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5 Digital Music Fridays

Navigating the Headphone Maze

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Now that the majority of the general public use headphones with their digital music player, portable DVD player, home stereo, desktop computer, laptop computer, smartphone, cell phone, and other electronic devices, how do you choose one that is right for you?

The best way is to try them with your actual electronic device. Unfortunately, this is not always possible especially when sanitary conditions and health issues like sharing earbuds become an issue.

Keep in mind not all headphones are created equal and the specifications alone do not indicate that the sound quality will be great on all compatible devices. Most music players produce good sound. Only a small portion produce great sound. In either case, the sound must be translated by the actual headphone correctly to retain the sound quality being produced by the musical player.

How do you choose a suitable pair of headphones?

First there are four issues to be aware of in my books:

  1. Sound Quality

  2. Fit and Comfort

  3. Durability

  4. Price Range

1: Sound Quality

This is the hardest one to pin down for most people since everyone has personal preferences as to what constitutes great sound. Some like lots of bass, some like lots of treble and this combined with the genre of music can make a chosen pair of headphone a HIT or a MISS. For me regardless of the type of music or the sounds most desirable, I always look for a pair of headphones that indicate the widest possble frequency response range. The specifications listed will always show the Hz – mHz frequency response. The standard by which the human ear is gauged by is 20 Hertz to 20,000 Hertz or (20 Hz – 20 kHz). This varies from individual to individual plus the higher frequency range detection is lost as you get older.

Low grade or cheaper headphones may go down to about 80 Hz and as high as 18,000 hz. This means the real low bass sounds and the higher cymbal sounds are missing. Therefore, someone that wants lots of bass will opt for headphones that have low bass anywhere from 10 – 50 Hz and those that wants lots of treble will opt for headphones that have a frequnecy high end of 19,000 – 22,000 Hz. Those of you that really enjoy both will go with headphones that have a range from 10 Hz – 22,000 Hz (10 Hz – 22 kHz).

The real advantage of having a set of headphones that can reproduce frequencies out the typical human ear range has one advantage of creating cleaner sound for those frequencies that your ear can actually detect. This will reduce ear damage from excessive distortion and the higher volume levels. Typically cheaper headsets require a higher volume level to sound better. Distortion will damage your ear drums in the long run which a cheap pair of headphones can produce even at lower volume levels.

2: Fit and Comfort

Regardless of if you buy earbuds, on ear headphones or around the ear headphones, they must be comfortable for more than 10 minutes. The outer material must be soft and non abrasive. Damage due to ear rings can be a problem quickly with on ear or around the ear headphones if the outer material is too flimsy. Make sure the covering material feels good and strong but also soft enough to be comfortable. More expensive headphones will have replacable pads when they wear out or get dirty. Make sure that the headband is easily adjustable and not too lose or they will fall off during quick movements. When buying earbuds, get ones that come with a replacable outer covering or buy some outer coverings separately for a few extra dollars.

3: Durability

Durability is important since you would expect a pair of quality headphones to last at least 2 years or longer. One of the most common area to get damaged is the cable. Either the cable inside breaks at the point where the cable connects to the headphones or where the cable connects to the jack. Make sure both ends have a solid jacket around the connections and is very flexible. The more expensive headphones have a screw in type connector allowing you to replace the damaged cable easily. Padding can be replaced on many higher models. The construction of the headband must look and feel solid.

4: Price Range

Everyone has a price point they will not cross or will try to stay below as much as they can. This can severely affect you in the first three categories. A simple rule of thumb is spend as much as you did for the music player or more for headphones. The headphones are the life line to the music and buying a low grade pair of headphones means low grade sound quality.

Why spend hundred of dollars on a great music player when the headphones cannot reproduce the sound quality being transfered to them?

Balance your spending by taking in to account the cost of a good quality headphones when you consider buying a new digital music player. In a nut shell, purchase a pair of headphones that are 100 – 150 percent in price of the digital music player. If you had spent $100.00 USD for the digital music player then consider paying $100.00 – $150.00 USD for the headphones. This will ensure you are getting the best possible sound out of your music player. Refer to points 1 -3 while making your purchase decision.

For computer systems or laptops, I would consider $100.00 – $200.00 USD for either 3.5 mm jack connector or USB connector type headphones. You will wind up replacing them again in less than 1 year from simple wear or just due to the lack of sound quality or the lack of comfort for under $100.00 USB headphones.

Added Note:

There are smaller things to consider like:

  • Built in volume control
  • Noise cancellation
  • Surround sound
  • Wireless headphones
  • Open or closed back headphones
  • Wrap around the neck
  • Colors
  • Canal earbuds
  • Custom molded earbuds

These are all extra bonus features and should never be one of the main reasons for making a purchase decision. You will be disappointed down the road for choosing a pair of headphones based on the bonus features.

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