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Types of headphones: Everything you need to know

Most smartphones come with in-ear headphones. But there are also models that are worn with a bracket over the head on or over the ears. We explain the differences and advantages of the various types of headphones – from in-ears to on-ears to over-ears.

Types of headphones

The choice of headphone types can be quite confusing in-ear headphones, over-ear headphones, true-wireless, or wired headphones. Because it is not just about listening to music, now headphones are essential for working, gaming, or even playing sports and come in a wide variety of forms.

To bring some light into the jungle and give you more insight into the selection of headphone types, we present all available models, including advantages and disadvantages. The selection starts with the design and ends with important functions like noise cancellation. Here you will find everything you need to know about headphones in order to decide on a suitable headphone type.

Types of headphones exist

Headphones have become constant companions. Whether during sports, in the office, or while traveling: With them, you can listen to the right soundtrack for any situation in life, motivate yourself with cool songs during sports or educate yourself with business audiobooks.

Mainly, there are three types of headphones: In-ear, on-ear, and over-ear. The terms in-ear, over-ear, and on-ear are all about the housing construction and the headphones themselves. Find out the differences between these models and what are suitable for you.

In-ear headphones

In-ear headphones have become increasingly popular, especially in recent years. They are inserted into the ear canal and provide a full sound. A distinction is made between in-ear headphones with silicone fittings, so-called earphones, and in-ear headphones without silicone, so-called earbuds.

In-ears are ideal for sports activities, as they do not slip even during strong head movements. They can be conveniently connected to smartphones and the like and are even waterproof or at least water-resistant in many cases. Another advantage is how easily in-ear headphones can be stowed away. They are compact and small and can be taken anywhere. They also offer tremendous isolation from outside noise. Probably the most well-known in-ear headphones are Apple’s AirPods.

Over-ear & On-ear headphones

On-ear and over-ear headphones are classic headphones with a headband. They are significantly bulkier and are more suitable for use within your own four walls. Thanks to the greater distance to the eardrum. They offer a particularly natural and differentiated sound and put less strain on the eardrum in the long term than in-ear models.

The disadvantage of on-ear and over-ear headphones is that the sound also penetrates well outside and can disturb people in the vicinity. Wired headphones with large housings that completely enclose the auricle are called over-ear headphones. On-ear headphones, on the other hand, rest on the ear cup but are not quite as generously cut.

Headphones with or without cable

Wireless headphones are becoming increasingly popular. They usually work via Bluetooth or radio and rely on an integrated battery. The clear advantage is that you are not tied to a cable and are maximally flexible, which is optimal on the go. In addition, Bluetooth headphones eliminate unnecessary cable clutter and allow you to move around freely.

The disadvantage: They can only be used with a charged battery and are usually technically inferior. This is because hardly any model with Bluetooth achieves the same sound as wired headphones. So, true music lovers should rather go for a wired headphone model and can benefit from a huge sound difference. Wired headphones work by connecting via a jack and are ideal for home use.

Wireless or Neckband

Once the two housings of an in-ear headphone are connected via a cable, we’re talking about a neckband model. This also applies to headphones that work via Bluetooth signal. On the other hand, if there is absolutely no cable, these are so-called true-wireless headphones.

Wired headphones

Headphones with a headband, on the other hand, are equipped with a connecting piece between the two housings. This bracket guarantees a permanently high level of wearing comfort and ensures that both earpieces remain in the right place and sit comfortably on the head. Headband headphones are not very handy, but they are adjustable in length in the best possible way and are perfect for home use.

Open, closed, and semi-open headphones

This is also about the construction of the headphones and the housing arrangement. While closed headphones offer optimal shielding from external noise and guarantee a maximum high sound experience. Open headphones are best recommended in quiet environments and allow for a wider soundstage. Thus, the user does not feel completely isolated from the outside world with open headphones.

In addition, sound can definitely leak out at higher volumes. Therefore, the use of open headphones should be avoided, especially in public. The compromise is semi-open headphones. They combine all the advantages and offer the best of both designs. Ideal for streaming movies and listening to music.

The headset

If the headphones are not only suitable for listening to music and streaming but are also equipped with an integrated microphone, this is called a headset. This enables undisturbed communication and can be used for making phone calls. A headset is always a complete speech set that you can used in various ways and is often used for video conferencing.

DJ and studio headphones

When it comes to professional equipment that is used in music productions or events, these are studio headphones. These types of headphones help with mixing and mastering recordings and allow for extremely clear sound. Since lifestyle headphones often have a sound all their own and can distort songs and voice recordings. As a result, they are not suitable for professional use.

ANC headphones

ANC stands for Active Noise Cancelling. The electronic process ensures that ambient noise is effectively suppressed and faded out. Almost every new and high-priced headphone nowadays has ANC, and although ANC headphones are usually a bit more expensive. The investment is worth it in most cases. Especially, those who make a lot of phone calls on the road should not do without Active Noise Cancelling in order to “switch off” aircraft noise, traffic noise, or other background conversations in the long term.

Which types of headphones do I need?

Not every pair of headphones is exactly the right one for your needs because the differences between the various types of headphones are enormous. We explain what types of headphones there are and their advantages and disadvantages.

Thanks to modern streaming services like Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz, Deezer, as well as high-performance smartphones, listening to music on the go has never been easier. Whether on the subway, plane, or gym, most people now enjoy music (almost) everywhere. But headphones are also omnipresent at home, on stage, and in the recording studio.

However, not all headphones are the same. The musician has completely different requirements than the athlete, the connoisseur, or the commuter. It is important to know the differences in order to find the right headphones for your own purposes.

In-ear headphones are ideal for sports enthusiasts

The small in-ear models, which you insert into the ear canal, are ideal for all sporting activities. They are lightweight, sit firmly in the ear, and do not slip even during strong head movements. Even with intense vibrations, which can occur during a cross-country run, the in-ears sit firmly.

Tip: If you want to run in the rain or do another sport where the headphones could come into contact with water, look for the IPX rating when choosing a model. It indicates the water resistance and should be at least 4.

Over-ear headphones are good at home & studio

In over-ear headphones, also known as circumaural headphones, the headphone cups completely enclose the ear. This type of headphones is generally considered very comfortable, as the pads do not touch the ear in the optimal case but rest against the head. Due to the size of the headphone cups, they are often slightly heavier than on-ear headphones.

In addition, over-ear headphones are usually a bit bulkier overall and thus only conditionally suitable for on the go. They are often used for music enjoyment at home and in recording studios, where a comfortable fit over long periods is required. In terms of sound, they were long considered the ultimate because the space between the ear and the headphone cup provides plenty of room for the sound to develop – this is especially true of open over-ear headphones. In the meantime, there are also models in the in-ear and on-ear sectors that can compete with the sound of good over-ear headphones.

On-ear headphones are good choice for road & DJs

On-ear headphones, also called ear-mounted headphones, were out of fashion for a while but have been making a comeback for a few years now. With this type of headphones, the headphone cups rest on the ear. Generally speaking, the sound of on-ear headphones is a little less plastic than the circumaural variety because the sound has less room to spread out.

Because of the slight pressure on the ear, some people find on-ears slightly more uncomfortable than the over-ear version. Depending on the ear, on-ear headphones can also fit a bit looser than circumaural models. On the other hand, they are usually lighter, more compact, and foldable. This makes on-ears perfect for those looking for a pair of headphones for on-the-go use. They are also often use as a portable work tool by DJs because they can easily remove from the head and fit well in the DJ case.

Earphones are practical when traveling

Earphones inserted directly on or in the ear canal are widely used because they are incredibly light and fit in any pocket. In addition to the inexpensive specimens usually included with smartphones and MP3 players, there are also first-class, high-end models. A basic distinction is made here between in-ear headphones and earbuds.

In-ear headphones are omnipresent

For various reasons, in-ear headphones are the type of headphones most often seen on the go. The earphones, which are usually very compact, are inserted directly into the ear canal. As a result, they fit very tightly and are also suitable for use during sports, for example. Various silicone and sometimes foam pads are usually included to provide an optimal fit. In addition, the shielding to the outside is perfect due to the closed ear canal.

However, they are less suitable for road traffic because ambient noise is hardly perceived with in-ears. However, special forms also easily penetrate the ear canal but, in principle, sit more like buttons in the ear and shield a little less. The best-known example is probably Apple’s EarPods or the wireless AirPods.

Earbuds are comfortable but somewhat lacking in bass

Earbuds used to be very widespread, as they were included with virtually every cell phone and MP3 player. The white earphones that Apple included with its iPods were legendary. But nowadays, they tend to have outsider status among headphone users.

Since Earbuds do not sit as tightly in the ear as in-ears, they deliver a significantly weaker bass reproduction than all other types of headphones. During sports, they have the disadvantage of falling out of the ear a bit easier than in-ear headphones.

An advantage is that Earbuds are much better convenient for road traffic than in-ear headphones since more external noise penetrates. In addition, many find them more comfortable to wear since they do not penetrate the ear canal.

Wired or wireless types of headphones?

Many new headphones are wireless. You usually connect them via Bluetooth to your smartphone, laptop, etc. If you opt for such a model, you’ll never have to untangle the cable again. It will never get stuck anywhere again. However, you will have to recharge the battery-powered headphones repeatedly, especially in time. You also have to live with the sound quality via Bluetooth connection does not quite reach the sound quality of wired headphones.

Advantages and disadvantages of in-ears

You can easily stow the compact in-ear headphones in your pocket. And if you want to listen to something with a friend, you simply give him one of the earplugs. The excellent isolation of the in-ears from external noise is both an advantage and a disadvantage.

On the one hand, you can fully concentrate on your favorite music. On the other hand, you do not perceive important noises in traffic at all or only muffled. Since the sound from the in-ears hits the eardrum directly, these models also put much more strain on the ear than other types of headphones.

Sound difference between On-ear & Over-ear

On-ears and over-ears are classic headphones with a headband and are therefore larger, bulkier, and somewhat more uncomfortable in the long term than in-ears. They either rest on the ear (on-ear) or completely surround it (over-ear). Due to the greater distance to the eardrum, good models produce a more differentiated and natural sound than in-ears, which has a more robust bass foundation.

In addition, at the same volume, your eardrum is not as heavily loaded as with in-ears. If you use on-ear headphones, you have to remember that the sound can penetrate the outside and disturb other passengers on the bus or colleagues in the office, for example. Over-ears shield much better in this case.

Types of headphones designs

First, the design distinguishes between shell headphones, which have a headband to which the ear cups are attached, and earphones, which are placed directly in the ear. All headphone types are also available with Bluetooth, i.e., in wireless versions and with active noise cancelling.

Shell headphones are the classics

When they think of headphones, most people will immediately see a shell headphone with a headband in their mind’s eye. This design is the “classic” type of headphone. Clamshell headphones are divided into two subtypes, namely over-ear and on-ear headphones. For both types of headphones, three different designs massively affect the sound.

Open headphones are built in such a way that the sound generated in the headphones can also penetrate to the outside through a permeable back wall. As a result, the sound is usually a bit more natural and three-dimensional than in closed headphones.

Since they are not shielded from the outside and the inside, they are especially suitable for enjoying music in peace at home and mixing and mastering in the recording studio. In addition to the sound, open headphones have the advantage that there is a good heat exchange. And you can keep a cool head even during long listening sessions. Open headphones are not recommended if you want to listen intently in a noisy environment or if other people might feel annoyed by the music.

Closed types of headphones

Closed headphones are built in such a way that they do not let any sound through to the outside or inside. This makes the closed-back headphones ideal for use on the road or in the recording room of a recording studio. Due to the closed air volume inside the headphone cup, a little more pressure is built up in the bass range. So that closed headphones are often perceived as having a bit more bass than the open variant.

The sound is usually somewhat less three-dimensional than with open headphones since the sound cannot develop as freely. A disadvantage of closed headphones is the lack of heat exchange at the ear, which can become somewhat warm under the headphone cups during long listening, depending on the model.

Semi-open headphones aim to offer the best of both worlds as a middle ground. I.e., better shielding to the outside than open headphones, but at the same time allowing a bit more heat exchange than the closed models. To achieve this, damping materials are usually used within what is actually an open design.

Types of headphones: Conclusion

The different types of headphones all have clear advantages and disadvantages. If you know these, it is easy to find the right headphones for your own needs. For example, if you want a pair of easily storable headphones that you can use to relax on the subway on your way to work. A pair of closed on-ear headphones with active noise cancelling is a good choice.

If you want to switch off during sports, a pair of lightweight, tight-fitting in-ear headphones are the way to go. If you like to listen to music at home in the evening in the best quality, a comfortable open over-ear headphone is the right choice. With this knowledge, the search for the optimal headphones is much easier.

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