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How to Choose the Right Headphones

There is a wide variety of headphones on the market. Are you looking for the perfect pair? Then you’re in the right place!

Our Fillion experts have compiled this guide to help you find out what questions you should ask before buying your next pair of headphones. Answering these questions will allow you to make a 100% informed choice!

What type of headphones?

The first step in your search for the perfect headphones is to determine which type of headphones are best suited to your needs. Consider the strengths and weaknesses of the different headphone types BEFORE you worry about brand or appearance.

Over-ear headphones

Example of over-ear headphones: Bang & Olufsen - Beoplay H$ 2nd Gen

As the name implies, over-ear headphones (or ‘around ear’) fit around your entire ear and rest against your head. This limits the amount of pressure on your ears, providing exceptional levels of comfort&mdashespecially during long listening sessions!

They are generally a bit larger and bulkier than other types of headphones. But this is not a defect! Bigger headphones have strong passive sound insulation, an acoustic chamber and bigger speakers. This makes for a more immersive experience.

Some models are foldable or come with a carrying case when you’re on-the-go. The classic, portable models have a cable with a 3.5 mm jack that you can plug into your smartphone or portable music player. Those designed for home listening usually have a 6.35 mm connector. There are also many wireless models.

On-ear headphones

Example of on-ear headphones: Grado - Prestige Series 125X

On-ear headphones sit on the cartilage of the ears. They are usually more compact than over-ear headphones, but apply a small amount of pressure on the ears.

This design has several advantages! On-ear headphones leave no space between the speaker and the ear, which makes music feel more striking, especially in the rhythmic sections.

You need to correctly position the headphones to get optimal sound quality. For best results, align the speakers with the ear canals for the best results. If you place your headphones too far forward, too high or too low in relation to your ear, you’ll have muffled sound and will lose precision in the higher frequencies.

You can find several kinds of ear cushions in different materials, in terms of the covering (leather, synthetic leather, various textiles, synthetic foam) and the cushion itself. Some headphones have lighter foam for added comfort while others will have thicker foam (or even memory foam that takes the shape of the ear) to better cancel out passive noise.

Open-back headphones

Example of open-back headphones: Focal - Clear MG

There is also a completely different range of headphones known as open-back headphones. Open-back headphones can be either over-the-ear or on-the-ear and are characterised by the absence of a sealed outer shell. They are designed for indoor listening and do not block out background noise.

On the other hand, their design allows sound to travel beyond the limits of traditional headphones, broadening the soundstage. This makes for a much more natural listening experience. Sounds are airy and precise, as if the music itself is breathing.

Wired or wireless headphones?

Example of wireless headphones: Sennheiser - Momentum Wireless

There are a number of wireless headphones out there that offer great sounds quality. You can easily pair them with a smartphone, tablet or portable device via Bluetooth.

These headphones are powered by a rechargeable battery and allow you to move freely. They are very practical, especially considering that many phones no longer have a dedicated 3.5 mm output for plugging in headphones.

Some manufacturers also offer wireless headphones specifically for watching TV. They give you fantastic sound quality with no delays, but are less practical for everyday use because they use an ultra-high frequency transmitter base.

But this doesn’t mean that wired headphones are old news! Though many wireless headphones have excellent sound quality, Bluetooth frequency is limited. A wire is essential for getting the best sound from your digital audio player or high-res audio files. Only wired headphones can handle formats above 16-bit/44.1 kHz (standard CD quality) without audio compression.

With or without active noise cancellation?

Example of noise-cancelling headphones: Sony - WH-1000XM4

A growing number of headphones offer active noise cancellation. This technology works by placing microphones on the headphones and creating a phase inversion that blocks outside noise. You don’t need to blast the volume to get rid of noise pollution!

These headphones are perfect for people who use public transport, work from home or simply those of you who want to block out distractions from a noisy environment. Some models even make it possible to adjust the level of noise cancellation. Enjoy your favourite music in peace!

Noise-cancelling headphones are powered by a rechargeable battery.

Buttons on the headphones?

Many people want to control music playback from their headphones so they can keep their smartphone in their pocket or purse. If this is you, opt for headphones with touch-activated controls.

Many headphones also have convenient buttons that allow you to make or answer calls at, well, the touch of a button!

What kind of audio quality?

One way to measure headphone quality is by referring to its frequency range. To be considered “hi-fi” (high-fidelity), headphones must be able to reproduce frequencies from 20 Hz bass frequency to 20 kHz treble frequency. These are the frequencies perceived by the human ear. Some headphones offer a higher frequency range. This improves temporal precision, which the human ear can detect.

Headphone impedance influences how much power the connected device (phone, audio player) will consume. Headphones with higher impedance consume less energy. Some headphones require a higher power input and must be used with a headphone amplifier.

Sensitivity (or sound pressure, measured in decibels) determines sound level. The higher the headphone sensitivity, the higher the volume level it can produce without saturation or distortion.

A DAC to enhance headphone performance

Example of a portable DAC: Audioquest - Dragonfly Red

Portable DACs come in many different forms. While a lot of models are targeted at audiophiles, there are plenty of DACs (Digital-to-Analog Converters) for more casual listeners who stream or consume music in digital form.

Plugging your headphones into a DAC can greatly improve sound quality. Most digital devices have a simplified DAC that reduces sound quality. An external DAC like Audioquest's Dragonfly bypasses these audio circuits to reduce noise and provide a cleaner, clearer, more beautiful sound.

Come see us in store to choose the right headphones!

At Fillion Électronique, customer service is our speciality. Our experts will listen to you and use their experience to help you find exactly what you’re looking for.

After you’ve answered the questions in this article (or before!), come visit us in-store. We can give you personalized recommendations, and you can try out several models. This is the key to finding the exact right headphones!

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