Headphones and earphones: How to pick what’s best for your ears

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Headphones and earphones have become a staple part of our day-to-day lives. Whether it’s for listening to music, recording songs in a studio or even trying to figure out the enemy’s exact location to pull of that last kill, we all use either a headset, headphones or earphones. 

In case you didn’t know, the difference between headsets and headphones are that the former has a microphone attached to it. Headsets are usually used with desktop PCs, laptops and gaming consoles as they have two connectors, one each for the audio and the microphone. 

In trying to figure out the difference between a headset, headphones and earphones, we also asked ourselves which ones are perfect for a given scenario. This is the question have we aim to solve today. If you recall, we also spoke about this topic a while ago. In case you missed it, you can watch the video below.

The Casual Listener

Straight off the bat, these are the most common category of people who use headsets, headphones, and earphones. Depending on their preference, they may choose between headsets and headphones or the less bulky earphones. 

In the event you wish to use a headset with a smartphone or device that has only a single port for both audio and communication, you can use a converter. This essentially takes both the audio and microphone input and combines it into a single audio stream. 

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The Sennheiser CX213 is a relatively inexpensive basic pair of earphones that appeal to the casual listener (Image Credits: 10infos)

Casual audio equipment is usually basic headphones and/or earphones. These are relatively cheap and have an acceptable sound quality such as good bass and treble ranges. Brands such as Skullcandy, Sennheiser, Audio Technica, Marshall, and JBL all have models of headphones, headsets, and earphones to suit your needs.

If you’re looking for a compact solution, earphones are the way to go. They also sometimes come with an in-built microphone which is an added benefit. Earphones too come in various form factors. The most common are in-ear earphones and the now less common regular earphones with the foam tips.  

The Audiophile

Audiophile headphones and earphones are aimed at those who crave high-fidelity music. These headphones and earphones are powered by large audio drivers and are not colored to a particular audio range. This means that they are not bass-heavy, nor high-range heavy. They are more or less a flat signature. So what you hear from these are akin to how it would be heard while in a studio. 

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The Focal Clear is an ideal example of professional audiophile headphones (Image Credits: The Verge)

Headphones such as the Sennheiser HD820, HD660, HD599, the Focal Clear and the Audio Technica M50X are good examples of audiophile headphones. They don’t have a microphone because that’s not the point of headphones in this category. 

Rather, they offer high-quality audio drivers and hardware along with comfortable design so that you can listen to music in comfort. Some headphones also come with active noise cancellation. This blocks out ambient sound giving you greater focus on the music being played. Some prefer ANC, some don’t, In the end, it’s up to you to decide. 

The Bass Junkie

Somewhat of the opposite of the Audiophile, the Bass Junkie is all about that bass (and sometimes not that treble). They listen to a lot of bass-heavy music from genres such as Dubstep, EDM and Drum and Bass and Electronica. While good bass can really get them going, too much bass or a low eng rage that is muddy can overpower the details of instruments and vocals. 

Headphones such as the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2, the Sony WH-1000XM3 and the Skullcandy Hesh all provide good levels of bass to make your brain rattle around without losing too much of the rest of the instrumental detail. Models like the Skullcandy Crusher 360 feature a patented technology that delivers a “unique sensory vibration in your headphones”. Essentially what this means is that the headphones would actually vibrate for all those bass-heavy drops and beats. So it’s like keeping your head near a subwoofer and “feeling the music”.

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Love bass that makes your brain rattle? Then take a look at the Skullcandy Crusher 360 (Image Credits: TechRadar)

In terms of earphones, usually, anything from Skullcandy is relatively bass-heavy. If you have a regular pair of earphones, you can play around with the equalizer settings of your device to increase the bass. Just make sure you don’t sacrifice clarity over bass. 

The Gamer

The Gamer’s choice of headphones or earphones is different. They need a microphone for constant communication with teams. As such, they opt for gaming headsets or earphones with a built-in mic. 

Headsets are the preferred choice here. Why? Because headsets offer a more comfortable experience when compared to earphones. Gaming Headsets also offer positional audio. That means if a gunshot is heard, you can accurately pinpoint where the gunshot came from. This is further enhanced by gaming headsets that are USB powered. By tweaking the software that the headset uses via PC or laptop, a gamer can get the exact drop on things.

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The Logitech G935 is a wireless 7.1 surround sound gaming headset. But it’s not so good with music (Image Credits: The Gadget Flow)

The drawback here is that a majority of gaming headsets forgo music playback quality for positional audio. So while your 7.1 surround sound gaming headset can accurately tell you where your enemies are, they might not perform so well if you’re listening to instrumental music.

Fortunately, manufacturers such as Sennheiser offer a balance between gaming and music playback in their headsets. In addition, brands such as Corsair, Logitech and Steelseries offer various EQ options so that you can tune your headset to the way you would like to hear your music. 

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The Sennheiser GSP600 balances gaming with high fidelity music playback, but you miss out on surround sound (Image Credits: PCGamer)

The Athlete

The athlete faces an unusual problem. Because they’re constantly moving, they need headphones or earphones that will stay firmly in place. If its a pair of headphones, it can’t be too bulky else it would interfere with their workout. If you’re a runner or jogger, you might not feel uncomfortable with wearing headphones and would rather opt for earphones. 

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Sports earphones are aimed at those who are working out, hitting the gy, going on runs etc They sacrifice a bit on the audio quality, but make up for it in terms of durability (Image Credits: Audio Technica)

This is where sports earphones come into play. I myself own an Audio Technica Sport1iS earphones. Compared to regular earphones, sports earphones have additional features. For example, they are IPX5 compliant which means they can handle a bit of water being splashed on them. So if you’re in for a somewhat sweaty workout, then no sweat (no pun intended). 

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If you have the cash to splash, you can get yourself a pair of wireless sports earphones like the Powerbeats Pro (Image Credits: Pocket Lint)

Sports earphones also come with ear hooks. These attach firmly to the back of your ear to ensure that the earphone stays in place. In addition, the material itself, from the ear tips to the cable and everything in between is more sturdy than regular earphones. This helps add durability to the earphones during intense workout sessions or if you’re going for a long run or jog. 

The Studio Recorder

The Studio Recorder is also part audiophile. They rely on headphones that are not colored to a particular frequency range. Think of them as headphones with a flat response rate. This helps in instrumental separation when recording from multiple sources. Because you’re recording multiple instruments and even vocals, you need to make sure that all the instruments are heard at a similar level from your headphones.

Headphones
The Audio Technica M50X is a standing example of a good pair of studio monitoring headphones (Image Credits: YouTube)

This is a job for studio monitoring headphones. The Audio Technica M50X and the M70X are particularly well known for this category. Another good contender is the Sony MDRV6 Headphones. AKG too makes some really good studio monitoring headphones, among them is the AKG Pro Audio M271 MKII (it’s indeed a mouthful).

The catch here is that these headphones are not meant for outside use. So you can’t take it out for a morning run, or expect mind-blowing bass. That’s not what these are made for. If you sweat a lot, you might have noticed that headphones of this caliber tend to peel off. That’s because they’re not meant for that environment. Because studios are mostly air-conditioned, you won’t be sweating. 

Headphones and earphones: How to pick what’s best for your ears 1

Certain studio headphones have a specific impedance level (usually denoted in ohms). If your playback device cannot match this impedance then you’re not going to have the best performance from the headphones. This is usually seen as the headphones having low volume. This, in turn, requires a headphone amplifier. Because studio equipment already has all this in place, you can use the headphones right out of the box. If you’re planning to use it for a PC or smartphone, you might have to consider investing in an external headphone amplifier. 

In addition, as comfortable as they may be, studio headphones cannot be worn for prolonged periods without you experiencing earaches. This again is something that isn’t viable for outside use. 

The Instrumentalist

Instrumentalists are sort of a break off of the Studio Recorder category. These headphones are once again flat in terms of a response rate and are more or less studio monitoring headphones. If you’re not a fan of bulky headphones, then you can invest in a pair of in-ear monitors or IEMs. These start off at around LKR 15,000 and can go upwards of LKR 500,000 and above.

Headphones and earphones: How to pick what’s best for your ears 2

Similar to sports earphones, IEMs generally have ear hooks that ensure the earphones are in place. Models such as the Audio Technica ATH-E70 have the cable routing around your ear rather than having a separate ear hook. They also come with a memory foam (AKA Comply Tips). These create a snug fit once inserted into your ear and retain that shape. This means it will fit your ear perfectly each time you wear it. 

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IEMs are used not only by instrumentalists but also by vocalists as well due to their small form factor and crisp audio quality (Image Credits: Philmaturano)

The key point to note here is that there is no best headphone or IEM for this line up of work. It all depends on the exact specific work you’ll be doing and how much you are looking to spend. Obviously, the higher up you go on the price range, the more features and models you’ll find. 

As studio monitoring headphones and IEM are rather expensive, it’s recommended that you do a bit of research and find a pair that suits your requirement. You can even get help from sound engineers and home studio artists for their feedback as well. 

Headphones and earphones don’t end there

While we’ve listed down some of the more popular headsets, headphones and earphone categories, they are not all. There can be people who buy this audio equipment for a wide variety of uses. In certain cases, there might be a compromise as well. For example, while you can use a studio monitoring headphone when playing games, you won’t get the same positional audio you would get with a gaming headset. Similarly, using a bass-heavy headphone or earphone for a studio setting will not have the same result as using professional headphones. 

As we said, it all depends on what you want it for, and how much you’re willing to spend. If you have a particular model in mind, do your research on it. Read reviews and product guides to see if it fits your use. If all else fails, you can even drop us a message on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and we can help you out as well. 

Did this article help you choose your next set of headphones or earphones? Have anything to add? We would love to hear from you.

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