Not really a fan of listening to music through speakers? Looking for the right type for your music projects? With our increasingly busy lives today, musicians and engineers may not always have access to professional monitor speakers. If you are a budding music producer who are always moving around, you will need to know more about headphone types!
In this awesome article that we have today, we will cover the different aspects of various headphone designs that are commonly used in the market. Understand what makes each of their design suitable in carrying out various functions and delivering different sound quality. Find out which headphone type will be most suitable to meet your audio needs!
Introduction – What is it used for?
There is a range of headphones with varying capabilities in reproducing quality audio. Headsets built for telephone use are usually incapable of reproducing high fidelity sound, unlike the costly units designed for critical music listening. Most headphones with cables will either have a 1/4 inch (6.35mm) or 1/8 inch (3.5mm) phone jack for connecting to various audio playback devices.
The majority of headphones today, are driven by headphone amplifiers, which are either integrated (e.g., in an iPod) or designed as an external unit. Generally, people use headphones to listen to audio material such as recorded music, podcasts, or radio shows.
Professionals in the audio industry such as sound engineers, utilise headphones to mix sound for live concerts or for studio music productions. Performers such as DJs, also use headphones to cue up the next song that will be played without the audience hearing. Professionals from outside of the audio industry, such as aircraft pilots and call center operators, utilise headphones as well.
Let us now look at the various headphone types:
- Open or Closed-back
Also sometimes referred to as full size headphones, circumaural headphones are designed with a circular or ellipsoid ear pads that are large enough to encompass the ears. Looking at the fact that these headphones completely surround the ears of the user, circumaural headphones can be built (depending on its intended purpose) to fully seal against the head to reduce external noise.
Due to their generally large size, circumaural headphones are typically heavy to the extent where some units even weigh over 500 grams (1 lb). Improvements to the design of ergonomic headbands and earpads is essential in order to minimise discomfort that is caused by the weight. This headphone type is commonly used by drummers during multi-track recording.
Commonly comes packaged with consumer stereo systems during the 1980s, supra-aural headphones are designed with ear pads that presses against the user’s ears, rather than encompassing them. Due to the relatively smaller and lighter design of this type of headphone (as compared to circumaural headphones), the attenuation of external noises is very poor.
Depending on the person using it, supra-aural headphones may be very uncomfortable (especially during extended usage) due to the pressure of the ear pads on the ear, unlike circumaural headphones that have pads which sits around the ears. Levels of comfort are heavily dependent on the earcup material used.
Open or Closed-back
Both circumaural and supra-aural headphones that are described above, can be further differentiated by the type of earcups:
The back of the earcups of these headphones are designed to be open. This allows for more ambient sounds to enter the headphone, but at the expense of more sound leaking out. It is known to produce a more organic or speaker-like sound with a more spacious “soundstage” (the perception of distance from the source).
Also known as the sealed-type, these have the back of the earcups closed. This will minimize ambient noise, but results in a much smaller soundstage, which in turn produces the perception that sounds are coming from within the listener’s head. Closed-back headphones typically produce stronger low-end frequencies, unlike open-back headphones.
These headphones are designed to be a compromise between both open-back headphones and closed-back headphones. This may result in the culmination of all the positive characteristics of both designs. It is believed that the term “semi-open” only serves the purpose of marketing certain headphone models. There is no consistent definition for the term “semi-open headphone”.
While most open-back headphones have no real measures to block sound at the diaphragm’s outer side, and the closed-back design typically have a closed chamber covering the diaphragm’s outer side, a semi-open headphone may have a chamber that partially blocks sound while at the same time, letting some sound out via openings or vents.
In recent years, earphones are popularly referred to as “earbuds”. These are headphones that are very small, and designed to be fitted directly in the outer ear while facing inside, without being inserted into the ear canal. Despite being well known for its portability and convenience, earphones are considered by most users to be uncomfortable.
The downside is that they hardly have any acoustic isolation, thus allowing plenty of ambient noise to leak in. This causes many users to increase the volume to dangerously high levels in order to compensate. As a result, the risk of hearing loss will also increase significantly.
However, it is important to take note that its design actually allows the user to be more aware of their environment (while listening to music). Earphones have been packaged together with consumer music devices, ever since the early days of the transistor radio. They are sometimes sold with foam pads for comfort.
Simply called “IEMs” or canalphones, in-ear monitors are similar to earbuds in terms of its portable design. The difference is that IEMs can be inserted into the ear canal itself. IEMs are generally engineered to be of a higher-quality and are typically used by audio engineers and performers for live sound applications.
In-ears are prone to sliding out of the ears (since they engage the ear canal), and they prevent most environmental noises from leaking in. Reduced sound from the surroundings will be a major problem, as sound is a vital indicator for safety when engaging in activities such as cycling or driving in busy traffic.
Most generic custom-fitting ear canal plugs available in the market, are made from silicone rubber, elastomer, or foam. In-ear headphones can be customised by using castings of an individual’s ear canal, in order to create custom-molded plugs which will provide extra comfort and enhanced noise isolation for the user.
Essentially a combination of a headphone and a microphone, headsets are designed to function like a telephone handset with hands-free operation. Some applications for headsets include, telephone use, aviation, theatre or television studio intercom systems, and even for console or PC gaming.
Headsets can be designed as a single-earpiece (mono) or a double-earpiece (stereo or mono to both ears). A headset’s microphone arm can function as an external microphone type where the microphone is positioned right in front of the user’s mouth, or a voicetube type where the microphone is integrated into the earpiece and sound waves are transmitted to it via a hollow tube.
That is it folks! I hope you people have acquired some important knowledge about headphones, and are able to use them as an alternative to loudspeakers.
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