Headphone specs: What to look for when choosing your ideal headphones
Photo by Lee Campbell
Do you care about bass more than sound clarity? Fit over noise cancellation? Learn about headphone specs to help you find your ideal headphones.
Do you want to know what to look for in headphones when you buy a pair?
For the last several years, the music industry has been full of many ups and downs. For one thing, new platforms (like TikTok) are emerging and standing as game-changers. We’re even expecting that the global recorded music industry revenue is at an estimated $20-$21 billion.
However, the easy way to keep up with the evolving industry is by listening. Yet, it’s difficult to ensure you get quality tech when you’re not the technical sort. If you want to know more about which headphone specs you must pay attention to, keep reading below.
Check Frequency Response
The frequency response of a pair of headphones is what a lot of people often listen to. It holds the majority of the sounds you need and is often what people judge when they test for quality. In simple terms, it’s the sounds where you listen for the bass, mids, and treble.
We measure frequency response in Hertz, with the lowest number referring to bass and the highest one referring to treble. A standard set of headphones has a frequency response of 20-20,000Hz, to match typical hearing.
Bass or Low-End
Many people like to check the bass frequency of a pair of headphones first. Often, it’s because that’s all they know to check. For some, it’s because they’re looking for a pair that can dole out good bass.
If you want to find a good pair of headphones, the bass response is one of the easiest things you’ll find. Many music producers and recording artists often have song pieces that are heavy on bass. More and more, we’re getting songs that include a distinctive bass guitar or bass synth melodies.
When you look for a good set of quality headphones, be careful about getting one with bass that’s too powerful. While heavy bass feels good in a rave with heavy-duty speakers, it doesn’t feel as good on headphones. Plus, having a pair of headphones with overpowering bass makes the sound muddy.
Mids or Mid-Range
Many people overlook the mid-range of a pair of headphones. Reviewers often say little about them and focus more on bass and treble. However, mid-range is like sugar and salt in food.
Having too many low-mids can make your sounds muddy. At the same time, having too many high mids can make headphones sound tinny. You want one with a Goldilocks-level of low- and high-mids.
Most of the instruments in the mid-range are vocals and guitars. At the low-mids, we have tom-toms and some deep synths.
High-End or Treble
Finally, we have high frequencies. You may have already tried listening to a pair of headphones with too much or too little highs. They’re either dull and boring or shrill and too bright, right?
Like the other frequency ranges, you need to find a good in-between blend of frequencies. Also, note that few instruments live in the high-frequency end. The general ones are cymbals, shakers, and some aspects of guitar or vocals.
Note that frequency is not always a good indicator of a headphone’s sound quality. When you choose headphones for a specific type of music, they help tons. However, if you want one for general use, keep reading further.
How well can a pair of headphones handle power? Impedance is where the answer to that question lies.
If you have a pair of headphones with high impedance, you have more resistance. This means you need more power and you may even need an amplifier. Often, pro-quality and high-end headphones have very high impedance.
The typical headphones for mobile devices have lower impedance. When you have a set of headphones with low impedance, it means they use a lower voltage. The disadvantage of low impedance headphones is they emit an audible background hiss.
When you’re buying earphones, know what you’ll use it for. Impedance mismatch is a problem for many starting producers. It’s safe to say that mobile devices work well with low-impedance headphones while other audio systems need high impedance.
Total Harmonic Distortion
For our next notable headphone specs, we’ll discuss total harmonic distortion or THD. Do you often hear distortion once you set your headphones at a high volume? This means they don’t have a good level of THD.
Headphones use drivers, which vibrate to produce sound waves for our ears. In those drivers are magnets, voice coils, and a diaphragm. When you hear the various elements cracking, it means the diaphragm is distorting.
Headphones with low THD give you fewer chances to hear distortion at high volumes. With higher-THD headphones, you may hear distortion at lower volumes. Though, this doesn’t mean you can’t find Duality Headphones under 500 dollars that can give you the right THD.
It’s ideal to get headphones with THD levels under 0.1% to avoid distortion.
Sensitivity Headphone Specs
It’s a good thing to know about sensitivity while you’re also learning how to pick headphones of high quality. When we talk about the sensitivity of a set of headphones, we mean how loud they’ll be at a certain level of power. The measurement of headphone sensitivity is Sound Pressure Level or SPL per 1mW of power.
The volume range of a pair of headphones is between 80dB SPL and 125dB SPL. Knowing the sensitivity of your headphones is important, especially if you’re often in noisy environments. For example, a busy street is 80dB in volume, while a standard factory has a volume of 100dB.
If you know the sensitivity of your headphones and the typical sensitivity of your environment, you can tell if you’ll need a headphone amplifier.
Notice that bigger headphones have more noise cancellation, especially over-the-ear types. This is because noise cancellation needs battery power. It also needs space for the embedded microphones and chips that help cancel out sounds.
These electronic chips and microphones record ambient noise and create inverse sound waves. The inverse sound waves they create balance out the noise from your environment. They then feed it back into the headphones to cancel out the sound.
Noise-canceling headphones work best for constant and low frequencies. They’re not as good at canceling out mid-range frequencies and higher. It’s great for listening when you’re traveling by car, train, or airplane.
Get Your Ideal Headphones
A good pair of headphones can make the difference for a good or bad day. To many people, listening to music is a great way for self-enjoyment. To others, it’s how they cope with everyday struggles and find the motivation to work.
Now you have a better grasp on how to choose headphones that best fit your listening style based on headphone specs. We hope you learned from this guide about how to pick headphones.