Anyone who loves listening to audio or music knows that headphones are not just an accessory but a major part of their daily life. If you’re using an earphone that you got with your mobile or any other gadget you might want to upgrade but with heavily populated market its kinda hard to know what to look for while buying an earphone or headphone depending on different factors you might get confused so to sort it out and make it easy for you today I’m going to share guidelines using which you will be able to know how to buy headphone or earphone.
Sound quality is of course something very important while buying an headset but I’ll start from basics, firstly introducing the types and designs of headsets available in the market, difference between wired and wireless headphones, the drivers technologies used these days, explaining active noise cancelling (ANC) technology, Bluetooth Codes and IPX ratings, understanding mids, highs, bass, frequency response, soundstage, harmonic distortion and impedance then finally what to choose depending on your preferences.
Types Of Headphones
In the market we have three major types of headphones which you might be aware of and if you are not keep reading. These include In-Ear, On-Ear and Over-Ear headsets.
As the name suggest these headphones go in the ear and relatively very small. These are more popular than the other two due to range of designs, colors, price and portability. Due to their small size and light weightiness the in-ear headphones are portable and you can easily carry them around in your pockets or with neckband designs you can just put them around your neck. The earphones are preferred for gym and workouts as well due to lightweight. Meanwhile on the downside they are considered not to have good sound quality as of over-ear or on-ear headphones. The small board and drivers couldn’t perform as well as of bigger drivers. For wired ones if you couldn’t fine the best one you might face tangling issue but with improvements and advancements now some of the earphones also can outperform most of on-ear or over-ear headsets.
The On-Ear headset lies between In-Ear and Over-Ear as it can’t go actually in your ear canal but due to its bigger size it has benefit of fitting larger drivers. It sits on your ear and headband can go behind or over your head. The On-Ear headsets are also portable but not like in-ear due to their bigger size they won’t fit in your pockets meanwhile the folding makes them half of the footprint. The bigger the size the bigger the batteries. They also have better sound quality but on the downside are not good concerning noise isolation as they sit on the ears but not in or over the ear.
Largest of all three is the Over-Ear due to its size it completely fits over your ear and reduces environmental disturbance significantly. Most of the headset you are familiar with lies in this category. These headset have huge drivers typically ranging between 25mm to 50mm which results in excellent sound quality. Usually the ear cups and headband of these headsets are well-padded using comfortable cushions which make them suitable for longer sessions. Having extra size allows biggest batteries to be accommodated providing longer listening time. On the downside they are not easy to carry, the portability decreases with the size and usually you’ll get an extra carrying case from the company. They are also expensive among all depending on their capabilities and features.
Wired & Wireless
As the world is moving towards wirelessness with technologies such as Bluetooth, NFC and Wifi why would you consider a wired headphone? Well it depends on what you are looking for. With Apple’s abandonment of headphone jack followed by Android phones Bluetooth has taken the headphones market by storm.
The main positive point which is considered in terms of wired headsets is proper signal transmission over wires leading to better sound quality as most of the wired headphones come with fiber casing and copper cables which reduces loos of signal. Meanwhile on the downside there’s a wire tangling issue with wired headphones, at some point tangle-free also get tangled though its not as easy but it still happens. If your cable get caught somewhere or get damaged then in most cases the headset is useless as well as it limits your movement.
Going wireless helps with convenience and mobility as there are no limitations of carrying your phone with you. There are certainly connectivity limits which in normal case is about 30ft with Bluetooth 4.0 – fair enough. On the downside the Bluetooth devices are prone to signal and quality loss. To counter this issue companies came up with Bluetooth Codecs which reduce the loss of signal to great extent. Meanwhile for Bluetooth devices compatibility is another factor to consider and it also depends on the battery.
Headphone Driver Technologies
In normal scenarios if your driver is good your journey will be good as well. Same is the case with headphones as its one of the most important units. A driver is a part of headphone which is responsible for producing sound. At the moment there are 5 major technologies used in running and making headphone drivers which includes Dynamic, Multiple/Balanced Armature, Planar Magnetic, Electrostatic and Bone Conduction.
The most popular and common driver technology used is Dynamic which also has different types including Bio-Cellulose Dynamic, Ring Radiators and Beyer-dynamic. It consists of coil, diaphragm and a magnet which generates vibrations in the air nearby to move diaphragm resulting in balanced reproduction of lows and highs. For in-ears the drivers range from 5mm to 15mm and for over-ear and on-ears its between 20mm to 50mm.
Slightly advanced as compared to dynamic is Balanced Armature driver. It contains vibrating magnet balanced in larger magnetic field providing multiple usage in single in-ear headphone. Its mostly used in premium in-ear monitors as it produces more synchronous output and better audio quality.
In planar magnet flat magnets are aligned after on another which produces powerful magnetic influx resulting in stronger vibrations with more definition. According to their power these magnets produce impressive levels of volume but they require more power to run so it needs amplification for peak performance. Which made them available only in over-ear headsets but with advancements in technology they are now coming in in-ear headsets as well.
These drivers use the principle of static force to produce and conduct sound. It can move diaphragm move without any interaction unlike coil and diaphragm in dynamic. Electrostatic charge is placed on the diaphragm making it move meanwhile the driver remains static and diaphragm retreats quickly due to lack of contact. The headphones are better at producing sound due to electric conduction and not magnetic field which results in almost no loss of audio.
As amazing as the name it works amazingly by literally conducting audio through your bones. Ah, there’s nothing to worry about and this driver can even make deaf people listen to music. These drivers don’t actually produce sound but create vibrations that are transmitted through your bones to head which are then translated in to music.
Active Noise Cancelling
All headphones are noise cancelling or in better terms you can call it noise isolation due to the design of headsets they have tendency to cancel out ambient noises but even heaviest headphones are not capable of blocking out environmental noises completely so there’s a hype about Active Noise Cancelling feature which is now offered in many headphones. According to AndroidCentral, ANC is process during which a microphone is used to detect noise and microprocessor is used to generate a sound that cancels it when played using whats known as destructive interference. The feature of ANC can never be perfect but with the advancements it can get very close. Usually you will also notice a buzz when you will turn on the ANC, its very low and hardly noticeable. It also consumes extra battery meanwhile there’s always an option to turn it off.
A codec in terms of software encodes and decodes a digital audio file into a specific format as well as determines how your audio files are transmitted to your headphones using Bluetooth from the source. It transmit signals in terms of bit-rate so if bit-rate is lower it’ll have better compression but worst sound quality and vice versa. There are seven different types of codecs which include SBC, AAC, Qualcomm’s Proprietary Codecs, aptX, aptX HD, aptX LL and LDAC.
- SBC: Sub-Band Codec is a default Bluetooth Codec with low-complexity. It divides the signals into multiple frequency bands and encodes them independently.
- AAC: Its known as advanced audio coding and is standard for lossy digital audio compression which you also experience with YouTube, Sony PlayStation and Apple etc.
- Qualcomm’s Proprietary Codecs: Its leading developer of wireless codec algorithms and is widely used in popular brands such as LG, Xiaomi & Microsoft.
- aptX: The simpler aptX codec supports 16-bit/48kHz meanwhile aptx HD can transmit 24-bit/48kHz. For aptXLL the transmission happens at rate of approx 40ms with low latency support of 48kHz / 16-bit LPCM.
- LDAC: Sony has their own proprietary Bluetooth Codec just like Qualcom known as LDAC. It transfers 3x data as compared to SBC at the rate of 96KHz / 24-bit.
With the advancement and improvements in headphones you might have seen many headsets offering water-resistant and waterproof feature. Well you still might want to consider that before carrying them in rain or during workouts so to solve this problem most of the headset now come with IPX ratings. The IPX code or Ingress Protection code also known as International Protection Marking is a standardized scale published by International Electrotechnical Comission (IEC_ which classifies the protection provided by product against water, physical intrusion and dust. The IPX rating with 0 means it has no protection, 1 means if it goes under dripping water for 10 mins vertically it shall have no harmful effect, 2 means if it goes under dripping water when tilted up to 15 for 10 mins it shall have no side effect, 3 means if it goes under spraying water with an angle of 60 for 5 mins it shall have no side effect, 4 means if it goes under splashing water from any direction for 5 mins it shall have no harmful effect, 5 means if it goes under water jets for 3 mins it shall have no harmful effect, 6 means if it goes under powerful water jets for 3 mins it shall have no harmful effect, 6k means if it goes under powerful water jets with increased pressure for 3 mins it shall have no side effects, 7 means if its immersed up to 1m depth for 30 mins it shall have no side effect and 8 means if its immersed up to 1m or more depth it shall have no harmful effect.
What Is Mids & Highs
All the audio frequencies we hear no matter its strum of a guitar or crisp vocal it lies between the range of 20 hertz to 20000 hertz and its the field which a human ear can understand. For a better experience, you want to consider all the frequencies as each has its contents and part in the music track. It ranges from Low to High. All low sounding frequencies such as the roar of lion or bang of drum lies in the Low-Frequency Range which is between 20 Hz to 200 Hz. The Lower Mid Range is between 200 Hz to 1000 Hz and carries your musical bass such as bass drum, snare drums, cello, male vocals, and bass guitar. The Higher Mid Range is something such as sweet vocals, the riff of guitar or bamboo flute. Its the part which contains the music and lies between 1000 Hz to 5000 Hz. The High Range is between 5000 Hz to 15000 Hz and contains more realistic features of music.
It’s the most common term which is used when it comes to audio or buying an audio accessory but what exactly bass is and does it affect your listening experience? Well as I mentioned earlier as well that the hearing capability of a human ear lies between frequencies of 20 Hz to 20000 Hz with few exceptions. The range of human ear is divided into five categories which include SUB (20Hz to 60Hz), Low (60Hz to 250Hz), Lower Mids (250Hz to 1 kHz), Higher Mids (1 kHz to 4 kHz) and Highs (4 kHz to 20 kHz). Usually, the Bass is generated by vibration of objects with lower density as it lies in Sub and Lower frequencies range. Everyone has their own choices so while buying headphone you need to go for what you think suits you best, there’s no device which could reproduce originally created audio.
What Is Frequency Response
The range of bass, treble, and mids is known as Frequency response such as for 20 to 20,000 Hz the first number represents the base meanwhile the second represents treble end. Human ears could hear frequencies between this range and most of the headsets come with a frequency response between this range. However, you’ll see some headphones with frequency as low as 5 Hz and high as 35,000 Hz. Well surely you won’t be able to hear those frequencies as it’s beyond nature, but it can be felt which gives you a better experience. The higher the frequency, the more the shrill and sharp sounds meanwhile the lower the spectrum, the more is the bass and thump. Higher frequencies allow you to experience every beat whereas the low frequencies are preferred for Pop and dance hall genres. To trace the Frequency response graph, you need to position a very sensitive mic to record sound at all frequencies which could be a hard task to complete.
Soundstage & Harmonic Distortion
The space and environment of sound created by the headset are determined by soundstage. It’s not inherited, but headphones have to build them rather than reproducing. It determines how open and spacious soundstage is, how much is the interaction of headphone and environment, whether the sound is perceived to be coming from inside or in the front of the headphone. Meanwhile, the headsets with a higher percentage of Total Harmonic Distortion can be easily distorted. As at the higher volumes, the diaphragm becomes unable to move at a fast pace which leads to crackling, popping and static lines or in short distortion. So go for headsets which have THD levels below one percent.
Its the difficulty and resistance an electric signal has to face before being converted into music so basically Impedance is the resistance. The magnetic speakers require current to run, and when there’s current, there’s impedance. So if you have headphones with higher impedance, your mobile devices might not be able to power those headsets, and usually, we get low impedance in headphones than that of Loudspeakers as they have to give huge output. In general, it’s like higher the impedance better the sound quality, but it might not be right in all cases. If you want to listen to music from your phone, laptop or iPod all you need is a headset with low impedance.
Choosing for Genre
If you have never had a chance to learn about music I’m sure this guide was beneficial for you. As music is a universal tool and is also influenced by many cultures depending on the region and lifestyle. Every genre has its style, and every different person has their preferences as well. If you are a person of Classical genre which has a more balanced and natural feel and affects emotions, then you should go for Headsets with light dynamic audio or nearly flat response. Meanwhile for Jazz lovers which has more deep sounding instruments like Piano, Saxophone and Trumpet then you need detail and consistency, so your preference should be flat and dynamic headphones. At last for folks who love Rock and like going for hard-hitting drums, electrifying bass and pitch changing strings the headphones with sound dynamic and lively are the best bet.
- How much should you pay for headphones?
The higher price tag doesn’t mean better sound quality. You can get headsets for $1 to $5,000, but mainly it depends on what you are looking for. Firstly, you should go through the major factors which are mentioned above, so you know what to look for and what you exactly need.
- Do over ear headphones sound better?
The larger size of over-ear headphones allows them to accumulate more significant drivers which improves the sound quality as well as its ear covering design offer more noise isolation leading to a better listening experience. It lacks in terms of portability, but if you are looking for the better sound, it’s the best type to go for.
- Is headphone better than earphone?
If you are conscious about your ears and want to be on the safer side, then you should go for headphone rather than earbuds as they deliver music directly to your ear canal with less buffering space. Meanwhile, if you are looking for portability earphones are better. Depending on different factors it entirely depends on your personal preferences which you can search for in the article.
Well as now you know everything about headphones you should be pretty good to choose what’s best for you depending on your personal preferences. Meanwhile, do share your feedback about the above-discussed content and lemme know if you have any queries which remained unanswered or are concerning. 🙂