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How to Pick Out a New Pair of Headphones

by Emma Baker, Senior Editor | Published | Reviewed by Ted Wilson, Systems Engineer

Whether you’re a dedicated audiophile or a causal listener, the choice of headphones can significantly impact your daily routine and listening experience. Our team has conducted thorough testing on top-notch headphones and earbuds, ensuring you can discover the ideal pair to enhance your music.

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7 Factors to Consider When Buying Headphones

Before we explore the intricacies of headphone types, let’s start by understanding the key factors that should influence your decision:


1. Cost: The price of headphones can vary significantly depending on their technology and features. Let’s break down the price ranges:

   – Less than $50: Basic Bluetooth in-ear and over-the-ear headphones, lower-end gaming headsets, and wired over-ear headphones.

   – $50 – $100: Higher-end gaming headphones, midrange wired over-ear and in-ear headphones.

   – $100 – $250: Wireless over-ear and in-ear headphones with features like noise cancellation.

   – $250 and above: Premium headphones with advanced noise cancellation from renowned brands like Apple, Beats, and Bose, available in various styles.


2. Form Factor: The physical design of headphones plays a crucial role in comfort and functionality. The main form factors are in-ear, on-ear, and over-ear headphones.


3. Design: Consider whether you want closed-back or open-back headphones. This choice significantly affects sound quality and noise isolation.

4. Wired vs. Wireless: The battle between wired and wireless headphones continues. While wireless options offer convenience, wired headphones often provide superior sound quality.


5. Audio Quality: Dive into the details of audio quality, including factors like frequency range, driver type, impedance, sensitivity, and more, which can influence your listening experience.


6. Noise Cancellation: Determine if active noise cancellation (ANC) is a priority. ANC headphones use microphones to detect and cancel out ambient noise, providing a more immersive listening experience.


7. Brand: Consider the reputation and track record of headphone brands. While well-known brands like Apple, Sennheiser, Bose, and Audio Technica are popular, lesser-known brands can also offer excellent options.


Now that we’ve covered these essential factors let’s take an even deeper dive into headphone types.

Understanding Headphone Types

Headphones come in four distinct types: over-ear, on-ear, earbuds, and in-ear. Each type offers a unique listening experience tailored to different scenarios and preferences.


1. Over-Ear Headphones: These headphones feature thick headbands and large ear cups that fully encompass your ears. They are ideal for those who prioritize comfort and don’t mind the larger headphone size.


2. On-Ear Headphones: On-ear headphones are more compact, with smaller ear cups that rest gently on your ears. They offer a decent level of comfort in a more compact design.


3. Earbuds: Earbuds are ultra-portable with tips that rest at the edge of your ear canal. They are perfect for those who seek portability and find in-ear fits uncomfortable.


4. In-Ear Headphones: Like earbuds, in-ear headphones are ultra-portable with small earbud tips inserted into the ear canal. They provide an excellent balance between portability and comfort for those comfortable with in-ear fits.

Comparing Headphone Features

Beyond the type of headphone, various factors influence your listening experience. Let’s explore each of these factors in more detail:


1. Comfort: Comfort is paramount for extended listening sessions. Over-ear headphones typically reign supreme in this department, thanks to well-padded cups that exert minimal head tension. In-ear headphones, however, can be uncomfortable due to direct ear canal pressure, as well as requiring more maintenance to keep clean.


2. Portability: Portability refers to the ease of transporting your headphones. In-ear and earbuds take the crown as the most portable options, easily fitting in pockets or bags. Over-ear headphones, on the other hand, are bulkier, while on-ear headphones strike a balance between size and convenience.


3. Noise Isolation: Noise isolation is a headphone’s ability to block or cancel ambient noise. In-ear headphones offer the most efficient passive isolation, sealing out high-frequency noise. On-ear headphones provide moderate isolation, while earbuds and over-ear headphones lag behind.


4. Leakage: Leakage refers to the sound that escapes from your headphones. In-ear headphones are least likely to leak, followed by earbuds. Over-ear headphones, with their larger drivers, tend to leak more, particularly open-back variations.


5. Sound: While sound quality varies more by model than by headphone type, the design can influence certain aspects, like soundstage, frequency response, and total harmonic distortion. Bigger drivers can typically produce better bass, and large open-back ear cups often offer a more spacious soundstage.

As you embark on your headphone selection journey, remember that the perfect pair harmonizes with your unique preferences. Whether you prioritize comfort, portability, noise isolation, or sound quality, there’s a headphone type waiting to be your auditory companion. Let your ears guide you through the symphony of sound, as you discover the perfect headphones to elevate your listening experience. With these comprehensive insights, you’re well-equipped to choose the headphones that resonate with your inner audiophile.