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How to choose the best headphones

Lynn Wright / 20 May 2016

A quality pair of headphones will make listening to your music a real pleasure. We help you sift through the wide range of headphone styles to choose the perfect headphones for you.

Pair of headphones
You’ll find good quality headphones at all price points from a wide range of companies.

When it comes to shopping for headphones, the choice of models can be overwhelming. From small earbuds for listening on the go to large models that let you enjoy your music at home, there are lots of models from brands such as Sony, Bose, Philips and Dr Dre.

To add to the choice, headphones have a range of features – from onboard controls and mobile phone functionality to noise cancellation and wireless operation – which can make choosing the right headphones for you a challenge.

Brands Well-known brands such as Beats by Dr Dre, Bose, Sony and Seinnheiser dominate the market, but you’ll find good quality headphones at all price points from a wide range of companies.

Sound quality Look for headphones that deliver rich, well-balanced sound across treble, midrange and bass frequencies. Many cheaper headphone struggle with deep bass sounds.

Price You can pick up a set of headphones for less than £10, and it’s possible to spend more than £300 on a premium pair. It’s worth investing in the best headphones you can afford, but you don’t have to pay top whack for a great audio performance. There are plenty of headphones under £50 that produce impressive sound. Comfort is an issue too, and premium models usually offer better build quality and ergonomic features that make them easier to use.

For more on choosing the best headphones, see Headphone features explained.

Best headphone types to consider

There are four main types of headphones: earbuds, in-ear, on-ear and over-ear.

Earbuds Cheap and portable, these tiny earpieces are often bundled with smartphones and music players. They sit just inside the ear without sealing the ear canal, which makes them prone to sound leakage and the sound they emit is poor compared with other headphone types. Comfort and fit varies across models with many prone to falling out of the ear, so they’re not suitable if you’re exercising.

In-ear headphones These are the most popular headphones and often come bundled with smartphones. They sit deep in the ear canal and produce good quality sound though they can struggle at the bass end. Some models offer noise cancellation, making them suitable for travelling. However, some users find them uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time.

On-ear headphones consist of foam or leatherette pads that sit flat on the ear covering just the ear canal. Many are lightweight and foldable, which makes them more portable than over-ear models. However, as they don’t form a proper seal, they allow ambient noise to leak inside and their audio performance isn’t a match for over-ear models, particularly with bass frequencies.

Over-ear headphones have large cushioned cups that cover the entire ear, making them comfortable to wear for long periods. Available with either closed or open backs, they deliver excellent sound quality. With increased airflow, open-backed headphones offer phenomenal sound with exceptional bass, while a closed design eliminates outside noise completely providing excellent noise isolation. Over-ear headphones are heavier and bulkier than other models so they’re best kept for use at home.

Ready to choose the perfect pair of headphones for you, read our guide to the Five best headphones.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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