Which headphones are best for you?
Finding the correct pair of headphones can be a bit of a minefield. After all, there seems to be quite a few different varieties: in-ear, open back, closed back, noise cancelling, noise isolating. Not to mention some of the tech specs...what does impedance mean? And how does it affect sound quality?
This guide will help you choose which headphones are best for you.
First things first, before we get into more detail, remember 'headphones’ are positioned on your ear; 'earphones' fit inside them
Circumaural (Full Size)
These 'over ear' style headphones are commonly used for both home and professional use. They are available in Open Back and Closed Back designs.
Open Back designs feature 'vented’ earpiece assemblies which allow the sound to escape through the back of the earpiece. This can improve the bass response and make the audio more natural sounding and accurate as the sound waves are not reflected back from the earpiece housing. The flip side of this is that the open back design does 'leak’ more sound in and out which can be irritating to others nearby as well as the listener. So, although they’re probably not the best choice to use on public transport, they’re ideal for use at home.
Closed Back headphones provide a full seal against the ears which prevents intrusive background noise leaking in and reduces audio leaking out. In terms of audio quality, the sound can seem slightly 'boxier' than when using open backed headphones, but high quality designs can usually minimize this effect.
Closed back headphones are ideal for music and audio recording use, DJ-ing, or in an office or other public environment. Why not check out our HF-100 Premium Hi-Fi Headphones which are perfect for Hi-Fi, recording, studio monitoring and mixing use, and our NC-40 Active Noise Cancelling Headphones which are more suited to travel and at home use are both closed back designs.
These headphones sit on top of the ears rather than completely covering them. Like full sized headphones, they’re available in closed back and open back styles. They’re usually quite lightweight making them comfortable to wear for long periods and ideal for use with portable devices. The lightweight, adjustable design of our Supra-aural Stereo Headset makes them perfect for gaming.
Sometimes known as In Ear Monitors (IEMs) or Canal phones these earphones are light, compact earphones that fit snugly into the ear like a pair of earplugs. Great at naturally reducing the level of outside noise they also reduce noise leakage. Although at first they can feel odd to many users their compact, lightweight design offers portability. Canal phones are either a universal fit, made from silicone, rubber or foam, or custom made from the casting of an individual’s ear canal.
These are the most common type of earphones supplied by MP3 and portable audio player manufacturers. Ear-buds fit on the outside of the ear canal without covering it fully. Smaller, lighter ear-buds are generally used with portable devices due to their portable design. Although most find them more comfortable than Ear-canal types they do provide less isolation and let more outside noise in.
Noise Cancelling Headphones
Noise Cancelling Headphones feature battery operated circuitry that contains inverse phase active technology which can effectively 'cancel out' background noise by creating audio waves that are the exact opposite of the incoming ambient noise. In practice, this means that when on a plane, for instance, the drone of the engines and passenger noise is significantly reduced which results in a more pleasurable, less distracting listening experience to improve a user’s audio experience. When awarding LINDY's NC-40 Noise Cancelling Headphones 4 out of 5 stars What Hi-Fi magazine commented that 'the noise cancellation proves decent' and they have 'decent weight and punch' while they're design makes them 'smaller and lighter than most' and 'comfortable on the head' before.
Noise Isolating Earphones
Fitting like ear-plugs these fit snugly into the ear to block out background noise. Usually made from foam, rubber or plastic they prevent noise from entering the ear due to their natural in ear design while their unique acoustic design means they don’t require batteries. CROMO IEM-75 Earphones feature a noise isolating design and dual driver technology to provide superior audio performance from portable audio devices. Ear-buds such as are therefore perfect for outside use or when exercising where you want to clearly hear your audio, but still be aware of your surroundings.
Headphone technical specifications can be quite complicated and confusing so we’ve tried to explain it as simply as possible. These terms are often used in specs but what do they mean and do they make any difference?
Impedance typically relates to the volume produced by the headphones. Impedance is measured at a frequency of 1 kHz. Headphones or Earphones with a low impedance can produce a louder sound from a lower voltage headphone jack. This makes them especially suitable for portable audio players. Earphones designed for use with MP3 Players typically have an impedance of around 16 Ohms.
Higher impedance headphones are usually more suited for Hi-Fi, recording, mixing and professional audio setups. Most typical consumer focussed higher impedance headphones will be specified at around 100 Ohms. High impedance headphones also work well when teamed up with a dedicated headphone amplifier. This type of set up will usually yield the best performance from high end headphones, especially if you're connecting them to a device lower voltage headphone jack.
When similarly designed headphones with high impedance are plugged into the same equipment the headphones with a lower impendence will produce the higher volume.
Essentially the loudness of a set of headphones, this is sometimes referred to incorrectly as 'efficiency’. It is essentially the sound pressure level produced at a certain voltage and is measured in units of 'dB/mW’ and 'dB/mV’. Headphones with a low sensitivity require more power to sound as loud as those that have a higher sensitivity. This means that headphones that are going to be used with portable players should have a fairly high sensitivity number. This is because of the lower amount of power that portable devices create. Modern dynamic headphones usually have sensitivity ratings of 90dB or more. Ideally you should look for headphones with a sensitivity rating of 100dB or more.
Measured in Hertz, Frequency Response is the measurement of waves per second. It represents the highest and lowest frequencies that headphones are capable of producing. Human ears can only tell the difference between frequencies from as low as about 20Hz and as high as 20KHz (20,000Hz). You probably won’t be able to tell the difference between headphones above or below this. It’s not worth getting too hung up on Frequency Response specifications as it mostly makes little difference to a listening experience. Ultra-low frequencies less than 20Hz are more felt than heard and will make no difference to your audio experience. In fact they may even make it worse!