In recent years, headphones have gone from serving as a functional way to listen to audio in private to an in-demand fashion and audio accessory. This has been fueled, in part, by the explosion of smartphones and the increasing use of streaming media in the form of audio and video. In 2013, there are more headphones available from more vendors in more form-factors than ever before, and new product lines and offerings are being released on a regular basis.
So let's start with the basic headphone styles.
Apple EarPods In-Ear Headphones
In-ear headphones sit within the ear and come in two styles. Earbuds, such as Apple's white earbuds and Earpods sit in the outer ear.
Inner Canal In-Ear Headphones
Inner canal headphones, such as those offered by Etymotic, Zagg and many others, are inserted into the ear canal itself. Inner canal headphones tend to seal off the ear, while earbuds are often a looser fit and let more sound through. In both cases, this styles of headphone usually ship with a variety of different size tips so you can find the best, most comfortable fit.
Excellent for those wanting to wear headphones during activity, in-ear headphones with special clips or a design specifically intended to remain in place while not exerting too much pressure on the ear, are available. Those fitting this description include brands such as YurBuds although there are a wide range of headphones described as "sports headphones".,
On-the-Ear Fashion Headphones
On-ear headphones sit on the ear rather than being inserted into the ear. Pads sit on the outer ear and, depending upon the amount and type of material used in the pads, may offer greater or lesser amounts of comfort and noise isolation. While this style is favored by many, it is not uncommon for the wearer to feel a degree of fatigue after an extended period of use. These are popular with people who don't like in-ear headphones but they don't want to be completely isolated.
Also known as Around-the-Ear headphones, over-the-ear headphones are the largest of the three styles, and they fit completely around the wearer's ears. This style is further broken down into open and closed back styles. In both cases, soft padding around the speaker creates a seal between the headphone and the wearer and blocks a varying degree of ambient sound -- more so with closed back headphones and less so with open.
Passive or Active Noise Canceling Headphones?
By nature of their design, passive noise cancelation -- also known as sound isolating headphones -- will always block out some of the ambient sound (the sound surrounding you). Tightly fitting in ear headphones or on-ear and over-the-ear headphones will, oftentimes, block a good amount of noise. The in-ear models do so by acting like earplugs.
Some headphone designs such as open-back and earbud headphones will still block sound but to a lesser degree than their closed siblings. If it is important to you that your headphones, regardless of style, block outside noise, then you will want to make sure they are of the closed-back or in-ear design.
The benefit of the passive noise isolating is two-fold. Not only will they cut down on loud outside sounds, thereby allowing you to be more submerged in the music, video, or gaming experience, but they will also let you listen to the audio at a lower, safer volume since they do not have to first overcome the external sound.
On-the-Ear Active Noise Canceling Headphones
Like passive noise isolating headphones, active noise isolating headphones come in on-ear, in-ear, and over-the-ear styles. Regardless of the style, the active noise isolation process is accomplished by the headphones sampling the ambient noise and then creating a signal that cancels it out prior to it reaching your ear. The effectiveness of the noise cancelation will depend on the particular unit but, as a rule, over-the-ear noise cancellation headphones will provide the best degree of NC effectiveness.
Over-the-Ear Active Noise Canceling Headphones with Rechargeable Battery
Active Noise Cancellation Headphones require power. Some models use standard AA or AAA batteries, while others have rechargeable batteries built into them, requiring recharging via an external cable. The rechargeable battery option is most convenient, but if you forget to bring the cable on a trip, you will lose all noise cancelation once the charge runs out.
Some models of noise canceling headphones require the NC to be turned on before audio will play through them. Others will allow music to play through from the audio source, regardless of whether or not the noise cancelation is active. If it is important to you that the headphones can act as a standard pair of headphones even when the noise canceling is turned off, you'll want to make sure that they allow passthrough audio.
Some headphones with active noise cancelation sound good when the noise cancellation is active, but they have a thin sound of lesser quality when the noise cancelation is turned off. If these will be your only headphones, you should look for a pair that sound good with or without the Noise Cancellation turned on.
Wired : A 3.5mm (1/8”) jack is the current standard headphone jack on phones, tablets and other portable devices. This standard has all but completely replaced the old standard of 2.5mm (3/32”). Large audio equipment such as home receivers use a 6.35mm (1/4”). It is possible to use headphones with a different size connectors than the device with which they will be but this will require an adapter.
Bluetooth Wireless Headphones
Wireless : Headphones offering wireless capabilities most often use Bluetooth to stream audio from the source to the headphones and usually offer a maximum range of 33 feet from the source to the headphones. While the process of pairing the headphones with the audio source is simple, some headphones and newer phones and tablets offer Near Field Communication (NFC) that lets the devices connect by simply tapping one to the other. A prime example of these are the Jabra Revo Wireless Headphones .
Things to consider when looking for Bluetooth headphones are if you c an use the headphones in either wired or wireless mode, h ow long can you listen per charge, and if the battery is an internal rechargeable battery or if it uses AA or AAA batteries.
Fashion VS Function
A number of years ago, Monster released Beats by Dr. Dre, sparking the headphones-as-fashion market. Despite gaining a large and rapidly growing audience of fans, the audio quality on some of the fashion earphones available today is questionable, with the audio experience being largely enhanced by increasing the bass. The fashion earphone market has continued to grow, and as it has the audio quality of many has improved significantly. At this time, it is possible to have fashionable and quality audio thanks to the likes of Monster's Inspiration and DNA lines, as well as Beats by Dr Dre.
Wireless Headphones with Active Noise Cancelation
Headphones have come a long way in the past few years. There are more choices than ever when it comes to style, form and function. That's a good thing, since it means each person can find the right headphones for their comfort, needs and musical taste.