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Headphones buying guide

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Headphones, or earphones, let you listen to your music in privacy without disturbing those around you. There are two main styles to choose from, those that insert into your ear canal such as the Bose in ear headphones and those that surround your ear, such as the Bose on ear headphones. You can choose cordless headphones for more mobility, and you can select noise cancelling headphones. These help block the noise surrounding you, letting you listen at a lower volume, reducing the stress on, and potential damage to your ears. This is especially helpful on airplanes or in industrial settings.

Headphones are not just limited to music. While you can buy Ipod earphones or Walkman headphones, you can also buy wireless headphones for TV, letting you watch TV while others in the house are reading or sleeping. You can also buy bluetooth headphones for your mobile phone. There are even different colour choices, with pink headphones being a popular option.

Headphones are a fairly recent innovation, but they have their roots with Thomas Edison, as do many modern electronics. His research of electrical currents indirectly led to inventions that amplified audio signals, including the headphones we take for granted today. Beyerdynamic made the world’s first headphones for consumers in the 1930s, introducing the first high-fidelity headphones in 1950. Other companies, most notably Koss, extended the technology to make the devices more portable.

Whether you are looking for high quality headphones or sport headphones, Price Inspector can help you sort through the numerous brands and styles. Our Inspectors have researched the UK stores so you can buy with confidence, knowing you’ve found the cheapest price.

Types of headphones

  • Full-size headphones, also known as closed-back headphones, over-the-ear headphones, and ear-cup headphones, fully enclose your ears. Due to their size and the level of acoustic isolation, they are better suited to home use than portable. They are, however, excellent for travel situations when you want to block ambient noise, such as on an airplane. The pros are that they offer maximum volume and bass, plus they block outside noise. The downside is that they are less portable, and some can become hot. The ear-cups and headbands may interfere with your hair, earrings, or glasses.
  • Ear-pad headphones, also known as on-ear headphones, rest on your outer ears. They can range from inexpensive portable models to very high-end home versions. Ear-pad headphones can have a closed design that covers your ears, but they are never completely sealed, as compared to full-size headphones. The positives are that they are comfortable; they aren’t as likely to overheat your ears as full-size headphones, and some fold for increased portability. The downsides are that they don’t provide as much noise isolation as either the in-ear or the full-size models, and they don’t provide as much bass performance as full-size headphones. They offer moderate portability.
  • Sports headphones, also known as behind-the-neck headphones, or vertical headphones, refers to lightweight headphones that fall into two basic headband styles. There is the standard vertical band that arches over the user’s head, and there are horizontal models that rest behind the neck. Sports headphones are open-backed designs, as they are made for use while jogging or biking, when you wouldn’t want to completely block out the ambient street noise around you. The pros are that a behind-the-neck style doesn’t interfere with your hair or hat, they stay in place while jogging, and they’re very portable. The downsides are that many designs aren’t very durable, and some of the behind-the-neck designs exert too much pressure on the ears for some people.
  • Earbuds, also known as in-ear headphones, use tiny earpieces that either rest on the outer ear or are inserted into the ear canal. Cheap versions are often provided as freebies with portable players, but high-end earbuds can provide audio performance that rivals their full-size competitors. The pros are that they are very compact, lightweight, and portable. They provide little or no interference with glasses and earrings and won’t muss your hair. The cons are that the sound quality, especially the bass range, is often not equal to full-size models. Some may cause discomfort after extended use. Also, some people do not like the idea of inserting a foreign object in your ear, and some are difficult to insert. Their two-cable design often leads to tangled wires.

Things to consider before buying

  • Consider how you will use the headphones. If you want headphones for home use, such as gaming or home theatre options, you might select an on ear headphone, while for easier portability, you might prefer in ear headphones.
  • Try out different styles. Some people like the snug earbuds, while others find it uncomfortable to have something inserted in the ear. Some like the padded ear-cup designs, while others don’t like the weight. Select the style that you find most comfortable.
  • If you will be using the headphones in noisy environments, you might consider noise-cancelling or noise-isolating headphones.
  • For home listening, wireless headphones will offer the greatest mobility. You can dance or walk around, rather than being tethered to your stereo system. For portable music devices, this is less of a concern, as the audio device will usually be attached to you or located nearby.
  • Consider the durability, especially if you are buying a higher priced model. Headphones don’t become obsolete in a matter of months, unlike most other electronics, and high-quality headphones can last a decade. Earbuds and portable headphones are generally more fragile. If the headphones fold up, check that the hinges are well-made and won’t break in a few months. A few headphone models offer replaceable ear tips or ear pads, but most don’t.
  • Decide whether you want one cable or two. Single-sided cabling models have just one cable, often connected to the left earpiece. All earbuds, and some other models, use a Y-cable connected to both earpieces, known as double-sided cabling. Double-cabled headphones are prone to tangling.
  • Consider the length of the cable. If you wear your audio device attached to your belt, pants pocket, or backpack, you need a longer cable. If you wear your player on an armband or neck lavaliere, you want a shorter cable. However, if you find an otherwise-perfect pair of headphones that just has the wrong length cable, you can buy extension cables for added length or a cable wrap to tighten a cable that’s too long.

Popular brands

There are innumerable brands of headphones available. Some of the popular brands include:

  • Apple headphones: Apples makes high quality earbud headphones that provide superior noise isolation.
  • Beyerdynamic: The originator of consumer headphones is still one of the top names in the industry. Their primary focus is on professional sound quality for broadcast markets, the recording industry, musicians, and the high-end consumer market.
  • Bose: Established in 1964, Bose products focus on delivering lifelike sound. A popular model is the Bose Quietcomfort, which is ideal for frequent fliers. These lightweight noise cancelling headphones block more noise across more frequencies than other models, and they offer replacement ear pads to ensure a long life.
  • Etymotic: Etymotic makes high-fidelity headphones that are tuned for optimum listening performance. Their name means “true to the ear,” and that’s the focus of this research-driven company.
  • JVC: JVC makes colourful, practical headphones. The JVC Marshmallow model is available in five different colours, designed to fit snugly and comfortably. The cushioned pads seal out ambient noise while providing excellent sound quality.
  • Koss: Koss is another original name in the headphones industry, known worldwide for their high-quality, high-fidelity products.
  • Panasonic: For 50 years, Panasonic has provided high-quality electronics that provide good value for the money. Their headphone models include earbuds, noise cancelling, clip-on headphones, lightweight models, and neck bands.
  • Sennheiser: For over 60 years, Sennheiser has been known for making high-quality audio products, producing excellent sound reproduction. The Sennheiser PX200 is a closed, on-ear, dynamic headphone designed for mobile audio players. They provide excellent sound isolation. The Sennheiser RS130 is a wireless headphone system that provides surround sound, perfect for hi-fi and TV use.
  • Skullcandy: Established in 2003, Skullcandy makes headphones targeting snowboarders, skiers, surfers, wakeboarders, moto riders, bikers, and musicians.
  • Sony: Sony is well-regarded in the electronics industry. Their headphone choices run the full range of models, including earbuds, noise cancelling, sports headphones, and Sony wireless headphones.
  • Shure makes many premium headphones, including the Shure SE110. This model features sound isolation and lifelike sound reproduction. It offers assorted sleeves for customization and comfort. The Shure SE210 is lightweight, ergonomic, and sound isolating.

Jargon Explained


High FidelitySound reproduction that offers little to no sound distortion. Distortion will reduce your listening enjoyment, providing less realistic sound
DynamicThis refers to the audio device’s ability to express a full range of sounds, from the softest to the loudest, without distortion. This is important because, as discussed above, distortion interferes with your listening pleasure.

Buying Guide to Headphones
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