How to Buy the Best Headphones or Earphones for You

There is a huge choice of headphones and earphones, but what do you buy: in-ear, on-ear, over-ear, wireless, noise cancelling . . .


Earphones, Headphones & Headsets includes:
Introduction to Earphones & headphones     Headphone specifications     How to buy best headphones / earphones for you    


Buying the best headphones or earphones may not be as easy as it may appear at first sight. There is a huge choice of types of headphone / earphone and then an enormous number of different manufacturers and models.

How do you buy the best headphone for your particular use. What are the points to consider and take account of? Enter a shop to buy some headphones or earphones, or shop on-line and there is a huge choice and this can be bewildering. Each type of headphone on offer to buy offers something different, whether it is cost, performance, comfort or something else.

Headphones for sale in a line in a shop
Headphones displayed in a shop

There are many things to consider when buying headphones and earphones. Sound quality, comfort, type of headphone or earphone, robustness, visual looks and many more aspect. We’ll take a look at some of the main types of headphone and earphone and give some tips on what to look for and how to assess the different types before you buy.

Types of headphone & earphone

There are four main types of headphone / earphone that can be bought: earbuds, in-ear, on-ear and over-ear.

The type of headphone or earphone you want will depend upon a number of factors, so it is worth thinking where they will be used mainly and how you will want to use them. Aspects like size, portability, performance and of course personal preferences all play an important part.

Let’s have a look at the four main styles of headphone / earphone that can be bought:

  • Earbuds:   Earbuds are often bundled with MP3 players and smartphones and they fit inside the ear. They typically offer a very poor sound experience - often the worst of the four main categories of headphones.

    Pros and Cons of Earbuds
     
    Advantages Disadvantages
    • Small
    • Cheap
    • Often included with MP3 players & smartphones
    • Poor quality
    • Often susceptible to sound leakage
    • Some people find them uncomfortable
  • In-ear:   In-ear headphones: these are probably the most common type and are sometimes supplied with portable music players. They fit snugly inside the ear canal to provide a tight seal so minimise sound leakage.

    Pros and Cons of In-ear headphones
     
    Advantages Disadvantages
    • Lightweight
    • Portable
    • Often cheaper than on-ear or over-ear headphones
    • Quality often not as good as on-ear or over ear headphones, particularly at bass end
    • Sometimes not as comfortable as over ear headphones
  • On-ear:   On-ear headphones: smaller and lighter than over-ear models. They sit on the ears and therefore do not need such a large size as they do not need to cover the ears. They normally have foam or leatherette pads to ensure they are sufficiently comfortable. Some are foldable, making them more portable than over-ear models.

    Pros and Cons of On-ear headphones
     
    Advantages Disadvantages
    • Provide improved quality over in-ear earphones
    • Smaller and less bulky than over ear headphones
    • Quality often not as good as on-ear or over ear headphones, particularly at bass end
    • Sometimes not as comfortable as over ear headphones, especially if worn for extended periods
    • Can be too large for some people for some uses
  • Over-ear:   Over-ear headphones: these large headphones have cushioned pads that cover the entire ear. This makes them more comfortable to wear for long periods and they generally deliver good sound quality. The bulkiest models aren't portable at all and are more suited to home use. However, some models fold down into fairly compact carry cases, and could be used on your daily commute. In addition to the four main types, there are specialised headphones for specific purposes, such as sports models that have additional features to help keep them in place during exercise.

    Pros and Cons of Over-ear headphones
     
    Advantages Disadvantages
    • Provide the best quality options - some are superb
    • Often the most comfortable type
    • Provide good sound insulation
    • Larger than other types
    • can be more expensive than other types dependent upon model / performance, etc

Other buying considerations

Apart from the style of the headphones, there are other options to consider when looking at the best headphones to buy. It is worth considering whether you want wired or wireless headphones and it is also necessary to think about noise cancelling headphones as well.

  • Wired headphones:   The simplest and most common type of headphones or earphones are the wired versions. As the name implies they use wires to connect the headphones or earphones toth e sound source.

    Pros and Cons of Wired Headphones
     
    Advantages Disadvantages
    • Simple and effective connectivity
    • Lower cost than wireless versions
    • Wires can be troublesome and become tangled
    • Connectors can become unreliable
  • Wireless headphones:   Wireless headphones seem like an ideal solution, and they do indeed provide many advantages. The wireless capability means that it is possible to move around and not be physically connected to audio player. Some wireless headphones use infra-red, although by far the more common option is to use wireless connectivity, normally in the form of Bluetooth. Using Bluetooth means that it is possible to connect to a host of devices from smartphones to computers and a variety of audio players. Ranges can be up to about 10 metres, but thick walls and other objects can mask the signal and reduce the range. Wireless headphones require power and this is normally provided by an integral Lithium Ion battery.

    Pros and Cons of Wireless Headphones
     
    Advantages Disadvantages
    • Connectivity without wires
    • Bluetooth technology used by most wireless headphones allows connectivity to a variety of devices
    • Headphones require periodic charging
    • If integral batteries degrade they can be difficult or expensive to have repaired.
    • Range can be limited by thick walls, and other objects inside a building.
  • Noise cancelling headphones:   In some environments external noise can be very troublesome. One example is when listing to music on board an aircraft, and another may be a train, etc. Technology is available in some headphones to be able to cancel this noise out. These noise cancelling headphones can be either wired or wireless.

    Pros and Cons of Noise cancelling Headphones
     
    Advantages Disadvantages
    • Provide significant levels of reduction of external noise
    • Improve the listening experience in noisy environments
    • Can modify frequency response to ensure good noise cancellation
    • Can reduce awareness of things going on around, can be dangerous if walking in a city as the headphones will reduce external noise and this reduces awareness of what is happening, traffic, etc.
    • Require battery power which needs periodic charging and ultimately batteries will be less efficient

There are many headphones which can be bought online or from a variety of outlets on the high street. The optimum model will vary according to personal preference, where it is to be used and a variety of other factors.

However the sheer number of headphones and earphones available means that there is bound to be a model that suits you just right.



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