Headphones Buying Guide

Don’t know which headphones to buy? We’re here to help.

Here are the 5 things you must keep in mind before getting the right pair of headphones:

Sound Quality

As one may understand, sound quality refers to how good the sound output is from the headphones. The sound quality in itself is a vague aspect, which may differ from person to person. Some people prefer  more bass-oriented headphones while some may prefer headphones with a balanced sound output. To understand ‘Sound Quality’, let us first take a look at the various aspects that enhance the sound quality of headphones.

1. Aspects That Enhance Your Sound Experience

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a) Hi-Fi Audio Output

Some people interchangeably use the term HD audio with Hi-Fi audio (High Fidelity). What is Hi-Fi audio? In terms of headphones, Hi-Fi audio refers to an audio output close to or similar to the audio output of the original source, producing that sound.

Usually, higher budget headphones come with Hi-Fi audio, which is a much clearer and sought after sound experience than what a low budget pair of headphones may provide you with.

b) Stereo Sound Effect

Have you ever felt as though a particular instrument is playing only in your right ear while another one is playing only in your left ear? If yes, you’ve experienced the stereo sound effect. Headphones having a stereo sound have different sound/audio channels for each of the ears. This ensures a more wholesome and immersive sound experience to the users.

Headphones with stereo sound are better in comparison to mono headphones which provide the same audio via both ear channels, making the experience less dynamic.

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c) Noise Cancellation/ Isolation Technology

Noise cancellation is a big ask in today’s time, when choosing the right headphones. Noise cancellation refers to the blocking of ambient noise by your headphones, to give you a more relaxing, undistracted and comfortable audio experience. Some headphones use the external mic to block out these sounds, while others create sound frequencies in the headphones which block outside noise.

Most high-end headphones come with a button to turn on/off noise cancellation. This is a feature which is missing in most low budget headphones, which provide only as much noise isolation as their design can provide.

d) Surround Sound

Surround sound and stereo sound usually go hand-in-hand. Surround sound refers to the sound effect that you get in cinemas and theatres, i.e. sounds coming from different directions to make the audio experience more realistic. Similarly, most high-end headphones come with multiple speakers in each ear-cup, producing audio from different angles and directions, giving you a surround sound experience.

Why DJs hold Headphones to One Side

2) Technical Aspects Contributing to Sound Quality

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a) Frequency of Sound

What is the ‘frequency of sound’? As some of you may know, sounds are waves. The speed at which these sound waves vibrate is what is referred to as sound frequencies. These are measured in Hertz (Hz). Let’s try and understand sound frequencies better. The human ear has the capability of interpreting sound frequencies ranging from 20Hz to 20,000 Hz. Music is a combination of different sounds viz. vocals, instrumentals etc., and therefore a combination of different sound frequencies. Sound frequencies are broadly categorized into three types which are as follows:

  1. Bass (Lows) – 20Hz to 200Hz: Bass refers to the thumping sounds which we hear while listening to music, sounds where you can feel the vibrations.
  2. Mids (Medium) – 200Hz to 5000Hz: Mids are sound which are neither too shrill, nor too deep. These are the sounds that allow an audio experience to be well balanced and not one-sided.
  3. Treble (Highs) – 5000Hz to 20000Hz: Treble refers to the higher end of the frequency range, audible to the human ear. These are the shrill and sharp sounds we come across while listening to music.
b) Frequency Responsiveness

This refers to the ability of the headphones to accurately reproduce different sound ranges. Some headphones are tuned more towards lower frequencies, which will suit people liking a heavier bass. On the other hand, people preferring a balance between bass and treble may go for headphones having a higher frequency response.

Bose QuietComfort 35 II headphones

Best Noise Isolation DJ Headphones : Status Audio CB-1

c) Driver Size

The drivers reside inside the earbuds or ear cups of the headphones. These are the components that are responsible for the production of sound inside the headphones.What exactly is a driver? It’s a component made from a combination of magnets, coils and an outer diaphragm. The size of the driver usually refers to the size of the diaphragm’s diameter, measured in mm.In simple terms, the more the drivers and the bigger their size, the better the audio output will be. The size of the driver for in-ear headphones may range from 6mm to 14mm, whereas for over-the-ear headphones it may range from 30mm to 100mm.

d) Sound Signature

Much like any other signature which is unique to its owner, the sound signature is the unique signature of a pair of headphones. For better understanding, every pair of headphones comes with a certain style of sound output. Headphones built to have a heavy bass produce the lower frequency ranges in a more enhanced manner. Similarly, headphones built to have a sharp treble produce enhanced higher frequency sounds. These sound styles are what we refer to as sound signature.Following are the most commonly used sound signatures:

  • High Bass
  • High Treble
  • V-Shaped
  • Warm
  • Balanced

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Samson SR850 DJ Headphones

e) Sensitivity and Impedance

These two aspects of headphones go hand-in-hand. The lower the sensitivity of headphones will be, the quieter the sound will be. To put it into perspective, the level of volume produced by headphones for a given amount of input is its sensitivity level. Therefore, the loudness of headphones is measured by its sensitivity (measured in decibels/milliwatt). In a similar fashion, the level of impedance refers to the electrical resistance of your headphones for a given amount of current. (measured in ohms). Lower impedance indicates louder volume. People using headphones with amplifiers or equipment with a higher current flow should choose headphones with a higher impedance level.

Headphones can be broadly categorized into three types:

In-Ear Headphones
These fit inside the ear.

Get the Bass Kickin’ – Best Bass Headphones

On-Ear Headphones
These fit on your ear.
What-are-studio-headphones-and-why-you-need-them
Over-The-Ear Headphones
These cover over your whole ear.

From person to person, preference of the fit and type of headphones varies. Runners may prefer in-ear headphones whereas DJs may prefer over-the-ear headphones. Let’s understand these headphone-fits in better detail:

1) In-Ear Headphones

In-Ear headphones are the most commonly used type of headphones for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they are the easiest to carry, as they can easily fit your pocket and are lightweight to carry around. Secondly, because they are generally less expensive than other types of headphones. These come in both wired and wireless options.

Pros Cons
Lightweight and portable, thus easy to carry Flimsier compared to the other types of headphones
Compact size, can thus fit into your pocket Sound quality may not be up to the mark when compared to high-end over-the-ear or on-ear headphones.
Generally cheaper in price compared to the other types.
Great for using while doing activities due to its snug fit into your ear.

Let’s look at different types of in-ear headphones:

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a) Earbuds

The least preferred and the cheapest headphones on the market are the earbuds. These in-ear headphones, unlike most in-ear headphones, simply rest on the outer ear. The sound quality is generally low to average and the noise isolation ability of these headphones is almost close to zero. Suits you if you need headphones for very minimal and basic usage.

b) In-Ear Monitors (IEMs)

These are the most commonly used in-ear headphones out there. They come with silicon or rubber tips that go fit snugly inside your ear canal. Most IEMs come with different sized ear-tips so as to suit each and every user. They have some noise cancellation attributes, thanks to their fitting inside of your ear canal, which also leads to a good music experience. People who prefer to listen to music while exercising, running or activities needing a lot of movement may go for IEMs as they don’t fall out of your ears easily.

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AKG-Pro-Audio

c) Ear Clips

Ear clips are in-ear headphones that come with an additional clip that goes over the users ear, to keep the headphones in place. They can be both an earbud-style or IEM style. These are mostly recommended for people who use headphones while running as these are so securely fit to the ears that there’s little to no chance of falling off. The clip is generally made using soft silicone or rubber material, much like the ear tips of IEMs, to provide the utmost comfort to the users.

d) Neckbands

Neckband headphones are in-ear headphones that come with a band that falls around your neck. This makes the transition between using the headphones and not using the headphones very easy, as you can simply hang down the earbuds if not in use. These are usually wireless headphones.

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2) On-Ear Headphones

Many people confuse on-ear headphones with over-the-ear headphones, so for those people, let’s get a better look at what on-ear headphones are. The basic properties of both the on-ear and over-the-ear headphones are the same but unlike over-the-ear headphones, on-ear headphones merely rest on your ear and do not entirely cover your ear. These also come in wired and wireless variants. On-ear headphones are usually priced at a more affordable price than over-the-ear headphones.

Pros Cons
Lightweight and portable, thus easy to carry around. Does not completely block out ambient noise.
Better sound output than most in-ear headphones. Come with comfortable cushions for resting on your ears. Sound quality may not be up to the mark when compared to high-end over-the-ear headphones.
Generally cheaper in price compared to the over-the-ear headphones
Great for using while traveling. They provide very good sound quality while also not being too bulky to carry around.
These have some level of noise isolation, but not enough for you to be absolutely unaware of your surroundings. This may be a con to some people.

3) Over-the-Ear Headphones

Over-the-ear headphones are usually the most sought after headphones. These headphones use cushioned ear-cups to cover over your whole ear, unlike on-ear headphones which only rest on your ears. Over-the-ear headphones are designed to provide the best quality sound output while also providing the best level of noise cancellation. Most professional headphones are over-the-ear headphones, be it for DJing, recording or gaming. These also come in both wired and wireless options. Over-the-ear headphones are generally the costliest of the lot. There are some cheaper models available but they do not provide the same level of output as the higher priced variants.

Pros Cons
Sturdy and well-built, therefore are durable headphones Are bulky, therefore may be difficult to carry.
Better sound output than most in-ear headphones. Come with comfortable cushions for resting on your ears. Are more expensive than in-ear and on-ear headphones.
Usually have the best level of noise cancellation thanks to the design of the headphones which covers your ear.
Are very comfortable for long uses due to
comfortable material used in their making.
Recommended for professional usage as well as for users who want a more wholesome and immersive audio experience.

On-ear headphones and Over-the-ear headphones come with 2 two types of ear cups, open back and closed back. Let’s glance over at the difference between these two.

Open Back Closed Back
Their earcups have a vent or a mesh at the back to allow air flow. Their earcups have no vents and are completely closed.
They are designed in this way so that the ear stays cool and there is no moisture build up. Might be heat and moisture buildup over an extended period of usage due to closed design.
There may be leakage of sound to others. No leakage of sound generally.

Usage: Professional Use or Casual Use

Wondering what headphones are the right ones for you? Not every headphone is suited to a particular use. Some headphones are better for some purposes, while other headphones may be better for other purposes. Let us help you find out the answer, based on your usage requirement.

a) Casual Day-To-Day Usage

This includes your usual listening to songs, watching some videos on Youtube or Netflix, talking on the phone with your loved ones or putting on some soothing music to help you with your insomnia blues.

Get the Bass Kickin’ – Best Bass Headphones

In-Ear Headphones
These are easy to carry, are very lightweight, and can fit into your pocket easily.

Get the Bass Kickin’ – Best Bass Headphones

Neckband Wireless In-Ear Headphones
These are easy to carry, are very lightweight, and can fit into your pocket easily.

b) Exercising, Running and Sports

No one likes to work-out without music, right? So headphones that stay in place while you run around should be a top priority. Also, these users need headphones with a good level of sweat, dust and water resistance.

i) Wireless In-Ear Headphones
In-Ear headphones stay in place due to a snug fit, but being wireless, you will not have any issues with the wire tangling with you while you work-out.

ii) True Wireless Headphones
These have no wiring whatsoever, and both earbuds are separate which fit right into your ear canal with a snug fit. Very light in weight, perfect for workouts.

c) Travel Usage

These are the users who are inquisitive to listening to music while on the move, be it traveling by buses, trains or by air. Headphones that these users need must have one feature – ‘Noise Cancellation’.

how to clean headphones

i) On-Ear Wireless Headphones
Comfortable to use and have no hassles due to the absence of wires. Have a better sound quality compared to in-ear headphones. Would be better if they have a noise cancellation feature. Can hang around your neck when not in use.

how to clean headphones

ii) Over-The-Ear Wireless Headphones
Comfortable to use and have no hassles due to the absence of wires. Have a better sound quality compared to on-ear headphones. Most over-the-ear headphones have noise cancellation capabilities, even if not present as a feature. Can hang around your neck when not in use.

d) Gaming Usage

For a gaming experience to be proper, the audio and visual experience should be completely immersive. One must be able to hear all dialogues, background sounds with utmost clarity. What makes this audio experience immersive? Yes, good quality headphones. Also, gamers prefer having microphones as a lot of games require team-talk.

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i) Wired On-Ear Headphones
Generally have a good sound quality. Are comfortable to use due to cushioned earcups for long hours of gaming. Wired headphones are preferred in gaming so that battery life is not a problem. Headphones with good stereo and surround sound, with a good microphone are recommended.

What-are-studio-headphones-and-why-you-need-them

ii) Wired Over-The-Ear Headphones
Generally have great sound quality. Are comfortable to use due to cushioned earcups for extended hours of gaming. Over-ear headphones have nice noise cancellation capabilities for a more immersive experience. Wired headphones are preferred so that battery life is not a problem. Headphones with good stereo and surround sound, with a good microphone are recommended.

e) DJ and Music Production

Headphones are an essential part of music production and DJing. These headphones must have the greatest sound quality, especially having the stereo sound effect to identify each sound separately. Added noise cancellation helps with avoidance of any kind of distractions as music production is a task of utmost concentration.

Why do musicians wear headphones

i) Wired Over-the-Ear Headphones
Over-The-Ear headphones have the best sound quality and are therefore the top-most recommendation for headphones for DJs. These have nice noise cancellation effects and due to large driver sizes, the stereo and surround sound effect is much better than other types of headphones. Wired variants are preferred to avoid battery drainage crisis while working.

Why do musicians wear headphones

ii) Wireless Over-the-Ear Headphones
As mentioned above, over-the-ear headphones are the best for music productions and for DJs. If you prefer having a more hassle-free experience without wires over the battery life issues, wireless headphones are the way to go.

Technical Features

With innovations coming every now and then, a pair of headphones is not just used for simply listening to music anymore. There are a lot of other factors that play an important role before a user selects the headphones of their choice. These factors include lots of technological upgrades and technical features, which may be hard to look past, when selecting your choice of headphones. Let’s take a look at them:

Durability and build quality
Connectivity
In-built volume and play control
Microphone
Voice assistants (Google Assistant/Alexa/Siri)
Water, dust and sweat resistance

1. Durability and Build Quality

Needless to say, headphones are only as good as their build quality. A flimsy pair of headphones with great sound quality is as good as a sturdy pair of headphones with poor sound quality, i.e. insufficient. When we talk about the durability of headphones, a lot of factors should be taken into consideration, such as:

  • The material used to make the headphones should be strong, yet lightweight to ensure sturdiness along with comfort.
  • The cushions of the ear cups or the silicone eartips should be such that there is no discomfort to the ear. Also, little to no wear and tear over extended use is another thing expected from headphones.
  • Cables and wires should be made of a strong rubber material, with the ability to resist breakage or damage on bending, folding or wearing. Broken cables are one of the major reasons why people choose to opt for wireless headphones.
  • The headphones should be resistant to weakening or damaging due to environmental factors like rain, dust, humidity etc.

2) Connectivity

There are generally two ways of connectivity, wired and Bluetooth connectivity (Wireless). Some headphones now provide NFC connectivity but that is something not so popular amongst users. Let’s understand them in better detail:

i) Wired Connectivity

The most commonly used connectivity mode headphones is the 3.5mm audio jack wire. These are the cheapest headphones on the market, even though many high end headphones also use these. The major advantage of using the 3.5mm audio jack is that most laptops, televisions, mobile phones and music players come with the 3.5mm jack connectivity. 

In present times, though, we are seeing the rise of ‘Single port for all purposes’, being followed by the likes of Apple and up and coming Android phones. What this means is that these devices use the same port for mobile charging as well as for connecting to headphones. These ports are generally USB Type C Ports (Android) on Lightning Ports (Apple). Headphones these days do provide variants with audio cables with a USB Type C Port or Lightning Ports. In case the headphones of your dreams do not come with the audio cables options, you can always use a 3.5mm to USB Type C converter or 3.5mm to Lightning converter, to use them with your devices.

ii) Wireless Connectivity

Simple as it sounds, wireless connectivity refers to the ability of headphones connecting to your device without using an audio cable/wire. Most wireless headphones are Bluetooth operated. Devices such as laptops, televisions, smartphones and tablets, all come with Bluetooth connectivity, therefore using wireless headphones is almost as convenient as using wired headphones.

The advantage that wireless headphones give you, is the freedom of movement without carrying the connected device around. Have a song playing on your laptop but want to get ice cream from the refrigerator? No problem, your wireless headphones will keep playing the song right into your ears while you fulfill your sugar rush.

One drawback that wireless headphones possess, is their battery life. Sometimes, the battery seems to run out right exactly when things were getting interesting in the movie you were watching. Mostly the battery life of over-the-ear headphones is more than sufficient on a full charge, due to the bigger battery size, ranging from 10-24 hours on a full charge. In-ear headphones especially face the question of battery life as their battery size is understandably smaller.

iii) Hybrid Connectivity

In our opinion, headphones with hybrid connectivity are the best. What are they? These headphones allow you to connect wirelessly as well with a wire. They come with detachable audio cables which you may use in case the battery of your headphones runs out. These headphones are generally high-end headphones but for this functionality itself, they are worth the price.

3) In-built Volume and Play Control

Users prefer not using their device every time they want to play, pause or change a song. Not just that, users rather not go to their devices every time they need to adjust the volume. Therefore, most headphones come with in-line volume control as well as in-line play control buttons. These controls usually consist of the ‘Play’, ‘Pause’, ‘Next’, ‘Previous’, ‘Volume Up’ and ‘Volume Down’ buttons. Some headphones have a common button for ‘Play’ and ‘Pause’ while others have separate ones. The play button may also be used to attend calls

For wireless headphones, the buttons are present on the ear-cups of the headphones which are generally big enough in size to host these controls.

4) Microphones

Microphones (Mics) are an essential aspect of headphones and play a major role when choosing which headphones to buy. Mics enable you to attend calls and record audio while using your headphones. People into gaming especially find mics of utmost importance when picking out their desired headphones, as gaming requires a lot of team-talk.

The mics may be built into the wires or are provided as extendable mics, depending on the headphones you buy. For wireless headphones, the microphones are generally built into the ear-cups or otherwise provided as extendable mics.

5) Voice Assistants (Google Assistant/Alexa/Siri)

Many headphones give in-built voice assistants. These voice assistants are great for music control or general task management purposes. This negates the need for using your device or in-line buttons for volume control, play control or task management. This may not be a factor that is a must in headphones, but having this as an add-on is sure to be of help.

6) Water, Dust and Sweat Resistance

Last but not the least, headphones must be resistant to environmental factors like rain, water splash, dust, moisture and humidity. Many people use headphones while exercising or running, and generally expose their headphones to sweat, dust and water damage. Therefore, having headphones that are resistant to these elements is a basic necessity in today’s time. Cheaper headphones generally do not have the resistance feature in them but most headphones, mid range to high end are water resistant, if not waterproof.

Water-resistant and waterproof, even though used interchangeably, are different in meaning. When we say the headphones are water-resistant, it means that they can resist raindrops, water splashes etc. But when we say they are waterproof, they have the ability to be submerged into water, yet come out unharmed. To understand this better, we have the Ingress Protection (IP) Rating of all headphones. The IP rating ranges from IPXo to IPX8. Have a look at the table below for a better understanding of these ratings. [Insert Ingress Protection Chart]

Wireless or Wired

With wireless headphones on a meteoric rise in today’s time, it has become a major decisive factor when it comes to selecting the right pair of headphones for you. What do we mean by wireless headphones? Yes, as simple as it sounds, these are headphones that you can connect to without using any wires. Wireless headphones can be connected to using Bluetooth connectivity. Nowadays, some headphones also come with the option of NFC connection, but it is not really a make or break factor.

People in today’s time prefer anything that is more hassle-free than the alternative. Wireless headphones are hassle-free when it comes to carrying around. Roaming about without the worry of carrying your device or worrying if the wire is long enough to reach out to the bowl of popcorn in front of you, what’s your choice?

Let’s look at some advantages and disadvantages of wireless headphones:

Pros Cons
Hassle-free due to the absence of any audio cables or wires. Sometimes wireless connectivity leads to a loss in sound quality as your distance to your connected device increases.
Extremely usable while doing activities requiring movement like running, working out, gaming etc. Battery lives are a big question mark when it comes to wireless headphones.
Freedom to roam around without having to carry the device you’re connected to.
Almost all devices in today’s time have bluetooth connectivity.

Types of Wireless Headphones

  • In-ear wireless headphones
  • On-ear wireless headphones
  • Over-the-ear wireless headphones
  • Neckband wireless headphones
  • True wireless headphones (separate earbuds without any wires connecting them)

Features of Wireless Headphones to be Taken Into Consideration:

Battery Life
The battery life of headphones is a massive factor to be kept into consideration while opting to buy one. Over-the-ear headphones usually have the biggest battery life, hence giving you a longer battery life than other variants. But, if your preference is something more portable and low battery life does not bother you, you may go for in-ear wireless headphones.
Bluetooth Connectivity
Some headphones only allow one device to pair with themselves at any given point of time, while others allow more than one device to pair with them at any point in time. This may play into consideration for someone who prefers to keep their headphones paired with their television, mobile phone and laptop at the same time, simply switching from one device to another. Going through the whole process of unpairing a device and pairing up another one is something not many prefer.
Noise Cancellation Feature
Most Bluetooth headphones in today’s time come with noise cancellation features. Therefore, if you must buy wireless headphones, go for options that have the noise cancellation feature available on them.