Headphones are the perfect solution for the audiophile who wants to listen to their music while not disturbing anyone else. They are also perfect for listening to music when on the go. There are many different types of headphones for the audiophile to consider. The obvious rule of thumb is that the more expensive the headphones, the better the quality of the sound emitted by the headphones. But other considerations include comfort, the underlying technology of the headphones, the use of a headphone amplifier, and more.
When shopping for headphones, the buyer should consider the important factors influencing the sound quality of headphones, the features of the different types of headphones and their advantages and limitations, as well as safety. This way an audiophile is able to make an informed choice when shopping for headphones on eBay.
Headphones vs. Speakers
One of the greatest debates among audiophiles is that of headphones versus speakers. A person hears with both ears and the minute differences in frequency spectrum, time delay and phase in the sound reaching his left and right ear are processed by our brain, create a ‘soundstage’. This way a person can hear from which direction a sound is coming. The main difference between headphones and speakers is that under normal conditions the left ear hears a great deal of what the right ear is hearing and vice versa. When wearing headphones on the other hand, each ear receives completely different sounds to the other ear.
The Case for Speakers
Audiophiles who prefer speakers argue that the sound of speakers is much closer to the sound you would hear during a live performance, creating a broader soundstage. This means that a person hears the sound as coming from somewhere in front of him, from a kind of virtual stage. With headphones, on the other hand, the music seems to come from inside the listener’s head. Another argument is that the deep bass sounds are not only heard by the ear but felt by the entire body.
The Case for Headphones
Headphones on the other hand can deliver much cleaner sound directly to the ear and high-end headphones implement high-tech algorithms to modulate the sound and create the illusion of a soundscape as well. There are even headphones these days that deliver surround sound. The other obvious advantage of good headphones is that they are much cheaper than a set of speakers, offering comparable sound quality. Moreover, to properly enjoy sound from speakers, a relatively quiet and/or soundproof room is required, both to avoid outside noise and to not disturb the neighbours. In contrast, headphones can be used almost anywhere.
Types of Headphones
There are many different types of headphones and they come in many different sizes. They can essentially be categorised into four broad categories: earbuds, ear pads or supra-aural headphones, ear-cup or circumaural headphones, and the latest developments, in-ear headphones, also called in-ear monitors or IEMs.
Earbuds are most commonly used with mobile personal audio systems such as iPods. They fit in the outer ear without any additional support mechanism. They are small, lightweight, convenient and cheap but the range of sounds they emit is very limited.
Ear pads or supra-aural headphones consist of two pads that fit over the ears and are connected by a headband or neckband. They are very popular with people who find earbuds irritating and do not want to spend a lot of money on headphones. They are also limited in their capabilities and are not suited for audiophiles.
Ear cups or circumaural headphones have ear pads that cover the whole ear, attenuating external noise. There are two types: closed back and open back. Closed back headphones fully isolate the ears from all outside noises. This makes them ideal for use in noisy environments. The open back variety have an opening allowing for air to circulate inside the ear pads. This allows more sounds from the outside to reach the ear but on the other hand they create a more natural sound and a wider soundstage, closer to that of speakers. Circumaural headphones have long been the the choice of audiophiles and sound professionals as they can create very realistic sounds.
In-ear headphones or in-ear monitors are the latest development in headphones. In contrast to earbuds they are placed in the ear canal itself. The tips are made of silicone or foam and act as ear plugs, sealing off the ear from outside sounds. As they sit much closer to the eardrum than other headphones they deliver cleaner sounds with less distortion at lower volume levels than typical buds or headphones. High-end IEMs come with a variety of tips of different sizes as a snug fit in the ear is crucial to get the best results.
The Performance of Headphones
There are many different factors influencing the sound quality of headphones. These include the dynamic range of the headphones, as well as the impedance. Components like the magnets in the headphone and the headphone amplifier also affect performance.
Dynamic range is the range of sound frequencies a set of headphones can reproduce. The wider the range, the better the headphones. A good set of headphones typically has a dynamic range between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz.
Impedance is basically the electric resistance the headphones have, or in other words, the amount of power needed to drive the headphones. The higher the impedance, the more powerful the magnets inside the headphones and the better the sound reproduced is. Of course, larger headphones by definition need more powerful magnets than in-ear headphones. For ear pads and ear cups, an impedance of 32 ohms and higher is advisable, while in-ear monitors can deliver great quality at 16 to 20 ohms.
As previously mentioned, magnets are a key component of headphones. Recently developed neodymium supermagnets have made it possible to get much better sound out of much smaller headphones. If someone is looking for a really high-quality sound, headphones sporting neodymium magnets are a must.
Some high-end headphones, especially large ones, have so much electronic equipment that they need their own power source. Headphone amplifiers come in all sorts but due to their size they are not so suitable for use on the go. On the other hand, an audiophile can consider the purchase of a headphone amplifier for use at home.
Headphones today come with a host of different high-end features to improve sound quality and convenience. Some headphones are wireless, while others have noise cancellation technology.
Headphones with active noise cancellation or ANC technology have a pair of microphones that record the outside sounds. Electronic equipment is then used to invert these sounds, effectively cancelling them out. They have very good results in eliminating noise but unless the headphones are really high-end, this cancellation is usually not perfect, creating a high-frequency hiss that can be disturbing to the audiophile. If outside sounds happen to have the same frequency as some of the music, then ANC can create distortions. Moreover, due to the amount of electronics in them, headphones with ANC require a headphone amplifier, making them inconvenient for audiophiles on the go.
Technologies have been developed to deliver surround sound through headphones. The technology is for the greatest part built into the hi-fi system, home cinema or computer, and most decent headphones are able to reproduce the surround sound effect.
Wireless headphones are a very convenient development. The come with a transmitter base that usually also serves as a charger for the headphones. Wireless headphones are ideal for listening to music in one’s home. This way the listener can move around and be active while still listening to his favourite music.
How to Buy Headphones on eBay
eBay offers an extensive selection of headphones to choose from. Just go to the eBay homepage, type ‘headphones’ in the search box and press ‘Search’. You can then go into the category called ‘Headphones’ to refine your search further, using criteria such as use, earpiece design, connectivity, features, price range, and more. Of course, if you are looking for something specific, you can start off with a more detailed search such as ‘wireless surround headphones’. Alternatively, you can just browse through the different models until you find what you are looking for.
When you have found a pair of headphones you like, it is a good idea to have a look at the product pictures, description and payment and postage conditions. It is also always helpful to establish direct communication with the seller. If you have any questions you can contact the seller directly by going to their profile page and clicking on the contact link.
There is an ongoing debate among audiophiles about the pros and cons of speakers versus headphones. Most agree that there is nothing better than a dedicated listening room with high-end equipment and speakers and a decent insulation. However, as this is expensive, a good pair of headphones can offer a very acceptable solution at a fraction of the price. Ear cups or in-ear headphones generally offer the best sound quality, while ear pads and earbuds are generally cheaper and better suited for listening on the go. Important aspects to consider when buying audiophile headphones are the dynamic range and impedance of the headphones. Neodymium magnets and a headphone amplifier offer the highest quality sound. Noise cancellation can be handy in noisy environments, but at the cost of creating some distortion that may be noticeable to the audiophile. Surround sound and wireless headphones can enhance the listening experience even more.