Technology has changed our lives in some pretty big ways – nowadays, it’s hard to imagine leaving the house without at least a few of our most important gadgets. New tech categories are sprouting up out of nowhere; ten years ago, no one had ever heard of a smartwatch, and now you see them everywhere you go. But there’s one tech category that’s remained essential all along: headphones.
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.
That depends on what you’re using them for and how much you’re willing to spend. At the high-end, over-ear and in-ear headphones can both perform fantastically. For those of us not willing to spend thousands on headphones, over-ear headphones typically offer better bass response and a bigger soundstage, but in-ear headphones are significantly more portable and convenient — especially wireless earbuds.
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.
Technology has changed our lives in some pretty big ways – nowadays, it’s hard to imagine leaving the house without at least a few of our most important gadgets. New tech categories are sprouting up out of nowhere; ten years ago, no one had ever heard of a smartwatch, and now you see them everywhere you go. But there’s one tech category that’s remained essential all along: headphones.
Earbud-style headphones range from the disposable models you get on a plane to the ones that are included with your smartphone to high-performance buds that offer sonics rivaling full-size models. Their tiny earpieces rest on the outer ear or need to be inserted into the ear canal, and some models, particularly sport buds, include wings or fins for a more tailored, secure fit.
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The rule that I use is that the bigger the size of the headphone, the bigger the need for amplification. Of course factors like driver sensitivity and impedance will matter, but the general rule of thumb is, use a dedicated headphone amplifier for a full size headphone. Even a portable amplifier can be enough, depending on the type of the headphones.
While Apple’s AirPods get a lot of attention for how well they work with other Apple products, there’s actually a more affordable option that’s just as tightly integrated: the Beats BeatsX Earphones. Apple owns the Beats brand, and it’s built the BeatsX earphones with the same W1 chip that’s in the AirPods. That means that the user experience is virtually identical – iOS makes it super easy to pair them with any iPhone or iPad. Our favorite part is they have a Fast Fuel feature, so when your battery is low, plugging them in for five minutes provides two hours of talk time. We’re also big fans of the COWIN E7 Headphones. They’re wireless, they’ve got on-board noise cancellation, and they can last up to 30 hours on a single charge. The E7’s have an impressive spec sheet for any price point, but the fact that they’re so affordable makes them an even better value. If you’re looking for affordable over-the-ear headphones that don’t make any compromises, this is the pair to get.

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.

The problem is made even worse by the fact that Android phones can’t handle AAC in a method that approaches Apple’s performance with the codec. Consequently, we will no longer be recommending AAC-only headsets here at SoundGuys, as the experience is that broken from source to source. The results are crappier and noisier than the other codecs by a longshot.
The rule that I use is that the bigger the size of the headphone, the bigger the need for amplification. Of course factors like driver sensitivity and impedance will matter, but the general rule of thumb is, use a dedicated headphone amplifier for a full size headphone. Even a portable amplifier can be enough, depending on the type of the headphones.
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.
Audiophiles generally agree that if you’re passionate about music, and you have a listening space that is relatively free of outside sounds, nothing beats a really good set of open-back headphones. As far as we’re concerned, you won’t find a set of open-back headphones that manage to combine superb sound quality and a reasonable price than the Sennheiser HD6XX/HD650. To be clear, these are not exactly the same models. The HD6XX is a run of the HD650 with a lower price from Massdrop, and a few physical changes, but when it comes to their audio chops, they’re identical.
Wired headphones are attached to an audio source by a cable. The most common connectors are 6.35 mm (¼″) and 3.5 mm phone connectors. The larger 6.35 mm connector is more common on fixed location home or professional equipment. The 3.5 mm connector remains the most widely used connector for portable application today. Adapters are available for converting between 6.35 mm and 3.5 mm devices.
A balanced armature is a sound transducer design primarily intended to increase the electrical efficiency of the element by eliminating the stress on the diaphragm characteristic of many other magnetic transducer systems. As shown schematically in the first diagram, it consists of a moving magnetic armature that is pivoted so it can move in the field of the permanent magnet. When precisely centered in the magnetic field there is no net force on the armature, hence the term 'balanced.' As illustrated in the second diagram, when there is electric current through the coil, it magnetizes the armature one way or the other, causing it to rotate slightly one way or the other about the pivot thus moving the diaphragm to make sound.
Magnetostriction headphones, sometimes sold under the label Bonephones, work by vibrating against the side of head, transmitting sound via bone conduction. This is particularly helpful in situations where the ears must be unobstructed, or for people who are deaf for reasons that don't affect the nervous apparatus of hearing. Magnetostriction headphones though, are limited in their fidelity compared to conventional headphones that rely on the normal workings of the ear. Additionally, in the early 1990s, a French company called Plasmasonics tried to market a plasma-ionisation headphone. There are no known functioning examples left.
We’re totally convinced the Sony WH-1000xM3 will be the best pick for most people, but if you’re looking for some alternatives, we have you covered there, too. We identified seven other models that are more than worthy of your consideration, each with their own specific strengths, whether it’s for use during a workout — or merely to keep you from giving your credit card too much of a workout.
The Bose QuietComfort 25 were released in 2015 and you can still buy them today. They are kind of like a wired version of the Bose QuietComfort 35. They have a slightly dated look, and boast almost as good levels of active noise-cancellation and sound quality as Bose’s QuietComfort 35. The important thing to remember is that even though these are wired headphones, they still need to be charged so you can turn on the active noise cancellation. Otherwise, they just work as normal over-ear headphones.
We’re totally convinced the Sony WH-1000xM3 will be the best pick for most people, but if you’re looking for some alternatives, we have you covered there, too. We identified seven other models that are more than worthy of your consideration, each with their own specific strengths, whether it’s for use during a workout — or merely to keep you from giving your credit card too much of a workout.
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.
I think it’s fair to compare the Grados and HD598, but the M50 is very different and seems not to fit in that comparison. The DT770 is a better comparison to the M50, although the 770 is a better more expensive item. A long time ago I had a Grado 325 and a Sennheiser HD565 – very similar, very enjoyable. Today for that type of sound I might choose the Soundmagic HP100.

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.
While iPhone users can expect that their phones are missing essential parts to look good, AAC is one of those codecs that maybe cut a few too many bits out of its data transmission. By using an aggressive psychoacoustic model of compression, AAC seeks to cut data where you wouldn’t normally be able to hear it anyway—but it gets a little too aggressive at times.
If you won’t compromise on sound quality—and you’re willing to pay for it—the Bang & Olufsen Beoplay E6 may be for you. It doesn’t come cheap, but the Beoplay E6 is one of the best portable wireless models we’ve ever tested. In addition to sound quality, it has design perks including magnets that clip the earpieces together (and automatically turn the headphones off) for easy transport, a braided cable for added durability, and water resistance, according to the manufacturer.
The outer shells of in-ear headphones are made up of a variety of materials, such as plastic, aluminum, ceramic and other metal alloys. Because in-ear headphones engage the ear canal, they can be prone to sliding out, and they block out much environmental noise. Lack of sound from the environment can be a problem when sound is a necessary cue for safety or other reasons, as when walking, driving, or riding near or in vehicular traffic.[19]
Every single Bluetooth codec has significant quality issues—despite many creative solutions employed to make the most of the limited bandwidth the standards employ. For those keeping score at home: not a single codec available can meet wired signal quality. Though Bluetooth audio has come a long way since its noisy beginnings, it’s still not ready to replace the headphone jack. Qualcomm’s aptx HD, and Sony’s LDAC 990kbps codecs come close, but everything else falls far short of the mark.
Sensitivity is a measure of how effectively an earpiece converts an incoming electrical signal into an audible sound. It thus indicates how loud the headphones are for a given electrical drive level. It can be measured in decibels of sound pressure level per milliwatt (dB (SPL)/mW) or decibels of sound pressure level per volt (dB (SPL) / V).[12] Unfortunately, both definitions are widely used, often interchangeably. As the output voltage (but not power) of a headphone amplifier is essentially constant for most common headphones, dB/mW is often more useful if converted into dB/V using Ohm's law:
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