Whether you like to listen to your favorite music in the gym, on the way to work, or at home, wherever it is, you must have a good quality set of headphones.
Choosing the right headphones for your needs can be daunting, with many options available. But with proper insights, the selection process can be made simpler.
What’s the best headphone advice you have? This will be it.
In this headphone selection guide, I’ll give an overview of what features you should look for when buying headphones and how to choose them depending on your usage habits.
A headphone is an electronic device you wear on your ears to listen to audio played by devices like CD players, portable media players, radios, televisions, computers, etc.
What Type of Headphones Suits Your Taste?
Headphones can be primarily categorized into three types: in-ear, on-ear, and over-ear. What kind of headphones are you going for?
Where will you be using your headphones? While traveling? In your room? The gym? At all three places, maybe? Different headphones suit better for different situations.
On-ear, In-ear, and Over-ear Headphones
On-ear headphones rest on your ears, while over-ear headphones cover your ears completely.
Since over-ear headphones cover your whole year, they are more comfortable to use. On the other hand, on-ear puts pressure on your ear and won’t be a good option for long-term use.
While not the best for pristine audio quality, in-ear headphones won’t fall out if you were to jump around wearing them as they sit tightly within your external ear canal.
Wired and Wireless
Wired basically means a perfect full-strength signal all the time, but also that you stay hitched to your device. Although with wireless, you’re at liberty to move around.
Dance around all you like to your favorite song! Oh, but the signal may not be at its 100%, now and again.
Don’t sweat it; most wireless headphones also come with a wire, so that’s good.
Closed-back or Open-back? Are you an audiophile?
Closed-back headphones do not have holes in the headphone cup, so everything is sealed. With these headphones, you can immerse yourself in your world, nothing but you and your music.
Open-back headphones have holes or perforations to the outside world, allowing the music out. They ensure a more natural listening experience like a regular stereo.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Headphones
Hands down, few things can compete with a price regarding specs. You may even call it the easiest spec. Though not a rule, price tags often strongly correlate with quality and performance.
Remember, a higher price tag doesn’t always mean better sound. The sound quality you hear results from many factors, from design to the components used.
2. Purpose of Use
It is time to determine where and how you’ll use your headphones. Will they solely be for home use, or do you need them to be completely inaudible to the outside?
Will you be plugging your new headphones or earphones into a portable player for casual listening, or are you on the hunt to monitor recordings with a new set of studio-worthy reference headphones?
Maybe an unlikely choice for trains and buses. I, for one, wouldn’t feel thrilled to hear every track and playlist my fellow passenger is jamming to. Some things are better when they aren’t public.
But, if sound leakage is not a problem, choosing on-ears or over-ears with openbacks may be the better of the two. They can deliver a more inclusive sound.
In the mood to block out the world? This is an easy one. There are many great-sounding, noise-canceling headphones, which also include many wireless options, that do well even to counteract the hum of airplanes.
As far as wireless-ness is concerned, a relatively new collection of true wireless in-ear – earphones without wires connecting the two buds – is now available to offer you even greater wireless freedom.
If you’re going to be listening while being physically active, opt for lightweight portables that are specifically designed for the purpose.
Heavier closed-back circumaural is a good choice for traditional stationery studio work.
With the prevalence of laptops and compact interfaces, on-location recordings have become popular.
This application requires the use of closed-back, sealed-cup headphones that are bulkier.
Fold-up designs are comparatively more portable and help to protect the headphones in transit. Make sure you have some case for your recording headphones if they travel.
What do we want? Longer-lasting headphones are what. Sadly, durability can often equate with heavier weight.
Light headphones can be only too easy to break. Don’t think twice; put them in a protective case whenever they’re not on your head.
If they are fold-ups, inspect their hinges for sturdiness.
When test-driving a pair of headphones, try to think less about how they sound and more about how they feel.
Notice your ears: do they heat up after half an hour, or is the inadequately padded band causing you a headache?
Make sure the units feel secure in your ears. Initially, if they feel somewhat bulky, chances are high that they’ll grow uncomfortable over a few hours. Or likely even fall out if you turn your head sharply.
Many headphones may feel fine when worn briefly, but wearing them for long periods might make you uncomfortable.
Try on your potential headphones for at least 20 minutes before you give your verdict about their comfort.
For closed-back circumaural headphones, the larger the ear cups, the better.
Smaller headphones might be the better choice if you’re thinking of getting headphones that rest on your ear. Also, fabric padding or leather can soften the pressure.
Don’t forget to consider long-term comfort. Look out for super-light, portable headphones with foam pads for comfort during extended listening periods.
Weight is essential here, and lighter headphones are generally more comfortable.
Another critical factor affecting comfort is headbands. You can choose between an over-the-head style headband or a behind-the-neck style.
Dispensing off the band entirely, earbuds are your most comfortable pick. No matter the kind of headband, you want them to be adjustable.
If you have picked true wireless, check whether you can get a good seal and solid sound performance.
Further enhancing comfort, several over-the-ear phones even come with rotating cups. Adjust them to your head, and you’ll get less leakage and more comfort.
6. Driver size
Another significant spec, particularly if you are hearing for big bass. In general, larger drivers tend to have a more remarkable ability to reproduce bass frequencies.
While specs such as frequency range, sensitivity, etc., may concern knowledgeable buyers and help them decide between high-end studio headphones, they do not cater well to less familiar buyers choosing from lower-end headphones.
Although some specs are helpful, let’s not trust too much on frequency response numbers.
How are the cables? Are they substantial? Thin and delicate? If you are going for the pricey stuff, find out if they have replacement parts available.
It will be cheaper to replace cables and ear pads than the entire set.
The cable you choose should be long enough for your usage but do not pick exceptionally long wires, if possible.
It might negatively impact the sound quality by lowering the volume, introducing noise, and becoming more easily tangled.
More superior quality headphones usually have a shielded cable that minimizes distortion. You can always add an extension if you buy headphones with a short cable.
Be careful to get an extension cable of equal quality to the cable from the headphones.
Also, ensure that you add the length you want with one cable, not two shorter ones. Multiple connections can harm the signal.
Pay attention to single-sided versus double-sided cables. Single-sided designs contain internal circuitry that carries signals to the right earpieces.
Since double-sided types tend to tangle easily, most people prefer single-sided ones over them.
If a traditional Y exit cable gets in your way, there are two other types to check out.
The single exit port comes out of one side of the headphones. The asymmetrical style is designed to go around your neck, with one side of the court longer than the other.
8. Water Resistant
Recently more water-resistant headphones are hitting the market. Some can handle sweat during a workout, and others are designed for swimming.
Check the manufacturer’s claims on the box or website to see if a pair is suited for your needs.
If you want a headphone with a microphone, you can get a headphone with an integrated in-line microphone or a headset.
Compared to regular headphones, headsets have a dedicated mic housing with an extended mic boom, allowing them to capture voice better.
Many headphones have a microphone and smartphone controls that let you play, pause, skip, forward, and answer calls without taking your phone out of your pocket.
The controls change with manufacturers, and some headphone controls work better with specific devices.
11. Noise Cancellation
Noise-canceling headphones can help if you need to get some work done on a noisy flight. They can cost anywhere between $30 to $600.
Many headphones have an isolating design that physically muffles the noise around you. They are known as passive noise-canceling headphones.
Active noise-canceling models go further, using battery-powered electronics to eliminate outside noises. They work best with consistent low-pitched noises like the roar of a plane engine.
Some noise-canceling headphones come with variable noise cancellation, which lets you adjust how much sound you block out.
According to official data from different manufacturers, almost 50% of those who use noise-canceling headphones sensed some form of dizziness or disorientation.
So try them out if you can, or check the return policy before buying them.
On the contrary, some headphones use a monitor or transparency mode, which amplifies outside sound on purpose.
When you buy new headphones, you first want to consider what you’ll use them for.
Consider portable in-ear headphones for travel or working out in a gym. They can cost anywhere between $20 – $450.
Portable in-ear headphones come in wired, wireless, and true wireless models. They’re lightweight, compact, and can form a seal to keep out some ambient sounds.
They often come with different-sized earpieces so you can get a secure fit, but you might not like what essentially plugs into your ears.
If that’s the case, consider home-studio-style headphones that go on or over your ears. They range from $30 to $1,000 and are a great choice if you listen to a lot of music at home.
Home-studio-style headphones are some of the best-sounding models as the manufacturers have the independence to focus on sound quality rather than portability.
These headphones come in two types closed-back and open-back. Closed models have sealed ear cups that keep in more sound and muffle the noise around you.
Open-ear headphones have openings in the ear cups, designed to give whatever you’re listening to a clearer and more natural feel.
Headphones are available with a lot of features. Choose one that has all the features you need. If it has additional features you won’t use, you shouldn’t buy them.
Nearly every type of headphone comes in a wireless version, and most connect to your phone, laptop, or even some TVs using Bluetooth.
True wireless models come with a case that doubles as a charger which is helpful since some only run for about five or six hours before needing a charge.
Meanwhile, wireless home-studio-style headphones generally last about 15 hours or more.
I suggest using corded headphones for serious listeners because the best-sounding models come with a cord.
Here are clever little tips for selecting your headphones:
What is the best way to trial a wide range of headphones?
Go to a physical shop. You’ll make more informed choices with the information you have gathered about choosing the best headphones.
It’s best to test your purchase with the music you usually listen to. Since you already know how it should sound, you’ll be able to make more confident judgments about what you hear.
You might want to carry a few CDs, records, or your music player and ask the dealer to let you play them.
Always test your potential pair with the gear you’ll be pairing it with.
There’s no point choosing a set of headphones based on components you won’t be using – there’s a high chance they’ll sound nothing alike when you get them home.
If you are unsure if the shop will stock your gear, take it in with you – it should be worth the hassle once you’ve made the right decision.
As is the case with most hi-fi equipment, headphones require to be run in.
Sound tends to change over time as the components bed in (generally, about 24 hours of continuous play will do it, but at times it may take longer), so ensure that the pair you test in the store has had sufficient play.
If you lift your headphones straight from the box and plug it in, you might as well be asking for disappointment.
Leave your new buddy running in overnight. This is how you’ll get to hear the sound that was the reason you chose them in the first place.
A great way to efficiently sort through the wide array of types, models, and brands is to refer to online professional and customer reviews.
Listen to what other people say; their experience can do you a lot of good.
The ultimate way to rate headphones is by listening to them; there is no alternative. Even though the two headphones sound very different, they may have similar specs.
Try listening to some acoustic guitar or piano music—you’ll hear what’s good.
Regretting your decisions later hardly sounds sweet, so remember for what purpose you’ll use your headphones and ensure that you give a critical ear before your final purchase and bag the right model.
Frequently Asked Questions
What to consider when buying wireless headphones?
The important thing you have to consider when buying a wireless headphone is battery backup, then comes latency, range, frequency, price, etc.
What are the qualities of good headphones?
Some of the notable qualities of good headphones are large drivers, wide frequency response, proper impedance matching with your device, noise cancellation, and sound pressure response.
What is a good frequency response for headphones?
A frequency response range between 20Hz – 20,000Hz (20kHz) is good for headphones. Anything below 20 Hz and anything above 20 kHz is inaudible to human ears. The frequency response is the range of frequencies that a device can produce. The higher the frequency response, the more detailed and natural the sound will be.