Headphones Buying Guide: Specs and Features

The wide world of headphones can be confusing thanks to all the available types and models. In this article, we’ll explain the differences between the types of headphones. This way, you’ll know what sort of headphone you’ll be looking for.

When it comes to headphones, there are many different types and sizes in various price ranges. Before you make a purchase, you have to know what you’re looking for and what you are planning to use it for. A headphone you’ll use while working out needs to meet different demands than a model you’ll use on the couch at home. There are also headphones you can use to cancel out noise when in transit or at the office.

Top picks

In-ear versus over-ear

First of all, it’s important to choose between over-ear and in-ear. In-ear models usually have a less intense sound, but it comes with other advantages. They are easier to carry with you and can look more stylish. For people that want to use headphones when working out, in-ears are the obvious choice. They are lighter and don’t get in the way. If in-ears aren’t your cup of tea, on-ears are a good alternative. These are heavier than in-ears, but cause less transpiration compared to the isolating over-ear headphones. If you want to keep your ears as free as possible, consider looking at headphones that work with bone conduction. The sound travels directly from your jaw bone to your brain.

Earbuds

The optimal fit

Headphones shouldn’t just sound great, they should also fit neatly in or on your ears. It’s hard to get a feeling of this when shopping online, so going to a physical store to try some headphones out is advised. When talking about headphones, the three main types are in-ears, over-ears and on-ears. With an in-ear headphone the speakers are placed inside your ears, with on-ears the speakers push against your ears and with over-ears they encompass your ears.

On-ear models can oppress your ears fairly quickly, but are lighter and smaller than over-ears. The over-ear headphones can completely isolate you from the outside world, and usually feel more comfortable because your ears aren’t pushed against your skull. An important feature for some headphones is that you can push the ear cushions inside when not using them, so they are easier to store while traveling.

In-ears aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and usually you can’t test them out in the shop. It’s advisable to try in-ears from a friend of family member out before making a purchase, because not everyone likes the feeling of the speakers being placed inside the ears. They also don’t fit everyone. Most in-ears come with various swappable sizes.

Headphones

Wired or wireless

You also have a choice between a wired or wireless headphone. Both options have their advantages. Wired headphones have a 3.5mm audio jack and can be connected to almost any audio device. You can use them as long as you like, because wired headphones don’t need a separate charge. Wireless headsets work through Bluetooth and do use an internal battery. This means you have to charge them every once in a while. Manufacturers often use the maximum capacity when communicating battery life.

Since more and more smartphone manufacturers are choosing to exclude a headphone jacket, wireless headphones seem to be the most future-proof. If you do want to use a wired headphone for certain smartphones, you have to get a hold of an adapter or dongle that rewires 3.5mm to USB-C. A lot of audiophiles want to keep using wired headphones: the sound is often better.

Active noise canceling

Active noise cancelling (ANC)

Active noise cancelling (ANC), also known as noise reduction, is a popular feature on quite a few headphones. This technique can filter sounds in the environment the listener is situated in. This way, you won’t hear the many different sounds surrounding you and you can fully immerse yourself in the music. ANC comes with a higher price tag, though.

Noise reduction is an interesting feature for people who travel a lot. In trains or airplanes it can greatly reduce distracting noises. Even if you’re not listening to anything, ANC can still block out conversations of passengers or lower the sounds of engines, giving you the chance to take a well earned nap. The most luxurious headphones can even be programmed to let certain sounds pass through, so that you won’t miss a train stop. Some headphones have adaptive noise cancelling, which enables you to choose different gradations of noise reduction.

With these explanations, you’re up to speed with the different terminology used in the headphone market and you can start looking for the right headphone for your personal situation.

Ready to buy? Here's our thoughts on the 10 best headphones you can get today. 

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