5 Different Types of Headphones Explained – Which One to Choose ?

By | May 24, 2021

Headphones have become a big part of our lives ever since they have been invented.

From listening to music and gaming to watching videos and movies, they let us privately enjoy all kinds of media that involve sound.

Of course, this also led to massive innovations in the market, giving us numerous types of headphones to choose from.

Having options as a consumer is always beneficial, but it can also make the decision-making process while shopping significantly harder.

Should you get in-ear headphones or over-ear headphones? Maybe wireless headphones are your thing? It can be tricky to decide.

One thing to note is that no type of headphones is the best for all situations – different types are better suited for different circumstances.

For this reason, it can help to learn about all headphone types to make an optimal purchase.

In short, there are 4 ways of categorizing headphones:

1. Headphone Types Based on Fit

  • Over-Ear Headphones
  • On-Ear Headphones
  • In-Ear Headphones
  • Open-Ear Headphones
  • Earbuds

2. Headphone Types Based on Earcup Types

  • Closed-Back Headphones
  • Open-Back Headphones

3. Headphone Types Based on Connectivity

  • Wired Headphones
  • Wireless Headphones

4. Headphone Types Based on Special Features

  • Noise-Canceling Headphones
  • Waterproof Headphones

1. Headphone Types Based on Fit

Over-Ear Headphones

Over-ear headphones are one of the most common types of headphones you can find. They are also known as circumaural and around-ear headphones. Their earpads completely encompass your ears but don’t apply pressure to them, unlike on-ear headphones.

Since they surround your ears, very little noise gets into or leaks from the headphones, but this can also cause your ears to sweat.

Another negative is that over-ear headphones are often bigger and heavier than other headphone types. They can be uncomfortable after hours of use and are hard to carry around efficiently.

Over Ear Headphones

Over Ear Headphones

If you want to go for over-ear headphones, make sure they have ergonomic headbands and earpads. Plus, ensure the ear cups are closed-back if you are looking for sound isolation.

Popular models include:

  • JBL TUNE 750BTNC
  • Bose QuietComfort 35 II
  • Philips X2HR Fidelio

On-Ear Headphones

Also known as supra-aural headphones, on-ear headphones sit on top of your ears rather than surrounding them like over-ear headphones. They have ear pads near the size of your ears, which causes much less sweat on your ears after extended use.

The smaller and lighter design also makes them more portable and applies less pressure to the top of your head. Since they don’t encompass your ears, on-ear headphones are noticeably worse on sound isolation and deliver less bass response than over-ear models.

The pressure they apply to your ears can also be undesirable for some, which is another reason this type of headphones is less common. Higher-end on-ear headphones usually fix this with ergonomic earcup materials and adjustable pressure.

On-Ear Headphones

On-Ear Headphones

In the end, it depends on personal preference. If over-ear headphones are too big and bulky for you, and complete sound isolation is not essential, on-ear headphones are great alternatives.

Popular models include:

  • Beats Solo 3
  • Sony WHCH510
  • AKG Y500

In-Ear Headphones

In-ear headphones have silicone covers that fit inside your ear canals. This produces better sound quality than earbuds while also creating a more secure fit.

Since in-ear headphones are very small and light, they are the favorite of people that work out or travel often.

Because they plug your ear canal, they are also effective at blocking out peripheral noise. While in-ear headphones can’t often compete with regular full-size headphones in sound quality and bass frequencies, their convenience and portability make them essential for many users.

Since every person’s ears are different, the same pair of in-ear headphones can perform differently from person to person. One user may find them very comfortable and secure, while another can complain that they fall out frequently.

In-Ear Headphones

In-Ear Headphones

To resolve this, most in-ear headphones come with multiple pairs of silicone covers of different sizes. If you want to easily carry your music with you everywhere you go, in-ear headphones are your best bet in terms of portability.

Popular models include:

  • Sony MDRXB50AP
  • Beats Powerbeats Pro
  • Shure SE215-CL

Open-Ear Headphones

Also known as bone conduction headphones, open-ear headphones feature a headband that wraps around your head. The speakers rest on your cheekbones. They don’t fit inside your ears; instead, they use bone conduction to deliver sound directly into your inner ear via vibrations.

This means that your ears will be entirely open to environmental sounds. This is very useful for people like cyclists and runners since they have to hear the traffic sounds to be safe.

Open-Ear Headphones

Open-Ear Headphones

If you also want to listen to your surroundings while listening to music, they can be a decent choice, but they are not optimal for most people for private use.

Popular models include:

  • Aftershokz AS800
  • KppeX Bone Conduction Headphones
  • Tayogo Bone Conduction Headphones

Earbuds

Often confused with in-ear headphones, earbuds are compact headphones that sit in the outer ear. They don’t have silicone covers that fit inside your ear canal, so it is more like having two small speakers that sit outside your ear canals.

Since they don’t fit as securely as in-ear headphones, they can easily fall out if you are moving while using them. This also means they leak more sound and let the environmental sounds in. Most people turn up the sound to compensate for this, which can be dangerous.

Earbuds

Earbuds

While they were immensely popular during the 80s and 90s, they gave their place to in-ear headphones soon after. So, why are they still relevant?

Well, the main advantage of earbuds is their low price. They are often much cheaper than in-ear headphones, so if you are looking for affordable, portable, and convenient headphones to carry around, earbuds can be an inexpensive upgrade.

Popular models include:

  • Edifier H180
  • JVC HAF160R
  • Sony MDRE9LP

2. Headphone Types Based on Earcup Types

Closed-Back Headphones

Headphones with ear pads that have their backs closed are called closed-back headphones. This means you will hear much less peripheral noise while using them and at the same time also leaking very little noise to the outside world, so you won’t disturb others.

This is perfect for those looking to have a more intimate listening environment. The closed-back design also produces a stronger bass than the open-back design.

Closed back headphones

Closed back headphones

This also means that the sound you hear will be further away from the true sound, which in the context of music refers to the original sound that the producer intended you to hear. Hearing true sound can be essential for sound professionals and avid audiophiles.

Popular models include:

  • Sennheiser HD 569
  • AKG Pro Audio K72
  • Sony MDR7506 Professional Large Diaphragm Headphone

Open-Back Headphones

Contrary to the closed-back headphones, open-back headphones have the back of their ear pads open. This allows the sound you hear to escape to the outside while also letting you hear the environment.

Since their earcups are noticeably lighter, they can be more comfortable than their closed-back counterparts.

Open-back headphones eliminate the extra bass and give you a much more natural sound, which is often preferred by sound professionals like producers, sound engineers, and musicians.

Sennheiser HD 599 Open Back Headphone

Sennheiser HD 599 Open Back Headphone

Of course, this also comes with the obvious negative of potentially disturbing others, so if you are looking for headphones to use in public, these may not be for you.

For private use, though, the flat and true sound open-back headphones produce is fantastic for listening to music. The majority of them have an over-ear design, but finding on-ear open-back headphones is also possible.

Popular models include:

  • Philips SHP9600
  • beyerdynamic DT990 Pro
  • Sennheiser Consumer Audio HD 599 SE

3. Headphone Types Based on Connectivity

Wired Headphones

Wired headphones connect to your devices with a wire. While wireless headphones are getting gradually more popular, wired headphones are still the most preferred and reliable choice for most people.

They don’t require any charging as they use the device they are connected to as power sources. Plus, wires are still the better method for delivering high-quality sound for a better price.

Beats Ep Wired On-Ear Headphones

Beats Ep Wired On-Ear Headphones

The only obvious negative is the wires themselves. They can feel obstructive and limiting and get in your way while working out, walking, or running.

Popular models include:

  • Sennheiser HD280PRO
  • Sony MDRXB550AP
  • Audio-Technica ATH-M50X

Wireless Headphones

As you can understand from their name, wireless headphones connect to your phone or computer wirelessly, often via Bluetooth. This has an obvious benefit: You no longer have to worry about wires. This is a massive luxury while you are on-the-go or in the gym.

Any other types of headphones can be wireless. You don’t lose any sound quality either, but for the same sound quality, you have to pay a bit more for Bluetooth headphones when compared to regular headphones.

Their biggest downside is the fact that you need to charge them regularly. Most wireless headphones go for about 3-6 hours with a full charge, so you will have to plan your usage accordingly.

Some lower-end models can also have a small delay between your actions on your phone and your headphones, but it is not a huge concern unless you are playing competitive video games.

Wireless Headphones

Wireless Headphones

It is also worth noting that most wireless headphones still have a wire that connects the individual earbuds. If you want to get rid of this wire too, then look for true wireless headphones.

While regular wireless headphones are often charged directly, true wireless headphones come with storage cases that also act as their charging station. These cases can charge your true wireless headphones multiple times without needing a recharge.

Popular models include:

  • Soundcore AK-A3910011
  • Beats Solo Pro
  • Samsung Galaxy Buds+ Plus

4. Headphone Types Based on Special Features

Noise-Canceling Headphones

If the sound isolation of closed-back over-ear headphones is not enough for you, noise-canceling headphones may be what you are looking for.

Active noise-canceling headphones have a unique technology that lets them measure the outside noise, create an opposite frequency, and use it to “cancel” the outside noise before it even reaches your headphones.

Most of the noise-canceling headphones are either in-ear or over-ear for maximum passive sound isolation. While they are noticeably pricier than other headphone types, they are perfect for those looking to have an intimate and personal listening experience.

Popular models include:

  • Sony WH1000XM4
  • Bose Noise Cancelling Wireless Bluetooth Headphones 700
  • COWIN E7 PRO

Waterproof Headphones

Waterproof headphones are designed to keep water and sweat out of the electronic components of your headphones. They are often preferred by divers or people that go to the gym frequently.

Since diving and working out involve constant movement, most waterproof headphones have an in-ear design for a more secure fit in your ear.

Waterproof Headphones

Waterproof Headphones

Not all waterproof headphones are created equal, though. There is a rating system called IP rating that ranges from 0 to 9. It is used to measure the liquid protection of a pair of headphones, so the higher the number is, the better the water protection.

Popular models include:

  • Swimbuds Sport Premium Waterproof Headphones
  • TOZO T10
  • ENACFIRE H500

Conclusion

In a market as huge as headphones, choosing the right one can get tiring. With our guide, you can first learn about the headphone types to find which one is for you.

This will significantly reduce the time you spend researching before you worry about more complex features such as sound quality, design, and budget.

About Silver Moon

A Tech Enthusiast, Blogger, Linux Fan and a Software Developer. Writes about Computer hardware, Linux and Open Source software and coding in Python, Php and Javascript. He can be reached at [email protected].

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