Headphone Buying Guide

Our audio technicians listen to thousands of hours of music every year to formulate our headphone ratings. This buying guide will arm you with their expert knowledge to pick the model that best suits your needs. Research shows, on average, people own several pairs of headphones. When looking for a new pair, it’s good to consider what you plan to use them for. In every category we test, there’s a wide range of prices. Keep in mind a higher price tag may mean better components but doesn’t always mean better sound. In fact, we often recommend headphones for as little as $20.

For travel or working out in a noisy gym, consider a portable in-ear pair. They’re lightweight, compact, and form a seal that helps keep most ambient sounds out while keeping your sounds in. On the downside, some people don’t like the feeling of having plugs in their ears, especially for long periods of time. Portable in-ear headphones cost $10 to $200.

Want to listen to an audiobook but still need to hear the phone ring? Check out earbuds. They don’t completely isolate you from outside sounds. Models that stay securely in place are also good for exercising outside so you can still hear some noise like a car horn. Expect to pay $10 to $200.

Home or studio style headphones are a great choice if you plan to listen to a lot of music at home. Their larger size gives manufacturers the freedom to focus on sound quality instead of portability. Home or studio style headphones range from $20 to $500.

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Noise cancelling headphones can help if you need to get some work done on a noisy flight. They use battery-powered electronics to cancel out some background noises. Many work with or without the noise canceling feature on so you can still use them for music if the batteries die. Some people have reported feeling slightly disoriented using the noise canceling feature on some models so it’s important to try them out before buying. They cost $50 to $300.

If you hate wires, you’re in luck. Nearly every type of headphone, home or studio style, portable, and noise cancelling, comes in a wireless version. Because they’re usually connected using Bluetooth, you can listen to music without taking your phone out of your pocket. They do, however, run on disposable or rechargeable batteries, which cost money to replace or can be inconvenient to charge. They cost between $100 and $400.

When it comes to special features, there aren’t many variations for headphones. For the cord, there’s the traditional Y exit cord and the single exit cord. There’s also the asymmetrical cord. On these models, one cord is longer than the other. They’re designed to go around your neck to eliminate the Y cord in front of you.

Many headphones have smart phone controls. They let you answer and end calls and control your music without having to take your phone out of your pocket. But some only work with specific phones so make sure the ones you want are compatible with your phone.

Ratings and recommendations are an excellent start when shopping for headphones but sound quality and comfort are very personal. It’s important to find a pair that fits well and also sounds good to you so listen to the type of music you like with a variety of headphones to compare. And remember it’s always a good idea to check out warranties and return policies before making a purchase.

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