A Guide to Choosing the Right Headphone Style for You
You're looking to buy a new pair of headphones, but don't know where to start. We all have different requirements for our headphones and this article is here to help you choose the right headphone style for you.
We can break headphones down into two broad categories: wired and wireless.
Wired headphones are the classic style that have been around for many years. The headphones have a cable of variable length with a jack on the end for plugging into the device of your choice (stereo, TV, computer, cell phone, etc). The jack can vary in size, but 3.5mm is most frequently used. We can purchase adapters to enable headphone jacks to fit in different sized sockets.
The advantages of wired headphones are better quality sound due reduced static interference and less chance of connection failure leading to a loss of sound in the headphones. Finally, wired headphones don't require batteries - you only pay once for the headphones because there are no recurring charges for batteries.
The disadvantages are that the length of the cable restricts our movement and that the cable could become a trip hazard under certain conditions.
Wireless headphones aren't so new any more, but newer technologies have created more choice for the consumer. Current technologies include: Radio Frequency (RF), Infrared (IR), Bluetooth and Kleer.
RF headphones require a powered transmitter unit which we plug into the device we wish to listen to. The transmitter broadcasts the sound which we can tune into with the headphones.
The main advantage of this type of connection is that RF travels through walls, thus allowing the user to listen whilst in a completely different room. The other advantage is the range of broadcast. The range is dependent upon the model of headphone, but will typically allow you to wander around your garden without any loss.
The disadvantages are that RF are prone to static interference, particularly on cheaper models. RF is not secure and anyone in range with the right equipment could tune into your transmitter and listen to what you're listening to. Also, this format is not portable, so it is only really any use for static items such as TVs, stereos and computers.
IR headphones are like RF headphones in that they use a powered transmitter. The transmitter beams the sound directly to the headphones.
The advantage of IR headphones is that there is no static interference, whilst the disadvantage is that the transmitter requires line-of-sight to the headphones. This works in the same way as a TV remote control. As with RF headphones, these are best suited to static devices.
Bluetooth headphones are used with devices such as cell phones, where Bluetooth has become a standard feature, but may also be used with computers provided a suitable adapter, such as a Bluetooth dongle, is attached to the computer.
The transmitter and receiver, for example a cell phone and Bluetooth headphones respectively, are paired before the headphones are ready to use.
The main advantage of Bluetooth headphones is that they are wireless and portable, so wherever you take your cell phone or tablet, you can also take your headphones and not worry about a tangled mess of cables. They also offer better security due to the pairing between the two devices. If someone else wanted to listen to your music, they'd need to have their headphones configured on your device.
There are no major disadvantages to Bluetooth headphones. However, on the minor side of things, they do lack the instant access of RF and IR headphones in that they require pairing with the source device on first use. They are also liable to interference from similar devices which leads to no sound rather than distorted sound. For listeners of high quality recordings, Bluetooth headphones are limited to no greater than 320kbps.
Kleer is a relatively new radio frequency technology and is aimed at the high-end listener. As with RF headphones, we require a transmitter.
The advantages of Kleer headphones are lossless CD-quality music. This means that higher quality sound is delivered to the headphones without any compression and decompression. These headphones also perform within a very narrow RF bandwidth that is not susceptible to interference from other electronic devices. Furthermore, Kleer technology is far more efficient than Bluetooth and requires far less power consumption, resulting in smaller batteries. This, in turn, allows for smaller and lighter headphones than Bluetooth headphones. Finally, Kleer technology allows for up to four Kleer devices to listen to the same sound source.
The only real disadvantage of Kleer headphones over other headphone styles is price, but with all the added benefits the headphones are still reasonably priced.
Once you have chosen what wireless type of headphone you want to buy, you still have a couple of choices to make regarding the form and earcup.
The form describes how the headphones sit on your ears:
Circumaural headphones surround and enclose the ears with soft padding. The soft padding is designed to filter out background noise from the surrounding environment. Whilst not the primary intention, padding can also keep your ears warm, which can be seen as a pro or a con, depending upon your circumstances. The extra size of these headphones also leads to extra weight, which may be a consideration.
Supra-aural headphones rest on top of the ear. They are generally smaller in size and lighter in weight, but allow more noise into the ear from the background environment.
The second consideration is the earcup. This is split into two types:
Open-back headphones allow more ambient sound into the ear, but also provide a more natural sound for the listener.
Closed-back headphones protect the ear from ambient sound, but the trade-off is that the source sound appears to be in the user's head rather than coming from an external source.
So there you have it, I have provided you with a description of wired headphones and the different types of wireless headphone, headphone forms and headphone earcups. I hope this guide helps you to choose the right headphone style for you.