How to Buy Headphones and Earphones

If you’ve never purchased high quality headphones before, you might not know which criteria to pay attention to. While there are plenty of models to choose from, your planned use should help you narrow down the list. Although things like sound quality are important for everybody, some prefer a lot of bass, while others prefer open, full-range reproduction that emphasizes overall accuracy. Whether you need a pair of earphones for casual listening or a set of studio-worthy headphones for recording, we’ll help guide you through the process below.

Headphones vs. Earbuds

First, it’s important that you understand the difference between headphones and earphones/earbuds. Aesthetically speaking, headphones sit on your head and earphones sit in your year. Earbuds are what you usually get for free with MP3 players and phones, and most consumers opt to replace them with better quality models that provide improved sound and comfort. With this in mind, consumer grade earbuds shouldn’t be confused with professional models designed for monitoring live performances. In most cases, recording artists and producers use headphones, as they’re necessary for pro-audio work, such as recording and mixing. Fortunately, there are many mid-priced, professional headphones that meet the needs of musicians with home studios and smaller budgets. From fit and comfort to cables and durability, here’s everything you need to know about buying headphones and earphones.

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When it comes to cables, make sure they’re long enough for your situation. At the same time, avoid exceptionally long cables if possible, as they can negatively affect sound quality by lowering volume and introducing noise. Try to find a cable that’s just long enough for situation- nothing more, nothing less. If you do buy headphones with too short of a cable you can always add an extension, just make sure to purchase an extension cable of equal quality to the original. Otherwise, the sound quality will be noticeably reduced. Another consideration is single vs. double-sided cables. Single-sided designs have internal circuitry that carries the signals to the appropriate ear pieces, and most consider these types of designs to be preferable, mostly due to the fact that double-sided headphones are more prone to tangling.


If you’re investing in a pair of headphones, you want them to last as long as possible. Unfortunately, the most durable headphones tend to be heavier. While light headphones may be slightly more comfortable and, in most cases are easier to transport, they can be sat on or snapped in half more easily. If you do choose a lighter set of headphones, always put them in a protective case when they aren’t on your head. If your headphones fold up, inspect the hinges for sturdiness before purchasing. If you do buy more expensive headphones, find out if replacement parts are available. Also be sure to look into the warranty. It’s a lot cheaper to replace a cable or an ear pad than it is to buy an entirely new set of headphones.

Fit and Comfort

Since you’ll probably be using your headphones on a daily basis, long-term comfort is important. Any headphone will feel okay when worn for short periods of time, but many become uncomfortable when worn for extended periods of time. If you’re shopping in a store, try to wear the headphones for at least 20 minutes before making an evaluation about their fit and comfort. When shopping online, read honest reviews and evaluate their comfort the best you can. In general, closed-back headphones with large ear cups are more comfortable than smaller ear cups, and smaller cups with fabric padding or leather are ideal for headphones that rest on your ear. Regardless of the type of headphone you purchase, make sure they’re adjustable in nature.

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Types of Headphones

Once you start browsing, you’ll probably begin to notice that there are a lot of different types of headphones and earphones available on the market. Here’s a little more information about each type so you can make the decision that’s best for you and your situation:

  • Circumaural: This type of headphone can be closed or open-backed, and are usually referred to as over-the-ear headphones. Their padding encircles the entire ear and forms a seal. They’re usually pretty comfortable and the closed-back models isolate external sounds while preventing sound leakage. This is a good choice for recording artists and DJs who need to monitor sound in loud environments.
  • Supra-aural: These headphones are similar to the circumaural, except they rest on the ear. They’re usually lighter and more comfortable, but don’t isolate sound as well as circumaural models.
  • Open air: These can be either circumaural or supra-aural, but the back of the earpiece is open, allowing sound to escape in both directions. Since they’re non-isolating, they aren’t a good idea for recording. Their positive is open sound that isn’t fatiguing to the ears, making them a better choice for general listening.
  • Closed or Sealed: The backs of the earpieces in closed or sealed headphones are completely sealed off, offering the greatest sound isolation from this list. These types of headphones are ideal for monitoring in loud environments and recording. DJs tend to prefer them because they have a strong bass response.

Purchase Headphones & Earphones at Music & Arts

At Music & Arts, we’re dedicated to bringing you one of the largest offerings of marching band and orchestral instruments, products, and accessories in the world. As a one-stop shop for students, parents, and educators, you’ll find headphones and earphones from some of the top manufacturers, including AKG and Behringer.  Remember, when selecting headphones and earphones you should take your individual situation into consideration. Speak with your music instructor or a sales representative at your local Music & Arts store for help choosing the perfect pair.

Photo via Giandomenico Ricci, CC

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