Music makes me lose control! How to buy a decent set of Headphones?

In this post I won’t be reviewing any specific pair of headphones (that would come soon in future sometime!), hence consider it a guide to buy the best pair of headphones that’s there in the market.

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It all started in 1880 when telephone operators started using headphones because they wanted all individuals to listen and concentrate on their jobs without any disturbance of the outer world.  German company Beyerdynamic invented and produced the first dynamic headphones, the DT-48 which is still in production today.

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DT 48

When you want to listen to RHCP’s masterpiece ‘Californication’, there is some expectation at the back of your music maniac brain (and heart!) to hear it harmonically perfect with the all the As and Bs in its place. But it just breaks your heart when all you could hear is an imbalanced mixture of bass, treble and disappointment. For this, and for many other reasons, a good pair of headphones are an absolute necessity in our daily lives. And isn’t it complete bliss when you can just pop those in-ear headphones, pump up the volume and forget all about life.

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Here are a few tips on how to buy a decent set of headphones. First and foremost, we need to know a few technical terms related to headphones tech.

Impedance – is an electrical unit which expresses the combined Resistance, Inductance and Capacitance of the headphone’s voice coil. An amplifier drives a headphone with voltage, the current drawn by the headphone is proportional to the headphone’s impedance.

Loudness – is directly related to the impedance and sensitivity of the headphones. Impedance determines how much power the headphones will draw, while sensitivity indicates how much of the electrical signal delivered to the headphones is converted into sound. Unit of sensitivity is decibel/mili watt.

Frequency response – represents headphones’ ability to reproduce audio frequencies.

Total Harmonic Distortion – When driving headphones at high volumes, it is possible for the diaphragm (the ‘speaker’ inside the headphones) to be unable to move fast enough. This leads to distortion, manifesting itself as crackling, popping or the alteration of musical notes. 

Sound loudness – is a subjective term describing the strength of the ear’s perception of a sound.

There are majorly three kinds of headphones: Dynamic (most common!), planar magnetic and electrostatic. Google for more details around them, but for starters just know that Dynamic is by far the most common style, and there’s no chance of that changing in the foreseeable future.

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Now finally, consider the following points/tips while buying your favourite pair of headphones:

  1. Low impedance headphones are good because they are loud but high impedance headphones are also not so bad (confused?). Low-impedance (under 50 ohm) headphones will play well at home with your receiver and on-the-go with your smart phone, and that’s why the vast majority of in-, on-, and over-the-ear headphones are low-impedance designs. High-impedance models are much better suited to home than on-the-go use. Sennheiser and Beyerdynamic are two companies that offer high-impedance consumer headphones with up to 600 ohm-rated designs.
  2. Sensitivity should be high. Period.
  3. Total Harmonic distortion should be low.
  4. Most digital music has a theoretical frequency range of 20-20,000Hz.
  5. 3.5 mm Headphone jack is the most common one in existence today.
  6. Don’t forget to look at the weight of the headphones you are buying. Lighter the better.
  7. Neodymium magnets are preferred over Ferrite magnets, also almost every headphone manufacturer now uses Neodymium magnets.
  8. Always listen to the headphones before buying, never order them online by reading the reviews (because they might not beat (sorry meet) your expectation).
  9.  Do not buy a pair of headphones just because they look good (unless you are a belieber!)
  10. It should be comfortable on your ears. Comfort is a subjective issue thus, physically experience it with your own hands before buying.
  11. Headphone type (In-ear-headphones, over-the ear-headphones, Noise-cancelling headphones, wireless, wired, closed, open) is again completely subjective. Know what you need and then choose the best!
  12. Finally, do not forget that the input to your headphones is as important as the output. Something coming out of iPhone cannot be compared with something coming out of Samsung guru or Nokia asha.

Some excellent pair of headphones in the market are:

  • Bose QuietComfort 35
  • Sony MDR 1-A
  • Bose Soundsport wireless
  • Sennheiser Momentum 2
  • Beyerdynamic T51i
  • Audio Technica ATH-M50X

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As technology keeps on advancing there are no doubt going to be some winners and some losers, but what makes the difference is how well you choose. Don’t be very rigid when buying a set of headphones, do consider the look, design and appeal of the different products available. But make sure you look up some of the basic nuances, that have been mentioned above, to not curse later the stupid 40% off on the funky ones.

Till next time!!!

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