August 22, 2017

You probably just wanted to buy a headphone. Somehow you got bothered by the specifications you actually didn't wanna read, like pineapple on a pizza. But did you ever wonder how this technological nomenclature actually has a lot going behind it and how does this affect your headphone's performance? Let us simplify it for you in this beginner audiophile blog.

Let's start with what you can understand easily and go all the way up to geeky tech terms relating to headphones. 


 

Headphone Designs

Headphone Design

This basically specifies the design and type of the headphone. From an in-ear to on-ears and over-ears. In-ears are earphones that are small in size and fit plushly into your ear. The most popular example being the apple white earbuds or beats x earphones. On-ears are headphones that have a comparatively larger body that sits comfortably on your ear. Over-ears are the large and comfortable headphones that sit around your ear and isolate you from the surroundings.

Then there is a type mentioning open back or closed back. What does this actually mean? Headphones having a closed ear cup design, a closed back are meant for isolating your sound and resisting it from leaking outside so that you can listen to it at whole. An open back design is when there is a gap for air to pass through on the back of the ear cup. These headphones let your music flow and give you a warm and natural feel. 

Read more about headphone types and designs here.


Microphone

Well, headphones were meant to be used as a communication device. So a microphone is essential to everyone using their headphone with a mobile phone. A microphone with one button or three buttons lets you take calls by just pressing a button. Some headphones feature a 3 button remote and mic which lets you change tracks and volume control. Some headphones also have a boom microphone like the one on gaming headsets.

These tiny microphones are electret microphones made using MEMS technology. Read more about it here.


Driver unit 

This is what drives your headphone. In simple terms, the speaker that produces sound in your headphone. There are many technologies used in making a headphone driver with an aim to make it sound better. The most commonly used are dynamic drivers which consist of a magnet, coil and diaphragm. As electricity passes through the magnet and coil, there is change in air pressure which in turn moves the diaphragm and produces sound. Didn't quite get it? Explore these technologies used in drivers here.


Impedance

Something that keeps your headphone driver safe. With better use of materials and magnets, there is an increase in electricity required to power the headphone. Impedance is the resistance of the headphone that limits the current flowing through the driver. 

The most important concept to understand with impedance is, Higher the impedance, lower the sound and lower the impedance, louder the volume. An amplifier is required to get the proper output from a high impedance headphone. Read more about it here.


Frequency response

Sound travels in the form of waves, so the frequency of the wave is what our ear perceives. The human ear can listen to frequencies between 20 Hz and 20000 Hz. So, headphones are made with a view to respond to these frequencies. The lower frequencies are your Bass, the higher frequencies are Treble and the Mid range in between. The frequency response of a headphone specifies what frequencies it has the ability to produce. Read more about Bass and other frequencies here.


Cable type

This defines the cable type, materials used and length of the cable connecting your headphone to your music source. The cable carries your music from your mobile or music player to the driver in your headphone. The quality of materials used in these cables matters a lot, unless you're going for a wireless can. Copper with plastic clad are the most common types of cable used for headphones. There are higher grade cables with kevlar fabric or braided cloth to make the cable durable and last longer.

Plug type

When cables do matter, so do the plugs. The connectors used to connect to an audio source are an important dynamic when selecting a headphone. Most premium and professional brands use gold-plated connectors for increased durability and efficient connectivity. A 3.5mm connector is most commonly used for headphones as practically all devices support this plug. Professional and Audiophile headphones come with a 6.3mm TRS jack that provides better grade to high impedance headphones. A 2.5mm balanced pin is used on many high grade audio players.

Read more about cables and connectors here.


Sensitivity

Just like a person is sensitive to certain feelings, a headphone is sensitive to certain frequencies at certain amount of power. This measure is called Sensitivity and is counted using the Sound Pressure Level(SPL). This sensitivty is measured in decibels. This value of sensitivity of a headphone is always in compliance with the ear sensitivity of listener. 

Understand in detail about the sensitivity of a headphone here.

 

Input power

The maximum current a headphone's electric circuit can take to produce sound is called the input power. The headphone circuit is sensitive to certain amount of power according to it's Sound Pressure Level per decibel. So, for every mW of power, there is a certain decibel level the headphone can respond with. The power input level varies with impedance of headphone as well. 

The Maximum input power is not something you need to be keen on while opting for a headphone. 


Isolation

Focusing on the music is what the purpose of a headphone is. Isolation in this sense tells you the type of technology or design the headphone uses to isolate you from the surroundings when you wear them. There are two ways to isolation. Passive Noise Cancellation (Isolation) and Active Noise Cancellation. 

Active Noise Cancellation is achieved using an additional circuit that detects ambient noise and removes that frequency. Passive Noise Cancellation is achieved using isolating materials like thick ear pads, closed back design and other passive methods.

Read more about Noise Cancellation technology here.


Hope this short and simple article is quite explanatory in simplifying all the tech terminologies used to describe a headphone. For more on these topics and other concepts about headphones, explore our Audiophile Guide.

Don't get it quite right? Ask our Headphone Gurus to better help you decide on purchasing a headphone.


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