Headphones (Buyer's Guide)

By Team Digit Published Date
01 - Dec - 2007
| Last Updated
01 - Dec - 2007
Headphones (Buyer's Guide)

Personal audio is getting more and more important as music pervades the workspace and choices at home differ

hen people think headphones (read “cans”), they generally think poor budget, get something worth 400 rupees, and be done with it. The fact is that you can get headphones that’ll sound five (if not more) times better than speakers in the same price range. There are also times when you may want to enjoy music without disturbing family around you at home, or colleagues at office. Portability is another reason for getting a decent set of headphones—these days so many commuters tune in to music to relax during a hot and tiresome bus / train ride.

Headphones need to be comfortable. Most people overlook this, and taking off a pair of cans every half an hour because your ears hurt isn’t really fun! In fact, we figure comfort is more important than even sound quality—imagine a great-sounding set that you can’t wear for more than 30 minutes! In-ear type plugs need to be matched to your ears—take into consideration the cost of additional silicone ear attachments; these tend to spoil easily, unless of course you’re buying an expensive set with much better component quality.

Three Primary Types

Circumaural: These are full-sized headphones whose cups encompass your ears. They’re generally the most comfortable, although this is something you’ll have to check out—for size and fit. A circumaural can goes right around ones ears therefore isolates from external sound rather well—of course this depends on the outer cups (open or close). Open circumaural cans are mostly meant for music because there’s less resonance than a closed can (where the outer cup isn’t perforated in any way). Circumaural headphones are also the most versatile price-wise, and while entry level cans may cost just about Rs 400, audiophile circumaurals could cost you up to Rs 25,000—and we’re not even talking about active noise cancellation sets yet.

Supraaural: These cans sit on the cartilage of your ear, and while audiophiles argue that supraaurals sound the best, these are the most uncomfortable.

There’s been a raging controversy between audiophiles the world over about which type of headphone (circumaural or supraaural) is more conducive towards a proper music experience. There are very few supraaural brands in India.

In-ear: These are the small earplugs that actually fit inside the ear passage. Many music lovers find these more intrusive, though some of the best noise isolating headphones are found in this category

Hallowed names in the industry like Grado Labs and Alessandro believe that supraaural cans are the way to an audiophile’s heart—because of the closeness of the drivers to the ears and the fact that sound is naturally being diverted into ones ear, and there’s open space for the sound to breathe. Other equally revered players like AKG and Sennheiser believe in the circumaural design stating that comfort doesn’t mean compromising on quality in any way. There are others like Shure and Koss who believe in the in-ear type earplugs.

What To Look For

For the commuter

Travelling daily? Looking for a good companion to an iPod? You need a set of in-ear earplug type headphones. Nowadays earplugs come with intrusive soft, silicone earpieces which fit inside the ear passage and take its shape—these are much more comfortable than the small plastic earbuds which can make ear passages sore. The silicone earbuds also isolate noise better. Your budget depends on how discerning you are but for a thousand bucks you should get something decent enough.

For the gamer

As a gamer you will want something that isolates outside noises reasonably well but more significantly isolates others from your sounds, as loud explosions can get disturbing for other family members. Bass is important as games do tend to have a lot of special effects that demand good low frequency reproduction. Look for a set of circumaural headphones around the Rs 800 to  1,500 category.

For music enthusiasts

While you don’t have an audiophile budget you like your music with all the detail and tonal balance. Sadly, our markets are restricted in terms of mid-range options.

Agent Tips
Besides sound quality, the most important point is wearing comfort. You should be able to wear the phones for at least two hours without noticeable discomfort.

You’ll get headphones up to Rs 2,000 that are good, and the excellent sets will cost upwards of Rs 8,000—there’s a whole unaddressed section of consumers in between.

There are a whole bunch of audiophile brands that are soon to make proper forays in India. We’ve already seen lifestyle brands like Bose, and audiophile brands like Sennheiser. Others like Grado and AKG are expected to follow soon. While these brands aren’t necessarily expensive abroad they are exorbitant here, so hold your horses a bit—unless you can source products from abroad.

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