Buying a pair of headphones is something that is considered one of the most exciting things to do, after all, you’re spending money on technology that will enhance your listening experience by a drastic measure. However, one thing that’s important to keep in mind is that buying headphones isn’t as easy as it may seem.
Sure, you can go to Amazon or even a physical store, pick up an $80 pair of headphones and call it a day, but do you really know if the money you just spent is actually on something good enough? Yes, that’s right; there are countless different headphones for a lot of different headphones.
You can buy headphones for general listening, as well as something known as studio monitoring, then there are headphones that are tuned specifically for a certain type of music. Needless to say, headphone buying is something that is complicated, especially if you are not doing it on a frequent basis.
Today, we are going to be taking a look at the definite headphone buying guide that will help you make the most out of your money, there are actually a lot of things that go into the whole process of buying a pair of headphones, and we are going to try and cover all of them.
In order to make sure that you are having a proper experience in learning everything, we are going to divide the article in different sections that will ultimately help you buy the best pair of headphones you can. So, without further ado, let’s begin.
Table of Contents
- Your Budget.
- Different Types of Headphones.
i) In-Ear Headphones.
ii) On-Ear Headphones.
iii) Full Size Headphones.
iv) Wireless Headphones.
v) Noise Cancelling Headphones.
- Things You Should Look for in a Headphone.
i) Headphone Style.
iii) Wireless or Wired.
iv) Closed or Open Back.
v) Surround or Not.
- Mistakes You Should Avoid When Buying Headphones.
i) Splurging a Lot of Money.
ii) Not Doing the Research.
iii) Not Buying a Protective Case.
iv) Spending Money on Flashy Features.
- Do You Need an Amplifier?
Once you have decided where you will be spending majority of your time listening on the headphones, you can go ahead and start deciding on your budget. In all honesty, you can find audiophile level headphones by just spending around $150 – $200.
Beyond this point, you’re paying more for features, and less for just how good the sound quality is. Take Sony’s wireless headphones for example, thy cost above $350, however, the premium you’re paying is for the active noise cancellation, as well as all the revolutionary wireless features that are added to the headphones.
We are not saying that the money will be going to waste, considering how new features are always worth it as long as they are actually not a gimmick, but if you want something for a pleasant listening experience, you don’t have to spend above $200.
Now, many of you may think of the Sennheiser’s $55,000 Orpheus are a waste, and while that statement may be true for some; the simplest way to justify the high price tag is the whole listening experience. The Orpheus are made for very specific use case, and are considered more of a luxury item than just a pair of headphones.
Different Types of Headphones
Once you have gone over the place, budget, and the type of music, you can move on to learning about the different types of headphones. It’s safe to say that almost everyone is aware of the fact that there are different types of headphones available in the market, and that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Believe it or not, these different headphones serve different purposes, and while they may look similar, they have different use cases as well.
We are going to take a detailed look at the different types of headphones because that will allow the readers to be able to pick up the best possible headphone they are looking at. So, without further wasting anymore time, let’s take a look at some of the different type of headphones.
i) In-Ear Headphones
The first category happens to be perhaps the most common one, and yes, in case you are wondering, we are talking about the in-ear headphones. These are also known as IEM (in-ear monitors) and just earphones. Now the common misconception is that these are cheap, however, that’s not the case.
There are several earphones that cost a lot of money, and in many cases, they are more expensive than some of the higher end pairs of full sized headphones. Generally, the listening experience is comparatively different mainly because the drivers are smaller than what you’d get on the full sized headphones.
However, the benefit here is that they are extremely portable, and lightweight; allowing the user to carry them wherever they want. Considering how it’s all about having the perfect fit, the large amount of passive noise cancellation depends on the ear-tips that you are using on the in-ear headphones.
However, the good thing is that they are also available with active noise cancellation, if you are willing to pay a little extra. Although the earphones aren’t a direct match to the full sized headphones, they are slowly catching up by offering features such as triple drivers, acoustic filters, and a lot of other small benefits.
ii) On-Ear Headphones
The next up, we are looking at the more common on-ear headphones, and while they look a lot like over the ear headphones, they are not. On-ear headphones sit on top of your ear, rather than over them. These are known as supra-aural headphones, or earpad headphones as well.
While the looks certainly make them look uncomfortable, some of them actually happen to be more comfortable than the in-ear headphones, however, due to the nature of being able to sit on top of your ears, they are prone to leaking more sound, something that isn’t the most pleasant experience there is.
The on-ear headphones are obviously more expensive if you compare their price with the in-ear headphones, but the fact that they are extremely portable, lightweight, and very comfortable to wear, it’s just a great overall listening experience. However, at the cost of sound leakage; and if you’re okay with that, you can actually go ahead and spend money on the on-ear headphones without really having any second doubts.
iii) Full Size Headphones
The next up we have the full sized headphones that are also known as over the ear headphones, these headphones are also known as circumaural headphones. For those who don’t know, the term “circumaural headphones” is the technical term.
Now when it comes to the full sized headphones, the options are practically limitless; from wireless, to open back, and even closed back headphones. You have limitless options to buy the headphones that you’re looking for.
When it comes to buying full sized headphones, you can choose from closed back studio headphones, or even open back headphones. There are several companies like AudioTechnica, Sennheiser, AKG, and Sony making some of the best full sized headphones, so you can be sure that you won’t be running out of options.
The benefits of full sized headphones are that they are pretty good when it comes to giving the best sound quality, their design allows them to provide a full sound. However, the downside is that due to their size, they can be a bit hard to carry, luckily, majority of full sized headphones can collapse or fold, giving the user a freedom.
iv) Wireless Headphones
Next up, we are taking a look at the wireless headphones. Now for those who don’t know, wireless headphones are basically made for people who want absolutely no wires whatsoever. Now when it comes to wireless headphones, you can either go for wireless in-ear headphones, or full sized wireless headphones.
Wireless headphones much like a lot of other wireless peripherals used to be bad mainly because they suffered from terrible battery life, mediocre sound quality, as well as input lag, and latency issues. However, thanks to Bluetooth evolving a lot, the sound, as well as battery life has improved drastically.
Most of the wireless headphones come with active noise cancellation as well, making them the perfect choice for people who love and adore you that technology. Another important thing that you should keep in mind is that wireless headphones can actually be used in wired mode as well.
However, if you do that, your headphones won’t be able to use the active noise cancellation feature, or other features that require a battery to operate. Overall, the active noise cancellation headphones have become a lot more popular than they used to be. Though one thing that’s really important to keep in mind is that they are still somewhat struggling to have the same audio quality as the wired counterparts, and that is something alarming.
v) Noise Cancelling Headphones
The last category is the noise cancelling headphones; now you should know that these headphones actually come in the shape of wireless headphones, as well as in-ear headphones. Now the noise cancellation headphones use specific hardware to isolate the outside noise, and while they may not be ideal for outside listeners, they’re great for home listening.
Sony and Bose are two of the best companies when it comes to noise cancelling headphone as they have been making some of the best headphones that are available in the market at the moment. With that in mind, you should also know that Sony has developed wireless headphones with multi-layered noise cancellation that will allow you to let specific outside noise come in just so you can be properly aware.
As compared to the wireless headphones, or the wired headphones, the noise cancelling headphones cost somewhat higher, however, do keep in mind that this is largely a technology, that is found in the headphones. So, you can still buy headphones that doesn’t have active noise cancellation, all the while saving some money.
Things You Should Look for in a Headphone
No headphone buying guide will be complete without a rundown on some of the important features that you should look for in a pair of headphones. Buying headphones used to be a lot easier a few years ago, however, things have drastically changed in the modern day and age as there are now multiple type of headphones that you can choose from each with their specific list of features.
Today, we are going to take a look at some of the important things you should look for in a headphone, this will ultimately help you pick the best pair of headphones there are in the market. So, without further ado, let’s begin.
i) Headphone Style
The first thing that you should look for is the style of headphones that you are looking for; this is important because buying the wrong style will just make your money go to waste, and that isn’t something that we would advise you to do.
In case you are wondering what are the types of headphones that are available for you to buy, you can check that out from our extensive list of headphone types that we talked about in the previous section.
Once you have decided the type of headphone style you’re looking for, we can move out onto the next section which is about the features that you should be looking for.
Next up, we have a list of features that you should be looking for in the headphones, now when it comes to the features, the list is pretty extensive. If you need something for normal listening experience, pretty much any pair of headphone would do. However, if you need something other than normal listening experience, then you have to spend some money.
You can look at buying headphones that come with active noise cancellation feature, however, do keep in mind that they normally cost a lot more, and they mostly come in wireless options. Then if you are looking for monitoring headphones, you can get some pretty great ones in sub $200 but monitoring headphones have a flat frequency response, and they need a good hardware to properly drive them.
These are some of the main features that people look for or talk about, so keep in mind that you have these features on your mind before you go ahead and purchase the headphones that you have been looking for. Once done, we can move on to the other section.
iii) Wireless or Wired
The debate between wireless and wired headphones is something that has been going on for quite some time, in case you are wondering, you actually need to make a proper decision because this will help you in determining what’s best for you.
For starters, the wireless headphones will provide you a lot of flexibility, as well as portability, however, the sound quality may not be as good. Similarly, wired headphones will provide you an amazing sound quality, however, you may end up facing issues with portability and freedom.
Last but not the least, there are some wireless exclusive features like active noise cancellation, so do keep that in mind as well.
iv) Closed or Open Back
Another debate is the debate between people who prefer closed backs, and people who prefer open back headphones. Open back headphones are for people who prefer a wider soundstage, and have no issues with the sound leak that happens from the back of the headphones. On the other hand, closed back headphones have a tighter soundstage, but they don’t leak sound whatsoever.
One of the most popular open back pair of headphones is the Sennheiser HD598, and on the other hand, one of the most popular closed back headphone happens to be the AudioTechnica ATH-M50x. Both of these headphones are regarded as one of the best headphones in the market, and are priced modestly as well.
Do keep in mind that open back headphones also allow the noise from outside to creep in, so their passive noise cancellation isn’t something that strong.
v) Surround or Not
This is something mostly gamers are aware of but surround sound is something that is becoming more and more common in general purpose headphones. However, you should keep in mind that surround sound isn’t something good when it comes to listening to music.
Sure, the idea of being able to hear everything coming from a different direction always sounds fun, but the overall listening experience suffers by a greater degree. So, anyone who’s going for a headphone, make sure that you don’t spend your money on a surround headphone, because that’ll just compromise your overall experience.
Mistakes You Should Avoid When Buying Headphones
Although the headphone buying is pretty straightforward, sadly, the whole process of buying a pair of headphones is filled with loopholes that ultimately result in the buyers making mistakes that they shouldn’t. You see, headphones are complicated for people who are having their first buying experience.
That is largely because there are some technicalities that go into the production. So, when buying headphones, you need to be very careful that the features you are actually picking up are worth it. Considering how we are penning down a headphone buying guide, we thought it would be a smart idea to actually add some of the common mistakes that people make when they are buying the headphones.
So, without further ado, let’s explore some of the mistakes that you should avoid when buying a pair of headphones.
i) Splurging a Lot of Money
Sure, the common belief is that more money ultimately gets you a better product, and while this method may be true in many cases, the truth largely remains different. In case you are not aware of what we are talking about here, we’re basically stating that spending a large amount of money on headphones is not always better.
Why? Well, most companies like Beats by Dr. Dre and Skullcandy actually charge you more for a product that isn’t even worth the price you’re paying. For instance, take a random $300 headphone by Beats, and compare it to a good $150 headphones from Sony, or AudioTechnica. You’ll realise that the $150 headphones will sound better in almost all the case.
So, when buying a pair of headphones, make sure that you’re not actually spending on some fancy features that you won’t be using.
ii) Not Doing the Research
Research is something that is extremely important when buying a pair of headphone. No, we are not asking you to open several different articles and start reading what they say. Simply read a couple of articles on the pair of headphones you’re looking to buy, and make sure that they are good enough for the type of use that you’re planning on doing.
In addition to that, if you are planning on using your headphones with your phone, make sure that the headphones you are looking at has a lower impedance. Headphones with higher impedance will work, no doubt, however, the sound quality will suffer to a greater extent.
In case you still want to buy headphone with higher impedance, you can simply by a portable amplifier that should help you drive the headphones to some extent. Though, you should make sure that the portable amp comes with at least a built-in battery because if it doesn’t, then it will be taking your phone’s battery.
iii) Not Buying a Protective Case
Headphones are expensive, no doubt, and in some cases, they can be fragile as well. When buying a pair of headphones, make sure that you invest money in a hard shell protective case. Now most headphones to ship with a protective case of some sort, however, it’s mostly made out of leather. So, just to be sure, you can spend some money on a protective case just to make sure that your headphones don’t suffer from a damage during transit, or whenever you’re travelling from one place to another.
There are some great protective cases that are available on Amazon from companies like Slappa or Hermitshell. These cases don’t really cost a lot of money, and can actually protect your headphones pretty decently.
iv) Spending Money on Flashy Features
A lot of people think that having flashy features will make your listening experience a lot better, however, that isn’t always the case. You see, if you are spending your money on a pair of headphones that are voice activated, are waterproof, and don’t really cost that high, then you’re basically paying for the features, and not the actual sound quality.
Take Sennheiser’s HD598 for example, the headphones cost around $156; however, they don’t ship with any fancy features. Instead, for the money spent, you get a seamless listening experience with excellent sound quality, and one of the best build qualities.
Similarly, if you spend the same amount of money on headphones from Skullcandy or Beats, you will get the listening experience, however, it won’t be as good as what the Sennhesiers will be providing. So, keep that in mind.
Do You Need an Amplifier?
An amplifier is basically used to drive high end headphones, especially the headphones that ship with higher impedance. This basically means that if you have a pair of headphones that doesn’t have a higher impedance, you can actually run them on pretty much any device there is in the market.
However, if you are using headphones that have higher impedance than usual, you need an amp. The whole question of whether or not you need an amplifier can be answered pretty easily. The next decision is the type of amplifier that you should be getting.
Portable amplifiers are best when it comes to mobile phones or other music players, most of them take power from your phone, while others have their own battery. One major caveat with portable amplifiers is that they don’t have enough power to give a boost. So, while you may notice a gain of some decibels, it may not be significant enough.
You can also look at full sized amplifiers as well, they are quite expensive, and some even require a proper amount of desk space as well. Last but not the least, spending money on audio interface is another sensible idea, but only if you plan on monitoring, and not the casual listening.
So, there it is, folks! Buying headphones is exciting, but if you are not as experienced as some audiophiles, then it’s safe to say that you may end up having issues when buying a pair of headphones. For anyone who’s looking for a good pair of headphones, we have an extensive list of best headphones that you can check out.
In case you feel that we have missed out on something, feel free to let us know, and we’ll get back to you.