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Types of Headphones: An Overview

There are a lot of terms to describe different kinds of headphones: Bluetooth, noise canceling, in-ear, earbuds, earphones, on-ear, over-ear, studio…and sometimes it’s hard to keep track of what each of them really mean. That’s why we’ve assembled a short glossary of terms to help you keep them all straight! Without further ado:

 

What is Bluetooth?

Bluetooth is a wireless technology that connects portable devices using short-length radio waves.

Bluetooth headphones are often used with stereo Bluetooth-ready phones & computers. Bluetooth is a relatively short-range transmission method, allowing connection between devices up to about 30 feet apart. Some wireless headphones, however, can transmit longer distances and can be used anywhere in the home or office.

In-Ear or Ear Bud Headphones

The vPulse in-ear headphones from Velodyne are compatible with most iDevices, allowing you to easily switch between calls and music.

In-ear headphones offer great sound in a small, lightweight, and portable package. They are excellent for on-the-go cell phone and music listening.

In-ear headphones (also called in-ear monitors, IEM, earphones, ear canal headphones, ear buds, and canal-phones) are small earphones that fit into and seal the ear canal. In-ear headphones are commonly used by pro performers to monitor sound mixes; this prevents possible feedback from stage monitors and isolates the artist from audience noise.

The Velodyne vPulse in-ear headphones fit snug in the ear canal and thus provide the best isolation and reduction of ambient noise. In-ear headphones help to ensure safe listening levels since they block ambient sounds so thoroughly you won’t have to turn the music up loud just to overcome noisy environments. The vPulse come with a variety of different sizes / types of eartip sleeves; it’s important to experiment to find the tip that works best for you. To get solid bass from in-ear headphones it is CRITICAL that you have a securely tight eartip seal within your ear canal. The Velodyne in-ear headphones, like most in-ear headphones, are efficient enough to work well directly out of an iPod or portable player without necessitating a headphone amp.

About Studio Headphones

Studio headphones fit comfortably over your ear for an immersive listening experience.

Studio headphones are full size headphones which fit completely around the ear for a rich and sensual sound experience.

Full size headphones may be open-back, closed, wireless or noise-canceling types. Generally speaking, full size headphones are the most comfortable to wear for listening around the home or office, but they are often too large for portable use.  Some are easily powered and will reach satisfactory volume and sound quality direct from an iPod/iPhone, computer or portable player without the need for a headphone amp. Studio headphones will typically fit all the way around the ear (circumaural) and work best with home stereo equipment and/or headphone amps. All professional, high-end and audiophile full size headphones should be driven with a dedicated headphone amplifier for best acoustic performance.

What are Closed Headphones?

Closed headphones, aka sealed or closed-back headphones, have an enclosed, non-vented earpiece to most effectively block out ambient noise.  Closed headphones are often used by DJs.

Closed headphones, also known as sealed headphones, have a solid-backed earcup construction preventing noise from leaking into or out of the headphone. Closed headphones block ambient noise and also prevent those nearby from hearing your music. Closed-back designs may be either full size (circumaural) or earpad (supra-aural) types, and all noise canceling headphones are also closed-back.  Audio professionals such as DJs and location recordists – and also portable listeners — will often choose closed headphones. The sound quality of closed cans has continuously improved in recent years and some can now compete directly with the top open-back headphones.

About On-Ear Headphones

Also known as ‘supra-aural’ headphones, on-ear headphones have earpieces that will gently rest on the earlobes.

Earpad — or ‘on-ear’ — headphones are available in open, closed, and noise canceling types, and can vary greatly in size.    On-ear headphones come in both open and closed-back earcup designs.  They usually have a standard over-the-head headband (some fold for compact transport or storage), but earpad headphones can also be behind the neck or clip-on types as well. Closed back or sealed earpad headphones can isolate from some mild ambient noise, but typically not as well as closed-back studio, full size headphones.

The Headset

This Bluetooth headset allows you to talk hands-free.

Headset headphones let you  talk while you listen with a built-in microphone.  Compatible with iPhones & other cell phones, headsets include all types of headphones including Bluetooth, wired, full-size, and earbud style.

Headsets are designed to let you listen AND talk, and are commonly used with cell phones. There are many different types of headsets: wired mono (one earpiece) and stereo (two earpieces) headsets, earpad headsets, in-ear headsets, full size closed headsets, Bluetooth headsets, USB headsets and more. You can also turn any pair of headphones into a headset by adding a headset adapter with a microphone.

Noise Canceling Headphones and How They Work

Noise canceling headphones are designed to insulate you from outside noise by using ‘active’ battery-powered electronics.

Noise canceling headphones use tiny built-in microphones in the earpieces to sense ambient noise around the headphones with an active (battery powered) electronic circuit that amplifies and inverts those signals, then adds them into the music signal to ‘cancel’ the acoustic noise pressure present at the earpieces. Noise canceling headphones are designed primarily to block airline/train cabin noise during travel and usually isolate sound better than a basic closed headphone.

Clip-On or Wing-Style Headphones for Activity

Clip-on headphones, or ear-clip headphones, are designed to stay in place during physical activity.

Clip-on headphones and wing adaptions stay secure on the ear for listening while you are in motion. They are lightweight and compact, and you’ll be able to stay aware of your surroundings while running or walking.  Waterproof styles are available for swimming.  The clip-on style headphones will usually fit under a skateboard or bicycle helmet.

Now that you’re armed with knowledge, you can make an informed decision about which headphone type is perfect for you. Happy listening!

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