Headphones buying guide

9 Best Headphone Buying Guide 2020

Headphones buying guide
Headphone buying guide

Best Headphone Buying Guide 2020

If you’ve spent more than five minutes checking headphones online, you’ve probably realised a few things:

  • There are thousands of different headphones.
  • There are thousands of different headphones with different properties and use cases.
  • There are thousands of different headphones with different properties and use cases, all within your budget.

So you’ve furrowed your brow, opted out of the stress, and foisted this job to your future self (your limited spare time is better spent in nobler pursuits—like searching through your Netflix or Steam backlog).

All the headphones I’ve purchased have been for different uses, and each one has come with pros and cons. 

There’s a lot to consider, and hopefully, this guide will help make the decision easier. Keep in mind that the following is in general terms. You may find a specific pair of headphones that behaves unexpectedly or as if it had different properties, and that’s fine. But this should match at least 90% of standard headphones on the market.

If you just want to get some recommendations for headphones based on different use cases and budgets, you can skip down to the section titled,” Which headphones should I buy?”

What are the headphones?

‘Headphones’ are miniature speakers (drivers) that are placed on the listener’s head, so that they can hear sounds and limit disrupting other people. 

Pretty straightforward, right? But as I mentioned above, headphones come with different properties. For example: open or closed back; over-ear or on-ear; 2.0, 5.1, or 7.1 surround sound setups; sound signatures; and the list goes on 

Types of Headphones and their benefits

First, let’s start with the basics and take a look at the three types of headphones

You’re probably familiar with these, but stick with us and we’ll go through some of the pros and cons of each kind of headphone so you can understand which one would best suit you. 

It’s worth mentioning that there are always exceptions to the rules so these pros and cons apply to most, but not all of the products in any particular category.

In-Ear Headphones

Headphones buying guide

  In-Ear Headphones

The first kind of headphones is also the smallest. These are known as in-ear or earbuds, and in all likelihood, they are the type of headphones that came bundled with your phone, iPod or other MP3 players.

Great for…

@Portability: Due to their size and weight, in-ears are the most portable of the three kinds of headphones. You can easily carry them in your pockets or bag when not in use, and even leave them dangling around your neck depending on your fashion taste.

@Noise Isolation: In-ears generally have good noise isolation as they get placed directly in your ear. We go into noise isolation/cancellation later in this guide.

@Sports & Work-Outs: In-ears are the headphones most people use when working out because they are small, light and stay in place while you’re exercising. Of course, you can use other types of headphones but these are the type of headphones which will you’ll see the most of at the gym.

Things to Consider…

@Sound Quality: You can buy some amazing sounding in-ears but as a general rule, larger headphones are usually able to produce a fuller low-end sound because of physics. They have bigger drivers (the unit that produces the sound) and this usually equates to a fuller sound. In-ears use smaller drivers to maintain their portability, so they may not sound as rich and full. Don’t forget this is a general rule, as we have some in-ears which will blow you away.

@Tangled cables: Some in-ears come with flat tangle-free cables, but unless you are very careful when putting them away, they will almost certainly be a little tangled when you take them out again. 

Best Headphones buying guide 2020

On-Ear Headphones

On-ears sit on your ear and are usually held in place with a band that can either go over your head or behind your neck. 

Headphones buying guide
On-Ear Headphones


The drivers always rest on your ear and are usually hidden by some kind of padding that allows the sound through, but makes it comfortable to wear. 


These were the type of headphones that were first bundled with the iconic Sony Walkman but have come on a long way since.

Great for…

@On the Move: Although not as easy to put in your pocket as in-ears, they can be fairly portable. Ideal for people who want a step up in sound quality, but don’t want anything too big or bulky. Many models now come with hinges so they can fold flatter to reduce their carrying size, or you can wear them around your neck as an accessory.

@Sound Quality: These aren’t designed to fit in your pocket, so on-ears usually have larger drivers which give you a fuller sound.

Things to Consider…

-Limited Portability
Bag, yes. Pockets…doubtful.
-Reduced Noise Isolation
Because they sit on your ear and not in or around them, they usually allow some outside noise to enter. Our section on this later goes into more detail.

Best Headphones buying guide 2020

Over-Ear Headphones

Headphones buying guide

Over-Ear Headphones

Over-ears tend to be the largest of the three types. They are designed to completely cover the ear with an ear cup. 

The padded material sits comfortably around the ear, while the ear itself is enclosed.and are usually hidden by some kind of padding that allows the sound through, but makes it comfortable to wear. 

These were the type of headphones that were first bundled with the iconic Sony Walkman but have come on a long way since.

Great for…

@Best Sound: Again, this isn’t always the case, but generally, over-ears tend to sound the best because they have the largest drivers situated in the ear cups.

@Best Battery Life: Batteries? Don’t they just plug into my phone? Yes, they do, but some over-ear and on-ear models feature noise cancellation, which is achieved through electronics rather than isolation which is typically when an in-ear pair of headphones forms such a good fit in your ear that it blocks out external sound very well.  Later, but for now, the bigger the headphones, the bigger the battery can be. The bigger the battery, the better the battery life.

Things to Consider…

@Hardest to Carry: Some models can fold, but generally, these are the bulkiest type to carry. They usually come with a carrying bag or pouch to protect them but unless you’re going to wear them as part of your look, you’ll need to allocate some bag space.

Best Headphones buying guide 2020
 

Important Features to Consider

  1. Bluetooth: Some headphones don’t have to connect to your music player with a cable. As long as your device is Bluetooth (like your phone) then these headphones can pair to your device so you can listen tangle-free. If you listen to while exercising, this can be a great option.
  2. Active Noise Cancellation: If total immersion in your music wants you want, or you just to drown out the noise of your daily commute, then Noise Cancellation might be for you. Nobody’s promising that every little outside sound will be blocked out, but you’ll be amazed at the results from a good pair of headphones with this feature. You don’t even have to listen to music if you don’t want to; if all you need is peace and quiet these headphones will still create the perfect ambience for you to relax, read a book or newspaper, concentrate on that important email, or even grab a power nap!
  3. Biometric Function: Biometric headphones monitor your heart rate by gathering information directly from your ears while you listen to music, and some models even give you audio updates so you can exercise at your ideal pace. Many of these models are compatible with a lot of the popular exercise apps you can download on your phone.
  4. Battery Life: Many headphones need batteries to work their magic so it’s important to know how much life you can expect from them. Some headphones include a battery indicator, although we would always recommend having a fresh set to hand so you don’t have stop listening halfway through your 10k run.

    wireless headphones guide
    wireless headphones guide
  5. Surround Sound: Usually found on gaming headphones, high-end models use multiple drivers within the earcup to reproduce multichannel sound formats like DTS or Dolby Digital. Others use digital signal processing (DSP) to achieve the same effect from just two drivers. Great for gamers who don’t want to be sneaked up on in their favourite game, as well as allowing movie buffs to enjoy late-night films without waking the rest of the house.
  6. Volume Limiting: This feature will not allow the headphones to go over about 85db and is ideal for when your child wants to use headphones or just if you’re concerned with protecting your hearing. 
  7. Collapsible ear cups: For On-ear and Over-ears, if your headphones fold, they are going to be easier to store and carry around. 
  8. Water/Sweat resistant: Mainly a feature on in-ears, most headphones designed with exercise in mind is sweat resistant. Some can get a bit wetter (one pair can even be washed in your washing machine!) so make sure you are getting the right pair for what and where you want to use them.
  9. Built-in microphone/control module: To save you taking out your phone every time someone calls you, a lot of phones have an inbuilt control which allows you to answer your phone through a built-in microphone while you hear the voice through your headphones. If your phone has voice-dialling you can also make calls or activate your phone’s voice assistant (Siri, Google Now, Cortana etc). Most models will place your music on pause while you’re on a call. 

Which headphones should I buy?

Unsurprisingly, everyone has different requirements and preferences. 

Some people want to hear the exact placements of footsteps and gunshots in a game; some want middle ground headphones good for both dialogue and music for watching movies, and some want wide sound stages with high accuracy for listening to music.

Whether by budget or design, each set of headphones has trade-offs. They may excel in one area, but not in another.


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