Types of Headphones & When To Buy Which Ones

types of headphones

If you're in the market for a new pair of headphones and are ready to get a quality pair, you likely have some questions about all of the options available.

Not all headphones are created equally -- not by a long shot.

Different headphones are better for different situations, and each type offers its own set of benefits and drawbacks, as well as variations in sound quality.

Before you jump into buying a new pair of headphones, figure out what type of headphones work best for you, then worry about budget and sound quality.

Here are the nine most common types of headphones.

Ear Buds

earbud headphones

Most people are intimately familiar with the earbud-style of headphones. If you've ever bought an old-school Apple product (before Airpods were a thing), you likely remember the pair of headphones that came with your device.

These are a classic example of earbud-style headphones. They are designed to sit in your ear but don't go as deep as in-ear headphones, and generally, don't offer much noise isolation and have the worst overall sound quality.

Earbuds are normally one of the cheaper options when it comes to price based solely on the type.

In-Ear Headphones & In-Ear Monitors

in-ear headphones

Like earbuds, in-ear headphones sit inside your ears, but unlike earbuds, in-ear headphones have a squishy covering that goes deeper into your ear canal and expands to give overall good sound quality.

In-ear headphones are great for noise isolation, going to the gym, exercising, traveling, you name it.

The pricing for in-ear headphones varies greatly depending on where you buy them and who you buy them from.

On-Ear Headphones

on-ear headphones

Think back to the 80s and 90s. When we say on-ear headphones, we don't mean the headphones you see people mixing in the studio with. We mean the type of headphones that sit on top of your ear but don't extend behind or around them.

These types of headphones aren't as common, because they are good at everything, but best at nothing. They can be bulky, but not large enough to provide true comfort or noise isolation.  

Over-Ear Headphones

Mpow-H5 large

Over-ear headphones are very common. They are the headphones that go over and around your ears. They are used everywhere, from gaming to music mixing, to travel and leisure.

Over-Ear headphones come in more than just one form, though, and both have very different sounds and functions.

Closed-Back Headphones

closed back headphones

The over-ear headphones that offer the best sound isolation are closed-back headphones. The back of the headphones are physically closed off, which helps keep the sound in.

Closed-back headphones normally have a better bass response, but don't give you a true sound. Because they discourage ambient noise, you're not getting a true sound experience. They are great if you want to listen to music, podcasts, or play games and block out all surrounding noise.

Open-Back Headphones

Best Open-Back Headphones buyers guide

The polar opposite of closed-back headphones are open-back headphones. As their name suggests, open-back headphones literally have an open back. On some models, you can even see through them.

Open-back headphones aren't great at sound isolation, but they offer a truer sound, that allows for ambient noise to be heard. The drawback of this is that you not only hear the ambient noise the sound mixer intends, but you also hear the ambient noise of the room you're in.

Noise-Cancelling Headphones

To take things a step further than closed-back headphones, noise-canceling headphones not only isolate you from outside noises, but they actually cancel them out.

There are two types of noise-canceling, active and passive. Passive noise cancellation uses the materials the headphones are made out of to block out noise. This normally means a squishy set of in-ear headphones or super form-fitting over-ear headphones. Active noise-canceling headphones produce their own sound waves to counteract the noises you hear outside.

Bluetooth Headphones

How to fix bluetooth lag

As their name suggests, Bluetooth-style headphones are wireless headphones that connect to the sound source via Bluetooth, rather than a wire. Bluetooth headphones can be a mixture of many other types of headphones. You can have wireless earbuds, over-ear Bluetooth-enabled headphones, in-ear Bluetooth headphones that go in your ear canal...you get the idea.

While some lower-cost wireless headphones may degrade the sound quality, overall, the technology is there, and you'll have a similar experience with wireless headphones as you will with a comparable wired pair.

Waterproof Headphones

If you're a swimmer, waterproof headphones can be a game-changer. Not all headphones are built to withstand water, and you need a special pair if you want to truly submerge and use the headphones, rather than just protect against sweat and rain.

It should be mentioned that Bluetooth cannot travel through water, so to have true waterproof headphones, expect a wire.

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Closing Thoughts

There are so many types of headphones available to people nowadays that it can make finding a good pair tricky.

Before you go out and buy a new pair of headphones, first take a step back and decide what type of headphones work best for you and take it from there.  Do you want a pair of over ear headphones? Or maybe something with some sound isolation that goes in your ear canal?

Now It's Your Turn!

Which style of headphones do you think is best? Let us know in the comments section below!

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