How To Choose The Right Headphones

Headphones come in a great variety of shapes, sizes and styles but which ones are right for you? Read on and we will point you in the right direction...

The first consideration is the size and style of headphones sometimes referred to as "form-factor" and this is mainly based on how portable you need them to be:

In-ear Headphones

Also called "ear-buds", In-ear headphones are small, compact and highly portable making them ideally suited to use with phones, tablets and other mobile devices. The ear-pieces fit neatly and comfortably into you ear canal, while changeable tips can usually fine tune the fit.

They have small drivers or transducers that are easily driven by mobile devices, but the compromise for this convenience is that sound quality and frequency response are physically limited by their small size, particularly in the bass end of the spectrum.

Recent developments in transducer technology have greatly improved the sound quality of in-ear headphones, beyerdynamic's Xelento is a perfect example with it's miniaturised Tesla technology. Wireless transmission has also greatly advanced in recent years, with the advent of high-quality audio codecs such as Qualcomm aptX HD.

On-ear Headphones

These style of headphones have the classic headband design, but with smaller, padded earcups that sit on top of your ear rather than fully enclosing it. Due to this design they do not provide the best sound isolation but are comfortable to wear for extended periods.

The lightweight design keeps this style of headphones very portable, but with improved sound quality and bass response due to the mid-size transducers. They are a good choice for listeners who want a great musical experience on the move.

Again the emphasis on use with mobile devices has seen considerable advances in the performance of on-ear headphones and beyerdynamic's T 51i was the first portable model to feature their Tesla technology. The recently launched Aventho Wireless builds on this foundation, adding high quality aptX HD transmission over Bluetooth and personalised sound profiles via the MiY app.

Over-ear Headphones

Over-ear headphones are the full size, classic design that generally features a cushioned headband and large, padded ear-cups that fully enclose the listeners ear. This provides the fullest range of frequencies and therefore the best sound quality and bass response compared to other types.

Headphones of this type can be separated into two categories:

Studio headphones are designed for professional use and have a flat or neutral sound to provide an accurate, unbiased reference point when recording, mixing or mastering music and audio.

Hi-fi and Audiophile headphones are designed to compliment and emphasise certain frequencies to enhance the enjoyment of specific types of music. These headphones are intended for use at home as they are power-hungry and often perform best with an amplifier. As such they are not recommended for use with mobile devices unless designed specifically for this application, for example beyerdynamic's T 5 p.

Impedance is an important characteristic and refers to the amount of voltage required to power the drivers. Impedance is a form of electrical resistance and is therefore measured in Ohms, typically varying between 16 Ohms (for in-ears and portable models) up to 600 Ohms (for high-end audiophile models).

A higher impedance will generally produce a more dynamic, detailed sound but at the expense of volume. For this reason premium hi-fi models such as beyerdynamic's T 1 2nd Generation really require a dedicated headphone amplifier to do them justice.

Lower impedance headphones output greater volume with less voltage, so are generally used with mobile devices or in studio applications when recording loud instruments such as drums or electric guitar.

Closed-back headphones provide greater isolation and an exaggerated bass response due to the enclosed nature of the earcups. These are ideal for recording as they minimise sound leakage or "bleed" that might be picked up by microphones, particularly when recording vocals or spoken word. The downside is that they can be quite fatiguing and tend to make ears hot and uncomfortable when worn for extended periods.

Open-back headphones have a more airy, spacious sound and give a more balanced frequency response with a clear top-end. The open earcups mean they allow the listeners ears to breathe and are more comfortable when worn for long periods when mixing or mastering audio. The trade-off is that they allow sound to escape more freely so are not really suitable for recording or using while other people are present due to the disturbance they might cause.