The number one rule to understand when embarking on your headphone-search journey is to understand that there is no one headphone to rule them all. Like automobiles, headphones are made for different purposes. You have the supercars, roadsters, SUVs, 4x4s, sedans, to the compacts, and you chose what’s best for your day to day needs. There is no one car that can tackle snow and win races on the drag strip. The sooner you understand this fact, the more money you will save.
The Sony noise-cancelling headphones are a tiny miracle. They’re great at blocking the outside world, so you’ll hear your music and nothing else – at a price point that’s less than $50. Wired headphones can be a tough sell for those who’ve grown accustomed to wire-free listening, but if you’re all right with a wired connection, this pair is an easy choice.
Headphones are available with high or low impedance (typically measured at 1 kHz). Low-impedance headphones are in the range 16 to 32 ohms and high-impedance headphones are about 100-600 ohms. As the impedance of a pair of headphones increases, more voltage (at a given current) is required to drive it, and the loudness of the headphones for a given voltage decreases. In recent years, impedance of newer headphones has generally decreased to accommodate lower voltages available on battery powered CMOS-based portable electronics. This has resulted in headphones that can be more efficiently driven by battery-powered electronics. Consequently, newer amplifiers are based on designs with relatively low output impedance.
A headset is a headphone combined with a microphone. Headsets provide the equivalent functionality of a telephone handset with hands-free operation. Among applications for headsets, besides telephone use, are aviation, theatre or television studio intercom systems, and console or PC gaming. Headsets are made with either a single-earpiece (mono) or a double-earpiece (mono to both ears or stereo). The microphone arm of headsets is either an external microphone type where the microphone is held in front of the user's mouth, or a voicetube type where the microphone is housed in the earpiece and speech reaches it by means of a hollow tube.
Pairing high sensitivity headphones with power amplifiers can produce dangerously high volumes and damage headphones. The maximum sound pressure level is a matter of preference, with some sources recommending no higher than 110 to 120 dB. In contrast, the American Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends an average SPL of no more than 85 dB(A) to avoid long-term hearing loss, while the European Union standard EN 50332-1:2013 recommends that volumes above 85 dB(A) include a warning, with an absolute maximum volume (defined using 40–4000 Hz noise) of no more than 100 dB to avoid accidental hearing damage. Using this standard, headphones with sensitivities of 90, 100 and 110 dB (SPL)/V should be driven by an amplifier capable of no more than 3.162, 1.0 and 0.3162 RMS volts at maximum volume setting, respectively to reduce the risk of hearing damage.
What I’m saying here is that it’s better to own three $100 headphones than one $300 headphone. Or three $300 headphones than one $900 headphone. Why? Because most people don’t limit their playlist to strictly one genre. And following the logic from Rule #2, the right headphone-music pairing is going to be better than one expensive headphone paired to the wrong music.
I see, yes, but that should serve as an important lesson – the soundstage is not real in the same sense as actual tones, bass, treble, whatever. Soundstage is a perception that’s based on many factors, and here’s a challenge for you: You should be able to find some music tracks that have better soundstage on one headphone, and other tracks that will be better on the other headphone. Most of the time it will be just one way, but when a closed headphone beats an open headphone, I expect the open headphone will still show an advantage on some tracks. Your hearing perception could be tricked by simple things like a recess or emphasis in certain frequency ranges, or even phase shift when more than one driver is in the cup.
Those who buy either of these headphones are in for a treat. Our reviewer didn’t hold back in their assessment of these cans’ ability to fully realize every detail of a recording, noting their “warm and rigid bass, a midrange that dips close to the ruddy colors of analog tape saturation (without sacrificing an ounce of detail), and a laser tight response up top that helps illuminate vivid clarity and granular instrumental texture across the board.”
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.
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.
Case in point: the Koss PortaPro headphones first hit the market in 1984 and have become such a favorite with audiophiles that the company leaves the design (and the price tag) untouched. You can still pick one up for less than $50, and they come with a lifetime warranty, no receipt necessary. Check out our favorite budget headphones for more selections.
Mid-range: Many headphones that cost between $50 and $130 include improved sound and useful smartphone integration (like custom EQ controls). In this price range, you’ll also see a big jump in the quality of materials used, which improves both the sound and the luxury of each pair. If you need a pair of well-made headphones with basic noise cancellation, you’ll need to spend at least this much.
There are many good articles here on Headfonia. You could click on Buyers’ Guides and read through those, then click on the Headphones topic header for each individual report. The “process” you go through is learning your own sound preferences, then matching that to the products that are available. It is a process, so you have to learn the major differences. Any shortcuts you take might be OK, but when you buy something that you discover you don’t like, make sure you can return that item.
These headphones rest on top of your outer ears and run the gamut from inexpensive portables to high-end home models. While on-ear headphones can have closed designs that cover the ears, some prefer fully sealed circumaural models (see below) for their increased sound isolation and the fact that they won't leak sound to neighbors. Still, the earpad headphone is preferred in places like office environments, where users still benefit from hearing the outside world.
Be sure to assess the build quality of your prospective headphones. Some earbuds and portable devices are relatively fragile, for instance. If the headphones fold up for easy storage, are the hinges robust, or will they fall apart in a month or two? Don't forget to consider that the earpads and earbuds will get extensive wear and tear over the life of the headphones.
Active noise-cancelling headphones use a microphone, amplifier, and speaker to pick up, amplify, and play ambient noise in phase-reversed form; this to some extent cancels out unwanted noise from the environment without affecting the desired sound source, which is not picked up and reversed by the microphone. They require a power source, usually a battery, to drive their circuitry. Active noise cancelling headphones can attenuate ambient noise by 20 dB or more, but the active circuitry is mainly effective on constant sounds and at lower frequencies, rather than sharp sounds and voices. Some noise cancelling headphones are designed mainly to reduce low-frequency engine and travel noise in aircraft, trains, and automobiles, and are less effective in environments with other types of noise.
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).
Hi. I have more or less decided that the Philips Fidelio L1s are the ones for me. I plan to use them on my commute paired with an iPhone or the iPad as the source. I listen to a mix of pop, rock, blues and jazz so I’m not after boosting bass but I might want to fiddle with the dial on the treble and mids. Which brings me to my question. You state in your review that the L2s pair well with the Fiio e17 which lets you independently adjust treble and bass. Could the same effect be achieved lower down the $$ curve via a combination of say a Fiio E6 (for signal amplification) and a Dirac or Accudio app for equalisation?
Portability can mean many things, such as appearance in public, having a secure fit so the headphone doesn’t shift off of your ears, amount of isolation from ambient noise (including active noise canceling), whether the headphone can be worn around the neck when not listening or it requires a carry case, and when extra amplification is required, whether a suitable amp can be found that’s OK to carry along with the portable music player.
Dale: The examples listed above are good general rules, but there also are so many exceptions and in-betweens that it also could be better to understand what is needed for your music, so you can narrow the search to the most appropriate headphones. For example, you may have heard that Classical music is a particular genre, but within that ‘genre’ are many very different types of music. Chamber music or pipe organ music may benefit from a headphone that’s highly detailed in the treble (a headphone that some users might say is bright), while harpsichord music and music that has a lot of strong trumpet sounds might be better served with a more rounded or softer treble.
Passive noise isolation is essentially using the body of the earphone, either over or in the ear, as a passive earplug that simply blocks out sound. The headphone types that provide most attenuation are in-ear canal headphones and closed-back headphones, both circumaural and supra aural. Open-back and earbud headphones provide some passive noise isolation, but much less than the others. Typical closed-back headphones block 8 to 12 dB, and in-ears anywhere from 10 to 15 dB. Some models have been specifically designed for drummers to facilitate the drummer monitoring the recorded sound while reducing sound directly from the drums as much as possible. Such headphones claim to reduce ambient noise by around 25 dB.
Impedance: Generally speaking, the lower the headphones' electrical impedance (aka resistance), the easier it is to get higher volume. But here again, the low impedance is no guarantee of high volume capability; other factors can still limit loudness potential. Since many MP3 players have feeble power output -- the iPod is a notable exception -- smart shoppers should check the loudness before purchasing any pair of headphones. To be sure, listen with your player.
Again, back on the automobile analogy. If you’re driving in downtown Chicago after winter time, the road is full of potholes. It would be nice to be riding in a nice SUV, rather than typical sports car with a fully stiff suspension. It doesn’t matter if your sports car happen to cost three times the cost of the SUV, it’s just the wrong car for the road. Likewise headphones. A $1,000 headphone can sound very awful on the wrong music. Don’t believe me? Try listening to Linkin Park with the $1,800 Sennheiser HD800. You will wonder where that $1,800 went.
Recently released this summer, the Headphones 700 are the best wireless over-ear headphones that Bose has to over. The combine the best-in-class noise-cancellation with great audio quality. Other than the design overhaul, the biggest difference from the QuietComfort 35 II is that the Headphones 700 have a significantly upgraded microphone array. This allows the headphones to have a wonderful tranparancy mode (or ambient listening mode), and makes maybe the best headphones you can buy for call quality.