If you’ve looked into high quality headphones at all, you probably noticed that there are many, many different kinds. Picking a brand is hard enough, but each brand has a plethora of models to choose from. And it’s not just about price and specs – the most expensive pair is not necessarily the best for your needs. Beyond external design, different models actually have distinct purposes and are designed for specific uses. Generally, there are three main categories of headphones: consumer, studio, and gamer.
Hifi headphones for consumer use are the most popular and widely used headphone style. This category consists of any kind of headset that is designed for entertainment use and casual music-listening. They are a popular way to listen to hifi audio without investing in an expensive speaker system. While they all typically produce high quality sound, the design for consumer headphones focuses on aesthetics and comfort. Most casual listeners are looking for something that looks sleek and feels comfortable over long periods of time and on the go. Some of the most important characteristics of consumer headphones include:
So, if you are shopping for some everyday headphones for casual use, these factors are probably more important than audio specifications, unless you have specific audio taste. If you are an audiophile and looking for a top-notch audio experience, consider the audio driver size and frequency range. Keep in mind that better quality audio usually means the headphones will be heavier and bulkier.
Examples of consumer style headphones include:
Audio Technica MSR7NC: These high-end headphones are designed to produce unmatched audio quality with a frequency range of 5 – 40,000 Hz. Although the average human hearing range is only 20 – 20,000 Hz, a wider range allows for more detail and depth in extreme frequencies.
Avantree Aria Me AS90TA: The Aria Me model will actually calibrate the audio levels to match your personal hearing profile. It also has noise cancellation and Bluetooth features.
Unlike consumer headsets, studio headphones are designed to produce audio with a neutral sound signature for studio mixing and mastering. This means they produce detailed sound that alters the source audio as little as possible. Typical consumer headphones have added warmth or adjust the levels of the audio to make listening more enjoyable, such as boosting the bass or dampening loud treble frequencies. During studio engineering, you want to avoid hearing these adjustments. With studio headphones you get a more honest mix, which means that you can hear every flaw in the audio, such as distortion or background noise in the recording.
Beyond sound profile, studio headphones tend to have different characteristics. With audio quality as the main focus, they tend to be bulkier and less stylish. They are built for durability and long-term, frequent use in a studio, so they are often heavier than consumer pairs but comfortable to wear for many hours. They also tend to provide the best audio quality for the price, since there is no focus on aesthetics or convenience features like noise cancellation. When shopping for studio headphones, consider the audio driver size, frequency range, and perhaps most importantly, how comfortable they are.
A couple of great studio headphone pairs are:
Audio Technica M50X: These are moderately priced studio headphones that offer professional level audio quality.
Shure SRH1440: These headphones feature an open-back design to allow some of the audio to filter out of the ear cups, producing a more neutral sound profile.
The only feature that differentiates a pair of headphones from a gaming headset is an attached microphone. Otherwise, there are no set “standards” that qualify headphones as gaming level. Typically, they have the audio quality standards of consumer headphones, and a design similar to studio headphones, since they are meant for long-term seated use. They tend to focus on surround sound depth for improved game immersion, and often have Bluetooth capabilities.
For popular gaming headsets, check out:
Audio Technica G1WL: A standard wireless gaming headset with studio-quality audio.
So, when shopping for headphones, the design and features that are important to you will depend on what you plan to do with them. There is no standard price or function level that is objectively better for all headphone users. In the end, comfort is arguably the most important factor to consider, because regardless of audio quality or any other feature, you won’t be happy wearing headphones that hurt your ears or don’t fit properly.