A Guide to Getting Good Headphones
7 min read

A Guide to Getting Good Headphones

A Guide to Getting Good Headphones
[![](http://supermekanismo.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/headphonesfeatured1.jpg "headphonesfeatured")](http://supermekanismo.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/headphonesfeatured1.jpg)
Note: A shortened version of this article appeared on BTLDP Print(), a newsletter for our department. Also, as a disclaimer, I am not an audiophile nor an expert in music.
Have you ever considered getting an iPod or a decent smartphone to use as a music player? Maybe you have. After getting it, maybe you got stuck just using what headphones came with it. If that’s the case, you’re not getting your money’s worth. Worse, the music won’t be as good as it should be. Getting a good pair of headphones (or as some refer to it "cans") can take a bit of research. It’s daunting to research because of all the terminology and products available.  Here’s a guide to get you started! Do note that the best way to know which one is right for you is to try a pair out for an extended amount of time.

Factors to consider

**Price:  **Just as with any other gadget, price might be the biggest factor to consider. How much are you willing to spend? Generally speaking, $50-75 would be the budget headphones.  If you can set a budget of $75-110 that can land the best bang-for-your-buck. Headphones at $150-200 is an entry-level audiophile cans. Anything above would usually be middle to high-end.

Audio Quality: Your music isn’t going to sound good if it’s too compressed. Generally, the higher the bitrate the better quality it will be. Going above 192kbps up to 320kbps is a good start. Do note that some people can’t distinguish the sound quality of anything above 192kbps.

**Types and Comfort: **Getting headphones isn't just about the price and audio quality. It's also about your use case. Where will you use your headphones? Will you use it on train or at home? This is very important because each type of headphone is made for a certain use.

Full-Sized headphones are usually meant for home use. Good full sized headphones have the best quality and comfort compared to other types. Earbuds are small headphones that sit on the outside ear. They don’t produce outstanding sound and its comfort depends on the shape of your ear. It’s the cheapest ones and for good reason. In-Ear headphones fit in your ear canals. Because of this, they provide great noise isolation and give better sound quality. It’s not for everyone as some people find them uncomfortable. Lastly, there are portable or lightweight headphones. These ones have a thin headband. They’re meant to merge the full-sized headphones sound quality with the portability.

Check out the images below for samples.

[caption id="attachment_856" align="aligncenter" width="179"] The Audio-Technica ATH-A500 full sized headphones.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_857" align="aligncenter" width="180"] Generic earbuds.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_858" align="aligncenter" width="180"] In-ears.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_859" align="aligncenter" width="180"] Portable headphones. The famous Grado SR 60.[/caption]

**Brands: **For headphones, brands matter. You want to grab something from a company known to produce good sounding cans. That being said, not all of their products are created equal.Below are some of companies who make good headphones. These are the companies I remember off the top of my head. There are still a couple of great companies that I missed for sure. If you notice, I did not include Monster and Bose. Most of their products are way overpriced and you can get a better pair of headphones for the same price. As for Sony, they have too many products (some great and notable and some not) that they take time to research compared to the ones below.

  • Sennheiser
  • Audio-Technica
  • Shure
  • AKG
  • Denon
    **Special Features: **There are some headphones with cool features like noise-cancelling, wireless, Bluetooth and more. If you're interested in them, you will have to pony up some extra cash for it. Good headphones with these features cost a lot. Check out the Head-fi.org's headphone buying guide for a good look into headphones with these features.

[caption id="attachment_866" align="aligncenter" width="400"] Sennheiser's Momentum headphones.[/caption]

Fit and Sound Leak

There are two types of full-sized headphones which are around-the-ear (circumaural) and on-ear (supra-aural). They can be separated again by the type of earcups. One type is open-back which leaks sound. and might not be the a good choice if your don’t want people to judge your choice of music. This type does give a more natural sound. The other type of earcup is closed-back which won’t leak sound and can also block some ambient noise. The Grado SR 60 seen in the types and comfort section is an example of on-ear and open-back while the Sennheiser Momentum (seen above) is an example of around-the-ear closed-back headphones.

Terms and Specs

Headphones specifications contain information on impedance, frequency and sound pressure level. It’s information overload so I’ll leave it to you to check out headphone.com's learning center to read more about it.

Some Good Headphones

[caption id="attachment_868" align="aligncenter" width="211"] The 215[/caption]

Shure SE215

I own a pair of the 215 and from my experience a noisy environment is no problem with the 215’s great sound isolation. The sound quality is great especially for rock. For hip-hop lovers, the bass is pretty good. It also features removable cables so you can replace them from wear and tear. The unique over-the-ear model might not go for everyone. If $100 is too much you can check out the Klipsch S4 ($80) or for S3($50).

Price: $100 Type: In-ear Available at: Amazon CA, Best Buy

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="300"]English: A picture of a pair of Grado SR-60 he... The famouse SR 60[/caption]

Grado SR-60

Grado is one of the oldest family owned companies in the Audio industries.  One of their most famous products is the entry-level SR 60. It’s known to impress anyone with its sound quality and for a price that isn’t too adventurous. I had a chance to try out the iGrado a bit before sending it out to a good friend.  The iGrado($55) is a cheaper headphones than the SR 60 but reviews mentioned that it uses the same drivers. For that short time, I can say they sound excellent. (Check out a head-fi member's review here search iGrado from the list).

Price: $100 Type: Portable Available at: Bay Bloor Radio

[caption id="attachment_870" align="aligncenter" width="175"] The HD 518 from Sennheiser[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_871" align="aligncenter" width="175"] HD 558[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_872" align="aligncenter" width="202"] The uniquely colored HD 598.[/caption]

Sennheiser HD 518, 558 and 598

Sennheiser is German audio company specializing in headphones, microphones and other high-fidelity products.  They have products for every price category but the HD 500 series are meant for audiophiles. They provide outstanding sound quality and comfort. I recently purchased the HD 518 and from a couple of days of using it, I can say that they are worth the price. Paired with the Asus Xonar DGx soundcard, my songs sound a lot louder, cleaner and overall better compared to my Galaxy S3 paired with the Shure215. The sound from the HD 518 is very rich, clear and detailed making them great for all types of music. Also, they are very very comfortable on the ears.

Price: 175, 260, 300 respectively Type: Full-sized Available at: Amazon Canada

[caption id="attachment_873" align="aligncenter" width="153"] The HD229 in black and red.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_874" align="aligncenter" width="173"] The safely colored 219[/caption]

Sennheiser HD 219 and HD 229

The HD 200 series represent the portable headphones line from Sennheiser.  The HD 200 is an on-ear closed-back headphone good sound quality optimized for portable media players. I got to try the HD 229 and from initial impression, it provides sufficient bass for a portable, blocks some ambient noise and comfy from the soft earpads, padded headbands and light build. Be warned about the color though, they look more pink than red.

Price: 66 and 77 respectively Type: Portable Available at: Amazon Canada

**Even More Headphones. **Check out head-fi.org, a community of headphone enthusiasts. Check head-fi's summer headphone buying guide (pdf). Check out one of the member's review of 102 portable cans.

Images are from wikipedia, [sxc.hu](http://www.sxc.hu) or each headphone's product page from the company site.