Hi-Fi Headphones Buying Guide
- — 22 October, 2007 15:36
Do you love your music? Do you like to listen to your tunes at top quality? Whether you want to turn the music up loud without disturbing others around you, or you want to get the most out of your new MP3 player, this guide will help you select the right headphones for you.
Fit and comfort
It is not uncommon to put a pair of headphones on in a shop and find them quite comfortable for the minute or so that you're browsing tracks and checking them out in the mirror. Get them home, however, and by the end of the first album or movie, your ears are aching -- on the inside and the outside. If you are going to wear headphones for hours on end, make sure they sit over and outside your ears -- the larger the cup size, the better. Similarly, a soft fabric will minimise the pressure on your ears and head while ensuring the least number of gaps that let sound both in and out of the cups.
While cups and straps can cause physical pain after an hour or so, things like bass boost can have a similar effect on your ears. Many consumer-level headphones are designed for listening to certain styles of music and, as a rule, this means they have a certain level of 'sweetening' built into them. In other words, they have the equivalent of an EQ preset that is designed to make music sound 'better'. This is the major difference between Hi-Fi headphones and monitoring headphones used in professional sound recording. If you plan to use headphones while writing music or making soundtracks on your computer, for instance, look for a pair that has a 'flat' frequency response. Similarly, if a model has a bass boost or any other equalisation feature, make sure it can be disabled -- unless you are prepared to live with it permanently on.
The style of cup is also a large factor in headphone comfort, especially over long periods of use. For closed cups (otherwise known as "circumaural", "closed-back" or "sealed" cups), the larger the cup is, the more comfortable the headphones will be. The opposite is true for open cups (otherwise known as "supra-aural" or "open-back" headphones). Soft fabric and a padded leather strap will also help. The headband design can make a difference. Some people find that over-the-ear or "hanging" style headphones reduce the pressure on the ears, thereby making them more comfortable over longer periods. Alternatively, behind-the-neck headbands can have a similar benefit, although you may find that this design adds more to the aesthetic properties of the headphones than to its comfort. In any case, make sure the strap is fully adjustable -- it should have leeway on both sides when it is adjusted to fit comfortably. Rotating cups also make it easier to fit closed-back headphones to maximise comfort and minimise sound leakage.