Preferences for the length of headphone cables vary for portable users, especially depending on where you prefer to wear your device: a backpack or a pants pocket necessitates a longer cable, while you'll opt for a short one when wearing a player on a neck lavalier or an armband. But a cable length at either extreme need not be a fatal flaw: extension cables can lengthen those that are too short, and cable wraps can tighten up ones that are too long.
There’s a lot of debate in the headphone world about wireless audio. Wireless standards like Bluetooth are capable of making music sound great, but because Bluetooth relies on data compression, it will never sound quite as good as a wired connection. The big question is, with the improvements in Bluetooth, can anyone tell the difference anymore between Bluetooth audio and wired audio? We’re skeptical that the difference is meaningful, so here’s our best advice: if you’re an audiophile who cares about hearing music in high fidelity, you’ll probably be better off with a set of wired headphones; if you need everything to sound great but prefer the convenience of wireless connections, go for a pair of Bluetooth headphones.
We use a commercially-available Bluetooth high-def interface with an S/PDIF output to test the Bluetooth output of four flagship phones. This way, we’re able to record test signal output and compare the datasets with our in-house analysis software. We kicked the tires on a 96kHz/24-bit test file to see how Bluetooth handled high-bitrate music, as well as normal 44.1kHz/16-bit files to see how each codec treated CD-quality streaming audio. We then measured the recorded sample against the original file. We used both lograrithmic sine sweeps, and complex signals like square waves in order to provide a more realistic set of tests for how people actually use Bluetooth headphones.
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?
Headphones are made in a range of different audio reproduction quality capabilities. Headsets designed for telephone use typically cannot reproduce sound with the high fidelity of expensive units designed for music listening by audiophiles. Headphones that use cables typically have either a 1/4 inch (6.35mm) or 1/8 inch (3.5mm) phone jack for plugging the headphones into the audio source. Some stereo earbuds are wireless, using Bluetooth connectivity to transmit the audio signal by radio waves from source devices like cellphones and digital players. Due to the spread of wireless devices in recent years headphones are increasingly used by people in public places such as sidewalks, grocery stores, and public transit. Headphones are also used by people in various professional contexts, such as audio engineers mixing sound for live concerts or sound recordings and DJs, who use headphones to cue up the next song without the audience hearing, aircraft pilots and call center employees. The latter two types of employees use headphones with an integrated microphone.
LDAC is a strange family of codecs, not merely because they’re the only codecs that really attempt the hi-res thing, but because they have perplexing issues with common phones. For example, the bitrate defaults are wildly different from phone to phone. The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and LG V30 both default to 660kbps, and the Google Pixel 3 defaults to the lesser 330kbps. However, the noise present with every LDAC connection is far greater than it is with a regular old 3.5mm headphone jack.
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. 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. 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.)
The Galaxy Buds produce exemplary audio quality packed into a pair of unobtrusive earpieces, complete with easy-to-use touch controls for playback, volume, and skipping tracks. According to Samsung, they have a 6-hour battery life and come with a powered carrying case that will recharge the earphones for up to 7 additional hours of playback on the go. The case itself can be charged with a wireless charging mat, and it’s particularly small compared with the cases that come with many true wireless models.
Today they are typically used only in in-ear headphones and hearing aids, where their high efficiency and diminutive size is a major advantage. They generally are limited at the extremes of the hearing spectrum (e.g. below 20 Hz and above 16 kHz) and require a better seal than other types of drivers to deliver their full potential. Higher-end models may employ multiple armature drivers, dividing the frequency ranges between them using a passive crossover network. A few combine an armature driver with a small moving-coil driver for increased bass output.
Sony’s technologically advanced WH-1000xM3 are the third generation of Sony’s flagship wireless headphones (following the excellent WH-1000xM2 and MDR-1000x models) that offer top-tier noise canceling, excellent quality wireless audio, and plush comfort. This enticing combination earned the model a rare five-star rating in our initial review, and — thanks to a few notable improvements — makes the latest version the best headphones you can buy.
AAC has some advantages when it comes to latency, but we recommend avoiding this if you care about audio quality. We found high levels of noise and lower than average frequency cutoffs—both unacceptable to audiophiles and younger listeners. Though the sound isn’t as bad as some may make it out to be, the shortcomings are noticeable to the human ear at normal listening volumes.
The company is well known for bringing noise-canceling headphones to the general public — the QuietComfort Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones were released in 2000 — and since then, it’s only continued to churn out industry-leading noise-canceling headphones. Its most recent iteration, the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, might just be the best noise-canceling headphones, ever.
Sealed models are ideal for private listening, where you don't want the sound to be heard by other people. Open headphones -- such as foam earpad models and many sports designs -- are acoustically transparent and allow outside sound to be heard by the headphone wearer, and a good deal of the headphones' sound will be audible to anyone near the listener.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gaming headsets are headphones that have a microphone attached and allow users to speak to other people and hear them with the same device. In fact, gaming headsets have other practical applications as well. You can use them in business or personal situations when you want to speak to people on a computer using a video phone program or social media chat room. Although these work for music applications, they're more suited for conversational clarity.