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Compare headphones: How to choose the perfect earphones and headphones

Find the perfect pair of headphones to match your favorite music and lifestyle.

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Women listening to her headphones in the subway

Quick facts about headphones

There are many headphone options and styles available, including these:

  • Bluetooth
  • Closed-back
  • In-ear
  • Noise-cancelling
  • On-ear
  • Open-back
  • Over-ear

The main factors to consider when choosing a pair of headphones are comfort, sound quality and your budget. Prices range from as little as $10 for a pair of budget earbuds to $600 or more for a pair of high-end over-ear headphones.

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In-ear vs on-ear vs over-ear headphones

While there is a substantial list to choose from the three most popular types of headphones are in-ear, on-ear and over-ear.

In-ear

Also known as earphones or earbuds, in-ear headphones are designed to fit in your ear. They are the smallest type of headphones, with some models weighing as little as four grams.

But because of their smaller size, these headphones can sacrifice on sound quality, especially when it comes to bass levels. In-ear headphones can typically fit in a pocket or small purse and can be easily worn by those who wear glasses regularly.

While most people find earphones to be comfortable, some people don’t like the feeling of headphones that sit inside their ears.

On-ear

On-ear headphones rest directly on top of your ear. They typically offer better sound quality than in-ear models, but don’t block out as much external noise as over-ear models.

Some people find the pressure of on-ear headphones to be uncomfortable. But on-ear headphones are better for use in hot environments than over-ear models as they’re less likely to cause your ears to overheat.

Over-ear

Over-ear headphones typically offer the best sound quality and noise isolation. But they’re also the bigger and bulkier, which means they won’t fit into your pocket or even a small purse.

Unlike on-ear headphones, they’re designed to cover your entire ear instead of sitting directly on it. Some people find this to be much more comfortable, while others don’t like the feeling of pressure on their head.

Also, if you wear glasses, you might find over-ear headphones offer less room against the arms of the glasses.

Other types of headphones to consider

  • Wireless and Bluetooth headphones. Bluetooth or wireless models are popular because they don’t have any cables and instead connect to your phone or another device using Bluetooth technology. Wireless headphones need to be charged regularly and some come with a charging case so that you can top up the battery on the go.
  • Open-back. The design of open-back headphones consists of a perforated outer shell, like a colander. They allow ambient noise so you can stay alert to whatever is going on around you.
  • Closed-back. Closed-back headphones dull everyday external noise to heighten the sound and provide an “in-your-head” experience. These are particularly good for gamers.
  • Noise-canceling. These models use active noise control to eliminate ambient sound. In other words, they analyze ambient sound and attempt to generate the “opposite” sound. These can be particularly useful in education settings with students who get easily distracted.
  • Fitness headphones. Sports or fitness headphones are specifically designed for use while exercising. They are typically more durable and either sweatproof or fully waterproof.

How to compare headphones

When choosing a pair of headphones, consider the following factors:

Comfort

If possible, try the headphones on first. Leave them on for at least 10 minutes, to get a real sense of how comfortable they are. Some headphones will feel comfortable at first, but get heavy, uncomfortable or even painful when you wear them for long periods.

Keep in mind, what’s comfortable for someone else might not be comfortable for you.

Sound quality

Audio quality is one of the most important factors to consider when comparing headphones. While paying more will generally get you better quality, you don’t necessarily have to buy a top-of-the-line pair to have a good listening experience.

When you try the headphones on, test out several different types of music, including music that was recorded recently as well as older music to check the headphone’s range. Also, listen to spoken audio like a podcast to make sure you can hear it clearly.

Noise filtering

Noise-cancelling headphones can be a lifesaver if you want to block out the sounds of a noisy office or a crying baby on a plane. However, blocking out ambient noise can sometimes be dangerous. If you want headphones for outdoor activities like urban running, look for a pair that lets in external noise for more safety.

Controls

Headphones can come with several different types of controls, including in-line controls that allow you to change settings on the actual headphones without using your phone. Some in-line controls are buttons on the actual headphones, while others are located on the cable. Without in-line controls, you’ll have to use your phone or paired device to adjust the volume, play and pause music, skip tracks or answer calls.

Leakage

Some headphones leak sound so that people near you can hear it. This is more common with open headphones that let in more ambient noise. Test out the leakage amount by having someone else wear the headphones so you can check how much you can externally hear.

Battery life

If the headphones are wireless or have an active noise-cancelling setting, check how long the battery life lasts. Some headphones only last a few hours without needing to be charged while others can last a full day. If the headphones come with a charging case, check how many recharges it holds and how long the headphones take to recharge.

Cables

Make sure any wires are long enough so that you can put your phone in your pocket or bag without the cord pulling on the headphones. Keep in mind, long cables get tangled more easily. If you don’t want to deal with cables at all, look for wireless or Bluetooth headphones.

Waterproofing

If you plan to wear your headphones while working out or walking in the rain, look for a water-resistant or sweatproof set. Some headphones are fully waterproof and can be used while swimming.

Microphone

If you want to be able to answer or make phone calls while using your headphones, look for a model with a built-in microphone.

Bottom line

The type of headphones you use is as personal as your music selection and your lifestyle. Take the time to consider and compare all the factors and features before deciding on a pair that will best help you rock your world.

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