The Ultimate Guide To Buy Headphones: 2020 Edition

If you're looking to buy a new pair of headphones, we are here to guide you so that you make the right decision right from the design to the sound quality.

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If you are new to the audio world and are looking to buy a pair of headphones, you’ll be overwhelmed when you see that there are just too many options to choose from. Don’t worry, we’ve got your back. We bring to you the ultimate guide to buy headphones so that you can make an informed decision.

Type of Fit

The first and foremost thing to consider is to determine which type of fit suits you the best. Now, there’s a good chance that you already know which type of headphones you prefer, but it is safe to be informed about all the options available in the market.

In-ear Headphones

These type of headphones are the most common and usually come along with your smartphone or MP3 player. In this style, the earpieces are inserted into the ear canal or rest on the outer ear.

There are two types of in-ear headphones, in-ear monitors (IEMs) and earbuds. IEMs usually have silicone tips and sit nicely into the ear canal. Earbuds, on the other hand, rest on the outer ears and are not as effective in blocking external sound.

Pros:

  • Portable
  • Lightweight
  • Depending on the model, they provide moderate to high noise isolation.

Cons:

  • Wired ones tangle easily.
  • In most cases, sound quality is not on par with other designs like on-ear and over-ear headphones.
  • Earbuds can cause discomfort if they don’t fit properly.

On-ear Headphones

On-ear headphones or semi-open headphones sit on top of the outer ears and can vary from low-cost portables to expensive high-performance models. These headphones are well-suited for people who want a good sound quality but do not want to wear something bulky and heavy.

Pros:

  • Better performance than most in-ear headphones
  • Lighter and more portable than over-ear headphones

Cons:

  • Not as portable as in-ear headphones
  • Not as effective as over-ear headphones to provide external noise isolation
  • Leaks sound to the outside
  • Bass not as powerful as full-sized headphones

Over-Ear or Full-Sized Headphones

Over-the-ear or full-sized headphones enclose the ear completely. They are available in two variations: open back and closed-back.

The open back model has a vent or a mesh for free airflow, which in turn keeps the ears cool. However, this model also causes the sound to leak to the neighbours. So they are not an ideal option if you are in a crowded place or travelling in public transport. Nevertheless, they are helpful if you don’t want to block external noise completely. For example, if you still want the doorbell to be audible.

The closed-back model, on the other hand, has earcups that cover the ears entirely and hence, does not allow the sound to leak to the outside and blocks out external sound. They are a good choice for when you’re in public places or commuting.

Pros:

  • Provides the best sound quality
  • Comfortable to use due to the cushion-like design
  • Excellent noise isolation in closed-back variant

Cons:

  • Not as portable as the other models.
  • Causes the ears to heat up when used for a long duration of time.

Wired or Wireless Headphones?

While wired headphones have been the go-to option in the audio world for a very long time, wireless ones are slowly but steadily dominating the audio world. So which is the better option?

Well, the in-ear, on-ear and over-ear models usually come in wired variation and are more reliable and provide better sound quality as compared to the counterpart wireless models. This happens because the wired headphones receive analogue signals which can handle more data as compared to Bluetooth. Wired headphones also do not require charging, so there is no headache of having to remember to charge the device before going out. Wired headphones are cheaper than wireless ones. But the biggest problem, of course, is the annoyance and disturbance caused due to the cables. So if you don’t mind this, wired headphones are surely the better option.

Wireless audio technology, however, is slowly but steadily marking dominance in the audio market as it eliminates cables altogether and gives a more aesthetic look. The most common way to transmit music in wireless devices is through Bluetooth. However, the sound quality tends to get compromised due to the compression of data. To counter this problem, wireless headphones have started supporting improved Bluetooth codecs such as AAC and AptX.

Wireless headphones are more expensive than wired ones and require batteries or charging.

Active and Passive Noise Cancellation

Noise cancellation refers to the elimination of external noise in order to boost the performance of the device. Some basic noise cancellation methods are active and passive noise cancellation.

Passive Noise Cancellation

This type of noise cancellation is offered due to the design of the headset itself, be it on-ear or over-ear design. Headsets with passive noise cancellation are cheaper and are fairly decent in insulating ambient noises.

Active Noise Cancellation

Active noise cancellation employs a more complicated technique to realise the goal. The device uses a microphone to that analyses the frequency of ambient noise and produces opposite sound waves that cancel out the noise. ANC headphones are very helpful if you want to cancel out even the smallest noise. High-end audio devices usually employ active noise cancellation technique and are usually more expensive.

However, some people do not prefer ANC as it may cause headaches due to increased pressure.

So which is better? Well, that depends from person to person. Some people do not mind the downsides of ANC so long as they get an extremely high sound quality. The others, who have more sensitive ears and wear the headphones for longer durations prefer passive noise cancellation.

Sound Signature

Apart from the design, style and other factors, the most important thing to consider is the sound signature to match with your music preferences. Some of the primary sound profiles are: flat, warm, bright, neutral, extra bass.

In the flat sound signatures, all the frequencies are as natural as possible. People who like jazz, blues, classical and folk prefer this sound signature.

The warm sound signature emphasizes the bass frequencies. This signature is quite liked by the masses. People who like genres based on instruments such as saxophone and cello usually enjoy the warm signature. However, some ‘warm’ headphones can be extremely bass-heavy, making the sound quality unpleasant.

The bright sound signature boosts the trebles. ‘Bright’ headphones are popular among people for exposing imperfections in good recordings. However, you will certainly get an uncomfortable experience if you listen to poorly-recorded audio.

The extra bass signature, as the name suggests, emphasizes on bass or lower frequencies. If you love genres such as EDM and techno, this sound signature is for you. The extra bass makes the sound louder. However, too much bass can overpower other frequencies which can reduce the clarity of the audio.

Make Sure That The Headphones are Comfortable

While assessing sound quality is necessary, paying attention to comfort is equally important so that you can wear the device for longer durations without any discomfort or inconvenience. The best way to make a decision is by trying on the device for at least a few minutes. Make sure that the device does not exert too much pressure on the ears. Additionally, always make sure that the device does not feel too heavy on the head as it will cause a lot of trouble when used for longer durations of time. Always prioritize comfort over aesthetics.


Read more: WireX – September Issue

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