Headphones… we all have them and we all use them for the same purpose, basically listen to music. Choosing the right pair of headphones and knowing how to compare headphones is more complex thought than it seems. Earbuds, on-ear, over-ear, closed and open headphones,… plenty of choices! But we don’t have the same needs and expectations.
The choice of headphones depends on your needs and preferences. A music producer or an audiophile, a DJ on the go or a work-out addict won’t have the same needs and each headphone has it’s own features and specifications.
There are some important things to consider (as you will read below) and I am pretty sure that at the end of this article you will understand how to compare headphones and know which type to go for, suiting your preferences and needs!
So let’s have a look at the different types on the market, important things you might not have thought of and specificities and features that will simplify your choice!
Earbuds are inserted into the ear canal. The advantage of earbuds is it’s portability and noise isolation as they are inserted directly into the ear canal.
With their small size and lightweight, they are ideal for music listening ‘on the walk’ and for sports.
They adapt to every portable device and they offer great isolation from outside noise.
On-ear headphones (or supra-oral headphones) rest on the ears but doesn’t cover them.
They are more lightweight than over-ear headphones because they use smaller drivers to make them more portable.
Some have a great sound quality but over-ear headphones will mostly have better sound quality.
They also offer poor noise isolation and can be uncomfortable for extended listening hours as the pads are clamping against your ears.
Over-ear headphones (or circumaural ) are larger and heavier than on-ear and have larger pads that cover the ear.
Over-ear headphones will have a better sound quality because they use bigger drivers to reproduce sound. They will be more comfortable than on-ear headphones for extended listening time and will please audiophiles and professionals.
As most On-ear headphones will be closed back, over-ear headphones can be open back, closed back or semi-open.
Open back headphones have a wider soundstage as the sound is reproduced by the air that goes through the drivers. They are ideal for watching movies, audiophiles and for studio purposes the will be used for mixing and mastering.
Closed back headphones will be useful for tracking and recording and offer a better sound isolation.
Any type of headphone has noise canceling properties. How much will depend on the noise filtering properties of the ear pads and the number of layers of foam that will cancel outside interferences? The more isolation, the heavier the headphones will be.
Passive or active noise cancellation?
Passive noise isolation headphones will lower some of the outside noise by blocking most of the high frequencies but you will still be able to hear some lower frequency waves ( like on plane for example).
Active noise isolation headphones will block even the lowest frequencies and offer a much better noise isolation but by doing so they can muffle the sound of the music you listen to.
Even if it’s true that you mostly get what you pay for, some cheaper models have everything it takes to bring your music experience to another level. There are some remarkable headphones for tiny prices that deliver the flat, accurate and detailed sound you are looking for.
What we all want is the best price/ quality but some people think that because headphones are expensive, they are better. It is not always true.
Sometimes you pay for a brand instead of quality. As an example, I’d like to talk about Dre’s Beats. This is the perfect example of how price and quality are not related. They are not bad… but they are way too expensive for what you get!
There are much better headphones out there for a much more affordable price. So don’t be a sheep and don’t let yourself tricked by big brands and fashion… there are quality headphones for affordable prices out there that will truly amaze you with their sound quality!
Ask yourself the question why you buy headphones. To listen to music or to show off? If you want only to go for the best, I made a list of the 10 best studio headphones.Those are more headphones for studio purposes but they are great for any audiophile! And they all sound better than Beats 😉
Type of music
Not all headphones will reflect sound in the same way. Most headphones that or not used for professional purposes will have a colored sound. That means that some aspects will be intensified.
This can be the bass, the midranges or high ranges. To know which headphones correspond to your personal taste I recommend to read the specifications before you buy.These are not always easy to interpret so I made an understandable list of specifications below.
Before you invest in headphones it is interesting to know how long they will last. The built up quality of headphones will vary and mostly the most expensive headphones have a longer durability. Instead of putting 50 $ dollars into headphones that will last a few months it’s sometimes preferable to put a little more into some that will last.
If you are listening to music for extended periods of time or if you use them in the studio, headphones need to be comfortable. It is sometimes difficult to have both built quality and comfort. The sound quality will be better in more heavy headphones, so again it depends on what your preference is.
I spoke about isolation before and for some people, isolation will be more important than sound quality so depending on which aspect is more important for you, you’ll need to keep that in mind.
the sound quality will depend on the specifications of the headphones. The frequency response, the impedance, sensitivity and harmonic distortion. It is important to understand the specificities and headphones before you buy them.
soundstage and stereo imaging: Soundstage refers to your listening experience and the playback of sound. the richness, high, width and depth of each instrument or vocal part placed into a dimension. A wide soundstage will not only be in front of you but all around like you are surrounded by the sound coming from every part.A narrow soundstage will make you perceive the sound more in front or on the sides.
Stereo imaging will refer to how your spacial perspective of the sound will be. It gives you a sense of where each separate instrument will be positioned.
frequency range: Frequency is the measurement of sound in Herz (Hz). As humans, we are able to hear frequencies from 20Hz to 20.000 Hz. These are standard in most headphones
Frequencies are represented in a graphic (see below)
Good headphones need an accurate response to all frequencies: Bass, mids and high frequencies. Bass frequencies should be between 20 and 500 HZ, Mids between 500 Hz and 5000 Hz and highs between 5000 Hz and 20 KHz. The frequency can also be divided into more categories like Midbass and upper midrange).
Good headphones are able to reproduce every frequency equally. Although the human ear can only hear frequencies between 20Hz- 20.000Hz, most professional studio headphones have a frequency response that is wider (sometimes from 5Hz to 30.000 Hz). This means a better extension of the sound and less distortion.
Another reason to analyze frequency ranges when buying headphones is related to your preferences. If you are producing or listening to ‘bass’ music, you might go for headphones that emphasize lower frequencies (low-end headphones) but if your genre is more instrumental, vocal or you should go for high-end headphones.
Watch out though that the frequency spectrum is not ‘too’ colored if you are a music producer because you will get a sound quality that is much less detailed and accurate. For music production, the sound should be as flat and neutral as possible.
Total Harmonic Distortion ( THD): To avoid crackling or alteration in sound, you should go for headphones with a low harmonic distortion ( Lower than 1 % ) They will provide a more accurate reproduction of sound, even at high volumes. In the graphic above, this would be represented as spikes in the frequency range.
Impedance: To put it in simple words, impedance is the electrical resistance of current measured in Ohm. Most of the headphones have low impedance and require less power to drive the sound. Electronic devices like iPods or MP3 have a weak amplification, so less resistance which makes it possible to get higher volume.
Although some professional headphones have a higher impedance ( above 80 Ohm) and will need a preamp to be able to drive the sound to its maximum level. The resistance is higher, so the output will be weaker and incompatible with software that has weak amplification.
It is important to check the impedance before buying headphones because if you don’t pay attention you might be forced to end up having to buy a preamp and double the initial cost of your headphones.
Sensitivity: Is the ability of the drivers to reproduce the sound measured in Db. It measures how efficiently the driver will be able to transform the electric input signal into a clear acoustic signal ( sound). The higher the sensitivity the clearer and louder the output volume will be for a given signal.
Hope this helped you understand how to compare headphones and make a choice in your future headphones
Any questions or suggestions? Don’t hesitate to comment or send an email to [email protected]
My name is Angélique. I am a full-time music producer and blogger.I created Children of the Electronic Revolution to give you all the tools you need to help you become the successful music producer you dream to be !