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Headphone Buying Guide – (2020 Updated)

If you are a music lover, then you know that headphones are not a luxury but an essential.

Know the difference of each headphones you buyHeadphones are useful no matter where you are; public or private space. After waking up in the morning, you need a boost of music to energize you. Plugging your headphones in when commuting will surely please most of us.

You need some good music to help you relax after you have had a particularly tiring day at work.

Having a pair of premium headphones will improve your life, and there is no doubt about that. However, purchasing one is not as easy as it might seem. Brands are coming out with newer and advanced models every day, so you will have plenty of options to choose from, and that is not always convenient.

When I was on a quest to find the perfect pair of headphones for myself, the sheer number of choices I had baffled me. There were different shapes and sizes in all price ranges. It took me quite a while to figure out what I wanted and narrow down the list accordingly.

Investing in a pair of headphones is not a light decision that you can take without putting thought into it. You would want to spend your money only after you find the headphone that meets all your requirements, or else you will look back with a lot of regrets.

If you want to avoid that, you need to consult a buying guide that will help you make the correct choice. I have learned, through my experience, that everyone needs a little support for buying technological gadgets, and it is nothing to be ashamed of.

I have compiled this guide for all those people who are dreaming of owning the headphone of their dreams but are clueless how they should go about it. Read on to find out more.

Are you browsing hundreds of headphone models at the moment and still don’t know which ones are perfect for you? Then pay close attention to our buying guide.

We will provide you:

  • Essential tips for choosing the right headphones
  • The answer to the question,” do I need cheap or expensive headphones.”

Headphone Guide

Types of headphones

Before moving to the next part, it is essential to know all about the headphones. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages, which made it suitable for the specific users. Understanding them can help you in choosing the best type!

  • In-ear monitors (IEMs)

In-ear monitorsIEMs are the first and most common type of headphones. They will fit perfectly in your ear canal and therefore provide outstanding, passive noise isolation. The essential element here, besides the quality they must provide, is the foam or rubber tips. They have the role of keeping the IEMs in place while eliminating the sounds from the environment. Almost all sports-related headphones can be categorized as members of this group. More expensive units can be custom made to fit your ear canal even better. Still, some brands offer additional foam or rubber tips we mentioned, also to provide better.

PROS:
  • Inexpensive
  • Suitable for sport-related activities
  • A variety or tips available
  • Convenient

CONS:
  • Poor noise cancellation
  • May fall out

  • Earbuds

EarbudsEarbuds are not the same as IEMs! They are different. First, they don’t go inside ear canal but only on the outer ear. For the price, they are the most affordable, but the quality isn’t great. These are headphones you will get stock with most devices, such are smartphones, tablets etc. Newer models, aftermarket ones can be a worthy upgrade.

PROS:
  • More than just affordable
  • In different colors
  • Portable

CONS:
  • Painful design
  • Poor at blocking outside noise

  • Over-ear (Full Size) headphones

Over-ear (Full Size) headphonesThis type is commonly treated as the best one. They are massive, and the main advantage is in the occupiers, which will go over the entire ear. Passive noise reduction is guaranteed, and the quality is superb. An additional reason so many users prefer this type is the fact while you wear them, you feel you are actually in the movie or a game from where the sound is coming. To get the 100% perfect quality, you will need an amplifier. We can say that these models are “power-hungry.”

Some of the most expensive and, therefore, the best headphones ever made can be categorized as over-ear units. The bass is powerful and more realistic than on any other model. Besides the bass, it also optimizes them are also for long usages. If you are looking for headphones, which will stay on your head at least 8 hours per day, over-ear models are the obvious choice. Read me: Over-ear headphones are usually the first choice of audiophiles and DJs.

PROS:
  • Durable
  • Comfortable
  • Superb sound quality
  • Best noise isolation

CONS:
  • Must be used with amplified
  • Expensive
  • Not portable
  • Heavy and massive

  • On-ear headphones

On-ear headphonesThis type also features earcups, but smaller ones than the type above. Foremost, they are more affordable than over-ear models, but they still provide a decent quality. An interesting fact is that people close to you can hear the music you listen to, and you will listen to them. The most significant difference is in the bass levels. On-ear headphones provide lower bass than over-ear headphones. You can still find a desirable model of this type.

Here we can see that on-ear models are suitable for all of you who are looking for well-designed headphones that will deliver a decent quality and be relatively comfortable to wear. Over the years, we could see a few models of this type developed as headphones for sports. Still, we must point out that their main purpose is for gamers, computer workers, and those who like listening to music while traveling. Important: Over-ear units may not be the best choice for travelers, because a person cannot hear outside sounds and noise while wearing them.

PROS:
  • Easy to use
  • Foldable (some models)
  • Decent sound quality
  • Lightweight

CONS:
  • Cause warming of the ears
  • Sweet can moisturize the earcups

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Finding the right headphones for your particular lifestyle

Here we have one of the most important factors for choosing the right headphones. Your lifestyle! Almost every model meets the requirements of a specific lifestyle. We have units perfect for joggers, which won’t be ideal for gamers, obviously. The bottom line here is to determine your lifestyle requirements before purchasing headphones. You definitely don’t want to end with a model that cannot be used while you do something you like the most. Below, we will also mention headphones, which are essential for DJs and professionals.

Headphones for sport and fitness enthusiasts

Headphones for sport and fitness enthusiasts

Of them all, headphones for sport and fitness enthusiasts are probably the most popular. One explanation lies in their design and in their features. They are far from regular headphones, so they have plenty to offer. We will start with small things. Some units come with reflective colors, needed when you jog when the visibility is poor. Others come with heart rate monitors, another feature all fitness enthusiasts will appreciate.

The types commonly found here include ear-buds, IEMs, and over-neck models. The reason they are so popular is apparent. All of them provide the best fit in the ear, and they will stay in place regardless of the action a user performs at that moment. All of them offer a similar fit score, but only if you choose wisely. The main idea here is to get a model that won’t fell off from your ear while running. Changeable tips are highly recommended here.

Some models for this purpose are waterproof. I can wear them while swimming and they will still provide a great experience. Experts believe that headphones are more than just needed while exercising and swimming, to boost motivation. Also, we must add the fact waterproof headphones are also immune to sweat, which is common while applying.

One of the rare yet highly appealing features is motivational cues. Headphones with this addition are perfect if you have a hard time exercising as long as you planned.

Headphones for entertainment back at home

Headphones for entertainment back at home

Our buying guide must be fully dedicated to choosing the best headphones for entertainment back at home. Don’t think this is a time-consuming segment to explain. None! Headphones for home use are all about massive size and superior sound quality. You won’t wear them outside, or while jogging, so even the most significant models are preferable. The comfort is far more critical than on any other model here, so we recommend over-ear headphones. They are the largest and the most comfortable of them all.

Surround sound feature is mandatory here. Obviously, you can purchase a model without it, but we will advise you against it. With surround sound, you will get the feeling you are actually in the movie or inside a game. When a user wants to create an illusion, this feature is the one to seek. In most cases, choose between:

  • Closed-back headphones- They offer precisely what we have just mentioned, the illusion you are in the game or in a movie. The bass here is immense!
  • It guarantees open with these models. Although they are preferable by audiophiles, gamers and users who look for a great sound at home may find closed-back headphones better.

In a case, you have issues with the over-ear headphones (discomfort or some similar problem) on-ear models are the next best thing.

Headphones for travelers

Headphones for travelersAll travelers are demanding users directly or indirectly. Here, the accent is on portability. Let’s take a simple example. If you have massive, over-ear headphones, you will need plenty of space for carrying, and each time you want to put them on, you will need two minutes.  They may have an excellent sound quality, but they are not ideal for this purpose. In-ear are the best ones. They are small, portable, and convenient. Wireless models are even better, because there are no annoying cables to store.

Two, the main features to look for are noise canceling and noise isolation. As we have already explained, they will eliminate and significantly reduce the background noise. Other passengers wo n’t distract thanks on a bus or airplane. Without these two or at least one feature, headphones are far from ideal for travelers.

Fashionable headphones

Fashionable headphonesAs the name suggests, here, the design and look is everything. Stylish headphones were simple to choose from. In-ear were the best and the most common alternative and also the most affordable. However, in recent years, we could see a dozen of over-ear models which are developed to be fashionable headphones. Colorful designs, massive size, and accessories made them unique and allowed their owners to get plenty of impressive comments. Each user can find the style, which is more than just suitable for him. A variety of patterns is also available.

We should specify that her advanced features are almost irrelevant. Users want high sound quality and underlying technologies. Biometrics, waterproof design etc. are rare to find, and you won’t have plenty of luck getting headphones with these features. For those who are looking for fashionable headphones, with these features, we can only recommend premium over-ear models. It usually develops them usually to be advanced headphones for audiophiles, but some have an extraordinary design, which makes them suitable for users looking for fashion models. Addition: Open-back models here are probably something to pay close attention to.

Headphones for work

Headphones for workIt focuses the most prominent accent here on sound quality, mic capabilities, and noise cancellation. It isn’t very significant if your headphones don’t allow you to hear your business partner correctly. On-ear and over-ear units are the best and commonly treated as the most suitable for business people. Consider in-ear. Because of their specific design and silicone/rubber tips, they are excellent at eliminating background noise.

Average models are not recommended here, only high-end ones. Poor sound quality and a microphone which is not significant in capturing your voice, may have a side effect on the entire business project. Luckily, most models are developed for this purpose specifically. They have superior mics and simple controls that allow you to activate each feature as soon as possible, without having to waste your time on complicated controls.

Noise isolation feature is a much better or more suitable system for this application than noise canceling. If you recall, we explained that noise isolation is superb in reducing the speech and noises every day for the working environment.

We will emphasize the fact all models for this application must be comfortable. Depending on your job, you will wear headphones for at least 6 hours per day. Some will even reach 12 hours. Therefore, the ultimate comfort is mandatory. Look for soft earcups that feel pleasant on the ears, but don’t cause too much pressure. Top tip: if you live and work in an area where temperatures are high, look for headphones with earcups made from materials great at repelling moisture.

Professional headphones for audiophiles

Here we have unique headphones. They are expensive, and they differ from any other type mentioned here. If you are already an audiophile, you will know what to look for, but if you are not, but planning to become one, you will need to get our help.

What is Audiophile Headphones?

They are also called heavy-duty or DJ headphones. The name derives from the fact all DJs commonly found in clubs wear these headphones. You can notice that looking at their size. All of them must have entirely thick earcups, and all of them are massive. Some main differences also include higher volume levels they can produce and better bass. One addition is the ability to rotate one or both earcups. Microphones are usually irrelevant here. Yes, you can still find audiophile headphones with a mic, but it limits the choice. Here is all about the superior sound quality.

The Importance of an Amplifier and High-Quality Content

Professional headphones for audiophilesAlmost all high-end headphones have a high impedance. Computers and smartphones cannot power them. In the best-case scenario, you will hear a song with a lower quality than low-end headphones will deliver. It solves this with the power of the amplifier. In simple terms, this is a device that goes between headphones and a sound source. The main goal is to amplify (therefore the name) the sound signal so it can power the headphones. The result is stunning.

Now we must mention the high-quality content. The easiest way to understand this is to take an ordinary song and play it on your high-end headphones with amplified. You will like it, probably, but you won’t be unimpressed. The secret lies in the content’s quality of the song. The class must be lossless, or better said the exact it was when the song was recorded. This feature only can impress you with the sound quality and overall experience.

Open or closed back

All headphones for audiophiles come in two versions, with the open or closed again. The main difference is noticeable. They look entirely the same. However, there is a difference in quality. Those with closed-back create the effect like you have a band in your head, literally. It means that the sound will be directed entirely towards the inner ear. There are no losses here, and some audiophiles believe these models are the only choice. We agree but must add that we recommend them for individuals looking for bass-powered music, where the dominant feeling is required.

Open-back headphones are different. They provide a quality similar to the one you can get in a concert hall. In simple words, you will have a feeling you listen to music in person. Some addicted audiophiles prefer them. We cannot generalize the bottom line. It depends on your requirements for the quality and which type you think is the most appealing for your applications.

Weight and battery life

All headphones for audiophiles provide extraordinary performances with weight and battery life. It makes them from exotic materials, so despite the massive size, they are lightweight. Just in case, make sure you purchase a model suitable for you. If you are planning to wear them all the time, keep in mind that low weight is preferable. Battery life is essential if you choose wireless headphones. Between 8 and 12 hours of battery life are standard, but some headphones for audiophiles can reach 40 hours.

Unless you prefer recharging the battery all the time, choose wired for those models with extra-long battery life. Size The size here is an important factor. Too small headphones will feel uncomfortable and literally prevent you from wearing them as long as you need or want. Too big ones will feel clumsy and will annoy you in the lack of a better term. You will have to go for perfect fit models, meaning that you must try them on before ordering or purchase an adjustable model. The headband is the solution here. Those with adjustable mechanisms allow different people to wear the same headphones and also to adjust their size according to the user’s specific needs.

For DJs/live sound

In today’s world, these headphones are like those for audiophiles but still different. We include that they have a different, usually colorful design and rotating earcups. It allows to a DJ to get the most from them. Almost all models come with closed-back design. It is mandatory because a DJ will want to limit or even eliminate a background noise as much as possible. Open-back models almost do not exist.

Professional DJ Headphones

Frequency range

Here is the thing. Most average users don’t have to waste their time on learning the frequency range headphones have. It is important the quality, not how headphones provide it. For DJs, the frequency range is mandatory. Between 20 and 20.000 Hz. Below 5Hz, the sound is barely felt, and above the 20.000Hz, the sound is inaudible. You can get a variety of models with different frequency range today, but those with the mentioned range are the most common and the best.

Flat or tuned frequency response

This is another unique feature all headphones for DJs have. Flat frequency response provides a DJ with the same quality as the one from the source. Tuned ones offer a more specialized or more pronounced sound. If your headphones are entirely isolated, there is no need for a tuned frequency response. Just in case, it is an individual matter.

Size of a driver

Headphones for this purpose have significant drivers. Each driver is 38mm in diameter or move. We believe that 40mm drivers or 50mm are the best choices. Here is the explanation. Significant drivers provide a much better bass response, so the quality will be more desirable. Smaller ones are not so great, while too big ones require too much amplifier power, and it must take their weight into consideration. DJs don’t like wearing bulky headphones on their head the entire night!

Cord design

Usually, the cord isn’t as important as other elements of headphones, but in this case, they are. You can choose between curly and straight versions. Straight ones are great to wrap around headphones, but they can drag across the floor and may trip you. Curly ones are therefore more desirable choice, and almost all DJs like them. This is an almost irrelevant matter for most average DJs, but we mentioned that it details our buying guide as possible, so we delivered this point from professional DJs.

Replaceable parts

When a DJ starts his thing, he cannot make a pause nor make an excuse, because of broken or damaged headphones. That’s why replaceable parts are a necessity here. Detachable cables, something we mentioned at the beginning is of incredible importance. Replaceable ear cups are highly desirable. Some headphones for DJs even come with a package that includes 2 spare earcups. Replacing them takes a minute.

Headphones for kids

Headphones designed and made for children are relatively new models on the headphones on the headphones on the market. They introduced a few years ago, and they come with a unique set of features and different designs. Luckily, most models are affordable. This is a necessity because they are often broken, broken, or lost (yes, we mentioned we cut two times, because of apparent reason). Besides the low price, most of these models feature colorful design and cartoon characters. Children find these exciting and desirable, so they will like using them all the time.

There is one feature which is mandatory here. Volume limiter, something we explained at the beginning, must be included. It limits the sound volume to 85dB. Higher amounts can damage hearing! Impressive: Almost all headphones for kids are more durable and more resilient than conventional models.

Headphones for addicted gamers

Headphones for addicted gamersOur buying guide must provide detailed instructions for players who are looking to purchase a new set of headphones. There is no need to mention that these models are different. The frequency response is the same as for headphones for DJs. The same thing applies to their size. You must make sure they will stay comfortable after hours and hours of wearing. One addition that must be included in the microphone. It is far more relevant than for headphones for other applications, so a high-quality mic is something each gamer must get. However, there are a few more points to include.

Surround sound

When playing games, gamers want to hear the direction from where the sound is actually coming. All of those who played CS: will understand this point. At the moment, there is only one way to get this advantage, surround sound. Some units come with 5.1 and others with 7.1 surround sound systems. Compared to other headphones, these systems will provide an advantage compared to other gamers, which use regular headphones. You will be able to hear the origin place of the sound and the direction, which makes each game more realistic.

Wired or wireless?

Wired models are preferable and highly recommended. They will provide great practicality simply because you don’t have to recharge the battery every day! They will also run perfectly as long as you need them, so we can deduce that they are the obvious choice. If some of you still prefer wireless models, those with long-lasting battery life are the only ones worth considering.


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Tech specifications of the headphones

Finding the most suitable headphones is an individual matter. You must know what makes that quality the best for you and why they are suitable. To understand that, you must know all about the technology that provides that, a particular sound. Below, we will explain a few technologies which are the most important in the world of headphones.

Stereo or Mono sound

Headphones Tech SpecsThe oldest question of them all. What is stereo, and what is mono audio? Stereo audio is defined as the source of music from two channels. Conventional headphones, which feature two earcups and newer technology, will almost always provide stereo audio. In other words, this technology allows you to hear the origin of the sound because two channels will generate noise in different volumes and at different levels. Better said, stereo headphones will enable you to get a sense of dimension.

Mono audio can be simply defined as a single headphone earcup. Those models that feature only one earcup and a mic are all mono, due to the fact they deliver sound only to one ear. Except for them, today, it is impossible to find a new model that features mono technology. Just in a case, you encounter one; we don’t prefer them. Stereo headphones are a much better and more superior choice. The sound simply cannot be compared.

What is sensitivity?

How much volume can a headset produce from a given power? The definition or the value of this fact is known as sensitivity. It is expressed in dB/mW (decibels per milliwatt). Models with a higher sensitivity are capable of producing higher volumes from a lower power source. For example, smartphones and computers should be paired with headphones of this type, usually with a sensitivity of 100 dB. Those with lower sensitivity are capable of producing far higher volumes, but they will require amplified. We will reserve them for audiophiles, professionals, gamers, and DJs. Addition: The lower the sensitivity, the higher the price will be.

Frequency response

This defines the range of frequency headphones can produce. The human ear can hear between 20 Hz and 20 kHz, but in reality, this is slightly different. Units with a frequency response between 20 and 20.000 Hz are standard and highly desirable. There are various units as well, but these ones are the most popular at the moment. They are even sufficient for DJs, gamers, and audiophiles.

One fact that must be included is that not all headphones will generate the same frequency response. Despite the fact, their manufacturers claim so. Ideally, a user will test each headphone to determine the model, which is the most suitable for his particular requirements. Also, this matter depends on numerous factors such are design, power, purpose, brand and etc.

Impedance: What is it?

This is almost the same matter as the sensitivity for average users. For professionals, this is a fundamental matter. In essence, we can define impedance as electrical resistance. High-end headphones may have 100 ohms, and they will require incredibly powerful amplifiers to run correctly. Smartphones and other, usually portable devices cannot power these headphones! You will need a model between 16 and 64 ohms of impedance. They are user-friendly, and they still provide decent sound. In general, those with lower impedance are headphones for the general public, while those with high impedance are reserved for studios and etc.


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The final word

I hope you enjoyed this article and that it helped ease your problem of plenty.

You should make no compromises with quality when you are spending your own hard-earned money. Instead of going through a series of hits and misses in your effort to find the perfect headphone, why not make sure that your first purchase itself fits that bill?

This guide will be primarily of help to first-time buyers. I have prepared the handbook in lucid language so that everyone can use it to its full potential. You can be sure that once you tick off every step mentioned, you will be able to make an informed choice that will not frustrate you in the future.

If you found the article useful, then do not forget to let me know in the comment section. Feel free to voice any thoughts that you might have had when reading through the guide. In case you think that your friends and relatives will also find the tutorial useful, do share it with them.

Our guide provided all the central facts, things to know, and factors to consider you will ever need. Each matter is explained in detail, and it is 100% accurate. We used plain language to allow for the beginners to understand these technologies and features.

In the end, we can only repeat to use all the facts mentioned here before you choose headphones for you. Pair your lifestyle with the price range and needed features, and you will get yourself perfect headphones.

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Hello, there! My name is Alexander and I started Ironhorsetrading with my wife with the sole purpose of putting all our passion and knowledge about headphones, headsets, and earbuds to good use. We are both deeply passionate about music and any gadgets that produce quality sound, so we decided to share that passion with the world! Luckily, our little website project got a life of its own fairly quickly because what we have to say on the topic is trustworthy. Our love for music is what brought us together in the first place, so we are delighted to be able to connect with so many more like-minded people through our website. We want to encourage you to join our little community of sound aficionados and tell us what you think!

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