how to choose headphones / Sound and acoustics

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#space, #spare, #speak, #speaker, #speakers, #special, #specialized, #specially, #specific, #specifications, #spectrum, #spiral, #spoil, #sport, #sports, #spread, #stable, #stage, #stake, #stand, #standard, #standing, #star, #start, #starts, #state, #statement, #station, #stationary, #steel, #SteelSeries, #step, #stereo, #stock, #stop, #store, #stores, #street, #stress, #strict, #strong, #strongly, #structure, #studio, #Studio monitor, #study, #stylish, #sub, #subject, #subway, #success, #successful, #such, #suffer, #suffers, #sufficient, #suit, #suitable, #suite, #suited, #sum, #super, #superfluous, #superior, #support, #supports, #suppress, #surround, #surrounding, #sweat, #swim, #swing, #sync, #system, #tab, #table, #tag, #take, #takes, #talent, #talk, #talked, #talking, #tangled, #tap, #tape, #task, #tasks, #technica, #technical, #technologies, #technology, #telephone, #tell, #tend, #tens, #term, #terms, #test, #tested, #text, #than, #their, #them, #themselves, #theoretically, 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#virtual, #virtually, #visible, #visual, #voice, #voltage, #volume, #voluminous, #walk, #wallet, #walls, #want, #wanted, #was, #washed, #watch, #watching, #wav, #wave, #waves, #way, #ways, #wearing, #web, #website, #weight, #well, #went, #were, #what, #when, #where, #which, #who, #whole, #why, #Wi-Fi, #wide, #widely, #wider, #widespread, #wifi, #will, #win, #wire, #wired, #wireless, #wires, #without, #withstand, #won, #word, #words, #work, #working, #world, #worn, #worse, #worth, #worthy, #wrong, #Xiaomi, #yet, #young, #your, #yst, #zen, #zero

Sounds play a much greater role in our life than it might seem at first glance. They orient us, with the help of sounds we exchange useful and not very information. And the sounds collected in harmony can affect our mood. Scientists have repeatedly proved the connection between the health of living beings and the sound background that accompanies them daily. Perhaps it is precisely because of this invisible connection that many seek to surround themselves with pleasant music by purchasing audio equipment — amplifiers, players, acoustics.

For many, the sound in the ears is not just a way to kill time in transport, it is also a way to get your own space, which is sometimes so lacking in everyday life. For this space to be comfortable and cozy, it is necessary that the headphones fit perfectly — fit well and, of course, have a pleasant sound. Picking up your pair of headphones is no easier than, say, finding nice clothes for yourself. Store shelves are bursting with hundreds and hundreds of models at a variety of prices — from «ruble — bucket» to those that cost thousands of dollars.

How can you not get lost in the variety of shapes and characteristics? The answer is simple — you just need to figure out for yourself once and for all the classes and varieties of these devices. After that, you should think about which class of headphones is best suited for your purposes, and then navigate according to your financial capabilities.

⇡ # Methods for attaching headphones to the head

The shape of the head is different for everyone, so the same model of headphones can be ideal for one person and be completely unacceptable for another. To satisfy all requests, designers and designers have come up with a lot of ways to mount headphones on the head of a music lover.

The classic option is an arc mount, or “headphones with a headband”. The arc of such headphones goes around the head, pressing cups with emitters to the ears.

The second option is a hook. Headphones are two hooks that cling to the ears, holding the capsule with the speaker against the ear canal. Since this mount uses the same principle as glasses, this option will not be very convenient for those who wear frames all the time.

The third option for wearing headphones is the occipital arch. Similar to the previous one, with the difference that the hooks are connected by a light shackle passing along the back of the head.

The fourth option is inserts. These are small portable headphones that are usually attached to a smartphone or MP3 player. They are simply inserted into the auricle and, as it were, lie there. This option has many drawbacks — the headphones do not fit snugly into the ear hole, so the quality of the transmitted sound usually suffers. In addition, this type of fastening in the ear is unreliable — with active movement, they fall out.

There are some modifications of in-ear headphones. One of the most successful solutions, in our opinion, is the Twist-to-fit design from the German manufacturer Sennheiser. This mounting option allows the headphones not only to lie in the auricle, but also to catch on it with an additional element. A similar improvement can be seen from other well-known manufacturers of portable headphones, such as BOSE.

The fifth option is in-ear headphones (they are also sometimes called vacuum headphones). This type of portable earphone delivers sound directly into the ear canal. In-ear headphones have a flexible silicone tip (like those on a doctor’s phonendoscope) or special memory foam. These tips are inserted directly into the auditory opening, literally plugging it. For a perfect fit, in-ear headphones usually come with three pairs of interchangeable silicone eartips of different sizes. The result of this tight fit is a stunningly high degree of isolation from external noise. These headphones can even be used as earplugs.

However, this design also has its drawbacks. Firstly, the load on the hearing aid increases, and with prolonged listening at high volume, such headphones can quickly “plant” your hearing. Secondly, the ear hole does not «breathe» and wearing in-ear headphones for a long time can cause discomfort, such as itching of the skin.

Headphones may differ in another design feature — the way they fit to the head. So, for example, models that completely cover a person’s ears are called full-size, or monitor.

Headphones that simply fit over the ear are called on-ear headphones.

Not only in-ear or in-ear headphones can be portable. Models with a headband can also have a folding design, and the most expensive ones are equipped with a convenient cover or even a carrying case.

Having «ears», let him hear — criteria for choosing headphones

Today, almost everyone uses headphones. The choice of a particular model, design, principle of operation of headphones is largely determined by the scope of their application. In this article, we described what should first be considered when choosing headphones. Intentionally distancing ourselves from headsets and highly specialized devices, we focused on those headphones used for listening to music, watching videos, and also talked about some professional devices for recording studios and concert use. Due to the fact that the topic is very extensive and the factors that influence the choice are enough for 10 articles, in this article we decided to give general information about the design and technical features of headphones of different types and purposes. In the future, each of the issues raised in this article will be the reason for a separate publication.

I note that for people who approach the quality of the transmitted sound from the position of “if only there was sound”, only part of this material will be useful. I will also immediately emphasize that any mention of brands and models will be minimized and are for informational purposes only. This article will not answer the question «which headphones are better?». The material was created only to facilitate the choice, to tell in detail about existing technologies and principles. Construction type

When purchasing headphones, first of all, decide on the type of their design, since the scope of application depends on it. It is well known that at the moment the following are produced and widely used:

  1. Plug-in — they are also «inserts» — in ear;
  2. Intrachannel — popularly «plugs» — in ear;
  3. Overhead — on ear;
  4. Full-size — circum-aural (open, closed and semi-closed type.)

Plug-in
Appeared on the market as a household gadget in 1991 through the efforts of Etymotic Research. Due to the relatively low cost, today earbuds are included in the basic package of most mobile devices. Their main advantage can be considered a compact size. Among the shortcomings, it is worth highlighting the low ergonomics — you will have to choose the right size for your ears.

In some cases, the disadvantage is mediocre sound. The latter is optional, but more than 80% of the range falls short of the hi-fi class. Previously, this type was very common, and worthy inserts can be distinguished in the lines of several well-known brands. But market conditions are doing their job, and manufacturers are increasingly leaning towards in-channel designs when developing flagship models.

Intracanal

Earplugs are one of the most common types of portable headphones today. Principle: the driver is outside, tubes with latex or foam ear pads are placed in the external auditory canal. Many mistakenly believe that the intracanal design appeared later than the plug-in, but this is not so. On the market, «gags» began to appear as concert monitors back in the 70s, from where they later migrated to less specific segments, but the first mention of such a design dates back to 1895, in which Thomas Edison equipped his Kinetophone, probably the first in-ear headphones.

The main advantages of the design:

• mobility (less than or equal in size to plug-in); • well suited for lovers of pronounced, dynamic bass (the acoustic properties of the design often distort the frequency response towards the bottom); • Fit well in the ear, making them comfortable for sports.

Disadvantages: distortion, often due to design features and size, high probability of affecting hearing (sound pressure intensity + location in the external auditory canal). In most cases, they do not have a headband. As before, decent-sounding in-ear systems are used as live and studio monitors.

Overhead

This type has become widespread as a PC peripheral, as well as headphones for players. Relatively small dimensions and weight made this type the most popular in offices. Notable design flaws are:

  1. insufficient sound isolation (external noise is heard in these headphones, the sound of the headphones penetrates outside, which can interfere with others);
  2. distortion when changing the correct position.

Many models are equipped with a microphone and a function block with a volume control, which, as it were, hints at stationary use and use as a headset. A number of overhead models are created for listening to music, some of them are designed for outdoor use. A number of experts believe that the overhead design is a priori less likely to distort the sound than the earbuds and in-ear samples. Another trend of overhead systems is office, workplace, PC.

full size

As the name already implies, this type cannot boast of being compact. That does not detract from its merits. The large dimensions and often the mass of such devices have a positive effect on the acoustic properties of the structure. This is one case where size matters.

Full-size headphones include the vast majority of systems for recording studios. Almost all reference precision studio headphones, specialized DJ monitors, as well as many representatives of the Hi-End class are full-size.

Classic reference headphones, as a rule, are of an open type — this is due to the fact that low transmission is distorted in a closed type. For the exact transmission of the frequency response, the open type is loved by many audiophiles. At the same time, some sound engineers are of the opinion that reference headphones should be of a semi-closed type, as they allow you to reproduce low frequencies without distortion and at the same time have a sufficient degree of sound insulation. The closed type is used as performer monitors when recording in the studio, working at a live performance, and is also popular with DJs.

Headphones for gamers and numerous systems for PC also create full-size ones. The latter do not always have sound quality close to the level of professional counterparts, and the full-size design is more likely to be used as a marketing ploy than a conscious technical necessity.

There is a persistent stereotype that full-size headphones must sound good. A banal frequency response test and a quick look at the percentage of THD can tell a lot about quality, and in the case of many «pseudo-studio» these parameters give out impostors. The myth of the obligatory superiority of big «ears» was born at a time when there were few full-size headphones on the market and the vast majority of them were studio ones. But a myth is nothing more than a myth: those who have ears — let them hear, those who have an oscilloscope — let them see.

A few words about frequency response, SOI, resistance, and sensitivity

Just in case: AFC is a graph of the difference in the amplitudes of the output and input signals over the entire range of reproducible frequencies. (Hz) THD — Total Harmonic Distortion (%) Sensitivity — Sound Pressure Intensity (dps) Power — Characteristic that determines the dynamic range and sound pressure (mW — in the case of headphones)

Everything related to the amplitude component (loudness) of the headphone signal depends on the sensitivity. The lower limit of the norm is considered to be 100 decibels. Good headphones provide a sensitivity of at least 100 dB. Lower sensitivity will not provide sufficient volume.

Any self-respecting manufacturer notifies the buyer about the level of SOI headphones. The critical level of harmonic distortion for headphones in the range from 100 to 2 Hz is considered to be an excess of 1%, below 100 Hz values ​​up to 7-10% are allowed. At the same time, it should be said that the sound with the maximum allowable distortion does not differ in “crystal clarity”. Pretentious listeners are sensitive to THD, so in some professional and Hi-end models they manage to reduce this figure to 0.1% (from 100 Hz.) And 0.9% (below 100 Hz).

Directly affects the sound quality and the appearance of distortion headphone resistance. The higher it is, the less current the amplifier needs to “swing” them, and, accordingly, less distortion occurs at the amplification stage. By resistance, it is customary to divide headphones into high- and low-resistance. For in-channel and plug-in low-resistance devices with a resistance of up to 32 Ohms are considered, high-resistance — from 32 Ohms. For full-sized low-impedance headphones, it is customary to consider headphones with a resistance below 100 ohms, and, accordingly, above 100 ohms — high-impedance. Almost all professional and hi-fi/hi-end headphones are high-resistance.

It is known that the accuracy and the possibility of transmitting frequencies depend on the frequency response. The wider the range and the more uniform the frequency response, the more realistic, detailed, and accurate the signal transmission is. Most people are able to perceive the range from 20 to 20,000 Hz. For many, with age, the threshold for the perception of high frequencies decreases and does not exceed 16,000 Hz. There are people who perceive a wider range. Moreover, many of those who prefer high-end equipment are also convinced that the reproduction of frequencies outside the range of perception affects the sound quality. In one case or another, really high-quality headphones will have a frequency range of at least 20 to 20,000 Hz. In professional and hi-end technology, it is usually much wider.

Large peaks and dips in the frequency response graph — the essence of the «colored» sound. It is unlikely that headphones with similar characteristics can be classified as professional and even just high-quality equipment. They will transmit with significant frequency distortion, unnaturally «color» it. I cannot but note that for people who are not too fond of sound quality, there is a great love for aggressively pronounced low frequencies. For ultra-demanding audiophiles, the upper threshold of the frequency range is especially valuable.

Emitter type

I note right away that there is no direct relationship between the sound quality and the type of emitter in the headphones. Perhaps the only exception to this rule is electrostatic drivers. At the same time, the type of emitter indirectly affects both the sound quality and its individual characteristics. We will look at the 4 most common headphone drivers:

  1. Electrodynamic (speaker)
  2. Reinforcing (balanced anchor)
  3. isodynamic
  4. Electrostatic

Speakers — classics always and everywhere

The most common type of radiator in headphones, as, indeed, in other acoustic systems, is a classic electrodynamic loudspeaker. The quality of the sound transmitted by such a radiator is influenced by many factors: the material of the cone, the design of the coil, etc. Often, speakers have a wider frequency range, which is the most significant advantage over the «armature».

A noticeable disadvantage of classical electrodynamic drivers is low reliability compared to the rest (a large number of moving parts, coil sensitivity to large loads) and a high probability of harmonic distortion. In the end, it all depends on the quality of specific speakers.

Today, headphones with speakers remain the most popular in the world and are used in all existing classes. In this regard, the price of headphones equipped with speakers can be any, it all depends on the class, while headphones with other types of emitters (with approximately equal technical parameters) , in comparison with classical ones, in most cases are more expensive.

Armature — from military phones to high

Emitters of this type, before being used in audio equipment, were widely used in military and medical equipment, after which they found their niche in the consumer segment. Principle of operation: the action of a movable U-shaped armature with a coil on the radiating membrane, which reduces the number of moving parts, and, accordingly, reduces the likelihood of distortion and increases reliability.

Most often, emitters of this type are used to create in-ear headphones. This type is often characterized by many emitters in one earphone (2 or more), which is more difficult to implement with larger speakers.

Devices with this emitter are characterized by such features as the severity of high and medium frequencies, high detail of signal transmission, and a more even frequency response. The bottoms are noticeably less accentuated than in headphones with an electrodynamic principle of operation. The cost of reinforcing headphones is usually higher than those equipped with speakers, all other things being equal.

There are also systems with a combined reinforcing and electrodynamic emitter, where the first is used to transmit high and medium frequencies, and the second is used for low frequencies.

Isodynamic (planar-magnetic) — a well-forgotten new

A relatively rare type of headphone transducer, which, according to some experts, is excellent for reliable and accurate sound transmission. Among the adherents of isodynamic sound transmission there are many lovers of symphonic classics, jazz and complex chamber music — the most demanding genres for audio equipment.

Isodynamic radiators use an ultra-thin membrane as an oscillatory element, on which metal tracks and permanent bar magnets are applied, which makes it possible to transmit sound as accurately and without distortion as possible.

Fans of oversaturated bass sound probably won’t like this type, since the design does not imply low frequency distortion, as is often the case with classic electrodynamic drivers. A serious problem with headphones with this type of emitter is the price. As a rule, the cost of such headphones is prohibitively high for mere mortals, which automatically makes them a subject for non-poor audiophiles and professionals. The lower threshold for the cost of headphones with isodynamic drivers starts from 30-600$.

Interestingly, many companies are positioning the isodynamic principle as something new, which, as in the case of in-channel design, is far from reality. Back in the 80s of the last century, isodynamic hi-Fi class headphones were produced in Japan and the USSR. The Soviet isodynamic headphones TDS — 7 and TDS — 5 had characteristics worthy of their time and are now a collector’s item. At the same time, the disadvantages of ergonomics nullified all the advantages of the TDS-7 and TDS-5. For those who do not have enough money for modern devices of this type, a completely expected choice is to buy vintage Soviet equipment.

With a quality close to electrostatic emitters, isodynamic headphones do not require mandatory preamplification, which reduces the cost of purchasing equipment and simplifies operation.

Electrostatic — an audiophile’s delight

Headphones with this type of emitters occupies a special place, since there is no magnet in the design, which virtually eliminates the possibility of significant distortion, and the thinnest membrane of “electrostats” is capable of transmitting almost imperceptible echoes. Those who are sensitive to the purity and reliability of sound, recognize this type of radiator as the best.

The most accurate signal transmission of electrostatic headphones has made the device an adoration for audiophiles. The principle of operation of emitters in cases with such headphones requires the use of special preamplification, since the voltage required for buildup can exceed 5000 V. It is quite natural that the price of a device with a preamplifier reaches almost astronomical values, and you can find such charm in the price range up to 900$ almost impossible.

Conclusion

The main thing to decide before choosing headphones is how they will be used. Headphones are those devices that do not imply universal use, and each type of them corresponds to its tasks. Of course, a fat wallet will greatly expand your options. At the same time, even if you don’t have 15,000 for cool “plugs” or 100,000 for full-size hi-end “electrostats”, I recommend that you carefully study the characteristics, evaluate the ergonomics for your ears and, of course, listen, because the decisive selection criterion is everything your perception remains the same. I strongly do not recommend buying headphones in the subway, etc. places, as well as be wary of «super offers» on sites like AliExpress, in most cases, analogues of models of famous brands from the Middle Kingdom are very significantly inferior to «pedigreed» originals.

⇡ # Differences in the design of cups. Open and closed headphones

First of all, we pay attention to the fact that all headphones are divided into two large classes — open and closed. These words are to be taken literally. Closed headphones prevent sound waves from escaping from the earcups. The case of the right and left cups of such devices does not contain any holes on the side that is not adjacent to the listener’s head. The walls of the cups of such headphones are usually quite massive, and the material from which they are made often has the ability to dampen sound vibrations. As a rule, closed-back headphones have a noticeably higher degree of passive noise reduction.

In open headphones, somewhere on the body, usually on the back of the cups, you can see a mesh of holes. These holes are necessary for sound waves to propagate in the same way as in the natural environment, which contributes to a more realistic, believable sound of the headphones.

The nature of the sound in closed and open headphones is different. Since the sound wave is repeatedly reflected from the walls in a closed cabinet, the lower range becomes more assertive, which does not correspond to the nominal sound of the audio material. For musicians, it is preferable to work with open headphones, since this design does not distort the frequency response and sounds more reliable.

Headphones with a closed design usually have a characteristic strong pressure of the cups to the head, and not everyone likes it. These headphones have much better sound isolation compared to open ones. From this follows another advantage of the closed design — the listener in such headphones does not hear the surrounding sounds, and others do not hear the music directed to the ears of the music lover. In open headphones, sound waves pass out, so loud music will “buzz” quite legibly for a person standing next to you.

Sometimes you can find on sale headphones of a semi-open or semi-closed type — these are headphones whose design cannot be attributed to either open or closed. Usually this is called open headphones with good passive noise reduction.

How are they different from full size products?

Structurally — in size, because full-size headphones are made more thoroughly using expensive materials: genuine leather, metal, and so on. The system for transmitting sound vibrations is also very different: for overhead devices, under the influence of electrical signals coming from the player or player, the membrane moves, due to which the sound is heard, and for full-sized ones, high-quality speakers are installed that provide the product with full-fledged sound.

In addition, the ear pads create a certain space inside, which significantly increases the sound quality. The membranes of these products have a larger diameter, the dimensions of which reach 45 mm, and the larger the area, the better the low frequencies are reproduced, and its movement is carried out by a special coil. Therefore, music lovers prefer full-size headphones for the quality of materials and sound perception.

⇡ # Active noise reduction system

Inexpensive headphones use one way to suppress external noise — passive. Usually it is achieved through the design of the ear pads — soft inserts that soften the fit of the ear cups to the head. However, this method has its limitations. Headphones with the best passive noise cancellation are 35-37 dB.

To enhance the effect of reducing ambient noise, engineers came up with a way to suppress unwanted acoustic vibrations with similar waves with opposite phase. Headphones that implement this idea are called «headphones with an active noise reduction system.» The design of these headphones contains a hidden microphone that picks up background noise. The received signal is processed by the electronic unit of the device, and then a phase-reversed signal is generated. The emitted sound dampens background acoustic signals and reduces overall noise by 70-90%. The active noise reduction system, even in expensive models, somewhat spoils the original sound, limiting the dynamic range of the model. Nevertheless, if you like to listen to music in rather noisy places, such as the subway, bus, plane, such a system will come in handy.

For its operation, batteries are used, which are enough for a maximum of 3-4 days of continuous operation. Active noise canceling technology does not eliminate all noise, it is most effective only in a certain low frequency range (for example, from 25 to 500 Hz).

Selection rules

In order to choose the best on-ear headphones in all respects among a large assortment of modern models, you need to have a clear idea of ​​​​the main parameters, as well as determine in advance exactly what needs you are choosing a product for. Do not look at the cost, which many consumers do, choose the type of device first.

It is the type that determines the ease of use, the sound quality depends on it. Of no small importance are functional features, for example, Bluetooth (bluetooth — for those who do not know the correct pronunciation of this word), noise reduction systems, the presence of a standard “small Jack” connector and an adapter to big Jack.

For wired over-ear headphones, the length of the wire is of great importance to ensure maximum comfort when working on a stationary PC, where the system unit is installed under the table and with a length of 1.5 meters the user will not be very comfortable. For wireless options, battery life without recharging is of great importance, for example, good and expensive models can work from 12 to 20 hours on a single battery charge.

There is no ideal option for all users in nature, because each individual has a different perception of sounds, so do not hesitate to check the product as much as possible on all parameters, try them on to feel the fit of the ear pads. If this is not possible, because some products are sealed in plastic, then opt for a well-known manufacturer of similar equipment that guarantees high quality and reliability.

⇡#Specifications: what to look for

Headphones differ in technical characteristics. You should not take the numbers and graphs on the headphone packaging too seriously. The data provided by the headphone manufacturer is primarily intended for those buyers who, when choosing, are guided not by their ears, but by “smart” numbers and colorful charts. There is some truth in the parameters indicated by the manufacturer, but you need to understand that the frequency characteristics without specifying the harmonic distortion coefficient are worthless, and a flat frequency response graph does not at all guarantee high sound detail. Nevertheless, if you want not a single sales assistant to be able to “hang noodles” on you and fuse the stale goods, you should understand the basic parameters.

Which headphones are better to buy (in 2021) — choose the right one

5 main selection parameters:

  1. Application (by type of use);
  2. Design;
  3. The device (source) to which the headphones are connected;
  4. Connection;
  5. Price;
  • 5 secondary selection options for buying headphones: characteristics, musical genres, emitters (drivers), manufacturers, stores.
  • If you have any questions, leave them in the comments.

⇡#Frequency range

The first is a private range. The wider its borders, the better for sound quality. For some, this statement is not entirely clear. Moreover, if you start thinking about this parameter, you can come to a completely different conclusion: “Why pay extra for too wide a frequency range?”

Let’s remember a biology textbook — a person is able to make out sound in the range from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. This is at best, in practice, the audible area for many is much narrower. Many people stop hearing already frequencies of 15 kHz and below. However, it is not uncommon for audio device manufacturers to list frequencies two, three, or more times higher in the specifications of their products. What for?

When manufacturers of stationary acoustics go beyond the audible limit, this makes a certain sense. The fact is that theoretically a person feels ordinary sound not only with his ears, but with his whole body. Therefore, the greatest audiophiles are convinced that they are able to feel music literally with their bones. In the auricle, as is known from the same textbook on biology, fortunately, there are no bones. Therefore, if a range is indicated in the headphones that goes far beyond the audible frequency, even an audiophile with very good hearing and very sensitive ear cartilage will not hear the “extra” hertz.

And yet, if you see numbers on the box with headphones that go beyond the audible area, that’s good. This gives reason to believe that drivers (the so-called speakers, sound emitters in headphones) do not work in the boundary mode and therefore have sufficient potential to more accurately, without distortion, transmit audible frequencies. Of course, there is only one way to check this for sure — by putting on a pair of headphones and listening to them.

What parameters of headphones characterize the sound quality

All parameters affect the sound quality to some extent. But the most obvious is the frequency range. The wider the range of reproducible frequencies, the richer the palette of sounds. Most manufacturers indicate on the box a standard range, within the ability of the human ear to perceive sounds, that is, 20 — 20,000 Hz. However, this characteristic does not sufficiently characterize the sound quality.

Rare manufacturers, in addition to standard numbers, show a frequency response graph that reflects the working picture. So, lower tones can be distinguished. But at such a volume level that they can only be heard in the sound chamber (acoustic room). On the street you can not hear the bass. Therefore, the frequency range indicated on the box is a convention.

⇡ # Driver size and power

This setting doesn’t say much. Many manufacturers like to proudly put numbers on the box, say, 50 mm or 40 mm. The diameter of the speaker is its size, and nothing more. Such a trick is designed for the usual stereotype — most buyers consciously (or subconsciously) believe that the larger the acoustics, the better their sound. The manufacturer seems to be trying to say: “See how huge speakers we used? Can you imagine what a cool sound they have — at such and such a size!

The Sony MDR-XB1000 headphones have a speaker diameter of 70 mm!

In fact, this indicator is often meaningless. The power of the device is another matter. This setting determines the output power of the speakers and affects their volume. The higher the power, the brighter and richer the sound — more bass, more accurate interpretation. But high power headphones (2000-3000mW) will drain your portable device battery faster.

Sensitivity

Everyone has encountered a situation where some headphones sound louder than others, despite the fact that the level on the player (or smartphone) is set the same. Often this fact is associated with the difference in headphone power. But headphones are not an amplifier, such a premise is fundamentally wrong.

In fact, how loud the headphones sound depends on their sensitivity. Traditionally, this parameter lies in the range of 90-120 dB, and for most models available on the market, these frames are already 95-105 dB. Sensitivity indicates how loud the headphones will play, all other things being equal. The higher it is, the higher the maximum volume and the less load on the built-in amplifier of the player or smartphone. I noticed another direct relationship: the cheaper the headphones, the less likely that their real (and not indicated in the technical data sheet) sensitivity will be high.


Headphones AKG K 315. Sensitivity — 126 dB, impedance — 32 ohms, maximum input power — 15 mW.

⇡ # Sensitivity

There is a certain category of users who use the word «loud» to describe the sound, for example — «these headphones play very loudly.» Despite the fact that not a single connoisseur of high-quality sound will use this word in a conversation about audio, considering it amateurish, there is a certain meaning in this definition. For the volume of the sound, such a parameter as «sensitivity» is responsible. The higher it is, the stronger the sound (at the same power). Headphones with a sensitivity of 95-100 dB and above can be considered good.

⇡#Resistance

This is a pretty important setting. If you choose headphones for the player, it will not be superfluous to check which headphones with what impedance it is designed for. Typically, portable audio is designed to work with low-impedance headphones that have an impedance of 32 ohms. But if you connect headphones with a resistance of 300 ohms to the player, this does not mean that you will not be able to hear the sound — they will just sound quieter. High-impedance headphones are rarely used, their resistance is calculated in kilo-ohms.

⇡# frequency response

One of the most visual ways to represent the sound of headphones is with a device’s frequency response (AFC) graph. Usually this is a curve that describes the transmission of certain frequencies by headphones. The less sharp bends it contains and the further it extends on the graph, the more accurately the headphones reproduce the original audio material. According to the frequency response, bass lovers can immediately determine whether these headphones are suitable for them or not — there should be a “hump” in the low-frequency region. The higher the graph is, the louder the headphones sound.

Frequency response of Beats by Dr. Dre Studio

Flat frequency response is not a guarantee of high sound quality. This is just a premise to think that the sound is balanced, that is, no frequencies fall over and do not stick out, do not hurt the ear.

Manufacturers Overview

In stores on real and virtual showcases, a huge selection of headphones of various designs and types from well-known and not-so-known manufacturers is presented.

Beats

Monster Beats are headphones from the American brand created by the famous Dr. Dre, now owned by Asian HTC.

Original accessories from the manufacturer cost a lot:

  • droplets will cost from ;
  • invoices like Solo 2 of 2014 — about 7 tens of dollars, new ones — at least 10 thousand;
  • wireless earplugs with fixation on the back of the head Beats Powerbeats3 Wireless — 100$.

The original Beats equipment cannot be cheap, in this case the quality is fully consistent with the price.

Xiaomi

The Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi, which is gaining popularity, offers relatively low-cost and at the same time high-quality gadgets, including headphones.

  • The simplest headphones with a vacuum nozzle Xiaomi Mi In-Ear Headphones Basic will cost about .
  • More serious and «sounding» Xiaomi Hybrid Dual Drivers Earphones (Piston 4) cost .
  • Serious Xiaomi Mi Headphones for studio work and computer surfing will cost about 50$.

Xiaomi is the perfect solution for those who want good sound quality at an affordable price.

Sony

Japanese Sony are focused on playing with good bass, for this they have a reliable and high-quality mechanism. Product prices vary:

  • channel Sony MDR-EX15LP — about ;
  • For music lovers and gamers Sony MDR-ZX220BT — ;
  • Studio headphones Sony WH-1000XM2 — 270$.

Sennheiser

The German quality of Sennheiser equipment is loved by modern music lovers, the brand’s products strive to become leaders in the segment, despite high prices:

  • Plugs with high sensitivity Sennheiser CX 300-II ;
  • Sennheiser HD 180 closed-type budget headphones — only (!);
  • Studio Sennheiser HD 600 with high resistance will cost 190$.

Shure

Shure brand headphones are designed for extraordinary personalities. The unique design of the accessory impresses with its unusualness and price:

  • Vacuum Shure SE215 — 70$;
  • Studio Shure SRH 1540 — 400$;
  • Channel headphones in a transparent case Shure SE846 — 650$.

Popular brands also include Koss, Audio Technika ATH, JBL and many more from around the world.

⇡ # Harmonic distortion factor

The harmonic distortion coefficient is, perhaps, the only parameter that objectively indicates the sound quality. If high sound quality is important to you, make sure that the harmonic distortion factor of the model you choose is less than 0.5%. Headphones with more than 1% harmonic distortion can be considered mediocre.

If you did not find this characteristic on the packaging or on the official website, this is a reason to think: perhaps the manufacturer has something to hide. You don’t have to look far: the Beats by Dr. Dre Studio has a harmonic distortion of 1.5% at 1kHz.

On the other hand, pay attention to the frequency for which this characteristic is given. The harmonic distortion factor is not constant throughout the frequency spectrum. Since the human ear hears less intelligibly in the low-frequency region, less than 10% harmonic distortion is acceptable in the low-frequency range, but no more than 1% in the frequency band from 100 Hz to 2 kHz.

Original or copy

How to tell genuine Beats headphones from fakes

When choosing branded headphones, you don’t want to overpay for a fake, which can be found even in large chain stores. What to look for:

1. Price. Before going to the store, visit the official website of the manufacturer — it probably has the prices of goods. The cost from sellers of products should not differ much from that indicated in the source. Especially on the down side.

2. Packing quality. Fonts and adhesive seams should be even. Particular attention is paid to the text — in the originals it is even, without grammatical and spelling errors, letters and numbers do not “jump”.

3. Visual assessment of the appearance of the headphones: the wires do not stick out, there are no gaps in unexpected places.

4. Sound quality can often only be checked after purchase. Often the original and the fake can be heard even by an unprofessional ear.

5. The seller, who has nothing to hide, will provide documents for the goods.

It is possible to more deeply distinguish a fake from the originals only in an independent examination laboratory.

⇡ # Cable

In the description of headphones, you can often find the term «one-way / two-way connection.» This means that these headphones are designed in such a way that the wire fits either only one of the earcups, or has a Y-shape and fits both cups.

One way headphones

Two way headphones

The terms «balanced» and «unbalanced» cable usually refer to portable in-ear or in-ear headphones. The design of headphones with a balanced cable means that the wire is in a Y-shape. The unbalanced cable allows you to throw the longer wire of one of the headphones behind the neck. These headphones are more comfortable to wear — when not in use, they just hang around the neck.

The cable may also appear in the description of the headphones as «flat». This means that the headphone wire is shaped like a telephone cable, popularly referred to as noodles. The advantage of flat cable is that it does not tangle.

The wire on studio headphones can be twisted, that is, twisted into a spiral.

With wires or without?

All types of headphones are available in two versions:

  • With wired connection;
  • Connected via wireless channels.

Wired headphones have a plug that is inserted into a phone, player or tablet or computer connector. The advantage of such is reliability and zero power consumption.

Wireless accessories have a great advantage over the classics — they do not bind movements and do not tie you to a computer or tablet. They have a range, usually at least 10 meters.

Wireless headphones are connected to the central device via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth channels, rarely via infrared. To do this, their structure provides a source of electrical power: it can be batteries or a battery that needs to be charged. On a long journey, the headphones may run out of power. In addition, signal transmission takes away the charge of the phone / tablet.

The choice of headphones with or without wires is purely a matter of preference and needs.

⇡ # Wire may not be needed

Headphones do not have to be connected to the sound source with a wire, there are also wireless versions that can work remotely without any connecting cables. Models of wireless headphones (with rare exceptions) have a lower sound quality, which is explained by losses during signal transmission over the air, and sometimes by data compression.

Wireless headphones are powered by built-in power supplies, the service life of which usually ranges from several hours to several days. The source of signal transmission is the base. The base can be a fixed docking station connected to any line input, or a portable module connected to any analog sound source or USB port.

Wireless models use three main signal transmission methods — via radio, via infrared, and also via Bluetooth. When transmitted over radio frequencies, sound is inevitably accompanied by radio interference. The infrared option is a thing of the past, an outdated technology that requires the listener to keep their receiver sensor on their headphones within line of sight of the transmitter. Wireless headphones using Bluetooth technology have a relatively short range, about ten to twenty meters, while radio headphones can work at a distance of up to 100 meters or more. Many portable devices, including smartphones and MP3 players, can work with Bluetooth wireless headphones.

Examples of technical characteristics of popular headphones

When choosing headphones, you must carefully study the information on the box and in the technical data sheet. It is important not only to read a brief description, but also to get acquainted with the main characteristics that affect the sound.

Xiaomi Redmi AirDots

Xiaomi Redmi AirDots

A popular Bluetooth headset model with reliable moisture protection. Compatible with Android and iPhone devices. The connection is made via Bluetooth 5.0, the range is up to 10 meters.

Characteristics will help determine the sound quality:

  • sensitivity — 98 dB;
  • impedance — 32 Ohm;
  • frequency — 20-20000 Hz.

Ahh Xiaomi Redmi AirDots

The frequency response graph shows that in the lower range the bias is made towards the middle bass, but low frequencies do not dominate. High-frequency quality is typical for headphones of a budget price segment, so it is unlikely that you will be able to enjoy the smallest nuances of sound, but this is unlikely when using compact wireless models.

Judging by the reviews, the volume reserve is enough even when used outdoors. The advantage of the model is the absence of signal delay, which is often found in other budget wireless headphones.

Apple EarPods

Apple EarPods

Apple’s popular wireless earbuds. The outlines of the liners are anatomically verified, even when worn during the day, there is no discomfort.

Characteristics:

  • sensitivity — 109 dB;
  • range of reproducible frequencies — 20-20000 Hz;
  • impedance — 23 ohms.

frequency response Apple EarPods

Model with open-type acoustic design, the earbuds are not equipped with sound insulation. This model is suitable for houses and streets with traffic, because when listening to songs, external sounds are not suppressed, which will allow you to notice the danger in time. But in public transport, headphones without noise reduction are uncomfortable, because of external noise, you will have to increase the volume, and this is harmful to the hearing organs.

According to the data sheet, the sensitivity of the EarPod is 104.27 dB relative to power and 118.02 dB relative to voltage. The recommended source voltage level for this model is at least 8.02 dBV into 42 ohms for listening in a quiet room, and 3.98 dBV into 42.21 ohms for outdoor use.

Bass and the lower part of the middle are in full order, but the upper part of the mids and upper register notes after 10kHz let us down. Perhaps this was done to improve audibility during conversations, since the Apple EarPod is primarily a headset, not headphones for music lovers.

JBL Tune 120 TWS

JBL Tune 120 TWS

JBL Tune 120 TWS is a wireless model that meets the brand’s strict standards. The description states that the model’s driver diameter is 5.8 mm, and JBL Pure Bass technology was used in the creation. Type of acoustic design — closed.

Characteristics:

  • frequency range — 20-20000 Hz;
  • sensitivity — 96 dB;
  • resistance 14 Ohm.

frequency response jbl tune 120 tws

The frequency characteristics of the model with emphasis on the upper (above 10 kHz) and lower (70-12o Hz) frequencies. Tones below 70 Hz are heard worse, and after 40 Hz a complete dip follows. The mids are also slightly overwhelmed, which negatively affects the sound quality.

A model with an increased level of sound isolation, external noise is muted, you can use the earbuds in noisy environments without having to increase the volume level. Even in public transport, 60-70% of the maximum volume level is enough to comfortably listen to compositions without being distracted by external sounds.

⇡ # A few words about headsets

Headphones with a microphone are called a headset. The microphone can be unfastened, turning the headset into regular headphones, can be rotated to the side when not needed, or can be rigidly fixed to the connecting cable of the device.

A computer headset can be connected either directly to the headphone and microphone jacks on the sound card, or using a USB audio adapter that may be included.

Many well-known headphone manufacturers have recently begun to release special modifications of their time-tested models, endowing them with support for Apple devices. Models such as the Sennheiser MM 70i and Koss PRODJ200 have an additional microphone and remote control for quick access to some smartphone options. However, mobile headsets are a separate class of devices with a large set of functions, the consideration of which is beyond the scope of this review.

Types of headphones by connection type

Depending on how the signal is transmitted and how the device is connected to the source, two types of equipment and a hybrid variety are distinguished.

Wireless

Wireless headphones

This category includes four types of devices:

  • infrared headphones;
  • radio models;
  • devices using Bluetooth;
  • WiFi models.

These varieties are united by the absence of tangled wires, which provides comfort to the user. There are hybrid models — the user himself decides whether he will connect the wire or not. An example of a wireless device is an airpods. Other brands copy the design and technology that Apple uses for their models. Airpods and other wireless «droplets» are equipped with cases (cases) for recharging.

And some expand the functionality of the «apples». And they create headphones that are much cooler, but 4 times cheaper.

We are talking about Vadim Bokov, a young entrepreneur from Tyumen, who received the nickname “Tyumen Elon Musk” for his entrepreneurial talent. His Tyumen CGPods broke all the sales ratings of wireless headphones in 2021, overtaking even the mega-popular Huawei.

CGPods have a voluminous and pleasant sound, effective noise isolation, high autonomy — 20 hours (exactly like Apple AirPods). The main feature of CGPods, which expensive «apples» do not have, is reliable moisture protection. Tyumen headphones can be washed under the tap from sweat and dirt. In CGPods you can walk in the rain, take a shower and swim in the pool.

Another feature of Tyumen CGPods is unique cases:

  • The CGPods 5.0 case is made from professional aircraft-grade aluminum (just like a Boeing!). The case can withstand 220 kg — it’s not scary to step on or sit on it. And the «apple» case can withstand only 84 kg!
  • The CGPods Lite case is the world’s smallest case. Cool clicks the lid when closing — the sound is just like from a bubble wrap. A real anti-stress case!

Tyumen CGPods are only sold online. Without intermediaries and stores like M.Video, which increase prices by 2-3 times! 30$ is the honest direct price of the manufacturer.

The disadvantage of wireless headphones is a delay of a few milliseconds. For listening to music or participating in a conference, this does not matter. But such models cannot be used for sound recording.

Wired

Wired

Even new wireless headphones can experience a slight delay. Wired models feature clear playback and stable performance. The wire restricts the user’s freedom of movement. But brands produce models with long cables and even with additional extension cords.

⇡#Understanding brands

Despite the variety of brands of headphones on sale, there are certain names that have earned a reputation and are in demand among connoisseurs of good sound. Some of the «tested» names are: AKG, Beyerdynamics, Sennheiser, Audio-Technica, Grado, KOSS, Philips, Sony, Fostex, Denon, Bose, Shure and more.

Interestingly, many companies offer dozens and dozens of headphone models, but all these different headphones are made using similar technology, so often their “accent” is very similar. If you’re a classic rock fan, you’ll probably like most of the KOSS models that have punchy bass. AKG models are famous for their very beautiful high-frequency detail, and Sennheizer headphones usually have a relatively flat frequency response.

If you look at the assortment that is offered to headphone lovers, you can see that every second brand has dozens or even hundreds of models in stock. To enable users to better navigate their products, many well-known manufacturers use certain product labeling principles. A striking example of “smart” headphone labeling is from the German company Sennheiser. In the name of these models there is a letter prefix, which can say a lot about the design of certain headphones.

  • CX, as well as the IE series — in-ear headphones;
  • MX — in-ear headphones;
  • HD — classic headphones with a headband;
  • RS — wireless headphones, set base plus headphones;
  • HDR — an additional pair of wireless headphones;
  • OMX — in-ear headphones with a hook-type mount;
  • OCX — in-ear headphones with a hook-type mount;
  • PMX — on-ear or in-ear headphones with an occipital arch;
  • PXC — a line of headphones with an active noise cancellation system;
  • PC — computer headsets;
  • HME — headset models designed for pilots and crews of aircraft and helicopters.

And if the index “i” is at the end of the model name, it means that it supports work with Apple devices — it includes a four-pin plug, a microphone on the wire and a remote control for controlling some device commands.

For the most popular headphone models, some manufacturers produce separate sets of ear cushions that you can buy and replace yourself if the original inserts lose their appearance from time to time — they crack or wear off.

The best computer headphones with a good microphone

The microphone in the headphones is needed either for talking on the phone or for work. In most devices, its quality is a compromise. But there are models that combine cool speaker sound and a great microphone.

Jabra Elite 85h

4.9

editorial score

95%

buyers recommend this product

See review▶

Expensive active noise canceling wireless headphones have audEERING function, which analyzes the environment and adjusts its sound to the environment.

These «ears» are large, but they look very stylish and minimalistic. They are more like a concept than a real device. Good materials are also used here: fabric and eco-leather.

The Jabra Elite 85h lasts a phenomenal 40 hours on a single charge (35 hours with noise canceling on). Plus, in 15 minutes you can charge them for further listening for another 5 hours.

Advantages:

  • Stylish design;
  • An unattainable indicator of autonomy;
  • Active noise canceling function;
  • They sit comfortably;
  • Excellent microphone.

Flaws:

  • The sound is good, but not perfect.

Almost flawless headphones with high-quality sound, stylish design and frantic autonomy also have one of the best microphones.

Asus ROG Delta

4.8

editorial score

91%

buyers recommend this product

See review▶

Real gaming headphones that are lucky enough to get one of the best microphones. They have a very catchy triangular design and the LED logo of the ROG line. The model is very large and heavy, but easy to use.

In addition to the 50mm drivers, there is a special chip. When playing ROG Delta sound like monitor headphones, giving a very smooth sound, but in games, the emphasis is traditionally transferred to the bass. The microphone is not only good, but also offers a wide range of settings.

Advantages:

  • Memorable design with RPG logo;
  • Sound settings separately for games and music;
  • Quality microphone;
  • Quality assembly;
  • Good soundproofing.

Flaws:

  • Large and heavy;
  • There are minor software bugs.

These headphones won’t be taken on the road — they are too big and attract a lot of attention, but for home use this is a good option. They can even be configured to sync the LED with the rest of the system’s RGB lighting.

SteelSeries Arctis 5 (2019)

4.8

editorial score

90%

buyers recommend this product

See review▶

The average model from the updated line of the gaming manufacturer received a very concise design. The headband is adjusted with a tape, and the outer sides of the ear pads are illuminated.

The headphones sound good, but the playback quality is even better after installing SteelSeries Engine 3, which allows you to customize the headphones and activates virtual multi-channel audio. There you can also adjust the sensitivity of the microphone and its noise reduction.

The updated version of the «ears» has DTS Headphones:X 2.0 technology, which is especially noticeable in bass music and games.

Advantages:

  • Decent sound quality;
  • Excellent microphone with ClearCast technology;
  • Extensive customization options;
  • Nice RGB backlight;
  • Reasonable price.

Flaws:

  • Ambiguous adjustment tape.

A successful update to an already high-quality line. Good sound, affordable price and neat design are complemented by a nice bonus — an excellent microphone.

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