Understanding The Types Of Headphones Available

Headphones are simply speakers that sit right next to your ear, or even in your ear. They allow you and not those around you to hear sounds, although depending on the style and quality those in close proximity may be aware of what is being said.

Nathanial Baldwin was the first person to create a working set of headphones. He actually created them at home, by hand, before selling the design to the US Navy.

Of course, headphones have evolved greatly since those early over the head examples. However, the basic principle of a headphone remains the same.

Although Baldwin may not have envisioned it, headphones have gone on to become an integral part of life. They are used to listen to music, by sound engineers and DJs, by doctors to listen to your heart and breathing, and, of course, the military still uses them.

The Original Headphones

The first headphones were a simple band that held two cup-like structures in pace over your ears. The speakers in the headphones used moving iron drivers. In effect wire was coiled around a magnet, the audio current was sent through a wire, causing the magnets to vibrate and the diaphragm to flex, creating sound waves.

It’s worth noting that this was not a high-quality sound. Without padding or damping, these headphones were uncomfortable to wear for any length of time.

Stereo Headphones

You’re used to stereo headphones as it is simply the norm. But, these didn’t arrive on the scene until 1958 when John Koss created the Koss SP/3.

Amusing the first set of headphones were simply speakers enveloped in cardboard and soft foam. But, they offered stereo sound and started the modern trend for quality headphones and listening to music.

While Koss headphones improved a little and dominated the market for a few years, it didn’t take long for the bigger firms to introduce their own high-quality offering. Philips and Sennheiser are perhaps the best-known versions.

The Types Of Headphones

That’s enough history for now. Today there are several different types of headphones available and you need to know what they are. If you’re considering purchasing new headphones then understanding what the types of headphones are and what they’re designed for will help to ensure you choose the right pair.

With any headphone you should be careful about the volume level you use, the higher it is the greater the chance of long-term hearing damage.


Over-Ear headphones

These headphones have a strap that goes over your head and large padded earpieces that sit over your ear. The idea is that the soft padding sits against your face, effectively blocking out external noise.

A small space is created between the headphone and the ear, allowing you to hear all the nuances of sound.

You should be aware that this type of headphones is generally heavy and you’ll need to choose the headband carefully to ensure they are comfortable over long periods of time.


On-Ear headphones

On-ear headphones are very similar to over-ear, the main difference is that these press against your ears. That doesn’t make them as comfortable or as effective at blocking out external noise.

However, they are significantly lighter and cheaper to purchase than over-ear headphones, while still providing good quality sound.


In-Ear headphones

This is the cheapest type of headphone on the market. It involves two earbuds which are designed to slide directly into your ear canal. There are no straps to hold them in place although you can get over-ear headphones. These also slide into your ear canal, but, they have a small wire piece that sits over your ear, helping to stop the headphones from falling out.

It should be noted that the over-ear, in-ear type is easy to carry and comfortable if being worn for a long period of time.

This type has the smallest drivers and potentially the worst sound quality. But, they are cheap and extremely easy to carry with you. They are also very light and effectively block out other sounds.

Of course, blocking out other sounds while using these, is not always a desirable result. It should be noted that the over-ear type often has passive noise reduction features to improve your ability to hear external sounds.

It should be noted that in-ear headphones should not be shared unless you change the earbud covers. This is because they sit in your ear canal and can pick up bacteria, which can potentially be spread between people.

Open Back

Open back headphones

You may hear some headphones being referred to as open or closed back. Open back simply means the back of the ear cup is missing.  This does mean that it’s easier for others to hear your sounds and you’ll hear more of what is going on around you.

However, the lack of restriction also makes the sounds you’re listening to more natural, in effect they are realistic.

Closed Back

Closed back headphones

If the ear cup is n place the sounds are constrained to the headphones. External noise is reduced and the sound will be less natural. But, you’ll also find that bass sounds are enhanced, which could be of value.


wireless headphones

Modern headphones come with two options, wired or wireless. The wired headphones have a cable going from each earpiece to a central join. This then goes as one cord to your music player or another listening device. The length of the cable is irrelevant, the earphones will need to be plugged in for you to hear the sound.

On the other hand, wireless headphones have little or no wires. Some sets have a cable that joins the two earpieces, others have separate earpieces.

These can receive a radio signal from any Bluetooth compatible device. Simply pair the two devices and play your audio. Unfortunately, Bluetooth technology isn’t perfect. It’s possible for two signals to overlap and cause distortion, or you can even pick up someone else’s audio. This is most common if you’re in an area where lots of people are using wireless headphones.

Of course, there are no cables to trip over!

Telephone Headsets

Telephone Headsets

Headsets are small speakers that work in the same way as headphones, but, they are designed to work with telephones. This could be a fixed-line telephone with a wired or wireless connection.

Or, it can be the more popular, modern, option; a bluetooth headset.

These generally only attach to one ear using an over-ear style hook. Headsets usually have an in-ear style earbud and a longer section with a built-in microphone.

This allows you to talk to people as well as hear them on the telephone.

The beauty of Bluetooth headsets is that they connect to your Smartphone, allowing you to play music when you’re not talking on the phone. The music will instantly stop if you receive, or make, a phone call.

Headsets were first designed to be used with jobs that rely on telephone communication throughout the day. However, thanks to Bluetooth they have become an extremely popular way of staying in touch on the move. You can even use them as part of a hands-free system in your car.

Communication Headsets

These were originally conceived to allow military personnel to speak to and hear each other without using a telephone. They usually incorporate a headband with over the ear speakers, and a microphone.

While these are still used in a variety of applications, they have become an extremely popular option with gamers, allowing them to communicate effectively with other players.

Noise Cancelling

It is worth noting that although the overhear, overhead style headphones are already designed to minimize background noise, any type of headphones can have noise-canceling technology.

The technique will depend on the manufacturer but the result is the same, minimal background interference. This is great for some applications, such as gaming. But, it’s not ideal if you’re on the road and need to hear the traffic around you.

The Scene Today


Today there are many different companies producing a huge array of different types of headphones. In many instances, the quality of the headphones is directly related to the price you pay for them. However, this is not always the case.

Once you decide what type of headphones you wish to use, you should try several pairs, or check out an informative guide. This will help you to choose the best headphones for your needs and comfort.

Just over 100 years ago headphones were first invented, today they don’t need wires, in the future they may simply be implanted into your ears!

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