Six Features to Consider When Buying Portable Audio Headphones

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Six Features to Consider When Buying Portable Audio Headphones on eBay

In order to find the right pair of portable audio headphones for commuting or working on the go, it is important to understand headphone types and features and to be aware of what is available. Headphones that can be used with personal music players and portable computers can be purchased in a number of styles and with many options that affect their functionality. The specifications make a real difference in the clarity and quality of the sound. The fit and design affect comfort, appearance, and mobility. Wireless connectivity affects which music players can be used with the headphones and the quality of the signal, as well. This guide can help a buyer choose the best pair of portable audio headphones for their purposes. eBay's vast selection of headphones can be intimidating. Make the perfect purchase quickly and confidently by understanding the basic specifications and the types of features that eBay uses to categorise portable audio headphones.

1. Impedance

Impedance is a measure of the voltage and current required to power a pair of headphones. Higher impedance means more voltage and less current. Older stereo systems had high impedance and required high impedance headphones. Modern electronic music players produce low impedance output and can be used with low impedance headphones. This is why high quality, older headphones will work with newer equipment, but headphones designed for use with modern electronics will not work well with a vintage stereo. For the best sound quality, look for a pair of headphones with an impedance of eight or more times the output impedance of the device it will be used with.

2. Sensitivity

Most headphones have a sensitivity between 80 and 125 decibels of sound pressure level per milliwatt, which can be shortened to dB SPL/mW or dB/mW. The higher the sensitivity, the greater the amplification that can be provided without distortion. Higher sensitivity headphones can be used to play music more loudly or to listen to music with high dynamic contrast, like classical music and jazz.

3. Earpiece Design

Portable audio headphones have a number of different ways of bringing music to the listener's ears. These are the most common:

Earbud (In Ear)

An earbud is a small, flat speaker that sits in the outer ear, at the entrance to the ear canal. Earbuds are inexpensive and have a subtle appearance. They allow outside noise in, and are poor for acoustic privacy but good for staying aware of surroundings. Some people find them uncomfortable without pads, and they are not securely fastened to the head and can easily fall out.

Canal Earbud (In Ear Canal)

In-ear headphones, or canal-phones, are actually inserted into the ear canal. The offer a more secure fit and better isolation than earbuds.

Ear-Pad (On the Ear)

Ear-pad headphones, also called Supra-aural headphones, are held in place by headbands and sit on top the ear. This type of headphone was the standard in the early days of portable audio players. They are usually smaller and more portable than over the ear headphones, but they provide better isolation and sit more securely than ear buds.

Ear-Cup (Over the Ear)

Ear-cup headphones are also called Circumaural headphones or full-sized headphones. They incorporate headbands for support and provide padding around the ears, creating a small, isolated space for listening. Ear-cup headphones can be bulky and heavy, but they offer maximum sound quality and isolation.

These headphone designs offer a continuum of size and level of audio isolation. Many people would consider earbuds to be the best choice for active commutes and ear-cups to be best for acoustic isolation and sound quality.

4. Fit Design

The fit design determines the physical stability of the headphones. Some configurations can support heavier headphones. Others are best for small, light earpiece designs.

In-Ear only

In-ear headphones simple sit in the outer ear or ear canal and are held in place by friction. Earbuds and canal-phones are often in-ear only.


Ear-hooks provide additional physical stability for earbuds and ear-pads by wrapping around the outside of the ear. This design works best with small, light headphones.


Headbands provide tension and gravity-based support by wrapping around the top of the head. This is the most secure fit design for headphones.


Neckband have a more casual look than headbands. They wrap around the neck or the back of the head. They work best for relatively small and light headphones, and they work through tension in the band.

5. Optional Features

There are quite a few optional features available for headphones. Some types, like waterproof and water resistant headphones, are self-evident. Others affect sound quality in subtle ways.

Open Back

Open back headphones let in some ambient noise, but they offer an expansive sound that gives the illusion of open space and live music.

Closed Back

Closed back headphones offer excellent acoustic isolation and give the impression that the music is inside the listener's head.

Noise Cancellation

Noise cancellation headphones cancel out the background noise and some of the distortion that can result from a poor quality or over-amplified signal.

Surround Sound

Surround sound headphones features a complex array of speakers designed to give the listener the experience of being right in the middle or right in front of the musical group. They tend to be bulky, but they offer a sophisticated listening experience.

6. Connectivity

Almost all wired portable audio microphones are equipped with 3.5 mm connectors. These connectors are standard for computers, digital audio players and mobile phones. However, many of the portable headphones available today are based on wireless technology: Bluetooth, Digital RF or Infrared. Wireless headphones offer unprecedented freedom of movement, and they eliminate annoying, easily tangled wires. They are ideal for active listening at the gym or on a daily commute. However, they can pick up stray signals from other output devices and can be lost or stolen more easily than wired headphones. When using a pair of wireless headphones, it is important to confirm that they are compatible with the output device. Some wireless technologies require a software driver to be installed before use. Before purchasing wireless headphones, make sure not only that the wireless technology matches that of the output device, but that the drivers are compatible with the device's type and operating system.

In Conclusion

With personal music players ubiquitous as stand-alones and built into mobile phones, it's almost never the wrong time and place to enjoy good music. Personal music players provide soundtracks for daily commutes. They are a means to establish a private head space in a crowded space. They allow for different simultaneous music choices in a family or a workgroup. They offer a measure of privacy in public. Finally, headphones make a huge difference in the sound quality attainable in a personal sound system. The options for headphones on eBay are extensive and varied, but understanding the options can help a buyer to pinpoint exactly the right pair.

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