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Know Your Headphones

Updated on October 22, 2012

Don't Let Your Headphones Own You

What's in a Headphone?

There seems to have been an explosion of headphone manufacturers in the past few years and it seems that every musical celebrity, even Bob Marley, has their own pair. Don’t despair! We will help you make sense of all this technobabble so you can figure out which pair you like the best.

Your over-ear headphones come in two flavors:

Circumaural – These bad boys cup around your entire ear and prevent noise from getting in or out. These are your typical DJ headphones and are heavy but provide really awesome sound performance.

Supra-aural – Similar to the circumaural, except they sit on top of your ears. These headphones provide less outside sound isolation in exchange for being smaller and less weight.

But the over-ears can come in two different styles:

Open back – The ear cups are left with openings in the back. This provides two advantages at the cost of outside noise isolation: 1) they allow you to hear what’s happening in your surroundings (good for hearing traffic) and 2) to provide a better soundscape, or the perception that the sound is further away from you.

Closed back –The ear cups are completely enclosed and provided better noise isolation at the expense of worse soundscape (the perception that the sound is coming from the inside of your head).

Popular Styles of Headphones

Earbud – These little guys are the most common and typically the most inexpensive. Ear buds consist of little headphones that sit snuggly in your outer ear and not in your ear canal. They do not come with a headband and typically have wires that hang loosely out of your ears. The ear buds do not seal the ear canal so you are capable of hearing some ambient noise and also share the hi-hat and high pitches noises with the guy sitting next to you on the bus. These seem to be the most popular headphones to exercise with even though the cables can cause much frustration by flapping madly.

In-ear bud – These ear buds are either loved or hated by people, there seems to be no middle ground. These types of ear-buds are similar to the outer ear buds except they have a soft, malleable shell that will form to the inside of your ear. This provides a seal within your inner ear canal, inserted much the same way ear plugs are. They provide excellent ambient noise reduction but with an interesting side effect, something called the “occlusion effect.” All outside noise is reduced but all internal noise are enhanced. Try plugging your ears with your fingers, then you will experience the occlusion effect which will allow yourself to hear yourself breathing and your heart beat. Another major problem with this is that any movement or thud of your headphone cable will be amplified and heard.

Headset – These ones are the cheap on ear headphones with the headband. Picture a guy in the 80’s with a mullet and a Sony Walkman. They are still very common, just not very stylish.


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