September 13, 2011

Headphones 101

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when thinking about headphones?

Lots of people will think about isolation, portable, mp3 or iPod.
Not many will think about soundstage, comfort or detail, but this are just a small amount of qualities to consider when listening through headphones and they are even more important when you plan to buy a pair and they can be a matter of life or death when you acquire a pair of High End headphones that have a price tag higher than USD$1,000.

This qualities depend on what type of headphone you are listening to.

And that will be what we'll talk in this first post:



Nowadays the most popular kind of headphones since they come with every single mp3 player and many cell phones.
This kind of headphone sits in your ear  just a few millimeters from your ear canal, they are cheap and the sound is not always as extended as with other kind of headphones. They isolate almost nothing.

IEM (In Ear Monitors)

The IEMs are armatures of very small driver(s) they can have from 1 to 8 on each side and all of them fit in a case like the one on the pic above. They go IN your Ear Canal, some people dont like to introduce stuff in there but the isolation and quality in the sound is amazing. 

On Ear (SupraAural)

This is the common headphone we know and that was very popular in the 80s when Sony released the walkman. This headphones go on your ears, they tend to have a size very approximate to your ear. They are very handy because most of them are portable and can have a great sound, some times much better than some full size headphones. They isolate very well even if they are not noise canceling. 

Over Ear (Full Size)
The preferred type for High End systems by audiophiles, there are a couple subgroups that we'll talk about later. They are big and cover all your ear, the driver can be very big up to 70mm diameter. 
There are several technologies for driving them and they usually require a headphone amplifier to get the best sound possible from them, this is the type of headphones you want when you want the best performance and sound quality.


Most of the people build their system around a pair headphones, the combination of the different parts of that system will give the headphones different qualities or colors, the variations can be as noticeable that anyone can hear it, or as subtle that you need a lot of experience to notice them. 
But the main goal in this headphones world is to get the best sound possible and it doesn't matter if your system is an iPod with a great pair of earbuds or a 5,000 dollars electrostatic headphones with a 2,500 dollars DAC and a 3,000+ dollars headphone amp, if you like what you hear then is OK.

In the next post I'll talk about the different components in a system or rig.

Close your eyes & listen...


  1. “The preferred type for High End systems by audiofiles”

    Funny typo :-) Shouldn’t this be written as “audiophiles”


  2. You're completely right Werner, audiofilo is how it's spelled in spanish, so thats why I didn't noticed it.