Headphones 101 - Groove Central

Headphones 101

Like most of us with a smartphone, we pretty much have a set of headphones, and some even more.  Considering the amount of mobile phones out there in the real world, that a lot of headphones.

Having first hand experiences with a number of headphones over many years, builded a good understanding ranging from entry level products to some fairly astute high-end ones.

Without being too much of a geek or a headphone nutter, let’s break it down…

Types Of Headphones

Headphones comes in many different types from in-ears to over-ears, noise cancellation to wireless, fashion to audiophile, colours, shapes and sizes.  Confuse? Most likely! They all fit in the following three main types, in-ears, on-ears and over-ears.  What about wireless and noise cancellation you say, well they also falls into the three main types.

In-Ear Headphones [ earbuds or IEMs ]

In-ears as the name suggest, it's basically that - compact headphones that usually fits partly inside the ear canal, some can be clipping onto the ear, can be wireless, be active noise cancelling (we will come back to that a little later) and great for sports due to their size, weight and portability. Other things to consider with in-ears is that they can offer a great way to isolating background noises when listening to music due to their placement within the ears.

As for any cons of utilising in-ears headphones, sound quality isn’t the greatest partially due their size specially in the lower end of the market.  Manufacturers and specialist brands have over the years improved performance in that sector of the market with the introductions of better drivers / transducers and technologies.  But generally speaking, don’t expect much at the entry level, spending a bit more or even lots more will definitely rewards in better sound performance and clarity.  Other negatives includes the tangling of wires from the continual wrapping and unwrapping from constant uses and their portability.
Compact on-ear headphones audio on the go
Photo by Carlos Esteves on Unsplash

On-Ear Headphones [ supra-aural ]

As compared to in-ear headphones, on-ears are much bigger and design to sit on the outer part of your ears with sound being reproduced directly in line with the ear canal but not within it.  Reasonably compact and portable but not to the extent that they can fit into your pocket. With being bigger, they house bigger drivers thus improving sound quality and performance without necessarily spending much.  A lot of on-ears are foldable which adds to their portability. 

While a major benefit of on-ears are it’s size, it’s still not compact enough to fit in your pants or shirt pocket unless you have a gigantic pocket fetish. Most of the time it’s usually housed in a backpack, bag, briefcase or resting on and around your neck.  Noise isolation normally isn’t its strong point. The headphones sits on your ears thus allowing outside noises to enter.​
Over-ear headphones for high-end audio
Photo by Blaz Erzetic on Unsplash

Over-Ear Headphones [ circumaural ]

The big daddy of headphones, over-ears sits around the ears and are much larger.  They generally offer the best sound with good noise isolations (as long as they are closed-back versions -  more on this later on).  Due to their size and how it sits around the ears, they are the most comfortable.

While being comfortable, it’s not that portable unless you have something to carry it in. They can also be heavy due to the driver size and materials used, price sometimes plays to it’s disadvantages as they are generally more expensive.   Performance gain over both in-ears and on ears are a big plus but due to it’s size and high-end performance, external amplifiers may be required to achieve it’s maximum capabilities.

​A couple of rules...

  • In-ears:  best for portability, sport, travel, carry in your pocket
  • On-ears:  good for portability, travel, better sound, less fatiguing to the ears
  • Over-ears:  best for sound quality and fidelity, comfort