How To Choose The Best Headphones

How To Choose The Best Headphones

Sarah Rae Smith
Feb 15, 2010

Headphones are very personal things and usually finding the right pair boils down to three things: fit, price and sweet smooth sounds. It can be a little overwhelming to find the right pair without buying the ones with the coolest package or the highest pricetag, here's how to weed your way through the marketing rubbish — to find the perfect pair.

Let's Get Started

When you say headphones all sorts of images flood into your mind. There's large studio cans, super small ear buds and everything in between. Some are intended for silent T.V. and video game playing, while others will accompany you on a jog around the neighborhood — but usually the "perfect pair" isn't big on multi-tasking.

In our own home, we have at least 5 pairs of headphones that we rely on from week to week. There's something to be said for using the right tool for the job and headphones are no exception. We won't try to sell you on our favorite brands, because to us it's a personal adventure to find the ones that match your own specific needs. Obviously, any headphone will do any job, but when it comes to audio, it's a question of how well and with how much comfort. To find the perfect pair (or pairs) for your lifestyle, start by asking yourself 4 simple questions...

Questions To Ask Yourself:

1. What Will They Be Used For?
Typically speaking, determining the use for your headphones will dictate the style you'll be interested in purchasing. If you're looking for something compact to put in your bag, to take back and forth from the gym or office, you'll be pointed more towards ear buds. On the other hand, if you're looking for something to wear while working on a big project long into the night, or a pair of wireless ones, you'll be looking in the direction of a larger pair.

2. How Long Will They Be Worn?
If you're really only going to be using your headphones for a quick ride on the train from stop to stop on your way to work, you'll be looking for a different type of headphone than one that's intended to be worn for hours while you work away on a project. Ear comfort isn't something to be taken lightly and can make or break your purchase. Smaller buds sit closer to the ear drum, while larger ear-encompassing models sit further back, allowing for longer use and comfort.

3. Will They Interfere With Your Fashion Choices?
While we're not into matching our headphones to individual outfit choices, there are a few things that need to be taken into consideration when it comes to wardrobe, accessories and comfort. For starters, will larger headphones flatten your super-stylish hair-do? Will they press against your glasses and create discomfort or worse, headaches? Do you wear a hat that won't allow for larger headphones, or will press smaller ones uncomfortably? It might seem silly, but it's equally ridiculous to not consider such things in the long run.

4. What Are You Willing To Spend?
Although we're usually into doing enough research to reveal a bottom dollar product with superior performance, when it comes to headphones, you truly get what you pay for. Less expensive models use cheaper materials that might not rest as comfortably on your ears or are constructed in a way that is meant to last. We might also note that less expensive versions have a tendency to leak your tunes to the outside world. So next time you turn them up so you don't hear the chatty kids on the bus, they'll be quickly judging you for listening to ABBA at such a volume.

7 Tips To Arm Yourself With Before Shopping

Test Them Out: Though headphones aren't exactly easy to test out (especially when talking about smaller ear buds), most stores, especially if you ask will let you give them a test run. Consider going to a specialty audio store (even if they have higher prices) as they'll be more reluctant to let you bust a pair out of the package to take on a test run, you can always order your favorites from Amazon later on down the line. Comfort is key, testing is imperative!

Read Reviews: Headphones aren't something people take lightly and reviews tend to be quite precise and offer additional tips. For example, "I purchased these, but X model would have worked just as well at a lesser price."

Look For Frequency Range: All headphones, even if it's in small print, will have somewhere on their packaging the range their able to put forth. The wider that is, the more you'll be able to hear from your music, it's as simple as that.

A Note On Noise Cancelling: Don't worry about noise cancelling models (even if you travel a great deal) unless you're willing to go big on the price tag. Many models (even up to a $100 price point) end up canceling out the sound itself in an effort to reduce external noises.

Wireless Is All About Range: If you're popcorn runs out in the middle of your favorite flick, you don't want to miss out on any of the action while you get up to make some more. When comparing reviews on wireless headphones, make sure to look for ones with the largest range possible with the best reviews.

Look For Ways To Adjust: On larger over the ear models, sometimes the bands connecting the two pieces can pinch or have extra pressure depending on the shape of your head. Likewise, smaller buds can pinch, poke or just fall out if they aren't fit just right. Look for headphones that have adjustable straps and padding to make them just right.

For Sports Enthusiasts: If you're a gym rat or more of the outdoor athletic type, sports headphones are worth the investment. Even if you have a pair of traditional ear buds, sports models (Especially the higher end models) are created to be handwashed, wiped down and best of all, stay put when you're on mile 10 of 20 and sweating buckets! They're built to come in contact with sweat and be jostled around and shouldn't hurt your ears in the process.

Additional Notes: In the end, it comes down to what feels the best in/on your ears. Even if they don't have the best sound, if they fit your needs and they're comfortable, then you're good to go. Just remember for a few extra bucks, you could be hearing a great deal more!

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(Images: Flickr members joebeone, Brainsonic, Vincent, Paehder, PhilCampbell licensed for use by Creative Commons)

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