5 Things To Consider When Buying Headphones

What Type Of Headphone Best Fits Your Needs?

On-Ear? Around-The-Ear? In-Ear? There are several types of headphones and earphones available for purchase, each with its own set of pros and cons. As with some things in life, some of the best benefits raise issues for other aspects. Take for instance, open back headphones. They are generally know for a superior, more airy and “open” sound than their closed-back equivalents. The flip side is that their tendency to leak sound outward makes them more of a public nuisance and more annoying than the red stapler guy in an office setting. In-Ears most often offer the best isolation (inward and outward) but their tendency to close off the sound into your ear canal sometimes makes for the least natural sound of personal listening options. As with many things tech, convince will play a big part in the decision, as will portability.

Comfort, Comfort, Comfort.

While the first things many enthusiasts jump to is sound quality, one cannot overlook the importance of wearable comfort. After all, you will be adorning your melon with the product for extended periods of time. In the case of more traditional headphones, bigger, deeper ear cups are usually better, but many other variables do contribute to comfort. What is the overarching suspension system like? What is the clamping pressure on the head? From my experience around-the-ear (Circumaural) tend to be just a little more lenient than on-the-ear (Supraaural) in this department, but exceptions do exist. Just know that there is a higher risk of discomfort with the latter category, if the shape of the ear pad happens to hit your ear in a odd way. And for full size headphones, don’t forget to check the depth of the internal cavity of the ear cup as well as the size. While it is somewhat rare, a few headphones have hit the market that allow the internal material to press up against the ear, which does have an adverse effect on comfort over time.

How much to pay?

Sometimes you get what you pay for, and as such, quite frequently you will find that more expensive headphones yield better quality. Most tiers show noticeable improvement along $100, $300, $1000 price breaks, but always keep in mind their is brutal yet uncompromising sliding scale of diminishing returns on quality in audio. The general saying in HiFi is that it takes exponentially more money to reach the top 10% of sound quality. The same holds true for headphones. If you are reaching for the best, then your wallet should be prepared to pay for it. Fortunately for most very good headphones can be found at every tier of cost, although I wouldn’t recommend paying less than $100 for any serious endeavor.

 

Its all about that bass.

After all the lead-in on sound quality finds its place, the first (and usually most noticeable) make-it-or-break it evaluator is bass quantity. This is separate entity from quality in subjective terms, but tends to still vary quite a bit from headphone to headphone, especially in the $100-$300 categories. The effect evens out quite a bit in the more luxury categories as designers tend to push closer to a more neutral or “flat” response. Bass is not only affected by the amount of boost, but in certain scenarios its even emphasized in different areas anywhere south of the mid tones. Your preference may align with your favorite musical genre or your taste for the low end in general, but remember that even flat sounding headphones can be capable of bringing the gusto if the source material calls for it.

Bluetooth?

While many efforts are being made to bring the technology up to its wired counterparts in terms of sound quality, there are far fewer good sounding wireless headphones than there are wired in the current headphone climate. If the incremental benefits at the limits of fidelity are not your main concern then a wireless option may serve you very well. This all may change very quickly in the next few years, as mobile phones move to more waterproof designs. Some new bluetooth headphones along with the wireless codex aptX, do sound very good their own right but odds are you can find a better wired headphone for around the same price. This doesn’t speak to the convenience of the technology however. As any in-ear enthusiast will tell you, it is quite jarring to have an earphone pulled out of your ears when the wire get caught on something.

  • Alan R. Christilaw

    I have no clue why an open is given a pass to always sound superior. Headphones don’t “image”, headphones are about immersion. Comfort is first. Can’t spend more than an hour on (or in) the head? Doesn’t qualify. The most important “component” is synergy and association with other gear. You don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy music.