You have a lot of options when choosing the right pair of headphones. There are so many different styles, sizes and features, how do you know which ones will be perfect for you? It’s easy to shop for a pair of on ear or in ear headphones when you use Best Buy’s headphone buying guide.
Headphone buying guide
When you want to choose a headphone, the easiest way to shop is to start with simple choices like wired or wireless, then work your way up to to the unique features you’ll find on different sets of headphones.
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Choosing wired vs. wireless headphones
A set of wired headphones will keep you connected to your smartphone or other devices, while wireless headphones give you complete freedom to move around.
How to buy wired headphones
Wired headphones have several advantages over wireless headphones. They never need to be recharged as they connect to your smartphone or device using an AUX jack. They’re often less expensive too, and some of the higher-end wired headphones offer you better sound quality than if you were listening via Bluetooth.
Wired headphones can also have a few downsides. Since they come with a cable, it can often get tangled, twisted or caught up in things. Wired headphones also aren’t always compatible with some newer smartphones as they have eliminated the AUX jack, so you might need an adapter to connect them.
If you like being physically connected to your device, your budget is lower, or you want reliable wired sound quality, there are a lot of great wired options out there.
How to buy wireless headphones
There are two kinds of wireless headphones – truly wireless and semi-wireless.
Wireless vs semi-wireless headphones
Semi-wireless headphones, also referred to as simply “wireless,” usually have a cable connecting one earbud to the other. They do not require a connector cable to get audio from your smartphone or tablet.
One of the biggest benefits of semi-wireless headphones are a longer-lasting battery. Some also have larger audio drivers that are hidden inside the cables or controls within the cables. Semi-wireless headphones are often less expensive than truly wireless versions, and they may perform better in terms of connectivity. Semi wireless headphones are also often slightly smaller in size and weight than their truly wireless cousins.
Recharging is easy and usually just requires connecting the headphones to a cable for a quick battery charge.
How to buy truly wireless headphones
Truly wireless headphones have no wires connecting them to each other at all, and they don’t have wires connecting to your device. They offer the ultimate in cord-free freedom and they can operate individually or in stereo. A Truly wireless headphone is usually very small and highly portable, and most have a charging case that can hold a charge and is an easy way to store them.
You’ll find Truly wireless headphones are available from different brands including Apple, JBL, Belkin, Skull Candy, Samsung, Jabra, and Bose. You can read up on this type of headphone by checking out the truly wireless headphone buying guide.
Choosing earbuds and In-ear headphones
Earbuds, also called in-ear headphones, are the smallest headphones you’ll find. They are designed to fit either in your ear concha, the cup outside your ear canal, or in your ear canal.
Benefits of earbuds
There are several benefits to earbuds or in-ear headphones. They can be quite inexpensive so there is a style for every budget. Because they fit in your ear, they can block out a lot of external noise. The fit seals off part of your ear canal from outside sounds, so you get less sound bleed-through.
Many in-ear headphones include a variety of ear tips, fins, and wings. This allows you to get a precise and customized fit. The addition of extra ear tips can have the added advantage of giving your a better sound experience as there’s no outside noise to distract you. When the ear tips wear out or become soiled, you have the advantage of easily being able to swap them out.
Choosing on-ear headphones
As the name suggests, on-ear headphones sit directly on the ear itself. They are similar to over-ear models, but a pair of on-ear headphones are slightly smaller.
This style of headphones are ideal for people who find in-ear models uncomfortable. Because they are a bit smaller than an over-ear headphone, on-ear headphones can also be ideal for travellers or people needing headphones that will pack down to a more compact size.
Choosing over-ear headphones
Over-ear headphones tend to be the largest headphones available, and they provide outstanding audio quality. The size allows for more extensive hardware to be incorporated into the design.
Over-ear headphones are extremely comfortable for many listeners because they don’t invade your ear canal or press on the outside of your ear. The ear cups have soft padding and are generally wrapped in ultra-smooth fabric or leather. This style of headphone is great for commuters who want to block out the world at the end of a long day.
How do I know what headphones will fit?
Headphone fit is a very personal choice. Some people love a huge over-ear, all-encompassing fit, while others prefer a slimmer, in-ear design. There are a lot of choices in both styles, so you have a lot of different options once you decide which type you’d like.
What features should I look for in headphones?
There are almost as many features available in headphones as there are types, styles, and manufacturers. One of the first features people will decide on is whether you choose noise cancelling or noise isolation headphones.
Noise-cancelling vs Noise isolation headphones
Noise-cancelling and noise isolation are two very different features.
What are noise isolation headphones?
Noise isolation works as a physical barrier against outside sounds, and it feels as though you have a layer of padding over your over-ear or on-ear headphones. This style of headphone gives you a tight seal on an earbud model, and that also provides noise isolation.
What are noise-cancelling headphones?
A pair of noise-cancelling headphones are very different from noise isolation headphones. With this feature, the headphones will actively listen to the environment around you and create sound waves inside the ear cup that cancel out any outside noise. This is all done digitally and automatically, so all you need to do is turn the feature on or off when you need it.
A feature that is sometimes related to noise-cancelling is something called Ambient Mode or ‘external listening’. This feature allows you to bring those outside sounds into your headphones so that you can be aware of your surroundings. This feature is most useful for people who might be walking in busy or high-traffic areas, or for someone that may need to stay alert to the arrival of guests, customers, or the boss!
Generally speaking, having water-resistant headphones is a great feature. It comes in handy when you find yourself caught in the rain while commuting or running. Water-resistant headphones are also often sweat-resistant, making them a great choice for all athletic pursuits.
Some headphones are specially made for use by swimmers. If that’s what you’re hoping to use them for, make sure you choose a pair that are rated to be underwater for extended periods of time. You’ll want to choose a minimum of an IPX7 rating, and for continuous submersion in water, you’ll want an IPX9 rated headphone.
Use your voice assistant on your headphone
Most new headphones today come up with some type of voice assistant built-in. Depending on the manufacturer, this could be Apple’s Siri, Samsung’s Bixby, the Google Assistant, or Amazon’s virtual assistant, Alexa.
Having the ability to connect with a digital voice assistant can be quite useful. You can make adjustments to your music, dial phone numbers, control volume, or set reminders to yourself all without the need to pull out your phone. They can also do calculations and conversions, share the weather forecast, and answer almost any question you have.
Bone conduction headphones
Bone conduction headphones are a futuristic-sounding technology that’s actually quite simple. Bone conduction lets you hear sound by channelling vibrations or sound waves through the bones of your face, like your jaw or cheekbones. The sound doesn’t actually go into your ear canal, but instead sends audio directly into your inner ear. It’s a very subtle process, and it can create a richer listening experience, particularly for those who don’t like traditional headphones sitting on or in their ears.
Heart rate monitoring in your headphones
Heart rate monitoring is a feature that is increasingly being built into sport or athletic headphones. Most often, this feature is only available on in-ear models because the device needs to be in direct contact with your skin to take your pulse. When using this feature, the headphones or the digital voice assistant can usually provide your heart rate verbally in your ear during your workout, again eliminating the need to pull out your phone during an intense workout.
Microphones and controls
Most headphones today contain a microphone. Whether it’s to allow you to make and receive phone calls, or to summon your personal digital assistant, a microphone is almost always a must. You’ll find microphones on all types of headphones, whether they are wired or wireless. The quality of built-in microphones has also increased dramatically in just the last few years.
Controls are also vastly improved in headphones today, and touch controls are increasingly common. You’ll find controls on the earphones themselves, such as touchpad volume on over-ear models, or the ability to push and hold a button on the side of an earbud to summon Google Assistant.
Choosing the right headphones for your lifestyle
When making your decision about the right headphones for you, one of the first things you should do is determine what will be their primary use.
Are you using them on the bus or the train? Do you need an ultra-small set to pack into an airplane carry-on? Will you be using them to work out each day, running, swimming, or with a personal trainer? How you plan to use your headphones most often will help you determine the best choice.
Headphones for sports and fitness
For sports, fitness, and activities, truly wireless in-ear or earbud-style headphones are almost always the best choice. Because there are no wires to get tangled in the fitness equipment, you can usually get a good tight seal to block out all those unwanted gym sounds. Afraid of them falling out of your ears during some kickboxing or crosstraining? No problem? Just opt for a pair of semi wireless headphones for a bit of added security.
Headphones to make and take calls
At the office, you likely need to be alert to your coworkers and your boss. That’s why choosing a pair of headphones with ambient listening mode, a feature that enables you to hear the sounds around you while wearing your headphones, will be helpful. However, some workplaces are noisy, so if you need to focus on your work without distraction, select a good pair of noise cancelling headphones. Depending on your workplace and its flexibility, you may be able to get away with a larger on-ear pair, but if you need to be more discrete, opt for a pair of in-ear models.
Having a pair of headphones that are designed to make or take calls is also a good idea for the workplace. There are several options that are on-ear or in-ear, and they have software designed to enhance audio during calls or your voice when you’re speaking.
Headphones for travel
The kind of headphones you’ll want for travel will be dictated by how heavy or light you can pack. If you’re an ultralight business traveller, you might have a little extra room for a pair of high-end over-ear headphones. If you tend to always pack heavy, get the smallest pair of truly wireless in-ear headphones that you can afford. Truly wireless headphones are best for shorter jaunts and commutes on public transit as there are no wires to get caught up in or to fuss with.
Headphones for home entertainment
If you have a high-end home theatre system or brand-new 4K TV you’d like to take advantage of without waking the kids, you’ll want a pair of headphones for watching TV. A great pair of over-ear headphones made by a top-quality manufacturer is a good choice and will get plenty of use. If you’re a gamer, you may prefer wired versions in order to avoid any potential audio lag or sync issues.
Headphones for audiophiles
If you’re an audiophile, only the best and highest quality headphone will do. Sony, Bose, and Sennheiser are just a few of the brands that make top-quality headphones, and audiophiles will appreciate features found on more premium models such as High Resolution Audio support and greater frequency response (the range of bass, mids and treble) that can be found on premium headphones.
High-end headphones also may support higher impedance, allowing more power to flow through them and higher volumes to be supported.
Headphones for kids
When buying headphones for kids, you’ll find a lot of different options. There are character headphones where your child can pick their favourite cartoon or pop culture character, and there is headphone technology designed just for kids.
The most popular kid’s headphones are those that include volume caps that limit how loud the headphones can be so as not to damage young ears. Kids’ headphones are often more colourful, more fun and can be more durable than some adult headphones. They also may offer more padding and additional comforts.
Bottom line when choosing the perfect headphones
Now that you know all about the different types of headphones, here are three tips to keep in as you begin shopping for your new headphones:
- Your first step is to assess how you’ll use headphones
- Second, decide if you want wired or wireless
- Third, choose three features you think you can’t live without
Armed with the answers to those questions, you’ll see you’ve narrowed down your choices significantly and you’ll better be able to sift through all of the great options in headphones.
Take the next step
There are many styles of headphones, it’s easy to find the perfect pair for you. Looking for refurbished or open box headphone options? Browse through this selection to find great deals.
Check out all the headphone options at Best Buy.