Smaller earbud type earpieces, which plugged into the user's ear canal, were first developed for hearing aids. They became widely used with transistor radios, which commercially appeared in 1954 with the introduction of the Regency TR-1. The most popular audio device in history, the transistor radio changed listening habits, allowing people to listen to radio anywhere. The earbud uses either a moving iron driver or a piezoelectric crystal to produce sound. The 3.5 mm radio and phone connector, which is the most commonly used in portable application today, has been used at least since the Sony EFM-117J transistor radio, which was released in 1964.[9][10] Its popularity was reinforced with its use on the Walkman portable tape player in 1979.
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.
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.
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In the professional audio sector, headphones are used in live situations by disc jockeys with a DJ mixer, and sound engineers for monitoring signal sources. In radio studios, DJs use a pair of headphones when talking to the microphone while the speakers are turned off to eliminate acoustic feedback while monitoring their own voice. In studio recordings, musicians and singers use headphones to play or sing along to a backing track or band. In military applications, audio signals of many varieties are monitored using headphones.
In the professional audio sector, headphones are used in live situations by disc jockeys with a DJ mixer, and sound engineers for monitoring signal sources. In radio studios, DJs use a pair of headphones when talking to the microphone while the speakers are turned off to eliminate acoustic feedback while monitoring their own voice. In studio recordings, musicians and singers use headphones to play or sing along to a backing track or band. In military applications, audio signals of many varieties are monitored using headphones.
The Astro Gaming A50 emerged in 2012 as the wireless follow-up to the excellent A40. Seven years later and four generations on, they remain the gold standard for gaming audio. With an ability to faithfully reproduce 7.1 channel surround sound through just two earcups, gamers will get critical 3D audio for all of their favorite console titles whether it’s from an Xbox One or a PlayStation 4. Wireless audio can lead to an unacceptable amount of lag, which often sends gamers in search of wired models, but here too, the A50 manage to beat expectations.
If you’ve been on an airplane in the last few years, you’ve probably seen the Bose QuietComfort noise-cancelling headphones before: they’re a favorite of regular travelers because they’re so good at keeping outside noise out. They’re comfortable, they sound incredible, and the noise cancellation is so impressive that you feel like you’re in your own personal bubble. These headphones are not cheap, but they’re definitely worth the money.
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.
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.
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]
The fit isn’t always an easy thing to be sure of when you can’t try before buying, since some ear pads will not have a satisfactory fit to some ears. Power requirements aren’t a simple matter of looking at the impedance, since efficiency or sensitivity doesn’t always track directly with impedance. Another issue indirectly related to power requirements are whether the headphone has the option for ‘balanced’ use or some other connection that isn’t a 3.5 mm or 6.35 mm jack and plug.
If you’re buying wireless headphones, keep a spare pair of wired headphones around in case the others run out of battery. Wireless headphones are definitely the future, and the convenience is a huge benefit, but they rely on battery power to work their magic, and batteries run out. If you’re going to be in a place where you won’t be able to recharge your wireless headphones, consider keeping a backup wired pair with you so the music never has to stop.
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.
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.
The Earbuds 500 won’t be available until early 2020, but they might just be worth waiting for. They look to be the natural successor to the SoundSport Free, the company’s first go at truly wireless earbuds, but probably better in every way. The Earbuds 500 will likely have a longer battery life, a smaller charging case and charge via USB-C. They will be sport-focused, too, and a more affordable option to the company’s other new-age wireless earbuds, the Noise Cancelling Earbuds 700.
The QuietComfort 20 headphones have been around for years and years; and they’re essentailly an in-ear alterative to Bose’s QuietComfort 25. They offer the same great active noise-cancellation that the company is known for, just in a traditional wired and in-ear form factor. The QuietComfort 20 can also be switched to an “Aware” (aka ambient) mode, so you can better hear the world around you.
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])
The DT770 is fine – not basshead, the COP is the same size and configuration as the 770, and both of those, large though they are, are “tighter” built so they feel less clunky than the M50. But the biggest problem for you is that the smaller headphones under $200 almost all have a steeply rolled-off treble, which is trouble for the more refined type of music. One possible exception is the Harman Soho.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Frequency response: Frequency-response specifications in full-size loudspeakers are generally pretty useless in predicting sound quality, but headphone frequency-response numbers are even worse. Manufacturers have routinely exaggerated frequency-response figures to the point that they're irrelevant. Even the flimsiest, cheap headphones routinely boast extremely low bass-response performance --15Hz or 20Hz -- but almost always sound lightweight and bright. Generally, bass buffs will be happier sticking with larger 'phones.
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.
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.
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.
However, the Bose 700 earphones have a much slimmer profile when folded up, and they have a few updated elements, including more integration with digital assistants, touch controls, and sensors for Bose’s “augmented reality” apps. Bose has kept some of the best-loved features from its older models as well, such as adjustable levels of noise cancellation, a monitoring mode to let in sound from your environment, and an advertised 20-hour battery life. According to Bose, call quality is improved as well, though CR doesn’t test call quality in headphones.
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.[14] 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.
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