Headphones Buying Guide

Staff Writer By Staff Writer - updated August 20th, 2020
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So you're thinking about buying a new set of headphones, congratulations! Your ears are in for a treat!

As it's nigh on impossible to recommend a specific set of headphones as being the right set for everyone - it's far better to think about a few key things and find the right set for you so in this guide we'll cover the terms you're likely to see when shopping for headphones or earphones, and the situations in which each type are generally the best.

What style do you want?

Let's start with the various core headphone designs available now, it's a wonderful new world with wireless headphones, wireless earphones and true wireless earphones all being different things. So keeping that in mind, it's on to the fun part - choosing a style.

Do you want them to be over-ear, on-ear or in-ear, wireless or wired? Armed with the images below, and your previous experience with the shape of your head, I'm confident you've already got a good idea about with type will best suit your needs.

Once you're in the Headphones category you'll also be able to use filters on the left to choose all sorts of specifications and features - colour, impedance levels, water resistance, noise cancelling and more.

What will you be listening to?

Are they for listening to music, audiobooks, watching movies or gaming? Each presents a slightly different set of wants and needs frequency wise, and thinking about this will help you to choose a perfect set of headphones or earphones.

Frequency response is the range of sounds from the low (dat fat bass) through to the treble (high pitched) that the headphones can play without distorting. The human ear is commonly reported to have a range of 20-20,000. Frequency is found listed in the specs for headphones and this is the most common range you'll see. Anything inside this range, like 30Hz - 15,000Hz, is pointing to a headset that's not really geared towards music, movies or gaming, but is likely still just fine for audiobooks and podcasts.

Some state rather incredible ranges too, like 16Hz -22,000Hz - going below 20 in the bass range is often described as having bass you can feel, but cannot hear, while going above 20,000 is great for those with exceptional ears. Certainly not a bad thing but I myself can hear sounds up to around the 17,000Hz mark. You can test your range with a great set of videos on YouTube that go through the ranges.

Where will you be using them?

Will you be listening to music while going for a run, watching movies at home from the couch, listening to audiobooks while on the bus to work, or maybe a sneaky bit of mobile gaming while on a break in a busy foodcourt? Knowing this will help you to narrow down some special features to look out for.

Running headphones should be water resistant, or in the case of over-ear or on-ear headphones, have removable, washable ear cups.

If you're listening in a busy environment you'll generally want some sort of noise cancelling features, this could be active noise cancelling for things like aeroplane engine noise, or earbuds to plug the ear - you may also want to look for closed back headphones to help prevent others from hearing what you're listening to also - on the other hand, if you want to share your favourite song with everyone on the bus get a set of open back headphones - just prepare yourself for sideways glances and dirty looks.

For those looking for a set to use around the house you might want to go wireless - fewer cords for those around you to trip over - but this has other requirements too as detailed below.

What will you be connecting them to?

What will you plug them into, will you plug them in at all?! Connecting a set of headphones to your TV might require a different socket than your phone does, likewise if you want to use them with a computer as well will it need to have Bluetooth also? Having a quick double check of your devices first can prevent disappointment later, and this also brings us to an important little bit about a term called impedance.

Impedance is a complicated subject but it can be simplified into an indication of the power used by the headphones, and this is measured in OHM's (apparently coming from the name of a German physicist, Georg Simon Ohm). Most headphones with 25 or less OHM require little power to deliver high audio levels, making them perfect for everything from mobile phones to gaming consoles, it's when the number creeps higher that you should really pay attention here, so if you're wanting a set to connect to an amplifier or mixer be sure to check the output of that device too!

We hope this guide helps you when purchasing a new set of headphones or earphones, and we will continue to add to it with more handy hints and information about audio - and while we do that you can now confidently browse the full range of options in Headphones & Earphones available today!

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Staff Writer

For the words, not the glory!

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