Shopping for headphones should be easy, but the array on display at your local retailers can leave you no choice but to seek the advice of a shop attendant, who are of course on commission. For some people, especially the younger generation, it is not just the sound quality that sways their decision when purchasing a new pair of headphones. Comfort, style and branding also play a large part in a search for the perfect pair. Practicality however, is the first consideration.
Full size or ‘over-the-ear’ headphones are designed with padded ear-cups and a headband for improved comfort. The closed back of this style helps to eliminate ambient noise, which is one of the reasons why they are the industry standard for recording studios. Higher end versions include remote controls for adjusting volume and the more modern versions have wireless technology – again ideal for recording studios. There is no need to play music at harmful levels as most of these headphones, such as Beats Headphones available to buy from John Lewis, allow you to hear each sound with clarity.
On ear headphones are a scaled down version of their full sized cousins, are typically lighter and lower quality. Benefits are lower cost and lighter weight therefore greater comfort over long periods (full-size can be quite heavy and it is surprising what a neck ache they can cause). For the above reasons, these are a popular choice for cheap commercial use.
In-ear or ‘earbud’ headphones are the most portable type, due to their compact and lightweight design. They sit in the ear canal or rest just inside the ear, and so make a good choice for those who are active or enjoy listening to their music at the gym. Being lightweight they are also good for travelling. However, their smaller size means there is tradeoff in audio quality, particularly at the lower end of the spectrum. Another issue is that not everyone has the same size ear canal, so it pays to try a friend’s pair before heading to the high street.
Gaming headphones come in all shapes and sizes, but have built in microphones as standard, which allow the gamer to enjoy the sounds of the game as well as speak to other gamers.
Whatever type you choose; always look for frequency response on the headphone packaging. The spectrum of human hearing is 20Hz to 22KHz. The smaller the headphone, the more likely that some of the lower end will be missing.