Due to tight living spaces and the rise of technology such as the iPhone, headphones have become increasing popular. Due to this surge in demand, companies have heavily invested in technologies to push the boundaries of what can be accomplished within such a small unit.
This dedication to research and development throughout the industry has drastically improved headphones within all the price brackets, therefore making high quality headphones accessible to everybody.
Culturally we have also come to see headphones become almost a fashion statement. Large over-ear headphones were all the rage in the 70s but soon became dated due to the walkman/ iPod generation. However, now they are often worn with pride. A sign of someone who takes their listening seriously.
Other areas which have really taken off is high end open back headphones for your living room. Dedicated headphone amplifies are also becoming very popular as people are understanding that high quality audio starts from the source.
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Closed back vs Open back headphones
Before we go into the variants of headphones lets first talk about open vs closed.
Open Back Headphones
Open back means that the headphone can 'breath'. This has a number of pros and cons, but either way these types of headphones are usual used indoors, perhaps at home rather in the office.
Pros of Open Back Headphones
- Open back headphones provide a more natural sound. Some consider this sound being closer to traditional Hi-Fi speakers. In comparison to closed back some people say they sound more 'free' and less 'confined' in a tin can so to speak.
- Given that air can breathe more freely, you will hear more ambient sounds around the house. This may also benefit you if your phone rings, someone knocks on your door etc.
- This is a big generalisation, but they tend to be slightly lighter, however this is changes as tech changes.
Cons of Open Back Headphones
- Given that the headphones breathe, they also leak sound! So, if you're at the office, almost everyone will hear what your listening to.
- Due to the lack of insulation, other noises will also be heard whilst listening. This is fine if it's just ambient sound, however if its a noisy train or the likes of then this can really distroy your listening experience. Hence they are usually used inside.
Closed Back Headphones
Closed back headphones are generally more popular as they can be used inside the home, at work, commuting etc. They also pair with other technologies such as noise-cancelling which can be handy.
Pros of Closed Back Headphones
- Due to the headphones being 'isolated' it means you can keep your music personal. Unless you really blast out the sound, you can keep your music to yourself.
- To take this a step further, noise cancellation technology can help to reduce the outside noise. This is great whilst on the train, and invaluable when relaxing on a long plane journey.
- Technology has moved on so much that even close back headphones don't sound as confined as they used to.
Cons of Closed Back Headphones
- Can tend to be slightly heavier, especially with all the new tech introduced. However this is changing rapidly.
- Some brands of headphones go too far and the sound stage can feel very small, almost as if your listening to music in a very small room. However, companies are generally over coming this.
- Due to noise cancellation, being less aware of your surroundings can sometimes be an issue e.g. crossing roads, missing phone calls, kids etc.
Over-ear/ full size/ circumaural headphones are the king of all headphones. Yes they may look a little bulky and take up the majority of room in your bag, but there is nothing more pleasing than the comfort of high quality over-ear headphones.
Pros of Over-Ear Headphones
- The headphones surround your ears, therefore reducing pressure on the outer ear. This difference alone increases the amount of time you can listen to headphones without discomfort.
- The increase in size allows for bigger speakers and greater room for them to breath. This is reflected in the sound reproduction creating larger sound stages and wider ranges of frequencies. Needless to say the bigger headphones tend to produce more natural and wider ranges of bass.
- If the headphones are closed backed, the over-ear headphones are the best at isolating sound. Often headphones will have memory foam that acts like seal to reduce external noise. That paired with noise cancelling technology provides the best solution to cancel out ambient sound.
- Best of the best - look at anyone who uses headphones for a living. You will find that almost all (including pilots) will use them.
- The most obvious thing to note is that over-ear headphones tend to be large. This therefore eats up space in the bag. Yes headphones can be folded etc, but generally speaking they will take up more room than other styles.
- Size and weight can sometimes be an issues depending on the design of the headphone. We sell good headphones, so you won't find this with our products, but you can get some really awkward headphones to contend with. These headphones are fine for short listening periods, but over time they will become wearing.
- Depending on your climate, body temperature and headphone design/ materials, they can sometimes cause your outer ear to overheat and sometimes even sweat. Some say natural materials are better than synthetic, but at the end of the day we think it's a combination of many things that can contribute to this. Overall in the UK we don't tend to suffer from this, unless it's a very hot day (so never).
On-ear/ Supra-aural headphones are one of the most popular solutions as they provide the space and size needed for high fidelity listening, however they don't require the large amount of spaced needed for over-ear headphones. They are however a big step up in comparison to in-ear headphones.
Pros of on-ear headphones
- Instant step up from in-ear headphones. They provide a much bigger sound stage and produce a more natural sound compared to in-ear.
- More compacted and generally engineered to be more portable than over-ear headphones. Often they will fold allowing the headphones to be transported more easily.
- In hotter environments, they take up less space around the outer ear, therefore reducing the changes of your ears overheating. However this isn't a common issue in the UK.
Cons of on-ear headphones
- Due to being perched on top of the outer ear, if chosen incorrectly they can become uncomfortable. However we sell only good headphones, so this shouldn't be an issue.
- By being placed on top of the ear, they will not isolate sound quite as well as over-ear headphones, however technology is moving on to help breach this gap. Over-ear will always be king in this department though.
- Depending on design, they can still be a little too big to carry around, hence why in-ear headphones are so popular. That being said, if your serious about your audio, there is no compromise between in-ear vs on/ over ear headphones!
In-ear/ ear bud headphones have quite a few technical names, however often in-ear/ ear buds are used as catch all terms for small 'in-ear' headphones. However for the sake of it, they come in the following types 1) Earbuds - sit on the outer ear projecting sound towards the ear canal (think of old cheap stock apple headphones) 2) In-Ear-Canal / Canalphones - sit within the ear canal supported by silicone or the likes of 3) Canal Buds - sit just inside the ear canal and often supported there with silicon and provide a medium between Earbud and In-Ear-Canal 4) Custom IEMs / In-Ear Monitors - are designed to custom fit your ear perfectly, however universal variants are available.
In-ear headphones generally can't compete with the quality of over/ on-ear headphones (for their price) but their practicality sometimes means having audio vs no audio!
Pros of In-ear Headphones
- When space is of a premium, in-ear headphones are the king. If you spend a bit of money you can find a pair that will not only sound good but fit in your jacket pocket. Long journeys are never quite the same without something to listen to, so in-ear headphones can be a real life saver.
- Often in-ear headphone will use materials that naturally reduce outside interference. These same materials often help resonate the sound to generate surprisingly low and tight bass.
- In-ear headphones also allow you to listen to music whilst running or exercising. You could therefore argue that they are good for you!? On this same note, given that they aren't surrounding your outer ear, they greatly reduce the chances of your outer ear heating up and sweating.
- No messy hair. It's a shame to mention, but big cans can sometimes cramp your style. In-ear however will keep you looking fresh.
Cons of In-ear Headphones
- Tangled broken wires can sometimes be an issue if not looked after correctly. This constant yanking can cause issues therefore distorting sound or creating unwanted crackling sounds.
- Cheap ear buds often have little to no sound insulation therefore destroying the audio experience. Often people will turn the volume up to compensate. Given that they are channelling the sound directly into the ear canal, it can cause issues over time. Needless to say, we stock high quality products which will help prevent this, however always watch your volume level as hearing isn't replaceable!
- Size of the headphone can mean that they fall out or cause discomfort over long listening sessions.