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Headphone buying guide: Overview of the types and 8 current recommendations

Headphone buying guide: Overview of the types and 8 current recommendations

In-Ear or Over-Ear? Open or closed? Neckband or True Wireless? Studio or DJ? We'll show you how to find the right headphones for your needs and name our favorite headphones of 2022.

Rise of the headphones: dive down and show off

Let's talk headphones! The IT industry association Bitkom has interesting figures on this: 71 percent of all Germans (from the age of 16) currently have one or more headphones, which are used daily by 38 percent of owners (2019, study as PDF). Sales figures have been increasing for years (currently over 16 million units per year in Germany) and anyone who visits their local MediaMarkt will find that headphones are now being given significantly more space on the sales floor than was the case before the smartphone era was.

The big names of the past (Sennheiser, AKG, Beyerdynamic, Sony, etc.) have been joined by new brands (Beats, Apple, Samsung, etc.), which has increased the choice even more - it's no longer that easy for us consumers to keep track and make the right purchase decision. What's behind the hype? Well, the purpose of headphones is by no means just "listening to music" - according to the Bitkom study, they also serve to "block out the environment" or as a "fashion accessory" and are even a "status symbol". Conclusion: What used to be an audio niche product has become a coveted and smart lifestyle object that can sometimes cost a little more. So it can't hurt to know a little bit about headphones.

Headphone distinguishing features: This is what the manufacturer's designations mean

With or without cable: Wired headphones do not need a battery, they are connected to the playback device (e.g. JBL Tune500) via a jack socket (usually 3.5 mm). Wireless headphones are different, they work with Bluetooth or radio (2.4 GHz) and need an integrated battery. Except for the "annoying" cable (trip hazard, wearing part), wired headphones are technically superior (no latency, no compression, no disconnections) and are especially recommended for home use and in the studio. On the other hand, models with Bluetooth are much more comfortable on the go. How "wireless" would you like it to be? If the two housings of an in-ear headphone are connected with a cable (but receive signals via Bluetooth), one speaks of a neckband model (e.g. Beats Flex, see also xiaomist test). If there are absolutely no cables, then these are true wireless headphones (e.g. Samsung Galaxy Buds Live, see also xiaomist test). Overhead headphones: You can also wear them while ironing, but that's not why they're called that. The real reason is the connecting piece between the two housings (earphones), which sits on the user's head like a headband. The bracket holds the two housings in place and provides the necessary contact pressure. In most cases, the length is adjustable so that the headphones fit different head sizes. By the way: It is often feared that wearing headband headphones could lead to hair loss ("headset baldness"), but has not yet been proven. Open, closed, half-open: This refers to the design of the housing in which the sound transducers are located. Closed headphones shield better from the environment (passive noise isolation) and tend to sound more powerful (e.g. Shure SRH440). Open headphones are practically only suitable for quiet environments, but often offer a wider soundstage and are therefore preferred by audiophile music lovers (e.g. AKG K702). Half-open headphones are the golden mean and ideally combine the advantages of both designs (e.g. Beyerdynamic DT 880). Over-ear, on-ear, in-ear: Over-ear headphones with large housings that completely cover the ear cups are called over -Ear headphones ("circumaural"). More compact designs rest on the auricle and are called on-ear headphones . When the housing is inserted (partially) into the ear canal, they are called in-ear headphones . These are available both with silicone fittings ("earphones") and without ("earbuds") – more on this in our guide to in-ear headphones without rubber attachments. ANC (Active Noise Cancelling): Electronic process that detects ambient noise with microphones and quickly suppresses it with counter-noise. It doesn't ensure absolute silence, but it can effectively attenuate low frequencies in particular (engines, aircraft noise). ANC headphones usually cost a little more than conventional models. Studio and DJ headphones : Professionals in the field of music production and event technology have special requirements. If headphones are to be used for mixing and mastering recordings in the studio, they must be neutrally tuned and preferably not distort the sound in the slightest. Lifestyle headphones are not suitable for this, since the manufacturer often gives them their own sound character (e.g. bass emphasis). DJs pay attention to good shielding from ambient noise and particularly robust and flexible designs. The headphones are often put on and taken off in just one ear when the tracks are crossfaded - it's practical if the housing can be angled by means of a joint (e.g. Denon DJ DN-HP 1100). Headset: Many headphone models come with built-in microphones, making them technically suitable for making phone calls or communicating in games. In this context, the term "headset" is appropriate - even if there are also "real" headsets and gaming headsets. These are headsets that are not intended for enjoying music, but mainly for communication (see also: Headset test: recommendations for home office, office and Co.).

Headphones 2022: The 8 xiaomist favorites for different purposes

There is no such thing as "the best headphones in the world". Rather, what is decisive is which requirements exist, which budget is available and which compromises the user can accept. There are champions to be found in every task area – below I will name a model that has convinced me personally and that I would recommend to a good friend. Other models are presented and discussed in the linked xiaomist purchase advisors.

1. Studio headphones (over-ear, wired) : Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro. Classics, tried and tested for decades (!) and appreciated by professionals. Sounds crystal clear and powerful at the same time, is solidly built, sits comfortably. Unreserved purchase recommendation.

2. Companion for iPhone (true wireless headphones) : AirPods Pro. They are light, compact and reliable. Ambient noise is hidden via ANC, the interaction with Apple devices is almost perfect (see xiaomist test).

3. Android Phone Companion (True Wireless Headphones) : Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro. Good sound and ANC, the price has now fallen significantly (see xiaomist test).

4. Lifestyle Headphones (True Wireless Headphones) : Nothing Ear (1). Strange name, extraordinary design. This model is partly transparent and therefore stands out.

5. Sports Headphones (True Wireless Headphones) : Beats Fit Pro. Apple technology (H1 Chip, 3D Audio, Hey Siri) in a case optimized for athletes (with flexible silicone wings).

6. Travel Headphones (Over-Ear) : Sony WH-1000XM4. Superior noise canceling ensures a comfortable rest. Extremely comfortable, excellent sound quality. Mandatory purchase for frequent travelers on trains and planes (xiaomist test: 9.3 out of 10 points)

7. DJ headphones (on-ear, wired) : Sennheiser HD 25-1 II. A tried and tested tool for professional DJs for many years. Can also play very loud, take care of your ears.

8. Luxury Headphones (Over-Ear, Wired) : Beyerdynamic T5 (3rd generation). Closed construction, best materials, handmade in Heilbronn: If you buy these headphones, you may never need a new one again. I was able to listen to the T5 for a few hours and confirm without hesitation that the manufacturer's promise of "uncompromising and clear sound" is absolutely correct. Music gives you goosebumps.

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