What to Look for When Buying Headphones

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8 Features to Look for in Headphones

Buyers today no longer need to deal with the clunky, chunky headphones with short, coiled cords and less-than-stellar sound. Since their invention more than 100 years ago, headphones have advanced thanks to new technology. Today, the variety of headphones is almost endless, and with everyone taking their music to-go on laptops, tablets, smartphones, mp3 players, and more, they are an integral part of the portable audio experience. With the options available, it helps to break the search down by types and features.


Headphone Types

There are several types of headphones, each with its own pros and cons. The right pair to buy is dependent on the situation in which they will be used and personal preference.


This type of headphone encloses the ears completely with either circular or elliptical ear pads and most resembles old-fashioned headphones, though they are far lighter and less bulky.

  • Pro: Over-ear headphones can greatly reduce external noise.

  • Con: They are generally heavier than other headphones.


With this type of headphone, the ear pads sit right on the ear, not over it or in it.

  • Pro: These headphones are lighter than the over-ear headphones.

  • Cons: There is less reduction of external noise with these headphones, and they can be uncomfortable.


These headphones are usually called earphones or earbuds and fit into the outer ear area.

  • Pro: Earbuds are small, portable, and convenient.

  • Cons: Earbuds provide minimal reduction of external noise, which could lead to users pushing the volume up to dangerous levels to reduce external noise. They may not fit securely so they often slide out, especially during physical activity.


These in-ear headphones fit farther into the ear than most earbuds and most come with a range of different sized rubber or foam tips, providing a customised fit.

  • Pros: Canal phones are portable, block out most external noise, and are less likely to fall out.

  • Cons: Users may be less aware of their environment. For example, a user may not hear oncoming traffic when walking.


Headphone Features

For on-ear and over-ear headphones, there is a choice between open-back versions and closed-back versions. Open-back versions allow more natural sound, but more ambient noise is allowed in. Closed-back block the ambient noise, but have a less natural sound.


Noise Reduction

With less background noise, listeners can hear their music even in crowded or loud environments without turning the volume up too high. Because of their design, closed-back over-ear and on-ear headphones, as well as canalphones, provide good passive noise reduction, but other types and versions add active noise reduction as a feature.
These “active noise control” headphones achieve noise reduction with microphones placed in the earphones. The external sounds picked up by the microphones generate “anti-noise” in the speakers of the headphones. This anti-noise cancels out the ambient noise, so much less of it reaches the listener. Headphones with this active noise-cancelling feature need power to operate, usually from a battery.


Headphone cords carry the audio signal from the sound’s source to the headphone’s speakers. Consider these cord features.

Long Cords

  • Pro: Long cords allow users to be farther away from the source
  • Con: Longer cords can get tangled and be cumbersome if moving

Short Cords

  • Pro: Shorter cords are more portable and easier to use when active
  • Con: They have a limited reach.

No Cord/Wireless

  • Pro: Ultimate freedom of movement.
  • Con: These headphones require power so there is a battery, or they will need to be charged periodically

Some cords also have in-line microphones that allow users to comfortably carry on a phone conversation while the earphones are plugged into their smartphones.


Both earbuds and canalphones are quite small, making it easy and convenient to carry them almost anywhere. In contrast, over-ear and on-ear headphones are bigger and heavier and can be harder to transport. Users who do want over-ear or on-ear headphones should look for foldable models of these types.


How well the audio coming through a set of headphones sounds is probably the most crucial feature. Reading reviews from experts and others who have already purchased headphones can be a big help in judging sound quality.


How the headphones feel on users’ heads and in their ears is another important consideration. Here again, reviews from multiple sources can aid in finding a pair that fits correctly and comfortably.


Buying Headphones on eBay

The massive selection of all types of headphones makes eBay a natural spot for those in the market for headphones to shop. Start on the eBay home page and click on the Electronics category and then the Audio category. Next, narrow the search using keywords that describe a style, a brand or relate to other headphone features like corded or wireless. Shoppers can also refine their search by picking a price range and deciding whether or not they want to shop in the auction format or only search the headphones offered with a “Buy It Now” option. When the headphones that match the desired criteria are found, read the description carefully and examine all photos carefully before buying.

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