Ultimate Guide to Buying The Best Headphones For You
In today’s chaotic and noisy world, a good pair of headphones and your favourite music is a necessity and an instant relaxation. However, buying the best headphones for you is equally confusing and challenging.
Should I get Bluetooth headphones or the Wired ones?
Should I spend more on noise cancelling headphones?
In-ear headphones, On-ear headphones or Over-ear headphones?
What are the best headphones for me?
Should I compromise on one feature over another?
Or should I get multiple headphones for multiple uses?
How much should I spend on the headphones?
There are so many questions about the headphones that our readers are asking that I thought it would be best to create a guide to answer all of them in one post.
Hopefully, this guide will help you find the right and the best headphones for you!
Redefine the problem
Rather than asking what are the best headphones to buy, let’s redefine the question into smaller parts.
Here are the questions you need to ask yourself:
– Why do I need headphones?
– When and where will I use my headphones?
– What kind of music do I listen to?
– What are the important criteria for a good music experience in each situation?
– How much should I spend on the headphones?
– What are the options available?
– How to make a final decision?
Don’t try to answer them now. Let’s dig in deeper and understand what they mean.
Why do I need headphones?
Do you need headphones only because your commute to work is long and you have nothing else to do?
Or because you love playing video games and want something to give full-immersive gaming experience?
It might be that your office is too noisy and you want to cut-off some noise to focus on your work. Or maybe you just want to listen to your favourite motivational tracks in gym!
Understanding your reasons to buy a headphone will make your buying choices better and so much easier. The only reason why we don’t know what the best headphones are for us is because we don’t know why we need them in the first place.
And that holds true for any product!
So go ahead, and define why you really want to buy headphones now.
When & where will I use my headphones?
Once you know the real reasons for buying headphones, think about situations in which you will listen to them. Ask more questions to yourselves!
Let’s say your primary reason to buy headphones is for running. How many times do you go for run? Do you run in a noisy urban environment or on a quiet country-side road? Will you also use them for any other purpose like during flights or airports? Is that an important need? How often do you fly?
If you want a pair of headphones for office, you might want something with low sound leakage and more balanced sound to avoid disturbing your colleagues. Or maybe something with less wires so that you are free to move around your desk without pulling off the cables?
By understanding the situations in which you will use your headphones, you will be able to know the type of headphones and features that are more important to you. This will help you in finding the best headphones for your particular need.
What kind of music do I listen to?
Unless you listen to all kinds of music and are not very particular about one type of music, try to understand what kind of music do you like. Do you like bass-heavy music? Or do you prefer high-pitched, high-treble music?
If you are not sure what high-pitch (or high frequency or highs) means, here’s a quick recap:
Frequencies are measured in terms of oscillations of a sound waves per second, a unit known as hertz, Hz. Basically, 1 Hz means a sound waves complete 1 cycle per second. Humans can hear from 20 Hz (lowest) to 20,000 Hz (highest).
Different instruments can produce sounds at different frequencies. Generally speaking,
High Frequencies or Bass (under 400 Hz) : soprano, violin, flute, etc.
Medium Frequencies (400 Hz to 4000 Hz) : viola, cello, alto, tenor, oboe, etc.
Low Frequencies or Treble (>4000 Hz) : bass, bassoon, bass drum, baritone, etc.
Learn more here!
Without getting into more technical details, try to understand what frequencies do you prefer. Depending upon your preference, you can identify which headphones are good at producing certain frequencies.
For example, if you prefer a bass-heavy (lows) music, you might not want to buy a Bose headphones. Don’t get me wrong! Their headphones sound very crisp and brilliant. However, Bose is considered to produce an overall balanced sound, which means the highs and the lows do not overpower each other. And if you are looking for more lows or highs, you won’t get that from Bose.
Like I said, if you like all kinds of music and are not very particular about it, just test out a few of your favourite music tracks on different headphones and see which ones sound better to your ears.
How to choose the best headphones?
Now that you understand you needs, let’s examine what you are looking for in the best headphones for you.
1. Headphone Type
In-ear headphones or earbuds are the smallest and most portable headphones that fit into your ear canal.
Pros: Due to small size, they are very light-weight, and comfortable to wear and easy to carry anywhere. They’re good for fitness activities and cause sweat. Some of them provide good noise isolation as they block the ear canal, but still there is quite a lot of ambient noise.
Cons: Powered by small drivers (8-10 mm), they aren’t very loud. In general, the listening experience is not so great due to limited capacity of technology that can be inserted in such a small space.
If you are looking for a convenient way of listening to music everywhere and anywhere, they are a great option.
Example – In-Ear Headphones : Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear Headphones
Also known as supra-aural headphones, they rest on your ears and have a headband to support them on your ears. They are a good compromise between the two other type of headphones, viz. in-ears and over-ears.
Pros: They are powered by large drivers (30-40 mm) they can be quite loud. Better noise isolation than in-ears.
Cons: Since they rest on your ears, they are not very comfortable in long term usage. Less portable than in-ears.
If you want something better sounding than in-ear headphones and more noise isolation, then you can look at on-ear headphones. However, if you are planning to buy on-ears then you should always check out some comfortable pairs of over-ears that can vastly improve your listening experience.
Example – On-Ear Headphones : Klipsch Reference On-Ear II Headphones
Over-ear headphones are also called circum-aural or around-ear headphones as they rest around the ears rather than resting on the ears. They form a closed seal around the ears so the passive noise isolation is quite good.
Pros: Louder and better sound signature than in-ear and on-ear. They are comfortable for longer usage. They can be technologically more advanced and give a richer listening experience.
Cons: They are not so portable and carry a lot of space in your bag. They aren’t the most suitable headphones for fitness activities due to weight and size.
Definitely the most popular option among music-lovers, it provides a great music experience and higher passive noise isolation. If you don’t mind carrying a few extra grams in your bag, then go for the over-ear headphones.
Example – Over-Ear Headphones: Sony MDR-100ABN
2. Closed-back or Open-back headphones
As the name suggests, are the cans of headphones which are closed from the back of the driver-enclosure. They are better in noise isolation and keeps the driver sound inside the earcups so that there is less leakage. Since they keep the sounds inside the headphones, they are more suitable to use in public.
Most of the headphones are closed-back so that you can enjoy them anywhere without disturbing others.
Example – Closed-back Headphones: Bose QC35
They have an open back, usually made of a mesh to protect the driver enclosure. Since they allow the sounds in both the directions, they give a more realistic listening experience. They are not suitable to be used in public but can be great to use at home if you are looking for less into-your-head and more natural listening experience.
Example – Open-back Headphones: Grado SR80e Prestige Series Headphones
3. Sound Quality
I wish there could be an objective or measurable way of identifying the best sounding headphones for you. Sound is very subjective and personalized, depending on what your ears can hear and what they like to hear.
If you did the exercise mentioned above to understand what music you like, you would be able to understand which headphones are better for you by reading reviews of different headphones.
Otherwise, it is a good idea to test various headphones before buying them. You can also order your headphones online at Amazon and if you don’t like them, you can return them in a few days.
4. Noise Cancellation
Not to confuse with noise isolation, active noise cancellation reduces the ambient noise falling into your ears by digitally producing sound waves opposite to the ambient noise, thus cancelling the ambient sounds.
They provide a quiet background even in noisy areas so that you can listen to your music without outside disturbances. There are some great noise cancellation headphones both in-ears and around-ears that you can choose from.However, be careful with any headphones that claim to be produce digital noise-cancelling. Some of them produce constant hissing sounds which diminishes the external sound, leading you to listen to music at higher volumes. On top of that, while working with noise cancelling technology, there is a high chance of messing up the sound quality.
Due to all the technology inside them, noise cancelling headphones cost more than normal headphones and add a few grams to the weight. However, if you are a traveller or commutes daily to work, they are a great option to cut out the outside noise and just relax while listening to your music.
5. Wireless headphones vs Wired headphones
For a very long time, if you wanted a great sounding headphones there was no good wireless options available. But who likes wires? Right? If you are among those who are tired of detangling headphones wires or are tired of them hanging around your body all the time, there is a great news.
With Bluetooth and NFC technology, the headphones have shaken off the wires. Reproducing good sound quality over Bluetooth is not an easy task. Wireless technology converts signals to digitally encoded signals and then the headphones convert it back to analog.
Surely, there are exceptionally well-built and great sounding wireless headphones available. It’s only since a couple of years that we can get good quality wireless headphones in the market. If convenience is what you are after, go ahead and buy wireless headphones.
If you decide to buy wireless headphones, read expert reviews and the product manual for the range of wireless connectivity. Also, check if they have Qualcomm’s aptX sound codec to deliver superior quality sound over Bluetooth.
There might be some compression over wireless music transfer but new headphones technology like KLEER provides uncompressed sound over wireless connection.
However, if you still want to have uncompressed and high-quality sound at lower price, it’s best to go with the wired headphones.
6. Design & Comfort
A well-designed headphone is not just important for style and looks, but also for better functionality. A bad design or poor material can significantly impact the sound quality and the overall experience.
A good headphones should be comfortable to wear for longer durations. The material on the earcups should be soft and breathable like Alcantara, faux-leather, etc. A light-weight plastic on headband ensures that they are not too heavy for long hours usage.
A good design should distribute pressure equally across the headphone thus reducing too much pressure on one point. If you wear glasses, pay attention to the earcup cushion. A hard cushion can apply too much pressure and cause headache.
If you decide to buy a wireless and noise cancelling headphones, do not ignore the battery. Look at how long the battery is going to last each time you charge it. How long does it take to charge the battery? Is there a notification for low battery level?
If you are the kind of person who is always struggling to keep your phone and laptop charged, you might not want to buy headphones that take 6 hours to charge and don’t last long.
Should I carry more than one headphones?
Why not? If you feel that you are into different activities where one type of headphones are not suitable, don’t be afraid of the idea of buying several headphones instead of buying one expensive headphones that won’t be useful for all the purposes.
If personally have one over-ear noise cancelling bluetooth headphones for everyday use for local travel use or at work. They are also useful for most of the time, except when I go to gym or for running. For that purpose, I have another in-ear headphones which are bluetooth because I don’t like the wires hanging around when I am exercising.
A Youtuber friend who does a lot of video editing and is a kind of an audiophile told me that he has several headphones including a set of wired closed-back over-ear headphones for his video editing and a pair of open-back over-ear headphones for a more real sound experience.
If you have a limited budget, like most of us, rather than spending your money on one expensive pair of headphones, try to have find several options that meet your needs and activities.
Rather than spending $350 on one over-ear, noise cancelling, bluetooth headphones, you can buy two good quality headphones – one over-ear bluetooth noise cancelling headphones costing $200-$250 and one in-ear noise cancelling headphones costing $100.
This way you will ensure that you have great sounding headphones for all the activities.
Buying a great pair of headphones requires a lot of research and you music-soul-searching!
Hopefully, after reading this article you will have more understanding of what your needs are and what to look for in order to buy the best headphones for you.