How To Choose and Test Headphones The Right Way

Looking to purchase a new headphone for someone you care or maybe yourself? Well, then this post can help take some of the angst out of your next headphone purchase by discussing the key points to remember when going for a purchase along with information on how to perform meaningful testing of headphones. We seriously care about audio equipment, and as such we at BHIN take the purchase of the right headphone a grave matter. But buying audio equipment in general or headphones to be more precise for many people can still be a mystery, and it exists at this hellish intersection between professional and consumer needs where there is a large amount of subjectivity involved when it comes to reviewing headphones. This is true, especially about the best ways to test headphones and earphones.  This post can be considered as an overview and as such will be far from comprehensive, but it should serve as a decent place to start the conversation.

Know Your Purpose For Buying Headphone

So, you decide to purchase a headphone usually when you have a purpose which might possibly be listening to music.  But, there are people who are crazy about watching movies and they want headphones for that purpose primarily. This means that your exact need for headphone paves a way to narrow down on your choice of making a right purchase.

Check These Three Key Points

The three key points to keep in mind before going for a headphone purchase are the Music Type, Location and Budget. The type of music you will hear the most is the most important. Some headphones are tailor-made for bass and you don’t want to miss those if you are a bass-lover.

The places where you plan to use the headphone most commonly count as the next important factor. If you are an avid traveller, you might not want to disturb the person sitting next to you just because your headphone leaks some sound.

The next important point is none other than your budget. This might not seem like much of a thing to look at, but believe me when I say that some people just spend too much on headphones that aren’t actually useful to them. Fix a budget and try to stick anywhere near it.

Types Of Headphones

There are different types of headphones, which you must be aware of before jumping into buying your first or next headphone. These include the following:

  • Earbuds – Sits outside of the ears
  • IEM or In-Ear Monitors – Sits inside of the ears in the ear canal
  • Fullsized Circum-aural – Completely covers the ears inside the pads
  • Fullsized Supra-aural – Sits on the ears unlike the Circum-aural which covers ears

The details of these will be discussed in another dedicated post.

Perform Audio Test To Know The Sound Quality

Once you have figured out the purpose, the next thing to worry about is the sound quality. Well, you can’t miss this, as it is in fact quite important. Technically, there are a bunch of other factors as well which includes bass, sound isolation and portability. If you are looking for a professional use in a studio, then there are other factors which might be of interest to you.

Doing an audio test is the perfect way to know about the sound quality. To do this, head over to an audio testing website or visit the below YouTube video:

This a wonderful one-minute video by Outlier Studios, that produces test audio signals to test headphones and speakers. Plug-in your headphones and start the video. If you start noticing rattle or buzzing sounds, then know that the drivers are an issue and the sound quality of your headphone or earphone is affected.

Perform a Bass Test

Music consists of many different types of sounds that work together to give an output that our ears love to hear and one of the amazing sounds in them is the Bass. If you take a closer look at a music that has bass in it, you will get a feeling of completeness instead of a blank or hollow feeling that would be felt for a music without it.

Trainor and her colleagues have recently published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggesting that perceptions of time are much more acute at lower registers, while our ability to distinguish changes in pitch gets much better in the upper ranges, which is why, writes Nature, “saxophonists and lead guitarists often have solos at a squealing register,” and why bassists tend to play fewer notes
Open Culture

The study from where the above text is quoted also revealed that bass is important in not just creating a proper time-structure for a music, but also has an important role in the structure of the melody itself.

Let’s see how we can measure the bass response of a headphone. To perform this test, you can plug in your headphone and hear the audio in the following video from Sandeep Luthra:

A word of caution – Please decrease the volume level while performing this test. The frequency levels are shown while you hear the audio in the video. The best headphones can go smoothly up to the lowest frequency of our hearing which is 20Hz.

Once you have done a test for the lowest frequency of your headphone, you can do the treble test as well using the same video above. This is the highest frequency up to which you can hear the sounds smoothly without hearing the underlying tones. A good headphone can have the highest frequency response of about 20kHz which is the highest hearing range for us humans.

Test The Drivers For a Match

This is yet another test you would want to do on a headphone. If the left and right drivers don’t ‘match’, then it is a problem. Ideally, the left and right drivers should be able to sync in response to different audio frequency levels.

Check Wiring Issues

It is wise to check for wiring issues which may not be evident at first use. To perform this test, plug in your headphone and hear the audio from the following video by comedyhunter:

The audio in the test above alternates between the left and right earpieces every 2 seconds. The video will show which earpiece is currently targeted. If it is the opposite that you get, then there is an issue.

What About Active Noise Cancellation?

Noise Cancellation is a hot topic when it comes to headphones and no wonder people look for headphones with amazing noise cancellation. This rising trend led to headphone manufacturers taking it as a key marketing point to sell their headphones.

There are two types of noise cancellations – Active and Passive. The passive ones block out most unwanted sounds thereby providing the needed sound isolation. The actives ones are much powerful compared to passive ones in that they can block out the high-frequency sound well and additionally actively reduce the low-frequency signals as well.

The active noise cancellation comes in high-quality premium headphones and as such, it is up to you to decide if you want to invest more just for the active noise cancellation. For an average user, the usual passive noise cancellation should be enough.

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