I Want to Buy Headphones…?
Where to start
Headphones are a selfishly, personal device. They have lots of different uses and there are many different types. This time I’m going to demystify them to help you narrow down what suits your needs.
Headphones can be sorted into three main types: in-ear, on-ear and over-ear.
These types can be further categorised into open back, semi-open back and closed back. Open back allows sound to “leak” out while closed back will isolate it more.
There are wireless and cabled options available and there are headphones that have connectors for phones with built in microphones. There are benefits to all of these.
Noise Cancelling vs isolation: it’s worth mentioning that many people mistake over ear headphones as noise cancelling. While over ear headphones isolate the sound and naturally block out or reduce background noise that does not mean they’re noise cancelling. Noise cancelling is a technology that is built into a headphone and you have to activate it with a switch. What this does is basically reduce the background noise even further then normal.
In ear: They are small, discrete and light, they isolate sound well to the listener, they are easy to transport and are generally cost effective.
On ear: These are a smaller version of an over ear pair that sit on your ear. They give the listener the ability to still hear what is going on around them, as they don’t completely isolate the sound.
Over ear: These offer great isolation to the listener with a detailed sound quality.
Understanding Their Uses
It’s important to first ask yourself how you want to use your headphones. Here are typical sets of circumstances that are common.
Any type of headphones can be suitable for travelling as long as they are closed back, so others wont be affected. I would also chose a cabled option and buy the airline adapter so I can use it on a plane. Noise cancelling technology is also popular for travelling to help further block out engine and passenger noise.
Commute to work
I would suggest someone chose a closed back option because let’s face it no one likes “that guy” on the bus that is disturbing the peace. Wireless options and in ear are the popular choices for this scenario.
Sport or gym
In this case the lighter and less obtrusive the better. In ear headphones are very suitable for this as they are light, sweat resistant, durable and can be cable free. Just be cautious when running near cars as they isolate so well you may not hear them. If that’s the case a light set of on ears are better suited.
For general listening you should choose something based around what you want to use it with, durability, comfort and definitely how good they sound to you. It’s also common to have an option to answer calls and listen to music on your phone.
Recording studio or mixing and mastering headphones
Recording audio requires closed back over ear headphones that are detailed, light, and that isolate sound well. You don’t want sound (like a click track or music) to come out while you’re recording, as the microphone will pick that back up.
On the other hand mixing and mastering headphones are usually the opposite with open back over ear. It’s important that the sound is as accurate and detailed as possible without any coloration caused by the design of the headphones.
There is a need, to enhance TV audio for hearing impaired or to cut off the inbuilt TV speakers to reduce noise. This range of wireless over ear headphones can be plugged into the TV either via optical output or via the headphone output, which sends the signal to the headphones.
In the office or gaming
Both of these scenarios involve the use of a microphone to communicate while you’re working. Usually they are on or over ear options.
Blocking out noise
In some cases people request options for blocking out as much noise like blocking out construction noise, plane engines or any other loud noises stoping you from sleeping etc. In these cases I would use in ear buds or over ear with a noise cancelling option.
High fidelity listening
Typically over ear open back headphones are the best option when you want to hear amazing detail and feel immersed in sound. These types of headphones will require a certain level of headphone amp to drive them, whether that’s a dedicated headphone amp or a separate headphone input on your preamplifier.
Remember to keep in mind what device you will be plugging them into. Not all headphones are compatible with everything device. Some headphones need a headphone amplifier to power them efficiently so beware that they may not work well with a portable device. Headphones designed with a microphone built into it with a TRRS connector (iPhone connector) will not work properly on a traditional amp without an adapter.
In Conclusion: test in store
As there are many different brands of headphones (and fake ones) so here are a list of brands you can confidently buy from: Sennheiser, Audio Technica, Bose, Oppo, Focal, Bowers and Wilkins, Audioquest, to name a few.
Once you have found out your uses and chosen what type of headphones its then time to try on and test the different brands. What you should consider when testing headphones is what type, comfort, weight, durability, sound quality, features, and even style do they have.
I would encourage everyone to come into the store and try them on before you buy them.
Hopefully this has demystified choosing headphones for you so you can enjoy listening to music how you like it.