A Guide to Finding the Best Headphones Based on Your Needs

best headphones

We get it. Finding the perfect set of headphones is like finding the right date.

Over the years, we’ve tested a ton of headphones (too many to count)! We are always searching for that perfect match of professional-grade sound and ergonomic comfort & convenience.

In this guide, we will break down exactly what makes the best headphones. More importantly, you will find all the resources for your listening needs. We’ll break it down by the type of listener, finding you your next awesome pair of headphones for acoustic nirvana.

What Type of Listener Are You?

There are many great headphones out there. However, it helps to narrow down exactly how you use your headphones. This helps to ensure that they are the right set for YOU and YOUR needs.

The following categories break it down into the key sub-categories that you should be concerned with.

Headphones vs Earbuds – What’s Best?

First things first, what exactly is the difference? Put simply, earbuds rest within your ear canal while headphones rest on top of the ear.

There are a few pros and cons to consider. I call this “the 4 principles”:

  1. Earbuds have greater portability (you can take them anywhere). Headphones are usually bulkier and not as easy to tuck away in a pocket when not in use.
  2. Headphones are generally more comfortable and more secure, resting on your dome. Earbuds are a bit more finicky. 
  3. Earbuds are better at “noise isolation”. In short, an earbud is closer to your hearing system and essentially mutes ambient sounds coming in.
  4. Headphones – however – are better for pure “noise cancellation” than earbuds. This is because headphones have more real estate for technology while earbuds don’t have this luxury. 

For an in-depth look at the earbud vs headphones distinction, you can check out this resource.

On-Ear vs Over-Ear Headphones – What’s the Difference?

Similar to the earbud vs headphone debate is the “on-ear” vs “over-ear” debate. While it might sound like a matter of semantics, there are subtle differences to note.

On-ear headphones rest on the outside of the ear while over-ear headphones encapsulate the full ear, generally locking around the base of the head. To put it simply, this is the key difference:

  • Over-ear headphones tend to produce better sound by creating a “dome” for the sound to enter your ear. This leverages the way your ear naturally hears a sound.
  • On-ear headphones are generally more compact and easily transportable. They are a happy medium between earbuds and full over-ear headphones.

Listening at the Gym – Best Headphones for Workouts

Do you do most of your listening at the gym? If so, you will definitely want to steer clear of certain types of headphones.

In general, you will want to follow these rules of thumb:

  1. Lightweight: you don’t want a heavy set of headphones for exercising (for obvious reasons).
  2. Snug Fit: The last thing you want is flimsy little earbuds falling out every time you do a squat. While you want something light, you want something that will stay in as well.
  3. Comfortable: Because you will be moving a lot, you want something that can sit comfortably on (or in) your ear for 30-60 minutes.
  4. Noise Reduction: There is nothing more annoying than having to listen to someone else’s music while you work out. Don’t be that guy/gal. Keeping your tunes private while blocking out ambient sounds is important, especially in a busy gym environment.

The Top 3 Best Workout Headphones: For our full overview of the top 3 best workout headphones, see this article here.

Listening while Running – Best Headphones for Runners

Listening with Media – Gaming and Entertainment Headphones

Affordable and Lightweight – The Best Cheap Earbuds

Cut the Cord – Best Wireless Bluetooth Headphones

The Best Noise-Canceling Headphones

Top 5 Best Noise-Canceling Headphones: For an overview of our top 5 recommended noise-canceling headphones, check out this article.

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