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What Headphone Specifications Require My Attention?

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When investing in headphones, the main things that you need to consider include what you will be using the headphones for, what form and style suit you best, the frequency range, the THD, the sensitivity, whether you want sealed or open headphones, the cable length, and the price range you want to stay within.

The options that you have when it comes to purchasing a set of headphones are quite varied. Here is a rundown of the types of headphones available on today’s market.

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Today’s Headphone Choices


Earbuds are a type of headphone that fits inside of the ear, just outside of the ear canal. These headphones are usually made of a hard plastic material with either foam or rubber covers that make them comfortable to wear. The covers also seal the listener’s ear canal, creating a passive noise cancelling effect. Earbuds are very popular with consumers who use portable music players as they are more convenient to carry than many other headphone styles on the market.

Over-The-Ear Headphones

Sometimes referred to as “full-size” headphones, over-the-ear headphones encompass the entire ear and rest around your ear rather than within the ear or on top of it. This style of headphone often produces a better sound quality with greater noise-cancelling effects and can be more comfortable to wear for long durations of time as they are designed to cushion the ear.

DJ Headphones

Most DJ headphones are made to be very lightweight and comfortable. They feature the same style as the “over-the-ear” headphones, but with a few key differences. DJ headphones have left and right channels that terminate independently. The headphones are also capable of instrument separation so DJs can do the job they are intended to do. DJ Headphones are also more flexible than most over-the-ear headphones as DJS need to be able to remove one of the headphones from his or her ear without having to take the entire headset off.

Behind-The-Neck Earphones

Behind the neck earphones are similar to over-the-ear headphones, but instead of having a “headband” design they feature a design that allows users to wear them behind the neck. This allows you to wear the earphones without having to mess up your hair and they also allow you to wear hats and headbands while wearing the earphones at the same time. These headphones come in a wide range of qualities and price points.

Active Noise Cancelling Headphones

Active noise canceling headphones use small microphones that are built into the cups of the headphone to pick up noises around the wear. The headphones then play an out-of-phase signal. This helps cancel and quiet the noise existing outside of the headphone. While it used to be that you could only purchase noise cancelling headphones in the “over-the-ear” style, this is no longer the case. Nowadays there are also earbuds made with noise-cancelling technology. Quality noise-cancelling headphones, however, tend to be pricier than standard over-the-ear or earbud models.

Sport Headphones

Sport headphones are created specifically with athletes, runners and joggers in mind. They are similar to earbud headphones, but usually have extra support that wraps around the ears to keep the headphones in place. This particular headphone style features a wide range of quality and price points. They are a must-have for those who like to listen to music while staying active as they keep your headphones in place during periods of extraneous body movements.

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The Features and Specifications You Need to Consider

Now that you are aware of the variety of headphones that are on today’s market, it’s important to understand the specifications and features that the various headphone models offer. Many customers don’t understand the different features or specifications of headphones or why they even matter while others are keenly aware of why these specs are so important. Below we will discuss the specs and features that you should focus on when purchasing new headphones.


The bass you get from a set of headphones will never be as heart-pounding as the bass you get from massive subwoofers. There are headphones that have been custom-tuned to emphasize lower frequencies – although it may come at a cost of lower levels of instrument separation. If bass is one of your priorities, however, you will want to look for headphones that pay attention to this detail.

Weight and Comfort

If you don’t wear your headphones for long periods of time then the weight of the headphones probably won’t be much of a concern to you. If, however, you wear your headphones for long periods of time you need to look for a lighter model as heavier headphones can become uncomfortable over time. In addition, you should always make sure that any headphones you purchase fit comfortably, whether you are purchasing in-ear earbuds or headphones that rest behind your neck or over your head.

Frequency Response

The frequency response numbers that are presented when you are looking at a pair of headphones represent the headphone’s ability to reproduce different audio frequencies. This number is measured in hertz. The frequency response of headphones is usually represented in two numbers. The higher number represents the roll-off of treble reproduction while the lower number is the headphone’s bass response cut-off. The majority of digital music has a frequency range of 20 to 20,000 Hz. Most of the time you won’t need the entire range, but if you are a stickler about sound quality it’s a good idea to have a set of headphones that covers as much of this range as possible.

With that being said, you do have to take the frequency response numbers advertised with a grain of salt unless you are purchasing a set of headphones from a highly-respected manufacturer. These figures have known to be inflated by some of the cheaper brands who want to boast great frequency response times at cheap prices but play with the numbers to do so.

Total Harmonic Distortion (THD)

When you play your music at high volumes the speaker inside of the headphones may not be able to move fast enough to keep up with the volume you desire. This can lead to distortion, which causes crackling or the alteration of musical notes. If you play your music at high volumes, you want the THD to be as low as possible. If you get a set of headphones with a high THD rating, the music will likely be distorted when you listen to it. Aim for THD of below one percent if you prefer to play your music at higher volumes.

Input Impedance

The input impedance of headphones is the headphones’ electrical resistance to the current that is pushed through them, which is measured in Ohms. Headphones that are made with high quality have a low electronic interference level, which results in a high input impedance level. The higher the input impedance is, the harder your MP3 player or other device has to work in order to attain a particular volume. There are instances when a headphone will have such a high input impedance level that you will need a dedicated headphone amplifier in order to supply enough power to generate enough volume for you to listen to your music. The majority of MP3 players can power headphones with impedance levels of up to 100 Ohms. Headphones with input impedance levels of 300 or more, however, will require a dedicated headphone amplifier. If you do not want to invest in a headphone amplifier, make sure the headphones you are buying have an input impedance level of 100 Ohms or less.


The sensitivity measurement that is given when you are looking at the specs of a set of headphones is the measurement of the headphones’ efficiency in dBs SPL per milliwatt of input. If the number is a lower number it means that the headphones will need more power to sound as loud as headphones that have a higher number. If you prefer to play your music at louder volumes, you should look for headphones with sensitivity rating of 100dB or higher.


When you are looking at a pair of headphones and you see a measurement, such as 3.5mm, given in the specifications under the heading of “Connector” it means that you will need to ensure that the headphone jack of your device is compatible with that connector. The majority of headphone jacks accommodate 3.5mm connectors and most headphones have a 3.5mm connector in place.

Ear Coupling

The ear coupling of a headphone refers to the design of the headphone and how it fits your ears. There are three common designs for ear couplings including circumaural, supra-aural and intra-aural. Circumaural means that the headphones enclose your ears with large pads, such as over-the-ear headphones. Supra-aural headphones are more lightweight and sit on top of the ears. Intra-aural headphones are headphones that are placed inside of the ear, such as earbuds.

Cord Length

The cord length gives the length of the headphones’ cord, usually in feet and inches. This feature can be very important as you want to make sure that the cord is long enough for you to keep your player in your pocket while wearing your headphones. For example, if you have an iPod and you keep it in your pocket while jogging and the cord length is less than 2 feet, it probably won’t be long enough to meet your needs. On the other hand, if the cord length is 5 feet it may be too long and you will need a device to shorten up the cord or wind it and hold it out of the way. Make sure you measure from your pocket to your ears so you know how much cord length you will need. The majority of the headphones on the market today have cord lengths that are more than sufficient.


If you are buying earbuds, chances are that they will come with different sizes of foam or rubber adapters. You want to make sure that you are provided with more than one pair of adapters so you can ensure a proper fit when wearing your headphones.

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Which Specifications Pertain to You?

When buying headphones, there are some specifications and features that will be more important to you than others. The specifications and features that are most important to you will depend on how you use your headphones. Knowing which specifications and features will meet your individual needs means knowing what type of headphones you need. This is addressed in the next section, “Which are the Best Headphones for Me?”

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