Headphones come in a range of different shapes and sizes, however there are three main types — in-ear, on-ear, and over-ear headphones. There are quite a few differences between each of them, even apart from the obvious size differences.
But which type should you get? We put together this guide to help you decide which headphones are right for your needs.
Over ear headphones, also known as “circumaural” headphones, are largely considered the most high-quality, and for good reason. After all, bigger is always better, right?
Generally speaking, over-ear headphones offer a better sound than their smaller siblings for one reason and one reason only — larger drivers means that the headphones can more easily pump out deeper and clearer bass, which is an important aspect of good-sounding music. In other words, if you want the best sounding and most detailed headphones possible, you should be looking for a pair of over-ear headphones.
Apart from the drivers, over-ear headphones also offer a good level of noise isolation, as they can better create a good seal around your ears. Over-ear headphones and in-ear headphones are about equal when it comes to noise isolation — in-ears can create a seal in your ear canal.
Not only are over-ear headphones generally the best sounding, they’re also normally the most comfortable. That’s because they sit completely around your ears, and they don’t apply pressure to the ear or inside the ear. The type of foam used on the headphones has a big impact on their sound, but some are made with premium memory foam — which is extremely comfortable.
Over-ear headphones are generally the best type of headphones for home use — they certainly aren’t very portable. That’s really just because of their size. Of course, there are some pairs that fold up decently well for plane use or other on-the-road uses, but if you’re looking for portability you may want to look elsewhere.
On-ear headphones are somewhat of a compromise, but they’re a helpful compromise for many people who still want portable headphones that sound good.
On-ear headphones aren’t as great sounding as over-ear headphones, but they still often offer a great sound quality. The drivers in on-ear headphones are generally still relatively large, so they can still pump out nice and deep bass. In other words, sound quality here normally depends on manufacturer more than it does the size of the headphones.
When it comes to noise isolation, on-ear headphones generally offer the least — as they don’t completely seal around your ear or in your ear canal, and your ear shape often prevents a seal on your ear. Still, there are some great noise cancelling on-ear headphones, like the AKG N60NC’s.
On-ear headphones aren’t as comfortable as over-ear cans, but depending on the type of foam and amount of foam used, they’re still generally quite comfortable. On-ear headphones, as the name suggests, sit on your ear, so that pressure can be less comfortable after long periods of time and if the headphones have a generally hard clamp.
On-ear headphones are far more portable than over-ear cans, and the purpose of them is generally to offer a good-sounding headphone that’s still portable. Because of that focus on portability, manufacturers of on-ear headphones often include things like cases and make it so the headphones fold up easily.
In-ear headphones were made famous with the rise of the iPod and other MP3 players. They’re pretty useful in a number of applications, too!
In-ear headphones generally have the worst sound of the three types, largely because the drivers in them are tiny. Often, in-ear headphones are tinny and midsy. That’s not to say, however, that in-ear headphones or earphones always sound bad, but to get good sounding in-ear headphones you will need to spend a little more money.
Some in-ear headphones offer good noise isolation, especially if they come with memory foam tips that create a better seal.
In-ear headphones are also the least comfortable type of headphone, basically because of the fact that they sit inside your ear canal. Over long periods of time you’ll notice more and more that they’re there, so if you’re planning on listening for hours at a time, you may want to get a different type of headphone.
So why get in-ear headphones or earphones if they don’t sound as good and aren’t as comfortable? Portability! These are the type of headphones you can stuff into your pocket or slip into a small slot in your bag, so they’re perfect if all you want are a pair of headphones for the bus ride to work.
Each type of headphone has its own advantages and disadvantages, so they’re all useful for different people in different situations. While we can’t necessarily say one type is better than the other, we can at least arm you with the information to make the decision for yourself.