Headphone Varieties – What Do You Need?

12/15/2012 9:27:43 AM

Styles & Features to match your listening desires

In one sense, all headphones are the same in that they exist to pipe audio be it music, audio book, podcast, TV show, movie, or video chat conversation into the wearer's ears. In another sense, two headphone models can differ dramatically in price, functionality, performance, appearance, comfort, weight, intended use, and other traits. The following highlights different headphone varieties and features available.

But first

Why even buy headphones when the new portable device you just purchased probably included a pair? Because, as most headphone experts will tell you, the majority of earbuds included with smartphones, MP3 players, audio recorders, and other devices aren't the greatest. Beyond sporting a one size fits all de­sign constructed of inexpensive plastic offering little comfort, they often integrate underpow­ered drivers that output tinny, flat, lifeless audio lacking the detail, resolution, and preci­sion aftermarket headphones provide. Further, buying aftermarket headphones enables you to match style, performance, price, and extra features to your specific needs, whether you're an avid exerciser, frequent traveler, audiophile, gamer, or home-theater fanatic. To that point, hundreds of options are available at prices starting at less than $10 and soaring past $500. Finding the right pair can be arduous, but the best advice is trying as many pairs as possible and selecting the one that sounds and feels best to you.

the majority of earbuds included with smartphones, MP3 players, audio recorders, and other devices aren't the greatest

the majority of earbuds included with smartphones, MP3 players, audio recorders, and other devices aren't the greatest

Form factors

Generally speaking, headphones fall into four form factors: in ear, on the ear, over the ear, and behind the neck.


Typically referred to as earbuds, in-ear models can cost anywhere from under $10 to $500 and up. Models include those with earpieces resting in the outer ear and those fitting inside the ear canal. Although most models don't include a headband, some sports-oriented models do attach the earpieces to a thin band. Lightweight and extremely portable, in-ear headphones are popular with commuters, exercisers, and other active users, though they can lack overall audio quality relative to comparably priced on-the-ear and over-the-ear models due to the use of smaller- sized drivers. Although extended use of in-ear models can cause discomfort, manufacturers usually include several sizes of foam, silicon, and other soft-material ear tips to acquire an ideal fit. Additionally, water-resistant and waterproof models are available for aquatic- related activities.

Behind the neck

Typically costing any­where from about less than $10 to $150, behind the neck headphones are well-suited for users on the go, including joggers, commuters, and bicyclists. Models are available offering in ear and on the ear earpieces, and although most models provide a thin, flexible strap that wraps around the back of the neck, models that do away with the band in favor of clip on attachments that wrap around the ear can fall into this category. Although typically com­fortable, the thin nature of behind-the-neck bands can cause the earcups to jostle around. Overall, earcup models are safer for outdoor use, as they allow more ambient sound to enter the ear, including passing cars and cy­clists approaching from behind.


Technically known as supra-aural headphones, on-the-ear models are arguably the most adaptable of all head­phone types to numerous uses. Because their earcups rest on the ear, they usu­ally wear comfortably over long stretches and don't trap as much heat as over-the- ear models. Their on-the-ear nature also means you'll hear more of what's going on around while walking down the street listening to music or watching a movie on a tablet while a newborn sleeps beside you. Models can vary greatly in price ($5 to $300 and more), performance (general everyday usage to professional AV produc­tion chores), and design (fixed and adjust­able headbands, foam- and leather-based cushions, swiveling earcups, etc.).


Also dubbed Circumaural and full-sized headphones, over the ear models are best for users seeking to block out ambient noise, as the earcups completely en­gulf the ear. This design means more audio re­mains isolated in the ear cavity but there's less you'll hear from activities around you. Thus, they're not ideal for street or commuting use. Over-the-ear models also retain a good deal of heat and are generally larger, heavier, bulkier, and more expensive than other headphone types. Though models about $20 are avail­able, high-end models aimed at audiophiles can easily surpass $250. Those extra dollars do generally buy better construction (ample leather foaming, adjustable aluminum bands, swiveling earcups, etc.) and larger drivers capable of delivering more audio details fea­turing finer precision.

Extras worth considering

Coupled with different headphone form factors is the vast amount of extra features various models offer for find the right match. The following are examples.

Noise cancelation and isolation

These features aim to greatly reduce ambient noise. The primary difference between the two is noise-canceling models use battery power to generate "anti-noise" that effec­tively cancels out ambient noise. Noise- isolating models omit battery requirements by using earplugs that create a tight fit in the ear canal, much as earplugs do. Although noise-isolating models can't typi­cally match the effectiveness of noise-can­celing models, they can typically perform at lower volume levels and don't require wearing over-the-ear earcups.


Headphones that in­tegrate a microphone (including mics built into a movable, extending boom) are well-suited for VoIP calls, in-game chats, video chats, and use with speech-to-text software. Models are available with USB connectors and separate headphone and microphone connectors for PC usage and proprietary connectors for game consoles.

In-line mic and remote control

An in­creasingly common feature on earbuds is a microphone integrated into a remote control unit built into the cord. Combined, these let you pause audio to take a call from smartphone, record voice memos, reverse and forward tracks, and control the volume without reaching for the portable device.


Similar to one-piece Bluetooth headsets, wireless headphones let users listen to music, movies, game conversa­tions, and more without wires. Most models use infrared, RF (radio frequency), or Bluetooth technologies. Some require a base station or adapter that connects to the audio source. Other models easily pair with Bluetooth-enabled devices.


Other options include waterproof models ideal for swimmers and water-sport enthusiasts; washable ear cushions; true and simulated integrated surround sound abilities; foldable designs ideal for travel; technologies that emphasize bass reproduction; DJ-friendly designs and features (mute button, flip-up earcups, etc.); chrome, nickel, and gold-plated connectors; L-shaped jacks that ease strain on cords; and removable cords.

Logitech UE 9000

Price: $399.99


Logitech UE 9000

Logitech UE 9000

Logitech UE 9000 is high­performance Bluetooth wireless headphones that include active noise-canceling technology and feature built-in button controls and dual microphones.

Sony X Headphones

Price: $299.99


Sony X Headphones

Sony X Headphones

Sony X Headphones, produced in conjunction with the Simon Cowell-Sony Music Entertainment venture Syco Entertainment, are engineered for maximum comfort and sub-­bass sound reproduction.

Lindy Active Noise Can­celing Headphones

Price: $89


Lindy Active Noise Can¬celing Headphones

Lindy Active Noise Can­celing Headphones

Lindy Active Noise Can­celing Headphones use inverse phase active noise can­celing technology to effectively eliminate background noise so you can listen to audio without unwanted interference.

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