Before the age of superstar DJs and personal stereos, you wouldn’t have had much trouble choosing a pair of headphones, for the simple reason that there wasn’t too much of a selection.
Today the variety is overwhelming, so here are five factors to bear in mind when considering which pair is right for you.
First of all, you should feel comfortable in any product you’re likely to be using regularly. However, comfort, like the type of sound you enjoy listening to, is a very personal thing. Headphones like the Sony MDRXD200s (£19.99) come in a design tried and tested for comfort.
They feature a soft padding which completely covers your ears to provide a cushioned, enclosed listening experience. However, if you like moving about the house in your thick, padded headphones without being attached to your iPod or computer, then cord length could prove a liability.
In this case, you might consider the Sennheiser RS130s (£95.97) which are cordless, rechargeable headphones. On the other hand, if you’d prefer something less bulky and better fitting, then something like the Bose In-Ear Headphones (£69) could be a suitable alternative. These headphones are super slim and their earbud-shaped silicon tips intend to provide a more accurate fit. Remember, a bad fit will not only be uncomfortable, but will reduce the sound quality and increase the amount of sound leakage.
This brings us onto sound, which is probably the most subjective of the factors considered when selecting a pair of headphones. What sort of sounds will you be listening to? Ideally, you should try-before-you-buy, but there are some basic rules to mull over.
If you’re going to be listening to speech-oriented sound, like the radio, then you shouldn’t need to worry about the quality of the pair of headphones you choose. Most speech is delivered in a midrange pitch which even the JVC Gumys (£4.99) will transmit satisfactorily. However, high or low pitches will sound distorted on unsuitable headphones, so it is very important to choose wisely if you want to appreciate the treble and bass in a sound, as well as the midrange.
Powerful music can be appreciated on specialised headphones such as the Sony MDRXB300s (£44.99), which bring the bass of the sound to the fore and deliver a pounding, cohesive sound.
A high quality of sound is still achievable for those who prefer softer music. Headphones like the AKG K480BRNNC (£119.99) come with noise-cancelling technology inbuilt. Such headphones are able to identify and then eliminate any external sounds or interference which may disrupt your listening experience.
Aside from your own hearing abilities, the quality of what you hear through headphones depends largely upon the grade of the driver and the amplification inside. For full-blooded audiophiles, the sound given out by the higher-end Monster Beats or Monster Cable headphones is crystal clear as they all use high-grade drivers and powered amplification.
Even if you aren’t intending to make a significant long-term investment in your headphones, you probably want them to last as long as possible in order to get the best value for your money. If you don’t want your headphones to break easily, you should consider ones which anticipate common problems.
For example, cords will inevitably stretch or snap, but some headphones like the Sony MDRXB300 (£44.99) have flat rubber cords which are more flexible and don’t become as entangled than other kinds. Other headphones have detachable cords which further protect against this danger while cordless varieties remove the threat entirely.
You might find, however, that these over-ear headphones don’t travel well. They tend to be dropped or squashed when going places, so you might consider headphones which hook around your ears, like the Sony MDR-AS20Js (£11.20).
These headphones also come with a protective case for when they are out of use, as do other in-ear varieties like the JVC Gumys (£4.99). Durability is a significant factor to bear in mind if you’re hoping to use your headphones while on the move. Replacing pairs unsuitable for mobility could prove costly.
If appearance is your main concern, then you’ll be looking for headphones with aesthetic embellishments. Some basic JVC headphones come in blues and pinks which may be ideal for Him or Her. The chunky Monster Beats over-ear varieties are sure to raise an eyebrow or two, or you might feel that less is more, in which case the super minimal Apple headphones (£57.95) may suit your style.
It is certainly no longer safe to assume that ‘you only get what you pay for’. Of course, some of Dr Dre’s Monster Beats Studio Pros (£349.99) might be technically superior to the plastic JVC Gumys (£4.99), but do you find them as comfortable? How you wish to listen to sound is entirely your own preference, so don’t expect that paying more will guarantee a better personal listening experience.
The pair of headphones that are right for you might not cost as much as you think. Trying out different kinds of headphones before you make your final selection is recommended; particularly if you are planning to buy some of the higher-end products.
* Prices correct at time of publishing.
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