Music, as they say, can transcend all barriers, man made or otherwise. From proven studies that show better growth of plants when exposed to music, to blue whales communicating with each other through their songs, music truly knows no boundaries. The power that music has over one’s being and thoughts is undeniably evident. Like fashion, every individual has their own unique taste in music. So how does one find a readily-available and widely-popular way to get lost in the world of their own music, while not disturbing others? Headphones of course!
Looking to buy one? Understanding the various types available is a good way to start. Don’t worry, this isn’t a lecture. We assure you that we’ll yawn way before you do, if this gets boring. Let’s begin, shall we? Alright, get your books out and start taking notes, pronto!
Headphones, in general are broadly classified into two groups: Earphones and Headphones.
People love choices and headphones offer a never ending smorgasbord of options. Fit, design, driver-type - there are a host of options to choose from. But it all comes down to which pair of headphones you are comfortable with. Comfort, looks, portability, output, usability and of course cost are a few factors that will help you zero in on your next pair. Let’s look at few types shall we?
As the name suggests, these earphones go slightly into the ear and sit with a plush fit. In-ears evolved from something known as ear buds. These earbuds were circular in shape and sat outside the ear canal rather than going into it. Apple’s traditional ear buds or the upcoming Apple AirPods still feature some remnants of this design.
Light, portable with a small driver housed in a tiny enclosure, in-ears can churn out some size-defying output. Chic looks with a design to block out most of the external noise, in-ears tend to be popular with people on the move. We’re talking about folks who want their music with them when they’re commuting, or working out in the gym or even when they are swimming (the type of headphones and people indeed do exist). The V-MODA Forza Metallo Wireless is a good example of a sports-friendly pair of in-ears.
Let’s get a little geeky shall we? In-ears broadly consist of three parts, namely the cable, driver and tip. Most earphones have soft silicon tips to provide a universal fit. A majority of earphone drivers usually range between 8mm to 15mm in size. Ideally, larger the driver better the lows (bass), stronger the mids, and better the reproduction of highs (treble) as well. In-ears used to be considered inferior to the other designs due to their size, in the audiophile bragging-rights department. But with constant advancements in technology, some in-ears can now outperform most over-ear or on-ear headphones. A noteworthy example of such a pair of in-ears are the Audeze iSINE20.
In-ears are very popular and usually preferred over the other varieties. One of the reasons being that they offer a huge range of designs, colours and price points. From the humble yet mellow sounding 1MORE Piston Fit to RHA’s flagship, the T20 with its great output and excellent noise isolation - there’s no dearth of options with when it comes to in-ears. Plug in your music and block out the world!
The name says it all - ‘Phones for your head!’ Alright, that was a little bit of a stretch but you get the gist. Headphones are comparatively larger (duh) than earphones and use support of the head to rest comfortably on the ears. Based on design, they are of two kinds: On-Ears (Supra-aural) and Over-Ears (Circum-aural).
Comparatively, on-ears weigh lighter than over-ears. Their size is drastically larger than earphones giving them the benefit of fitting in larger drivers. This results in better audio reproduction giving a huge range for the various audio frequencies to play out nicely. On-ears are called so because here the earcups ‘sit’ on the ear. Hence the term - on-ears. Genius! Isn’t it?! Usually, on-ears feature a headband that rests on the top of your head. Some on-ears feature neckbands or clip-ons for the earcups to sit on the ears comfortably. Portable, good audio performance and lightweight on-ears are a perfect balance between in-ears and headphones. Some on-ears are collapsible or have a folding mechanism for better portability.
As far as cutting out external noise, on-ears aren’t the best, courtesy of the unique way in which they fit. Regardless, they more than make up with the output. The V-MODA XS is a good example of on-ears that are also foldable for added portability. Another example would be the Audeze SINE that houses some amazing tech for some exemplary performance. Similar to in-ears, over-ears come in a variety of design, colours - the works. With a huge range of designs to choose from, on-ears enjoy a fair bit of popularity. Given the pocket friendly price range, this is a very good way to ‘get on’ with one’s music. Party for one? Yes please.
Simply put - over ears are headphones that sit ‘over the ears’. The earcup design comfortably covers the ears and this also aids in drastically reducing disturbances from external noise. Also known as overheads, they have huge drivers that typically range from 25mm to 50mm. This results in excellent reproduction of audio. Hence, they can be tuned to a great detail to achieve a desired output. For example one can tune the bass or balance of a V-MODA Crossfade 2 Wireless to match their preference.
There are a variety of output-based cans (yep, that’s indeed a cool slang for headphones in general, but not in-ears) that cater to everyone from bassheads to professional music producers that prefer flat frequencies for monitoring purposes and everyone in between. Most professionals, musicians and audiophiles prefer using over-ear headphones for their audio output and comfort. Due to their size and well-padded earcups, over-ears can be quite comfortable, especially suited for those long listening sessions. Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro and Audio Technica ATH M50x are some of the best examples of reference headphones that money can buy.
Due to their size, over-ears can accommodate various types of driver technologies. Dynamic drivers, electrostatic, planar magnetic headphones are a few types of driver tech that can be easily incorporated here. The Audeze LCD-3 with planar magnetic drivers are a remarkable example of advancement in audio technology. As far as earcup designs are concerned, over-ears are of two types: open backs and closed backs. Most over-ears one sees around are closed backs. The main idea behind this design is to avoid leakage of the audio produced by the driver in the earcup. This does tend to affect the overall output. Hence, as you might have guessed it, open backs allow audio to leave the earcup in a calculated manner to offer a more natural output. HiFiMAN HE560 or the Sennheiser HD 800 are good examples of open-back headphones.
Now that you know the types of headphones, it would help to know that headphones come with a host of features that increase their usability. Things like an in-line mic to take calls on your phone, volume controls, wireless options in Bluetooth - the list is endless. Just remember that everyone’s preferences are different. Some might prefer in-ears over over-ears, and that’s completely fine. Take your time in deciding which pair of headphones or earphones are best suited for your unique requirements.