Headphone buying guide: All you need to know before buying new headphones, top picks, how to choose, and more - Hindustan Times

Headphone buying guide: All you need to know before buying new headphones, top picks, how to choose, and more

Jul 09, 2024 11:32 AM IST

Headphones have become indispensable gadgets. So, here is a detailed headphone buying guide for you to help you choose the best headphones.

Headphones have become an essential accessory for music lovers, gamers, and professionals alike, providing an immersive audio experience that enhances both entertainment and productivity. Come what may, somehow headphones have grabbed a soft corner in our hearts, and for all the obvious reasons. Whether it's about listening to your favourite music while boarding a metro, binge-watching your favourite shows on OTT platforms, or simply attending your morning calls, headphones are no less than your best buddy. Be it our daily commute to office or simply taking a walk in the park, most of the time, we keep the headphone handy!

Here is a detailed headphone buying guide for you (Pexels)
Here is a detailed headphone buying guide for you (Pexels)

Modern headphones come in a variety of designs, each catering to different preferences and needs. Equipped with advanced technologies such as noise cancellation, Bluetooth connectivity, and high-fidelity sound, they offer unparalleled convenience and superior audio quality. Whether you're seeking the deep bass and rich tones of premium over-ear headphones for home use or the portability and comfort of wireless earbuds for on-the-go listening, there's a perfect pair of headphones to suit every lifestyle. With the added benefits of long battery life and intuitive controls, headphones today not only deliver exceptional sound but also integrate seamlessly into our daily routines, making them a must-have gadget for anyone looking to elevate their auditory experience.

So, here is a detailed headphone buying guide for all you music lovers. We have included all you need to know about headphones, types, factors to consider, and our top 5 picks.

Types of headphones


Now, headphones also have different types and for most users, choosing between in-ear, on-ear or over-the-ear headphones is a choice of personal preference. While in-ear headphones are a lot easier to carry around because of their compact size, on-ear headphones are comfortable to wear and have a great bass. We have compiled a detailed guide of both the types of headphones, making the task of finding your perfect fit easier.

In-ear headphones:

In-ear headphones are the most portable, easy to use headphones that give you exceptional sound quality. As the name suggests, in-ear headphones go inside your ear. These headphones are renowned for their convenience and versatility, making them an ideal choice for a variety of activities, including commuting, exercising, and casual listening. In-ear headphones provide excellent noise isolation due to their close fit, allowing users to enjoy their music or podcasts without significant interference from external sounds. Many modern in-ear headphones come equipped with features such as wireless connectivity, built-in microphones for hands-free calling, and touch controls for easy operation.

Two types of in-ear headphones:

Further breaking it down, in-ear headphones are also of two types: wired and wireless. Wired headphones were the initial headphones that captured the market and with technical advancements, the wireless headphones came in.

Wired vs wireless headphones:

Here are the main differences between wired and wireless headphones:

Wired headphones

  1. Connection: Wired headphones connect to devices via a physical cable, usually through a 3.5mm audio jack or USB port.
  2. Sound Quality: They typically offer superior sound quality due to a direct connection, reducing potential audio compression or interference issues.
  3. Latency: Wired headphones have minimal to no latency, making them ideal for activities requiring precise audio timing, such as gaming or music production.
  4. Battery Life: They do not require batteries or charging, as they draw power directly from the connected device.
  5. Compatibility: Wired headphones are universally compatible with any device with the corresponding port, though some modern smartphones and devices are phasing out traditional headphone jacks.
  6. Durability: The cable can be a point of failure due to tangling, bending, and wear over time.

Check out these wired headphones:

The JBL C100SI Wired In-Ear Headphones with Mic offer a combination of deep bass and crystal-clear sound, perfect for music lovers and casual listeners alike. These lightweight and comfortable earphones come with three sizes of ear tips, ensuring a perfect fit for any ear. The 9mm drivers deliver a powerful sound experience with JBL's signature Pure Bass sound. The sleek and stylish design makes these earphones a fashionable accessory that complements your daily style. It is compatible with both Android and iOS devices.

The boAt Bassheads 105 Wired In-Ear Earphones with Mic are designed to deliver a powerful and dynamic sound experience. Featuring 13mm drivers, these earphones produce immersive audio with enhanced bass, perfect for enjoying your favourite music genres. The ergonomic design with angled earbuds provides a secure and comfortable fit for prolonged listening sessions. The tangle-free cable ensures hassle-free usage and easy storage.

Pros and Cons of wired headphones:

Sound Quality: Wired headphones often deliver superior sound quality, as they don't rely on wireless signal compression.Mobility: Limited by the length of the cable, which can be restrictive.
No Battery Needed: They don’t require charging, making them always ready for use.Durability: Cables can get tangled, damaged, or frayed over time
Lower Latency: Ideal for activities requiring precise audio timing, such as gaming or professional audio work.Port Availability: Modern smartphones and devices are increasingly dropping the headphone jack.
Cost: Generally more affordable than wireless options with similar sound quality. 
Compatibility: Easily connect to a wide range of devices with a headphone jack 


Wireless Headphones or TWS

  1. Connection: Wireless headphones connect to devices via Bluetooth or other wireless technologies.
  2. Sound Quality: They may experience some loss in sound quality due to audio compression, though advances in Bluetooth codecs (like aptX, AAC) have narrowed this gap.
  3. Latency: Wireless headphones can have higher latency, which might be noticeable in time-sensitive activities, though many high-quality models have low latency modes.
  4. Battery Life: They require regular charging and have limited battery life, which varies from model to model.
  5. Compatibility: They must be paired with compatible Bluetooth devices, which can sometimes be a hassle. However, they are increasingly compatible with most modern devices.
  6. Convenience: Wireless headphones offer greater mobility and freedom from cables, making them convenient for activities like exercising or commuting.
  7. Features: Many wireless headphones come with additional features like active noise cancellation, touch controls, and voice assistant integration.

Check out these wireless headphones:

These stylish and compact earbuds are designed for music lovers who seek the perfect blend of convenience and performance. Equipped with 8mm dynamic drivers, they deliver crisp and powerful audio, ensuring an immersive listening experience. The Airdopes 141 features Bluetooth v5.0 for a seamless and stable connection, allowing you to enjoy your favourite tracks without interruption. With an impressive battery life of up to 42 hours, including the charging case, you can keep the music going all day long. The earbuds are IPX4 rated for sweat and water resistance, making them ideal for workouts and outdoor activities.

The OnePlus Bullets Z2 Bluetooth Wireless In-Ear Earphones with Mic offer a seamless and high-quality audio experience, perfect for on-the-go listening. Equipped with 12.4mm dynamic drivers, these earphones deliver rich bass and crisp treble, ensuring a balanced sound profile. With an impressive battery life of up to 20 hours on a single charge, the Bullets Z2 ensure uninterrupted music playback throughout the day. The in-line mic and controls enable hands-free calls and easy music management, making the OnePlus Bullets Z2 a versatile and user-friendly choice for everyday use.

Choosing between wired and wireless headphones:

Choosing between wired and wireless headphones depends on various factors, including your specific needs, lifestyle, and preferences. Here are some key points to consider for each type:

Also Read: Our top 7 picks of May 2024 to experience unparalleled pure bass sound with JBL headphones

Pros and cons of wireless headphones

Freedom of Movement: No cables mean you can move freely, making them ideal for workouts, commuting, and general daily use.Battery Life: Require regular charging, and battery life can vary significantly between models
Convenience: Easily pair with multiple devices via Bluetooth.Potential Latency: Wireless connections may have slight delays, which can be noticeable in gaming or video calls.
Advanced Features: Often come with additional features like noise cancellation, touch controls, and voice assistants.Sound Quality: While improving, some wireless headphones may not match the audio fidelity of wired counterparts, especially in the lower price range
Modern Design: Generally more stylish and sleek, with many foldable or compact options for portabilityCost: Typically more expensive than wired headphones with similar features.

Considerations for Specific Uses

  • Gaming: Wired headphones are often preferred for their low latency and high sound quality.
  • Exercise: Wireless headphones are more convenient due to their freedom of movement.
  • Travel: Wireless headphones with noise cancellation can be beneficial for blocking out ambient noise.
  • Professional Audio Work: Wired headphones are favoured for their precise sound reproduction and reliability.


  • Choose Wired Headphones if: You prioritise sound quality, don’t want to worry about battery life, and prefer a more affordable option.
  • Choose Wireless Headphones if: You value mobility, convenience, modern features, and can manage the need to recharge them periodically.

Pros and Cons of In-ear headphones:

Portability: In-ear headphones are compact and lightweight, making them easy to carry around in your pocket or bagSound Quality: While many in-ear headphones offer excellent sound quality, they generally do not match the audio performance of over-ear headphones, especially in terms of bass response and soundstage.
Noise Isolation: The snug fit in the ear canal helps block out external noise, providing a more immersive listening experienceComfort Issues: Some users may find in-ear headphones uncomfortable, especially with prolonged use, as they fit directly into the ear canal.
Discreetness: They are less conspicuous compared to over-ear headphones, making them ideal for use in public or at workDurability: The small size and delicate wires of in-ear headphones can make them more prone to damage and wear and tear compared to larger headphones.
Comfort for Active Use: Many in-ear headphones are designed to stay securely in place, making them suitable for workouts and other physical activities.Hygiene: In-ear headphones can accumulate earwax and dirt, requiring regular cleaning to maintain hygiene and performance
Variety: There is a wide range of in-ear headphones available, from budget options to high-end models with advanced featuresHearing Health: Prolonged use at high volumes can pose a risk to hearing health, as the sound is directed straight into the ear canal
Microphone and Controls: Many models come with built-in microphones and controls, allowing for hands-free calls and easy access to volume and playback controls 


On-ear headphones:

On-ear headphones are comparatively larger than their in-ear counterpart, and again they are much easier to carry than their over-the ear counterparts. On-ear headphones offer a balanced blend of comfort and portability, making them ideal companions for music lovers on the go. Designed to sit comfortably on the outer ear without fully enclosing it, these headphones deliver a crisp and clear audio experience while allowing some ambient noise to filter through, enhancing situational awareness. Whether you're tuning in to music, podcasts, or handling calls, on-ear headphones strike a perfect balance between style, comfort, and audio performance, making them a versatile choice for all-day use.

Also Read: Best headphones with microphone: Check out the top 9 trustworthy options for gaming, work, and everyday use

Check out these on-ear headphones:

The SHOKZ OpenRun Pro Premium Bone Conduction On-Ear Bluetooth Sport Headphones redefine your workout audio experience with their innovative bone conduction technology. These headphones deliver high-quality sound through vibrations, allowing you to stay aware of your surroundings while enjoying your music. The OpenRun Pro features a lightweight and comfortable design, perfect for extended wear during intense workouts. With up to 10 hours of battery life and quick charge capabilities, you can enjoy uninterrupted audio throughout the day. The IP67 rating ensures that the headphones are resistant to sweat and water, making them ideal for any sport or outdoor activity.

Pros and cons of on-ear headphones:

Portability: On-ear headphones are generally smaller and lighter than over-ear headphones, making them more portable and easier to carry around.Sound Leakage: On-ear headphones tend to leak sound more than over-ear headphones, which can be disruptive in quiet environments or when privacy is needed.
Comfort: They are usually more comfortable than in-ear headphones for extended use since they do not go inside the ear canal.Comfort for Extended Use: While more comfortable than in-ear headphones, they can still cause discomfort after prolonged use due to the pressure exerted on the ears.
Breathability: Because they do not completely enclose the ear, on-ear headphones allow for better airflow, reducing heat build-up during long listening sessionsLess Bass Response: On-ear headphones generally have less bass response compared to over-ear models because they do not create a complete seal around the ears.
Better Sound Isolation than In-Ear: They offer better sound isolation than in-ear headphones without the need to insert anything into the ear canal, which some users find uncomfortableDurability: The smaller and lighter design can sometimes mean they are less durable than over-ear headphones, depending on the build quality and materials used.
Sound Quality: Generally, on-ear headphones offer better sound quality than most in-ear models, especially in terms of bass and overall sound richness. 

Also Read: Best earphones to buy: Top 10 options for exceptional audio experience

Over-the ear headphones:

Over-the ear headphones offer at par sound and audio quality as compared to both their in-ear and on-ear counterpart. Reason? Just look at the size of the driver, that is certain to give you exceptional sound quality. These headphones are characterised by their large ear cups that fully enclose the ears, providing excellent noise isolation and deep bass response. Ideal for audiophiles and frequent travellers, over-ear headphones deliver rich, detailed sound across a wide frequency range, making them perfect for enjoying music, movies, and gaming with clarity and precision. Moreover, they offer extreme comfort to its wearer even during extended listening sessions. Whether you're seeking studio-grade sound for professional use or simply a high-quality audio companion for everyday enjoyment, over-ear headphones stand out for their superior sound performance and ergonomic comfort, catering to discerning users who prioritise both audio fidelity and comfort.

Check out these over the ear headphones:

The Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless Over-Ear Headphones deliver superior sound quality and comfort, making them a top choice for audiophiles and music enthusiasts. Equipped with advanced active noise cancellation (ANC) technology, these headphones block out ambient noise, allowing you to immerse yourself in your music. The 42mm transducers provide exceptional audio clarity with deep bass, natural mids, and detailed highs. With a remarkable battery life of up to 60 hours on a single charge, you can enjoy uninterrupted listening for days. The lightweight and ergonomic design ensures a comfortable fit for extended use.

The Srhythm NC25 Wireless Headphones with Bluetooth 5.3 technology offer a high-quality audio experience with advanced noise-cancelling capabilities. These lightweight, over-ear headphones are designed for comfort and extended use, featuring soft ear cushions and an adjustable headband. The 40mm drivers deliver clear sound with deep bass, making your music come alive. The active noise cancellation (ANC) technology effectively reduces ambient noise, allowing you to focus on your audio. With a battery life of up to 50 hours, the NC25 headphones ensure long-lasting performance. The foldable design and included carrying case make them easy to store and transport.

Pros and cons of over-ear headphones:


Sound Quality: Over-ear headphones often provide superior sound quality compared to on-ear or in-ear headphones.Portability: Over-ear headphones are bulkier and less portable than on-ear or in-ear headphones. 
Comfort: These headphones typically feature large ear cups that completely cover your ears, which can be more comfortable for long listening sessions compared to other typesHeat and Sweating: The large ear cups can trap heat and cause your ears to sweat during extended use, especially in warm environments or during physical activity.
Noise Isolation: Over-ear headphones offer better passive noise isolation because they cover your entire ear, blocking out more external noise. Weight: Some over-ear headphones can be heavy, which might cause discomfort during long listening sessions.
Battery Life: Wireless over-ear headphones usually have longer battery life compared to smaller in-ear models, as they can house larger batteries.Cost: High-quality over-ear headphones can be expensive.

Also Read: Best earbuds under 1500: Top 10 wireless picks with decent audio quality, noise cancellation and fast charging

Studio headphones:

If you are one of those love mixing music or a studio professional, studio headphones are your best bet. These headphones are designed to meet the exacting standards of recording studios and deliver a flat frequency response, ensuring that every nuance of the audio is captured and heard exactly as intended. Their comfortable, over-ear design allows for long sessions without fatigue, while the robust build quality withstands the rigours of professional use.

Studio headphones often feature closed-back designs to isolate external noise, providing an immersive listening environment ideal for mixing and mastering. With their superior sound quality and durability, studio headphones are indispensable for achieving precise and high-quality audio production.

Check out these Studio headphones

The AKG K72 Closed Back Studio Headphones deliver professional-grade audio performance for studio monitoring and critical listening. Featuring a closed-back design, these headphones offer excellent isolation from external noise, allowing for an immersive audio experience. The 40mm drivers produce a balanced and detailed sound with a wide frequency range, ensuring accurate reproduction of both low and high frequencies. The self-adjusting headband and soft ear pads provide a comfortable fit for extended sessions, making these headphones ideal for musicians, producers, and audio engineers. With a robust build quality, the AKG K72 headphones are designed to withstand the demands of daily studio use, ensuring reliability and durability. Whether you are mixing tracks or simply enjoying your favourite music, the AKG K72 headphones offer a precise and enjoyable listening experience.

The Audio-Technica ATH-M20X Professional Monitor Headphones are designed for excellent sound isolation and accurate audio reproduction. As part of the renowned M-Series, these headphones feature 40mm drivers with rare earth magnets and copper-clad aluminium wire voice coils, delivering enhanced low-frequency performance. The circumlunar design contours around the ears, providing superior sound isolation in loud environments. The durable construction and high-quality materials ensure long-lasting performance, making the ATH-M20X suitable for both studio and everyday use. The professional-grade ear pads and headband offer a comfortable fit, allowing for extended periods of listening or monitoring without fatigue. Whether you are a budding musician, a seasoned producer, or an avid listener, the Audio-Technica ATH-M20X headphones offer a reliable and immersive audio experience.


Pros and cons of Studio headphones:

Sound Accuracy: Studio headphones are designed for precise sound reproduction, providing a flat frequency response that allows you to hear audio exactly as it was recordedPrice: High-quality studio headphones can be quite expensive compared to regular consumer headphones.
Comfort: Typically, studio headphones are built for extended wear, featuring comfortable padding and ergonomic designs suitable for long recording or mixing sessions.Lack of Enhanced Bass: Since they are designed for accurate sound reproduction, studio headphones may not provide the exaggerated bass
Durability: These headphones are often constructed with high-quality materials to withstand the rigors of daily studio use.Bulkiness: Studio headphones are often larger and heavier than regular headphones, which can make them less portable and less convenient for on-the-go use.
Noise Isolation: Many studio headphones provide excellent passive noise isolation, minimizing external sound interference and allowing for better focus on the audio work. 

Factors to consider when buying a headphone:

When buying a headphone, consider the following factors to ensure you make the best choice for your needs:

  1. Sound Quality: Assess the headphone's sound signature, including bass, mids, and treble. Look for models with good clarity, balanced sound, and minimal distortion.
  2. Comfort and Fit: Choose a design that suits your comfort preferences, whether over-ear, on-ear, or in-ear. Consider adjustable headbands, cushioned ear cups, and lightweight materials for prolonged use.
  3. Battery Life: For wireless headphones, battery life is crucial. Look for models with long battery life to avoid frequent recharging, especially if you plan to use them for extended periods.
  4. Noise Cancellation: Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) can be essential for blocking out external noise, providing an immersive listening experience, and making them ideal for travel or noisy environments.
  5. Connectivity: Consider the type of connectivity—Bluetooth for wireless models, and if it supports multipoint pairing, or wired connections with different jack options like 3.5mm or USB.
  6. Durability and Build Quality: Look for robust construction with quality materials to ensure longevity. Water and sweat resistance are also important for sports and outdoor use.
  7. Features and Controls: Check for additional features such as touch controls, built-in microphones for calls, voice assistant support, and app compatibility for customisable sound settings.
  8. Portability: For on-the-go use, consider foldable designs or included carrying cases for easy transportation.
  9. Brand and Warranty: Established brands often offer better reliability and customer support. Check the warranty and customer service policies.
  10. Price and Value: Determine your budget and compare models within that range. Ensure the headphone offers good value for the price, balancing features, and performance.

Considering these factors will help you select headphones that meet your specific needs and provide an optimal listening experience.

Other factors to consider while buying headphones:

Built-in controls: One of the most convenient features of a headphone is its built-in controls. Many headphones come with built-in controls such as the power buttons, volume controls, and more which helps you control your music without even taking out your phone from your pocket.

Voice assistant: Voice assistants like Google and Alexa helps you take control of your music without even the need of scrolling through your cell phone, which makes it easier and less time taking task. Changing the track, powering on or off, reducing or increasing the volume, all of it at just your voice command.

Looks: The kind of headphone or earphone you are wearing talks a lot about your personality and gives you a luxury feel. So, choose a headphone that matches your vibe and your personality.

Factors to consider for great audio quality

Even if you’re not an audiophile, knowing how and what factors should be considered to test the audio quality of your headphones is always a wise decision. So, here are some of the factors that you need to consider for a great sound quality:

Frequency Response

  • Range: The frequency response range indicates the spectrum of sound that the headphones or speakers can reproduce. A wider range usually means better sound quality. Typical ranges are from 20 Hz to 20 kHz.
  • Flat Response: A flat frequency response means that the audio equipment reproduces all frequencies equally, which is important for accurate sound reproduction.

2. Drivers

  • Size and Type: Larger drivers generally produce better bass, while smaller ones can handle higher frequencies more efficiently. Common driver types include dynamic, planar magnetic, and electrostatic.
  • Quality: High-quality materials and construction of drivers can significantly affect sound clarity and detail.

3. Impedance

  • Matching with Source: Impedance measures the resistance of the headphones or speakers. High-impedance models require more power and are usually paired with amplifiers, while low-impedance models work well with portable devices.

4. Sensitivity

  • Loudness: Sensitivity indicates how loud the audio device will be for a given power input, typically measured in decibels (dB). Higher sensitivity means louder output with less power.

5. Total Harmonic Distortion (THD)

  • Clarity: Lower THD values indicate less distortion and clearer sound, especially at high volumes.

6. Soundstage and Imaging

  • Spatial Accuracy: Soundstage refers to the perceived spatial location of sound sources, while imaging describes how accurately the position of each sound is reproduced. A wide soundstage and precise imaging enhance the listening experience.

7. Build Quality and Materials

  • Durability and Acoustics: High-quality materials not only ensure durability but also contribute to better sound quality by reducing unwanted vibrations and resonances.

8. Fit and comfort

  • Sealing and Isolation: A good fit ensures proper sealing, which enhances bass response and noise isolation. Comfort is also crucial for extended listening sessions.

9. Connectivity

  • Wired vs. Wireless: Wired connections generally offer better sound quality due to less signal interference. Wireless connections, especially with high-quality codecs like aptX, LDAC, or AAC, can also provide excellent audio quality.

10. Source quality

  • Audio Files and Equipment: High-resolution audio files and high-quality playback equipment, such as DACs (Digital-to-Analog Converters) and amplifiers, are essential for achieving great audio quality.

11. Equalisation and customisation

  • Personal Preferences: The ability to adjust the sound profile through equalisers or software can tailor the audio experience to personal preferences and specific genres of music.

Achieving great audio quality involves a combination of technical specifications, build quality, and user preferences. Understanding these factors can help you make informed decisions when choosing audio equipment.

At Hindustan Times, we help you stay up-to-date with the latest trends and products. Hindustan Times has an affiliate partnership, so we may get a part of the revenue when you make a purchase. We shall not be liable for any claim under applicable laws, including but not limited to the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, with respect to the products. The products listed in this article are in no particular order of priority.

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