Dale: There are so many types of amplifiers (and DAC’s with amplifiers) that there is no shortcut for studying all of the options, unless you settle for the most generic approach. Important things to consider are power – if you don’t have enough power for your headphone and the dynamics in the music, clipping will result. Sometimes the clipping is “soft” and not readily noticed, but eventually you would discover that much of the detail goes missing or gets veiled with limited dynamics. Another consideration is whether to use a DAC, which may be a separate DAC or built into the same enclosure as the amp. Most DACs will improve the sound over the DACs that are built into computers, but when a DAC is available to replace the DAC built into most cellphones and low to mid-priced music players, you can usually expect a much greater improvement.
Expensive: Audiophile-grade headphones can cost anywhere between $130 and $2,000. Headphones in this price bracket are no joke: they create impressive soundscapes, are robust enough for use in a recording studio, and they’re just plain beautiful. If you need a pair of headphones for critical listening, or you simply want the best headphones around, it’ll cost you.
If you’ll mostly be using headphones at your desk, install a headphone hook so you can safely stow yours when you’re not using them. Headphones can be fairly fragile, so it’s important to take care of yours and avoid tossing them around. A headphone hook gives your favorite pair a place to hang and creates a fun conversation piece for your workstation.
Using headphones at a sufficiently high volume level may cause temporary or permanent hearing impairment or deafness. The headphone volume often has to compete with the background noise, especially in loud places such as subway stations, aircraft, and large crowds. Extended periods of exposure to high sound pressure levels created by headphones at high volume settings may be damaging to hearing; Nearly 50% of teenagers and young adults (12 to 35 years old) in middle and high income countries listen to unsafe levels of sound on their personal audio devices and smartphones. however, one hearing expert found in 2012 (before the worldwide adoption of smartphones as the main personal listening devices) that "fewer than 5% of users select volume levels and listen frequently enough to risk hearing loss." The International Telecommunication Union recently published "Guidelines for safe listening devices/systems" recommended that sound exposure not exceed 80 decibels, A-weighted dB(A) for a maximum of 40 hours per week. The European Union have also set a similar limit for users of personal listening devices (80 dB(A) for no more than 40 hours per week) and for each additional increase of 3-dB in sound exposure, the duration should be cut in half (83 dB(A) for no more than 20 hours, 86 dB(A) for 10 hours per week, 89 dB(A) for 5 hours per week and so on. Most major manufactures of smartphones now include some safety or volume limiting features and warning messaging in their devices. though such practices have received mixed response from some segments of the buying who favor the personal choice of setting their own volume levels.
Cable dressing and length: Most stereo headphones have just one cable, usually attached to the left earpiece (sometimes called single-sided cabling). Some models -- and all earbuds -- use a Y-cable that connects to both earpieces (double-sided). The actual cable plug, meanwhile, is usually one of two designs: a straight I-plug or an angled L-plug; the latter may be useful if your portable player has a side- or bottom-mounted headphone jack.
Ok, it’s been a month and a lot of new experience. I’ve auditoned ATH M-50 (clamp’s too tight; they sweat my ears just from few minutes of exposure) and Senn HD 600 (the velour pad is amazingly comfortable & size is ok). So, long story short, now I can refine my search to: circumaural&non-pleather/foam pads, which brought me to Senn HD 439 (cloth) & 518 (velour).
We run every pair through a rigorous testing process over several days or weeks. That includes playing them in all sorts of scenarios — be it on a bus, in the listening room, or at the office — and playing back from a wide array of sources. We know most people use their headphones with a smartphone, often with lower-quality MP3 resolution tracks, so we do, too.
Inexpensive: Most casual users can find a good pair of headphones for between $20 and $50. Headphones in this price range sound great, include key features like an in-line microphone, and often support wireless Bluetooth connections. If you’re looking for a reliable set of headphones and you don’t need much more than audio, you don’t need to spend more than $50.
The iPhone will drive the headphone fine and make a very nice sound, but the amp will make a big improvement in harmonic extension and soundstage. Use the amp whenever possible. Both Headfonia and I concur that the E07k is a great amp, and probably the best thing you can get for up to twice the price. I’m familiar only with the E07k, the E17, and the E12. I think the E07k beats the E17 (and both are also USB DACs), while the E12 is just an amp, and has a darker sound but with more power for inefficient headphones. The Philips is not inefficient.
If you’ve been on an airplane in the last few years, you’ve probably seen the Bose QuietComfort noise-cancelling headphones before: they’re a favorite of regular travelers because they’re so good at keeping outside noise out. They’re comfortable, they sound incredible, and the noise cancellation is so impressive that you feel like you’re in your own personal bubble. These headphones are not cheap, but they’re definitely worth the money.
Once you’ve got that all order, to put a cherry on top it would be ideal for the amp to play nice with my laptops (PC at work, Mac at home) *and* my *iPhone* 4S. I haven’t found a headunit that works with PCs and iDevices. If one doesn’t exist it would be a big plus for the amp to include inputs so I can get digital sound out of my iPhone (with the Pure i20 or its ilk) and into my headphones.
No matter what type of headphones you want, you can't go wrong with any of the options here. That said, you don't need to spend top dollar for a quality pair of cans. If you're shopping on a budget, take a look at our picks for The Best Headphones Under $50. And once you've found the right pair, check out our 5 Easy Tips to Extend the Life of Your Headphones and 6 Ways You're Using Your Headphones Wrong.
This type combines advantages of earbuds and in-ear headphones – depending on the environment and requirements of the user, they provide passive noise reduction for quality mode (conversation or active music listening) or they give control over the sound environment around user in comfort mode (stand by or background voice/music listening).
Frequency response: Frequency-response specifications in full-size loudspeakers are generally pretty useless in predicting sound quality, but headphone frequency-response numbers are even worse. Manufacturers have routinely exaggerated frequency-response figures to the point that they're irrelevant. Even the flimsiest, cheap headphones routinely boast extremely low bass-response performance --15Hz or 20Hz -- but almost always sound lightweight and bright. Generally, bass buffs will be happier sticking with larger 'phones.
In-ear headphones are like earbuds but are an upgrade to them. These headphones fit into the wearer's ear canal and stay in place with the use of foam or rubber tips. These tips are available in custom sizes so they can fit each individual wearer. When a proper fit's achieved, in-ear headphones reduce outside noise and deliver sound quality at about the same level as over-ear and on-ear headphones.