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.
Circumaural headphones (sometimes called full size headphones or over-ear headphones) have circular or ellipsoid earpads that encompass the ears. Because these headphones completely surround the ear, circumaural headphones can be designed to fully seal against the head to attenuate external noise. Because of their size, circumaural headphones can be heavy and there are some sets that weigh over 500 grams (1 lb). Ergonomic headband and earpad design is required to reduce discomfort resulting from weight. These are commonly used by drummers in recording.
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. Its popularity was reinforced with its use on the Walkman portable tape player in 1979.
As the name gives away, these have an on-ear design instead of the over-ear design of most of Bose’s other offerings. The trade-off is that the On-Ear Wireless Headphones won’t be able to block out ambient noises as well, but some people might find them more comfortable. Plus they’re well cheaper than most other Bose wireless headphones. It should be noted that many reviewers, including Sound Guys, have praised the sound quality of these headphones.
The Elite Active 65t come with three sets of silicone tips and feature an ergonomic design that guarantees a good seal, which is a big reason we prefer them to other true wireless models. With outstanding comfort and excellent passive noise isolation, you get the most out of every note, and you can also lower the volume for less ear strain. Overall sound quality is solid, and sound comes through clear and balanced, with a punchy bass response and a surprisingly dynamic treble range.
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.
The impedance of headphones is of concern because of the output limitations of amplifiers. A modern pair of headphones is driven by an amplifier, with lower impedance headphones presenting a larger load. Amplifiers are not ideal; they also have some output impedance that limits the amount of power they can provide. To ensure an even frequency response, adequate damping factor, and undistorted sound, an amplifier should have an output impedance less than 1/8 that of the headphones it is driving (and ideally, as low as possible). If output impedance is large compared to the impedance of the headphones, significantly higher distortion is present. Therefore, lower impedance headphones tend to be louder and more efficient, but also demand a more capable amplifier. Higher impedance headphones are more tolerant of amplifier limitations, but produce less volume for a given output level.
The number one rule to understand when embarking on your headphone-search journey is to understand that there is no one headphone to rule them all. Like automobiles, headphones are made for different purposes. You have the supercars, roadsters, SUVs, 4x4s, sedans, to the compacts, and you chose what’s best for your day to day needs. There is no one car that can tackle snow and win races on the drag strip. The sooner you understand this fact, the more money you will save.
The Soundsport Free, released in the fall of 2017, are Bose’s first truly wireless earbuds. They utilize the same StayHear+ Sport tips as the company’s other in-ear headphones, making them naturally more sweat-resistant and more secure than AirPods. They work with the Bose Connect app, which is pretty basic but does have a “Find My Buds” feature that, when enabled, can help you find your earbuds should you misplace them.
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.
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.
Headphones can prevent other people from hearing the sound, either for privacy or to prevent disturbing others, as in listening in a public library. They can also provide a level of sound fidelity greater than loudspeakers of similar cost. Part of their ability to do so comes from the lack of any need to perform room correction treatments with headphones. High-quality headphones can have an extremely flat low-frequency response down to 20 Hz within 3 dB. While a loudspeaker must use a relatively large (often 15" or 18") speaker driver to reproduce low frequencies, headphones can accurately reproduce bass and sub-bass frequencies with speaker drivers only 40-50 millimeters wide (or much smaller, as is the case with in-ear monitor headphones). Headphones' impressive low-frequency performance is possible because they are so much closer to the ear that they only need to move relatively small volumes of air.
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.
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.
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?