Best Headphones 2018 - Buying Guide

Before you buy any headphone from your local store or any online platform, is essential to recognize the category of headphones that are able to meet your needs, and understand some basic technical terms which will better support your definitive purchase decision.

Headphone Types

In-ear

This type of headphone vastly favored for its portability and low price. They are often bought for outdoor activities and traveling. While they don’t cost a lot, their sound quality is on par with low-end headphones.

Expressivity is one of the human problems, so what I meant to say is –They sound satisfying, but don’t expect cheap thrills and heavenly experiences for few bucks.

Fact: In-ear headphones –also known as earphones– are the most popular and bought by approximately 72% of people.

Some exemplary earphones might provide a wide array of features, for example, some are waterproof and don’t retain sweat, which is excellent for sports; others are dust-proof or have a volume limitation feature. The “waterproof” attribute also has different ratings, where the lowest level (IPX0) doesn’t offer any water protection, while the highest, which is IPX8, are exceptionally though against strong jets of water.

Over-ear

While I’m not running with my music on, over-ear headphones are my favorite, mainly due to their high level of comfort and natural noise isolation. These are the architecture benefits of this type, just in case you were wondering about good points.

Beside the two main advantages, the soundstage is the 3rd reason why you should buy a pair of over-ear headphones. Given the design-wise structure, the immersive sound well endowed for a night of watching movies, gameplays where surrounding-sound is a must or, perhaps listening music.

This specific earcup architecture works excellent with 7.1 surround sound system applications. However, it doesn’t imply your new gadget will come with a 7.1 Dolby digital surround sound system or any other system.

In the end, if you want compelling real-life experiences with immersive sound quality, the best alternative is to buy an over-ear model.

on-ear

Onto the final type; As opposed to over-ear headphones, on-ear models can’t ignore the outside, ambiental noises in the same manner.

On the other hand, their key points are the low-price and lightweight build packed with endless audio potential –What does this mean? If you are heavily into music, savor instrumentals and each vocal sound, then shop for on-ear headphones.

While they don’t pack many extravagant features, are more popular than over-ear models due to their overall comfort and breathful pads so your ears won’t sweat.

Let’s narrow the description of this type of headphone and talk about its exceptional sound quality. On-ear headphones provide fantastic sound quality that is perfected for consumer needs and most audiophiles, albeit the sound leaks sometimes when the volume is high, neither you nor people around you won’t complain of their sophisticated wide-ranging sound frequencies.

Wired vs Wireless

Wired headphone

As everyone expects, wired headphones are the most common, reliable and functional. In fact, they suffer fewer CPU problems as opposed to wireless devices and have a highly accurate frequency response. With that said, they are mainly preferred by gamers, whereby the sound accuracy, high fidelity, and timing are critical.

(Sidenote: Non-gamers shouldn’t feel excluded, wired headphones are great for everyone!)

It’s well known that connection issues can make or ruin an extraordinary audio experience. In spite of that, most sound issues occur because of poor quality cable or weak connectivity.

Fact: The wired cable usually ends with a gold plated 3.5mm jack to ensure a successful electrical transmission with little to unexistent errors. Silver plated plugs are available too, even though they are a better conductor of electricity the difference between gold plated and silver plated plugs is minimal –An almost marginal benefit.

Before moving to the wireless topic, the last advantages wired headphones possess is the lightweight, comfortable body. Short-explanation: They don’t carry extra hardware.

Wireless headphone

I love the clarity and sound prominence wired headphones have compared to wireless models, because of the electrical sound input that goes from your device (Mp3, iPod, Smartphone) to your headphone’s speaker within a physical connection –Electricity.

But as they become a sign of past same as Apple implied “You’ll forget that the 3.5mm jack had ever existed”, wireless headphones will become entirely conventional.

As the limitless technology will develop, so will the telecommunications and wireless audio networks advance and be optimized to provide wireless headphones the most crystalline and detailed sound quality.

Only a few audio devices are entirely wireless. While most use a feature called Bluetooth, it’s not thoroughly reliable. Bluetooth has lots of advantages, alas, lots of drawbacks too.

Undoubtedly, Bluetooth technology is simple to use, rechargeable and private. However, the connection may suffer interferences and can run slow. It consumes a lot of battery and isn’t cost effective.

Tech specs

Noise cancellation and sound isolation

I will keep the definition simple. In fact, Active Noise-cancellation refers to headphones with built-in CPU and microphone that detects and cancels certain frequencies (sound waves) to a point you won’t hear the sound or noise.

The other term, Passive Sound Isolation, is a reference to thick and natural sound isolating ear-pads that cover your ears and can seal them in order to block a high quantity of external sounds and reduce their volume. As we talked before, that’s the potential of over-ear headphones.

Often, people get confused between these two attributes but promise me that now you won’t display your engineering degree in their face explaining the difference between these two unique features. Afterall, you don’t need to have much knowledge about audio technology, just common sense and capacity to make logical judgments.

Volume Limiting

Having a volume limiting feature encourages parents to buy their kids a pair of headphone, while you are responsible enough not to use high volume and risk a potential hearing loss induced by high-noises.
Not meant for you, but for kids that might ignore such issues where you’d need to set up some boundaries, limits, which is precisely what volume limiting is purposed for –Kids.

Analog, the feature limits the volume go higher than 85db (decibels).

In conclusion, this might be a pricey feature not because it is fancy, but because it ensures you a bit of control over someone else.

Biometric

We’ve talked about headphones for kids; now we move on to a consequential option: Headphones suitable for fitness.

Either you’re a professional runner, pure geek, or doctor that loves to measure health stats, such as heart rate, there’s a unique feature called Biometric available in some headphones designed for well-being people that hold a vigorous physical activity and mental condition.

Have I got your attention now, Rob?

(Disclaimer: I was ‘incompletely’ referring to Rob Krar, a famous athlete.)

Maybe, just maybe, Rob Krar would be interested in other super detailed analysis; perhaps how evenly calibrated his focus is or thought about how relaxed he can get while meditating. The possibilities are endless; even stress level measured!

There are so many stats; that a real geek will fantasize seeing each quick data extracted and display on your smartphone app, and won’t oppose any resistance buying such gadget.

In conclusion, biometric feature is available mostly to in ear headphones, where a few advanced models are wireless smart in-ear headphones. And the best part is you can measure and record the performance and stats using a particular app.

Surround Sound

The concept of surround sound is simple, there are two major systems

  • Virtualized sound
  • True surround sound

Let’s start with the first one, shall we?

Do you remember home audio systems that came with multiple speakers you put in different locations? Headphones with surround sound work on same principle.

You hear the sound coming from multiple drivers. Most headphones with this feature have only 2 drivers, which indeed isn’t enough to create an immersive sound effect as the 3D sound effect from home cinemas.

The sound authenticity is the only downside among virtualized sound systems because stereo models rely on virtual surround sound from audio software such as 5.1, 7.1 Dolby and sound configs -That was the summary of virtualized sound.

We’re moving on to the second type.

A true surround sound headphone has multiple drivers on both ears. In fact, a headphone with 5 drivers on each earcup is the correct definition of immersive sound. It will offer you the entertainment quality of an infield live experience where each footstep and vibration is exceptionally genuine and responsive.

Microphones and controls

Various headsets have a built-in microphone, perhaps some necessary controls. These models are mostly dedicated to gamers, office jobs, aviation and customer support.

If we really go back to why and for who microphones where designed for, we think of competitive gaming players talking with the team increasing the chances to win.

The concept “team” doesn’t belong to gaming solely, which leads us to real-world uses and real-world causes such as pilots who need reliable communication, or sports commentary, customer assistance, and many other examples.

With many advanced features, you need button controls to play tracks, mute sound, mute chat, start recording, balance the sound among multiple apps, and eventually if your headphone is wireless switch easily between wireless/Bluetooth and wired option through the press of a button.

Environment

Outdoor Activities – Travel, Sports and Fitness

Most things in life, the average dynamics, are spent going from one place to another. Traveling, walking down the street, and running are such activities whereas we only focus on a single goal and waste significant precious time.

We, as the creative and awesome humans we are, replace that wasted time with something to keep ourselves entertained or develop a sharp-witted mind.

We use music for entertainment purpose, perhaps listening to speeches or insightful podcasts while traveling, lifting weights or running in the park to feed our intellectual curiosity with facts and knowledge.

It’s hard to adapt and enhance your life to a new lifestyle while making use of audio content. It’s even harder to find the most suitable headphone for the right environment –Gym, Flights, Jogging and so on.

I will list our top choices found after a thorough research.

Sports and Fitness – We carefully picked the most reliable and versatile in-ear headphones, but also comfortable and water-resistant. And we excluded the unnecessary features and functions.

  • SENSO Bluetooth Headphones (For workout, IPX7, Excellent noise cancellation, big models)
  • Jaybird x3 Sport (Great for runners, decent noise cancellation, fantastic sound quality, not the highest comfort)
  • Bose SoundSport Wireless (Amazing comfort, reliable Bluetooth, considerable design and decent sound performance – not for audiophiles)
  • JLab Epic2

Traveling – Holidays have to begin with flawless and carefully picked songs for the so grand “holiday playlist” to listen on road towards a delightful destination.

We believe you want the perfect journey and need the best headphones for travelling. Now, prepare for an epic trip with one of these impressive, yet elegant fellows:

  • Sony WH-1000XM2
  • Audio-Technica ATH-M50X
  • Sony MDR-1000X
  • Bose QuietComfort 20

Home – Headphones for Kids, Listening, TV Watching or Serious Gamers

Falling swiftly into the home category, where plenty headphone models are available for different activities and each perform the best for its individual task.

Among all the tasks listed, headphones are widely used for music listening, gaming, and other media streaming devices, which is reasonable, but what’s the reason for watching TV with headphones?

Who would benefit the most out of it?

As a matter of fact, watching the TV with a pair of headphones won’t only enhance the entertainment component, people with hearing problems and old ones will further take advantage of most headphone functionalities. Aside from serious problems regarding health conditions, dedicated wireless TV headphones aid marathon viewers pursuing their late-night binge watching without disturbing anyone, although your laughters and jump scares might be noticed.

Because we’ve already talked about volume limiting feature, now you know what to buy your kid.

So, let’s dive into the best home headphones.

TV Watching – While these picks may have decent, good and great results in other sections, they are made exclusively for watching movies. Nevertheless, movies aren’t the only sector where their performance triumphs. Sennheiser RS165 is well endowed with great audio reproduction, while Panasonic RP HTF600 S is the least expensive, yet the most comfortable.

  • Sennheiser RS 165
  • Power Acoustik Farenheit HP-902 RFT
  • Panasonic RP-HTF600-S

Music Listening – When you fall deeply in love with the emotions music moves, you definitely care about your inner expressive needs, whereas only astounding high-fidelity headphones deliver.

Crave goosebumps? Here are the well-grounded headphones you need:

  • Sony h.ear on Wireless NC
  • Audio Technica ATH-MSR7
  • Grado Prestige Series SR80e

 

Gaming Headphones – We know it’s tedious to find the ideal combination of quality comfort for extensive gameplay, perfect soundstage, and edge-cutting microphone.

Withal, we went through hard work and thorough game testing to discover what sums up the best gaming headphones available for competitive players.

  • SteelSeries Arctis 7
  • HyperX Cloud Alpha
  • Razer Thresher Ultimate

Work – Headphones for DJs, Studio Monitoring, Editing, Remixes and Office

Here is the music industry’s quintessence for every music producer and recording studio, where the hard job is done before pre-publishing.

Fact: The process of music producing is hard and daunting; as a guideline, a song goes through the following phases: Songwriting, Arranging, Tracking, Editing, Mixing and Mastering. In the end, the final product is finished after several days.

The everyday music you enjoy to listen needs a tremendous amount of work and adjustment before it’s fully developed. But before the editing phase, artists need to analyze the neutral, clean sound.

So, the headphones need to reproduce natural sound, while isolating as much noise from the exterior as possible. In short, monitoring headphones need flat sound, balanced frequency response, and then we need no extra bass –Remember, we need natural sound.

The above situation is a bit counterintuitive since the most pure sound comes from open-back headphones, while they don’t offer sound isolation. Conversely, the closed-back model has less natural sound reproduction, although great noise proof.

While some can be used as studio monitor headphones, open-back models won’t be suitable for remixing. You can use them for such, but I don’t recommend because the weak bass response will hinder and miss the pleasing outcome.

With so many models, the worst that can happen mixing with any other pair of headphones is to start over just because the song sounds different and inconvenient listening with a pair of monitors.

Each headphone has substantial advantages in its specific role they were initially designed for.

Shorting the cluttering words, I present you the best headphones for each class.

Headphones for DJs – We do not take DJ’s profession lightly, so the perfect prototype needs durability, high volume packed with punchy bass, ease of wearing and closed-back architecture.

Our picks carry all the essential attributes for a DJ. The accentuated frequencies or portability aren’t disregarded from our first-rate selection either.

Thereby, you can enjoy a complete performance.

  • Sennheiser HD8 DJ
  • Beats Mixr
  • Sennheiser HD 25-1 II

Studio Monitoring – Monitoring is, as it sounds, meticulous observation of how tracks sound whereby artists could synchronize their vocal or instrumental take.

Beyond that, audio monitoring requires diverse examinations across audio spectrum. Therefore, multiple headphones are required for a comprehensive analysis.

Anyway, as you know “Great results come from little progress”, and analyzing your work takes you one step closer to success. You shouldn’t have a budget on success, which is why some headphones are expensive. But if you do, using any pair of headphone won’t feel professional and complete.

Without further ado, these are the top stellar contenders.

  • Sennheiser HD 800
  • Audio Technica ATH-M50X
  • Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro

Headphones for Video Editing – Likewise crystal-clear monitoring tracks, editing video materials is less stressful unless the content is an artistic movie that needs to culminate with a sterling outcome.

The ideal model is wonderful. Comfortable, inexpensive with detailed, pristine sound; It has stable audio frequencies just as a monitor headset. Such a dreamlike entity can hardly be found, but there –Below, are the most appropriate headphones for editing as recently illustrated.

  • Sony MDR7506
  • Sennheiser HD6 Mix
  • Sennheiser HD 280 Pro

 

Headphones for Music Mixing – Either you are a professional mixing engineer and mix commercial music, or a simple, passionate fellow, blending the sounds is an art.

You simply cannot create art without putting in considerable commitment. You can’t paint nor write without the proper tools and inspiration, neither mix without these legitimate mixing headphones:

  • AKG K 701
  • Audio Technica ATH-R70x
  • Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO

Terminology

Impedance

This term represents the electrical resistance displayed as Ohm. Devices such as phones, iPods, laptops, and almost any home-use device are more compatible with low impedance level headphones (As you probably seen most in-ear headphones have low impedance). Higher impedance level headphones need commonly more voltage to deliver a whole new world of tunes and vibes.

Let’s keep it simple, headphones with higher impedance (Over 50-Ohms, up to 600 Ohms) manage to provide better sound experience than those with lower impedance (Under 50 Ohms) only if the sufficient power. The higher the impedance, the more sound output you receive through speakers, thereby high-end headphones sound professional, extraordinary clear and high-defined.

However, they won’t sound as good as low impedance headphones if there’s not enough power to deliver the “sound packages”. Nonetheless, the performance is bottlenecked by the insufficient amount of voltage.

In short, keep in mind when buying a headphone to look for low-impedance in case you connect to your iPhone or devices that cannot handle high voltage output.

This subject is a bit tech-savvy and requires various measures to properly know your device properties as to which purchase decision to take.

Frequency response

A briefly explanation of what frequency response is can be described as follows.

Starting from the fact that human ears can hear a broad range of frequencies (ranging from deep-bass 20Hz up to the high-pitched 20 kHz), the frequency response is basically a measurement of the output gain, and describes how the sound will behave for each frequency and is often displayed as a chart, more precisely –A curve.

Less technically, frequency response can be interpreted as such: Your headphones will undoubtedly “hear” the sound notes as they were initially produced in studios, but because of the inaccuracy of sending to you the exact musical signature, with the impeccable error-free tones, you will discern a variation of the original song/sound, although only slightly offbeat –That’s the reason two unique devices will sound different even when the settings and properties are the same.

Stereo vs surround sound

A stereo system means there are two independent sound sources or audio signal channels where one channel is allocated to only one receiver, since we have a pair of two ears, for each ear we hear the sound from a different channel coming from a different direction.

Hence the surround sound systems are endowed with 5 or 7 unique points, steps the game of stereographic sound projections up which delivers an immersive 3d sound effect and uniformity of coverage.

Driver

Alias the backbone of every headphone, drivers are those circular pieces of hardware that are situated behind both earcups also known as the headphone’s “speakers”;

The driver itself is liable to convert the electrical signal into output sound.

Each headphone has a wide array of properties displayed on the box, and the stated measure noted in millimeters represents the diameter of its drivers.

However, this attribute alone doesn’t tell much about the quality of sound reproduction as there are multiple variables when analyzing the drivers of a model.

The size of your headphone’s driver only reveal how powerful the audio output is going to be.

The bigger the drivers the powerful the output will be, nonetheless it doesn’t imply that bigger drivers deliver more sound quality.

Soundstage

Did you know that this term is one of the most mentioned term and probably the most overemphasized in reviews of AKG K701, Sennheiser HD800 or Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO?

All of them are established as headphones with great soundstage, mainly because they have well-built architectural construction inside the ears which brims with clear notes, susceptible to outside noises.

[Sidenote: With the mention made about the earcups construction and their interior layout,

I will further elaborate with lifelike taste of what soundstage means.]

Elbphilharmonie is the epitome of soundstage.

Think of the insides of a headphone’s earcups as a building designed to be soundproof to exterior harms, which acoustic environment is innately maintained.

So, briefly, you will enjoy your own very similar philharmonic experience.

High fidelity

Hi-Fi or High Fidelity translates to sound reproduction with little or minimal distortion possible, the sound may be almost identical to the original, finished result.

The idea of high-fidelity sound is what sets apart exceptionally good headphones from the low quality class.

As this term often used by audiophiles enthusiast refers to the overall quality of how music feels, this way, you don’t need to know any other feature or benefit of specified headphone model.

You don’t need sound isolation, a dynamic surround sound system or any other extras to perceive headphone’s merit, but measure the high fidelity level to determinate either your next purchase has superior sound quality or inferior sound quality.

Ultimately, Hi Fi systems bring out the high, detailed, audio resolution.

Sadly, such gear is highly valued and isn’t available to the regular consumer’s budget.

A hi-fi headphone is way beyond standard models, whilst they oftentimes experience higher impedance in addition with greater natural soundstage, and are built with premium components, lighter drivers, and more fabulous quality materials.

[As a final note, speaking of soundstage and high impedance headphones, check out the terminology of “Impedance” and “Soundstage” defined above to amass additional knowledge about Hi-Fi electronics.]

Decibel (db)

A decibel, as known by most audio geeks, is a unit of measurement that is used to define the sound level and its intensity.

Unfortunately, that’s not a complete definition as decibel unit is more complex than a simple unit of how loud a sound is.

Although the aforementioned definition successfully displays a not so rigorous definition, is widely used in electronics industry to measure signals, sound pressure, intensity and even voltage.

With that said, here are some characteristics you probably did not know and might shape a different perspective.

  • The way dB ratio grows is similar to logarithmic function, and a briefly explanation of what that means is the difference of loudness (Noted as Power) between a sound of 100dB and another of 110db is greater than the difference between a sound of 10dB and 20dB, this small fact implies the increase in volume is more powerful as the ratio goes up.
  • The 0 decibel (dB) is also vastly known as the hearing threshold for the human ears, and doesn’t mean the sound is not there; moreover the sound level equals to 1 and we can barely notice such levels with our ears.

“Music is, to me, proof of the existence of god”

Kurt Vonnegut