Looking for a new pair of headphones? Here’s 4 things you need to keep in mind:
1. What do you need them to do
What to play music from your phone while at gym? Need to watch movies via your tablet and want to drown out the noise? Plan to record your demo that will catapult you to international fame? Figure out exactly what you need your headphones to do, the various environments they need to work in and then move on to point 2.
2. Decide what you want
In ear? Over ear? On ear? Yeah… those are all styles of headphones and you need to figure out which one suits you best. In ear is obviously your ear bud headphones. You’re probably wondering if there really is a big different when it comes to on or over ‘phones and there is. On ear pads rest on your outer ear while over ear encircle your ear. The sound is different because over the ear headphones allow the sound to reflect off the folds of the outer ear, which gives you a more “stereo” sound. On ear is sending sound directly into your ear canal. It’s easy to say one is better than the other but it really comes down to personal taste as well as what you plan to use them for. I’m pretty sure over ear headphones would be rather uncomfortable and likely slide off when running, while ear buds would be ideal. Figure out exactly what you want before you start browsing.
3. Don’t buy on marketing
The come in neon pink. They have a funky bedazzled logo and they’re endorsed by some fancy schleb. They just look better on the shelf. Careful. You only know about Beats by Dre, Monster and Skull Candy because they look pretty and the massive marketing machines behind them WANTED you to know about them. When it comes to actual sound quality they miss the mark on occasion. Don’t just take my word for it, there are enough in depth studies to prove my point. TIME’s 18 Headphone Brands ranked from Worst to First says it all for me (spoiler, Beats & Skull Candy ranked 17 and 16 respectively).
4. Test them!
Used headphones are gross. When I get review models I attack them with Wireless Wipes before putting them near my ears. However, the only way to truly appreciate the sound quality and determine if they’re worth the damage to your purse is to give a pair of headphones a test run. This one’s difficult because most stores don’t have test units set up and if you don’t have a friend with a pair you can test out, you may be stuck purchasing off reviews. There’s one major problem with that – reviews are always open to bias. You’ve also got to consider what the reviewer was listening to when they tried out headphones. Different ‘phones can be designed for different musical styles and if the reviewer tends to favour a style of music not suited to the ‘phones their comments will be vastly different to someone who’s music tastes are more in line with what the headphones were designed for. If you’re going to be forking out more than a grand I’d insist the store lets you try them first. Choose one song and test your chosen sets with the same song at the highest volume you can handle. You’ll quickly hear murky sound quality or slight issues you may not like.
My top tip? I always use Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody to test headphones. The track is ideal because it has instrumental and vocal highs and lows. I have the studio recording that I crank up rather loudly each time I test a new pair of headphones. You’ll get sick of the song but it will never lead you wrong.