Earphones or Headphones? – A Buyers Guide

The format of music listening is ever evolving. In the last thirty years we have seen personal music devices develop from the Walkman to the Discman to mp3 players that are little bigger than a postage stamp. Now we can carry huge music libraries with us on our phones with the advent of the smartphone, but one thing that has remained constant is the method of listening – the headphone. Headphones actually predate preamplifiers, first used in the early 20th century for telephony and by the armed forces for listening to electrical audio signals. Stereo headphones for listening to recorded music however were not developed until the 1940s. It was in the 1980s that headphones took hold as a means to listen to personal music devices. As with most technology, headphones have undergone huge technical advances and thousands of different ‘cans’ are available on the market for professional and personal use.

 

Headphones come in all shapes and sizes

Circumaural headphones cover the ear and are used by professional music engineers, DJs and producers. These large headphones are made in open and closed back versions. Open-backed headphones allow sound to leak out of the headphones, and also allow external sound in, giving a more realistic speaker sound. Closed back headphones are useful for more dedicated sound mixing, allowing the listener to hear any unwanted noise or sounds. These headphones are widely used in professional sound industries; however, they are also a common choice for listening to music at home or on the move. The most popular development of headphones in recent years is Dr Dre’s Beats series. These are powered headphones that give a rich and warm sound, incorporating a type of preamp technology. However, the downside of these headphones is that they ‘colour’ the sound, increasing bass frequencies and can alter the true sound of the recorded music.

 

Not really pocket sized!

In general terms, headphones are cumbersome, good quality headphones are heavy, and they cannot easily fit in your pocket and have to be hung around your neck or put in a bag when not in use. The standard construction of headphones also means that they are not always the most comfortable option, although there are ways of adjusting the size of the headband, this is not always enough to ensure a perfect fit. Customised headphones are not something which has been developed as yet, and would likely be very expensive. Additionally, the more popular open-backed headphones allow extensive bleed of sound, which can make listening to music at the desired volume difficult, as the noise that they produce is annoying to others on a train for example. Headphones tend to be more of an aesthetic choice for personal music these days, to get a ‘classic’ look.

 

Earphones can help make listening a private and comfy pleasure

snugs earphonesA more modern development, which is increasingly popular are earphones or earbuds. These are more popular as they are discreet, easy to transport and are often cheaper earphones give better sound quality than their headphone counterparts. There are pairs that involve bass boost and volume settings to help improve the listening experience. Earphones sit in the outer ear, pointing at the inner ear. This proximity to the inner ear allows for a better listening experience and also allowing for lower volume levels, and therefore less escaping noise, which is far less troublesome to others, and can be beneficial in terms of hearing loss, as music can be listened to at lower levels. There is enough seepage of ambient sound to make the user aware of their environment and are therefore also beneficial for safety. Earphones are small by definition and can be easily stored in a pocket or small travelling case. From an aesthetic perspective, the earphone is not easily visible, save the cable attaching the earphones to the listening device.

 

For more professional applications, in-earphones fit into the ear canal and allow for more defined listening, they are popular amongst live musicians and engineers, and include frequency attenuation, allowing you to hear high and low sounds more clearly. These are often customised to the individual’s needs and ear shape. Many earphones come bundled with a listening device, and in this sense they are similar to headphones in terms of standard construction. These can easily fall out of the ear canal, as everyone’s ears are different, the material that they are constructed from can also cause discomfort. Customisation of earphones is not uncommon and fortunately going to a more up market company will soon get you the perfect pair. For professionals using in-earphones customisation is recommended, as it allows the best sound quality and comfort from the more defined, and expensive options. The addition of rubber buds to cover the earbuds of standard earphones make placing them in your ears more comfortable. Unlike headphones, these buds can be customised to fit the individual’s ear. The shape of these varies from full shells, filling the ear, to half shells, allowing for external sound to be heard. There are even buds that allow you to listen to music whilst you swim!!