How to Find the Best Headphones for You

Most headphones work with any portable music player or smartphone. The main thing to keep in mind when considering compatibility is the connector, which is the part that plugs into your device. Most of the current crop of players and phones use a standard 3.5mm jack (the size of the hole, not the whole plug), but a few use something more exotic, like Apple’s proprietary Lightning connector.

If you love the sound of your existing headphones, but they don’t fit well or are uncomfortable to wear for extended periods, replacing them with another model that uses the same drivers will likely yield similar results.

The most important thing to remember about headphone shopping is that how a pair of ’phones sounds to you is the only thing that really matters. For example, if you’re someone who loves bass, don’t let anyone tell you that headphones without much deep bass response aren’t worth considering — if they sound good to you, they’re worth buying!

If you’re looking to upgrade your listening experience, the first thing we’ll tell you is that headphones are not all created equal. There are multiple types, styles and price points out there, and finding the right pair can be tricky. So before you hit the store, read on for a quick guide to different headphone options.

In-ear headphones (also called earbuds or IEMs) rest in the outer ear canal. They don’t go as deep as earphones, but they still provide a good seal against outside noise. Most people find them more comfortable than earphones because they don’t need to be plugged far inside the ear canal. The downside of this design is that it doesn’t block out as much outside noise: If you want to focus on what you’re listening to without distraction, look for a model with better passive sound isolation.

You can also get in-ear headphones with active noise cancellation (ANC), which uses electronics to counter outside noises. This technology requires batteries and makes these headphones more expensive; it also adds bulk and weight to the buds.

Technology has changed the way we consume music. In the 1950s, most people listened to vinyl records. Then the compact disc was introduced in the 1980s, which meant you could take your favorite music with you on a portable CD player. While vinyl records and CDs are still in use today, streaming services like Spotify and Pandora have made it easy to listen to millions of songs from any device, at any time.

With more options than ever to listen to music, one thing hasn’t changed: Most people still want to hear their favorite tunes with high-quality headphones. Whether you’re working out at the gym or relaxing on a flight, headphones offer a convenient way to enjoy your music without disturbing others. The ideal pair of headphones varies based on personal preferences and usage scenario. To help you pick out a set of headphones that’s right for you, we’ve curated this list of best-selling models across several popular categories.

Headphones are a wonderful invention. They allow you to enjoy music and other audio programming privately, and they also allow you to listen to audio at levels that won’t disturb others around you.

This means that you can use them on planes, trains, buses and boats, in the office or at home, in the gym and out running or cycling. You can even use them with mp3 players when swimming laps, if you choose a waterproof model.

This is what makes headphones so popular today. But with so many different types of headphone available it is hard to know which ones are best for your needs.

“Above all, perhaps, headphones are a deeply personal product,” says John Siau, the president of Benchmark Media Systems. “They’re the only component that touches your body.”

No two people’s ears are alike, so headphones that sound great to you might sound terrible to someone else. There’s no shame in having a particular taste in sound quality. Just keep your expectations in check.

Remember this: A $50 pair of headphones does not sound “twice as good” as a $25 pair of headphones. With headphones, unlike speakers, the cost-performance ratio is pretty flat. There are some good cheap pairs and some bad expensive ones, but beyond a certain point you’re paying for things like comfort and style rather than performance. In fact, even though our budget pick is less expensive than our upgrade pick, it sounds roughly as good in some respects (though not as comfortable).

That said, most people will be happier with a more expensive pair of headphones; in general, the higher price gets you better bass response and better isolation from outside noise.

If you want earphones (the kind that go inside your ear), we have separate recommendations elsewhere in this guide.

Not all headphone manufacturers and designers are equal. Many are very good, but some are not. It’s important to know the difference, so you can shop for the best headphones for you and your music collection. The first step is to understand two things: how headphones work, and what makes a great pair of headphones.

How Headphones Work

Headphones are nothing more than loudspeakers in reverse. They take an electrical signal and convert it into sound waves moving through air, then push those sound waves into your ears. Sound waves vibrate your eardrums, which transmit their vibrations to tiny bones inside your head that tell your brain what’s going on outside of your body. The whole process only takes microseconds; that’s why people say “I hear it” when they actually mean “I feel it.”

The difference between a good pair of headphones and a great pair is the quality of their components and the precision with which they’re assembled. All of the materials used in headphones–the diaphragms (often called “drivers”), magnets, voice coils, cabling, earpads and headbands–vary widely in quality. The best headphones use better materials throughout.


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