Headphones! Almost everyone owns a pair but not everyone owns a perfect pair for their needs. In this Best Headphone Buying Guide we will be helping you to compare different levels of quality of headphones as well as some of the different features that are available in different headsets. We will also make sure that you can make a solid judgement about which headphone you want to buy depending on the audio source that you are going to use. This guide will help you achieve the audio experience that you are looking for.
Let’s clear out some confusions that people have when differentiating between a headset and a headphone. There is a critical difference between both. Headset is a headphone have a microphone attached to it but a headphone does not. Then there are 2 types of headsets, Wireless/Bluetooth headsets or wired Headsets. There are some headphones that offer in-line mic with remote control for your iPhone/iPod or portable music player but that does not count as a headset.
Best Guide for Buying Headphones 2019:
Not all of the features that you are going to shop for have actually to do with the unit itself. Some of them are as simple as what is compatible with your device. Most entry level to mid-range headphones comes with 3.5mm headphone jack. These are the ones that you are used to seeing on your MP3 players and smart phones. There is no particular advantage or disadvantage to this connector so we are going to move on.
You will start to find USB connections on some gaming headsets. The reason behind this is that it consolidates it down to one connection both for headphone and mic and it gets users away from on-board audio with a built in DAC. The disadvantage to USB connector is that you are tied down to devices that has a driver for your headset.
On most mid-range to high-end headphones (not headsets) and audio products you will start running into 6.3 mm (a.k.a 1/4 inch) jacks. They have same pinouts as 3.5mm jacks but they are bigger in size and are usually meant for studio use. Advantages of this specific connector are that they form a more solid connection to the device you are using with and they are also more durable. The disadvantage is the narrower range of compatibility.
Note that you can switch 6.3 mm jacks to 3.5 mm jacks and other way around but this will cause you additional adaptors and a significant bulky connector to deal with.
Types of Headphones:
When it comes to the quality of any product, most people will judge it by the price tag it wears. Forking out a bunch of money on some headphones and you can still end up at a unsatisfying sound experience.
There are two major kinds (or design) of headphones: Open-back and Close-back.
Open-back headphones has the advantage of delivering usually better bass and a more natural listening experience. You can even hear yourself snapping to the beat and you feel like artists are sitting right next to you playing instruments and vocals. It is like listening to a good set of speakers.
Disadvantages of open-back design are that they leak a lot and can disturb others around you (especially at night) when the volume is turned all the way up. They allow more ambient noise in which means that watching a movie can be less immersive.
They are usually designed to be used in studios where there is no ambient noise and no one cares about sound leaking out.
On the other hand close-back headphones does not deliver quiet a good bass experience as compared to open-back design but they offer more noise isolation especially in mids and highs.Especially if you have active-noise canceling feature, you can block out all the ambient noise even at lower volumes to have a much great listening experience.
They leak less and are less disruptive to others even if you turn them loud late at night. They are designed for everyday use but you can also use these in studios to monitor audio.
Another feature that is not necessarily the part of headset is the cable you are going to deal with. Cable length is a key factor if your audio source if far from your listening position. Some headsets comes with a breakaway cable design so if you have a pass through in you keyboard then you can plug your headphones in your keyboard and run the other part of cable back to your computer or audio source. Though there is a slight loss in audio quality by using more jacks so it is recommended to use a single wire running from your audio source to your headphone or headset.
Most of the headphones include an additional cable that has a in-line mic and remote control that you can with your mobile device such as a smartphone or MP3 player to control music and take calls on the go. This kind of cable is useful if you plan to use your headphone as a headset also.
Another factor is the overall quality of the cable. Many mid-range to high-end headphones are coming with a nice braiding overtop of the audio cable that prolongs the life and durability of cable. This also makes it less likely to snag on things and less likely to get tangled.
Often it is thought that thicker cable equals to good sound quality which actually is sometimes true depending on the manufacture and type of cable. Most of the headphones comes with a detachable cable design so you can buy a high-quality third party cable and use it with your headphone.
Styling & Comfort
When it comes to comfort, build quality and style – generally you pay more you get more but there are couple of guidelines that are worth mentioning.
Lets take an example of SteelSeries 7H work for me but might not work for you. First is the design of the ear cup. This one uses either a leather or a cloth type material. The leather provides more of a isolated sound and the cloth one offers more of a open sound. The size of this particular headphone is big enough for the size of my ears which may be different for you. If your ears touch any part of the headphone isolating leather or cloth too much then they are not going to be comfortable for you.
There is also the matter of the headband. Does the size fit you? Is it adjustable if more people are going to use the headphones? Is the foam in headband is comfortable enough for longer listening sessions? Does the headphones use memory foam in construction? These are all very important questions to keep in mind when buying the headphones.
When it comes to looks, it all boils down to personal preference. Some people like bright bold designs and some prefer more of a professional look with black or silver color themes.
I hope that recommending a headphone was as simple as telling someone to go and buy Sennheiser HD 800 but not everyone can afford these headphones.
Recommending a good headphone that will work for everyone is a very difficult job. One headphone will never fit all and not everyone will enjoy listening to it. Also the budget does matter when buying headphones.
Lets take an example of the entry level customer who does not even have a decent sound card and is still using on-board audio (cheap on-board audio). You do not need to buy an expensive pair of headphones. You should probably invest in a 30$-50$ good, comfortable and lightweight headphones and it should be Okay! This is because you are not going to get any high quality audio from the source you are using so there is no point of investing in a expensive headphone. Save some money and spend it on a entry level sound card because it will improve the sound quality a lot. Its night and day.
If you have already got a decent sound card and are looking for the next level then you are probably going to spend a 70$-100$ on headphones. You should be looking more features than comfort and build quality to something like bigger drivers and detachable cable with in-line remote functionality. There are also some headsets or headphones with USB cable though I do not personally recommend these. I like to have a dedicated sound card rather than the USB sound card built into the headphone itself.
Before you want to take your audio game to next level by spending 100$-200$ or maybe even more. You will want to upgrade your audio source again. You should first invest in a amplified sound card to drive the headphones to a level where you can really enjoy your music because the basic on-board sound card is not powerful enough to drive the 200$ headphones.
The extreme consumer is going to need something like the Sennheiser HD 800 and a External DAC with Amplifier, something like Xonar Essence One from Asus to drive the headphones. This is because the impedance of the headphones is so high that a normal sound card can not even turn them up to a level where you can start enjoying the music.
This is a very extreme example and mostly an average consumer is not going to differentiate between something like Sennheiser HD 800 and a 200$ headphone especially if your audio source in not very high-res.
Headphones for SmartPhones:
Mostly people use their smart phones as their audio player and the provided earbuds to listen to music. This is fine for most people and I am not bashing anyone for using the cheap earbuds though the EarPods provided with iPhones are great for beginners.
You can use any 100$ – 200$ headphones with your smartphone and you will get good audio quality. I recommend you to invest in a decent pair of earbuds, something like Bowers & Wilkins C5 for a much immersed sound experience on your mobile device.
Hi-Res Audio Files and Players:
If you have invested in a really high-end headphone and an external DAC with amplifier but you are still not pleased with the experience then you should switch to hi-res audio files a.k.a lossless audio.
The audio files that are usually available on the internet are compressed resulting in a lossy audio. You can purchase FLAC or lossless audio tracks from HD Tracks or any other store of your choice. You can even play lossless music on your iPhone or a dedicated hi-res audio player like Sony Walkman NW-ZX1.
Not every headphone is made for everyone. Everyone have a different taste in sound. Some like bass and some are attracted more towards mids and highs. The best way to find a headphone is to go and listen to some cans in person. In this way you will have a good idea.
Paying for more for a headphone does not always mean that you are going to get the best sound experience and it will blow your mind. It all depends on how you invest and what things you invest in. You should also upgrade your audio source and the files to upgrade your experience.