We were frankly surprised at just how good the AirPods Pro turned out to be. The noise cancellation is on-par with Sony’s WH-1000XM3, which is saying a lot. The new in-ear design is both comfortable and secure. And amazingly, they sound way better than Apple’s previous version. We would often bemoan the fact that the AirPods didn’t sound very good, especially when compared to the plethora of decent true wireless options for the same or less money.
Communication headsets are used for two-way communication and typically consist of a headphone and attached microphone. Such headsets are used in a variety of professions as aviation, military, sports, music, and many service-oriented sectors. They come in all shapes and sizes, depending on use, required noise attenuation, and fidelity of communication needed.
Earphones are very small headphones that are fitted directly in the outer ear, facing but not inserted in the ear canal. Earphones are portable and convenient, but many people consider them uncomfortable.[16] They provide hardly any acoustic isolation and leave room for ambient noise to seep in; users may turn up the volume dangerously high to compensate, at the risk of causing hearing loss.[16][17] On the other hand, they let the user be better aware of their surroundings. Since the early days of the transistor radio, earphones have commonly been bundled with personal music devices. They are sold at times with foam pads for comfort. (The use of the term earbuds, which has been around since at least 1984, did not hit its peak until after 2001, with the success of Apple's MP3 player.[18])

Hearing risk from headphones' use also applies to workers who must wear electronic or communication headsets as part of their daily job (i.e., pilots, call center and dispatch operators, sound engineers, firefighters, etc.) and hearing damage depends on the exposure time. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends sound exposure not exceed 85 dB(A) over 8 hour work day as a time-weighted average.[35] NIOSH uses the 3-dB exchange rate often referred to as "time-intensity tradeoff" which means if sound exposure level is increased by 3 decibels, the duration of exposure should be cut in half. NIOSH published several documents targeted at protecting the hearing of workers who must wear communication headsets such as call center operators,[36] firefighters,[37] and musicians and sound engineers.[38]
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.

Binaural recordings use a different microphone technique to encode direction directly as phase, with very little amplitude difference below 2 kHz, often using a dummy head. They can produce a surprisingly lifelike spatial impression through headphones. Commercial recordings almost always use stereo recording, rather than binaural, because loudspeaker listening is more common than headphone listening.
Until now, the best true-wireless earbud features like noise cancellation or hands-free access to voice assistants were something you could only have if you spent well over $200. So when Amazon introduced its Echo Buds for just $130 with onboard Bose active noise reduction, IPX4 water-resistance, hands-free Alexa access, and a customizable fit, our only question was: Do they sound good?
Total harmonic distortion: True, headphones with lower actual total harmonic distortion (THD) will sound better than those with higher THD. But the quoted THD numbers -- "less than 1 percent" -- aren't helpful in predicting sound quality. Listen to recordings of simply recorded acoustic guitar to assess the distortion of one set of headphones versus another. Some will sound appreciably cleaner than others.
Of the tested codecs we met, aptX and aptX HD fared the best out of all our candidates. While that may seem strange to say, on the whole their results were right where they needed to be in order to stand in for a wire for commuters, and listeners over 40. You’d really only run into issues at high volumes (90+dB), so while aptX isn’t quite able to keep up with CD quality, aptX HD is able to get extremely close to the mark with a little processing creativeness. Both codecs fall short in the highest frequencies a human could potentially hear, but the vast majority of people can’t hear sounds over 18kHz anyway.

They’re among the best-performing wireless home/studio-style headphones in our ratings, and though the price fluctuates, you can often find them for as little as $150. That’s less than half of what you’d pay for some comparable models. If you want over-ear headphones with the convenience of Bluetooth, this pair is a steal. It comes with a detachable audio cable so that you can use your headphones without draining the battery, and the ear cups fold in for easy storage and travel.
Will Greenwald has been covering consumer technology for a decade, and has served on the editorial staffs of CNET.com, Sound & Vision, and Maximum PC. His work and analysis has been seen in GamePro, Tested.com, Geek.com, and several other publications. He currently covers consumer electronics in the PC Labs as the in-house home entertainment expert, reviewing TVs, media hubs, speakers, headphones, and gaming accessories. Will is also an ISF Level II-certified TV calibrator, which ensures the thoroughness and accuracy of all PCMag TV reviews.
Time to invest in a new set of headphones? It’s a hugely crowded market with hundreds of models to choose from, so here’s a handy timesaver: The Sony WH-1000xM3 are the best headphones. In fact, their combination of top-notch audio quality, superb noise cancellation, and dependable wireless performance is such a strong formula, we named the WH-1000xM3 the best wireless headphones and the best noise-canceling headphones, too.
These headphones hush ambient noise by creating anti-noise that obviates the noise at your ear. They don't eliminate the outside world, but the better models significantly reduce the whoosh of airplanes' air-conditioning systems. Noise-canceling headphones come in all forms, from full-size to earbuds. Since you no longer have to crank up the volume to overcome background noise, this type of headphone lets you listen at lower levels, which leads to reduced ear fatigue. You'll also hear more low-level detail in your music.
Binaural recordings use a different microphone technique to encode direction directly as phase, with very little amplitude difference below 2 kHz, often using a dummy head. They can produce a surprisingly lifelike spatial impression through headphones. Commercial recordings almost always use stereo recording, rather than binaural, because loudspeaker listening is more common than headphone listening.
Transducer technologies employed much less commonly for headphones include the Heil Air Motion Transformer (AMT); Piezoelectric film; Ribbon planar magnetic; Magnetostriction and Plasma-ionisation. The first Heil AMT headphone was marketed by ESS Laboratories and was essentially an ESS AMT tweeter from one of the company's speakers being driven at full range. Since the turn of the century, only Precide of Switzerland have manufactured an AMT headphone. Piezoelectric film headphones were first developed by Pioneer, their two models used a flat sheet of film that limited the maximum volume of air movement. Currently, TakeT produces a piezoelectric film headphone shaped similarly to an AMT transducer but, which like the Precide driver, has a variation in the size of transducer folds over the diaphragm. It additionally incorporates a two way design by its inclusion of a dedicated tweeter/supertweeter panel. The folded shape of a diaphragm allows a transducer with a larger surface area to fit within smaller space constraints. This increases the total volume of air that can be moved on each excursion of the transducer given that radiating area.

Although some headphones available are wired, many more are available that are wireless, and use Bluetooth to enable your music to be heard, even if the stereo or other device is several feet or even a few rooms away. Wired headphones deliver superior sound quality to wireless and Bluetooth because there's no chance of picking up interference from other devices, which sometimes happens with wireless headphones. In addition, wired headphones have no batteries to power them, so there's no chance of interruption should the batteries wear out.
×