Music to Your Ears: Choosing the Right Headphones

Music to Your Ears: Choosing the Right Headphones

If you’re like the majority of folks these days, you consume your music on-the-go.

As our world gets ever more hectic and congested, a great-sounding headphone can provide a temporary refuge from the storm. Just cue up the music you love, close your eyes, and take it all in.

If you place a premium on sound quality, you’ve most likely found yourself in a compromising situation.

Understandably, you might desire to hear your music in high-fidelity, but carting around a hi-fi system is anything but convenient. Then again, you might not give two bits about sound quality, and simply want something comfortable, or that will help block out the noise around you.

The headphone market is more varied today than it ever has been.  From style, form, and performance, there’s no shortage of options.  No matter what your goals are, you’ll be able to find a pair of cans to suit your needs.  If you’re more than a little bit lost in the headphone labyrinth, here’s some info that will hopefully help you find your way. Feel free to contact us directly for a personal approach to your next pair.

Earbuds

This style has really taken off in recent years.  Between the buds that come with your shiny new smartphone, to waterproof sports buds, and on to high-end models that give competition to full size headphones, the world really is your oyster here.

Being tiny and having almost no weight to them, these types are highly mobile and convenient.  Adding to the convenience factor, many sets now have integrated microphones and track navigation interfaces built directly into the wire.  These can be convenient for commuters who may need to take calls while they’re listening.

Another major advantage: cost.  You will be able to find quality earbuds for much cheaper than their on-ear or over-ear brethren.  The earbuds in general won’t sound as good as their larger counterparts, but if cost is your number one decision-making factor, earbuds will fit that bill.

However, there are a few drawbacks to these convenience benefits.  Audio quality and bass response are often the first sacrifices when you’re shrinking drivers down small enough to fit inside your ear.  Also, since the speaker is literally inside your ear canal, listening fatigue can set in quickly when they’re run at high volumes.

That said, there are a few quality, top-tier earbuds that greatly circumvent many of these drawbacks, but you will absolutely pay a premium for these do-it-all headphones.

On-Ear

These are a smaller subset of headphone than earbuds or over-ear models, but they certainly have a following and true believers. Like the other styles, they can run the gamut of performance and price.

The primary benefit of these being that they don’t completely cover your ear, and thus don’t fully isolate you from the outside world.  These are good for noisy office environments where it may be beneficial to quiet the din but still register what’s happening around you. Also, since they don’t completely cover the ear, the individual drivers aren’t as big, which corresponds to a decreased low-end response.

That said, you can purchase full-size over-ear headphones that have an “open-back” design which lets sound in while maintaining fidelity.

Comfort level is also a factor with these kinds of ‘phones.  Since they’re resting directly on the outer part of your ear (the “pinna”), they may become uncomfortable after prolonged listening sessions.  While this is true for all varieties of headphones, it occurs more often with this type.  Best practice is to try before you buy and make sure that your new headphones aren’t going to cause your ears any discomfort.

Over-Ear

Over-ear describes any headphones with earcups that fully enclose your ears.  Because of their size and acoustic isolation, full-size headphones have traditionally been considered to be better-suited to home use rather than as a portable option, but the recent popularity of full-size, noise canceling Beats headphones are shifting this paradigm.

Large headphones offer potential for maximum bass and loudness levels. The bigger earcups create a larger sound stage that is more effective at blocking out outside noises, and sealing in your music.

These are where you’ll find the closest thing to full-range headphones.  But they can also run the highest in terms of cost and have the potential to be the least comfortable.  They’re also anything but discreet.  Everyone will notice the giant cans on your head.  If this is a priority for you, you might want to think about a set of headphones that are more under-the-radar.

Add-Ons

If you find yourself listening to headphones a lot of the time and care about sound quality, you might want to consider purchasing a headphone amp.  Both home and portable headphone amplifiers are available, as well as stand alone Digital to Analog Converters (DACs), which can instantly improve the performance of almost any headphone.

The short explanation for this is that our phones and laptops (which is how most of us listen to music these days) don’t come with high quality audio converters. These change the digital 1’s and 0’s of your mp3s into analog audio that your headphones (or speakers) can subsequently turn into sound waves.  The more accurate the conversion, the better your audio will sound.

There are portable DACs/Headphone amps available from companies like Audioquest that can instantly improve the sound of any sound system. It’s something to consider and something I would highly recommend for anyone looking to improve their listening experience easily and affordably.