Headphones have reached a long way in the past century. Back then they consisted of a single earpiece held tightly against one ear and was the only way anyone could hear the transmitted sound. This was before the time of amplifiers. The normal use of headphones was in radio stations and not in the home market.

There is virtually no one who has not listened to, or used, a set of headphones today. They have literally burst in popularity since the onset of gadgets such as mobile phones, mp3 players, iPods, and the like.

The most commonly used wires connect the headpiece to the equipment and this limited the movements of the user to within range – in other words, as far as the wire would stretch! The advent of wireless headphones sets the user free to move about whilst listening to the preferred channel.

Whether you want the smaller, more trendy, or more portable headphones always make sure you get what is right for you in terms of comfort, style, and price. Buy the best you can afford for longevity.

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The Comfort Factor

No matter which is your choice on headphones, perhaps the one thing that people do not consider is comfort. Possibly, the last thing that anyone would consider when it comes to purchasing headphones is comfort. With all the facts out there on the net and in shops, no one tells you the most prominent fact and that is ‘try it on before your buy it.

It is all very well spending as much as 1,000 dollars – for you very rich out there! – on another set of headphones just to find them so awkward that you try not to put them on!

So what do you search for in comfort? All things considered, first choose if you like the sound just inside your ears or outside. If outside, do you need the ‘circum’ style which lounges around the ear, or the ‘supra’ style which sits right on the ear?

All have good features and bad features and it is up to the user which style to purchase.

The circum style seats around the ear and delivers a slightly muffled sound as if the user is sitting in an auditorium whilst the supra style feels like the instruments are right there next to the ear.

Whenever you choose one make sure that the material on the ear pads is comfortable. Many have leatherette-style coverings which can bring a little sweaty in hot conditions. Velvet-style pads do not have this issue. Plastic can get very sticky.

For portable headsets, many don’t like earbud styles because they make ears hurt!

Can Headphones Damage Your Health?

According to recent research, high noise levels can impact hearing loss in the future. Kids and youth may be especially in danger if they usually listen to music many hours per day at high volumes. The recommended public health limit of average leisure noise exposure per day is 70 decibels.

The WHO Trusted Source evaluates that roughly 50 percent of people aged between 12 and 35 are in danger of hearing loss due to prolonged and excessive exposure to loud sounds.

Of all the headphones that are on offer, which of them physically hurts hearing? Or is it down to the person to monitor their own safety? Some companies offered a safe alternative – but some have been stopped due to poor sales.

Some companies produced equipment that limited volume automatically or alerted the user when the sound was set excessively high. The public refused the idea with the response that it was up to the user how loud their music should be. That sequence of equipment was quickly discontinued.

Today, some companies have presented systems whereby volumes on various tracks are corrected to the same level. Others provide a system for the user to control their own preferred settings and give finer control than the auto-corrected version.

Some governments have hopped on the bandwagon in recent years and have set limits on the levels of sound personal equipment can emit. Of course, it will always be up to the person on how loud he/she wants their music to be. Maybe the answer lies in education.

Which headphones are right for you?

There are numerous headphone sets on offer but they basically fall into four distinct categories – in-ear, earbuds, supra-aural or circumaural. All have their unique uses and are usually used in specific models.

Recording studios and the like usually use circumaural headphones. These have large round earpads that fit over the ears completely and cut out peripheral sounds. Real sound enthusiasts occasionally use these too.

Supra-aural headphones are foam rubber-covered headsets that sit on the outside of the ear and are used to be given free with personal stereos or on airlines. They were the cheap and cheerful choice in those days.

Earbuds are the headphones that are the affliction of commuter’s life! They sit on the outer part of the ear but do not cut out peripheral noise.

Last – but not least – are the in-ear headphones often known as canalphones. As the name indicates they are seated directly into the ear canal giving good quality sound and barring peripheral noise.

Users usually pump up the volume to make up for this and leave fellow travelers with the extremely annoying overflow of metallic sound. These headphones can make harm hearing and even cause distraction when crossing streets or similar. The volume is set high to such an extent that ordinary regular sounds are muffled. Very dangerous!

You may enjoy a different set of headphones for different occasions. Be aware though that some are harmful in both hearing loss and where accidents can occur. Choose wisely.

Headphones around or on the ear?

Headphones arrive in four styles but for the avid music listener the choice really comes down to two types.


  • pads that sit around the ear, or supra-aural
  • pads that sit directly on the ear.

Both have good and bad points and choice can also rely on how much you like to pay.

With the supra-aural headphones, the user can feel that the instrument is playing next to the ear delivering good and sharp clarity. Yet, this may sound bizarre to some people since we are used to a more muffled sound.

With the circumaural headphones, the sound is just that

  • a little muffled
  • but it is a more natural sound.

Imagine sitting in a concert hall. You are not right next to the instruments so you don’t get that sharp clarity that the ‘supra’ headphones give.

Of course, the choice is up to the user and what they want out of their headset.

Next is the headphone that is used mostly in the recording studio. These are usually full-sized ‘circum’ style headphones that include soft material on the ear pads to block out sound.

Some have a built-in control to automatically cut the sound when the headphone is taken off. A much-needed feature if a recording is going on.

Headphones and sports

Headphones have been everywhere for several years but in these days of health and fitness regimes, it has evolved apparently that specialized headsets are essential. Normal portable headsets almost bounce off the head when the user is jogging or such and can divert from the purpose of the activity.

Others are far too big or cut out all of the peripheral sounds potentially placing the user in a dangerous situation. Visualize being deep into the exercise with the music adding to the intensity. The user could easily run into a busy road or into another dangerous situation without being completely aware.

Apart from holding securely the headphone set must be easy to clean and also could be used in low temperatures. Added ability to withstand sweat and humidity is also a requisite for this kind of headset. Others arrive with extension cords so that the player can be carried in the pocket.

Perhaps the most unique headphone set yet is the one substituting the headband model. The LX 70 sports model consists of a thin flexible plastic tube with a metal inner core. It is impossibly light and yet incredibly tough and is perhaps one of the best headphone sets for sports available. The price is around $55.

Whichever sport you play you must find exactly the right model that fits the sport you play.

Wireless headphones

If you don’t want dangling wires and wires stretched from your music player to wherever you are sitting then you should try out the wireless, or cordless headsets.

Bluetooth technology – so named after the King of Denmark in the 10th Century when he united Denmark and Norway – has made this an extremely easy choice. The introduction of Bluetooth technology has provided user freedom exceptional in history.

Bluetooth technology lets the user wear headphones without the trailing wires and styles have indeed enhanced of late. The headset ‘hooks’ on to the sound being transmitted from as far as ten meters away.

All it takes is to place a ‘dongle’ – a small box with a small jack plug – into your music system. The headphones and dongle are then ‘paired’ electronically and you are set to go!

Apart from the normal needs of headphones – pleasing sound quality, comfort, hands-free design, etc. – some people just want to look ‘cool’ when it comes to wearing headsets.

iPhones have come up with a design that looks a little odd. Behind the neck, the bar connects to large, egg-shaped earpieces and is not for all.

A tip to watch out for when buying new headphones is to try them on for size. This headset’s bar stood out from the back of the neck way too far.

Headphones that cut out external noise

Imagine having to communicate with colleagues in an airport. Or you are near aircraft or heavy machinery. The background noise of airplanes landing and taking off is incredible and the volume would have to be set at excruciatingly painful levels.

Or in a busy sales office with phones, people, and copy machines clattering away all day. If you do this for prolonged hours every day, very soon your hearing would be damaged. Young people are the inadvertent victims of hearing loss through improper sound levels.

The solution is in a set of headphones that are specially made to cancel out the offending sound. They work by producing an ‘anti-noise’ device in the headset. Simply saying, if a noise is made with the opposite polarity of the offending noise then it cancels it out!

Canalphones are those that fit directly into the ear channel and are likely the best option if you want to cut out peripheral noise. When these headphones are operated in a very noisy environment they are much safer for the user since the volume does not have to be set very high. The canalphones let the listener set the sound at a comfortable level without harm to the eardrum.

This type of headphones is also good for home use. If the kids are noisy, the vacuuming is going on, and the TV is on, you can shut yourself off from all of this noise and listen to your favorite music or listen to that seminar that you have to write a report on!


Many pieces of portable devices on offer today come with their own headphones as standard. With a little additional spending, the sound quality can be improved tremendously.

Many iPods and mp3 players arrive with the ‘ear-bud’ type headphones but for as little as $20 you can get a ‘clip-on’ type that fits over the ear much like a pair of spectacles. The design has improved of late and the earpiece tends to stay where it was supposed to stay.

For something that looks a little more ‘cool,’ the style on the street is the ‘behind the head’ style headphones. These became famous some time ago and the improvement in sound justifies the price tag of about $50 for the better quality sets.

Beware though, that not all of us have the same size head, and trying it on for size is a must! Furthermore, some of these are ‘open’ style which means sounds can leak out and in. Be cautious if you want to use them in quiet zones e.g. libraries etc.

Then come to the ‘fold down’ portables. Less portable than the others cited here but still has good quality sound. Some fold down flat and are excellent for packing but others fold into a ball-like form. These can prove hard to carry around. So for less than $50 the sound from your devices can be improved tremendously.

Perhaps the best thing about today’s headsets is the quality of sound. The music is beamed straight to your ears without the distraction of peripheral noise. If you really like music possibly you should give this a try! You indeed are in a world of your own whether you are running or lying in your bed!