What to look for when buying new headphones

Whether you listen to music while working, studying, or exercising, you probably own a pair of headphones.

Headphones come in a number of varieties, from in-ear AirPods to the over-ear cans worn in recording studios.

While they all do the job of delivering sound, each type offers a different balance between sound quality, portability, and price.

To help you determine which pair of headphones you should buy next, we’ve outlined some of the most important things to look for when shopping around.

Earcup type

Not including irregular designs such as bone-conduction headbands, headphones are available in three varieties – over-ear, on-ear, and in-ear.

Over-ear headphones boast large ear cups which encompass the whole ear, sealing in sound and offering the best noise-cancelling properties.

These are generally the most expensive type of headphones, but also offer the best sound quality, noise-cancelling features, and comfort.

On-ear headphones feature full ear cups which rest on the surface or edges of the ear, offering less comfort and noise cancellation, but at a more affordable price point.

Lastly, in-ear headphones (or earphones) offer decent audio quality and maximum portability.


Open vs closed

If you opt to purchase over-ear headphones, you will also need to decide between open and closed-back ear cups.

The majority of over-ear headphones feature closed ear cups, which contain the sound within the ear cups and let very little escape.

Open-back ear cups rest over the ear but let sound escape into the environment. This can provide a more authentic sound, but this is largely subjective.

In general, if you plan to use the headphones to listen to music around other people, opt for closed ear cups so as not to annoy others.


Specifications for headphones can be confusing, but Sennheiser’s Axel Grell says there are a few to watch out for.

Speaking to CNET, Grell outlined the most important specifications to look at when buying headphones.

Grell said that very high frequencies above 23,000Hz were a good sign of clearer treble sounds than a headphone with a lower frequency range.

He added that driver size was not an indicator of improved sound quality, and said the maximum driver size should be 42mm for full-sized headphones.

Grell said you should rather listen to the headphones and trust your ears when buying a pair.


A major consideration when buying headphones is their portability.

For example, if you are going to use headphones when exercising and running, you would probably be better off with in-ear headphones due to their stability and weight.

However, if you plan to use your new headphones primarily at a desk or in a studio, bulkier over-ear varieties can deliver better sound quality with noise cancellation.

An increasing number of newer headphones are also available as wireless models, connecting over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, which can be great for listeners who don’t want to be tethered to a desktop or smartphone.

Now read: Apple plans to launch new high-end audio devices

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What to look for when buying new headphones