How to choose the best headphones for you
Now we can drive ourselves crazy looking at all the best headphones out there that we can buy and chances are if you’re a fan of this channel, then you probably also agonize over other technology purchases combing through all of the specs and the reviews and the benchmarks on various phones and tablets and computers and audio equipment. We do that because we care, but audio equipment for many people can still be a mystery and it exists at this hellish intersection between professional and consumer applications. There’s an enormous amount of subjectivity involved when it comes to reviewing things like microphones and interfaces and speakers and cans. This article overview will be far from comprehensive, but it should serve as a decent place to start the selection process.
Rule number one for me in buying the best headphone is setting a budget. This is a dollar amount I refuse to go over. Now we can kind of fudge the numbers on things like smartphones. We should immediately disvalue of the notion that if you only have 20 bucks to spend on a pair of earbuds, that you somehow can’t get a decent pair of earbuds for that cash. Just to get our terms straight. We’re going to take a quick look at the different types of headphones starting off with cans. These are circumaural headphones. That means the ear cups will wrap all the way around your ears.
They shouldn’t be squishing your ears in any way. Personally, I find circumoral over-ear headphones to be the most comfortable for longer listening sessions and these are usually my GoTo solutions for things like watching movies. Next, we have supra-aural headphones or on-ear headphones. Now these rest on your ears. I don’t find these to be as comfortable for longer periods of time, but a decent pair of closed-back on your headphones. Do a better job of clamping to the side of my head and blocking out surrounding noise. So I like these for when I’m working as often as the situation where I’m taking them on and off repeatedly while I’m listening to whatever it is that I’m editing and video or an audio cans can come in open, backed and close back to varieties. Close back varieties typically have an exaggerated base response just because the cups are closed in that low-frequency energy just doesn’t have anywhere to go, so it just keeps reverberating inside your skull.
Now I actually don’t own a pair of open-back headphones right now, but those open ear cups should do a better job of letting sound frequencies pass freely through the headphone design and around your ears. Though obviously they won’t do as good a job of blocking out any noise in your surrounding environment. Then we moved to inner oral earbuds and these are the earbuds that actually go inside your ear canal for the really fancy stuff. You’ll often see the abbreviation I, E. M, which stands for in your monitor, and that’s another tricky aspect of talking about headphones is that professionals, typically their pro gear monitors, not speakers, not headphones, maybe we’ll call them cans, but monitors denote a particular focus on accuracy over trying to make music sound better. So when a company is advertising a pair of studio monitors, they’re really saying we’re trying to make an accurate solution as opposed to a consumer-grade solution, which is probably going to influence the frequencies of sound to make music sound a bit brighter or a bit busier or a little juicier.
Lastly, you’ve probably encountered these rest on your ear. Earbuds and I don’t get snobby about a lot of things when it comes to audio, but these things I really feel most consumers should probably throw away. If you’re listening to a lot of music on the go, these things create such a poor seal around the year that you’re probably listening to music louder than you need to and that kind of constant audio abuse will really wear out your ears over time and not a long period of time either. We’re starting to see evidence that the way we listen to music today that we can stream constant audio information into our skulls with very little interruption is degrading our hearing much faster than previous generations. So these are fine to get you started but do yourself a favor, find something that fits better and does a better job of blocking out audio around you so that you can turn the volume down a little bit and still have a higher-quality listening experience for phone calls and music and now we’re done with these.
If there’s less environmental noise leaking into your ears, then your audio will sound louder. By comparison, the two different ways that we have to block that noise are active and passive noise reduction. Passive noise reduction is really easy to explain. Basically you block the year a closed-back pair of headphones or inner oral earbuds should create a seal that blocks noise from your environment, from intruding upon what you’re listening to. Active noise cancellation works in a very similar way to how our phone works while taking phone calls. There are microphones built into these headphones which sampled the noise around us and then create an opposite audio signal, which should eliminate a lot of constant background sound. It is kind of magical the first time you use a pair of active noise cancellation headphones and you click that switch and then all of a sudden the hiss and background sound that you’re just sort of naturally accustomed to vanishes.
The drawbacks to active noise cancellation though, are solutions that you need to charge. Then you need to charge them alongside your phone, especially if you’re listening to them for a long period of time throughout your day and active noise cancellation doesn’t do a great job with sudden spikes of audio. It’s going to do an amazing job of killing the engine sounds while you’re sitting on an airplane, but if you’re sitting next to a crying baby, those shrieking crying baby sounds are probably going to cut right through. Now, when you’re buying headphones, you’re going to see a ton of different numbers on the side of the box. We’re not going to go over every single minute audio detailed there, but one of the things that I do like to pay attention to is the frequency response. The generally accepted range of human hearing is from 20 Hertz to 20 kilohertz, but for nicer headphones, you’ll often see those numbers swing wider than what our human hearing range is generally set at to be sure.
If you pick up a pair of best headphones that are from 20 Hertz to 20 kilohertz, you’re probably going to be fine, but one of the reasons why people look at expanding beyond that range, even though we might not be able to hear below 20 Hertz, there’s a lot of information to suggest that we can still feel that audio information below 20 Hertz and that sound might influence frequencies of sound that we can hear. So if your headphones have really good support for infrasound sound below 20 Hertz, those lower frequencies might be bouncing around inside your head and influencing how higher frequencies of sound are reproduced. Now I’m in my thirties so I have a hard time hearing above 17.5 kilohertz. I, I give myself pretty regular hearing tests, but I still look for headphones that expand beyond that 20-kilohertz range because I feel it’s going to give me a more accurate sound profile.
When I’m listening to higher quality audio files, they’re going to do a better job of representing the frequencies of sound that I still can hear. Another important number to look at on this side of the box, especially for people who listen predominantly on mobile devices like smartphones is the resistance or impedance. I used to pronounce that impotence, but that sounds like a completely different kind of problem. Impedance is measured in ohms. You’re going to see a number with the little fancy curly symbol next to that number and it loosely to oversimplify, represents how much of the audio signal is cut before it makes it through those headphones. Really fancy studio. Great equipment is usually plugged into very powerful amps, so you kind of want to make sure all of those things are playing nice so that you don’t blow out the headphones or worse blow out your ears.
Now the best headphone is not nearly that powerful, so the higher that impedance number goes, the more difficulty our phones are going to have in producing a bright punchy or colorful audio signal. That’s why there can be some confusion when someone has a really nice pair of studio cans, they plug them into their phone and all of these sound terrible. You’re probably dealing with the situation of impedance audio impotence, modern flagship smartphone save built over the last two or three years probably have amps powerful enough to drive mid-range consumer solutions anywhere around that 32-ohm resistance and you sometimes gotta be careful with really nice smartphones. My LGV 10 which has a pretty decent deck and amp combination can overdrive the 16-ohm earbuds to the point of distortion and that brings me back to one of my initial points where this video is that there is a huge amount of subjectivity involved when talking about audio equipment.
First of all, just think about all of the fights that we get into trying to figure out what a mid-range smartphone is. The audio world is even more brutal when it comes to those kinds of discussions. For an audio professional, spending five, six, $700 on a pair of in-ear monitors is often considered something of a mid-range purchase. The studio that I worked in to do a lot of voiceover casting uses mid-range microphones that cost well over a thousand bucks a pop. Even consumer solutions can get a bit skewed when we start talking about the differences between audio file grade components and regular consumer-grade listening experiences and where are those price points should fall. Also, you kind of need to take every headphone review with a little pinch of salt. The shape of my head and the shape of my ear canal is going to greatly influence what frequencies of sound I pick up on when I’m listening to my favorite styles of music.
I can say to you that I think these earbuds are amazing, but if they don’t fit your ears the same way, you’re going to hear something very different than what I heard. So while you can absolutely get a sense of trends, really the best piece of advice before you throw down real cash on a pair of best headphones is to see if you can try before you buy. Comfort is key. If you don’t enjoy wearing them then you’re not going to use them. So it doesn’t matter if I tell you that these are fantastic cans for the price if they hurt you there a bad choice. And lastly, circling back to one of my earlier points, these things don’t need to break the bank for seeing some really cool products coming out at entry-level price points. These are $15 earbuds. Are they going to compare to my $700 in-ear monitors?
No, but they offer a perfectly respectable listening quality for music and podcasts and phone calls. So, folks, I hope that’s helped illustrate some of the things that you might want to take a look at before throwing money down on a pair of headphones.
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