For many people, headphones are an essential accessory used for listening to music wherever they go, whether commuting, exercising, or just at home without disturbing family or neighbours. Modern headphones are available in many more styles than the traditional on-ear or over-ear forms with headbands extending over the top. The various different styles are designed with user comfort and convenience in mind.
Types of modern headset include ear-hook, headband, neckband, and in-ear. These terms refer to the way the earpieces fit and stay in place. Before looking at them, it is necessary to understand about the different types of headphone earpiece.
Headphone earpieces are available in four basic types: in-ear, in-ear canal, on-ear, and over-ear. There are various other terms used to describe these, but these are commonly used. Both in-ear and in-ear canal earphones are small buds that sit inside the ear, the difference being that in-ear canal headphones actually sit in the ear canal rather than just facing it. On-ear and over-ear headphones are rather bulkier. The flat pads of on-ear headphones are placed directly on the ear, while the cupped design of over-ear headphones allows them to encase the ear. Both in-ear canal and over-ear headphones create a barrier between the ear and the external world so sound is isolated. In-ear and on-ear headphones do not have this sound isolating capability. Note that the terms headphones, headsets, and earphones can be used interchangeably. However, earphones can also be used more specifically to describe just in-ear and in-ear canal headsets.
Ear-Hook, Headband, Neckband and In-Ear Headsets
As explained above, these terms refer to earpiece fit. They are discussed in the sections below.
Ear-hook headsets have a hook that fits over the ear, anchoring them in place. This is useful for runners and other sportspeople, as well as other users who move around a lot and need the earpieces to be fitted securely. Ear-hooks are generally used with in-ear headsets, which have an inclination to fall out of the ear sometimes, especially during movement. Ear-hooks are a cheap and convenient solution to this problem. Cabling may be supplied through the ear-hooks themselves or through wires as with standard in-ear headphones. They are also, though less likely to be, used with in-ear canal headphones. In-ear canal headphones, though similar at first glance to in-ear headsets, are less likely to fall out of the ear because they are positioned actually inside the ear canal rather than just the outer ear. They are also used less often than in-ear headphones, especially among casual users, including commuters and runners, being more used by music professionals and enthusiasts. Less common usage means there is less demand for products such as ear-hook designs. Ear-hook headphones can also sometimes be found in combination with the other earpiece types. On-ear and over-ear earpieces are bulkier than in-ear headsets, and the extra weight means the ear-hooks need to be strong enough to support them. This can lead to pressure around the ear. Like in-ear models, on-ear and over-ear designs with an ear-hook are typically designed with sports people and other active users in mind. Adjustable ear hooks are handy, especially for users with smaller ears. Other features to look out for, particularly if the headphones are used while exercising, include washability, antimicrobial materials, and water and sweat (oil) resistance as well as a choice of earpiece size and long cable length.
Unlike ear-hook headsets, headband headsets have a band that extends over the user's head. It is the traditional type of headset. The band may be adjustable to varying extents. Headbands are most commonly seen with on-ear and over-ear headsets. They are less common with in-ear headphones and rarely seen with in-ear canal headphones. Part of the reason for this is the preference with in-ear and in-ear canal headphones to be as compact and portable as possible. Headbands, even the more lightweight types, are inherently bulkier than small attachments like ear hooks. On-ear and over-ear headphones, on the other hand, often benefit from having a headband. The earpieces of these headphones are heavier and bulkier themselves than those of in-ear headphones and need more support to hold them securely in place. Headbands can provide this extra support. Headbands are usually adjustable to suit different users and, because this type of headset is often intended to be used for extended periods, they are usually comfortable and ergonomic in design. Other features to look out for with headbands include single sided cables and foldable designs.
Neckbands are often incorporated into the design of sports headphones. They can be an excellent compromise between ear hooks and headbands, with some of the advantages of each. Like ear hooks, they have hooks that are positioned over the ear and hold the earpieces securely in the ear. They actually look quite similar to ear hooks, with a lightweight and inconspicuous design. Unlike ear hooks, they have a band that lies around the neck. This provides support to the ear hooks and is even more convenient to wear. It also means that wires only need to be passed to one earpiece, making them a neater design. However, the neckband is not usually adjustable and how well it fits can depend on individual head shape and size. As with ear hooks, look out for neckbands made of washable, antimicrobial and water resistant materials if they are to be used for sports.
While on-ear and over-ear headphones need some form of support, many in-ear headsets do not have ear hooks, headbands, or neckbands. This applies both to in-ear headphones and in-ear canal headphones. The earpieces are simply held in the ear due to their shape. The advantages of these in-ear only headsets are that they are the simplest type of headset and the most compact and portable. There are no additional pieces to worry about, and they can be simply slipped into a pocket to be carried when not in use. They are also the most discreet, and it is often difficult to see when people are wearing them. However, they do have some disadvantages. Ear hooks and neckbands exist for a reason, and this is that in-ear headphones can sometimes tend to fall out of the ear in response to even small movements. This can be quite user specific and some people have no problems, while others find it impossible to wear standard in-ear headphones even when sitting still. Earpieces of different sizes can go some way towards rectifying the problem, but it is still an issue for many, especially among those using in-ear headphones while exercising. Even if they don't actually fall out, earpieces can move around in the ear and this can significantly affect audio quality. In-ear canal headphones suffer less from these problems, having a more secure fit.
Find Headsets on eBay
To find the four different types of headsets on eBay, follow the Electronics & Technology tab to the left of the eBay homepage. This leads to various options from which Sound & Vision can be selected, followed by Headphones. Still using the tabs to the left, it is easy to find the different earpiece fits by scrolling down to Fit Design. Other criteria which can be selected to refine results further include brand, recommended use, earpiece design, special features, colour and connectivity. Alternatively, the search function at the top of the page can be used to search for headset listings. To search for different types of headphone, try terms such as "ear-hook headphones" or "neckband headsets".
This article discusses the differences between the four types of headphone with regards to earpiece fit. To summarise, headphone earpieces can be held in place with ear hooks, headbands, neckbands or, in the case of in-ear headphones, simply by their shape. Each type has advantages and disadvantages. Ear hooks and neckbands are great for exercising as they hold the earpiece more securely, but they are also lightweight and compact. Neckbands are slightly more secure but ear hooks offer more versatility. Headbands are good for on-ear and over-ear headphones as they give the larger earpieces more support, and they can also be easily adjusted for user comfort; this is especially important as they are often designed for extending listening periods. In-ear headphones without any of these types of support are especially compact and portable, but the earpieces may sometimes either fall out or move around in the ear, affecting audio quality.