10 Terms You Should Know While You Shop for Headphones

By Hamish Patel Sep 04, 2020

If you are looking for a great pair of earphones, chances are that you have to contend with a lot of technical jargon. Odds are that the tech specs do not speak to you and you want to know if a particular earphone recommended to you, will meet your bespoke requirements. Here is your task made easy. In this handy guide, we explain the ten terms you need to know when it comes to the best earphone specifications. Read On:

Which is the Best, in-Ear, Over-Ear or on-Ear Headphones?

The first question that you want to be answered when you are buying a headphone is whether you should opt for in-ear, on-ear, or over-ear headphones. It is only right that our glossary of 10 terms begins with this classification.

1. In-Ear

As the name suggests, in-ear headphones sit inside your ear canal. Since they rest close to the eardrum, good sound quality is a given.  They also almost seal the ear canal and therefore isolate you from the outside noise. These headphones rate high on portability on account of their size and are your perfect travel companion.

What is required, in making the choice of in-ear earphones, however, is that you choose a fit that is comfortable for you. A half-in ear design, for example, lends itself to all-day comfort wear. It is also important to look out for the weight of the earbuds if you are seeking comfort. In-ear headphones also come with a selection of different sized tips for your listening comfort.

2. On-Ear

Often referred to as supra-aural headphones, these rest on top of the ear. Simply put, these earphones rest midway between the portability of in-ear and the sound quality of over-ear headphones. In terms of comfort, it is really a matter of personal preference as some may find an over-ear headphone less intrusive than an in-ear, while others may feel bothered by the constant contact of on-ear headphones.

3. Over-Ear

These earphones encase the entire ear and often are an audiophile’s first choice. They are best known for their performance, as their increased size offers room for a larger driver. The fact that they cover the entire ear, also means that they offer noise isolation. The one area they do not score highly on, is of course, portability.

Technical Features You Need to be Looking At 

4. Noise Cancellation

In looking at the features of headphones, noise cancellation is likely at the top of the list. Not without reason. You would want to go with a headphone that effectively cancels any ambient sounds and allows you to listen to your favourite music without any distractions. In short, you are looking for the noise cancellation feature. Such headphones have the ability to record ambient sound and then create soundwaves to cancel out the sound. This feature, however, works well for low droning sounds as opposed to high-pitched ones.

10 Terms You Should Know While You Shop for Headphones

5. Noise Isolation

Noise isolation simply means the ability of the headphone to physically block external noise. This can be done both by over-ear headphones as well as in-ear ear ones that seal the ear canal. Finding in-ear earphones that fit you well are, therefore, key.

6. Impedance

The one term that you are likely to hear a lot when researching the best earphone specifications, is impedance. Simply put, impedance is a measure of electrical resistance. The higher the impedance, the more the resistance and hence more the power needed to drive them. If you go with headphones with low impedance they tend to use lower voltage. High impedance headphones, on the other hand, offer high-quality sound but may need an amplifier to power them. It is important to figure out what your individual requirements are and the kind of audio equipment you are using in making the choice of headphones.

7. Drivers

A driver is arguably the most important part of a headphone. Essentially what it does, is that it converts an electrical signal to sound. A driver comprises magnets, voice coils and a diaphragm. It is the vibrating diaphragm that produces sound waves, which we, in turn, hear. While a larger driver does not necessarily mean better sound, it can be a contributing factor. 

8. Total Harmonic Distortion

If you are a stickler for listening to music at a high volume, the one factor you should check for in a headphone is its THD, or the measure of distortion of sound at a high volume. The lower the THD, the better is the sound quality. 

9. Frequency Response

In listening to music, you are effectively listening to a wide range of audio frequencies from the lowest bass to the highest treble. Typically headphones support a wide range of frequencies from 20-20,000 Hz.  However, if you want to hear a lot of bass, for example, you need to be particularly mindful of choosing a headphone that supports low bass frequency.

10. Sound staging and imaging

Now, this is one feature that does not make it to the spec sheet but often finds mention in reviews by audiophiles. If a headphone has good sound staging and imaging it will ensure that the individual components of sound are distinct. In other words, you would feel like you are attending a live concert where the sound is true-to-life. 

With requisite knowledge of these 10 factors, choosing a headphone need not be a daunting task. Go ahead and pick up the earphone recommended to you, but only when you have convinced yourself that you are adequately covered on all these fronts.

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