Just how do you go about choosing the right set of headphones? Well, a good place to start is to think about how they are going to be used.
Are they for exercising, listening to the TV late at night, DJing…you get the idea?
You then need to get a grasp on all the different types (or form factors) available.
Here is a quick guide to the main types of headphones and the environments they might be better suited to.
Closed Headphones or Over-The-Ear Headphones
(can also be referred to as open-backed headphones, closed-back headphones or semi-open headphones)
These are the largest of all types of headphones and because of this are usually best suited to home, studio or DJing.
This type of headphone is designed to fit completely over your ear giving you effective isolation from outside noise.
Because of the size, this form factor also tends to also sport the largest speakers or drivers. The result of this is they are more likely to achieve a higher quality reproduction of audio as well as exuding less pressure on the eardrum. This means that if you are likely to be using headphones for an extended length of time, then this form factor should be a high consideration!
Good for: Studio Work, DJing, Home use
On-Ear Headphones or Supra-aural
(can also be referred to as: Supra-aural headphones, closed-back headphones, open-backed headphones or semi-open headphones)
These types of headphones tend to be extremely comfortable and portable. In the pictures they may look very similar to their bigger brothers the `On-Ear Headphones’ but the difference is that these puppies just sit `on’ your ear – not over it.
This design has the advantage of keeping your ears cool (they can become quite warm in a closed design) and also giving you a bit of peripheral sound which can be useful if you are wearing them out in the public – hearing motor vehicles approaching can be a lifesaver!
On the flip side, it’s worth remembering that equally as you can hear some of the outside worlds – the outside world can also hear you. This means that on-ear headphones can be a nuisance to others if used in the vicinity of others – i.e. on public transport.
Good for: Home use, Out & About, Exercising, Gaming
Noise Canceling or Noise Isolation Headphones
An example of an Over-Ear Noise Canceling Headphone
Audio Technica ATH-ANC7B Active Noise-Cancelling Closed-Back Headphones
Noise-canceling headphones or ear-buds are designed to reduce the amount of outside noise or interference that you are exposed to.
The two main types of technology you are likely to encounter are `passive’ & `active’.
Passive technology is usually referred to as `noise isolation’ and is designed to block out noise as best it can by enclosing your ears with sound-deadening materials and creating a seal between you and the speaker. Depending on the headphone and manufacturer this can be quite effective.
There are no moving parts or technology that requires power in a noise isolation headphone.
Noise Cancellation, however, does require additional power to be used (usually supplied by an additional battery). In order to understand how these headphones work to think of an absolutely smooth lake that has just had a pebble dropped into the middle of it – the ripples spreading out represent sound waves.
Now if we were to drop an identical pebble into the lake a bit further out but at exactly the same time as the first, the ripples would at some point meet each-other – when this happened they would in effect cancel each other out, you see, two opposing waves of exactly the same force meeting each other head-on count as a double KO! Each of our contestants (sound waves) gets knocked out.
So how do they do it? Well, noise-canceling headphones have 2 sets of speakers in each ear-cup as well as microphones. The headphones `listen’ to the outside noise and then attempt to re-create exactly the same noise as an opposing sound-wave… effectively neutralizing the sound before it reaches your ear. How each manufacturer implements this may vary, but the science remains the same.