Together with mobile phones, headphones are the most used technological devices in almost any place and occasion. The portability of many models and the ability to disconnect from the environment through music and other activities, make them attractive to take them everywhere. In 2016 alone, worldwide sales of wireless headphones increased by 83% to 8.136 billion euros, according to a report by technology consultancy FutureSource. According to this report, the increase is due to the success of the new technologies of neckband headphones and completely wireless models.
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So that you do not fail in your choice, in EL PAÍS Escaparate we have developed this guide, in which we explain the main types and models that can be found in the market that offer quality sound. In addition, through the voices of experts, we recommend the most suitable headphones for the most common types of use (home, office, city, travel and sports practice), as well as a selection of several models for each situation.
TYPES OF HEADPHONES: DIADEMA E ‘IN-EAR’
The headphones are divided into two major categories: headband and in the ear, which in addition to size, offer different functionalities and configuration possibilities.
They are popularly known as helmets, that is, the headphones that surround the head from side to side with a kind of headband to attach to it. Currently, they are the type of headphones with more models available in the market so there are different subdivisions according to their construction, placement, and connection.
This aspect has to do with the external finish of the cups, which can be made with a grid (open headphones) or completely sealed (closed).
- Open. The cups of the headphones have a grid on the outside, where they let the sound in and out; that is, the environmental noise is heard. This construction makes the audio more natural because it avoids reverberations. A wider sound is also achieved with a clearer separation between the instruments.
- Closed The headphone cups are completely sealed and the pads are usually thick, which prevents the sound from entering or leaving (isolate from the outside). Therefore, the sound has more pressure and physical sensation, but it also sounds less spaced.
According to the way the ear pads are positioned over the ear or head, the characteristics of the sound may vary.
- Circumaural The pads completely surround the ear and rest on the head. They are usually the most comfortable, and thanks to their size, they are also those that provide a wider sound and a better separation between the instruments, although they are not exactly the most portable.
- Supraural The pads are smaller and, therefore, rest on the ear. Normally, these are the models for portable use. However, the smaller size of the capsules offers a lower sound quality.
Category headset that divides them between the models that are connected by a cable or through wireless technologies, such as Bluetooth and NFC. Those that are wired usually provide a better sound compared to the wireless ones of the same price range.
They are the headphones that are introduced directly into the ear and that seal the hole through rubber bands. They come from the monitors that the musicians use in the scenarios and, in turn, they are the evolution of the earbuds – those that do not enter the ear but instead rest inside the ear. The models vary essentially by their type of connection, wired or wireless.
BASIC ASPECTS TO CONSIDER
Sound quality. The first thing to evaluate is the range of frequencies that can be played by the drivers (the headphone speakers). The human ear is capable of listening from 20 hertz (20 Hz) at low frequencies and up to 20,000 hertz (20 kHz) at the highest frequencies. Therefore, the first aspect that must be taken into account is that the headphones can, at least, cover that spectrum. It is also important to highlight the dynamics, that is, the speed with which the headphones are able to pass from one frequency to another. The faster they are, the richer the sound will be.
On the other hand, there are aspects related to the reproduction of the instruments. The first factor is the scene, which is the three-dimensional recreation of all the sound elements (the amplitude and depth of the sounds). In the same way, the separation of the sounds of each instrument makes the difference so that the music is not heard as a paste without nuances and that each element has the right presence so that there is none that overlaps the rest.
In addition, it is important to take into account the resolution with which the headphones make notice the fine details of the recordings, such as breaths, blows or strumming.
Equalization Beyond the aspects related to the quality of audio, each headphone model is distinguished, moreover, by having a particular sound profile, without this necessarily having to do with being good or bad devices. This is due to its pre-established equalization, that is, to the reinforcement or reduction of the frequency ranges (bass, mid and high frequencies).
The most popular equalizers are the following: the balanced, balanced or flat, which is the one that most respects the original recording and, therefore, the one that is considered the highest fidelity, and is the most recommended to listen to genres such as music classical or jazz; the equalization in V, which emphasizes the bass and treble and which is ideal for genres such as rock, metal, hip-hop or electronica; and the basshead headphones , which reinforce the bass so they have more punch and depth.
Isolation. It is the quality of headphones to prevent the entry or exit of sound. It is one of the essential characteristics of closed models. Currently, there are also headphones with active noise cancellation, which use an electronic system that, by using microphones to measure external noise, create an artificial sound wave that eliminates ambient sound – it is important to clarify that this effect affects the quality of music.
Comfort. A comfortable headset can completely change the way you enjoy music, especially when used for long periods. Experts always emphasize that among the headset headphones will be more comfortable models that have larger cups. The materials, the softness, and padding of the pads, as well as the pressure, exerted on the head also influence. This last point is especially relevant for people who wear glasses because a tight headset can be very annoying.
Size and portability Aspects that are especially relevant for those who use headphones while moving. In this sense, we recommend the models of Diadema that can be folded and that do not occupy much space or opt for in ear, which fit anywhere and are the lightest. But the size can also be an important factor for office use, especially in executive environments where you have to be more discreet or formal.
Connection. While headphones with wireless connection via Bluetooth or NFC are the latest fashion on the market and can be attractive for their practicality, it must be taken into account that these systems offer a lower sound quality compared to cable headphones in a range of similar price.