The headphone guide

The headphone guide

You’re feeling overwhelmed by the vast choice of different headphone models on the market? We’ll give you an overview of the essential design types, followed by some advice for your forthcoming headphone purchase.

Design types

Circumaural

This category still represents the royal league of headphones. The choice of high-quality models is overwhelming, and most headphones fall into one of those three sub-categories: closed, semi-open and open. The closed headphone offers a superb isolation from external noises. However, what protects against sound, regrettably protects against cooling, too – the result is hot ears! Who wants to enjoy prolonged music listening sessions, should therefore rather pick an open model, which in most cases also excels by a better transient response and a more exquisite spaciousness. The semi-open design is a compromise between both worlds.

In-ear

Some years ago those tiny gadgets in the headphone universe were regarded as a make-shift solution for outdoor use, but today they can well score with audiophile qualities. The in-ear headphone excels by its extremely compact size and a very good isolation from the outside world. Owing to the immediate, hermetic sealing of the auditory passage even a very small driver can get your eardrum dancing. In-ear headphones are available with either one or several drivers. But this does not necessarily imply that a multiway design sounds better than a broadband system. In any case it’s worthwhile to check out all the fittings supplied with your new in-ear headphone for some time to get the optimum fit. Those who might find this not yet comfortable and soundproof enough, should have special earmoulds made for his or her ears. In this case a precision impression of your ear will be taken into which a transducer will then be moulded or simply plugged in.

Active noise cancellation

Consumers who try to listen to their favourite album surrounded by a high ambience noise level should consider buying a model with active noise cancellation. Those headphones have microphones on the outside of the housing and use a small DSP (digital signal processor) chip to isolate you from the exterior world and conjure an amazing silence into your daily routine. Sure, these models may be lacking the last bit of melliflousness in vocal reproduction or that certain sophistication of a true-bred high-end headphone. But you will be surprised how much more pleasant it is to simply enjoy your music in perfect silence. Pure relaxation!

Advice

There’s the right one for everyone

As the next step you must be clear on what the headphone is supposed to do for you. Do you wish to enjoy an hour of music listening in the morning while going to work by train? Would you like to get a complete replacement for a high-end system in your new rented apartment? Or are you in the market for a headphone for cosy music listening during air trips? Your personal application probably determines the suitable choice more than anything else!

Trust your own ears

Please don’t be too impressed if your favourite professional journal awards five lemons to a certain model. The author of that article certainly has a very experienced hearing and a very good market overview, but one thing he unfortunately does not have: your ears! Each must find “the right one“ for themselves. So head out for your specialist dealer for a listening check!

Sound is not everything!

A headphone must not only sound good, but also represent a well-engineered product throughout. Therefore leave the volume level control turned fully down at first, enjoy the silence and focus on the wearing comfort. This is mainly determined by your individual head shape and a very essential point for your headphone buy. Nothing’s pinching or pricking, no hot ears? Great! Also pay attention to a good workmanship and high-quality, long-lasting materials. The better the overall package, the more often and better you will like to use your headphone.

Matching accessories

Driving a Ferrari on a cartway is no fun, and without doubt the same is also true of your new high-end headphone. Being able to expect a decent performance will also require the corresponding periphery. Because what the headphone does not “see“, it cannot play back, either. No matter if on the road or in stationary operation mode: a good amplifier which can control your transducer really well, is equally needed just like an excellent digital-analogue converter. The music as such should bear some quality, too. Be mindful of loss-free data formats (e.g. FLAC, WAV, ALAC or AIFF). The world of streaming now also presents several providers for a loss-free flatrate pleasure.

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About the author:

Max Bier

Max Bier

Max Bier is a student trainee at Lehmannaudio. He studies audio engineering at the Robert Schumann Hochschule in Düsseldorf.