1. What are you going to be using the headphones for?
This may sound like a question with a blindingly obvious answer…erm, listening to stuff? We hear you say. But, stop and consider for a moment what you will be listening to and where.
The best headphones for listening to a podcast during your daily commute are unlikely to be the same as the best choice when looking for the best pair of headphones to accompany you on a five-mile run. Listening to headphones every day can have some health implications, so, take a moment to think about how your headphones will feature in your daily life and activities.
2. What’s your budget?
Budget is likely to be one of the main driving forces behind the choice that you make on this one. However, even at lower price points, there is quality on offer that will offer a good listening experience. Headphones and earbuds can really vary in budget based on specification.
Be sure to take a careful look at specs as you make your choice. Where there is a more expensive model on offer, take the time to look at what extra features your extra money gets you. A good tip here is to look at legacy models when new models are put on the market, as often these are reduced in price when a newer (only slightly better) model comes along.
3. How much do style and aesthetics matter to you?
As with most things in life, looks and quality don’t always necessarily coincide with each other when it comes to headphones. After doing your research and creating a shortlist of possible purchases, you may well find yourself having to decide on whether you value looks or performance when it comes to the final decision.
4. Wired or Wireless?
If you intend to use your earphones at your desk or whilst sitting on your sofa, then this may not be a question that is of much concern to you. However, if you use your headphones whilst on the move, spend your free time DJing or wear headphones when playing music instruments, then freedom from trailing wires is something that may well be at the top of your list.
5. What devices will you be using your headphones with?
This sounds like an obvious question, but it is one that, if not properly considered, may lead to disappointment and frustration. Think about how your headphones will connect to the device you will be using them with and whether the device can support the correct input. For example, whether you are going to connect via Bluetooth, headphone jack or aux.
6. To mic, or not to mic?
This goes together with consideration of what you’re going to be using the headphones for. Those looking for a good pair of wireless headphones to accompany them on long walks and runs are unlikely to be too bothered about the inclusion of a mic. However, for the gamers out there, a mic is an essential component that must be carefully considered.
7. In-ear, on-ear or over-ear?
This tends to be the guiding preference for picking different types of headphones, and it is a personal choice that is influenced by both usage type and comfort.
- In-ear headphones are perfect if you are running, prefer to look inconspicuous or like the intimate sound experience.
- Over-ear headphones offer a fully immersive experience that can allow you to feel enveloped by music as you travel.
- On-ear headphones are a good middle ground as they offer the comfort and immersion of over-ear headphones but tend to be lighter and more portable than their over-ear counterparts.
8. Open-back or closed-back?
If you are swaying towards over-ear headphones, then this is a question you need to ask yourself. You may not even be aware that there is a choice here, but once you are, we can guarantee that you will find yourself stationed on one side of the fence when it comes to this choice.
Firstly, let’s outline the difference:
Open-back – the back of each headphone is left uncovered and exposed to the air, and this allows air to circulate and prevents the build-up of pressure that can distort and disturb the sound that reaches your ears.
Closed-back – the back of each headphone is covered, meaning the sound is enclosed and outside noise is blocked out.
The choice here really depends on where you are using your headphones. Whilst open-back headphones are likely to deliver a more authentic sound; they will not eliminate background noise on the bus or office. On the other hand, whilst closed-back headphones provide a more consistent and precise listening experience, they can lead to sound distortion and somewhat warm ears.
9. Do you want noise-cancelling capability?
This one is down to personal preference. Some people will say that noise-cancelling capability is essential for a good listening experience. In contrast, others will say that there is no noticeable difference and benefit unless you force yourself to focus on ambient noise.
One of the factors at play here is what you’re planning to use the headphones for; you are less likely to be bothered about intrusive noise when listening to music than when you are engaging in a phone call or listening to spoken-word media such as a podcast.
A quick look at how noise-cancelling headphones work might help you to decide whether it is something that you need.
Noise-cancelling headphones take the basic principles of acoustics and manipulate them to make two sound waves act against each other to neutralise intrusive sound. The process of balancing the sound in this way is easy to implement but difficult to do well. While many headphones will claim to have noise-cancelling technology, few (particularly those at the lower prices) can achieve high-quality effects.
10. How loud do you like it?
You might be surprised to learn that not all headphones are created equal when it comes to maximum sound output. The majority of headphones offer an output of up to 110dB/mW, which is more than sufficient for most people. We would, however, recommend avoiding any output lower than 85dB/mW. Make sure you check the specs for maximum output information.
11. How much bass do you like?
Bass – along with treble – is dependent on frequency response. The wider the frequency range, the greater the bass. Most headphones support a 20 – 20,000HZ frequency response. So, if you dig the bass more than most, you need to look for something with a broader range.
12. How long are you going to be wearing your headphones?
The answer to this question will be influenced by where and why you are wearing headphones. If you’re wearing headphones for more than a few hours at a time, then you might find in-ear buds become uncomfortable.
13. How long does the battery last with each charge?
This applies to wireless headphones and needs to be given careful consideration if you’re planning to use your headphones on the move. If you are looking to use them for long walks, or don’t want to remember to charge them each day, look for headphones with longer battery lives.
How they charge is also worth looking at – do you need to have a charging cable at hand at all times? Do you charge removable batteries or the actual headphones themselves? The best set-up is a pair of headphones that come with two removable batteries as then you can be using your headphones with a charged battery whilst the second battery is charging up.
Ready to take the plunge?
There you have it, 13 questions to ask yourself before buying headphones. It may seem like an arduous process, but considering these questions carefully whilst choosing your next pair of headphones will mean you make the right decision and get maximum enjoyment from your headphones.