Headphones Buyer’s Guide
Headphones are portable, personal audio output devices used in conjunction with various media devices such as MP3 players, HiFi systems; mobile phones and PCs.
This expert guide aims to explain the different types of headphones; important features to take into consideration when reviewing them, as well as provide guidance on the types of headphones available within the various budget ranges.
Available types of headphones
There is a wide variety of headphones available, many of which can be used with multiple media devices. To help with your selection, this section aims to describe the main categories of headphones.
- Ear bud / In-Ear headphones
These are commonly used with MP3 and iPod players. Ear bud headphones are small and fit into the outer ear and are relatively inexpensive, but do not always have the greatest sound quality.
- Balanced headphones
These headphones sit on the ears and offer superior sound quality as they amplify the sound. Balanced headphones tend to be pricey but worth it if you are looking for top quality sound reproduction.
- Noise cancelling headphones
Fitting over the ears, they differ from the other types of headphones as they block out external sounds so that you only hear the sound from your media playing device.
- Ear canal headphones
Similar in shape to ear bud headphones, but they fit into the ear canal. These headphones are great for blocking out external noise and produce a fair quality sound.
- Sealed full size headphones
Rather bulky but more comfortable than balanced headphones as they don’t sit on the ear lobes, but cup around the ears. Sealed full size headphones block out external noise and also prevent sound from escaping from the headphones. The sound quality varies between the different makes and the different budget ranges.
- Ear pad headphones
They are similar in shape to balanced headphones as they sit on top of the ear, but are less expensive and the sound quality isn’t as good.
- Wireless headphones
As the name states, wireless headphones eliminate the hassle of being physically attached to your HiFi by cables. They are reasonably priced and again the sound quality varies depending on the make of the headphones.
- Sports headphones
The ear pieces sit on top of the ear, while the band loops around the back of your neck. It is possible to find street style headphones that offer good quality sound for around $50.
The following specifications are important to consider during your review of earphones.
- Frequency Response
Affecting the overall sound quality, the specified frequency response is the range of frequencies the headphones are able to reproduce.
Stated as decibels (dB), a low dB rating means that the headset will require more power to sound loud. Portable headphones should have around 100dB.
- Sealed or open
Sealed headphones enclose the ear, whereas open headphones do not. Sealed headphones are better to use when there is a lot of external noise as they block out most of the external sound, however many argue that open headphones tend to produce a better quality sound.
- Fit and feel
This is largely a personal choice. Consider whether ear bud type headphones will cause you discomfort, or whether having the bulkier full sized headphones clamped over your ear will be uncomfortable. Check to see if they are adjustable so that they don’t slip off your head and whether the cord is too long or short.
How long will the headphones last? Very light headphones tend to be more prone to breaking. Read expert reviews on headphones, like those available at www.testseek.com, to see if the headphones you would like to purchase are fragile or offer superior durability.
Entry level budget
It is very possible to purchase a cheap pair of headphones for under $30. Most of the headphones within the entry level budget range are ear bud headphones.
The Griffin Tunebuds are light and come in a variety of colors. They are ear bud type headphones, offer a sensitivity of 108dB and are compatible with most portable media devices including iPod and MP3 players. They have received an overall expert rating of 63%, see www.testseek.com, and are priced at around $30.
The cheaper headphones do not offer the best sound quality, but if you don’t want to spend a lot of money on headphones then there are plenty of options especially in the ear bud range.
If sound quality is an issue; and you want more options than just the ear bud range, then expect to pay between $30 and $100.
The Sennheiser HD-212 PRO is an ear pad headphone set which offers a sensitivity of 112dB; impedance of 32 Ohms and can be purchased for around $40. These comfortable headphones have an excellent sound quality and are good at blocking out external noises.
For top quality sound; durability and comfort within the widest range of headphones, expect to pay over $100.
The Audio Technica ATH AD 700 offers one of the best frequency response ranges, from 5 – 30,000 Hz, has a sensitivity of 98dB at 1 kHz and is priced around $100. These open-air headphones are well balanced and very comfortable, producing little pressure on the ears. It has an average expert review rating of 90%; refer to www.testseek.com for further information.
Headphones can be bought for as little as $10 or for over $300. Cheaper headphones don’t offer the best sound quality, but are great for the casual user. It is a good idea to use testseek.com to find out which headphones have received the highest scores in expert reviews from all over the world.
Disclaimer: This guide was written in late 2008 and the specific product recommendations may be outdated. However the basic discussions in this buyer's guide may still be of great value.
Written by; TestSeek staff