These most intimate of HiFi items have come a long way in a fairly short time. In these days of wireless bluetooth headset for mobile phones with polyphonic ringtones we seem used to the reduced quality audio that pervades modern life.
How nice to be able to isolate yourself from the noise and hubbub of the world with a pair or decent audio headphones.
Fashion of the day dictates styles for headphones and earbuds have become an unobtrusive option for people on the move. Here again there are earbuds, and there are good sounding earbuds.
Typically the larger diaphragm of a headphone enables more faithful reproduction of lower frequency sounds than is available off the tiny piezo speaker in the earbud, but the intimate contact with your ear, proximity to the eardrum and the near invisibility of the earbud can provide a better signal to noise ratio in noisy environments and a more discrete appearance.
Among the designs of headphones there are two basic concepts. The open or closed capsule. Simply put this describes the construction and design of the backshell that houses the speaker itself. If the design is solid it is a close capsule, if it is open to the atmosphere and can breathe freely - it is an open capsule.
Closed capsule headphones are typically used to shut out noise from the outside world and are excellent choices for DJ's and people who listen in bed with an acoustically unappreciative partner. It works both ways. Preventing external noises coming in, and returning stray sounds to the direction of your ear canal.
Open capsule designs are much better for cyclists and pedestrians where situational awareness is more important than tranquil isolationism. You don't often get run down by a symphonic cymbal clash, more often it's a timpanic Mack. Best to hear them coming.
One often overlooked consideration in choosing headphones is the availability of spare parts. Personal audio products are the most intimate of all hifi devices, and as a result of being on you, and off you, around you and with you, through all your scrapes during a day - they can break.
The manufacturers supported by Audio Junction all have extensive and accessible spareparts catalogues for all components of their headphones, including cables and backstraps.
This describes the frequencies over which the device is capable of producing an audible sound. Careful inspection of the specifications will show that the better the headphones typically the lower the frequency it is able to reproduce. The net result is a richer deeper more natural sound. The human ear is responsive to frequencies in the 20Hz to 20,000Hz (20kHz) range. Dogs for instance go much higher.
This is a measure of the resistance to current of the headphones. The most obvious difference to the listener is an apparent difference in produced volume.
Typically the lower the impedance, the higher the SPL (sound pressure level) of the output. ie The lower the Ohms number the louder it will be at a given volume setting.