Best headphones 2016 – ultimate buyers guide

This is the best headphones buying guide for 2016!  My name is Andy and I love music.  Not only do I love to listen to music, but I love to record and produce it too.  Over the last few years I have worked in a few studios and recorded a few bands and as a result have used lots of different technology, especially headphones.  I started this blog after being inspired by some of the other great sites out there, like techradar, and also because I want to share everything I know about headphones and music related technology.

So there are some brilliant headphone out there…but where do you start? How do you know which headphone to buy?  Headphones come in different shapes and sizes, whether that’s earbuds, in-ear, on-ear, over-ear, wired or wireless. Picking the right ones can feel like a big deal.  That is why I started this THE BEST HEADPHONES BUYING GUIDE! To guide you to the best headphones for you.

Why invest in a good pair of headphones?

A good pair of headphones make all the difference.  If you are using them leisure they help you get the most out of your music or podcasts, but if you are using for producing a band, they can help you hear the all important tweaks that you need to make to that track.  Headphones can be used in all walks of life, from helping you concentrate at work, to keeping you motivated whilst out for an evening run.  Getting a great listening experience and protecting your ears is really important, which is why you need a great pair of headphones!

In-ear headphones

Bose SoundTrue Ultra - best headphonesIn-ear headphones, also known as in-ear monitors (IEMs), are small, portable headphones that are inserted in the ear canal itself.  Some of the best headphones out there are IEMs, due to their sound quality and usability.

IEMs offer a high quality of sound than basic earphones.  You can get some really great sounds out of IEMs, so much so that they are used audio engineers and musicians for mixing or live sound.  They also block out sound from the world around and so can give you a really immersive listening experience.  It also means that the sound is going into the ear directly, meaning that you are less likely to need to crank the volume up to dangerous levels in order to hear the music when you are out and about.  Lastly, they are really portable and light, so perfect when you are out for a run or getting the train to work.  Check out this great cnet article describing some of the best in ear headphones of 2016.

Potential drawbacks

IEMs can be prone to sliding out, as they engage the ear cancel.  As mentioned before they also block out a lot of environment noise, which can have safety implications when walking or driving for example.

Verdict

They’re my top pick for anyone looking for a portable pair of headphones. They’re discreet, often provide superb sound and block out the outside world effectively, giving you a great listening experience.  A great headphone for everyday life!

My top picks

Shure SE846 - best headphones 2016  Bose SoundTrue Ultra - best headphones 2016

Over-ear headphones

Sony MDR-1A - best headphones

Over-ear headphones, also known as circumaural, are general the largest type of headphone.  They are certainly more comfortable than on-ear headphones as the padding rests on the less sensitive area around your ears and not directly on them.  They also offer decent noise isolation too.  In my opinion, these are the best headphones out there and can offer the best sound experience.  I often use them when listen to music at home or when mixing music.

There are a few different types of over-ear headphones:

  • Open back – this means the headphones have the back of the ear cups open.  The leaks more sound and lets more ambient sound into the headphones.  However, it gives a more natural or speaker like sound and a more spacious  and real feel to the sound.  This makes them a great choice for mixing or listening to music at home on your own.  They really help you get into the music!
  • Closed back – this means the headphones have the back of the ear-cups closed.  Closed back headphones are better than open back headphones at blocking out ambient noise.  However, they are less natural sounding, giving the wearer the perception that the noise is coming from within their head, rather than all around them.  They are able to produce strong low frequencies than open back headphones.
  • Semi-open – this can be seen as a happy medium between open and closed back headphones.  They offer a bit the noise cancellation of the closed back and a bit more of the speaker like sound of the open back headphone.  A decent all rounder!

If you are still interested to find out more about open back and closed back headphones, check out this useful video that Shure put together explaining the differences.

The differences between open back and closed back headphones are also explained really nicely in this head-fi.org article.

Potential drawbacks

The main drawback is that they are a bit bigger than on-ear headphones and they’re a bit more conspicuous.  That may not bother you, but they are unlikely to be that convenient when going for a run!

Verdict

A great choice of headphone.  When you are wanting a really immersive listening experience, over-ear are you best choice.  I generally use these when I am at home and want to really appreciate the music I am listening too.  They are generally better if you need are looking to mix music and give a much truer sound.  A great headphone for the music connoisseur!

My top picks

On-ear headphones

On-ear headphones also known as supra-aural headphones, feature much larger drivers than in-ear headphones and have pads that sit directly on your ears.  They tend to be quite small and light and offer decent portability.  They are a good alternative to in-ear headphones, if you want something more substantial but still retain easy portability.

Potential drawbacks

On-ear headphones can lead to discomfort due to the pressure on the ear as compared to over-ear headphones that sit around the ear.  They can also be a bit picky about position.  Not all sets will make a good seal with your ear in every position, which can result in reduced sound quality if they are not sitting right.

Verdict

A good, solid choice of headphone.  They are portable and quite conspicuous.  A great choice if you don’t like in-ear headphones and don’t want anything too big.  There are some great ones on the market too and if you get the right pair, they can provide you with a brilliant listening experience.  However, they will not provide the same level of sound experience and comfort as a good pair of over-ear headphones

My Top Picks

Other types of headphones

The headphones I talk about so far are the basic types of headphones you need to know about, but there are few more that I want to tell you about.  Here’s quick overview of them.

Wireless headphones

Wireless headphones are a specific design of headphone.  You can get wireless IEM’s, wireless over-ear or on-ear headphones.  They just use wireless tech, usually bluetooth, to link up with your phone or audio device.

Bear in mind, though, that they’ll almost invariably offer worse sound quality than a rival non-wireless pair. Plus there’s the added consideration of batteries and weight. Few wireless headphones offer the option to plug in a cable once the power’s run dry, making them useless without charge.

However, they are really convenient and sometimes it is nice not to have to worry about a wire.  This can be great for using when running or other sports. There are some really wireless headphones out there, so check out the links below for some of the top wireless headphones on the market.

My Top Picks

Noise-cancelling headphones

The other feature worth thinking about is noise-cancellation. This is clever tech that actively gets rid of noise, rather than passively blocking it like a simple closed-back headphone. It does this with the help of at least one microphone. The mic is used to monitor ambient noise, an inverse wave of which is then piped-out by the headphone, negating the hubbub.

Active noise-cancelling works best on low and mid frequency noise, such as engines, and air conditioners. It’s generally less effective at reducing high-frequency noise. Noise-cancelling headphones are great to use on long haul flights as they block engine noise really well.

Earbud earphone

I might have mentioned these earlier, but earbud earphones are generally considered the most basic type of headphones.  You might often find them bundled up with a phone or mp3 player.  They are generally not great at blocking out sound.  However, the invasiveness of an IEM isn’t to everyone’s tastes and so earbuds are still quite popular!  There are some good products out there if you’d prefer something like.  Check out the links below.

 

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