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All About Headphones

By Matt Simpson - Monday, January 02, 2012

So you just got some high definition audio and want to play it back through a quality sound system but don’t want to go for the whole pre-amp, amps, speakers bundle. Or maybe you just want something that will let you listen to your IPod and block out traffic noise. Maybe that killer new game would be better with a killer headset? 

There are a myriad of reasons that you may be looking into a new pair of headphones. The most important thing is that you can do is to research before you buy. There is a very good reason that the 2 dollar pair of ear buds at your local mega mart sound different than the 500 dollar reference cans your buddy owns. The key as in all things is finding balance. In this case it’s finding the balance between price and performance.

Headphones come in several varieties that can differentiate them. On the hear headphones are usually some of the cheaper ones. They have foam or leather cups that press against the outside of the ear. Over the ear headphones are designed with a cup that sits around your ear. These are often the type that will reduce sound the most. In ear headphones can be simple buds, or the more invasive but better sounding in ear headphones that actually slide into the ear canal. These in ear headphones will sometimes provide a degree of external sound isolation as well.

Headsets are just what they sound like. They are a pair of headphones with an attached microphone. While Iphone buds are technically this style, the microphone in a dedicated headset is usually of a boom type to reduce unwanted noise being sent over it.

The Basics

This is hopefully a step up from those plastic and foam deals you see in the mega marts and a step up from the cheap ear buds that come with your Iphone. These will likely run under 50 bucks and will have small neodymium magnets and a single driver. They will often be available in over the ear, on the ear, or in the ear configurations. This is also where you will find some of the low end headsets. Sound on these cheap phones is usually very poor in quality with certain frequencies being much louder than others and general lack of clarity likely.

The Mid Range

Here we are talking about 50 to 150 dollars. This is definitely the sweet spot for headphones. Over the ear phones will likely provide a large degree of external sound rejection and all of the phones will have much larger drivers. Some of the in-ear phones at this price point will even have multiple drivers for playback of different frequencies. Perennial standouts from the likes of Grado and Sennheiser can be found at this price point. Many of the phones in this segment will actually sound their best paired with a dedicated headphone amp. They usually have nearly flat response from 20-20kHz. Clarity and positioning of the sounds is far superior to the lower class headphones.

The High End

Here you will see in ear models custom fit to your ear canal and featuring several different drivers. The over the ear and on the ear phones will have large neodymium magnets and huge drivers. Expect to start seeing prices in the thousands of dollars for these babies. Not to mention that an amp is almost required to move those large drivers and the recommended amps themselves can run into many thousands of dollars. What you get for this investment is the very best in sound quality. Many who use these headphones will say that they rival the experience you get from the very top end of speaker systems.

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