The idea of being able to walk freely around the house, from lounge to kitchen to bedroom, all the while wrapped up listening to one’s favourite music with headphones has its appeal. The problem is that it can be difficult to find headphones with a sufficiently long cord to stretch for such long distances.
For one thing, exceptionally long cords can have an impact on the sound quality the headphones can deliver. Compared to loudspeakers, headphones are designed to work with much lower power levels, so the cord’s electrical resistance is a factor that designers need to take into account. Unlike hi-fi separates, headphones are normally supplied with pre-fitted cords.
Not everybody wants hi-fi headphones, however. There are models available, usually at relatively modest prices, that can serve their audio purpose while giving the user the flexibility to move around as they please. A buyer considering headphones with a long cord should be able to identify product areas where long cords are common and those where it is advisable to avoid excessively long cords.
In the early days of high fidelity stereo, headphones were an addition to a domestic system that many people used to enjoy their music or radio programmes without disturbing anyone else in the house. With the genesis of personal stereos pioneered by the Sony Walkman, the headphones ceased to be an addition and instead became an essential component.
As the technology has matured, the sound quality of headphones has increased immeasurably but so too has the range of types and quality available. There are a number of terms that recur in the marketplace, and it is useful to associate these with typical usage scenarios so that the likelihood that they are suitable for use with long cords can easily be evaluated.
A term that is often seen in promotion material for headphones is "binaurall". This term has a technical meaning, which has more to do with recording techniques than it does with playback. Binaural recording is a way of imitating the natural hearing properties of human ears and involves modelling the placing of microphones on the physiology of the head.
Stereo headphones are an ideal way of listening to the results of binaural recording because loudspeaker crosstalk can interfere with the fidelity of binaural reproduction when played on a conventional stereo hi-fi system. A long cord has no bearing on the binaural properties of the signal.
Related to the physics of binaurality, surround sound has become commonplace with the parallel growth of home cinema and video gaming. For the latter in particular, the appeal of headphones is obvious because placing six or eight speaker cabinets in a confined yet balanced space can be a challenge.
However, the challenge of engineering surround sound into the confines of a pair of headphones is considerable. For one thing, the subwoofer’s output needed to deliver the physical oomph at the bottom end of the frequency range is experienced by the whole body rather than solely the ears, and that is an effect that headphones cannot reproduce. The special cables needed for some types (and there are only a few available in the first place) mean that long cords are probably not going to be available.
There are a few applications for monophonic headphones. Usually, they are used with computers for such tasks as dictation to transcription software or for Voice-over-IP programs like Skype. Normally, this type of headset does not need a long cord, but it might be possible to get a cord extension if length is a problem. Before FM radio became commonplace, mono headphones were usually sufficient for monitoring in many contexts. This type would have the same signal wired to both earpieces and could feature very long cords for studio use.
Many of the stereo headphones in the general market are manufactured to very tight margins. As a result, cords are often short and also thin. Since the notions of "long" and "short" are vague, let us say that anything under two metres is short, while anything over three metres is long.
Earbuds are designed to fit right into the auditory canal. They are accordingly small and light, both in the earpieces and in the cord. Normally, in other words, earbuds are supplied with short cords. As they are usually fitted with mini-jack plugs, it is easy to find extension cords if required. Custom moulded earbuds are a different matter in that their principal function is to give performing musicians live foldback. For that type of use, cord length is part of the customer’s specification, and it can be as long or short as is needed.
Over-ear headphones are larger than buds, though not necessarily a great deal larger; the real distinction is more that they are mounted on a headband that arcs from one ear to the other. Airlines most commonly use the lowest quality kind to pipe the audio for in-flight movies. Because light headphones are usually used with light equipment, such as personal stereos, they do not need long cords.
Another kind of over-ear headphone is more substantially constructed, and it is designed to be plugged in to a domestic hi-fi. Whereas light headphones are normally fitted with mini-jack plugs, the more substantial kinds either have full quarter-inch stereo jack plugs or else a mini-jack plugged into a full jack adaptor since the standard headphone socket on a domestic amplifier is a quarter-inch jack socket. This type of headphone can be equipped with a long cord as the standard, or as an alternative it might come with a coiled cord that is short unless it is stretched while in use.
Ear Covering Headphones
Ear covering headphones are larger again than over-ear hi-fi headphones, and they are more heavily built. While over-ear headphones rest on the fleshy part of the outer ear, the ear-covering type is designed to enclose the ear entirely. Being more substantial, they can support a long cord more effectively. Another factor with ear covering headphones is that they tend to be premium products, and as such, the tight margins that persuade manufacturers to keep cord lengths to a minimum do not apply.
Noise Cancelling Headphones
Noise cancelling headphones are usually used in places and situations where the freedom to move around is not a major issue, and so long cords are not generally required. This type of headphone works by monitoring ambient noise and feeding back a signal to the ears that is in an inverse phase, thus cancelling it out. It is a technology that is often used in air travel, both by pilots and as a service offered to first class passengers. From the point of view of fidelity, the noise cancelling technology also impacts the quality of the remaining signal, so it is not an ideal solution where audio quality is at a premium.
Perhaps the obvious solution to the need for headphones with a long cord is to go for wireless headphones. There are three main types available, each with certain advantages and disadvantages: infrared works like a remote control and shares its disadvantages, which are limited range and directional sensitivity. Radio frequency headphones work in the same way as cordless microphones. They work over a wider range, but they are more prone to picking up interference. Bluetooth headphones are more expensive, more limited in range, and generally speaking, poorer in sound quality than wired headphones. Nonetheless, some well-known brands, such as Dr. Dre, include Bluetooth headsets in their catalogues and claim premium performance.
A solution to the need for a long cord can be an extension cable. With audio equipment in general, it is best to avoid introducing opportunities for signal degradation, and the extra joining that an extension cable requires is one of those, as is the extra length. Nevertheless, an extension can be used intermittently when flexibility is the main concern. It is normally a simple matter of buying a cable fitted with a socket at one end and a plug at the other, either full jack or mini-jack. Extension cables can also double as adapters between the two sizes, but take care to get the right fittings at the right end.
How to Buy Headphones with a Long Cord on eBay
When buying new headphones, the advertising copy usually specifies the length of the cable. On any given day, there are plenty of listings on eBay to choose between. Before getting started, think about the type of headphones you are looking for, and begin your search accordingly. "headphones long cord&" is as good a choice as any, though "headphones long cable&" can be just as effective. Other synonyms for cable might be "lead" or "wire". On the other hand, it might suit you better to focus more on the generic type and less on the length of the cord with the idea that you can read the listing and decide on a case-by-case basis whether the cord length is adequate for your needs.
Extension leads can also be found in eBay’s lists. A search term, such as "headphone extension&", should give you some options to choose from. If you have decided to opt for "wireless headphones", then search for those instead.
Headphones are a familiar fixture in today’s entertainment world, and getting just the right set-up is an important aspect of arranging one’s personal comfort. Sometimes, the manufacturers get the cord length just right when they provide just enough to reach the portable stereo. Other times, there is plenty of slack; perfect for curling up on the sofa with a favourite album while everyone else watches TV.
The key is choosing the right type of headphone for the occasion. There are many different options, not only in terms of the various design and technology approaches available, but also in terms of price points. It is not necessary to venture too far out of the bargain basement in order to find products that offer the flexibility required. If the worst comes to worst and the otherwise perfect set just does not quite reach the necessary length, there is always the option of getting an extension cord. Therefore, buyers should identify their specific need in terms of a long cord and buy the appropriate headphones and extensions, if necessary.