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What Price Should You Expect To Pay For a Pair of Headphones
Headphones can fall within a wide variety of price ranges, from $10 to well over $1,000. There’s a premium cost to develop more competent drivers and superior audio reproduction. Manufacturers are also continually coming up with new features in the fight for your money. Quality wireless technology and sound isolation are examples of two big areas that are advancing.
That doesn’t mean that you need to drop big bucks to get great sound. As long as you don’t go too cheap and stick with well-received brands, it’s not hard to find a good bang-for-the-buck headphone. We recommend starting in the $50-$100 range for regular over the ear (or on ear) headphones or in-ear headphones. Add about $50-150 if you plan to pick up a pair of noise canceling headphones, as the added components also add cost, but it's generally worth it.
Which are the Leading Headphone Brands
There are many good headphone manufacturers out there, but we’ll caution that although a brand is popular, that doesn’t mean that they’re the best choice. In the mainstream, you often can’t go wrong with renowned brands like Bose, Sony, and JBL. Just be cautious with some commercial brands like Beats, Skullcandy, and Monster - while they’ve gotten much better, there are still many that offer better sound for the price. Audio enthusiasts connect with names like Sennheiser, Audio-Technica, Shure, Beyerdynamic, and AKG. These audiophile-grade brands now have more affordable headphones in their lineups.
What to Look for When Buying Headphones
While headphones among manufacturers share similarities, the style and fit are often different. For instance, the earpad material of over/on-ears can vary among foam, plush, microfiber, or leather cushions. They can mean differences in comfort over a lengthy listening session. Comfort is a concern with in-ears too, as they must seal the ear canal. When you’re buying, make sure to check out the packaged eartips and what other users say about the fit.
Isolation goes hand-in-hand with the choice of materials. Quality is impacted if the sound leaks, and the prevalence of external noise could cause the user to raise the volume to dangerous levels. Most manufacturers find it best to use leather earpads with folded/thick cushions. It’s important to know that over-ears generally isolate better than on-ears because the earpads cover the entire ear lobe. With in-ears, foam eartips isolate much better than the typical silicone tips.
You need to figure out what matters most to you. If you always listen on the go, then a foldable on-ear or pocketable in-ear headphone will be most reasonable. Or if you sit at one place for a long time, such as in an office setting, then a comfy over-ear may be the ticket.
Mistakes to Avoid When Buying Headphones
Make sure to not go too cheap - ergonomics and sound quality often take a back seat to get that bargain price. Research what users say about the headphone fit, how they cope with sound isolation, and if they’re heavy. The weight of a headphone can cause discomfort on the head or pull on the earpiece.
With over-ears, buyers need to be aware if the headphone is open or closed-back. Closed-back (more common) keeps sound contained within your ears while open-back lets it leak out, for a more spacious sound. Headphone impedance should be a consideration with pricier over-ears. Generally, the more technology and bigger drivers they pack, the more power they need (impedance is an electrical resistance that voltage must overcome). If the amplifier on your source is weak, then you won’t be able to get enough volume. Low impedance headphones (suitable for smaller sources, like smartphones) are in the 16-32 ohm range, while high impedance starts around 100 ohm and can go well above.
Most portable headphones these days have an in-line remote on the cable for playback control when connected to a smartphone. However, users need to make sure to buy the model that is compatible with that mobile device. Manufacturers typically make an iOS and Android variant, because the mobile operating systems function differently.
As new headphone models continue to pour out from brands like Avid, Beats, Rapha, Bose, Sony, Sennheiser and many others, the market can get crowded. It can also get very expensive, especially when considering the best noise cancelling technology or the latest wireless Bluetooth headphones. To help find the best headphones for your particular music habits, from gaming to studying, check out the top lists, comparisons, and electronics articles at Gadget Review. We can help you find the amazing sound that you've been looking for while still saving you money in a market dominated by headphones costing hundreds of dollars!