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.
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.

I’ve never enjoyed the audio quality of Bluetooth headphones, but that’s just me. The sound is better than it ever has been, and it’ll get you 90% of the way there—but not everybody is willing to make that tradeoff. Since USB-C headphones have largely ceded their market advantages over Bluetooth, we have to examine the consumer audio technology’s performance in a world where the headphone jack is disappearing.


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]
Despite big promises from Bluetooth’s only Hi-res codec, the standard doesn’t really deliver at best, and it falls far short with its basic 330kbps setting. Both the 660kbps and 990kbps connections offer decent quality, but the 330kbps setting has a lot of noise—and a comparatively poor frequency response with higher-def content. You probably won’t hear it, but it definitely falls short of the marketing.
Released in 2017, the Bose SoundWear Companion is a different kind of wireless headset. It doesn’t have any earcups or earbuds, but instead it sits around your neck adn has speakers that shoot sound up towards your ear — it’s essentially a portable speaker that sits around your neck. It’s water-resistant, so you can technically work out while wearing it, but it’s really designed for the person who works at home. It’s comfortable enough to wear for lengthy periods of time, but it also has excellent built-in microphones and works great as a speakerphone.
While the data signal containing Bluetooth audio is compressed, headphone and earphone manufacturers have found ways to enhance the signal to compensate for its deficiencies in a way that even audiophiles can appreciate. We've included some wireless options here, but if you're really keen on cutting the cord, check out The Best Wireless Headphones. And if you want to go completely wireless (with no cord at all connecting the two earpieces), check out The Best True Wireless Headphones—just keep in mind these are about as far from over-ear headphones as you can get.
However, we also move up to high-resolution audio files, as well as a wide variety of sources, including plugging in directly to a PC or Mac, using USB DACs (digital-to-analog converters), and employing high-quality, dedicated portable players and amplifiers. Finally, we compare the headphones to some of our go-to models, both in their class and price point, as well as a level or two above to find out if they can punch above their weight.
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.
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.[4] 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.
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.
Despite big promises from Bluetooth’s only Hi-res codec, the standard doesn’t really deliver at best, and it falls far short with its basic 330kbps setting. Both the 660kbps and 990kbps connections offer decent quality, but the 330kbps setting has a lot of noise—and a comparatively poor frequency response with higher-def content. You probably won’t hear it, but it definitely falls short of the marketing.

With a Lightning a USB-C headphone you plug the headphone directly into the Lightning port (on Apple devices) or USB-C port (on Android devices). A standard headphone plug is an analog connection while this creates a direct digital connection. The headphones are powered by your phone (they use only a little bit of battery power) and have an integrated DAC (digital-to-analog converter) that's usually superior to the DAC in your phone.
The SoundSport Wireless are wireless sport earbuds that are very similar to the SoundSport Free. Instead of being true wireless earbuds, however, the two SoundSport Wireless earbuds are tethered together by cable. Aside from that, the two wireless earbuds have similar audio performance and use the same Bose Connect app. The SoundSport Wireless will last longer on a single charge (as opposed to the SoundSport Free which recharge every time they go back in their case).

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.


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.
Earbuds have small speakers that rest on the ear canal of the wearer. These are usually much less expensive than on-ear and over-ear headphones and reproduce the sound well. However, outside sounds, such as traffic or power tools, can get past the earbuds and interfere with your enjoyment. Earbuds also don't stay in place very well if the wearer is moving much, such as exercising. These also are lower fidelity than on-ear and over-ear headphones.
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