’s also very difficult to determine how well a pair of headphones can cancel noise by looking at its spec sheet alone. The only way to determine whether it’s good at canceling noise is to test it out for yourself.

Conclusion:

Understanding headphones’ specs and terminology may be challenging, even for most audiophiles. It takes time and research to understand what every specification and value on a headphones spec sheet means. But don’t be disheartened. Now that you’ve read a bit about the different features of a headphone and picked up some jargon, you’re better equipped to choose a pair of headphones that fits your personal preferences and needs.

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TechGlobeX: Headphones Buying Guide: 8 Things to Consider Before Buying Headphones
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