From the days of Sony Walkmen to today's Apple iPods, iPads and iPhones - the need for good sounding, luxurious headphones is greater now than ever. But all headphones are not created equal. Some of today's headphones like Beats by Dre are more fashion than function yet other companies like Focal, Klipsch and Bowers & Wilkins are striving to sell to the Apple loyalist clients with over-the-ear, on-ear and in-ear headphones that are increasingly good. The question is: what headphones should you buy? The answer is different depending on your use, tastes and style. The good news is that there is a headphone out there for you.
In-ear headphones are a relatively new product on the market and unlike traditional on-ear headphones, these speakers are tiny and literally go in your ear canals. They must be used with respect as they bring the audio experience right into your ear canals thus volume must be regulated accordingly. Speakers like Etymotic Research are leading products in the space. The Etymotic products as well as Ultimate Ears represent the highest end, most extreme in-ear headphone experience. Both brands are used by high end users both at home, when traveling and by musical professionals on stage. These ear speakers are often custom fitted to the exact measurements of one's ears to make a custom mold that can cut the ambient noise of a venue by 25 dB or more. Talk about the right way to drown out the sound of a crying baby or make your own personal audio environment while on stage.
Over The Ear Headphones
There are so many brands of speakers trying to get in the fast-growing headphone business. House of Marley has Rasta-inspired headphones. Focal makes some of the best speakers in the world and had brought their speakers to the world of headphones. Paradigm, Klipsch and so many other speaker companies are trying to carve out their space in the world of headphones today. At the same time companies like AKG, Sony, Sennheiser, Grado and STAX all have established reputations as top headphone manufacturers in the business. In the world of over-the-ear headphones, comfort and audio performance rule supreme. You want to block out outside audio while not fatiguing your ears as you listen to audio.
Other Types of Headphones and Headphone Toys
Wireless headphones are a growing segment of the market yet their sound isn't that hot compared to over-the-ear or in-ear headphones. Ear buds (think: those while suckers that come from your old iPad) are also popular but they are somewhat uncomfortable and sound lousy. Many people use headphone amps that are external to their audiophile systems. These amps can be tube based and can add a warmth to the sound that you just don't get from some systems. Some computer audio clients are using products like Amarra to make better sound. This extreme measure costs about $400 for the software that uses both the RAM of the computer to load the song before playing as well as the computer's processor to "reclock" the audio which makes lower resolution files sound more like high definition tracks. At the most extreme level, people are downloading 24 bit high resolution files from audiophile sites like HD Tracks. While limited in selection, these tracks are much better sounding than a standard CD.
Headphones as Fashion
Headphones today are more than just audio - they are becoming fashion. You can own at-home, over-the-ear headphones for your main music system but then have a set of small, in-ear headphones with a built-in mic for use with your phone. Noise canceling headphones could easily be part of one's travel kit. There are just so many options.
Styles allow for a personal statement too. Beats by Dre and their many imitators offer a hip-hop, urban look. House of Marley headphones speak to the more 4:20, Rasta vibe. Bowers and Wilkins and B&O headphones give the high tech Euro-look. Ultimate Ears can be hidden from sight but for those who want to show them off - you can look like you are a on-stage rock star.
No matter what, there is a headphone (or two, or three or four) that are right for you and your applications.
For a lively discussion of headphones as well as advice on what headphones to buy check out this forum site.