How To Choose Your Ideal Headphones

Stereo Headphones Enhance Music Enjoyment at Home

Shure SRH440 Stereo Headphones

Stereo headphones are personal speakers worn on the ears to provide private, high fidelity listening for music, games, movies or other home audio applications.

Headphones  have become a familiar part of our lives and listening habits, due in large part to the proliferation of media players and other personal audio devices in the last several decades.

And while headphones are often thought of as an accessory to audio players, home theaters or computers, they are in fact an integral component of your home audio system.

Generally speaking, stereo headphones for home listening emphasize quality sound for music and other home entertainment media.

Headphones  have come a long way from the bulky cans of yesteryear. Although the types favored for home listening retain their sound-isolating, around-the-ear design, some headphone designs favor portability with smaller earcups.

Both of these design features distinguish headphones from headsets (which have a microphone and sometimes cover only one ear) and earphones (which rest inside the ear or ear canal).

A wide variety of stereo headphones are available that fit the needs and budgets of everyone from the casual listener to the serious audiophile.

Choosing the headphones that are right for you is simple once you understand what types are available and which features you need!

How do Different Types of Stereo Headphones Differ?

The earcups of stereo headphones come in two designs that affect your listening experience: Circumaural or supraural.

Circumaural headphones enclose the ears and resemble the familiar headphones of the seventies and eighties. Most feature adjustable bands over the top of the head and ear-enclosing speakers (known as circumaural earcups).

Circumaural headphones provide superior fidelity for extended listening sessions, although some listeners find them too confining.

Sennheiser HD485 Headphones

For listeners who find ear-surrounding cups uncomfortable, supraural earcups are a better option.

Supraural earcups rest on top of the ears rather than enclosing them. What these earcups lack in fidelity, they gain in comfort and portability.

Supraural headphones range from portable budget models pre-packaged with media players to full-featured, high-fidelity headphones like the Sennheiser HD485s pictured here.

Another important  feature of stereo headphones is closed-back or open-back design.

Closed-back headphones fully enclose the speaker driver, isolating the listener from outside noise and preventing bystanders from hearing sound “leaking” from the headphones.

Open-back headphones leave the speaker driver open to the outside world. Listeners are less isolated from background noise, but because these headphones allow sound from the speakers to move freely, most audiophiles prefer their sound to that of closed-back models.  That said, many high-end closed-back headphones exist that rival the sound of their open-back cousins.

Since headphones are so close to the ear, and since the speakers are small, their bass reproduction can seem lacking to some listeners. For this reason, headphones often boost bass frequencies to allow a richer listening experience.

A subgroup of headphones, known as reference headphones, skips the bass boost (and other enhancements) to deliver a frequency response that’s smooth across the audible spectrum. These types of headphones are ideal for use in home studios.

What Other Features Do Stereo Headphones Offer?

Able Planet Extreme Headphones in Tartan Red

In addition to their basic design variations, stereo headphones offer a range of optional features as well. Here are a few examples:

Wireless stereo headphones use infrared or radio waves to receive sound. This popular feature allows listeners to hear their music without stumbling over wires.

Noise cancelling stereo headphones combine passive sound isolation with active noise cancelling technology, which blocks steady outside noises (such as plane engines and train vibrations) with electronically generated interference patterns.

Stereo headsets include microphones to enhance interactive games. Headphones like the Able Planet Extreme headphones pictured here convert to headsets with the addition of a microphone, adding talk-back features to your games without sacrificing sound quality.

One last consideration: Do you need a separate headphone amp? Some stereo headphones will sound loud enough when used with a portable media player, but many high-end models need either a separate headphone amp or a stereo amplifier with a dedicated headphone jack.

What Stereo Headphones Are Ideal for You?

Stereo headphones are available with a range of prices and features to satisfy nearly everyone, whether you’re a discriminating audiophile or a student on a tight budget.

Consider carefully what your needs are before choosing a set of stereo headphones. If you want to stream Pandora at the breakfast table without disturbing your roommates, an inexpensive set of supraural headphones may be right for you.

If you’re a serious audiophile, on the other hand, you may want to invest in larger earcups, sturdier construction, or higher-end speakers for increased sound quality.

Have more questions about choosing stereo headphones?

AudioLinks offers a variety of headphones and headsets to fit a variety of needs and budgets. Expert advice from our staff of technicians is just a phone call (1-800-263-0112) or email away!