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Here's what you need to know about buying headphones

Considering how much music and audio we listen to, it’s worth picking out the right type of headphones to use.

Image: Baddog_/Flickr

A GOOD PAIR of headphones can make all the difference. When you’re listening to music or any other audio, clarity and range can take your music from good to great.

While the hardware (and software in some cases) is important, a big factor is the type of headphones you’re using. While there are hundreds of products out there at varying prices, you can get a good pair of headphones relatively cheap provided you know what to look for.

Where will you use them?

The location and environment you’re in will help you decide what type of headphones you want to go for. There’s no point in buying an expensive pair if you’re in a noisy environment and can’t appreciate the difference in quality. So how often you will use them while travelling, out and about or at home should be considered.

Types of headphones

The first thing worth mentioning is the quality of speakers or headphones you have will be important to this.

Using a cheap pair of earbud headphones you got when you purchased a smartphone will be worse than a premium pair of headphones, and certain types of headphones are better for different situations.

There are many different variations of headphones out there, but essentially there are four to keep in mind.

In-ear headphonesResting inside the ear canal, in-ear headphones are good for staying in place and being lightweight (in comparison to other types of headphones) but the sound quality isn’t great unless you really invest in a pair. They’re good because they’re easy to bring around and their position means there’s little sound leakage but they can cause discomfort when used for long periods.

Creative EP 630 In-Ear Headphones. I recommend! Source: Iwan Gabovitch/Flickr

Earphones - Similar to in-ear headphones, these are usually the most common type of headphones you would get with a new phone. Earbud headphones rest outside the ear canal and some come with their own type of clip so they stay in place when running.

Generally, these offer the worst sound quality of the four since the potential for noise leakage is high but they’re more comfortable than in-ear headphones, and their light and compact design means they’re easier to carry round.

My iPod earphones Source: Baddog_/Flickr

On-ear headphones - As the name suggests, these headphones rest on the ears rather than over them. Some find the pressure they apply to the ears a little uncomfortable, but the quality is usually better than in-ear headphones. Also, you can hear what’s happening around you should you need to be aware of your surroundings.

BOSE on-ear headphones Source: masahiko/Flickr

Over-the-ear/full-size headphones – Unlike on-ear headphones, these are much larger and fully cover the ears. Not only are they the most comfortable, but they usually deliver the best audio quality, their large size allowing for better bass and loudness.

Since they are the bulkiest (and usually the heaviest) of the four types of headphones, they’re better suited for moments where you’re not on the move such as your home.

Momentum_wireless_model_black Source: Sennheiser

On top of that, there are other specific features included with headphones like:

Wireless – As the name suggests, this removes wires from the equation allowing extra convenience, but for the most part, it results in audio compression which isn’t great if you want the best audio quality. Also, it’s battery powered meaning it will likely die before your phone or audio player.

Noise cancellation – This uses a tone to cancel out low external sounds like traffic. While it helps block out sounds, this can also give music and audio an underwater-like sound and reduce the audio quality. Unless you’re always in a noisy environment, you’re better off not relying on it if you want to keep audio quality high.

Noise isolation – Usually found with in-ear and over-ear headphones, this is effectively a physical barrier between you and the music/audio and sounds from the outside. How good they are depends on how good their seal is.

Open/Closed headphones - Both concern the amount of sound that leaks from the headphones. Open headphones allow for a wider sound, allowing a more diverse sound (so to speak) but will leak sound out and let external sound in.

Closed headphones offer the opposite but the sound is more narrow, but it allows you to focus on the sound itself. Which one you go for is really a matter of preference.

What else should I keep in mind?

For one pricing isn’t relative to quality. You could get a great pair of headphones for €50 that offer the same qualities or better than another pair that costs €300. Although if a pair is extremely cheap, then it’s likely they’ll break faster.

It’s best to try out the headphones you’re interested in and not just for a few seconds, if you can, try them out for a few minutes so you know not only what the sound quality is like, but if you find them comfortable to wear.

Ultimately, while you can talk about what the differences are between each headphones and the features behind them, the only person who knows exactly what they’re looking for is you. If you’re planning on investing in a pair, it’s worth testing them out first before you part with your cash.

Read: Fed up with expensive phones and laptops? This computer costs €8 >

Read: Microsoft has created the first cheap Surface you will actually want >

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About the author:

Quinton O'Reilly

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