Calling on Skype, listening to music while you run, playing a first-person-shooter game. If you do any of these things, you will need something that lets you hear properly and comfortably and adjusted to your needs.
Let’s travel back in time: did you know that the first headphones were invented in the end of the XIX century? They were used by phone operators, though, not to listen to music yet.
Fast forward a hundred years or so, up to the late seventies, when Sony first released their Walkman, bulky headphones became all the rage. 37 years later we have seen the evolution of portable music players, which became increasingly smaller, evidenced by Apple’s iPod and its white earphones.
Nowadays we can find both: Big, bulky headphones or small, streamlined earphones and choosing between them can be quite a daunting task. There is a lot of options in the market, and without any help or guidance, finding the best piece of equipment for your needs can be a grueling task.
So, which ones are better?
Well, it’s not that easy. Headphones and earphones have both positives and negatives, and your personal preferences and intended use are very important factors to consider, which is why we are going to discuss the pros and cons of each, and make your decision-making process much easier.
Earphones are the smaller ones you put directly in-ear. There are several names for them but besides earphones the most common name is earbuds. They’re very practical because their size allows you to store them easily and their light weight makes them convenient when training or commuting.
Headphones are bigger and can sit either over or around your ears. If they sit over your ears but don’t completely seal them they are called supra-aural headphones, but if they completely circle your ears and seal them, they are called circumaural or over-the-ear headphones. Since these are bigger than earphones, they are not so practical for moving around, and wearing them for long hours can leave your ears red and sweaty.
Let’s compare then:
1. Noise Isolation: If you want to use them to stay focused and cancel exterior noises while enjoying music or you don’t want to listen to your children running around when you are playing Call of Duty, you might want to choose earphones/headphones that can isolate noise. Circumaural headphones can help you with this, but to really get noise cancellation you will probably have to get an expensive model, while you can find earbuds in the cheaper range that, if they fit your ears correctly, will get you the oh-so-wanted silence you desire. The Wood Corded Earphones are a great option: they come with 6 different sized ear-pads so you can find the size that fits you best, and they are stylish and they are compatible with all smartphones.
Note that noise cancellation and noise isolation are not the same: every set of earbuds or headphones will isolate noise to some extent, the same as if you were putting your hands over your ears, while noise cancellation is a technology that takes external or ambient sounds and reverses the soundwaves, effectively canceling them.
2. Frequency response curve: This is directly related to how well do your earphones or headphones transmit sound frequencies and how distorted the sound comes out of them. Ideally, phones of any type should transmit all frequencies equally, but that’s not the case. In theory, this curve should not be a curve at all; it should be a flat line sitting at 0 decibels. Earphones have the losing side here, as they usually have a worse response than headphones. This is due to the fact that they have to fit a bunch of electronics into a tiny space, and while there are great models out there with great response, they tend to be on the higher price range.
Headphones are better if you want to minimize distortion – even the cheaper models have better frequency response curves than earbuds. Beware, though: a better frequency response does not always translate into better sound quality. If possible, always try the model before buying.
3. Pitch range: This refers to the audio frequencies the earphones or headphones can transmit. Humans can hear the range from 20 to 20,000 Hz, which is what most devices can play. The human voice is in the 300Hz, which is why it’s easier for you to listen to a person speaking in a church than to the lowest key of an organ. Again, earphones are losing this match: their pitch range is smaller than headphones unless you go with high-end ones.
Headphones have much better ranges than their smaller counterparts: their frequency range is bigger. However, considering that human ears can’t hear the extremes of the pitch range very well (pitches that are too low or too high), pitch range is not that important; if it plays sounds between 20 and 20,000 Hz, you’re good. If you are inclined towards the headphones, the Beats by Dr. Dre Solo2 (Luxe Edition) supra-aural headphones are well-rated. The enhanced and dynamic range of sound will give you excellent performance from your favorite tunes. They are foldable and come with a carrying case, which makes them great for listening on the go.
4. Noise Cancellation: As mentioned before, there is an important difference between noise isolation and noise cancellation. The first refers to the physical barrier that your earphones or headphones create, while the second refers to the technology used to cancel noise.
Keep in mind that noise cancellation works best on steady noises in the background, such as a running fan, an air conditioning system, the traffic outside, but they won’t do anything to block sudden noises, such as your dog barking or a plate crashing against the floor.Headphones win this one mainly due to their size, which allows for more electronics inside, which are necessary for the technology to work properly. Earphones on the pricier side are good, if you have the budget for them, but here it all depends on how much you are willing to pay.
The Bose QuiteComfort Noise Cancelling headphones are a good choice as they not only provide noise cancelling, they are comfortable circumaural headphones that provide great sound performance and come in three different colors. There are two versions, one for Apple devices and the other for Android devices, so be sure to choose the one that fits your smartphone.
5. Fit and comfort: Here it all falls down to preferences. Since there are no ‘standards’ in ears, besides that humans have them, neither earbuds nor headphones will work the same on everyone. People with larger ears can find that earbuds keep falling out, as well as people with ears that are too small to fit the buds properly.
Earbuds fall into a little cavity called cavum conchae, and the cord falls around the space between the tragus and antitragus. If your earphones have replaceable buds, you can find the size that fits you best, but that is not the case with all models. This model by Dr. Dre fits the bill, it has playback buttons, and you can use its integrated microphone to take calls on your cell phone, too.
If you are a headphones person, you should look for a pair that sits comfortably over your head and ears, and causes no irritation or discomfort. If you wear glasses, make sure that the headphones don’t make it uncomfortable, as this can become quite painful.
6. Health: There is, of course, an important issue to consider: which device causes more harm to your hearing. While the use of either headphones or earphones won’t cause you any harm if you do it properly, you may be the kind of person who turns up the volume a bit too high up. There is some research suggesting that earbuds could potentially cause damage to your hearing as a result of the positioning, which can add up to 9 decibels of volume to the sounds they’re transmitting.
To avoid harm, doctors advise to play your device at 60% of the maximum volume, and choosing over-the-ear headphones rather than those you put in your ear canal. Yes, not the best choice for a lot of us, but we want to retain our hearing.
Are you still debating over which style would be best for you? If you are, there is a third option: Many people get both earphones and headphones, and they switch between each according to their activities. A gaming marathon? Headphones it is. An afternoon jog? Earbuds will do. In the end, the most important thing is that you feel comfortable and that you get the best performance of your chosen device.
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