Both casual music listeners and true audiophiles alike know that having a great pair of headphones makes a world of difference to their music listening experience. Alas, when it comes to choosing the perfect pair of headphones, even the most serious of music buffs can become overwhelmed by the many different options (and price points) available.
If you find yourself floundering, debating whether it’s better to buy a $20 pair of earbuds only to have them wear out once every six months or to sink $80+ into a pair of high-quality over ear headphones that will last years with proper care, take a deep breath and consider the advice below. With a bit of research, it’s possible to find the ideal compromise between cost and your needs.
Step 1. Decide Whether You Want Earbuds or Headphones
Before you start to narrow down your headphone choices, it’s essential to figure out whether you’ll be better served by a pair of earbuds or over ear headphones. Fortunately, this question is fairly easy to answer with a quick review of your music listening habits. If you listen to music primarily while you’re doing something active (e.g. working out) and/or you prefer not to carry around any more than you have to while moving from place to place, you’ll enjoy earbuds more than full-sized headphones.
Know that choosing earbuds doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing a great deal of sound quality; if you’re willing to spend over $40 on earbuds from a trusted brand like Sennheiser or Ultimate Ears you’ll have an excellent listening experience. Serious audiophiles will, of course, still prefer the premium sound quality of over ear headphones.
If, on the other hand, you primarily listen to music while seated, you like being able to easily rest your headphones around the back of your neck when you’re not using them, or you desire optimum noise cancellation, over ear headphones are probably the better choice for you. Likewise, many full-sized headphones have sturdier cords than earbuds do, making them a better investment for individuals who use their headphones frequently and therefore subject them to more wear and tear.
Step 2. Decide on A Budget—and Do Your Research
Price absolutely matters when it comes to choosing the perfect pair of headphones, but it’s a myth that you have to spend hundreds of dollars simply to have a decent listening experience. No, you won’t get a true pair of audiophile headphones for $40-$50, but you can get a genuinely decent pair of headphones without breaking the bank.
Unless music is intrinsically connected to your profession in some way (e.g. you’re a recording artist or a music blogger), you should consider choosing a pair of headphones under $100. Many sets of headphones in the $70-$90 range will allow you to hear every nuance of your favourite tunes, and—if you’re truly strapped for cash—even the experts agree that with careful research, you can find a solid pair of headphones for around $30 (any less than this, however, and you’re going to have a sub-par listening experience).
While it’s true that, as the audiophiles at Pluggedinc.com put it, “When it comes to headphones in the ‘audiophile’ class…$30 usually gets you a replacement cable and a cup of coffee,” there are rare models like the Crown Series headphones that offer a great listening experience for $99. Just be sure to read online reviews from audio experts carefully before purchasing a set of inexpensive headphones.
As a final note, remember to match the impedance (measured in ohms) of the headphones you choose to the audio equipment you are using. Matching the impedance of your new headphones to your audio equipment will ensure that you get optimal sound quality and a sufficient volume level—something which is especially important when using inexpensive headphones.
Step 3. Once You’ve Narrowed Down Your Choices, Test A Few Different Models Out
Our ears are as individual as we are; different people have different levels of hearing acuity and as such, widely varying needs and preferences where headphones are concerned. Someone with extremely acute hearing may vastly prefer the sound that comes out of $100 headphones as opposed to $50 headphones, whereas someone with average or poor hearing may not be able to detect any real variation. As such, the best and final determiner of which pair of headphones is perfect for you is a simple listening test.
There are a few ways to go about the aforementioned; the best way, of course, is to find an electronics store that will allow you to test out as many models as you wish before buying, but these are few and far between. If you can’t test headphones in-store, ask to borrow your audiophile friends’ headphones until you find a pair that really appeals to you. Failing that, look for a store with a 30-day return policy and buy a pair of headphones based on your online research; if they don’t work out, you can send them back and try another pair.
Once you have settled on the ideal pair of headphones, take care of them; with proper handling, your new headphones should bring you years of listening pleasure.
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