Headphones or earbuds: which is right for you?

November 6, 2014

Understanding the difference between headphone styles and features will help you pick a pair of headphones that suit your lifestyle.

Headphones or earbuds: which is right for you?

Before buying a set of headphones, learn what's available and how certain features affect overall comfort and quality.

Styles of headphones

Over-ear headphones use large ear cups to create a seal around each ear. These headphones can block most noise better than other types of headphones and often deliver superior sound.

On-ear headphones have ear pads that rest on your ear but don't encapsulate it. They're often more comfortable to wear for long periods of time and are more lightweight and portable than over-ear headphones.

In-ear headphones are made to fit inside your ears like a set of earplugs. They can block sounds and deliver high quality audio.

Earbuds are inexpensive headphones that are made to fit inside your ear, but not directly against your ear canal. The audio they deliver may not be as rich as the three other headphone types.

Open back vs. closed back headphones

If you purchase on-ear or over-ear headphones, you'll need to decide if you want closed or open back headphones. Closed back earphones can block external noises, while open back headphones create a richer sound.

Wireless vs. wired headphones

Wired headphones offer superior sound quality at a lower price. Wireless headphones offer greater mobility than any pair of wired headphones. Even the highest quality wireless headphones can achieve the same sound quality as a more moderately priced pair of headphones. Therefore, if you're an audiophile, you'll probably want a wired set.

Noise-cancelling vs. noise-isolating

Active noise-cancelling headphones create a sound that cancels low frequency humming. Noise-cancellation is usually rated by the percentage of sounds blocked. The most expensive headphones are rated 90 per cent or above. Noise-isolating headphones create a barrier between your ear and outside sounds. However, they can be uncomfortable to wear and their effectiveness relies on how well they fit your ear.

Rechargeable vs. replaceable batteries

If you choose a set of headphones that are wireless or have active noise cancelling, you'll also need batteries. Rechargeable batteries are usually charged with a headset stand or a USB cord. They're lighter than replaceable batteries. Replaceable batteries, like AAA batteries, can be used with other headphone styles. They're less expensive and easy to find, but heavier to wear.

Do you want a headset?

If you'd like to answer calls on the go or use your smartphone without holding it, you may want headphones with a microphone. These models are commonly called headsets and are available in all four styles and with an array of different headphone features.

Before shopping for any set of headphones, make sure to make a list of basic features you find most necessary. Then, go to the store and try on a few pairs to see how they fit on your head and experience the overall sound quality. Once you have compared various styles, you can make an educated choice.

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