Types of Headphones: Everything You Need to Know

The world of headphones can be a confusing one. It isn’t easy to know which ones are right for you with so many different types and styles.

In this post, we will discuss the main types of headphones that exist today: in-ear headphones, on-ear headphones, over-ear headphones, noise-canceling headphones, Bluetooth wireless technology, and more.

We’ll also explore how each type is unique and what they’re best suited for so you can make an informed decision when choosing your next set of cans.

Types of Headphones | Best Options for You

1. Over-Ear Headphones

Over-ear headphones are some of the most popular options as they provide a good balance between quality and noise isolation. In addition, over-ears are known for their superior sound quality and comfort while also providing some degree of noise isolation.

These headphones are generally big enough to house the speakers, and they are the most common types. They can be made of either soft or hard materials but most commonly come in plastic with some padding on the earcups to ensure comfort while wearing them for long periods.

Another thing that makes this type popular is that they will not easily fall off your head like other headphones such as on-ear headphones.

Over-Ear Headphones Pros

Sound Quality: Over-ear headphones produce sound quality that is unmatched by the other types of headphones. They also provide a good degree of noise isolation and block out ambient sounds to focus on the music or whatever you are listening to.

Comfort: Over-ear headphones are some of the most comfortable types as they have plush earcups and are big enough to cover most of your ears. This will ensure that you can wear them for long periods without feeling any discomfort in your ears or head, like with in-ear and on-ear headphones.

Noise Isolation: Over-ear headphones do a great job of blocking out ambient and background noise to enjoy the music you are listening to without any distractions.

Versatility: This type of headphone is very versatile as you can use it for various activities, such as listening to music, watching movies and TV shows, gaming, working out in the gym, or during a run outdoors. And with their superior sound quality, they are also great for listening to audiobooks and podcasts.

Over-Ear Headphones Cons

Bulkiness: Over-ear headphones can be bulky and take up a lot of space in your bag or luggage. Also, some people might experience discomfort due to their weight after wearing them for long periods. However, this is not a problem with modern or expensive versions, which are lighter than older/cheaper models.

They are also not ideal for use when you’re trying to be mobile, or on the go; they are better suited for home use.

Noise Isolation: While noise isolation is great for blocking out ambient and background noise, this can also be a drawback as you won’t be able to hear your surroundings, so you must take note of your surroundings.

This is especially important when crossing the road or walking through a busy area, as you can potentially put yourself at risk if you can’t hear what’s going on around you.

Earcups: Another drawback is that the earcups can be too large for some people and might not properly fit over the ears, so they might fall off if you move around too much. Earcups can also be uncomfortable to wear for long periods, especially if they aren’t padded sufficiently.

What are Over-Ear Headphones Best Suited for?

Due to their superior sound quality and noise isolation, over-ear headphones are best suited for home use. However, you can also use them outdoors as they are versatile enough for activities such as listening to music when you’re working out in the gym or running outdoors.

2. On-Ear Headphones

These types of headphones have smaller earcups that sit on top of your ears instead of completely covering them.

These types are typically lighter and smaller than over-ear headphones so that you can use them for more mobile or on-the-go activities.

On the sound quality front, not as good as their larger counterparts but much better than in-ear headphone types. They produce a decent amount of bass with crisp highs and detailed mids that make listening an enjoyable experience.

They are not as comfortable or versatile compared to over-ear headphones, and on some models, the earcups might be too small, which can cause discomfort after wearing them for long periods.

On-Ear Headphones Pros

Bass: On-ear headphones are great for producing bass as they sit on top of the ears, unlike in-ear headphone types, which seal off the ear canal. This allows for better bass reproduction as they can produce lower frequencies, which is why these types of headphones make listening to music a more enjoyable experience.

Price: On-ear headphones are usually cheaper than over-ears and in-ears, making them an excellent choice if you want a decent set of headphones without having to spend too much money.

Mobile: With their smaller and more compact design, on-ear headphones are great for mobile activities like listening to music while commuting.

On-Ear Headphones Cons

Comfort: On-ear headphones might be more comfortable than in-ears, but they still do not compare well against over-ears with much larger earcups that can easily accommodate any size of ears. Over time, wearing on-ears can cause discomfort and make your ears feel uncomfortable after a while.

Sound Isolation: Due to their smaller size, sound isolation is not as effective with on-ear headphones as noise from your surroundings will seep in more easily.

What are On-Ear Headphones best suited for?

Their smaller and lighter design means that you can use on-ear headphones more mobile or on the go. And given their compact size, it’s easier to carry them around when you’re traveling as they will take up less space in your bag.

3. In-Ear Headphones

These types of headphones have small earbuds that fit directly into your ears.

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In-ear headphones are also known as earbuds or canal headphones, and they sit inside the outer ear, unlike on-ear or over-ear types, which go on top of the ears.

Despite their small size, these headphones can produce high-quality sound as they can seal off your ear canal and block out external noise when inserted into the ear itself.

This allows for good sound isolation compared to other headphone types, so you don’t have to turn up the volume as loud for a satisfying listening experience.

In-Ear Headphones Pros

Sound Isolation: Despite their small size, in-ear headphones can produce great sound isolation due to being inserted into your ears and blocking out external noise, which allows you to listen at lower volumes without missing any details from your music.

Price: In-ear headphones are usually cheaper than over-ears and on-ears, so they make a great choice if you want good sound quality without having to spend too much money.

Mobile: With their small size, in-ear headphones are perfect for mobile activities such as listening to music while commuting or during workouts at the gym.

In-Ear Headphones Cons

Comfort: Since in-ear headphones are inserted directly into your ears, they can feel uncomfortable after a while as the earbuds start to press against your skin.

They also don’t have any room for adjusting size, so using them might be difficult if you have larger ears. Some of the modern earbuds come in different sizes of ear tips though, and there is a better chance one would fit your ear size.

And finally, some people may find the feeling of having something stuck in their ears to be unpleasant and irritating.

Sound Leakage: The small size of these headphones means that sound leakage is not very well controlled, so if you turn up the volume for a more immersive listening experience, then other people around you might also hear it, which can be distracting or annoying if they aren’t expecting to hear your music.

What are In-Ear Headphones Best Suited for?

In-ear headphones are perfect if you want good sound quality without having to spend too much money or if you want headphones that are small and compact; they take up less space in your bag. They are also a great choice if you want to listen on the go as they are more mobile than over-ears or on-ears.

4. Open-Back Headphones

Open-back headphones are similar to in-ear and on-ear types, with two earcups that fit over your ears. The difference is that they have an open back which allows air to move freely within the earcups, so they are not completely sealed off.

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This open-back feature results in a more natural and less “in-your-head” sound quality compared to closed-back headphones that trap all noise inside.

Open Back Headphones Pros

Sound Quality: Open-back headphones allow for better airflow within the earcups to produce a more natural sound quality.

Breathability: Open earcups allow more air to enter, allowing your skin to breathe. Many open-backs have velour earpads, which help with breathability even further.

Sound Stage: Open-back headphones can produce a larger soundstage with better stereo imaging, meaning that you can pinpoint where certain instruments are coming from within your music which allows for more immersive listening experiences.

Open Back Headphones Cons

Sound Leakage: Since open-back headphones have an open back, the sound from your music will leak out, so people around you might be able to hear it.

Poor Bass Performance: Closed-back headphones can increase lower frequencies, but open-back headphones can’t. As a result, open-back headphones perform poorly in terms of sub-bass.

Noise Isolation: There isn’t much to expect when it comes to passive noise isolation. Open earcups allow ambient sound, just like when you’re not using headphones. As a result, it’s advisable to use them at home or in a quiet place.

What are Open-back Headphones Best Suited for?

Open-back headphones are a good choice if you want more of a natural and less “in your head” listening experience without sacrificing too much portability. They’re popular among audiophiles and audio engineers when mixing final recordings because of their open sound.

5. Closed-Back Headphones

Closed-back headphones are the most commonly used type of headphones as they have a fully sealed back and two earcups that fit over your ears.

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They are also more affordable than open-back headphones, and since they have a closed-back, sound leakage is less of an issue as closed-back headphones will trap the music inside the earcups.

Closed Back Headphones Pros

Noise Isolation: The sealed design of these types of headphones means that you can listen to your favorite tunes without having to worry about any noise from your surroundings distracting you or spoiling your listening experience, which makes them ideal for commuting, working out at the gym or just relaxing on a lazy Sunday afternoon at home by yourself.

Bass response: Full enclosure captures sound waves and boosts bass response (or, rather, extension). Low frequencies can penetrate further into the sub-bass, resulting in a rumbling effect.

Closed Back Headphones Cons

The soundscape isn’t as large as it is with other types of headphones. Sound is trapped and forced straight into your ears using closed-back headphones.

Air circulation is restricted by closed earcups and a tight seal, especially if the headphones feature leather earpads. As a result, your skin gets heated and sweaty.

What are Closed-back Headphones Best Suited for?

Closed-back headphones are a popular choice for those who want to block outside distractions and have their music at a reasonable volume without disturbing others. They are also a good choice if you want your music to be less “in-your-head” and more natural sounding.

6. Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Noise-canceling headphones can be a good choice if you’re someone that has to deal with noisy surroundings regularly. They’re designed to block out any outside noise, which makes them perfect for when you’re commuting or just relaxing at home.

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Noise-Cancelling Headphones Pros

Blocking Out Noise: Noise-cancelling technology can be a great choice if you have noisy surroundings since it will allow you to listen to your favorite tracks without having too much background noise from the street, people around you in public places, and other sources getting in the way of what’s important like enjoying your music how it was intended to be heard.

They also come with an aux cable, so they work even when batteries die (in the case of Bluetooth versions).

Battery Life: Many types of headphones that feature active noise cancellation require AAA or rechargeable batteries, but there are some models available that feature a passive noise cancellation that doesn’t require any batteries and works without needing to be turned on.

Noise-Cancelling Headphones Cons

Higher Price: Active noise cancellation is usually more expensive than passive so if you don’t need any extra features, go for the sound-isolation type, which will be a bit more affordable.

Battery life: The technology actively blocks ambient noises with extra performance. The battery life might be reduced by up to 50%.

What are Noise-Cancelling Headphones Best Suited for?

Noise-canceling headphones might be a good choice if you deal with noisy surroundings daily and would like the extra peace. They’re also good for when you want to listen to your favorite tracks without any disturbances or distractions, which might be great for studying or just relaxing at home.

7. Bluetooth Wireless Headphones

Bluetooth headphones are great for those that want the flexibility of listening to their favorite tunes without having to worry about any cables getting in the way or tangling up. You can use them with pretty much all of your devices, including your smartphone, tablet, or laptop.

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Wireless Headphones Pros

Convenience: Wireless headphones allow users to enjoy music wirelessly without worrying about the hassle of wires getting tangled or stuck in between objects like chairs, tables, and other pieces of furniture. They’re also great for commuting, especially if you have to listen to music on the go.

They are also great for home theater setups since they allow you to control volume and skip tracks right from the headphone itself without having to use your television remote or another device that might be too far away.

Wireless Headphones Cons

Battery life: Most wireless headphones require batteries (either rechargeable or single-use), so if you forget to charge them the night before, they might not work when you need them most. You can use some wireless headphones while charging but will have a shorter battery life than regular ones charged at that time.

What are Bluetooth Wireless Headphones Best Suited for?

Wireless headphones might be a good choice if you want to enjoy your favorite tunes without any cables getting in the way, if you’re commuting or if you want to use them for home theater setups. They’re also great when it comes to listening while charging since most models allow you to do so.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best type of headphones?

It depends on your personal preferences and what you plan to use them for. If you want the best sound quality, wired headphones might be a better choice, but wireless models might be a better option if you need to be mobile and enjoy your music on the go.

If you want the convenience of not having to worry about cables getting tangled or stuck in inconvenient places, wireless headphones might be a good choice.

If you listen to your music in public spaces like airports, libraries, or coffee shops where ambient noise might be an issue, noise-canceling headphones might help you enjoy your music without any distractions or interruptions.

Do noise-canceling headphones work?

They are designed to block outside noises by creating sound waves that are the opposite of ambient ones. This way, the sound waves cancel each other out, so you’ll only be able to hear your music and nothing else.

What is a good headphone brand?

There are a lot of good headphone brands out there, but the most popular ones include Bose, Sennheiser, and Sony. If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative, other brands offer good headphones for an affordable price, such as Audio-Technica and Panasonic.

Jude is a music and headphone lover. He has tested and reviewed several audio listening devices and enjoys writing helpful tips and information for readers like you.