Headphones Product Guide
There's nothing like the feeling someone can get relaxing at home or in a park, immersed in some great music delivered by a great pair of headphones. Most portable music players can only be heard through headphones. Headphones bring the world of music closer to you, assuring your privacy while not intruding on the space of those around you. When at home, many audio components and home sound systems include ports for connecting optional headphones. You'll also find headphone connector ports on computers and videogame consoles, even on cellular phones. A headphone, as a term, is derived from the early days of broadcasting and recording. Professional engineers used them. They were rather large, bulky units that were strapped on. Eventually a band was developed that rested atop one's head. Among hifi users, this design remained a standard for over 70 years. With the popularity of portable music players, headphones became lighter and many new styles came along. One style, called the neckband, placed the band at the back of the head for reduced stress when moving on the street. Several styles did away with bands altogether by developing secure methods of comfortably inserting phones directly to your ear lobes or in your ears. These are referred as earphones. Because many of the primary technologies are shared, earphones are included in our discussion of headphones.
Many headphones that are included with portable players are decent but may lack some of the qualities that you're looking for. Improving the overall sound (and personal comfort) from your portable player results from purchasing a headphone that meets your specific needs.
Virtually every new TV has an earphone port. For some, this is excellent for not disturbing everyone when watch TV at night. Wireless headphones have the edge here so you can move around freely and get snacks. There are two basic wireless technologies: Radio Frequency (RF) and InfraRed (IR). Which is best for you?
Types of Headphones
Headphones today are designed to fit the needs and comforts of many. Many die-hard stereo enthusiasts believe that headphones with large drivers (headphone speakers), with large cushions enclosing your ears, deliver the best sound available. Others prefer a headphone where the ear rests on cushions delivering a lighter, more open design. Then there are those that prefer no headband at all and, for the most part, like portability. Technologically, the size of the driver has less of a relationship to sound than it does to size. Newer, more advanced, materials for driver construction can actually deliver wide frequency ranges with rich lows and articulate highs from a tiny driver that fits in your ear. Though the majority of headphones connect with a cord, cordless technologies are gaining in popularity.
As their name suggests, these headphones are the biggest and bulkiest of all. They enclose the ear entirely with a padded cuff; placing each ear in its own separate chamber. Enclosed headphones always have an over-the-head band. These headphones are great for eliminating significant background noise and deliver rich, bass frequencies in music. These models are often preferred for home use where activity is more subdued.
The most populated and varied category of headphones, this is the type of headphone usually comes prepackaged with personal audio devices. They typically have ear cuffs that fit loosely around the ear (not totally enclosing, and not small enough to fit in ear). Open-air sets are lighter in weight and smaller in size than enclosed headphones. Most open-air headphones allow you to listen to surroundings while listening to music. They usually have foam cushions. Open-air sets come with either a headband that fits over the head (headband) or around the neck (neckband). In rare cases, there are models with convertible bands that may be used for either head or neck use. Certain models, designed particularly for sports enthusiasts, have water-resistant and reflective features. Open-Air designs, however, have little ambient sound insulation. This means that wearers can pretty much hear a bit of other sounds around them. As such, some models may come with an integrated noise-canceling feature that filters out some of the ambient sounds without impairing music fidelity.
Ear Buds and Ear Clips
This type has grown in popularity due to the iPod and MP3 digital media players. These are the smallest and most compact of all available headphones. Ear buds have no cuffs that surround the ear, and no headband. Rather, they fit snugly into the entrance of the ear canal. Many come with small foam cushions that allow customizing the fit to your ear canal for optimum stability and comfort. A properly fitting Earbud offers the highest insulation from external sound.
An Ear Clip attaches to your ear lobe instead of fitting inside the ear. It provides an experience closer to an open-air headphone but without the headband. There is less sound insulation than the Earbud.
Some people dislike headphones because the length of the average cord seems very restricting. While there are extension cords, they may add bulk and weight. Cordless headphones use different wireless technologies to eliminate the cord between the headphone and its connecting port. Essentially, a wireless transmitter is placed in the connector port that sends sound signals to the cordless headphone, which acts as a receiver. Most cordless headphones are battery powered; many use a rechargeable battery (and may come with a charger). Many are designed for home use but are also gaining popularity among iPod, MP3 player, and Cellular Phone users.
Radio Frequency (RF) technology permits cordless use throughout the home or office, up to a maximum distance from your sound system. This can usually be about 100 to 200 feet, depending on manufacturer and model. Distance and performance can vary due to architecture or other electronic equipment on-site but RF allows you to wander from one room to another. The most commonly used radio frequencies used by RF cordless headphones operate at different frequencies from 900MHz to 2.4GHz. Also used by home cordless telephones, these frequencies have proven to be extremely reliable for delivering excellent sound within virtually any home or small-office environment. Higher frequencies deliver longer cordless operating ranges.
Infra-Red (IR) technology requires that the headphones be in line-of-sight with the wireless transceiver in the headphone port of your stereo system. This means that you must be in the same room, much like the comparable use of a remote control for your TV set.
Bluetooth is a wireless technology used by portable devices. Originally designed for wireless computer connectivity, Bluetooth offers up to a 30-foot wireless range.
Average listening times, per battery charge, may vary. Generally, the average listening time might be from 3 to 6 hours.
One of the newest uses of cordless headphones is at home, for watching TV. Every HDTV has a 3.5mm headphone jack, similar to that found on most MP3 players. Most of the time, people enjoy watching at night and wear headphones so as not to disturb others. It's the best way to appreciate TV at any time at volume levels only you might appreciate. What cordless technology is better for the TV watcher? RF will allow you to move around the house during commercials. IR may be better if you plan on sitting on your chair passively watching. I think that the natural tendency to snack and strech during commercial breaks leads to RF as the most practical headphone for TV watching. Few TV models incorporate Bluetooth but, if you're streaming videos on your computer, one of these wireless headphones might be a good fit because they tend to deliver superior sound over most PC headphones.
Headphones are like speakers. They perform within a given frequency range. Frequency response refers to the lowest and highest audio frequencies headphones can reproduce. Frequency response is measured in Hz, which represents a sound wave cycle per second. The optimal frequency response of the human ear is 20Hz to 20,000Hz. Most headphones meet or exceed that frequency range. You'll find that an increasing number of headphones, both wired and wireless, exceed this frequency response.
Like speakers, the frequency range has little effect on the overall sound of the headphone. Models that share similar specifications may actually sound different. While all brands claim to offer full range, some manufacturers might produce headphones that tend to deliver brighter sound compared to those that might accentuate lower frequencies. There's no written guide that can express the integrity of sound qualities. It's usually very subjective. It depends on you. We suggest that you listen to headphones from different brands to determine which you prefer. You might also read reviews of particular models to see if they suit your particular listening style.
Bass Response deals with the delivery of the lower frequencies in the listening range. Headphone models made by these manufacturers may be designed for compatibility for best performance with these bass-enhancement technologies. Some portable players may have bass enhancement features that can be turned on or off to adjust emphasis on certain low frequencies.
There was once a rule that larger drivers delivered deeper bass response. Yet there are many earphones that have relatively small drivers but deliver some intense sound, especially when using foam inserts in the ear canal for perfect fit. Some merely prefer large drivers and headphones. Generally, as long as headphones have a decent low-end frequency response, the bass will be there.
Originally, headphones were designed for home component sound systems and used a standard 1/4" diameter connecting plug. When personal cassette and CD players were introduced, a smaller 1/8" Miniplug was developed to help keep the units as compact as possible. Most headphones now include an adapter that allows connection to either sized port but come with 3.5mm plugs for connectivity with MP3 players, the iPod, Radios, and TV screens.
Most cellular phones do not use headphones with 3.5mm jacks. These phones generally use 2.5mm size jacks, except for the iPhone. So if you're looking to upgrade the sound from your cellphone, please check our Cellphone Headset Category for a wide selection of corded and cordless models. When it comes to cell phones, Bluetooth is the most available wireless technology. Virtually all cell headsets have a built-in microphone so you can listen and speak.
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